“Home Folks” And The Picture Shows–Rural America During The Dawn Of Cinema

The day of the “show” came. The courts adjourned. Stores closed, the blacksmith dropped his tongs, and school “let out” at noon. The people went in droves, even the ministers and their wives…The opera house was packed, with an eager, expectant and mystified audience. The house was darkened, and suddenly a glimmering light began to play on a canvas dropped like a curtain across the stage. And the first moving scene “thrown” was one of a lazy policeman trying to hurry an old man and a crippled mare across a street. The town wag let out a whoop, everybody caught the spirit–the moving pictures were a go!

–Reminisces about an 1897 small town motion picture show,
Conestoga Magazine, 1907.

Could cinema have been invented at a more fortunate time? Once an impressive novelty viewed for a few cents a pop, it also inadvertently documented intriguing glimpses of the “old,” traditional way of life. And those glimpses were something more than the general, exciting changeover from horse-drawn buggies to automobiles, or how the cities slowly lit up with electric lights. It was the passing of using those horses to plow fields, the end of drawing water by hand from a well, the dwindling away of kerosene lamps and flickering candles. It all happened in the mere span of a generation or two.

Rural Life in the Late 19th Century | Rise of Industrial America, 1876-1900  | U.S. History Primary Source Timeline | Classroom Materials at the Library  of Congress | Library of Congress
Image credit: loc.gov
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My Top 10 Favorite Silent Films (So Far)

So I’ve been thinking: good ol’ Internet listicles are fun. And depending on the context, they can tell you a little about the writer, too. Here I’ve been publishing posts on our beloved old films week in and week out, and never thought to write the most basic one of all–a “my favorite silents” list. So allow me to tell you a little about myself.

Needless to say, picking just ten films was a task akin to scaling Mount Everest. I don’t know if my list is the most surprising one in the world (no worries, it’s not smugly crammed with obscure social dramas from Finland or something), but here it is, in no particular order–except for #1! (Links are included for the ones I’ve reviewed so far.)

10. Metropolis (1927)

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The Extraordinary Talent of Robert “Bobby” Harron

I am pleased to present this article on the life and career of the very underappreciated Bobby Harron, an actor of rare talent who left his mark on some of the greatest films of the silent era–and the film industry in general. It’s a long one, so I’ve added a list of contents for your convenience! 

Robert Harron haunting

Early Life
The Beginnings of a Career
Developing as an Actor
Major Roles
An Established Leading Man
The Close of a Promising Career
“The Boy Whom Everyone Liked”

Introduction

One of the earliest and most overlooked film stars is Robert “Bobby” Harron. The slender, unassuming young man acted in dozens of films, including the largest milestones of all time: The Birth of a Nation (1915) and Intolerance (1916).

Bobby Harron full smiling

And yet, perhaps because of the attention given to Griffith’s actresses, Bobby is constantly, and consistently, overlooked. It’s common to see articles merely mention him as a costar to Mae Marsh or Lillian Gish before delving into the details of the women’s performances. Gish and Marsh were some of the finest actresses of the silent era, to say nothing of other talented Griffith players like Miriam Cooper or Blanche Sweet. But Bobby was a massively talented actor in his own right. Take a moment to turn your concentration from Gish or Marsh to the dark-haired Irish lad just to their side, and you’ll realize what you’ve been missing. Continue reading