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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Was Chaplin Really That Sentimental?

You see it pretty often on the Interwebs–folks who, usually while embroiled in one of those “Chaplin vs. Keaton” debates, will state that they like Charlie Chaplin well enough, but he’s “too sentimental.” They will then declare their allegiance to Buster Keaton, or else sigh: “They’re both so awesome, I just can’t choose!”

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Harold Lloyd sits patiently on the sidelines, as usual.

While I guess I understand this viewpoint, I scratch my head over it at times–and not just because I feel that Chaplin’s so-called “sentimental” stories are crafted with sincerity and taste. I’d venture a guess that most people today who watch Chaplin tend to focus on his 1920s-and-beyond work, the favorites being The Gold RushCity Lights, and Modern TimesAnd yes, these films are the go-to examples of his much-analyzed use of “pathos.”

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People can’t get enough of “pathos,” as my scientific graph demonstrates.

But this fabled “sentimental Charlie” we’re familiar with today wasn’t the character that 1910s audiences went crazy over. Quite the opposite, in fact! My friends, if you’re leery of supposed sappiness in Chaplin’s work I must urge you to get acquainted with…Keystone Charlie. 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.

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“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!)

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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!

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Fan Magazine Fun: “Lips Cannot Lie”

Proving once more that movie fan magazine writers could turn anything into an article, presumably if deadlines were looming darkly enough (see: Kneeology), here is a 1918 Picture-Play Magazine article all about…movie star mouths.

Lips cannot lie picplay mag Sept '18

Now now, do not laugh. For this is some hard-hitting journalism right here. Face it, without this article you likely never gave the psychology of movie star lips a second thought. But now you’re thinking about it, and that’s a thought that wasn’t in your brain a mere few minutes ago, so…hooray!

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“The Muse Of The Reel”–The Pioneering Work Of Director Lois Weber

When the history of the dramatic early development of motion pictures is written, Lois Weber will occupy a unique position. 

Thus spoke a journalist in a 1921 Motion Picture Magazine article. At the time, Weber was one of the most familiar and respected directors in the film industry–and the most prominent of the few female directors overall. Today, from our vantage point of nearly a century later, it may seem like that journalist’s prediction hasn’t quite come true. Weber certainly does have a unique place in cinema history, but that place has been largely overlooked for many decades.

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However, thanks to new restorations of her work being shown at film festivals and a wealth of online resources for film scholarship, Weber’s slowly but surely being restored to her place in the early filmmakers’ pantheon–a place she had certainly earned, with the goal of nothing less than the moral uplift of mankind. Continue reading

Mona Darkfeather, The “Indian Princess” of Hollywoodland

Among the ranks of the many forgotten silent actors and actresses who specialized in similar kinds of dramatic roles or comic “types,” there were a few who were a little more unique. One was the actress Josephine Workman, aka “Princess Mona Darkfeather,” who (believe it or not) wasn’t actually an Indian princess and whose possible American Indian ancestry is a big question mark. But for much of the 1910s she was very popular among the moviegoing public–and, she was certainly a part of the development of the Western genre.

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Enjoy This Gallery Of Stars Posing With Turkeys

In honor of this here Turkey Day, I’ve decided to craft a small collection of photos showcasing a hot 1920s autumn trend: pictures of silent stars posing with turkeys. Apparently, no November issue of a movie magazine was complete without at least one of these.

Here, for instance, is Anna Q. Nilsson posing with a studio’s best stuffed turkey. Some of you might remember Nilsson’s cameo in Sunset Boulevard:

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A Mesmerizing Talent: The Life And Career Of Conrad Veidt

“I only fell in love once with a movie actor. It was Conrad Veidt. His magnetism and his personality got me. His voice and gestures fascinated me. I hated him, feared him, loved him. When he died it seemed to me that a vital part of my imagination died too, and my world of dreams was bare.”

Quoted from one of the documents compiled in British Cinemas and Their Audiences by J.P. Mayer. 

He had a lean, chiseled face that could’ve belonged to a regal nobleman, a sickly poet, or a sinister villain. His blue eyes could burn with the fury of a madman, or grow wide and distant as if trying to forget terrible secrets. But they could become warm and friendly too, especially if you were chatting with this tall, distinguished man about his greatest passion: dramatic acting. “I must have the dramatic, the ecstatic,” he told an interviewer in 1928, “something with great mental force.”

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Known today for such horror classics as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and The Man Who Laughs, Hans Walter Conrad Veidt (nicknamed “Connie”) came from a quiet and sensible background. Continue reading

Obscure Films: “The Blue Bird” (1918)

In its review of The Blue Bird back in 1918, The New York Times declared, “…It is a safe assertion to say that seldom, if ever, has the atmosphere and spirit of a written work been more faithfully reproduced in motion pictures.” This observation holds true today, but with a twist for “we moderns.” For this film embodies the spirit of Edwardian fairytales and indeed many old European fairytales so thoroughly that for us, it could almost be from another planet. And for those of us willing to experience The Blue Bird today, that’s a good thing.

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Image Credit: Nitrate Diva

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

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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.

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