How many of you have gotten to meet a movie star? Not me–despite sightseeing in Hollywood several times now, I have yet to meet (or even glimpse) anyone who’s actually been in movies, naturally. (Not even while wandering Rodeo Drive and daringly deciding to use the bathroom in the Four Seasons hotel–I mean, where else would they be?!) But I guess that’s to be expected. After all, wealthy stars live in fancy gated communities, have top notch security, and go to exclusive restaurants and boutiques and such–no wonder they don’t brush elbows with us commoners very often.
Ah, but it wasn’t always that way–there was a time that you could brush elbows with a “picture star” at the corner store, or maybe see them walking home from the studio to their little flat just down the block. Want a good example of this more informal era of cinematic stardom? I’d recommend The Picture Idol (1912), one of my favorite light comedies from the genteel Vitagraph studio.
EDIT 7/13/20: New posts are on the way, folks! I had some time consuming projects to finish–am happy to get back to my regular postings!
Happy Independence Day to my fellow U.S. readers! And lookee what I found:
Is this not one of the most glorious patriotic images you’ve ever seen? It’s an ad for Mary Pickford’s The Little American (1917), made during WWI’s Great Wave of Patriotic Fervor. And I’d like to offer a challenge to the folks who like colorizing images–see what you can do with this! (I’d like vintage-y colors, myself.)
Well, 2020 has certainly been the strangest and most offkilter of years so far–this is definitely not how I planned on welcoming the New ’20s. However, holidays always provide opportunities to reflect and to remember the many silver linings in life. It’s easy to get caught up in the emotions of the moment, but holidays can ground us in ways nothing else can. And dang it, there’s few things better than a Fourth of July BBQ with your family and friends on a steamy summer’s day. To take a slightly modified sentence from Dickens, who was writing about a completely different holiday: though the Fourth of July has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe it has done me good, it will do me good, and I say, God bless it!
Readers, I hope all of you have a fine summer weekend, no matter where you are. And now, I’m off to light some sparklers.
It’s one of the most famous photos from silent comedy. Or from the silent era itself. Or, heck, from cinema itself. It’s the image that probably leaps to mind when you say “Keystone Kops.”
It’s also key to what I think is the ultimate championship trivia question: “This famous still comes from which lost film?” The winning answer–major props if you know it–is “In the Clutches of a Gang!” *Cue lots of applause and money showering from the ceiling*
For being such a wildly famous image, it’s surprising that In the Clutches of a Gang (1914) isn’t better known–as a title, at any rate. After all, the film itself has been lost for many decades, yet another casualty of delicate nitrate paired with the relentless march of time. What a pity that such a tantalizing piece of slapstick history should have been so thoroughly, and regrettably, lost.
OR HAS IT?! Continue reading
It’s an unfortunate fact that many stars are known mainly for a scandal or unfortunate demise. A lifetime of triumph and failure, hard work and reward, love and struggle–all are scoured away the second topics like “mysterious death” or “addiction” enter the picture. The individual involved dwindles down to a name, a “character” from long-ago times.
A prime example is Wallace Reid, major leading man of the 1910s and early 1920s. As a performer, he’s known mainly to silent film buffs. As a name, he has the sad distinction of being the first major Hollywood star to die of a drug addiction. “Drug addiction”–what a sledgehammer of a phrase. Decades of scandals have unfortunately accustomed us to scandals in Hollywood, but back in the early ’20s Reid’s death truly shocked the world.
But before we cover the tragic aspect of his life–and it was truly a tragedy–let’s get to know “Wally,” the well-liked Renaissance man whose good looks are at home in any decade. Continue reading
Hold the candlestick phone! Another new book on silent comedy is available to brighten our bookshelves? And it’s the first-ever book on the Keystone Cops?!
Why yes indeed! I’m happy to help spread the word that the fine new book CHASE! A Tribute to the Keystone Cops is now available from BearManor Media. It represents a dream team effort by a number of historians and writers, all compiled by editors Lon and Debra Davis. Many of the names you probably know already: Sam Gill, Joe Adamson, Michael J. Hayde, Rob King, Mark Pruett, Chris Seguin, Paul E. Gierucki, John Bengtson, Randy Skretvedt, Rob Farr, Brent E. Walker, Mark Wanamaker, Stanley W. Todd, Lon Davis himself, and Lea Stans.
Wait–Lea Stans? Why yes, that is me, and I’m very proud to announce that this is the first time my writing is appearing in a good ol’ turn-the-pages book! Continue reading
A version of this post was originally written for my Classic Movie Hub column Silents are Golden. Hope you enjoy!!
When Rudolph Valentino became a 1920s superstar thanks to the megahits The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921) and The Sheik (1921), he basically changed the definition of “matinee idol” forever. Unlike many popular actors at the time, who tended to be steady, “regular guy” types, the young Italian often played characters with a dangerous edge and definite air of sensuality. Even today, it’s not hard to see why women became obsessed with him.
Which might make you wonder: before Valentino, which leading actors were considered major heartthrobs? After all, when we list handsome silent film actors today, 1920s personalities like John Gilbert or Ramon Novarro will spring to mind–but who were the “hotties” of the Edwardian era?
Post #1 of Soviet Silents Month is here! I hope you enjoy reading about this fascinating (and rather intense) area of film history!
Few things summarize our idea of Soviet silent films better than the opening of the 1968 restoration of Vsevolod Pudovkin’s Mother (1926). As a projector (audibly) sputters to life, through a swirl of artificial snow a bold white “1905” looms on the screen. Snow continues to swirl around a series of black and white illustrations of the 1905 Russian Revolution, showing masses of the working class squaring off against soldiers in wintery city squares. The music is bombastic–deeply dramatic. The screen fades to black. And then it’s filled with a rather wordy quote by–who else?–Vladimir Lenin.
You’re no doubt assuming I’m going to say that there’s more to Soviet silent films than government-approved propaganda–including 1968 imitations of government-approved propaganda. There were delicate dramas and rollicking comedies made in Russia just like everywhere else, it’s true. However, they were always released with a catch. For from the early 1920s onward every film in the USSR was squeezed through the sieve of government censorship, including American imports (which were wildly popular). Analysis of Soviet film must forever dance between admiration of the finest examples of its artistry, and recognition that much of that artistry was in service of communist propaganda–often willingly.
And thus the history of Russia’s bold, futuristic, cutting-edge early cinema is a fascinating one, and well worth consideration. Few other nations would seize on a new form of expression as doggedly as the Soviet government. And few filmmakers would reach such heights of artistic achievement within such increasingly rigid confines, causing such a global superstar as Douglas Fairbanks to declare in 1926: “The finest pictures I have seen in my life were made in Russia. They are far in advance of the rest of the world.” Continue reading
Picture a fast-paced silent film scene where one character chases another with a gun blazing. Bullets fly, characters panic, and the editing is fast and furious Picturing something from a Western? Maybe even a Roaring Twenties gangster shootout?
Nope, just a typical scene from a 1910s Keystone comedy, where people fire guns like Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots and bullets do less damage than gnat bites. This particular scene’s from a short known only by the most hardcore silent comedy aficionados, A Bear Affair (1915). Oh, and the actor brandishing the gun? That would be the actress Louise Fazenda, one of the toughest and most good-natured slapstick comediennes of the silent era.
“Honor” has become a foreign term to us today. The idea of defending one’s honor seems quaint, and even funny–think of Oliver Hardy in Tit for Tat (1935), accused of fooling around with a man’s wife. Indignant over this smear, he declares dramatically: “My character. It has been ‘smirched. Ruthlessly dragged through the mud and mired…Never let it be said that a Hardy’s spotless reputation should be so maliciously trodden upon!”
We of course laugh at Ollie’s melodrama. But there was a time when honor did indeed have the utmost importance in many people’s lives. It was the backbone of numerous old families, the foundation of their day-to-day routines, and was expected to be defended quite literally to the point of death. Can we even wrap our minds around a time when parents would be crushed by the idea of their son not volunteering to go to war? I can’t think of a better illustration of this seemingly inscrutable mindset than The Coward (1915), one of the most riveting Civil War dramas of the silent period.