“One Turn One Picture”–Stop Motion Animation In The Silent Era

Imagine you have a small film studio, and you’ve set up a table-sized platform with an artfully-arranged miniature landscape on top. A couple figurines–maybe dinosaurs–are posed among snippets of shrubs and tree branches serving as a jungle. There’s a painted backdrop of mountains and sky, and everything is lit brightly with hot lights; your hand-cranked camera is in the exact spot you need it, ready to go. You carefully adjust the figurines, then crank the camera–only turning the handle once. You adjust the figurines again, and again crank the camera handle once. You adjust them again–but not because they don’t look right to you.

Image result for 1910s stop motion willis o'brien

Indeed, the amount of savagery is just right.

Nope, this is your peculiar, unique art form, requiring complete dedication, patience, and foresight–stop motion animation. Full work days go by as you patiently adjust the figures under the hot lights again and again, now and then stopping to repair them as their latex skins start showing signs of wear and tear. After a few weeks, you’ll have a sequence a few minutes long–and on film, the miniature scene will be full of life.

Continue reading

Obscure Films: “The Policemen’s Little Run” (1907)

Need a little pick-me-up after a long, hard day? Looking for some good old-fashioned slapstick nonsense that’s blissfully short? Have a particular craving for, say, a 1900s French comedy short that your friends (and possibly you) have never heard of?

Well that’s easy enough–The Policemen’s Little Run (1907) it is!

screenshot PolicemensRun 1

Seen here in blurrymotion.

Continue reading

Welcome, New Readers!

ANOTHER EDIT 6/14/19: My new laptop finally arrived! Stay tuned. 😉

EDIT 6/7/19: Due to my laptop deciding to conk out all the sudden, I won’t have a new post out this week. Which is sad, because it was on a film I really love–but at least you can still look forward to it! ~

Happy summer, all! (It sure took its sweet time coming, didn’t it?) Every once in awhile–and it’s been awhile–I put out a “welcome tour” post for new Silent-ology readers. Because I know what it’s like to visit a new blog and feel like you’ve walked into a coffee shop where everyone understands the complicated drink orders except you.

Image result for marion davies the red mill

“So a small is a ‘Mini,’ a medium is a ‘Not So Petite,’ and a large is a…’Get Wired’? But why??!

So let’s get to it! Silent-ology (which turned five a few months ago!) is my personal “dig” through silent film history. Every detail of this unique era fascinates me, so if you don’t see a topic or an actor covered, they probably will be in the future! I have theme months a couple times a year (the latest was Sheik Month) and host an annual Buster Keaton Blogathon. Taking a look at my “About” page is a nice little intro to the site. And then, of course, there’s the My Articles page (and don’t forget the Search box!).

Want a few suggestions? If you’re just getting into silent films, you might like: Continue reading

Before the Nickelodeon: The Era of Travelling Moving Picture Shows

After conducting my official “pull names written on slips of paper out of my cloche-style hat” drawing for the copy of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival ’19 program, I’m happy to announce that the winner is:

jimmoore2017

Congrats, Jim! If you don’t hear from me first, you can contact me through the form on the About Silent-ology page. Once I have a mailing address I should be able to send it to you in the next few days. And now, my latest post (a version of this article has appeared on Classic Movie Hub, where I write a monthly column):

We’ve all seen pictures of beautiful 1920s movie palaces complete with columns, statues and enormous lit-up marquees. And their ancestor, the nickelodeon, is fairly well known too–those small, crowded little theaters that charged a nickel to see the latest show. But before the late 1900’s heyday of the nickelodeon and even before the existence of Hollywood itself, many people first saw films at travelling motion picture shows.

Image result for vitascope projector show

A Vitascope projector show at an existing theater.

These seem to have popped up in the 1890s and were popular throughout the 1900s. Descended from magic lantern shows, they were also similar to the fancy exhibitions put on by inventors to showcase their newly-patented cameras and projectors to genteel audiences. But the wonder of the moving picture couldn’t be contained in those staid lecture halls for long. To many enterprising men in the Victorian era (mainly gents were interested in this line of work), the novelty of cinema presented a unique and interesting way to make a living. 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 must’ve been a little sad, too. For even though titles (or “captions,” or “subtitles,” or “leaders,” 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.

title-forbidden fruit '21

Forbidden Fruit (1921)

Continue reading

A Little Tour For New Readers

Hello all! As Silent-ology continues to try and spread the joy of silent cinema to anyone who happens to stumble by, I’m considering writing brief “welcome” posts like this every once in awhile. I know what it’s like to visit a new blog and feel like someone who just popped into a trendy new cafe and is trying to figure out the complicated chalk-written menu.

Image result for silent film star head scratcher
“The menu includes ‘add ons’ AND ‘extras.’ Aren’t they the same thing?!?”

Of course, the “About” page of a blog always helps, but it’s nice to know you’re in the writer’s thoughts right here, right now.

So here’s the most basic tour: I’m interested in pretty much every detail of the entire silent era, so if there’s a topic you’re interested in, there’s a good chance I’ve got it covered–and if not, it’ll likely be written about in the future! Take a look at the My Articles page, or simply use the Search box. I gravitate toward silent comedy a bit more than drama, so searching for “comedians” or “silent comedy” should bring up a lot of results. (There’s oodles of Buster Keaton, by the way–especially since I host an annual Buster blogathon!)

Image result for buster keaton

Buster’s obviously psyched about being so well-represented.

I like to do theme months a couple times a year, and so far these have included: Forgotten comedians, Georges Melies, Mary Pickford, the Comique shorts (made by Roscoe Arbuckle and co-starring Buster Keaton) and my latest, Flapper Month. I also enjoy covering German Expressionism and other silent horror-type films every October, so there’s plenty of tags for those topics too.

If you’re brand new to silent films, you might appreciate these early articles:

But let’s say you already like silents, and are specifically interested in Really Super Old silents. Consider checking out:

Or maybe you want to know more about the early moviegoing scene. You’ll probably enjoy:

Or perhaps you’re looking to learn more about silent era actors. I try to cover both the big personalities and the obscure ones. Here’s a few:

Gravitate toward the artsy side of the era? Take a look at:

Planning a trip to Hollywood? Looking for some tips on finding silent-related sites, and how to get there? I’ve got you covered!

And as long as we’re on the topic of visiting silent Hollywood, if you’re as interested in research as I am, you’ve no doubt heard of the prestigious Margaret Herrick library. Plan on going there one day? Here are some tips on how to do research there:

A Newbie’s Visit To The Margaret Herrick Library

There’s a lot more, of course, but I hope this brief tour was helpful. And as always, feel free to leave comments (even on older articles). We have a very friendly crowd here, so don’t be shy!

Happy reading!

Image result for silent film star reading

 

Book Review: “Slapstick Divas: The Women Of Silent Comedy” By Steve Massa

Image result for slapstick divas steve massa

Fans of film history–rejoice! For in the Year of our Lord two thousand and seventeen, the library of essential early film books like The Parade’s Gone By and Mack Sennett’s Fun Factory has been expanded by Slapstick Divas: The Women of Silent Comedy by film historian Steve Massa. It’s been my most anticipated book of the year, and as you can already tell, I was not disappointed.

Continue reading

Thoughts On: “A Trip To The Moon” (1902)

You knew this one was coming! This is the final post for Méliès Month–I hope you enjoyed this extended tribute to one of the essential pioneers of the cinema!

Upward mount then! clearer, milder,

Robed in splendour far more bright!
Though my heart with grief throbs wilder,

Fraught with rapture is the night!

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, “To the Rising Full Moon,” 1828

For thousands of years mankind has gazed at the moon. Deities have been associated with it. We’ve written about it in poems and books, mentioned it in songs and plays, and painted and sculpted its likeness.

So perhaps it’s fitting that one of the earliest milestones of a brand-new artform should feature the elusive moon that’s so haunted our imaginations–a craggy, blinking, papier mache variety with seriously wicked eyebrows, that is.

Related image Continue reading

6 Things Méliès Did First

People talk about how everyone is six degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon. Well, I’m here to tell you that as far as cinema history’s concerned, everything’s six degrees of separation from Georges Méliès. Maybe three degrees. If there’s a film trope, storyline, or special effect that you’re trying to trace to its origins, I say give up right now, and just assume it’s Méliès. And by way of demonstration, here are at least six things the French wizard seems to have put on film before they were a twinkle in anyone’s eye. Continue reading

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.

Related image

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