Helen Gibson, Pioneer Stunt Woman

There seems to be a common stereotype, fondly believed by too many people to count, that women in “the olden days” weren’t allowed to do…much of anything, really. That while not being squeezed into rib-cracking Victorian corsets (even when it wasn’t even the Victorian era, apparently) and dressed in twenty layers of clothing, they were basically confined to fainting couches or forced to stitch samplers. Why they weren’t just stuck in closets and taken out once in awhile to make sure they didn’t loosen those corsets is beyond me.

Based on my various attempts to comment on corset-related or otherwise women-in-olden-days-related threads on social media (said attempts being obviously authoritative and scientific), any sort of mild pushback on this black-and-white view is…surprisingly unwelcome. Of course women had a rougher time back in the day–of course they had less freedom and fewer options outside of marriage, as is patently obvious to anyone who takes a look at history. But *she puts forth meekly* that doesn’t mean it was abnormal for women to, you know, do things. Like ride horses, or play sports, or get jobs, or even own stores or patent inventions. Yes, even with corsets on. By the way, normal corsets weren’t that–

“What!” folks reply, shocked to the cores over such unwelcome and offensive information. “Are you trying to say women weren’t repressed? Because they were.” *Drops mic they carry around for just such occasions*

“Of course I’m not saying that–just that your idea of a ‘typical’ meek, seen-and-not-heard early 20th century woman is a little off the mark.” And here’s where I could’ve added: “Have you heard, for instance, of stuntwoman Helen Gibson?”

Still from To Save the Road (1916)
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“With Every Good Wish For A Right Merrie Christmas”–Little Holiday Greetings From The Silent Era

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.

Very long line in plaza 600 x 400 Blank Template - Imgflip
Judging by the lines at the post office this year, I was just in the nick of 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):

Camera!, December 24, 1921.
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Obscure Films: “The Village Chestnut” (1918) And A Watch Party Recommendation!

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:

Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog: Post #800 Salutes The EYE Project And  FIlm Preservation

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.

File:The Village Chestnut (1918) - 1.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

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

Thoughts On: “The Mystery Of The Leaping Fish” (1916)

Hello all, hope you’re doing well! I took a little break earlier this month because…well…I figured folks might be a bit distracted. *wink* What to do while we’re getting back to somewhat normal? Cover one of the least normal films of all time, of course!!

None of this is photoshop.

So if you haven’t seen The Mystery of the Leaping Fish, I…really don’t know how to prepare you for The Mystery of the Leaping Fish. Gently, with a rose? With a joke-filled monologue? With a solemn discussion of its historical background? With a parental advisory label? This, after all, is a short that manages to be adult-themed, in bad taste, shocking and weirdly innocent all at the same time. I may need to ponder this on a remote mountaintop for a few weeks.

“…I still got nuthin’.”

Or I could just hurl you right into the plot and hope for the best. Problem solved!

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Obscure Films: “The Avenging Conscience” (1914)

In 1914, horror wasn’t a recognized movie genre. Yes, there were films with macabre elements (like those strange, ancient special effects excursions by de Chomon and Melies), and you had your usual dark mysteries and thrillers (often in serial form). But the idea of being an enthusiast of “horror films” wouldn’t enter the public lexicon for quite a few years.

So in order to find the ancestors of Frankenstein, (1931) and The Haunting (1963), we have to weigh our options. The 1910 Frankenstein certainly counts, yes? And something like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) does, obviously. What about the serial Les Vampires (1915), with that one famous still? Or something off the beaten track, like Charley Bowers’s surreal short There It is (1926) or Max Linder’s Au Secours! (1924)?

One film that’s an obvious candidate is The Avenging Conscience, or Thou Shalt Not Kill (1914), D.W. Griffith’s Poe-infused drama containing visions of leaping demons and fake skeletons. I know I prefer watching it around Halloween.

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Who Was Gustav Von Wangenheim?

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:

Gustav von Wangenheim | Explore Tumblr Posts and Blogs | Tumgir
Yup, that 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.

Gustav von Wangenheim - Classic Monsters

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?

Let’s just say his story…threw me for a loop.

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A Public Service Announcement About Silent Era Vampires

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: It has come to our attention that many in the classic film community–of which the silent film community is a small yet passionate subset–have been somewhat misinformed about a particular character trope of the early 20th century.

Namely, that upon viewing certain 1920s films with the promise of having “vampires” in their plots, the said movie watching experiences don’t appear to reveal any bloodsucking, cape-wearing, pasty-faced monsters from the grave.

Image result for musidora les vampires
Well, okay, the actors were pasty-faced.

This prompts various IMDb reviews to say: “So there’s definitely no vampires in this movie…” or, “The gal in this film was a piece of work, but definitely not a vampire.”

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Fan Magazine Fun: “Them Were The Happy Days”

Good heavens, it’s been awhile since I published a new post. The reason? It’s a little boring, actually–I had two articles for Elsewhere due on the exact same day, so the research/writing for that ate up all my time. But the good news is, during that research/writing process I found a little gem from a 1926 Motion Picture Classic that you guys might get a kick out of. It’s an article called “Them Were the Happy Days,” described as “The first of a series of articles about the pioneer days of the motion picture–before it became a highly specialized industry.”

Them Happy Days 1

Now, keep in mind, these are reminisces about films that were made a little over a decade prior (the author keeps mentioning “1910,” but his stories seem to come from about 1910-1915). It’s like us reminiscing about the dear, old, long-forgotten days of The Dark Knight and Gran Torino. Continue reading

One Of The Unsung–A Nod To Bit Player Joe Bordeaux

While I’d originally hoped to put out two more posts, this is going to be the last one for Forgotten Comedians Month 2–it needed a bit more care. I hope you enjoyed following along! It was fun to have a “round two” of this theme month, so maybe it could become a recurring series…? I’d be down, just sayin’!

If you’ve been lurking around Silent-ology for awhile, you might’ve found my little bio for an apparently random bit player named Joe Bordeaux (sometimes spelled “Bordeau”). Why did I decide to write about this obscure person? Well, there’s a story involved. And a quasi-drinking game, of my own invention. I’ll explain.

Thoughts On: “His Wedding Night” And “Oh Doctor!” | Silent-ology

Pictured in cop garb on the far left: our subject.

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