It’s Silent-ology’s FIFTH Anniversary!!

Well, whaddaya know? Today, Silent-ology turns five years old!

birthdaycakenorma

Norma’s happy to help me cut the cake.

We’ve been celebrating the unique, beautiful, quirky, inspirational silent era together for half a decade! This is all thanks to your continued visits, comments and support, which makes this huge, multi-year project such a fulfilling labor of love. I couldn’t ask for a more good-natured, appreciative audience, and that’s a fact.

And now, a respectable selection of 1924 silent film stars will join me in saying a very sincere:

Thank You stars

to all!

By the way, I’m extra excited this year because…well…five is my favorite number. šŸ˜€ SO LET’S PARTY!!!

Whew, getting tired from all that partying? Let’s take a break and recap some of this blog’s highlights from 2018. Continue reading

Book Review: “The Hal Roach Comedy Shorts Of Thelma Todd, ZaSu Pitts And Patsy Kelly” By James L. Neibaur

Nowadays there’s a lot of hubbub about actresses in modern comedies, with plenty of well-meaning people proclaiming that the existence of Melissa McCarthy or Kristen Wiig proves that, at last, folks are figuring out that ladies can be funny too! It only took 130 years, y’all! No one has ever, ever noticed this before, and no, I’ve never heard of Mabel Normand or seenĀ I Love Lucy,Ā why do you ask?

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“…Oh. But that was, like, in black and white.”

But, as the introduction to James L. Neibaur’s latest bookĀ The Hal Roach Shorts of Thelma Todd, ZaSu Pitts and Patsy KellyĀ points out, the funny ladies of film have been with us far longer than that–since the darn dawn of cinema, I would add. A few perfect examples from the Golden Age of Comedy are Thelma Todd, ZaSu Pitts, and Patsy Kelly, who starred together in a number of shorts in the 1930s (Todd and Pitts were a comedy team for a few years; when Pitts left the Roach studio in 1933 Patsy Kelly took over her half of the team). While there are a couple biographies of ZaSu available and several about Thelma (due to her tragic death in 1935), Neibaur’s book is the first to examine the short comedies of these frequently overlooked comediennes. Continue reading

The Thoroughly Lost Art Of The Title Card

A version of this article was originally written for Classic Movie Hub, where I write a monthly column on–you guessed it–silent films. Hope you enjoy!

When you think of jobs that have gone the way of the dodo, certain ones spring to mind right away: chimney sweeps. Switchboard operators. Bowling alley pinsetters. Organ grinders’ monkeys. Almost every flea circus ringmaster. Well, just imagine what it was like to have a career as a title card artist or title card writer in the late 1920s when talkies were coming in–it must’ve been pretty intense.

It mustā€™ve been a little sad, too. For even though titles (or ā€œcaptions,ā€ or ā€œsubtitles,ā€ or ā€œleaders,ā€ as they were variously called–today we often call them “intertitles”) were sometimes considered a tad intrusive even back then, they did evolve into their own skilled artform.

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Forbidden Fruit (1921)

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Fan Magazine Fun: “Film Titles Travestied” And Other Cartoon Odds And Ends

Today let’s take a gander at Pictures and The Picturegoer, a British movie magazine that first came off the presses in 1911 and had a lengthy run until 1960 (it was eventually called just Picturegoer). The following cartoons, which filled in space at the editors’ whims, are all from October and November 1915 issues. They serve as fine opportunities for “humor archaeology”–in other words, trying to figure out what the heck they meant.

Here, for example, is “Film Titles Travestied.” Can you decipher it?

cartoon percy darling picgoer nov 20 '15

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Thoughts On: “Chaplin” (1992)

With the biopicĀ Stan and OllieĀ now in theaters (although not playing anywhere near me, sadly) I thought I’d take a look at one of the more well-known silent star biopics, Richard Attenborough’sĀ Chaplin.Ā Most old movie fans seem to love it. As for me? Well, read on!

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Biopics are a dicey genre. How do you, say, capture a legendary talent from a century ago and showcase him to modern audiences, especially if many of them (likely) haven’t seen one of his films? Naturally, an overview of his entire career is a lot to ask–after all, there were tons of personal and professional events packed into those decades, and it would be tough to do justice to all of them.

Well, Richard Attenborough saw your reservations, and decided to raise you a busy tour throughout the entire life of Charlie Chaplin, ups and downs and all. And if you ask classic film fans about this biopic today, most seem to think it’s the best–why, it has great performances! Moving moments! It’s a fascinating, touching experience! It’s the bee’s knees to most folks, is what I’ve gathered.

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As you’re suspecting, I don’t have quite the same enthusiasm towards the 2 1/2 hour film, nor do I exactly understand why so many fans accept it so uncritically. There’s plenty IĀ do like about it, but too much of it is bothersome to be a definitive look at the great comedian’s story–in my humble opinion. Continue reading

Adieu, 2018–The Silent Community Year In Review

Happy New Year’s, everyone! It’s a day to celebrate, preferably Lilian Harvey-style:

As you do.

And as usual, it’s time to look back on the various silent-related film discoveries, DVD and book releases, and other noteworthy events from the past twelve months. I keep a running list of film news all throughout the year, so hopefully this “year in review” post is pretty thorough. But if I managed to miss anything important, please let me know in the comments! (And remember that it needs to be an event/discovery/release from 2018 specifically.)

Without further ado, let’s get started: Continue reading

A Merry Christmas And A Happy New Year!

A very MERRY CHRISTMAS from Miss Movie! Or so the fairy in this 1917Ā Motion Picture MagazineĀ is called:

I was amused by the fact that “Also a Merry Christmas!” is a wee afterthought at the bottom. In fairness, this is a January issue, but the December issues don’t seem to have an abundance of Christmas ads either. Times have sure changed, eh?

I’m hoping that all Silent-ology readers have a lovely Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, wherever you may be! No matter what you’ll be doing today or how busy or how quiet it’ll be, know that I’ll be raising a glass to you at some point.

 

 

 

(Also a Happy New Year!)

Thoughts On: “They Shall Not Grow Old” (2018)

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:Ā 
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.Ā 
At the going down of the sun and in the morningĀ 
We will remember them.
–From “For the Fallen” by Laurence Binyon

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After four years of the extended commemoration, we’ve reached the very tail end of World War I’s centennialĀ (not counting 2019’s recognition of the 1919 Treaty of Versailles–don’t worry, WWI buffs, I haven’t forgotten). So it’s fitting that in these final days of 2018, the new war documentaryĀ They Shall Not Grow Old should beĀ in theaters (limited numbers of screenings and all).

They Shall Not Grow Old (2018)

What’s also fitting, in my opinion, is that Peter Jackson is at its helm. He’s proved in the past that with care and preparation he can churn out stunning works like theĀ Lord of the RingsĀ trilogy (which has a practically transcendent effect on me to this day–by the way, thatĀ HobbitĀ trilogy doesn’t exist).Ā They Shall Not Grow OldĀ is an excellent addition to his filmography, and is certainly a milestone within the genre of war documentaries. Continue reading

ANNOUNCEMENT: The Fifth Annual Buster Keaton Blogathon!

Hear ye, hear ye! I am pleased to announce the return of Silent-ology’s prestigious blogathon, devoted to that inimitable thespian of the enigmatic visage and whimsical porkpie chapeau, the singular Joseph Frank Keaton:

Busterthon 5-1

Can you believe this blogathon is in its fifth year? I can hardly believe it myself. (That also means my blog is about to turn 5 years old–I can hardly believe that, too!) And thus, once again I would like to extend the cordial invitation to all my fellow film bloggers to join in this annual celebration of everything Buster Keaton–one of the most important and unique figures in cinematic history.

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Thoughts On: “Peter Pan” (1924)

Since the Christmasy month of December seems like a fine time to watch fairytale films, here’s a look at the first film adaptation of one of our most beloved children’s stories. (And speaking of the holiday season, did you know that J.M. Barrie’s original play was meant to be performed during Christmas time? And did you know the earliest officialĀ Peter PanĀ merchandise was a set of Christmas crackers authorized by Barrie in 1906?)

I’ve always had a soft spot for J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan tales. Like countless others I grew up with the 1953 Disney film (and practically memorized it), but I first encountered Barrie’s writing in an excerpt from his novelĀ The Little White Bird.Ā This excerpt was part of a lushly-illustrated anthology of children’s literature that my grandparents kept around when I was little. They always knew that at some point–usually during the dinner parties they used to host–I would trot over to the bookshelf, pull out the book, and pore over all those pictures as the adults chatted over their pre-dinner drinks.

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In time, of course, when I was old enough to read “chapter books” (do you remember when your elementary school friends began bragging that they could read “chapter books”?), I started pouring over the actual stories, too. TheĀ Little White BirdĀ excerpt came with an introduction that has fixed itself in a corner of my imagination ever since I first read it: “Many of us know about [Peter]…through stage plays, motion pictures, and television. But there is an earlier Peter, a somewhat different Peter Pan…” Continue reading