Animated Insects And Animal Tales–The Art Of Ladislas Starevich

In any artistic field–Impressionist painting, modern architecture, ballet, indie folk rock, you name it–there are always a few names more memorable than the rest, and the field of silent filmmaking is no exception. We all recognize the big names like Gance, von Stroheim, Chaplin, Griffith, and so on. But the list of who we personally find most memorable is probably pretty eclectic–my own includes folks like Roscoe Arbuckle, Charley Bowers, and Karlheinz Martin (long story).  To that list I’m happy to add the name of Ladislas Starevich–or Władysław Starewicz, Ladislav Starevich, Ladislaw Starewitch, or any of his other varied spellings (pick your favorite).

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In photos, the somber-looking Starevich seems like he’d be home in a lab coat working on mysterious chemical experiments. You wouldn’t suspect that in reality, he created an imaginative body of work showcasing some of the most whimsical–even slightly macabre–visions in early film. An artist ahead of his time, once you’ve seen his work you won’t soon forget it.

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Who Is Douglas MacLean (And Why Is Everybody Talkin’ About Him)?

Okay, in this context “everybody” means “a decent selection of the silent film community.” And if you’re part of that decent selection, you might’ve already heard: Undercrank Productions is bringing two Douglas MacLean features to DVD!! With the help of fine fans like yourself, of course.

Douglas MacLean in One a Minute (1921)

I’m sensing a lot of you are thinking: “Wait, who?” An understandable question. In an age when someone like Harry Langdon is deemed obscure, Douglas MacLean is practically obsolete. But that’s exactly why two of his surviving features should find new audiences. Like the work of other obscure figures such as Alice Howell and Marcel Perez, it shines a new light into some of the hidden nooks and crannies of early cinema. Continue reading

DVD Review: “The Alice Howell Collection”

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Do you love exploring silent comedy? How about getting to know obscure silent performers? If your answer to both questions is “Heck yes!” (and why wouldn’t it be?) then you’ll probably be excited about the latest DVD set by Ben Model’s Undercrank ProductionsThe Alice Howell Collection. 

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Ramon Novarro, “Latin Lover” Of The Silent Screen

During the heyday of Rudolph Valentino, studios scrambled to find their own versions of a “sheik”–that passionate, menacing “exotic” lover women’s hearts were fluttering over (who also guaranteed plenty of box office gold). Actors from the steady Milton Sills to dashing Antonio Moreno were considered worthy rivals, but perhaps the worthiest one of all was the talented, gentlemanly Ramon Novarro.

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Rudolph Valentino–The Man Behind The Image

“The woman from fourteen to ninety loved him, because he made romance come riding home to her dreams. He was not the individual she craved, he was the symbol of what she craved.” —From a letter to Photoplay, January 1927

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What does it mean to be an icon? In the case of film actors, we assume this means their image has instant recognition. Across the world, people belonging to every culture and race will recognize Marilyn Monroe or Charlie Chaplin. Their very names have symbolism–“Chaplin” calls to mind laughter and old-time slapstick, while “Marilyn Monroe” stands for glamour and sensuality with a touch of vulnerability. (Interestingly, many people I’ve encountered who mention admiring Marilyn have never seen one of her films.)

So let us consider “Rudolph Valentino.” Of all the screen icons, his legacy is perhaps the most obscured by mythology, fantasy and cult status. The mere mention of his name–and how fortunate he was to adopt the elegant “Valentino”–recalls the kind of old Hollywood romance involving soft lighting, perfectly tailored suits, glimmering jewels and long, thrilling kisses. It calls to mind the stories of sobbing, fainting fans at his funeral bier–for he died young, as everyone remembers.

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But how many people today know what Rudolph Valentino looked like? How many have watched one of his films, or even a single clip? Who was the living, breathing human being behind the romantic name–the romantic dream? Continue reading

Buster’s Wife’s Relations: Getting To Know The Talmadge Family

This is my own post for the Fifth Annual Busterthon–I hope you enjoy!

Let us consider Norma and Constance Talmadge. They were two of the brightest stars of the silent era, the role models of countless gals and the crushes of countless young men. And today, they are–you’ve guessed it–practically forgotten. While they’re starting to be recognized as important figures in cinema history, their films are rarely screened and seldom discussed. But there’s one big reason they’re still remembered: their connection to a certain beloved comedian–Buster Keaton.

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Happy 100th Birthday To Diana Serra Cary! (Aka Baby Peggy)

This is a special day, my friends. Join me in raising a glass to Diana Serra Cary, the world’s last living silent film star, who turns 100 today!

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Known to 1920s audiences as Baby Peggy, Diana began appearing in films when she was only a toddler. After starring in shorts she soon began acting in features, all cranked out at an amazing rate. Audiences loved the expressive, round-cheeked youngster, and she swiftly became one of the most famous child actors in Hollywood–her main rival being Jackie Coogan. She later credited her success to her extremely obedient nature–directors were impressed by her ability to follow orders unhesitatingly.  Continue reading

Ormer Locklear, Hollywoodland’s Daredevil Of The Air

Let’s all take a minute and look at this marvelous photo:

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If I asked you to picture a daring pilot from the 1910s or 1920s, this is exactly who you would picture, am I right? The leather aviator helmet, the goggles, the cool jacket, the air of cheerful self-assurance…he’s the very personification of the flying ace Snoopy always aspired to be. And yes, he’s the real deal. This is the forgotten barnstormer Ormer Locklear, achiever of mind-boggling aerial stunts, and yes, of course he has a fantastic name, I would expect nothing less.

Really, all he needs is a tiny 1920s mustache and…stop the presses. 

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He is complete.

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The Great Chaplin-Pickford-Fairbanks Liberty Loan Tour Of ’18

On this day back in 1918, Bapaume, France was retaken by the British forces and the Second Battle of Noyon ended.

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You’ve watched clips of girls screaming at the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show, and you’ve seen footage of the vast crowds at the original Woodstock. Maybe you’ve sighed, “Those were the days of true rockstars–man, that must’ve been exciting!” (Or maybe you sighed because you remember that time and wouldn’t mind reliving it). But that spirit of rockstardom was around earlier than the 1960s, or even the ’50s–many decades earlier, in fact. For if you ask me, few events would ever rock harder than the Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, and Charlie Chaplin United States tour for the benefit of the third Liberty Loan drive of 1918. Bear with me.

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Planning the Liberty Loan “route.”

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Lon Chaney, Hollywood’s Finest Character Actor

Per a reader’s request, here is a piece on one of the greatest and most respected silent film legends–Lon Chaney. As you read this, I am currently at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival–and yes, I’ll be recapping every moment of it!

There was a popular, widespread joke back in the 1920s–“Don’t step on that spider, it might be Lon Chaney!” A joke which, of course, referred to his remarkable use of makeup and acting skills to create bizarre characters who stick in the popular imagination. Indeed, Chaney was one of the rare actors who was so skilled that he became a legend in his own time, graced with the title “The Man of a Thousand Faces”–a title which is linked with his name to this very day.

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