Happy New Year’s Eve, my friends–and how. As I look back on the year that has been 2020, I can’t help recalling what I wrote for 2019’s “Year in Review” post: “I, for one, welcome the impending return of the Twenties. Let’s make ’em Roaring!”
Errr, I’m not detecting any roaring, are you? And we’re definitely not partying like a 1928 Joan Crawford movie, which was also one of my predictions for 2020. At least, not partying yet.
Anyways, it’s time for my hopefully helpful annual review of silent film-related news. It was a lighter news year than most, it seems, probably because so many projects and festivals were either cancelled or postponed, but I hope you find this roundup interesting nonetheless! Also, me spending extra time outdoors this year + having crappy or intermittent Internet for months = more news sneaking past me, so please, feel free to chime in with any significant info I might have missed.
A very Merry Christmas to one and all! I’m happy to announce that after a gigantic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer-style blizzard yesterday, we folks up here in Minnesota are finally getting a white Christmas–and how. So this year’s holidays will seem extra cozy–and what goes better with “cozy” than Victorian and Edwardian Christmas silents?
This year my pick for a fun novelty holiday film to show to family is the little-known three-reeler Santa Claus (1925), which I stumbled upon out of the blue recently. (Those are always the best kinds of films, you know.) This charming film gives us the inside scoop on Santa’s life at the North Pole, in a whimsical old-timey way, of course–I’d expect nothing less.
Can you believe Christmas is right around the corner? Somehow, time is still humming along. I’ve been keeping busy lately with cookie baking, making Christmas-y crafts, and of course getting a few Christmas cards sent out in time.
Which reminds me (great segue, eh?) did you know that back in the day actors used to place little Christmas greetings in the trade magazines? I’m guessing these were placed by publicity folks and meant as little “thank yous” to exhibitors, distributors and other people in the industry for a prosperous year–nothing wrong with fostering a little goodwill. They might be as simple as the words “Yuletide Greetings” along with the actor’s name, but some included a portrait or a small holiday-themed illustration. What’s also interesting is how most of these “cards” were placed in the December 24th-25th issues, or published around New Year’s. (The early 20th century U.S. didn’t generally have the weeks-long Christmas hype of today.)
I think these little greetings are pretty endearing, so let’s check out some examples! Here’s what a typical bunch looked like (you can click to see larger images, or right-click to bring them up in their own tab):
Last weekend Buster Keaton fans heard the sad news that his last home, the comfortable ranch house he and his wife Eleanor bought in the 1950s, had been demolished. I’m sure I’m not the only fan who would’ve liked to glimpse it in person one day, if only from a car window. Sadly, that is one item on my bucket list that will go forever unchecked.
The one-story house, built in 1947, was bought with the $50,000 given to Buster by Paramount for the screen rights to his life story. The resulting film, The Buster Keaton Story (1957) starring Donald O’Connor, was frankly terrible (Eleanor recalled attending a preview with Buster and how they “felt like crawling out on our hands and knees”), but it did give them the ability to finally purchase their own house. The couple had been living with Buster’s family for years, and Buster’s career had gone through numerous ups and downs in that time. They took proud ownership of their new home in June 1956, and were content there until Buster’s death in 1966.
Is it Thanksgiving already? Incredible! Time for a festive image–here’s Katherine MacDonald with the big honkin’ horn of plenty:
According to our November 18 1922 Exhibitor’s Herald: “This photograph of MacDonald should suggest to exhibitors an appropriate and atmospheric prologue for their Thanksgiving program.” Exhibitors and bloggers, that is.
Wishing you all a happy Thanksgiving, dear readers! If there was ever a year to really sit and count our blessings, it’s this year. So no matter where you are or what you’re doing right now, I truly hope your day is bright and that you have an equally fine weekend ahead. Cheers!
Sometime ago, I saw this still on the National Film Preservation Foundation’s site (a site I have lauded in the past) for a film that was being restored:
A Sennett short–from the late 1910s, probably my favorite period of of the silent era–loaded with goofy slapstick–AND it starred Louise Fazenda! I waited with bated breath for it to become available.
I had bated breath for a pretty long time, but my lack of oxygen was worth it because The Village Chestnut is now freely available on the NFPF site! And it’s a beaut, too, one of those scratchy-but-clear prints that does silent fans’ hearts good. And it’s probably one of the best showcases for Louise’s slapstick skills I’ve seen yet–not every actress was willing to fall in mud puddles or do tough, dizzying pratfalls quite the way she did. Continue reading →
Happy Halloween, my friends! I couldn’t resist putting this piece on one of my favorite films of all time–just in time for this spooky day, I might add. There is so much to say about this film that it easily could’ve been three times as long. Enjoy!
Some films transcend regular genres. They might draw on an eclectic mix of inspirations, from literature to art, and the result is a work of strength and imagination whose stature only increases with the passing years. You can hardly find a better example than the gothic masterwork The Night of the Hunter, most easily definable as a horror film (I know I can’t resist it every October).
The elements are familiar–riverside towns and the Great Depression, prayer meetings and Bible stories, fairytales and fables. It’s soaked in the atmosphere of what we’ve dubbed “southern gothic,” and softened by several haunting songs (few non-musicals would use songs more effectively). But it draws its greatest power on something less familiar to the modern viewer: the rich influence of silent film, particularly Expressionism and the work of D.W. Griffith.
Nosferatu (1922) fans such as myself (and, hopefully, yourself) are highly aware of its iconic status, its gothic cinematography, and its limitless ways to inspire today’s filmmakers. It may not be as jump-out-of-your-seat scary as some later horror films, but we highly appreciate how it broke ground and managed to create a beautifully haunting atmosphere.
Oh, and we’re also well aware of this guy:
This acquired taste in human form is Gustav von Wangenheim, the source of a few unintentional chuckles in the early scenes of the movie. But maybe that’s a little harsh. As I wrote in my Nosferatu review, Gustav’s babyface and habit of laughing just a little too long actually make his later scenes with Count Orlok pretty effective–if a character that happy-go-lucky starts getting scared, it must be for a good reason.
In fact, his acting left enough of an impression that I decided to take a closer look at this young actor. How did he come to star in Nosferatu, and what happened to him thereafter?
Ah, the haunted house. The sheer imaginative possibilities of an old, creepy, atmospheric mansion/castle/farmhouse have made it irresistible to many filmmakers. In fact, it’s been showing up since very dawn of film, thanks to its limitless possibilities for tinkering with primitive special effects. At last, ghosts could disappear and reappear before our very eyes–or turn into bats or skeletons at a director’s whim.
Skits and plays about haunted houses weren’t uncommon on 19th century and early 20th century stages, and amusement park haunted houses apparently existed at least since the 1900s. It’s not surprising, then, that they were destined to become fertile ground for comedy gags.