Sunday, March 26, 2017

Season of Silents Wrap Up

How disappointing. The Season of Silents really fizzled out. I'll spare the boring details of the circumstances that have made it difficult to post and will resist the urge to make up exciting details to explain my absence. Suffice to say, it's my first year blogging and I'm learning as I go.

By immersing myself in the silent film era, I have deepened my love and appreciation for the silents. It is a rich experience that requires a bit more interpretation and thought from the viewer, which made it somewhat challenging for me to write about. It was fun to get to know new actors and directors, as well as new genres, and see how early film evolved.


Silent film is easy for me to love because it capitalizes on what I enjoy most about movies: the visuals.


It was interesting to discover powerful women in early films, not only in storylines, but behind the camera. I look forward to seeing more of the female adventure serials.

I experienced the joy of slapstick comedy. It's still not my favorite genre, but there is much to appreciate about it.

I really enjoy time traveling through these early films and find it interesting that while so much has changed, many of the social issues remain the same. I had planned to follow up with a Pre-Code Spring, but I have decided to be a little more open and focus on movies from the 1930s as a whole, which may include some French favorites and other films that would not be considered pre-code. I expect I'll slide into some film noir in late spring/early summer when things start heating up and the smell of honeysuckle is all along the street.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Early Women Filmmakers Receive Their Due

During the past few weeks of my silence on the silents, I've been steadily learning more about the silent era, and have been delighted to discover a plenitude of women who were involved in directing and producing movies in the early years of film. I had been completely unaware of the involvement of so many women in the early years of filmmaking.

After thoroughly enjoying Lois Weber's fascinating short film, Suspense, I was interested in learning more about her and seeing more of her work. As I began seeking out more of her films, I found a trio of DVDs in a series released by Kino, entitled First Ladies: Early Women Filmmakers. The movies I've seen from this series are captivating, surprising, entertaining, thought provoking and visually delightful. You can read a thorough review of the three DVDs in this series on DVD talk.

Just as I was wishing that Kino had more to offer in this series, I discovered that Kino Lorber recently mounted a Kickstarter campaign to fund a collection of films by women directors called Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers, with an estimated release date in November. I wish I'd seen that sooner to be able to support the project, but look forward to that release, just in time for Christmas.

Then, to further fulfill my wishes, I just received word from Flicker Alley that they will be releasing Early Women Filmmakers: An International Anthology in early May. This looks to be an amazing collection of films that I can't wait to see. I'll definitely be making room on the Collections shelf for this one, as Flicker Alley never lets me down.!/Early-Women-Filmmakers-An-International-Anthology/p/80085513/category=20414531

When I wrote about Ida Lupino being the only woman director and producer in 1950s Hollywood, I had no idea of the many women who preceded her. It is wonderful to see these films come to light and be able to enjoy the unique perspectives and talent that these women contributed to the early years of film.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Season of Silents: The Butcher Boy (1917)

I have never seen any Buster Keaton films, probably because I'm not a huge fan of slapstick comedy. It's possible Keaton may change that for me. I've read too many raves of his talent to ignore his work any longer, so when Amazon had the Buster Keaton Shorts Collection available on a Lightning Deal, I decided the time was right.

The Butcher Boy is the first Buster Keaton short I'm watching and the first he made with Roscoe Arbuckle 100 years ago. The screenshots I've taken are not from this Blu-Ray release, which is not tinted. The title cards in this short may not be the original ones, and some title cards on other releases I've seen provide more information than those included in this collection. Some of the character's names have also been changed in this short. Slim was originally called Alum and Amanda was Almondine. I do not approve of changing the titles and names from the original and hope that won't be common practice with all the shorts in this collection. I do prefer the Robert Israel score that accompanies this film and the picture is also superior in this Blu-Ray collection.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Season of Silents: The Chinese Fan (1914)

The Chinese Fan is the fifth episode from the serial, The Active Life of Dolly of the Dailies from the Edison production company, and runs for fourteen minutes. The other episodes are currently lost, and this one can be seen on Lost and Found: American Treasures from the New Zealand Film Archive, which also includes three reels from the first feature film credited to Alfred Hitchcock, The White Shadow.

The notes included on the DVD explain that there was an increasing popularity in serials featuring adventurous young women around 1913, many with alliterative titles: Perils of Pauline, Hazards of Helen, and Exploits of Elaine. The plucky heroine of this adventure is having adventures in a predominately male workplace. It may not be what you'd expect from the time period, which makes it fascinating to watch.

"A reporter is bound to come in contact with the seamy side of life. That is why Dolly has interesting adventures."

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Season of Silents: The Man Who Laughs (1928)

I first saw The Man Who Laughs back in 2011 when I borrowed the Kino DVD from Brother John, and enjoyed it so much I had to purchase my own copy. I am glad I did, because it's a hard title to come by these days. Although I'd seen Nosferatu, Phantom of the Opera and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, I had not yet begun avidly collecting and watching silent film. This was a film that gave me a newfound appreciation for 1920s movies.

This is a Universal film produced by Carl Laemmle, founder of Universal Pictures, whose son brought us the Universal Monsters. While it is a silent film, the soundtrack that accompanies it features synchronized sound in the form of wailing wind, sounds at a fair, and crowd sounds. The sound on this DVD is not in the finest condition and there is some degree of hiss, but the music on the soundtrack definitely has that Universal Pictures flavor. I found some of the sound effects to be a bit distracting (a lot of horns honking) and did not do much to enhance the action onscreen. It is as disappointing as the synchronized sound that was later added to Phantom of the Opera, and what you might expect from practitioners experimenting with a new medium.

Some of the intertitles have a decorative, flowery background. The film is based on a story by Victor Hugo and is directed by Paul Leni. It features Mary Philbin from Phantom, Conrad Veidt from Caligari and Olga Baclanova, who would later be known from her appearance in Freaks. Lon Chaney was intended for the part of Gwynplaine, but was working for another studio at the time. He would have been superlative, but Conrad Veidt proves himself more than adequate. I recommend checking out moviediva for some interesting background information on this film.

"Hear how they laugh at me-- nothing but a clown!"

Monday, January 2, 2017

It's a New Year!

I was supposed to be posting about The Man Who Laughs (which is forthcoming), but instead got caught up in New Year's festivities and new projects.


I decided to spend the New Year revisiting a favorite film I discovered this year. It is brimming with wit and intelligence and I love it completely. It seemed appropriate to bring in the new year with its good humor and satire. I was sorely tempted to write about it, but this film is so rich and so wonderfully detailed that it will take me a considerable amount of time to do it justice. I also hope to maybe tone down my fervor a little as I may be overdoing it a bit. You know how it is when you find a film that really resonates with you that you thoroughly enjoy. You want everyone else to see what there is to love about it, and your overenthusiasm tends to be lost on them. Nevertheless, it is something I expect to complete in 2017.

The new project I'm working on is blogging about The Invaders, a TV program from 1967. I'm not entirely sure what has possessed me to overextend myself by taking on yet another blog, though I will attempt to explain my reasoning. I will be posting on Tuesdays and will be covering the pilot episode on January 10th, the date it first aired fifty years ago.

I anticipate that 2017 will be a year when I depend on the escapism of classic movies and TV to keep me happy and at peace. Hopefully my internet litter may bring a little joy to the world gone mad.

Take me away, Invaders!

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Season of Silents: A Christmas Carol (1910)

I'm revisiting a well traveled story today and watching a short version of A Christmas Carol from A Christmas Past DVD. The Internet Movie Database lists 25 different versions of this tale on film, and this is the second version listed, the first one being from 1908. This was filmed at Thomas Edison studios and since it is short, the action is condensed down to important scenes, with a basic knowledge of the story to carry it along. This short is presented with a score by Al Kryszak, relying heavily on violins that, to these ears, have an unpleasant, discordant sound. Perhaps it was an attempt to match the unpleasant character of Scrooge. Scrooge is played by Marc McDermott, who was a prolific actor from 1909 to 1928, and appeared in He Who Gets Slapped and Flesh and the Devil.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Season of Silents: A Trap for Santa (1909)

A Trap for Santa is a short film by D.W. Griffith, who's well known for developing many film techniques that are used today. I have not seen any of his feature length films, which may be unusual for a silent film enthusiast, but I have taken a different path to silent film. This is one of several short films of his I've seen, most of which have been thought-provoking films that involve social issues. This short film can be found on A Christmas Past, a collection of Christmas silent movies, which gives an interesting look at Christmases in the early 1900s. Al Kryszak is responsible for the original score, using violins, viola, cello, piano, harp, and a handbell choir. At times it is pleasant and other times discordant. I don't find that it always fits the action onscreen, but it's got a holiday vibe.

Before we even see the family we are informed that there is no work for the father (Henry B. Walthall), and that misery and want are the family's lot. The mother certainly looks miserable while their little waif of a daughter appears to be gnawing on a chunk of bread.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Season of Silents: The Unknown (1927)

I am kicking things off with a Lon Chaney movie I've been wanting to see for awhile, The Unknown. It can be found on The Lon Chaney Collection from TCM Archives.

If you are still on the fence about whether silent films will interest you, then a Lon Chaney flick is a good place to start. Phantom of the Opera is a film that appeals to many people and is one that you may want to see first. That was all I knew of Lon Chaney for a long while until I saw He Who Gets Slapped, The Unholy Three and The Penalty, and truly developed an appreciation for his fine work. I confess that I have not yet seen the 1923 version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, which is another highly praised film of his, and on my list of films to acquire.

This movie is one of ten that Chaney did with Tod Browning, the director known for Dracula and Freaks. Tod Browning worked at one time in the circus, which is the setting for quite a few of his movies, including this one. Chaney's first movie with Browning as director was The Wicked Darling, which I hope to watch soon.

This movie also has Joan Crawford in an early role before her flapper films, and she reportedly said that she learned more about acting from seeing Lon Chaney at work than from anyone else. They work very well together.

The musical score was composed and performed by the Alloy Orchestra. It's serviceable and plays well to the action on screen. Quite a few people enjoy their scores, but I am not a big fan. I find them completely competent, it's just that I prefer a more traditional sounding score that's more in keeping with what may have been presented at the time the movie was released.

The picture quality is pretty fair, though there are some scenes that look as though we're seeing them through a burlap sack, and quite a few lines and debris are running through much of the film. I didn't find that it hampered my enjoyment of the film or obscured the action on screen too much. Most of the time I didn't notice these imperfections as I was too busy looking at Chaney's face.

"Men! The beasts! God would show wisdom if he took the hands from all of them!"

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

What's to Like About Silent Films

As I delve into a Season of Silents, I thought I might take a moment to state that I am not expert on silent films, I have only my experience to share. Here are some things I have learned from watching silent movies.

Silent films have varying picture quality.

There was a time when my only exposure to silent film did not go far beyond Nosferatu and Phantom of the Opera. At that time, the silents I saw were in pretty bad shape, the actors looked ghastly, their makeup stood out in a ghoulish way, the movies were played at the wrong speed or were heavily edited, making the films pretty hard to watch. Restoration efforts in the present day have significantly altered the offerings of quite a few silent films today, allowing us to see them as they were originally intended to be seen, often with tints or colorization, and proper musical score or synchronized sound. It's often difficult to fathom that such pristine prints depict action from 100 years ago or more.

Silent films have well known actors and directors from the sound era.

My experience watching many pre-code movies led me to begin exploring the silent era. In watching many films of favorite actors and directors, I found myself drawn to silent films where they also played a part. Greta Garbo, Norma Shearer, Neil Hamilton, Joan Crawford, Marie Dressler, John & Lionel Barrymore, among others, were what drew me in.

Not all silent movies are slapstick comedies.

When many people think of silent movies, they picture Charlie Chaplin and the Keystone Cops going on wild chases, but many genres are represented in silent film besides comedies, including westerns, drama, romance, mystery, documentary and horror. Silent films are also pre-code films, and include subjects of prostitution, adultery, drug abuse, and crime. Silent films can be thought provoking and timeless, with topics that remain relevant in the present day.

A good musical score is essential.

The score of a silent film is crucial to the enjoyment of the film. I believe it's a matter of personal preference what composers and orchestras you will enjoy, as I've read reviews from some folks who adore an orchestral score that absolutely grated on me. I am a purist and always prefer to hear a reproduction of the original score when available, but usually this is not the case, and there are certain composers I appreciate more than others.

Not all home video offerings are created equal.

I have found Flicker Alley and Criterion to offer the best releases of films with good picture quality and orchestral scores. Kino Lorber is also fairly consistent in releasing a good quality product, though often the best available prints are not without defects. Warner Archive also tends to provide fair quality prints. Grapevine is not always the finest quality but still a step above Alpha Video. I purchase from Alpha Video only if I really want to see a film and there are no other options available.

What's in store for the Season of Silents?

While I have more than enough silent films to watch every day during the Winter, I won't try to fool myself into thinking I can watch and write about one every day. My ambitious goal is to try and watch and write about three each week, but my minimum expectation is to post about at least one every weekend. I have many films I haven't seen in awhile that I'd like to revisit and many new films I have not yet seen.