Thoughts On: “Soldier Man” (1926)

To say that the gentle, baby-faced, cartoon-character-come-to-life Harry Langdon is not an obvious pick for a World War I-themed film might seem like a huge understatement. But funnily enough, there was something about the sight of Langdon’s innocent clown blundering through shell-pitted battlegrounds that worked. Was it the contrast, which was so stark that it became funny? Did the “Little Elf’s” bewilderment echo the disillusionment many folks had felt during those stressful war years?

Harry soldier man crouching

In any case, Langdon would use WWI gags a bit more often than most clowns, in the short All Night Long (1924), the feature The Strong Man (1926), and the three-reeler Soldier Man (1926). Soldier Man in particular seems to get overlooked, which is a shame–many of the scenes and gags are certainly what I would call “classic Harry.” Continue reading

7 German Expressionist Films You Probably Haven’t Heard Of

Aside from The Cabinet of Dr. CaligariNosferatu or Metropolis, how many German Expressionist films can you name? (Or maybe I should say, how many semi-German-Expressionist-ish films can you name? That’s an easier question.) After all, Caligari didn’t spring forth from thin air, and you’ve always heard that German Expressionism was kind of a big deal.

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I guess this was influential, or something.

To help with that question, I’ve compiled a handy list of Weimar-era rarities that you may or may not have heard of before. Keep in mind that “true” German Expressionism is, technically, a very specific genre that used deliberately artificial-looking sets and props, and relied on emotion and psychology instead of realism. Thus, most of these entries are examples of that type of film. (By the way, if you’ve been following my blog for awhile, you’ll probably remember #1 and #2 since I covered them in the past. If you’re a newbie, though–enjoy!)  Continue reading

Silent-ology’s Handy Tips For (Accurate) Roaring Twenties Halloween Costumes

So you want to dress up as a flapper or a Prohibition-era gangster for Halloween!! (Don’t we all, at some point?) And you probably already have some visions in mind–a fringed dress paired with a feather boa, a pinstripe suit and white tie–something along those lines.

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Don’t worry, even Hollywood with all its millions couldn’t get it right.

If you visit your nearest Halloween store, fringe and white ties are the only options you’ll find. Now, if that’s what you really want to wear, it’s your funer–I mean, it’s up to you. It’s okay, I will only judge you in the privacy of my mind (and only a little harshly). But if you want an authentic look that draws inspiration from the many real styles of the Jazz Age, then boy oh boy have I got some handy tips for you!!  Continue reading

From Pie Throwing To Polished Farce: How Silent Comedy Evolved In Under Two Decades

Say the phrase “silent comedy,” and instantly a host of clichés come to mind–pratfalls, silly mustaches, banana peels, wacky acting, and of course, pie throwing. (Although the latter wasn’t as common as we think).

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50% of silent comedy pies were in this film (maybe).

Of course, there’s more to the huge world of silent comedy than those clichés (not that we don’t love them). From the one-reel farces of Max Linder to the light comedies of John Bunny and Flora Finch to the epic scale of The General, a wide variety of films fit under the “laughmaker” label, and this is partly because there were distinct trends in comedy that evolved just as quickly as cinema did itself. Continue reading

Fan Magazine Fun: “My goodness, don’t they look strange?”

So here’s a slightly baffling item from the quirky magazine Film Fun, which as you may recall is the gift that keeps on giving. I’ve decided that if Film Fun took human form, it would definitely be a starstruck teen with ADHD.

The June, 1926 issue included this two-page spread called “The Family Album.” Here’s the first page (rightclick and hit “open image in new tab” if you want to zoom in):

Family album FilmFun June '26 1

Which is all somewhat incomprehensible without context. Basically, stars posed for Victorian-style portraits meant to look like dead “relations” of yore, in a tongue-in-cheek manner, of course. Captions ramped up the fun by giving them old-fashioned sounding names like “Lulu Hicks” and “Hiram Bump.” Oh, you kids! Continue reading

Thoughts On: “The Big Parade” (1925)

This is the last post of WWI in Film Month. Many thanks to all who’ve been following along the last few weeks! This subject could easily fill years of blog posts all by itself. September we’ll be back to “normal,” but I know I’ll continue studying about World War I in the years to come. It was the game changer of the 20th century, without a doubt.

On this day back in 1918, the Battle of the Scarpe ended, and Bailleul, France was retaken by the British. Armistice Day was only two and a half months away.

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By 1925, the Great War had been over for seven years. No one back then dreamed it would one day be the “first” World War. Millions of people had mourned their dead, and countless wounds both literal and figurative had been slowly healing. But the scars were deep and permanent, even as the world moved on to the prosperity and gaiety of the 1920s.

By 1925 the frenzy of the 1910s anti-Hun propaganda was a strange, fading memory (although its effects on German Americans were long lasting). With the battles long over and the cities and villages of Europe slowly repairing themselves, people were able to step back and look at the Great War with more objective eyes. Director King Vidor was one of those people, and the result was his magnificent drama The Big Parade.

His timing turned out to be perfect, for The Big Parade would be one of the biggest hits of the entire silent era, its box office gross second only to The Birth of a NationContinue reading

Watching Silent Films With Our Grandparents

If it seemed a bit quiet on Silent-ology lately, it’s because my beloved Grandpa passed away last week on Independence Day. He was 91 and had, without a doubt, enjoyed a “life well-lived.” He leaves behind his wonderful wife of nearly 70 years, a dozen children, dozens of grandchildren and great-grand children, and even one great-great-grandchild.

And of course, he leaves behind countless memories for all of us to share with each other during each holiday gathering, BBQ or impromptu get-together. And for me, a few of those memories involve bringing over Buster Keaton shorts to watch with him and Grandma.

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One of the shorts we watched.

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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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DVD Reviews: “The Round Up” (1920) and “London Symphony” (2017)

Spring is finally here! (It sure took awhile to get to my neck of the woods, lemme tellya.) And with that in mind, it’s time to take a look at a couple fresh, new (or pretty new) releases that will make nice additions to the well-curated collection of silents that we all obviously have.

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It’s with a resounding “Hurrah!” that I greet CineMuseum’s newest release, a Blu-ray/DVD combo of Roscoe Arbuckle’s first feature film, The Round Up (1920). If you’ve read any of my Comique Month series from last July, you’ll know that I’m a big Arbuckle fan. So having this charming Western available is a nice boon for my collection. Continue reading

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