Hi there, just a quick note to let you know that I am in the process of working under the hood and so the site may not be 100% operational for the next few days. Comments are also not going to be entirely reliable, I will let you know when they are restored to full functionality.
The site should be up and running with a new look and the same great content in a few days. If you have any questions, you can catch up on my Twitter account and I am also making the major site issue posts on Patreon available to non-patrons. (Patrons will get a sneak peek at the new design though.)
It’s almost a cliche now but it’s worth repeating. Silent films were never silent. Music remains an essential component of the silent film experience and that is our topic of discussion today. We are going to salute the talented men and women who create the music of the silent movies.
Welcome back! I am cooking my way through the 1929 Photoplay cookbook (recipes of the stars!) and you are invited to tag along. (I have listed all the recipes I have tested on this dedicated page. Check back often.) Today, we will be testing a recipe from one of the most sparkling personalities of the silent era.
The House of Mystery is one of the most exciting silent film releases to come along in ages. This serial has been knocking ’em dead on the film festival circuit for a while but this is the first time it has been available to the general public since its release over ninety years ago. And don’t let the word “serial” put you off. Instead, think of The House of Mystery as a very fine miniseries, the kind that sweeps award shows.
Welcome to After the Silents, in which I explore the careers of silent film performers and crew after the talkies took over. Put on your rain gear, kids, because it’s going to be a dark and stormy night.
On January 3, 1897, two baby girls were born an ocean apart. Apolonia Chalupec, the daughter of a Slovakian immigrant living in Lipno, Poland. Marion Douras was born in Brooklyn, New York. Both women adopted more glamorous surnames (Apolonia shortened her given name for good measure) and became famous as Pola Negri and Marion Davies.
Welcome back! I am cooking my way through the 1929 Photoplay cookbook (recipes of the stars!) and you are invited to tag along. (I have listed all the recipes that I have tested on this dedicated page. Check back often.) This time, we will be testing a recipe from a very controversial actress.
While it may seem that there are lots of silent films available on home media, we actually only have access to a fraction of fraction of the films made during the period. Many older films have been lost; estimates range anywhere from 50 to 90%. And of those survivors, copyright issues must be untangled, the film must be transferred, restored (budget permitting), scored and only then can it be returned to the public.
However, this doesn’t stop us from dreaming! Is there a silent film you would love to see on home media? Share it here!
Is your film missing and presumed lost? Was it restored but never received release to the general public? Was it put out on VHS but then allowed to go out of print? Did you catch it on TV but never could find a DVD or Blu-ray? Is it available but not in your country? Do tell!
My dream film
As you may have noticed, I am part of a small but fiercely devoted club of Michael Strogoff (1926) fanatics. (Hi, Chris!) This film is amazing! It’s epic, exciting, gorgeous, it has great acting and Ivan Mosjoukine. What more could I want? It’s currently sitting in the #2 spot on my Top Reviews list.
Well, the film was restored by the Cinémathèque Française but it has never been released on DVD, Blu-ray or as a streamed movie. Talk about frustrating! A beautiful version just eluding our grasp.
What silent movie do you dream of owning?
Tell us in the comments!
If you know where someone can find their dream film:
Let us know!
Feel free to include a link in your post but all affiliate links will be deleted on sight. This violates both your terms of service and mine. (If you don’t know what these are, you have nothing to worry about.)
No black or grey market sites. Please link to either established retailers (Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Movies Unlimited, etc.) or directly to the manufacturer’s website (Kino Lorber, Flicker Alley, Grapevine, Milestone, etc.)
When in doubt, you can exclude the link and just tell us where you saw the movie. Example: “I was on Amazon UK and Eureka has a version available.”
No video links from YouTube or elsewhere on the web as multiple video links slow down the load time of the page. (Edit: I do reserve the video link as a hostess’s privilege.)
One more thing: I have commenting rules but they all boil down to “be excellent to each other” and “party on, dudes!” So, just be cool, be nice, don’t use language that would upset Aunt Beulah and we’re good.
Welcome back! I am cooking my way through the 1929 Photoplay cookbook (recipes of the stars!) and you are invited to tag along. (I have listed all the recipes I have tested on this dedicated page. Check back often.) Today, we will be testing a recipe from a starlet who supported many famous flappers in her day.
We’ve all heard of “that guy” actors: performers who don’t have name recognition but seem to show up everywhere. In the twenties, Gwen Lee was something of a “that gal” actress. She appeared in support of most of the big names at MGM, from Norma Shearer to Lon Chaney and also stepped out of the MGM ranks to appear alongside famed flappers Clara Bow and Colleen Moore.
Gwen Lee was born Gwendolyn Lepinski in Nebraska but she was Gwen Lee of Hollywood by the time she was twenty. She specialized in playing world-weary girls, often from the wrong side of the tracks. You can spot her in Lady of the Night, The Plastic Age and Laugh Clown Laugh, just to name a few of her silent supporting roles. Everything seemed ducky and she was named a WAMPAS Baby Star in 1928 but her career never quite ignited.
Lee’s parts got steadily smaller as the thirties wore on but you can still see her in uncredited parts in films like A Night at the Opera and Libeled Lady. Her last credited role was in 1938’s Paroled from the Big House.
So, we know that Miss Lee was a charming actress who never quite cracked the upper ranks but how are her omelet-making skills?
Well, there’s not much that can go wrong with potatoes, eggs and onions. Whether or not this can be considered a proper omelet is another matter. Like the great chili debate (beans? no beans?), I think it is wise that I steer clear of the controversy.
Anyway, here is the result:
Excuse the paper plates. I have a cold.
The taste test video:
My rating: 3 out of 5. The recipe is easy and the ingredient combination is edible. (If you think that isn’t an accomplishment, you clearly have not seen Joan Crawford’s Banana Salad.) The flavor combination is basic, even simplistic but you can do a lot to juice it up with salsa, hot sauce or ketchup.
The whole thing fell apart even before I attempted to flip it. I think perhaps the potatoes are too heavy for the egg to hold together. This might have been more successful in a tiny pan.
Improve it: I took a peek at potato omelet and modified frittata recipes and discovered a pattern. Many of these recipes fell into two basic categories. The first type was cooked on the stove-top and used a much, much higher proportion of egg to potato, usually at least two to one. The second type used a similar egg-to-potato proportion to Miss Lee’s recipe but baked the concoction in an oven-safe skillet. So, if you decide to make this recipe, use a lot more eggs or opt for baking.
On the other hand, I may just have terrible potato-omelet-flipping skills. Such is life.
Welcome to After the Silents, where I examine the careers of silent era talent in the talkies. This time, I am going to be heading a little further ahead in time than usual in order to talk about one of the cutest comedies ever to be nominated for best picture.
You asked for ’em and now you’re going to get ’em! This month, I am going to be reviewing films that were requested by my readers.
When I made my call for requests back in Novemeber, I was overwhelmed by the excellent suggestions that flooded in. (You can read them here.) It was a challenge to choose, to be honest.
I will be listing my selections (and who requested them) right here. If you’re request was not among those selected, don’t lose heart. I really do pay attention to every single request and I appreciate your valuable feedback as to which films you would like to see covered on the site. Your request puts these films on my radar, so to speak.
Welcome back! I am cooking my way through the 1929 Photoplay cookbook (recipes of the stars!) and you are invited to tag along. (I have listed all the recipes I have tested on this dedicated page. Check back often.) Today, we will be testing a recipe from one of the most vibrant personalities of the silent and sound eras.
Lupe Velez’s career has been overshadowed by her tragic death. No one can say for certain why she chose to take her own life and the record has been further muddied by cruel rumors regarding the exact circumstances. I will not dignify them by repeating them here.
Instead, we are going to talk about Velez’s career as one of the hottest starlets of the late silent era and her subsequent rebirth as a comedienne.
Born in Mexico, Velez got her big break when she was cast as Douglas Fairbanks’ leading lady in The Gaucho. Fairbanks was energetic in the extreme but Velez was more than a match for him. She followed up this success with a loan-out to Cecil B. DeMille’s studio and was cast as Rod La Rocque’s lady love in Stand and Deliver. She also won a part opposite Lon Chaney in Where East is East.
Velez was the lead in D.W. Griffith’s final silent film, Lady of the Pavements (originally entitled The Love Song), in which she wrested William Boyd from the clutches of Jetta Goudal. The behind-the-scenes story was much more interesting. Griffith liked to dominate and bully his actresses (the better to get them to hop, twirl about and kiss birds) but Velez refused to be dominated. Griffith tried to tire her out but ended up exhausted himself. Hurrah for Lupe! The film was not the blockbuster everyone had hoped it would be but Velez and her singing voice were widely praised.
Velez made a successful transition to sound and after a career slump she was back on top with her zany Mexican Spitfire series. She made her final appearance as Carmelita Lindsay in 1943, one year before her death.
Miss Velez was a vibrant talent on the screen but how about her recipe?
Hmm. It seems that according to Photoplay, Mexico does not exist. All Mexican and Tejano dishes are re-labeled as Spanish and “Spanish” recipes are invented out of whole cloth. I think the latter is true in this case. I am going to take a wild risk and wager that this recipe is 100% American.
Ben-Hur is just a brand name for black pepper. I am not sure why Miss Velez is so specific. The recipes says that the hamburger can be either raw or cooked. I opted for cooked as browning meat before adding it is almost always the right choice. I didn’t have a green pepper so I used a yellow one. They have a nicer flavor anyway.
As promised, the whole thing was ready in just a few minutes. Here’s what it looks like:
And here is the taste test video:
My rating: 3 out of 5. This recipe is lighting fast but it is also not particularly interesting. It’s not bad, it’s actually pretty tasty. It’s just that you can taste the shortcuts. The vegetables and meat would have tasted much nicer if they had been allowed to simmer together or if more interesting spices were added. Still, if you have sudden company, this recipes uses staples and is not that bad. You could do worse.
Can it be improved? I think some time in the slow cooker could probably do wonders. It would allow the meat to stew in the tomatoes and really pick up some flavor. Adding the peppers near the end would preserve their flavor.
Hello and welcome to a new series! As you may already know, a good number of silent films have been lost, some of them quite famous. However, many of these films were remade as talkies. Some of the remakes even used the original silent as reference material before it was lost. Missing the Silents is going to focus on these remakes and examine how they can help us imagine what the original might have been like.
Sometimes, there is just no word for what you want to say. Fortunately, English is something of a linguistic slinky* and so I am going to boldly make up my own words to fit my needs. Naturally, these needs are connected to silent film.
verb | ˈfil-bin
to hire an acclaimed actor, director or other film talent and oblige them to work with a terrible performer who is a box office draw or otherwise in favor with management.
This is named for actress Mary Philbin, a lovely woman who had all the acting talent of a plate of pancakes. She was a friend of Universal head Carl Laemmle’s family and was regularly cast in big roles after her discovery by Erich von Stroheim.
For the record, Miss Philbin actually seemed like a sweet woman and her movie recollections are clear and accurate. I would love to have had a cup of tea with her but I would never, ever have wanted to work with her. The issue actually has more to do with Carl Laemmle than Philbin herself but to “laemmle” someone has many more implications than the narrow definition I require.
*I heard “linguistic slinky” somewhere and don’t remember where. Apologies for no credit for this excellent turn of phrase.
** To double the “n” or not? I didn’t, mainly because the pronunciation “fill-BIND” makes me giggle.
Mae Murray is a brassy American gal who catches the eye of pretty much every eligible bachelor in a sleazy little Mittel-European city state. Erich von Stroheim’s most accessible film, it contains excellent performances from both Murray and leading man John Gilbert. In the minus column, von Stroheim’s tedious “sophistication” that, at a glance, is indistinguishable from that of a fourteen-year-old boy with his dad’s lad mags.
[toggler title=”How does it end? (click here for a spoiler)” ]Gilbert gets shot but not badly. He and Murray marry and she gets to be queen. I wonder if this is what gave Wallis Simpson notions.[/toggler]
If it were a dessert it would be:
A Gold Leaf Sundae. Gaudy and gilded but at it’s core, it’s just chocolate ice cream. Still, chocolate ice cream, yum!
One of the great pleasures of being a silent film fan is discovering hidden corners, collections of films that have been forgotten by all but a few fans. Gently holding these movies up to the light of day, enjoying them and discussing that enjoyment… Well, it’s incomparable.
Well, readers, another one of those hidden corners is going to be illuminated (with our help).
While the Hollywood studio system was solidifying into a monopoly, intrepid independent producers were still hard at work creating films. Among them were numerous concerns that specialized in producing films that were funded by, directed by, written by and starring African-Americans.
Within Our Gates and The Scar of Shame are two of the titles that have seen home media release but there are dozens more waiting to be rediscovered. We’ve all seen tantalizing stills and posters but actual screenings have been hard to come by.
For decades, many of these films have only been viewed scholars, collectors or archivists. Recently, Kino Lorber, a major player in the world of silent, international and independent cinema, launched a crowdfunding campaign to change that. (You can read all about it and donate here.)
If they reach their funding goal, they will release Pioneers of African-American Cinema, a box set filled to the brim with these independent productions. The finished set will include eight features and assorted shorts and fragments. Much of this material has been locked in vaults since its initial release and has never been put out on home media. The films that have been released before are getting sparkling new transfers so that they will look their very best. This will also be their debut in Blu-ray format.
Producer Bret Wood kindly agreed to answer some questions about the set’s contents and give a a peek behind the scenes of its creation.
The films announced for the project so far include the famous (Within Our Gates) to the obscure (Eleven P.M.). Is the project intended to offer a typical cross-section of typical motion pictures created by independent African-American filmmakers or is it intended to showcase the wide variety of movies that they produced?
The series reflects what I try to do with all Kino Lorber’s archival releases: provide newly mastered versions of established classics, but also unearth the lesser-known films. I get a special kind of satisfaction from putting out a film that has not been previously available on video. The unfortunately reality is that not very many silent films aimed at African-American audiences exist today, so I was able to gather a wide variety of titles — from the well-known to the obscure — in a single collection.
Though I should point out that I am the sleuth that has been tracking down the films and negotiating access with the various film archives. Historians Charles Musser and Jacqueline Najuma Stewart are the curators, and they will decide the final lineup of the collection. To some degree the lineup of films is determined by the amount of funds raised. Some films require more digital restoration, some cost more for archival access. Once the Kickstarter campaign has ended, we’ll tally up the contributions, spread out the list of films (and estimated expenses) and then Charles and Jacqueline will make their selections. You can be fairly certain that anything I discuss in this interview will be included, but there are LOTS of other titles that I am not mentioning because they’re still tentative.
Silent and classic movie fans often wonder why some films are released and some remain in the vault. Could you give us insight into the selection process for films included in Pioneers of African-American Cinema?
The main reason why some classic films are not available on Blu-ray is that the copyrights are owned by the studios, or else the studios control access to the original film elements. The films in Pioneers of African-American Cinema are essentially “orphan films.” So no corporate entity has been governing the films. This means an independent company such as Kino Lorber has fewer legal hurdles to clear when pursuing the films. The downside to these being “orphan films” is that no one has protected the original film elements. Many films don’t survive and some of the films that do survive exist in fragmentary or battered condition. I have heard of some having screenings in their own home theatres that they recently had installed by Home Theatre Installers but this is risky business because they don’t own the films.
So far, we’ve been able to obtain almost every film we’ve pursued for this collection. However, there are a couple of high-profile restorations that are not available to us because the archive that preserved the film has other plans for distribution (a good example being the Museum of Modern Art’s recent preservation of Lime Kiln Field Day, which I would like to have included). But that’s fine, MoMA has been cooperating with us in other ways, so it’ll all be good in the end.
The project page describes these films as having a unique narrative and visual style quite different from major studio releases. Could you briefly describe a few of these differences?
The visual style of these films is defined mainly by the lack of resources available to the filmmakers. Instead of being shot on custom-designed sets, many films are shot on actual locations in homes, nightclubs, churches, in middle America. It provides a glimpse of African-American life that does not appear in any Hollywood film of the time. And visually speaking, the films do not have the benefit of elaborate lighting, so the interior scenes especially often have a shadowy, almost gritty feel. In a way, it’s like the films of Italian Neorealism. Those films cultivated their own distinctive visual style — not necessarily intentionally, but because they were shot with limited means in the wake of World War II. The same thing is happening here, a common visual style emerges from the context in which the films were made.
The lack of resources also required filmmakers to find ingenious means of overcoming their budgetary challenges. Richard Norman’s The Flying Ace is an aviation film in which the plane never leaves the ground (I suppose they didn’t have a camera rig for filming in flight). So the flight scenes are all achieved through clever effects. Likewise, Eleven P.M. has some ambitious effects scenes — such as one in which a dying man’s spirit takes possession of a dog. The director, Richard Maurice, didn’t have access to a special effects team or sophisticated optical printer, so the superimposition of a man’s head on a dog’s body is very raw. But that rawness is very much in keeping with the overall aesthetic of these films.
No one watching these films should expect technical perfection… or even proficiency. But the rough-hewn feel of the films… their authenticity… is what gives the films their impact.
The project page states that The Scar of Shame will include a scene missing from all other home media releases. How was this scene rediscovered?
We still have to get permission to use the footage (fingers crossed) but it is a wedding sequence that was discovered by film historian Pearl Bowser. When The Scar of Shame was initially released on VHS by the Library of Congress, it did not include this scene, since they mastered the film from their own 35mm elements. My understanding is that, since that time, Bowser has donated her more complete (16mm) print to the LOC, so we can combine the two for this new edition. Bowser has, for decades, been a champion of African-American cinema — from films made in the 1920 to the 1970s and beyond. It is an absolute fact that fewer films would have survived without her efforts. And not only has she saved films, she has done much to keep the films in circulation, and to share the story of how these films were made (including the 1994 documentary she co-directed for PBS: Midnight Ramble). She writes about the rediscovery of the footage in an essay in Oscar Micheaux and His Circle, a book co-edited by our curator Charles Musser.
A recent project update stated that a reassembled Hellbound Train was slated for inclusion in the set along with Verdict Not Guilty, both of which were co-directed by Eloyce Gist, the first African-American woman filmmaker. How would you describe Gist’s style and artistic vision?
I can’t say much about it, because I’ve only seen a few fragments. Steve Torriano Berry is now assembling the film from 35 separate rolls of 16mm film, in an attempt to reconstruct the Gists’ original vision. I can say that, visually, it has the look of a home movie, being shot in 16mm. But this “home movie” has some striking imagery, due mainly to the presence of a man dressed in a devil suit leading wayward souls to damnation
The religious component of these films is going to be fascinating to view. Some films, such as Hellbound Train and Spencer Williams’s The Blood of Jesus, offer a traditional religious message of good triumphing over evil, complete with a literal depiction of a horned devil (and winged angels). While Oscar Micheaux takes a much more cynical view of organized religion and depicts pastors as deeply flawed individuals who have the power to betray the flock they have been charged to protect. This just underscores the fact that these films are not all alike, and have radically different perspectives about race and religion.
Besides Hellbound Train, The Scar of Shame and Within Our Gates, are there any other films in the set that were thought lost in part or in whole before being rediscovered?
We haven’t uncovered any holy grails of film preservation — but that’s mainly because these films have not been exposed to viewers enough to accrue the kind of reputation that viewers seek out the more obscure titles. We will present films that 99% of movie-lovers didn’t know existed… not because the films were presumed lost… but because there is such limited awareness of the films of the Lincoln Motion Picture Company, the Ebony Film Company or filmmakers such as Richard Norman or Richard D. Maurice.
Hopefully the release of Pioneers of African-America Cinema will whet people’s appetite for these films and help flush out more surviving examples.
Of all the pioneering artists whose work will be featured in the final set, which ones do you feel are most deserving of modern rediscovery?
I am particularly fond of Eleven P.M. because it is dramatically ambitious, and has moments of shoestring surrealism. The sound films of Oscar Micheaux have generally (and unfairly) been dismissed as lacking in substance, so I am looking forward to those films being given their due.
The entire lineup has silent film fans champing at the bit but is there a film that you are particularly excited about releasing to the viewing public?
I’m most looking forward to James and Eloyce Gist’s Verdict Not Guilty. Not for the benefit of the viewing public but to satisfy my own curiosity. I know almost nothing about it. I know nothing about the condition in which it exists. But I love fringe filmmakers from all decades of film history, and based on the few glimpses I’ve seen of Hellbound Train, I am sure I won’t be disappointed by this.
In addition to donating at the Kickstarter page, what else can film fans do to support your effort to get this set released?
If they’re on social media, they can repost our Kickstarter video, or tweet a link to the fund-raising page. At this point, we’re more than halfway there, so I’m confident we’ll reach our $35,000 goal. But it’s important to know this — the further beyond the goal we reach, the more ambitious the collection will be. The finished collection is slated to be comprised of four discs (Bluray and DVD editions) and will contain at least eight feature films. Hopefully even more.
Thank you so much for sharing your time.
It was my pleasure. Thanks for letting me spread the word about the project… and thank you for continuing to generate interest in early cinema.
The very first Academy Award ceremony (they weren’t called the Oscars just yet but I’m using the term because it’s short and I’m lazy) was also the last one to include silent films exclusively. Hollywood was still in the throes of the talkie revolution, though the victor was already obvious. Still, the 1929 ceremony gave silents one last chance to shine. It would be over eighty years before a silent film swept up major awards again.
Welcome back! I am cooking my way through the 1929 Photoplay cookbook (recipes of the stars!) and you are invited to tag along. (I have listed all the recipes I have tested on this dedicated page. Check back often.) Today, we will be testing a recipe from someone who can definitely be considered a “that guy” actor.
Sam Hardy is pretty obscure today but there is a very good chance that you have seen one of his performances. A stage veteran who had attended Yale before being bitten by the acting bug, Hardy made his first credited appearance in 1915. Hardy supported Marion Davies in Little Old New York, Colleen Moore in Orchids and Ermine and was leading man to Barbara Stanwyck in Mexicali Rose, a silent-talkie release that was only her second credited screen appearance.
Hardy continued to work steadily in the talkies. He played Benny the Gouge in Little Miss Marker and Weston in King Kong. His final credited role was as Big Steve Ogden in Powdersmoke Range, which was a reunion picture for western stars Harry Carey and Hoot Gibson. (The pair had not worked together in nearly twenty years.) That same year, Hardy passed away from surgical complications.
Now that we know a little about Mr. Hardy, let’s take a look at his recipe and see how it measures up.
Not terribly complicated but where will the flavor come from? Bread crumbs and eggs are not the most flavorful of foods and the canned clams don’t have the oomph of their fresh cousins.
Would I have to spring for fresh clams? Fortunately, I keep canned clams on hand at all times. My cat was abused by the “rescue” that had him. He staged a bold escape, I found him in a shrub and he is now a very spoiled little chap, though his eyes and respiratory system are still not 100%. (The vet is working on that and he has improved a lot.) Canned clams are his happy food.
Anyway, back to the recipe! It all went together pretty easily. I used store bought bread crumbs because I was lazy. I also did not obtain clam shells for displaying the recipe. In the first place, they’re hard to buy sans clam in my neck of the woods. In the second place, I am not sure it would have made a huge difference.
I baked the cakes at 350-degrees for about twenty minutes. (I should note that I live at a high altitude.)
When they came out, the cakes looked… Well, they looked disturbingly like cookies. Way, way too much like cookies.
And here is the taste test video:
My rating: 2 out of 5. These things are bland and dry, almost a chore to get through. There is nothing overtly nasty about them, they are just boring. Kind of like Talmadge sisters movies. (Ooo! Burn!)
Can it be improved? Not really. It needs a lot more moisture and flavor but adding these components would make it a totally different food. This needs an onion, some celery, a dash of cayenne and maybe some bacon (pork, turkey or veggie). Here’s a recipe that calls for more egg, dehydrated onion and deep-frying. Sounds yummy!
Other uses: That’s not to say that this recipe is useless. I am going to share something that is so evil, so heartless that I hesitate to post it lest it fall into enemy hands.
What the heck! Here is the plan. Make a batch of these clam cakes. Make a batch of oatmeal cookies. Mix them together on a pretty plate. Wrap them in colorful cellophane and tie a big bow on top. Leave them on the doorstep of that neighbor who always plays Nickelback at three a.m. Wait for the screams.
Oh, I am evil! I am, I am! (The no-cook version is to mix Skittles and M&M’s in the same candy bowl.)
While war movies are often viewed as the exclusive property of men (with the lover, driver, nurse or waiting wife sometimes thrown into the mix), there were quite a few silent era films that allowed women to get in on the action.
The prerequisite for inclusion? The female lead cannot be passive or in a support role, she must partake in combat. This month, we are going to be looking at women as assassins, generals, doughboys and snipers.
We are also going to be examining the reasons why the filmmakers chose to put women front and center in this genre. The answer is complicated and well worth discussing. As an added bonus, every single one of these films will be directed by a big name of the silent era.
Review #1: Assassin
Judith of Bethulia (1914) – Judith tries to save her village from the Assyrians. All she needs is a sexy dress and a very sharp sword. D.W. Griffith directs.
Review #2: General
Joan the Woman (1916) – The English are running roughshod over the French army. Someone needs to stop them. This looks like woman’s work! Cecil B. DeMille directs.
Review #3: Doughboy
She Goes to War (1929) – A society girl heads to France to support the troops during the First World War. She gets a lot closer to the action when she dons a uniform and goes into battle. Henry King directs.
Review #4: Sniper
The Forty-First (1927) – A Bolshevik sniper with forty kills misses the forty-first. Charged with delivering him to headquarters, things go wrong when they are shipwrecked together and a doomed romance starts. Yakov Protazanov directs.
Welcome back, dear readers! We had a lot of fun with the Beginner edition of this quiz so let’s dial things up a notch and go intermediate.
How it works:
Answer twenty questions and hit the “submit” button on the bottom of the quiz. Be careful when scrolling as the answer buttons are “radio” and will flip to a different answer if you have them selected when you scroll. (Many apologies for this, it was the only option on PollDaddy.) Also, double check to make sure the selection stuck. Darn those radio buttons! All questions are mandatory but the quiz will tell you if you missed one and mark the one you missed with a big blue box. As this is intermediate, there will be no “I don’t know” options.
Your score will appear at the top of the answer score card, right above the answer for Question 1. Below it will be the rest of the correct answers
Click the button below to display the quiz. If it doesn’t display, make sure to turn off your popup blocker.
Cinema began to cover social issues almost immediately after its invention and few issues were more pressing or controversial than immigration. Aside from the fact that today there are still people from all over the world using things like the Visa Bulletin to check their own immigration status, this topic has been one of the most controversial political issues within America for decades now. The Unites States is a nation of immigrants and that reality was reflected in the movers and shakers of the motion picture industry. But how would these realities be portrayed on the screen? This month is all about looking the various ways immigrants were portrayed in silent film.
I will be paying special attention to the Jewish immigration experience and the vibrant world of Yiddish cinema. Stay tuned!
In the meantime, here are some films dealing with the topic that I have already reviewed:
Welcome to a fun little quiz I whipped together. I hope to release an intermediate, advanced and maybe even a murderous level at some point. In the meantime, enjoy!
How it works:
Answer twenty questions and hit the “submit” button on the bottom of the quiz. Be careful when scrolling as the answer buttons are “radio” and will flip to a different answer if you have them selected when you scroll. (Many apologies for this, it was the only option on PollDaddy.) Also, double check to make sure the selection stuck. Darn those radio buttons! All questions are mandatory (there are “I don’t know” options for all of them) but the quiz will tell you if you missed one and mark the one you missed with a big blue box.
(If the quiz is not displaying properly on the page for you, try clicking this black button, which will open the quiz in a lightbox.)
These are things that I discovered about myself during the year. Please enjoy!
I started 2014 with a fairly negative view of Cecil B. DeMille. I liked a few of his silent films but I generally considered his work to be beneath my notice. However, I saw that the 100th anniversary of his debut was passing unnoticed in the wave of Chaplin tributes (nothing wrong with Chaplin but he was not the only significant debut in 1914) and so I decided to do something about it. At the same time, I began a series of articles covering every single movie DeMille made in 1915. I read biographies, his memoirs, I watched his movies and as a result, I started to get a real handle on the man’s personality.
Long story short, I started to really like him as a person and respect him as a director. Most silent movie personnel… Well, I love their work but they would probably drive me nuts in person. DeMille seems like a guy I could have a great movie conversation with. (Also invited to the party: Conrad Veidt, Lois Wilson, Mary Philbin, King Vidor, William Boyd, Gloria Swanson and Leatrice Joy.) Watching DeMille’s work and its evolution was an eye-opener. Known for religious epics, this is the guy who directed the original Chicago. His moody 1915 cinematography puts a good number of his contemporaries to shame. His marital comedies are a wacky blast. He tackled social issues (corrupt legal system, antisemitism, reform schools) that his contemporaries didn’t dare touch.
So, now I am a full-fledged, card-carrying DeMille fan. Whodathunkit?
Favorite Rabbit Holes:
I think most history fans have fallen down the research rabbit hole at one time or another. You know what I mean, one fact links to another and then another and then another and before you know it, you have twenty-six pages of research for a twenty-minute short film.
This year, I fell down the rabbit hole quite a few times. Here are my favorites.
I think we all can appreciate the sentiment. (See what I mean about Chicago? Bless you, Mr. DeMille!)
Favorite Theme Months:
Without a doubt, the three theme months that gave me the most pleasure were Silent Musicals, my Cecil B. DeMille Centennial Bash and my Russian jaunt. Taking a look at silent films that were famously remade as musicals took me on a happy little jaunt through fun stories, fun direction, fun films. As mentioned before, the DeMille month was a crash course in an underrated filmmaker’s work. The Russian theme month was fun because I decided early on to embrace every aspect of Russia and Russians on film: Czarist, Soviet, in exile and in Hollywood. It was a pleasure to experience the variety.
All in all, I was very happy with how 2014 turned out.
On to the new year!
For 2015, here is a small list of goals.
More czarist and exile cinema, more Yiddish film
Silent cinema is an upside-down world. In modern film, dramas are seen as award-worthy, comedies have to fight for respect. Americans love movies but just try and get them to see something foreign/arty. It’s like pulling teeth! Well, with silent films, comedies have all the respect and dramas have to fight to be taken seriously. Foreign art films, particularly from France, Germany and the USSR, make up quite a bit of the “must-see” list for film students. The standard Hollywood crowd-pleaser? Lost in the shuffle. Almost everyone has heard of Nosferatu or Battleship Potemkin. Who remembers Manhandled or Captain January or The Garden of Eden or Eve’s Leaves? A few silent film nerds but not the average film fan. Those are the films I am concerned with promoting. My goal for this site is to emulate the fun-loving spirit of silent era fan magazines.
That being said, I am going to be adding a few more foreign-language goodies to the mix.
I know Soviet cinema is what everyone thinks of when Russian silents are discussed but the country had a film industry under the monarchy as well. Further, many of these same artists fled to France during the Bolshevik revolution and did amazing work there. I loved The Burning Crucible and went absolutely nuts for Michael Strogoff. I have seen many other titles and can’t wait to share.
I will also be drawing more attention to Yiddish cinema. Often low budget, these films more than made up for it with heart and humor. Great stuff.
More After the Silents
I have been getting more and more queries as to whether ANY silent star made it to the talkies. Now I know that YOU know that a lot of the major 1930s talent started in the silents but I think the point needs to be put forward more forcefully. There is still this widespread belief that the talkies emptied the Hollywood studios of silent stars and they were replaced with an entirely new crop. What really happened was that the shift in filmmaking technique combined with the Great Depression changed audience tastes and sent the studios scurrying to cut costs. The flood of stage talent was massive but plenty of silent stars weathered the storm and became even bigger than before.
After the Silents is my series that deals with the performers who were active in both silence and sound. I have covered Bela Lugosi, William Boyd, Myrna Loy and many others.
I questioned whether or not to bring this up. My health is not 100% and the last thing I need is a film geek slap fight on the site. I finally decided to take the plunge for two reasons. First, a lot of my readers have privately told me that they hold this opinion but are afraid to publicly voice it. Second, 1915 is a very significant year in film history and the topic will come up sooner or later.
Please forgive my bluntness but I am tired of being yelled at.
Here goes nothing.
2013-2014 solidified my opinions about D.W. Griffith, who is often unquestioningly called the Father of Film and given passes and excuses that no other director has ever enjoyed. He is regularly handed credit for inventing techniques that had been created years before by someone else. After watching a massive stack of his features, I came to the conclusion that I do not care for the majority of them; his style simply does not appeal to me and I am not alone in this. (His shorts, yes, oh yes. But that’s another story.) I will be making a determined effort to dump Daddy and embrace a few of the step-fathers and mothers of film instead. 2015 is the centennial year for The Birth of a Nation, Griffith’s tedious ode to the KKK. Don’t look for tributes in these parts.
Snarking at racist old David Warke Griffith. Just one more service I offer. (Well, that and I have a bingo card to fill.) Now the majority of silent fans are lovely people but D.W. Griffith inspires a small minority to get just a little excited.
Me: D.W. Griffith’s features are not really for me. I don’t like his style.
Them: But you don’t understand context! His father was a confederate officer! The leader of bad guys in Birth of a Nation was white! Context! Griffith couldn’t be racist, he made a movie with a white guy dressed up as a Chinese guy! Context! Then he made a movie depicting a black soldier as infantile and needing to be taken care of by a white soldier! They totally kissed! How is that racist? Context! Some of his best friends were black! Lillian Gish liked him! Context! He was a pacifist! That’s why he made a movie glorifying antebellum South! Context! It was all a conspiracy, a conspiracy, I tell you! Hey, I said context. That means no one can ever say that anything old is racist. CONTEXT! (faints)
Me: Wow. I wasn’t really bringing any of that up but since you did… Bingo! And, let’s see, that’s one, two, five, seven, eight contexts. I win the bonus round!
Clarification: I have no problem with viewers enjoying Griffith’s work. The ability to consume and even enjoy media while simultaneously understanding and being critical of its viewpoint is an essential skill for serious movie watchers and critics (though even the most dispassionate critic has a breaking point). I simply object to the very strange behavior of some Griffith apologists who seek to bully anyone who dislikes the man and his films into silence.
Needless to say, all comments along those lines will be deleted. Also, no sealioning. By gad, I’m glad we finally have a name for it! Long story short, no pestering, no trying to make me say that Griffith is a deity, no gatekeepers. I don’t need smug explanations of why he is wonderful. If you like him, fine. No one is trying to stop you. Please show the same consideration to others. I know none of my regular readers would resort to such tactics but I mention this for any newcomers.
People have a right to praise the film’s technical and artistic merit (though, frankly, both are overrated, in my opinion) but people also have the right to say that they did not enjoy the film. Just be cool, my dears, let everyone like or dislike silent films as they choose. Chillax, man. Even sea lions manage that.
That’s all the discussion of Birth we will be having. Instead, I will be embracing the talented men and women who directed films in 1914-1920 and giving well-deserved attention to their comparatively neglected legacy. DeMille is invited to the party, of course, as is his brother, William. Also attending: Lois Weber, Alice Guy, Louis Feuillade, Raoul Walsh, Evgeni Bauer, Maurice Tourneur, Marshall Neilan, and many, many others. (I have one Griffith short scheduled for review in February but that should be about it for the year.)
Well, that certainly ended on a dour note! Let’s get happy again!
See you in 2015
Well, that’s it for the year. Thanks so much for reading and I will see you next year! (Ah, grade school jokes never get old.)
I seem to have inadvertently caused some confusion. About a week ago, I announced that I was stepping down from a blogathon gig and was taking a hiatus from videos due to health issues. However, the daily posts kept right on coming. How is that possible? I have a reserve of posts at the ready. A reserve? Yes, indeed. If you’re wanting or needing any other help or advice, such as finding domains or which blogging platform could be the best for you, have a look on helpful websites such as Site Beginner and others.
I thought it would be helpful to share my process for blogging. I hope it will clear up some confusion as to how I am able to build up content for daily posts and create a buffer for vacation, illness, etc. Not many solo movie bloggers keep up a daily schedule for posts (Lindsey of The Motion Pictures is one in the classic film category) but if you can manage it, it’s a great way to build up a devoted readership.
How do I do it? First of all, know that even though I post every day, I do not write every day. In fact, I did not write at all for most of the month of October. I was in South Korea and did not have my laptop with me. Instead, I wrote like a maniac in the months before my vacation and planned a post for every single day that I was gone. The WordPress app is not perfect yet but it got the job done and I was able to control the site with relatively few hiccups.
Since announcing my slowdown, I have been dipping into my post reserve. Perhaps only one or two posts since the announcement have been entirely new content. The rest were posts that I had created weeks or months before and kept in reserve. I have a few reasons for holding back posts. First, I may write something that will be more relevant later. (For example, I held back my 1960 Peter Pan review for several months so it would publish just before the recent live broadcast of the play. My William S. Hart theme month was planned almost a year in advance.) Second, I tend to write in bursts and it makes no sense to publish five posts one day and nothing for the next week.
A post reserve is important as my job has unpredictable hours and my health is usually so-so. I don’t know if I will always have the time or energy to create content so I plan for the worst.
There are two exceptions to all this: blogathons and videos.
Blogathons by their very nature are done in real time and require quite a bit of TLC to pull off. Participants need their questions answered, rosters need to be updated and the event needs to be marketed. This is not something that can be done in advance.
Videos take an entirely difference set of skills from written reviews and they do tend to take over my life when I am working on them. Plus, my voice needs to be in shape to narrate. My immune system is not the best and I am prone to throat infections, getting several a year. You see the problem.
So, while I can build a reserve of reviews, GIFs and other goodies, videos and blogathons are not really meant for that sort of thing.
But let’s focus on the positives. I am going to share how I create content for a daily blog.
First, I have two categories for posts and they are very similar to the classifications used to by silent film studios. I have the programmers, the small items, that are much faster to create and I have the specials, the longer content that takes a lot of time and effort. Fun Size Reviews, GIFs and shared YouTube videos are programmers. Specials are full-length reviews, After the Silents, Silents in Talkies, video reviews, long articles and the Cooking with the (Silent) Stars series. Generally, I try to have at least two specials every week and one of them is always a full-length silent film review.
As I watch silent films for review, I keep track of the times of sequences that I think would make good GIFs. After I have watched the movie, I go back and create the GIFs. I generally try to make three GIFs or more from every movie but I always make at least one. These GIFs go into my reserve for later use. At any given time, I have between 50 and 200 unpublished GIFs on hand.
Usually, GIFs will debut in one of my quippy Animated GIF posts. After that, it may be reused to illustrate a humorous point, to embellish a Fun Size Review or be published as a Silent Movie Rule or whatever else I think of.
I try not to publish too many GIFs from the same film in a row because I like to keep variety on the site.
Fun Size Reviews, Trivia Cards, etc.
With shorter posts that follow a particular format, I like to use an assembly line approach. For example, when I make Fun Size Reviews, I generally write anywhere from five to ten in one sitting. I have a master list of all the movies I have covered (no film gets a Fun Size Review before a full-length review) and use it to make sure I do not skip or repeat a film. The trivia cards use the same Photoshop template and I also create between five and ten in a sitting.
My master list tells me whether the film in question has GIFs (some of my older reviews do not have GIfs to go with them so I have been going back and creating them), whether it has a Fun Size Review, a trivia card and whatever other related series I might create in the future. This is a great way to draw attention to older content that new readers may not have seen before without boring established and long-time readers.
Unlike my shorter posts, silent movie reviews are a definite risk when it comes to time spent. Some movies make it a challenge for me to even write 1,000 words (my minimum review length) while others have so much juicy detail that I have to cut myself off. There are also (seemingly) simple films that send me down the research rabbit hole.
Here is the article as it appears at present. I have highlighted the errors in green.
I thought this was supposed to be about Ivan Mosjoukine. Someone has a little Valentino fixation and it sure isn’t Carl Laemmle. (The whole debunking is in my Surrender review.)
The problem is, I don’t know when a Surrender is going to come my way. I generally try to keep at least a month or more of reviews in reserve but if a I fall down a rabbit hole, I burn through that reserve quickly. As a result, I try to keep a mix of films I have never seen before and films I am already familiar with. That way, I know what I am letting myself in for at least some of the time.
Longer articles on myth-busting and general silent film knowledge are written on an as-needed basis. When the topic is fairly non-controversial, I post them soon after they are completed. However, if the topic is a hot-button issue or if it reflects badly on a beloved star, I may hold it back so that it can “cool down” and perhaps be revised so that it is not unnecessarily inflammatory.
Does it always work? No. I did lose subscribers over my discussion of The Wind and its “bastardized” ending (spoiler: Lillian Gish is a great actress and a shameless fibber) but I don’t really think they were the sort worth keeping. While I try not to give offense, there are some fans who definitely prefer a black and white narrative filled with heroes and mustache-twirling villains. I’m sorry to be curt but there’s really no point in conversing with people who hold such a childish outlook.
The Cooking with the (Silent) Stars series is the most expensive and time-consuming series on the site. It involves purchasing ingredients, preparing them, taking photos and videos and finally writing up the article. In order to minimize expense and time, I try to plan out cooking days. Basically, I choose recipes with overlap in ingredients and then I get cooking.
In June, I ended up house-sitting for a friend. Their house is relatively remote and it was just me and the dog. I took it as an opportunity to make some of the weirder foods in the cookbook. I purchased ingredients and had a marathon cooking session. My tummy did not appreciate it, believe you me, but I ended up with a fat selection of cooking posts all ready to go. I still have several in reserve and you will be seeing them over the next few weeks.
Taking the plunge
So, maybe you have decided to try daily blogging. I hope knowing my method has helped you. Here is one more piece of advice, one I give to all would-be bloggers.
Before taking on the task of a blog, don’t post anything yet. Instead, write as though you already have a blog and save those posts. This will allow you to see if you are able to maintain a regular post schedule and it will give you a nice collection of posts to share if you do decide to launch. It also gives you a great chance to research the best time to post content. Just like on other social media where, for example, you need to understand the best time for instagram posts, you also need to know when would be the peak time for your readers to see a new post has gone live on your blog. This can take some time, but the rewards are worth it.
If you are a blogger who wants to pump things up to daily posting, try keeping your current schedule (whatever it is) and also writing the number of posts you would need for daily blogging. Test drive this for a month and see how you do. If you decide that it’s not for you, fine. You have a stack of posts in your reserve and no harm was done. If you decide that it is something that you would like to continue, make an announcement that you are adopting a daily post format and get cracking!
I hope all of this has clarified how the blog runs behind the scenes. Thanks for reading!
Welcome back! I am cooking my way through the 1929 Photoplay cookbook (recipes of the stars!) and you are invited to tag along. (I have listed all the recipes I have tested on this dedicated page. Check back often.) Today, we will be testing a recipe from one of the biggest players in early features of the wild west.
Sergei Eisenstein’s jaunt into Mexico on Upton Sinclair’s dime yielded reel after reel of footage but due to politics and misfortune, he was unable to edit it together before his death. This is the version released in 1979 and it’s not perfect but the striking images and forceful vignettes make for an intriguing picture.
Note: The film was shot silent but the 1979 version has vocal narration in place of intertitles.
[toggler title=”How does it end? (click here for spoilers)” ]The film is a series of vignettes so there is no real end but you can bet money on a good portion of the cast dying.[/toggler]