Bert Williams: Vaudeville Superstar

If you have even a passing interest in learning about vaudeville–that hugely influential form of entertainment that today’s pop culture wouldn’t be the same without–and indeed want to acquaint yourself with early stage shows in general, there’s one name in particular that you should know: Bert Williams.

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Oh yes, I can sense you raising your eyebrows right now–Williams (who himself was black) is in that cringeworthy blackface makeup, white gloves and all. This was how he appeared on the stage, and how audiences recognized him. But this man was much more than a dated makeup–this was a performer who transcended a stock character appearance by his sheer talent and charisma, and became one of the most successful performers of his time. A performer so beloved, that after his sudden death in 1922 from pneumonia over 5,000 fans filed past his casket.  Continue reading

Silent Ireland: 5 Dramas From The Emerald Isle

I’m guessing that many of you have seen silent films from a number of countries, like Germany, France, Italy, Sweden, and possibly even Japan. But have you ever watched one from Ireland?

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Sure and there are Irish silents, indade! And they captured snapshots of traditional rural life in Ireland several years before the famous Easter Rising. Thanks to Trinity College in Dublin, several Irish dramas are available for your viewing pleasure on their official YouTube channel. Continue reading

“The Butcher Boy” (1917) Turns 100 Today!

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We made it, folks. THIS IS IT. Buster Keaton’s very first film–Roscoe Arbuckle’s fantastic The Butcher Boy (1917), distributed by Paramount Pictures–was released on this day 100 years ago. This is when his career in cinema truly began.

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Please enjoy this priceless rare lobby card that just popped up on Google out of nowhere.

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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

Win A DVD Of “Behind The Door” (1919), The Most Disturbing Silent Film You’ve Never Seen!

UPDATE 4/12/17: The winner of the drawing is Kevin S., randomly selected by Flicker Alley from the many entries for this exciting DVD giveaway. Congrats, Kevin! 

We will (finally) return to the last few Méliès Month posts this Friday. I didn’t want you guys to miss out on a chance to own a free copy of this rare, and distinctly unsettling, early horror film! 

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Last October I reviewed one of the most disturbing silent films I’d ever beheld: Behind the Door (1919) starring Hobart Bosworth, a film that starts out like your standard 1910s drama and ends up like a murderer’s fever dream. It was a slightly awkward review to write since I knew it had never been put on DVD, was only playing at select film festivals, and that few people would ever get to see it.

That is…until now. The fabulous Flicker Alley, creator and distributor of top-quality silent film restorations, is releasing the first ever Blu-ray/DVD of Behind the Door on April 4, 2017! And you can sign up to win a copy right here on Silent-ology…details below!

(I’ve never done anything quite like this before–the closest would be the little drawings I hold for Buster blogathon participants. Silent-ology’s moving up! *wink*)

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Georges Méliès And The Féerie

There is much to love about Georges Méliès. He was a technical wizard, a delightful performer, and an artist whose gorgeous work can still inspire awe.  And charmingly, he was a man who believed in dreams. He captured many of them on the screen, one painted set at a time, and today they serve as reminders of an era more open to wonder.

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Méliès’s films have a knack for taking us out of our comfort zones in the most enchanting way possible. They’re so old-timey to our eyes that they could almost come from a different planet. At times, we have to remind ourselves to stop holding them at arm’s length.

But to filmgoers in Méliès’s own time, the filmmaker’s work was not only exceptional but also familiar. In fact, he was drawing upon a long history of theatrical enchantment–specifically, the French theater genre of the féerie. Continue reading

Georges Méliès: Pioneer Of Cinematic Spectacle

[His films] had a visual style as distinctive as Douanier Rousseau or Chagall, and a sense of fantasy, fun and nonsense whose exuberance is still infectious…. —David Robinson

His full name was Marie-Georges-Jean Méliès, and he was born on December 8, 1861 in beautiful Paris. His wealthy parents, Jean-Louis-Stanislas Méliès and Johannah-Catherine Schuering, owned a successful factory for high-quality boots. Their parents imagined that Georges and his older brothers Henri and Gaston would simply take over the family business one day. But little did they know that Georges would not only take up a cutting-edge industry they had never even imagined, but that he would attain global fame as one of its greatest pioneers.

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“The Biograph Girl”–The Career Of Early Star Florence Lawrence

For a long time the world knew her as “The Biograph Girl.” Family and friends knew her as “Flo.” And in time, fans would know her by her full, rhyming name, “Florence Lawrence.” And today we also tend to add this phrase–“The First Movie Star.”

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Contrary to popular lore she wasn’t technically the first movie star, but she certainly was one of the earliest. Continue reading

Forever Debonair: The Enduring Work Of Comedy Pioneer Max Linder

At first glance, he appears to be an actor from society dramas. He had perfectly creased trousers, well-shined shoes, a coat and tie, white gloves, and, most impressively of all, a high silk top hat brushed to a fine sheen. But then there’s those big, practically bulging eyes–eyes that could only belong to a comedian.

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These are the eyes of Max Linder, a film comedy pioneer that paved the way for all the great comedians of the silent era and beyond. If there’s a comedy routine you like, chances are Linder got there first. While he isn’t as well-known today as folks like Buster Keaton or Mabel Normand, Linder shares their aura of timelessness. All he needs is to be introduced to new audiences–for who today in this era of steampunk and all things vintage can resist comedies starring a dapper Edwardian gentleman with a tidy mustache and a top hat? Continue reading