Obscure Films: “Cripple Creek Bar-Room Scene” (1899)–Likely The World’s First Western

Have you ever wondered: What was the very first western ever made?  It would have to be a film older than a Tom Mix or William S. Hart flick, and even older than the mini-dramas by Biograph or Vitagraph. Many who’ve debated this subject will point to an Edison short, Cripple Creek Bar-Room Scene, which is less than a minute long, is more “vignette” than “plot-driven,” and was shot a swell 120 years ago. I’m gonna point to it, too.

I’ve been drawn to this ancient little film in the past mainly because of one thing: this still photo, likely taken so Cripple Creek could be registered for copyright. Let’s take a minute and just look at it.

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Obscure Films: “Aelita: Queen of Mars” (1924)

4/9/18, 9:30 pm: As I’m writing this, it’s been a few years since I’ve beheld the 1920s Soviet sci-fi extravaganza Aelita: Queen of Mars. My memories of it are somewhat murky, because truth be told,  I fell asleep halfway through it. But! It’s always good to give half-watched films a second chance, and since I have a bit more knowledge of Soviet cinema under my belt right now methinks I shall sit down and behold it once more.

4/10/18, 8:15 am: Darn it, I fell asleep again! 

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Someone ain’t happy.

Aelita is somewhat familiar to silent film fans, but mention it to the fabled “regular folks” and you’ll get a “Huh”? It was an ambitious film once meant to rival the masterworks of Germany and the U.S., and while it was popular in the Soviet Union it didn’t seem to make a big splash anywhere else (at least not in the US, where it wasn’t released until 1929). Today, despite nicely-scored restorations being available and occasional photos being shared on social media, it can’t quite climb out of obscurity.  Continue reading

Obscure Films: “Genuine: A Tale Of A Vampire” (1920)

Man, I couldn’t help cringing while writing the title of this post–because from that alone, this film sounds so cool. This is a vampire tale? From the year 1920? And it’s a German Expressionist film, you say? By Robert Wiene, the director of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, you say?! This must be a forgotten gem!! An obscure work of genius, just begging to be rediscovered by eager new audiences and then extolled as one of the unsung masterpieces of early experimental cinema!!

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HOLY FREAKIN’ HARRY LANGDON, LOOK AT THAT ART DESIGN!!

Well, I’m here to confirm that it’s………..not. It’s just not. It’s not any of those things. Well, okay, it is a German Expressionist film from 1920 directed by Robert Wiene, but a cinematic masterpiece? Oh good heavens, no.
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Obscure Films: “The Blue Bird” (1918)

In its review of The Blue Bird back in 1918, The New York Times declared, “…It is a safe assertion to say that seldom, if ever, has the atmosphere and spirit of a written work been more faithfully reproduced in motion pictures.” This observation holds true today, but with a twist for “we moderns.” For this film embodies the spirit of Edwardian fairytales and indeed many old European fairytales so thoroughly that for us, it could almost be from another planet. And for those of us willing to experience The Blue Bird today, that’s a good thing.

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Image Credit: Nitrate Diva

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Obscure Films: “The Merry Frolics Of Satan” (1906)

One of my very favorite Georges Méliès films is Les Quat’Cents Farces du diable, literally translated as The 400 Tricks of the Devil. We just call it The Merry Frolics of Satan (1906), which is a title truly of its time. So is the film itself, but that’s why I love it so much.

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While not as widely discussed as A Trip to the Moon and more familiar from clips turning up in documentaries on early cinema, it’s one of Méliès’s most elaborate works and a real treat for the eyes. Its plot can be…quite mystifying even if you’re paying close attention, so here’s a detailed recap (I believe some of the information originally came from the Star Film Company’s catalog): Continue reading

Obscure Films: “Behind The Door” (1919)

If you mention Behind the Door to a silent film fan, they’ll react in one of two ways: the blank, racking-their-brains-have-they-heard-of-it-maybe-actually-nope-never-heard-of-it look, or a sudden widening of the eyes and a little gasp: “You’ve seen it?!

Because it’s that kind of film, my friend. Its notoriety precedes it, and once you watch it you’ll know why. The screen doesn’t show anything graphic, but the implications are crystal clear…and stomach-churning.

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Obscure Films: “Shot In The Excitement” (1914)

There are some silent comedy shorts that are so of-their-time silly that you aren’t sure if a newbie could handle them. They’d probably think to themselves, “This is what silent comedy was like? Lots of grimacing and flailing around? Humor was, like, so primitive back then. And look at those special effects–why did they even bother before CGI?”

Um, CGI could never improve on Al St. John, for one thing.

What this newbie doesn’t know is that there’s more to these “primitive” comedies than meets the eye. Well, a little more, anyways. If you chuck aside your “21st century cynicism” glasses for about 15 minutes, you can have a delightful time experiencing the supreme Awesomeness of a short like Shot in the Excitement (1914). Allow me to give you a tour. Continue reading

Ray Guns and Mechanical Monsters: 5 Obscure Sci-Fi Silents

Hello, everyone! Today I’m happy to be taking part in the “For the Love of Film” blogathon, a prestigious annual fundraiser about a topic near and dear to all of our movie-loving hearts: saving films. Hosted by Ferdy on FilmsThis Island Rod, and Wonders in the Dark, this year’s blogathon is aiming to raise money for the restoration of a delightful 1918 film called Cupid in Quarantine. The goal is $10,000 to cover the National Film Preservation Foundation’s laboratory costs.

Here’s the description of Cupid in Quarantine from the NFPF site:

This charming comedy about two lovebirds faking smallpox features the forgotten actress Elinor Field, who got her start in a series of Strand Comedies and later starred in such films as The Blue Moon (1920), The Kentucky Colonel (1920), and the 15-part Selig serial The Jungle Goddess (1922). Regarding her performance in Cupid in Quarantine, Motion Picture World raved, “Miss Field’s vivaciousness permeates the entire picture, filling it with life and action and a humor that is contagious.

So here’s how it works: 

  1. Everyone rushes to donate money (as little as $5 will help!),
  2. The NFPF will restore the film to gloriousness and create a new score,
  3. The film will be available to everyone FOR FREE on the NFPF website,
  4. We can all sit back and marvel at the the role we played in helping to preserve film history for future generations–for as little as $5!

Sound good? Excellent! On with the blog post:

Long before the robots-and-rocketships mania of the 1950s, long before the epic adventures of Star Trek and Star Wars, and very long before the current steampunk craze, science fiction was alive and well in the form of popular novels and…silent films (which could be surprisingly steampunk). That’s right, sci-fi silents, and you already know at least two of them: A Trip to the Moon (1902) and Metropolis (1927). Continue reading

Obscure Films: “His Wife’s Mistake”

I am pleased to be a part of the Shorts! Blogathon hosted by Movies Silently. Thank you so much for stopping by, blogathon readers–make yourself comfortable and be sure to check out all of the other great posts this weekend too!

Hold onto your too-small derbies, folks! It’s time to turn your attention to one of Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle’s most overlooked short comedies–a two-reel gem. (Although, in fairness, Roscoe could’ve turned any film into a comedy gem just by wandering into it by accident.) The film is His Wife’s Mistake (1916), and why no one ever seems to discuss it is beyond me.

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Obscure Films: “Moran of the Lady Letty”

And once again, one blogathon is hot on the heels of another! I’m happy to be participating in the Rudolph Valentino blogathon, hosted by Timeless Hollywood

One of Valentino’s lesser known vehicles, watched mainly by his fans and not often discussed outside of that circle, is the seafaring drama Moran of the Lady Letty (1922).

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Photoplay, 1922.

Some time ago, before viewing Moran for the first time and after reading some fairly enthusiastic but slightly tepid reviews, I was all set to either like it or consider it merely another interesting artifact of film history under my belt. But midway into the film I not only liked it, but was happily absorbed by its straightforward, entertaining charm. Continue reading