Silent Movie School: Orientation and Introduction to the Insatiable Frankenstein Monster

Welcome to the first day of Silent Movie School! We are going to be examining various aspects of silent film production using only books that were available during the silent era. We will start with screenwriting before moving on to acting, directing, camera work and even making posters.

Continue reading “Silent Movie School: Orientation and Introduction to the Insatiable Frankenstein Monster”

Photoplay Cookbook: Gwen Lee’s Potato Omelet

Cook Header

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

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?

Gwen-Lee-Potato-Omelet

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:

Bubble, bubble
Bubble, bubble
It's losing containment!
It’s losing containment!
My omelet broke
My omelet broke
Yes, I do put cheese and ketchup on my eggs. Don't judge.
Yes, I do put cheese and ketchup on my eggs. Don’t judge.

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.

The Russia in Classic Film Blogathon is here!

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It’s here at last! The Russia in Classic Film Blogathon is all about classic films made in Russia, set in Russia or feature talents born in Russia. Please enjoy the lovely selection of posts by talented bloggers. I’m sure you will be intrigued.

Flicker Alley is sponsoring this event in order to promote their wonderful new release, The House of Mystery. They are also having a drawing with the grand prize being a complete box set of the serial on DVD. Click here for complete rules and instructions on how to enter.

Participants: Once you complete your post, please send me a link via blog comment, Twitter (@MoviesSilently) or email. Be sure to link back to this page so that your fellow participants can be showcased. And since Flicker Alley has been doing so much to sponsor this event, it would be lovely if you give them a link back to their page for The House of Mystery.

There’s no place like home… unless it’s Paris

Russian emigres and expats making movies in exile.

Movies Silently | The House of Mystery (1923)

Silents, Please! | The Burning Crucible (1923)

Sister Celluloid | The Burning Crucible (1923)

Those Wacky Russians

Comedy… Russian-style!

Once Upon a Screen | Chess Fever (1925)

wolffian classics movie digest | Moscow Laughs (1934)

The Moon in Gemini | The Twelve Chairs (1970)

Movies Silently | The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming (1966)

Moon in Gemini | Chess Fever (1925)

Classic Reel Girl | Silk Stockings (1957)

Random Pictures | The House on Trubnaya (1928)

Russian Innovation

Brilliant filmmaking from Russia, the Soviet Union, and the Russian Empire.

Silver Screenings | Man with a Movie Camera (1929)

MiB’s Instant Headache | Aelita, Queen of Mars (1924)

Cinematic Frontier | Battleship Potemkin (1925)

Silent-ology | Russian posters of the 1920s

Random Pictures | Aelita, Queen of Mars (1925)

Film Grimoire | Stalker (1979)

Silents, Please! | The Happiness of Eternal Night (1915)

Cary Grant Won’t Eat You | Man with a Movie Camera (1929)

The Movie Rat | Man with a Movie Camera (1929)

Cinematic Catharsis | Aelita, Queen of Mars (1925)

Besties

Russian films co-produced with other nations.

Coolsville | Nostalghia (1983)

Shameless Pile of Stuff | Dersu Uzala (1975)

totally filmi | The Russians Are Coming: some personal reflections on Indo-Soviet co-productions

Stayin’ Alive

Slices of life, culture commentary, and just generally making it in the USSR or modern Russia.

Now Voyaging | Bed and Sofa (1927)

Silent Volume | Earth (1930)

Vintage Classic Scrapbook | Old and New (1929)

filmscreed | Bed and Sofa (1927)

Novel Russia

Films based on the works (or lives) of famous authors.

Big V Riot Squad | Departure of a Grand Old Man (1912)

100 Films in a Year | The Hound of the Baskervilles (1981)

Mildred’s Fatburgers | The Brothers Karamazov (1958)

Silver Screen Modes | Crime and Punishment (1935)

Margaret Perry | Anna Karenina (1935)

The Peasants are Revolting!

Yes, and they’re rebelling too! The Russian Revolution on film.

Movies Silently | The Forty-First (1927)

Speakeasy | Scarlet Dawn (1932)

In the Gold Old Days of Classic Hollywood | Tempest (1928)

Portraits by Jenni | A Knight Without Armor (1937)

Filmi~Contrast | The Forty-First (1956)

The Great Patriotic War

Russia in World War Two.

Moving Image Source | Mission to Moscow (1943)

Ramblings of a Cinephile | Ivan’s Childhood (1962)

Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles…

Adventure and escapism.

A Modern Musketeer | Soviet adventure and comedy GIF set

The Movie Rat | Peter and the Wolf (1946)

MiB’s Instant Headache | Vasilisa the Beautiful (1939)

Big V Riot Squad | Miss Mend (1926)

Mildred’s Fatburgers | Miss Mend (1926)

The Last Goddess | The Russian Soul in Marlene Dietrich’s Flicks

Flights, Tights & Movie Nights | Black Lightning (2009)

I gave my life for the czar and all I got was this lousy fur hat.

Costume films set in Russia of the past.

Timeless Hollywood | The Eagle (1925)

The Hitless Wonder | The Scarlet Empress (1934)

Phyllis Loves Classic Movies | The Emperor’s Candlesticks (1937)

Pre-Code.com | Rasputin and the Empress (1932)

Critica Retro | Eisenstein’s Ivan the Terrible films

MovieFanFare | Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (1965)

Russian? Russian.

Performers and other talented film folk born in Russia, the Russian Empire or the USSR.

Movie Classics | Anna Sten

Sister Celluloid | George Sanders (yes, that George Sanders)

Caftan Woman | Maria Ouspenskaya

Bunnybun’s Classic Movie Blog | Tom Conway (yes, him too)

Silver Scenes | Felix Bressart

Girls Do Film | Sonia Dulaunay: Craft, Costume & Collaboration

Century Film Project | Evgeni Bauer

Silver Scenes | Leonid Kinskey

***

And Jo of The Last Drive In sent over a GIFt from The Cigarette Girl of Mosselprom.

cigarette girl

Photoplay Cookbook: Lupe Velez’s “Spanish Chowder”

Cook Header

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.

velez-2

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.

Lady of the Pavements (1929) D.W. Griffith, Lupe Velez, Jetta Goudal, William Boyd
An on-set anecdote.

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-1

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?

Lupe-Velez-Spanish-Chowder

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:

lupe-velez-recipe-1lupe-velez-recipe-2lupe-velez-recipe-3lupe-velez-recipe-4

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.

Missing the Silents: London After Midnight and Mark of the Vampire

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.

Continue reading “Missing the Silents: London After Midnight and Mark of the Vampire”

Rediscovering the Pioneers of African-American Cinema: Interview with Bret Wood

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.

Beautiful poster for an Oscar Micheaux production. (image via Kino Lorber)
Beautiful poster for an Oscar Micheaux production.
(image via Kino Lorber)

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.)

Concept art of the box set. I'm excited already! (image via Kino Lorber)
Concept art of the box set. I’m excited already!
(image via Kino Lorber)

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.

One of the films that will be included in the set. (image via Kino Lorber)
Looks like a grand bit of fun.
(image via Kino Lorber)

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.

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.

(image via Kino Lorber)
(image via Kino Lorber)

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.

(image via Kino Lorber)
(image via Kino Lorber)

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.

(image via Kino Lorber)
(image via Kino Lorber)

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.

***

So, please consider stopping by that Kickstarter page and donating to this important collection. Let’s give ourselves the pleasure of rediscovering a hidden industry.

Update: Flicker Alley is sponsoring the Russia in Classic Film Blogathon!

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Giveaway: Click here to jump to the movie giveaway rules and entry link.

The Russia in Classic Film Blogathon has a sponsor! Yes, really! Flicker Alley has signed on to help make the event bigger, better and more exciting.

Flicker Alley is one of the best purveyors of silent/early/independent cinema on the block. I have been a loyal fan of the company since their very first releases and I am not alone. I am very excited to be working with them.

The timing of the Russia in Classic Film Blogathon happily coincided with Flicker Alley’s upcoming release, in collaboration with the Blackhawk Films® collection, of the Russo-French serial, The House of Mystery. Never heard of it? I got a sneak peek–I will be reviewing it for the blogathon– and I won’t reveal all but I will say that I was thoroughly blown away. (You can read about the film, see stills and get more information here.) If you are a fan of Louis Feuillade, you will be on cloud nine. If you are a fan of a really good mini-series, you will be in seventh heaven. If you just like movies, you will be enchanted.

You're gonna love it!
You’re gonna love it!

(What do I mean by Russo-French? Well, when the Bolsheviks took over, a good portion of the top Russian film talent hightailed it for Paris where they set up shop and made wildly entertaining movies. They mixed crowd-pleasing comedy and spectacle with cutting-edge film technique and the result was cinematic brilliance. The legendary Ivan Mosjoukine was their biggest star and he is the leading man of The House of Mystery.)

The Ivan Mosjoukine level on my blood was becoming alarmingly low. (image via Flicker Alley)
The Ivan Mosjoukine level in my blood was becoming alarmingly low.
(image via Flicker Alley)

In addition, Flicker Alley ran a successful crowdfunding campaign to finance a new line of manufactured-on-demand (MOD) DVDs from the Blackhawk Films® collection. Several of the titles slated for release are Soviet classics. Once again, the timing coincides with the blogathon.

What this means for participating bloggers

This is basically like a new co-host coming aboard, only better. Flicker Alley has a devoted following among cinephiles, enjoys an excellent reputation thanks to their high-quality releases and lending their name to the event adds to its prestige. Plus, they will be promoting the event on their various social media accounts. Just snag yourself a new and improved banner (found below), sit back and enjoy the extra publicity for the event and your post.

Miss Mend. Are you up to the challenge?
Miss Mend. Are you up to the challenge? Plus, Boris Barnet!

Further, Flicker Alley will be reading your posts and will be selecting their favorites for reprint on their website, either in whole or in part. This will be done with your permission only and you will retain the copyright to your work. They will link back to your blog so this is a great way for your site to get exposure. Here is an example of how these reprints will work.

The review titles eligible for reprint:

Bed and Sofa (Soviet feature)
Chess Fever (Soviet short)
Aelita, the Queen of Mars (Soviet feature)
Man with a Movie Camera (Soviet documentary/art/experimental film)
Miss Mend (Soviet serial, an utter blast)
The Late Mathias Pascal (Russo-French feature)
The Burning Crucible (Russo-French feature)
Kean (Russo-French feature)
Gribiche (Russo-French feature)
The New Gentlemen (Russo-French feature)
Old and New (Soviet feature, Eisenstein directs)
Stride, Soviet! (Soviet documentary)
Turksib (Soviet documentary)
Fall of the Romanov Dynasty (Soviet montage documentary)
The House on Trubnaya Square (Soviet comedy, Boris Barnet AND Vladimir Fogel!)
The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr. West in the Land of the Bolsheviks (Soviet comedy)
By the Law (Soviet feature)
Salt for Svanetia (Soviet documentary)

If you wish to cover one of these or change your film of choice, please let me know. Obviously, the “no duplicates” rule is lifted for these titles. Enjoy!

(Update: If you have already signed on for the event, you can cover one of these titles either in place of your original choice or in addition to it. In short, you are free to write about as many movies as you think you can handle.

I would also like to clarify that covering these films is not a guarantee of repost and Flicker Alley will be in control of what gets reposted and when it is published on their site. Any good blogger knows that spacing out posts is a must and so there may be some delay between your post being chosen and when it shows up on the site.)

chess-fever-1925-image-20

What this means for readers

In conjunction with the blogathon, Flicker Alley is going to be having a Russian-themed movie giveaway. The prizes are quite tempting:

Grand Prize: The House of Mystery 3-disc DVD Collection (full retail value, $44.95 USD)

First Runner-up Prize: A DVD copy of Aelita, the Queen of Mars (full retail value, $19.95 USD)

Second Runner-up Prize: A DVD copy of Bed And Sofa with Chess Fever (full retail value, $19.95 USD)

Aelita was instrumental in inventing what we think of as the sci-fi look.
Aelita was instrumental in inventing what we think of as the sci-fi look.

These prizes will ship after their release date (April at the earliest but possibly later). And since I know many of you online and some of you in real life, Flicker Alley will be handling all aspects of the contest and winner selection.

This drawing will be open to readers and participants alike but entry will be limited to residents of the United States and Canada only. Entering is easy. Just follow this link, sign on to the newsletter and you’re in like Flynn! The contest closes on the last day of the blogathon, March 10. If you are the winner, Flicker Alley will contact you via email within 30 days. Break a leg, kids!

Here are the complete rules:

Open to residents of the United States and Canada only. Void where prohibited. Contest ends March 10, 2015. Winner will be chosen at random by Flicker Alley, LLC. The winners will be notified by email within 30 days of the closing date. If the winners cannot be contacted or do not claim the prize within 14 days of notification, we reserve the right to withdraw the prize from the winner and pick a replacement winner. There is no entry fee and no purchase necessary to enter this competition. By submitting this form, you are granting: Flicker Alley, LLC, http://www.flickeralley.com, permission to email you. You can revoke permission to mail to your email address at any time using the SafeUnsubscribe SafeUnsubscribe® link, found at the bottom of every email.

What this means to me

Now I have to make a confession. I have selfish motives in doing all this. Some of you may already know this but I like Russian actor Ivan Mosjoukine. And by like I mean love. And by love I mean completely adore. As stated above, The House of Mystery stars Mosjoukine and it is the second round of Mosjoukine-led releases from Flicker Alley.

I adore this man. (image via Flicker Alley)
I adore this man.
(image via Flicker Alley)

I wish for this Mosjoukine renaissance to continue and I would like for him to enjoy the same name recognition and respect currently given to, say, Conrad Veidt or Lon Chaney. I want The House of Mystery‘s DVD release to be a smashing success and for it to usher in more Mosjoukine films on home media. You can see why this sponsorship is important to me.

So, please update your banners to reflect the event’s new status. If you want to be extra nice, you can give Flicker Alley a link back, just as you would for any event co-host.

Let me know if you have any questions!

Updated Banners

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ANNOUNCEMENT: The Russia in Classic Film Blogathon!

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Update: For the newest roster, please check out the event page. Thanks!

UPDATE: I have a sponsor for the blogathon! Read all the details here!

There are prizes and reprint opportunities galore. The details are in the link. Enjoy!

***

First of all, let me say that I have returned to the land of the living! So, what’s the first thing I want to do? Host a blogathon, of course!

This idea has been rattling around my head for a while. I hope you like it. You see, I am a longtime Russophile. I am crazy about Russian culture and have been ever since I can remember. Russia and the Russians have done a ton to contribute to the richness of world cinema so let’s give them their due.

Do you think Russian films are all long, depressing and dark? Think again! While there are certainly serious films, Russians also have a wonderful sense of humor and I am sure you will be pleasantly surprised by some of their lighter offerings. If your only experience with Russian film is the interminable and decidedly un-Russian Doctor Zhivago, oh honey, let us guide you to the promised land!

Here are the basics:

Rudolph Valentino went Russian in "The Eagle" One of many, many Hollywood films with a Russian setting.
Rudolph Valentino went Russian in “The Eagle” One of many, many Hollywood films with a Russian setting.

All non-Russian productions must have been made in or before 1970. In order to encourage more Russian entries, I am doing something a little different: There is no date limit on films made in Russia.

No duplicates, please!

Grab a banner (they’re down at the bottom of the post) and spread the word.

(If you have any questions, don’t be shy! Ask away. Here are some tips for blogathon participation.)

You can cover this guy!
You can cover this guy!

Here is what you can cover:

Any movie made in Russia

Any Hollywood (or otherwise non-Russian film industry) movie that is set in Russia or features Russian characters

Any talent (before or behind the camera) who was born in Russia

Any movie made outside of Russia by expats (for example, the Albatros films)

My talent of choice was born in Ukraine/Belarus/Moldova/Georgia, do they count?

Beloved character actor Mischa Auer was born in St. Petersburg
Beloved character actor Mischa Auer was born in St. Petersburg

The borders of Russia have always been incredibly fluid. Still are, as recent events show. Therefore, if your talent was born in a country that was part of the Russian Empire or the USSR, no worries. Ask if you have any questions.

What about Red Scare films?

While the purpose of this event is cultural exchange, I do recognize that Red Scare films did much to form the popular view of Russians. Feel free to select a title from this genre.

My movie of choice has no Russians and is not set in Russia but some of the characters are Russian. Does this count?

Yes! Lots of Hollywood films (and the films of other countries) featured Russian characters. Your movie is welcome.

"The Most Dangerous Game" features no Russian actors but the villain is a Russian nobleman.
“The Most Dangerous Game” features no Russian actors but the villain is a Russian nobleman, so it is eligible.

My movie of choice is not set in Russia but there is a Russian in the cast. Can I cover it?

Yes! Movies like The Magnificent Seven and My Man Godfrey, which do not cover Russian subjects, are more than welcome because major cast members were born in Russia.

My movie of choice is a co-production between Russia and another country. Is this okay?

Yes, co-productions are quite welcome and they do not have to observe to 1970-or-before date limit. Choose any film you like!

"Dersu Uzala" was a Russian-Japanese co=production.
“Dersu Uzala” was a Russian-Japanese co=production.

Can I write about Czar Nicholas and Anastasia?

No. Not unless you cover a film on the subject. However, I am hoping at least some participants will select films made in Czarist Russia.

Anastasia (1956) Hint, hint.
Anastasia (1956)
Hint, hint.

The Roster

Movies Silently | The Cameraman’s Revenge (1912, Russia), La Maison de Mystere (1921-23, France) and The Russians are Coming, the Russians are Coming! (1968, USA)

Sister Celluloid | The singing career of George Sanders and The Burning Crucible

The Movie Rat | Peter and the Wolf (1946, USA)

Flights, Tights & Movie Nights | Black Lightning (2009, Russia Чёрная Молния)

totally filmi | Mera Naam Joker (1970, India)

The Great Katharine Hepburn | Anna Karenina (1935, USA)

A Person in the Dark | The Last Command (1928, USA)

Mildred’s Fatburgers | The Brothers Karamazov (1958, USA) and Adventures of Mowgli (1973, Russia Маугли)

Shameless Pile of Stuff | Dersu Uzala (1975, Russian-Japanese co-production Дерсу Узала)

Cinematic Catharsis | Come and See (1985, Russia Иди и смотри)

Caftan Woman | A piece on Maria Ouspanskaya

Cinematic Scribblings | The Cranes are Flying (1957, Russia Летят журавли)

Big V Riot Squad | Departure of a Grand Old Man (1912, Russia Уход великого старца)

Once Upon a Screen | Chess Fever (1925, Russia Шахматная горячка)

wolffian classic movies digest | Jolly Fellows (1934, Russia Весёлые ребята)

Carey Grant Won’t Eat You | Volga Volga (1938, Russia Волга-Волга)

Portraits by Jenni | Knight Without Armor (1937, USA)

In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood | Anastasia (1956, USA)

The Vintage Cameo | Hipsters (2008, Russia Стиляги)

Silents, Please! | The Happiness of Eternal Night (1915, Russia Счастье вечной ночи)

Moon in Gemini | The Twelve Chairs (1970, USA)

Coolsville | Nostalghia (1983, Russian-Italian co-production)

Girls Do Film | Piece on Sonia Delaunay

MIB’s Instant Headache | Aelita: Queen of Mars (1924, Russia Аэлита) and Vasilisa the Beautiful (1939, Russia Василиса Прекрасная)

The Hitless Wonder | The Scarlet Empress (1934, USA)

Filmi~Contrast | The Forty-First (1956, Russia Сорок первый)

Pre-Code.Com | Rasputin and the Empress (1932, USA)

100 Films in a Year | The Hound of the Baskervilles (1981, Russia Приключения Шерлока Холмса и доктора Ватсона: Собака Баскервилей)

Silver Scenes | Pieces on Leonid Kinskey and Felix Bressart (Bressart is often listed as German but his birthplace falls within the borders of Russia)

Now Voyaging | Berlin Express (1948, USA)

Critica Retro | Ivan the Terrible (1944 & 1958, Russia Иван Грозный)

Silent Volume | Earth (1930, Ukraine Земля)

filmscreed | Bed and Sofa (1927, Russia Третья Мещанская)

Timeless Hollywood | The Eagle (1925, USA)

TBD | Office Romance (1977, Russia Служебный роман) and The Irony of Fate (1976, Russia Ирония судьбы, или С лёгким паром!)

Speakeasy | Scarlet Dawn (1932, USA)

Classic Reel Girl | Silk Stockings (1957, USA)

Silver Screen Pix | British Agent (1934, USA)

Ramblings of a Cinephile | Ivan’s Childhood (1962, Russia Ива́ново де́тство)

Silver Screenings | Man with a Movie Camera

Mildred’s Fatburgers and Transplanted Tartar | Two Comrades Were Serving (1968, Russia Служили два товарища)

Century Film Project | Piece on Evgeni Bauer

Marlene Dietrich: The Last Goddess | Russians and Russian characters in the films of Marlene Dietrich

Movie Classics | Piece on Anna Sten

The Cinematic Frontier | Battleship Potemkin (1925, Russia)

Film Grimoire | Stalker (1979, Russia)

Silver Screen Modes | Crime and Punishment (1935)

I Love Terrible Movies | Piece on select Red Scare films

Random Pictures | Aelita: Queen of Mars and The House on Trubnaya Square

Phyllis Loves Classic Movies | The Emperor’s Candlesticks (1937)

MovieFanFare | Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (1965, Ukraine)

Silent-ology | Piece on Soviet film posters

Bunnybun’s Classic Movie Blog | Piece on Tom Conway

***

Want to participate but don’t know what to cover? Well, Russia’s most famous studio, Mosfilm, has made many of their classics available for free and legal viewing on their YouTube channel, many with English subtitles.

Or check out…

My Wish List

Films and personalities I would most like to see covered.

Russian Films

Miss Mend (1926) | An American serial– Russian style!

The Forty-First (1927 or 1956 versions) | She’s a Bolshevik sniper, he’s a Czarist officer. Romance?

Alexander Nevsky (1938) | The movie that invented the modern battle scene.

Destiny of a Man (1959) | Smile through the tears with the WW2 POW drama

The Ascent (1977) | A brilliant masterpiece of war and Passion (note capitalization) directed by (gasp!) a woman.

Hollywood Films set in Russia

Lon Chaney tried on Russia for size in "Mockery"
Lon Chaney tried on Russia for size in “Mockery”

(Remember, there is a pre-1970 date limit on non-Russian productions)

The Scarlet Empress (1934)

From Russia with Love (1963)

The Most Dangerous Game (1932)

Tempest (1927)

The Eagle (1925)

Love (1927)

Knight Without Armor (1937)

Peter and the Wolf (1946)

Anastasia (1956)

The Expat Productions

The Burning Crucible (1923)

The Late Mathias Pascal (1926)

Michael Strogoff (1926)

Yul Brynner liked to make people guess his background but he was really Russian.
Yul Brynner liked to make people guess his background but he was really Russian.

Russia-born Talents

Ivan Mosjoukine

Sergei Bondarchuk

Nathalie Lissenko

Yul Brynner

Mischa Auer

George Sanders (Huh? Well, technically…)

Lewis Milestone

But all Russian movies are dreary…

Well, try these, dearie!

House in Kolomna (1913)

Chess Fever (1925)

Lieutenant Kije (1934)

Volga Volga (1938)

Cinderella aka Zolushka (1947)

Film Film Film (1968)

Banners

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Test Your Silent Movie IQ: Intermediate

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.

 

 

Scores

0-30% – Uh oh!

31-40% – It’s a start.

41-50% – Respectable.

51-60% – Not bad at all!

61-70% – Very good.

71-80% – More than good! Great, even!

81-90% –  Nerd alert!

91-100% – You really are a specific dream rabbit.

It has arisen from its grave!

Last Monday, my site went down for half an hour. When it came back up, some things were… weird. Pages not loading. Social media links not working. After pestering my host for days, I was finally informed that they were undergoing a DDoS attack. I was likely not the target (I knew I shouldn’t have tried to write about silent film in North Korea!) but I shared the pain with whoever was on living on the same server.

On Friday, my site went down again, this time for hours, I’m not sure how many. I couldn’t get tech support on the line and when I did, they just told me it was another attack. So, I decided to take the nuclear option and migrate to a new host. As my old host was still undergoing the attack, I couldn’t connect to get my website files.

Fortunately, I had signed up for VaultPress, which is WordPress’s cloud-based backup service. It has a function that allows me to migrate my site from one host to another without having to download anything. I made my move on Saturday, using a clean backup that had been saved just before my site went down on Friday.

(Note: I ended up using a backup from Wednesday as it had sustained less damage.)

And so, I can finally say that the site is alive!

nosferatu-rises

What this means for you:

I redirected my domain to my new host. It would be nice if that was an instant change but, sadly, it is not. Some readers may not be able to view my site for up to 72 hours. I am just as frustrated as you are but all we can do is wait.

I had to restore an earlier backup of my site and my connectivity has been off and on since January 5. This means that if you made a comment between then and now, it may have gotten lost in the move. Some didn’t but I know for a fact that some did. I apologize for that and hope you will comment again.

I was concerned that this move would create issues with my WordPress subscribers but everything seems to have migrated nicely. If you subscribed through your WordPress account, you may have to turn email notifications back on. If you subscribed by entering your email address in my handy box, you should be good to go.

If in doubt, please unsubscribe and then resubscribe to the blog and we all should be right as rain.

In general, social media, commenting and subscriptions will likely be wonky until the whole domain redirection issue calms down. That should be approximately 72 hours from this post’s publication date.

What this means for me:

I decided to take this opportunity to implement some redecoration on the site, something I had wanted to do for a while. I gave the new theme a test drive on Saturday but there are still some kinks to work out (there always are) and some features that I want to ensure import properly. I will be launching my new look soon.

In conclusion, a huge thanks to everyone supporting me during this minor catastrophe. Extra special thanks to Nel of B-Movie Maniacs (@FanForumsTV on Twitter) for sharing WordPress technical expertise during the darker moments.

Test Your Silent Movie IQ: Beginner

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.)

 

 

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.

Enjoy and please forgive the primitive methods.

Phew! All done. How did you do?

 

Scores

0-20% – You know about as much about the silents as the producers of The Buster Keaton Story. That’s okay, though! Here are some tips for getting started.

21-30% – You have a few of the facts down but could use a bit more familiarity with the era.

31-40% – It’s a start but you still have a lot to learn.

41-50% – You have the makings of a silent movie nerd hidden within.

51-60% – Not bad at all! A silent movie diamond nerd in the rough. Wait, that makes no sense…

61-70% – Very good. A few more silent films and you will be ready for the big time. (Whatever the “big time” entails in silent movie nerdom.)

71-80% – More than good! Great, even! You have silent knowledge that impresses.

81-90% –  Beginner? You’re no beginner! Nerd alert!

91-100% – You really are a specific dream rabbit.

Photoplay Cookbook: William S. Hart’s “Stuffed Summer Squash”

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.

Continue reading “Photoplay Cookbook: William S. Hart’s “Stuffed Summer Squash””

What was your favorite classic movie discovery this year?

 

We had fun, didn't we, comrades?
We had fun, didn’t we, comrades?

I did a year end recap in 2013 and I will be doing another one this year but I wanted to add a little something fun. One of my favorite aspects of the year in retrospect is considering the “new to me” films that I discovered. This is where you come in.

I thought it would be enjoyable to include a list of classic films that my readers saw for the first time in 2014. Winter is upon us and I am hoping to compile the best possible to-watch list for those snowy nights ahead. (Yes, it does snow in California.) So, I’m crowd-sourcing the list! Leave me a comment and let me know your favorite pre-1970 discovery this year.

Your discovery doesn’t have to technically be the best, it just has to be the film that you enjoyed the most. So-bad-it’s-good is perfectly acceptable as long as you had a good time. Your choice can be famous or obscure. Again, your enjoyment is the only criteria.

Thanks in advance! I look forward to your wonderful recommendations.

My favorite silent discoveries in 2014

(Click on any title to read my review of the film)

1. Michael Strogoff (1926)

michael-strogoffheader2

The movie may as well have been made to order, it’s a veritable laundry list of Stuff Fritzi Likes. Russian cast? One that includes Ivan Mosjoukine? Filmed with an entire army (like, literally an army, as in military men) of extras? Elaborate plot? Intrigue? Stencil color? Bliss!

Read my review here.

2. The Canadian (1926)

The Canadian 1926 image (43)

What was in the water back in 1926? So many great movies! This understated drama features some of the best acting of the silent era. It’s about a marriage of convenience in the grain fields of Canada. If you think silent films were all about melodrama, prepare for a shock.

Read my review here.

3. The Wishing Ring (1914)

Wishing Ring 1914 image  (35)

I went in with zero expectations and was utterly charmed by this sweet little film. It’s an old English romance (as directed by a Frenchman in America) with plenty of humor. It is also the single most beautiful movie from the ‘teens that I have ever had the pleasure to experience.

Read my review here.

4. Beyond the Border (1925)

beyond-the-border-1925-image-13

This action-comedy is light as a feather but I have rarely had this much fun at the movies. Harry Carey is a put-upon western sheriff who quickly discovers that no good deed goes unpunished. The intertitles are a riot!

Read my review here.

beyond-the-border-i-want-my-pants

5. The Burning Crucible (1923)

burning-crucible-image-04

Weird, wild, wonderful. Ivan Mosjoukine makes the list again (as well he should!) with a crazy detective story that he wrote, directed and starred in. At turns surreal, hilarious and bizarre, I can guarantee you have never seen anything like it. I certainly hadn’t.

Read my review here.

Half-truths, Forgetfulness and Sloppy Citations: Using Questionable Sources

hogwash-header-4

Welcome to the fourth and final article on my series on silent movie research. Part one dealt with fibbing film stars, part two discussed the responsibilities of film historians, part three covered the problems caused by bloggers and the wiki culture. This time, we are going to be discussing something of a sticky topic: Using research or testimony that you know is questionable.

Why would anyone do that? Well, silent movies are not exactly a happening thing. With more obscure stars and films, imperfect sources may be all we have. It’s a question of using a fishy source gingerly or having no source at all. There is a time and a place for either option.

Step one: Acknowledge, acknowledge, acknowledge

If you have any reason to doubt the veracity of your source, state this in your writing. Has your source made unfounded claims? Have they been caught in lies? You owe it to your readers to acknowledge this and state why you believe the source this time.

So far so good. But what about specific instances?

Wonderful, horrible fan magazines

Fan magazines were a mixture of gossip, fantasy, studio stunts and a few grains of truth. Sometimes you can learn a lot from what they don’t say. For example, if a star was on every page one month and then gone the next, there is a good chance that they were embroiled in scandal or dropped from their studio contract. The time of the drop gives you a clue for tracking down further information.

Fan magazine writers could be petty, sexist, racist and generally unpleasant and cruel. If you run into a really mean quote, you may do well to track down information on the writer. (Adela Rogers St. John has made my blacklist with her petty swipes.)

And fan magazines were not above holding grudges. For example, Photoplay reportedly took an intense dislike to Lillian Gish in the twenties because she politely refused to have her likeness engraved on Photoplay commemorative spoons. Yes, really. I imagine she reacted to the suggestion somewhat like this:

musketeers-of-pig-alley-lillian-gish-dw-griffith-lillian-stands-up-for-herself

From that point on, Gish was labeled snobby, frumpy, sexless and her performances were ignored or played down. While there is no smoking gun (for example, a “get Gish” telegram) in the case, it definitely has the ring of truth to me.

Charles Affron recounts the episode in his biography Lillian Gish: Her Legend, Her Life. The book has lots of interesting details and mythbusting but the author seems to have taken a dislike to his subject. In this case, though, Affron is sympathetic to Miss Gish. Who wouldn’t be? “Take part in our tacky spoon peddling– or else.”

Unfortunately, for more obscure stars, the fan magazines are pretty much all we have. Just assume that they are least 75% baloney. When quoting a fan magazine for a more controversial claim that is not backed by any other source, it is probably best to briefly acknowledge the credibility issues.

Slips of the tongue

manhandled-1924-gloria-swanson-silent-movie-dealing-with-pomposity

When dealing with a recorded interview, slips of the tongue are inevitable. With written reviews, memories can be hazy and there may be a few mix-ups. For example, you may wish to quote an actor who verbally mixes up Constance and Norma Talmadge. Everything else he says seems to check out, there was just that one slip of the tongue.

So, the original quote looks like this:

“It was such a pleasure working with Constance Talmadge. You really should see her in Kiki.”

There is a right way and a wrong way to handle it.

The wrong way:

“I was such a pleasure working with Norma Talmadge. You should really see her in Kiki.”

What’s wrong? Well, in this case, we corrected the original speaker’s quote but we did not tell the reader that we were doing so. This is highly misleading (even if well-intended) and is irresponsible writing. Whoopsy!

manhandled-1924-gloria-swanson-silent-movie-dignity-always-dignity

The right way:

“It was such a pleasure working with Constance Talmadge. You really should see her in Kiki.”

Note: It seems clear from context that Thomas Actor was referring to Norma Talmadge, Constance’s sister.

If you need to use the quote, do not correct it or change it in any way. You may add clarifying notes but anything more would not be the ticket. The same goes for paraphrasing.

If you only have one quote on the topic and there is an obvious slip of the tongue, you need to acknowledge it. It’s only fair. After all, not everyone may agree that it is a slip of the tongue. And, obviously, deciding whether or not something is a slip of the tongue is a judgement call on the part of the writer.

Judgment calls and lifting your fingers

In fact, writing about history of any kind is a series of judgement calls. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of looking at the big picture. Many movie myths can be debunked by something as simple as looking a movie release dates to see if they match the testimony given. It also helps to read history books about the era that are not related to film. Many times, myths and errors get repeated and accepted as fact because no one has ever bothered to lift a finger and do even a minimum amount of research.

For example, there is a common myth that Russian leading man Ivan Mosjoukine was invited to Hollywood as a Valentino replacement after the famous leading man’s sudden death. The story goes that studio heads saw an opportunity to inherit Valentino’s box office appeal and scoured far and wide for a new sheik. Supposedly, the search led Carl Laemmle to Mosjoukine’s work in France, which led to an invitation to Universal.

All it took to debunk the myth was a few hours of digging through back issues of trade journals to discover this was not the case at all.

From Motion Picture News
From Motion Picture News

This is dated August 14, 1926. Valentino died unexpectedly on August 23. Case rested.

(You can read the full, crazy account of my Mosjoukine mission in my review for Surrender, his lone Hollywood appearance.)

So, look for context. Many times, the answer that you need is just beneath the surface. Be the one who lifts a finger and corrects the historical record.

Well, that book is riddled with errors. Let’s use it as a source.

Here is a pop quiz for all you junior film historians. Let’s say you run into a book with juicy claims about a famous person. But, oh dear, it seems that it has some basic factual errors. Dates are wrong. Names are wrong. People are said to be places where they couldn’t possibly be (and photographs prove it). But the claims are so… juicy!

What do you do?

a) Use the claims as-is. No one will notice!

b) Quietly correct the factual errors but use the claims in your juicy article.

c) Do further research before using the juicy claims. If you do use the source, mention its credibility issues.

Obviously, C is the best choice but you would be amazed at how many folks take the A and B path. Obviously, I have a few issues with this.

penalty-lon-chaney-silent-movie-scary-window

For example, in researching my epic (she said modestly) debunking of the perfectly silly “Woodrow Wilson murdered Florence La Badie” myth, I read as much as I could find. For those of you who missed the drama, the claims are found in exactly one book: Stardust and Shadows: Canadians in Early Hollywood by Charles Foster. The book gets birthdates wrong, misnames La Badie’s mother, quotes people who could not possibly have witnessed the events in question, gives only vague dates for newspaper articles (none of which seem to exist) and generally raises red flags all over the place.

The problem was that many of writers who repeated the affair/murder narrative chose option B. That is, they took the errors in the original source and corrected them (birthdates, names, etc.), did not mention that they had made corrections and unquestioningly recited everything else. Oh dear.

You see the problem? I hope so. It gives false credibility to the original source but does not question its allegations, which are pretty fishy. In short, it makes the “scandal” look a lot more believable than it really is. I dare say that many of these people meant well but the result is playing havoc with the historical record and causing confusion where there should be none.

That’s not a nice thing to do.

doll-ernst-lubitsch-ossi-oswalda-silent-movie-animated-how-rude

Again, I am not a huge fan of bashing fellow film bloggers but these murder claims are smearing a lot of very good people and they must surely cause distress to the descendants of the wrongly accused. Please think before you type! These people have families. How would you like to have your grandparents written about in this way?

(Mercifully, the rumor has not spread too far yet and Wikipedia is, as of the writing, actively deleting mentions of this nonsense from their Florence La Badie page.)

Look at yourself

Here come the questions that only you can answer. Why are you doing this? Why do you want to write about this star, this director, this film? You don’t need a complicated reason. Maybe you just like them. But please be aware that liking a person’s work can color what information you choose to include or exclude.

(I think every single one of us has been guilty of this.)

Taking a balanced approach is difficult but worth your time and effort. Does this mean you can’t have opinions? Of course not! It just means that responsible writers acknowledge their likes and dislikes and realize how it can color their writing.

Tiny and cute!
It’s not wrong to have opinions. Just examine yourself and make sure you realize what beliefs and opinions you hold before you start writing.

For example, the more I learn about D.W. Griffith and watch his films, the more I grow to detest the man and his feature work. Some silent film fans feel he is unfairly maligned and want to restore his reputation. I respectfully disagree. I want to tie cinder blocks to his reputation and toss it into the Mariana Trench. What does this mean? Well, it means that his fans are more likely to believe positive accounts of Griffith and I am more likely to believe negative accounts. Again, nothing wrong with having an opinion. Just know that it will make a difference with your baloney detectors.

Silent movie fans are a small but dedicated group. Because there are so few of us, it means that those who choose to write about the topic have an enormous responsibility. Yours may be the only voice discussing a particular star or film. Please, for the sake of the historical record, do your very best to get it right.

The Fairy Tale Blogathon is here!

fairy-tale-blogathon-forbidden-fruit

It’s finally here! The Fairy Tale Blogathon begins today. Enjoy brilliant reviews of movies and television shows that were inspired by folk tales from around the world.

I will be updating this page constantly over the next three days so check back often.

Submit your link to me via email, comment or Twitter. Don’t see yourself or need a correction? Please let me know!

Dressed in yella…

Cinderella, in her various incarnations.

Portraits by Jenni | Ever After (1998)

Silver Screenings | Zolushka (1947)

Sister Celluloid | The Glass Slipper (1955)

Movies Silently | Forbidden Fruit (1921)

The Second Sentence | First Love (1939)

Silent-ology | Ella Cinders (1926)

All Eyes on Screen | Sabrina (1995)

Classic Movie Hub | Cinderella (1914)

Jim Fanning’s Tulgey Wood | Cinderella (1950)

Crime always pays

Righteous thievery, from Jack to Ali Baba.

Silent Volume | Jack and the Beanstalk (1902)

Timeless Hollywood | The Thief of Bagdad (1924)

Destroy All Fanboys | The Thief of Bagdad (1940)

Cary Grant Won’t Eat You | Tangled (2010)

Culture Spy | Aladdin (1992)

A date? With those tusks/that fishtail?

Beastly men, manly beasts, half-fish maidens, and assorted shape shifts and anthropomorphism.

Caftan Woman | Shirley Temple’s Storybook: The Little Mermaid (1961)

Nitrate Glow | Bluebeard (1901)

Big Screen Small Words | Penelope (2006)

100 Films in a Year | La Belle et la Bête (1946)

Random Films | Secret Beyond the Door (1947)

Enchanted by Film | Beauty and the Beast (1991)

Sleepy time

Tales of sleeping, sleepwalking or general drowsiness.

Shameless Pile of Stuff | Prinsessa Ruusunen (Sleeping Beauty) (1949)

Moon in Gemini | Once Upon a Mattress (2005)

A Shroud of Thoughts | Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

Nitrate Glow | Sleeping Beauty (1959)

Critica Retro | Snow White (1916) and Blancanieves (2012)

Off the beaten path

Less famous source material but equally worthy of our attention…

Coolsville | The Juniper Tree (1990)

Speakeasy | The Happy Prince (1974)

Wide Screen World | Kirikou and the Sorceress (1998)

Mildred’s Fatburgers | The Snow Queen (1957)

Spellbound by Movies | Claire (2001)

Big Budgets, Big Stars

Fairy tales that cost a bundle.

The Cinematic Frontier | Frozen (2014)

Flixchatter | Legend (1985)

The White’s List | Shrek and Shrek 2

Mashup!

Fairy tales, blended.

Silent Volume | The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926)

Destroy All Fanboys | Ray Harryhausen’s Fairy Tales

Eclectic Alli | Into the Woods (1991)

100 Films in a Year | The 10th Kingdom (2000)

Big V Riot Squad | Nursery Favorites and the Early Teens Talkie Boom

Girl Meets Cinema | Once Upon a Time: Meet the Charmings

Cinema Moonglow | The Irresistible Fairie Tale Theatre , Breaking the Disney Spell, Resources

Those wacky fairy tales

Fractured looks at our favorite stories.

Moon in Gemini | Fractured Fairy Tales (1959-1964)

Girls Do Film | A Thousand and One Nights (1945)

Once Upon a Screen | Fairy Tales in Looney Toons/Merrie Melodies

MovieMovieBlogBlog | Popeye the Sailor Meets Sinbad the Sailor (1936)

Drew’s Movie Reviews | Enchanted (2007)

Ask Away: No stupid (silent movie) questions

les-vampires

Update: This thread is closed. Lots of great questions and answers but I wanted to keep the post to a manageable length. I will be going through the answers and adding links, clarifying phrases, etc. Thanks so much for joining the fun! I will be posting another one of these soon.

I am trying something new. If it’s a success, I will be doing more of them. Basically, you get to decide what I write about. Readers are free to ask silent film-related questions. (With a few caveats.)

What do I mean by “no stupid questions” anyway? Well, silent film can be intimidating to the newcomer and, I am sorry to say, some established fans have been known to engage in newbie bashing. I want a place where people can ask their questions and feel welcomed. There are no stupid questions. Ask away.

Movie or book recommendations

Myth-busting

Movie identification

Anything else (within reason)

Your questions, my answers:

Is there a good book on the transition from silents to talkies? (dlhartzog)

Yes there is. The Speed of Sound: Hollywood and the Talkie Revolution 1926-1930 by Scott Eyman. (I am a big fan of Mr. Eyman’s work, in case you haven’t noticed.)

Who would you pick to play dear old Mr. Chaney if such a film was made today (less said about that other Chaney bio-film the better)? (The Cinematic Pack Rat)

Hmm, interesting question! I think Gary Oldman (though he is a bit old for the part) has the versatility to pull off the role, assuming the film focuses on Chaney’s period of success up until his death. The challenge is that we need someone who is talented but not matinee idol handsome. Plus, with features that fit the signature makeup. For younger Chaney, let’s make the Tumblrettes happy and nominate Benedict Cumberbatch just cuz I would love to see him playing the Phantom, the Hunchback and Blizzard.

Do you think Charlie Chaplin ever saw Jackie Coogan on The Addams Family, or any of Coogan’s acting as an adult? (Michael Kuzmanovski)

I’m not really sure if he did or not but there was an interesting anecdote that may shine a light on the matter. Coogan and Chaplin met for the last time in 1972 at the Governor’s Ball following the Oscars.

“Two conflicting stories circulate about the reunion. One version is that Chaplin greeted Coogan warmly, and as the brief meeting ended, Chaplin emphatically told Coogan’s wife, “You must never forget that your husband is a genius.” The other account, told by Carol Matthau, wife of actor Walter Matthau and close friend of Oona Chaplin, is that Chaplin first feigned not to recognize Coogan and later expressed concern to Oona that Coogan might ask for residuals. If true, it was a bittersweet ending to a remarkable friendship.”

If you believe the Genius version, then I find it likely that Chaplin followed his protege’s career. If you believe the Residuals version, then Chaplin probably would have been too self-absorbed to notice Coogan’s later control.

I am not an expert on Chaplin’s later life by any means so if anyone has more information, please feel free to share!

Can you recommend a book that is a good general introduction to silent movies? (anonymous)

Even though it is over a half-century old, Classics of the Silent Screen is a solid intro to the films and personalities of the silent era. You can download a free copy from archive.org here.

Bob Duggan adds:

“In regards to best introduction to silent film via book, I still love Kevin Brownlow’s “The Parade’s Gone By.” (And, if you prefer a visual introduction, Brownlow’s 13-part “Hollywood: A Celebration of the American Silent Film” is well worth watching and even available for free on YouTube if you look hard enough.)”

Debbie adds:

“I have to add Brownlow and Gill’s Cinema Europe: The Other Hollywood. It’s an awesome introduction to European silent film. (Back in the 90s I worked for a company that co-produced the series and got a preview of one of the episodes before it was released. It just bowled me over.)”

Why was John Gilbert unable to make the transition from silent film to talkies, was it his voice, alcoholism, or something else? (dlhartzog)

This one is highly debatable but I think John Gilbert’s fall from top-tier stardom can be squarely blamed on three factors:

1. Alcoholism was certainly a factor in both the sputtering of his career and his early death.

2. Audience tastes. The extravagant romances that he specialized in quickly lost their appeal to Depression-era audiences.

3. Personality. Gilbert was extremely sensitive and did not possess the rhino hide that would have allowed him to take career setbacks in stride.

That being said, Gilbert did make sound films, some of them were successful, he just wasn’t the mega-star that he had been. Friends and fellow stars were trying to help him revive his career right up to his death.

I don’t agree with your assessment that John Gilbert’s personality and a change in audience taste are the major reasons behind his career decline – there is no doubt in my mind that his career was systematically destroyed by Louis B Mayer. The studio masqueraded their bitter sabotage of Gilbert through creating myths that have stuck around even until now (that his voice was not suitable, etc), a familiar and tragic story indeed – a similar fate befell many other silent stars during that ugly transition to the talkies, of course. (Reader)

I never once said Gilbert’s voice was bad. In fact, in an 1930 interview, Louis B. Mayer said that Gilbert was blessed with one of the best voices in the biz. Plus, you skipped my first reason: Alcoholism.

Gilbert’s alcoholism and public complaining and finger-pointing made it very difficult for anyone in the executive suite to throw him a lifeline. (The friends who helped Gilbert tended to be on the talent side of things or were rivals to Mayer.) Plus, Gilbert was replaced by the new and shiny Clark Gable as the MGM romancer in chief. Gilbert’s inability to stay sober for even one film was the direct cause of his contract at Columbia collapsing. (Last I heard, Louis B. Mayer did not work for Columbia.)

If the response to that is, “Oh, look what the battles with Mayer did to him” then I go to reason three. Gilbert did not have the thick hide needed to deal with studio politics. Mary Pickford, Lon Chaney, Marlene Dietrich, John Barrymore… All could go toe-to-toe with execs and come alive and often victorious. Gilbert did not have that under-appreciated skill. Erich von Stroheim went to war with both Mayer and Thalberg. He manages to get several contracts afterward and, while his lavish budgets killed his career as a director, he enjoyed a second life as a character actor. So Mayer’s dislike was not a death sentence by any means.

Mayer did not care for Gilbert but he really did give him plenty of chances after the mythical “punch at Garbo’s wedding” that Eleanor Boardman seems to have invented out of whole cloth. Mayer was no angel but the conspiracy theories that surround his relationship with Gilbert border on the ridiculous. Gilbert was an alcoholic. He was difficult to work with. He was incredibly talented but new talents had arisen. And, as you said, other stars had contract troubles during the sound transition. Why are we not also talking about Laura La Plante vs. Carl Laemmle or Bebe Daniels vs. Adolph Zukor? Clearly, more was at play in the Gilbert/Mayer affair than pure business or personal feeling.

In the spirit of community, I have crowdsourced the response to this. The winner is:

I’d blame that more on Jack Daniels than Louis B. Mayer (Chris)

Wasn’t Louis B. Mayer a monster who destroyed John Gilbert’s career? (Random Internet Person)

I am a bit tired of this myth. Simply put: John Gilbert was charming, handsome, talented, difficult, temperamental, a perfectionist and a rabble-rouser. Under the roguish exterior, Gilbert was sensitive and terrified of failure, two traits that can doom even the best actors. Remember, the profession must learn to deal with critics and the front office. He and Louis B. Mayer got on like oil and water. Try showing up to work drunk, badmouthing your boss to his face and behind his back and then come back and tell me how well it works for you.

However, even if the men disliked one another (and the mythical fistfights have been pretty thoroughly debunked by Eve Golden and Scott Eyman, two of the best biographers in the business) there was money to be made from Gilbert. Once Gilbert’s career began to falter (Great Depression, waves of new talent after the conversion to sound) Louis B. Mayer and Irving Thalberg did not throw him a lifeline. Gilbert also made the tactical error of refusing a pay cut when almost every other star at MGM agreed to one. To put things in business terms (and remember, movies are a business) they cut a talented but difficult and expensive employee. Gilbert’s drinking did the rest. It’s pretty clear from his early talkies that his voice was not the problem so much as his strained delivery of laughable dialogue.

I’m sorry if this is not as dramatic as what you might have heard. Real life seldom is.

I’ve seen this debated somewhat, but people often say Lon Chaney was going to be Dracula in 1931 had he lived. Others say Universal (having the small budget they did at the time) wouldn’t have been able to afford him. Your take? (The Cinematic Packrat)

I agree with you, highly debated. I have seen several different opinions but I am inclined to believe that he was at least in the running for the part before his untimely death. It stands to reason (he was a huge box office draw and Hollywoods #1 monster). Philip J. Riley (who wrote pretty much THE book on The Phantom of the Opera) gathered together evidence of negotiations between Chaney and Universal for his book, Dracula Starring Lon Chaney – An Alternate History for Classic Film Monsters. I have not read this book yet and so cannot comment on the evidence presented.

I think it likely that Carl Laemmle would have been considering an in-house talent like Conrad Veidt (pre-sound transition, that is) as well. Bela Lugosi did bring a sexiness to the part that I think Lon Chaney could not have managed. (My favorite Drac remains Christopher Lee, in spite of his lack of dialogue. His seductive scariness is just remarkable.)

What good/great/important silent film do you feel has the worst intertitles? I’m currently watching D.W. Griffith’s “Way Down East” and simultaneously loving Lilian Gish and deploring the excesses of the overwrought intertitles. I know the story’s taken from a stage melodrama, so that’s partly to blame. I also know that D.W. loved to wax poetic, so that also factors into the final product. But what noteworthy silent film’s intertitles do you think take the prize for being the most cringe-worthy? (Bob Duggan)

Well, in the world of overwrought intertitles, D.W. Griffith and William S. Hart certainly seemed to be in a race to see who could come up with the purplest prose. Hart’s actually worked (usually) but Griffith… Yeah. Agony. Of course, I have never made any secret of the fact that I really do not enjoy the majority of Griffith’s features. Otherwise, I would probably nominate Orphans of the Storm.

Emily adds:

“I nominate Broken Blossoms for the purplest intertitles. As it was my first silent film I have a soft spot for it, but those intertitles…!”

Carter Burrell adds:

“Griffith’s AMERICA had some pretty bad titles as well, particularly with the horrid romance scenes. That movie was interminably boring as well.”

Why do you think Greta Garbo transitioned well to the talkies and Pola Negri didn’t? They both had accents. (Duchess of Prunes)

Ah, Pola! I think her difficulty can be summed up with three issues:

1. She quickly developed a reputation for being “difficult” which, as we all know, is code for being a woman and demanding a certain amount of respect.

2. She worked for Paramount, which infamously gave Clara Bow just days to prepare for her first talkie. They also gave Bebe Daniels the heave-ho. (Bebe showed them when she displayed her splendid pipes a little later.) Garbo worked for MGM and the studio decided to protect their investment.

3. Pola, like Mae Murray, married one of the Mdivanis and took his questionable business advice. At that point, relations with Paramount were strained anyway. She actually retired during the sound transition.

And, of course, Pola made a comeback in European cinema.

Reviewer David Kalat talks about the production of Metropolis, and how it came to be re-written by playwright Channing Pollock to make it more palatable for the U.S. market. Kalat argues that the Pollock cut has at least as much right to be called “definitive” as Lang’s, simply because it was the only version available for many decades. I don’t agree with his conclusion, bu he HAS made a good point. The Pollock version is an important version of the movie, and should ideally be preserved alongside the “complete” version. I don’t know that it would be feasible, simply because the commercial imperatives which caused Metropolis to be re-cut in the first place have become inverted in the last eighty-odd years. The audience for Metropolis today is mostly one of serious film fans, who would likely see the Pollock cut as an inferior version of a favorite film. What do you think? (Ronald)

The question of who “owns” the final cut of a film remains a hotly debated issue. If a movie is taken back after one showing and recut, is the studio’s new version the “real” version? I think the answer (at least for me) varies from film to film.

In the case of Metropolis, I do feel that Lang’s original version (recently recovered) is the “real” version of the film but, like you, I believe that the Pollock version does deserve to be studied. As you mention, it was the only version available and the film’s reputation was sealed by that cut. However, like Battleship Potemkin, the intentions of the original director become clear when all the footage is reassembled. While motion pictures are a collaborative effort, Lang and his close collaborators had a strong vision and someone else assembling the film with American audiences in mind would not necessarily understand what he was driving at. The same issue arises when a modern author tries to write a sequel to, say, Pride and Prejudice. There is no way they can completely process and emulate the original author’s vision.

Last year, I watched a film called “Down to the Sea in Ships” (1922) that had a very young Clara Bow in it. It’s basically a film about whaling, and from what I gathered, it was made to help showcase the whaling industry as a sort of PR move. It was made by the Whaling Film Co. and appears to be the only thing they ever made; an interesting early film experiment that provided some great photography. So, my question is – are there any other early film production companies with a similar story? As in, a production company from a totally different industry trying to make films? I’ve never seen anything else quite like this. Thanks! (naturedevil)

I’m not sure if book publishing is a different enough industry but L. Frank Baum launched a short-lived Oz studio. It released a few Oz films (most in 1914) and then folded. There was an interesting independent short film made in 1925 called Who is Safe?, which advocated the use of Jiu-Jitsu by women for self-defense. I am not sure if the production company was launched for the sole purpose of marketing Martha’s Vineyard but the American Motion Picture Corporation’s 1921 version of Annabell Lee was their sole release and it was practically a love letter to the region.

Interestingly enough, this was not just something that happened in the silent era. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory was financed by Quaker Oats. At the time, Quaker was hoping to get into the candy business and launched the movie to help publicize their Wonka-branded confections.

Saw an intro to silent film book recommendation. How about, an intro to silent film film recommendations? (MaestroJay)

Your first silent film depends very much on your personal taste. Most people I have discussed this with tend to have more success starting with silent comedy. It might be a good idea for a newcomer to start with some Charlie Chaplin (City Lights or The Kid), Buster Keaton (The General or Go West) or Marion Davies (Show People is always a winner). City Lights was the movie that won me over to silents so I always like to recommend it.

The other gateway genre seems to be horror. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is wonderfully weird. If you really want a jaw-dropping bit of silent semi-horror, I highly recommend West of Zanzibar.

For adventure, you can’t go wrong with The Mark of Zorro or Scaramouche. For romance, the underrated 1914 gem The Wishing Ring is delightful, as is Why Change Your Wife.

Lea adds:

I would add that as far as what silent films a “newbie” should start with, generally it’s best to go with comedy shorts. I always, always recommend seeing the shorts before the comedy features. The viewer will get acquainted with the various comedians quickly and with relative ease, and besides, the shorts themselves were designed to be faster-paced and packed with plenty of laughs–so they are easy to fall in love with.

Once you transition to comedy features from there, dramatic features are a piece of cake to get into. I also recommend Biograph shorts, which are conveniently bite-sized. I do agree that if you had to pick a “first time” silent that HAD to be a feature, that City Lights isn’t a bad way to go.

I’ve heard some people claim Monsieur Beaucaire (1924) was a flop, while others say it just did middling business, getting most of its box office from big cities. Which is closer to the truth? (Emily)

According to Emily Leider’s Dark Lover: The Life and Death of Rudolph Valentino, the film was the ninth highest-grossing motion picture of 1924, respectable box office. However, the lavish production values meant that it was not nearly as profitable as it should have been.

You’re right about the contradicting reports. Some books describe it as a bomb and some call it one of Valentino’s biggest hits. I give Leider’s version the edge because she actually cites sources for her numbers. Plus, it’s a very reasonable take on the subject. (Though she does misname the star of the spoof Monsieur Don’t Care.)

According to reports in Exhibitor’s Trade Review, the film packed theaters in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York but smaller theater owners complained about the high cost to book the film and its two-hour running time, which meant fewer showings. I think we can reasonably say that this backs the theory that Beaucaire made money (definitely in urban centers) but would have difficulty finding traction in small town theaters.

Best silent personalities biographies? (Emily)

Right now, I am a big fan of Scott Eyman. His latest book is on John Wayne (in all fairness, Duke did do a few silents in his day) but his books on John Ford, Ernst Lubitsch, Cecil B. DeMille and Louis B. Mayer are gems of mythbusting.

It is now Nov.8 2014 and a Kodak 1922 Koda chrome film film test has 817,183 hits on you tube. That’s a 92 year old film clip. The star of that film test is May Murray.  After viewing the clip of Mae, reading the book The Self Enchanted and the Girl With The Bee Stung Lips, viewing all things Mae Murray, why is it that her life has not been made into a movie.  I think that it could be on the same level as Black Swan. (Mark V)

Not just Miss Murray but all silent movie personalities have a problem with being neglected by the biopic crowd. Mary Pickford, a much bigger star than Murray (don’t tell Mae I said that), has been rattling around in development for a few years now. The Cat’s Meow was more fiction than fact. Hugo got critical acclaim but the box office was so-so. Douglas Fairbanks has never gotten his due. Buster Keaton and Lon Chaney were ill-served by their biopics.

Personally, I think the best chance at Murray’s life being examined and shared would be a one-woman play. Surely the topic would be a juicy one for one of today’s talented actresses.

I have a hypothetical question for you… Which actors, currently working, would have been stars in the silent era? Who had the presence, facial expressions, and personality to shine in that wonderful era? (Barry Bradford)

Well, this is highly hypothetical and arguable. Fortunately, I am sort of up on these newfangled movies since a 12-hour flight to Incheon and a 9-hour flight back (thank heaven for tailwinds!) meant that I was subjected to inflight pictures of varying description. Blech.

Lemme see. Well, the first choice (and a major, major, major cheat move on my part) would be Jean Dujardin. I wonder why.

While we are in foreign climes, I would say that Go Hyun-jung has the chops and the looks to pull off silent acting. (I am hopelessly addicted to Queen Seondeok right now. Don’t judge. Go’s villainous Mishil is a big reason why.)

Robert Downey, Jr. proved he had Chaplin’s chops, one of the few modern performers to pull off such a trick. Jack Black could probably carry off an Arbuckle-esque act. Kate Winslet has the look and the talent for a Norma Talmadge kind of career. Keira Knightly could be Betty Bronson-esque, if that is your thing.

Where have all the adult melodrama gone to.  Yes I like stuff blowing up, green screens, IMAX and all the special effects, but enough is enough.  Please give me a story that will move  me.  If I would take a group of movie goers of today and show them Mary Pickford Stella Maris or Suds (with Little Annie Rooney a close third), or Lillian Gish beaten to death by her father, battling Burrows in Broken Blossoms, then they have no heart.  These are some pretty intense stories from almost 100 years ago.  What moved people then will move them now.  My question is, are today’s movie makers just out of good stories, or do they think that today’s movie goers are not interested in being emotional movies by a movie, but would just like to see special effects and a lame story line. (Mark V)

I think a lot has to do with the globalization of the modern film industry and the fact that studios rely almost entirely on big budget films. The mid-budget film, which was the haven for interesting plots, is all but dead. Because so much money is riding on a film appealing to a very wide audience, the studios do not care to take many risks.

What happened to the serials during the ’20s? There are quite a few famous ones from the 1910s – The Exploits of Elaine, The Perils of Pauline, Judex, Les Vampires – but I haven’t heard of any from afterwards. Are there any and if so, where can they be found? (Carter Burrell)

The ‘teens serials do seem to get all the attention, don’t they? However, serials kept plugging along throughout the twenties. Silent Era has a list of silent serials on DVD, several are from the twenties. I think the enduring popularity of the serial queens of the ‘teens (Pearl White, Helen Holmes, etc.) and the growing cult of Louis Feuillade (of which I am a card-carrying member) are responsible for this focus on the earlier silent serials.

If you wish to learn more, I know I have seen Bound and Gagged: The Story of the Silent Serials by Kalton Lahue for as little as a penny online.

What books on Rudy Valentino should I avoid at all costs?

Now this is a sticky situation. Decades after his death, Rudolph Valentino remains in the popular imagination. There have a been a lot of books about him over the years, from scholarly to trash fiction.

There seems to be a new book of the famous leading man every few years. Rather than call out books by title (well, except for the ridiculous Hollywood Babylon) I am going to share a few warning signs.

1. Does the book promise juicy, never before revealed secrets?

2. Is Valentino’s love life the primary or even the sole focus of the book? Of course, a person’s love life is an important part of any biography but does it seem to be focused on a little too intensely?

3. Does the author of the work have other books? How are they reviewed? Are they known as scandal-mongers or gossip mavens?

4. Are sources and citations properly used? Do the sources actually say what the author claims?

I am going to say that about 90% of what is published about Valentino is not worth the paper it is printed on. I did like Emily Leider’s work (mentioned above) though there are a few minor errors relating to the silent era. Interestingly enough, one of the most balanced looks at Valentino’s love life is the current Wikipedia article. And do please read the talk page for the article (where potential edits and corrections are discussed).  Several Valentino authors and bloggers are there, having something of an edit war while an exasperated Wikipedia editor looks on.

Do you think an interesting biopic could be made about Harold Lloyd? I ask because I’ve seen it proposed that Lloyd, despite his greatness and talent, didn’t have enough drama in his life for a biopic to work. A movie about Keaton could focus on his marriages, his drinking problem, and/or his deal with MGM that ended up going terribly for him. The RDJ Chaplin film focused on his marriages, a little on his poverty filled childhood, and all the communist accusations. But Harold (and I am no means an expert on the dear man) rose to fame, was immensely popular, then did a few talkies before quietly retiring. No big scandals or bits of drama that I can think of. Am I and others being accurate about the difficulties of making a Lloyd biopic or we merely misinformed about how much drama could be mined from Lloyd’s life? (The Cinematic Packrat)

A Lloyd biopic would present some challenges. His life was not, as you say, scandal-ridden. However, there could be plenty of drama if done right. I am not a huge fan of the cover-the-whole-life kind of biopic and I don’t think that style would suit Lloyd well. A quick, punchy story that covers a few years is what we need. How’s this:

It’s 1917 or 1918-ish and Harold Lloyd’s career is limping along. He is one of many Charlie Chaplin imitators. However, with the help and encouragement of Hal Roach and Bebe Daniels, he is inspired to create his famous glasses-wearing character.

Harold’s popularity grows but he loses his partner and love, Bebe, when she turns down his offer of marriage in order to join the DeMille team. (At this point, we could also bring in the difficult side of Harold, wanting Bebe to give up her career in order to marry him.) What’s to be done? The search for the new leading lady is on! (Comedic montage of unsuitable leading ladies and maybe a soon-to-be-famous star getting rejected.) Mildred Davis is perfect and Harold is falling for her.

Tragedy strikes! A prop bomb blows up Harold’s hand. He is known for stunts. Will he give up? No, he is fitted for a prosthetic and goes forward.

The movie could end with Harold trying to come up with the most memorable comedy film of all time. He and Mildred come up with the clock gag but no one wants him to risk it. He has to invent a way to get it done. It works! Mildred loves him! Happy ending!

This is NOT history, it is telescoped and simplified. Just a film idea. Please do not use it for your history reports, kids! And, okay, it’s light. But it could definitely be a fun movie to make, especially in a fun and rollicking manner.

(Filmmakers: If you end up using this, please let me know! I wanna help!)

How to get your question answered:

Comments

If you choose to ask your question in the comments, here are those caveats that I mentioned before:

1. All commenting rules that are normally in place apply. Restrict comments to a Pixar PG. No swearing (you would be amazed at what I consider swearing), no personal attacks, no hateful speech… In short, be excellent to each other.

2. Try to steer clear of discussions about the sex lives of silent film personnel. It’s repetitive and devolves into politics and nastiness very quickly. We’re talking full-on flame wars. Over who dead people slept with. It’s ridiculous. There are plenty of places on the internet where the romances of the silent era are discussed ad nauseam. Frankly, I am sick to death of the topic and would rather just talk about the movies. Please humor me, spare my sanity and debate the matter elsewhere.

3. Try to keep things brief. Overly long comments are difficult to moderate and you may not get a complete answer to your questions.

Email

(I reserve the right to edit submitted questions for length and content. All content restrictions for comments are also in place for the email form.)

Ooo, ooo, I know, I know, ooo, ooo, teacher!

If you know the answer to a query, please feel free to share.

Cooking with the (Silent) Stars: Richard Dix’s “Toad in the Hole”

Cook Header

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 versatile leading man.

Think silent leading men were all sheiks, comedians and male flappers? Richard Dix probably is not what you had in mind. With his craggy features and intense stare, he specialized in rugged adventures and dramas. Dix also made the jump to sound, starring in The Whistler movie series.

Richard Dix in all his glory.
Richard Dix in all his glory.

Dix’s silent work was diverse. He played one of the men vying for Eleanor Boardman’s love in Souls for Sale, the good son in the original version of The Ten Commandments and a Navajo man battling racism in the provocatively titled Redskin. As mentioned before, sound and Richard Dix got along just fine. He earned his only Oscar nod for the 1930 western, Cimmaron.

(You can read a lot more about Dix’s diverse career over at Immortal Ephemera, which has one of the largest selections of Dix movie reviews on the web.)

A rare shot of Dix's grin.
A rare shot of Dix’s grin.

So, we know that Mr. Dix could act but could he cook?

Like most of the male stars featured in the cookbook, Mr. Dix chose to stay in the meat category. His recipe is for Toad in the Hole, the English version. (Some parts of America use this name for the dish Eggs in the Basket but the recipes have nothing in common.)

Here is the original recipe:

Richard-Dix-Toad-in-the-Hole

This is where I noticed something odd. Toad in the Hole is generally reckoned to be a sausage dish but here were are with one of the leanest cuts of beef. Further, sausages would add their herbs and spices to the flavor of the dish but this recipe calls for nothing stronger than salt and pepper.

Oh well. Here goes nothing.

Bubble bubble
Bubble bubble
Done!
Done!
On the plate
On the plate
On the plate (slightly different angle)
On the plate (slightly different angle)
Hulk smash!
Hulk smash!

As you can see, this is a very plain dish. Classic Toad in the Hole is served with gravy but this is just plopped onto a plate, per recipe instructions.

So, how was it?

Surprisingly okay.

Here is my taste test video:

My rating: 3 out of 5. It’s basically just the sum of its parts, no more and no less. The biggest sin of the recipe is attempting to cut down on the fat. However, in a dish with limited ingredients, every single one counts and the biggest contributor of flavor in a meat dish is the fat. If Dix had opted for a fattier cut of meat or the traditional sausages, the recipe would have been far more successful. Photoplay’s twee proclamation of “yum, yum” seems a bit overstated.

That being said, if you cook meat, butter and batter in the oven, you are never going to end up with something inedible. That’s just how food works. So even though this recipe is as bland as they come, it is still not terrible and, anyway, isn’t this what the salt shaker was invented for?

Can it be improved: Yes. Either using a fattier beef cut or the traditional sausages would improve matters greatly. More spice and an onion gravy would take this into the realm of true comfort food. A vegetarian option could easily be obtained by substituting mushrooms for the beef and bumping up the fat content (either with butter or olive oil) to compensate. Alternately, soy sausage could be used but be sure to really oil the pan. Those little suckers are sticky!

Recommended

International Chaplin: The Little Tramp in Seoul

I am officially back. These last few weeks, I have been living out of a carry-on in Seoul, South Korea. The site was controlled remotely in a (more or less) successful manner using apps.

First, a few answers:

Why Seoul? Because I like it. I like Korea, I like Korean culture, I like Korean food, I like Korean history. The end. Seoul is one of the safest major cities in the world and has tons of stuff to do no matter what you are interested in. For me, history and shopping were my top priority and Seoul delivered richly.

No, I was not afraid of North Korea. No, I did not go to North Korea. Yes, I did stop by Gangnam briefly. No, I did not do the dance. On the off chance that you have no idea what I am talking about when I mention Gangnam, here is the video. Please do not pronounce it “gaaaaeng-naaaam” (looking at you, Americans). In Romanized Korean, all A’s are pronounced as “ah” unless otherwise stated. Yes, I speak some. No, I am not fluent.

One added bonus (at least for me) was the Charlie Chaplin spotting. Here are a few pictures. Please enjoy.

cs-wall-art-1

cs-wall-art-2cs-chaplin-stand

cs-modern-times-2

cs-modern-times-1

Once again, the universal appeal of Chaplin’s Little Tramp is proven. From America to India to Korea, the character remains iconic.

 

Photoplay Cookbook: Constance Talmadge’s Grape Nut Pudding

Cook Header

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 major stars of the silent era and one half of the “other” acting sisters duo.

Constance and Norma. Constance is on the right.
Constance and Norma. Constance is on the right.

Constance Talmadge’s career is usually summed up as follows: While her sister, Norma, focused on dramas, Constance Talmadge was known for her light comedies. Of course, this doesn’t take into account that Norma did dabble in comedy and Constance’s most famous role, the Mountain Girl in Intolerance, was tragic in the extreme.

Constance reigns.
Constance reigns.

Constance specialized in romantic comedies, some of them co-starring a guy named Ronald Colman. Of all the major silent stars, the Talmadge’s are among the most forgotten. It is ironic that Natalie, the least famous sister in the silent era, is now the most viewed and discussed of the three due to her marriage to Buster Keaton and her starring role in one of his films.

Constance could do comedy but could she do dessert? That’s what we are going to find out.

CAR-N985

The curiously-named Grape Nut Pudding is just that. You make a pudding out of Grape Nuts cereal. If you are unfamiliar with it, it is basically hard little beads of whole wheat. It contains neither grapes nor nuts. It’s one of the oldest cold cereals on the market. I like whole grain cereals but this one looks and tastes like a building material.

Constance-Talmadge-Grape-Nut-Pudding

The recipe calls for you to soak the cereal in boiling water for quite a stretch. Either I mis-measured or too much water is called for because the resulting mush seemed entirely to wet. In any case, it took almost four times the allotted baking time. The edges crisped but the center remained raw and un-pudding-like. I kept stirring the cooked portion back in. Finally, it started to resemble a moist bread pudding.

Here it is plain. Didn’t look too promising but smelled good.

constance-talmadge-grape-nut-pudding2

And here it is with the whipped cream. A big improvement. Whipped cream makes most desserts better.

Big improvement.
Big improvement.

And here is the taste test video:

(Excuse any quality issues. It was late and I was tired.)

My rating: 3 out of 5. The pudding tasted like bread pudding made from very wheaty bread. In fact, it tasted so much like bread pudding that I failed to see the point in making it. Why take the extra step of soaking the cereal when I can just slice up a loaf and make a pudding that is just as good? Photoplay describes that as a “pantry” recipe, that is, a recipe you can make with ingredients found in any kitchen. Well, as I do not much care for Grape Nuts, I think I am not the intended audience for this.

If you love both bread pudding and Grape Nuts, I can see giving this a try. It’s tasty enough and the classic pudding spices are excellent. It just seemed like it was a lot more work than it should have been.

Make this instead: Your favorite bread pudding recipe.

Silent Movie Myth: President Woodrow Wilson had an affair with Florence La Badie—and then had her murdered

Welcome. We are about to descend into the realm of scandal-mongering, myths, gossip, innuendo, with a side helping of just plain mean. It doesn’t get worse than this. We are dealing with a rumor that sullies three reputations: Woodrow Wilson, one of the most famous and influential American presidents of the twentieth century; motion picture pioneer Edwin Thanhouser; and Florence La Badie, a popular film star who died at the height of her fame.

Continue reading “Silent Movie Myth: President Woodrow Wilson had an affair with Florence La Badie—and then had her murdered”

About Silent Movies #12: Sloppiness, Laziness and Score-Settling, Blogger and Wiki Edition

hogwash-header-3

Welcome to part three of my series on silent movie research. Previously, we discussed movies stars and film historians. This time, we will be discussing bloggers and user-edited sites like IMDB and Wikipedia.

Yep, we’re part of the problem.

See, the great advantage of the internet is that anyone can start up a blog. The great disadvantage is that anyone can start up a blog. Add to that the well-known content and reliability issues with Wikipedia and the not-so-well-known reliability issues with IMDB and we have a mess of misinformation about silent and classic Hollywood. (IMDB is mostly comprised of user-generated content, just like Wikipedia. Really, truly.)

IMDB: Not so good if you’re dead

You see, if we read interviews or history books with an uncritical eye and then use dubious knowledge to add to sites like IMDB and Wikipedia, we can do enormous damage. Even worse is when someone jumps to a crazy conclusion and then spreads it all over the internet.

IMDB has been responsible for quite a few of these messes. Basically, they really only seem to vet birth and death dates (I had to produce a sworn affidavit from Elliott Dexter’s aunt before they corrected his date of birth. They had been off by nine years.)

Young or just young-looking?
Young or just young-looking?

See, living actors usually keep an eye on their IMDB profile (or should) and so there is a much lower chance of weird or nasty stuff gaining traction. Dead performers, especially obscure ones, are much more vulnerable to bad information being added. Please note that this information is not always malicious. Sometimes, people I assume to be overzealous descendants take it upon themselves to gild their grandma or grandpa’s IMDB profile. However, well intended or not, this still is spreading false information.

Would you like a cautionary tale? Let’s use the example of Jetta Goudal. A fiery and difficult performer, the pronunciation of her name has stymied some and so a helpful pronunciation key was introduced: ZHETT-ə. It means that the ZH is pronounced like the s in treasure and the last vowel is pronounced as an E as in red. Just say the car name with a softer J sound and you’re good. (This is per the Library of Congress, which is a pretty darn good source. They even provide a pronunciation key in plain English.)

What was her name again? I was looking at the hat.
What was her name again? I was looking at the hat.

I know, I know, you knew that already. Well, someone clearly did not. They apparently saw the ZH and, realizing that the letter combination is unusual, decided that it had two syllables. Someone then changed Miss Goudal’s IMDB profile to say that her name is pronounced ZAH-HETTA. Before you could say “d’oh!” the pronunciation spread across the interwebs. ZAH-HETTA? For zah-heaven’s sake!

(I changed the IMDB profile back, don’t worry.)

So, be extremely cautious of claims that are not backed up, especially if they seem shady. (Name a single language that pronounces the letter “J” as ZAH-HE with two syllables and I will eat my hat. The one with the giant bow on it.)

Check the sources and then check the sources of the sources

Sometimes, people cite sources that are unreliable or that do not actually back them up. If meant maliciously, they are fairly safe in doing this because not many people bother tracking them down. If meant innocently, it causes the same amount of damage. For more outrageous claims, fact checking is essential.

For example, I have run across some truly strange conspiracy theories claiming that Woodrow Wilson murdered Florence La Badie by having the brakes of her car tampered with. Wikipedia has edited La Badie’s page to remove all mention of the Wilson affair but it still cites Stardust and Shadows by Charles Foster, which is the primary source of this theory. This book does not have a bibliography, list of citations or other basic elements one would expect in a work of film history.

Wasn’t he a lady killer? (via Wikipedia)

Basically, the accusations of murder are based on the facts (or “facts”). Fact! La Badie was said to be recovering but then died from her injuries. This is hardly surprising. Politicians and celebrities often refuse to disclose their health status and downplay serious injuries or illnesses. Plus, this was the pre-antibiotic era. Secondary infections were more to be feared than the initial injury. Fact! Mary Pickford did not wish to speak of the death of her friend. Again, no shock there. Fact! La Badie’s car was missing from the garage. But how do we know it was missing? Her family never reported the loss. Or perhaps the garage workers sold it for scrap. In any case, no sources are provided.

Much is made of the “mystery man” who was riding with La Badie and who was thrown (or jumped) from the car when the accident occurred. But I always understood that the man’s identity was no mystery. He was her fiancé, Daniel Carson Goodman. Keep in mind, the car almost certainly had no seatbelts. It would have been surprising if Goodman hadn’t been thrown. La Badie certainly was.

Not buying the whole "murder" thing. Sorry.
Not buying the whole “murder” thing. Sorry.

The smoking gun of the tale, though, is the testimony of James Baird, a reporter who was seventeen at the time of the accident but who only shared his recollections at the age of ninety-three. He claimed to see the cut brake lines but that his story was spiked.

That’s the evidence? A teenager (who was not an auto mechanic) thought he saw tampering on a vehicle? Who was annoyed that his big story was killed and then went on a research campaign to prove La Badie had Wilson’s secret love child? A campaign, by his reckoning, that lasted over a decade. Because he heard it from La Badie’s maid that she had a baby? After pestering her for weeks and weeks?

Just to remind everyone, we now have three levels of hearsay. Foster quoting Baird quoting an unnamed maid. The baby’s birth supposedly occurred in September of 1915 but, what’s this, here is a very unpregnant La Badie in a film released in late June of that year. Again, I must emphasize that no footnotes or endnotes are provided. That’s pretty gutsy if someone is implying that a nation’s president put out a hit on an actress. Constance Talmadge, for one, is horrified:

her-night-of-romance-constance-talmadge-ronald-colman-animated-gif-silent-movie-fainting

(I must also note that this theory is not so much as mentioned in the Wilson biographies that I have looked at. Wilson is, along with both Roosevelts, one of the most recognized, controversial and influential presidents of the first half of the twentieth century. Evidence of murder would be kind of a big deal.)

Until someone can come up with better sourcing than Stardust and Shadows, I am calling baloney on the whole thing. Especially since Foster also manages to get La Badie’s birth date wrong. Nope, nope. Not having it.

Update: I found this absolutely smashing takedown of Foster’s theory. Give it a read. Lots of details. It clarified a lot of details and I have amended the article to reflect these changes. Also, in light of the fact that this theory has gained some currency online (though, thankfully, not on IMDB or Wikipedia) I am working on an epic post aimed at ruthlessly debunking this nonsense.

For pity’s sake, open a book once in a while. Open two!

There are entirely too many blogs that write actor bios in the following manner: Read the Wikipedia entry! Read the IMDB entry! Google search for images! Write the bio! Done! Or, worse, the blogger relies on just one written source. It is a rare book that tells the whole story on anything.

Obviously, we all make mistakes and there are times when we all have failed to trace a source or relied on dubious material. I have certainly been guilty before and I shall doubtless be guilty again. However, there is a big difference between an occasional mistake (which we all commit) and irredeemably sloppy research practices. If a blog makes a clear habit of intellectual shoddiness, you would be better off getting your information elsewhere.

And don’t believe picture captions either.

Hobart Bosworth is not Paul Leni.
Hobart Bosworth is not Paul Leni.

We have had Hobart Bosworth mistaken for Paul Leni (for a while on Google’s bio capsule!)

Update: It seems that the confusion started because this photo is from The Chinese Parrot, which was directed by Paul Leni and featured Bosworth. Please people, read the whole caption! Bosworth is no more Paul Leni than Anna May Wong is.

Okay, so it was over a decade later and Bebe looks nothing like Mary.
Okay, so it was over a decade later and Bebe looks nothing like Mary.

We have had Bebe Daniels labeled as Mary Pickford. (Mary has sure grown! Those vitamins are doing wonders)

Nope, nope, nope.
Screengrab from Buzzfeed article. Nope, nope, nope.

And here is another picture, purported to be Mary on her wedding day, which was listed as such by Getty Images. (They have since corrected the caption.) The photo was used in a Buzzfeed article on vintage weddings. Hoo boy. If you know who this actress is, please let me know.

Not even going to bother.

Then there are the bloggers who just do not care. For example, I ran across a gem in which the author admits that they did not actually watch the film that closely. (For the sake of argument, let’s pretend it was Pandora’s Box. It was not Pandora’s Box. Circumstances have been changed to protect the woefully ignorant.) In fact, they put on the film and did other things as it played. Not having actually seen the film, however, did not stop them from having an opinion and that opinion is not positive and it was so boring and Louise Brooks has no personality and who, like, watches silent movies anyway. Ah. Okay. Got it.

tempest-john-barrymore-louis-wolheim-camilla-horn-silent-movie-animated-gif-get-a-room

Then, they complained about silent movies being silent. Yes, they were watching a mute bootleg copy of Pandora’s Box.

Hint for people who want to write about silent films for the first time: you might want to see an actual video release and not a pirated copy posted to the internet. Seeing a silent movie of shady pedigree and complaining about the lack of music just reveals that you have no idea what you are talking about. It would be like me watching a, shaky, faded bootleg copy of, say, The Dark Knight that was dubbed in a foreign language and declaring it is a terrible movie because I couldn’t understand what anyone was saying.

But let us move on to more pressing matters.

Lost or not?

We have unintentional misinformation and intellectual slovenliness. But what about the other kind? Intentional spread of misinformation. That happens? I’m afraid so.

There have been infamous cases of IMDB reviewers apparently pretending to have seen lost films and writing “reviews” of them. It has caused no end of headache, believe you me.

F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre, as he called himself, is probably the most famous of these lost film reviewers. A science fiction author and movie lover, MacIntyre killed himself by setting fire to his New York apartment in 2010.

At the time of his death, MacIntyre had already earned a reputation within the silent film community for reviewing lost films on IMDB and then coyly refusing to state specifics as to who held the prints. In the aftermath of his suicide, there was something of an edit war on Wikipedia, with the pro-MacIntyre forces claiming there was “no evidence” that his IMDB reviews were spurious. The fight was on.

Scaramouche, French Revolution Animated GIF

I usually prefer to deal with abstract arguments rather than calling out authors and bloggers by name, especially when they are not alive to defend themselves. In this case, though, it is unavoidable. I have been dealing with the fallout of his reviews for quite some time and I know I am not alone. Readers keep asking for details on lost films that he claimed were not lost at all. While I do not wish to speak ill of the dead, I do feel that the record must be fixed.

I treat MacIntyre’s reviews with skepticism. I base this on my own experience viewing films that were released on DVD well after he reviewed them, in most cases after his death. MacIntyre has over 1,000 reviews posted on IMDB and not all are for lost films. Some are for newer movies, while others concern silent films that were known to survive but had not received home media release. This latter type is what I will be discussing. For the purpose of brevity, I will limit myself to two of them.

oh-doctor

MacIntyre reviewed Reginald Denny’s 1925 vehicle Oh Doctor! but mangled the plot badly. He claimed that Denny’s character had made a deal with corrupt money lenders who then try to arrange for his death, in spite of being promised a generous payout if he lives out the year. MacIntyre is quick to jump on this plot hole. Actually, the central story relies on one joke: Denny becomes a daredevil and the money lenders are terrified he will die as he means to sign his future inheritance over to them. At no point do they try to kill him or get him to kill himself. Quite the opposite. This is the key to the film’s plot and I highly doubt that anyone who had really seen the picture would fail to remember this important fact. (It was released on DVD in 2011.)

surrender

Second, MacIntyre reviewed Edward S. Sloman’s melodrama, Surrender. This one is even more glaring as our reviewer claims that the heroine is strangled by her father in the end. While that was the climax of the stage play upon which the film was based, the movie was given a Hollywood happy ending and an egregious one at that. MacIntyre remembers details like how Mary Philbin’s irises looked in close-up and exactly what brand of romance novel the intertitles resembled. He also is rather specific on how frail the father looked to be strangling his daughter. So many details but he forgot that no strangulation actually took place? Hmm. Also odd is his focus on Mary Philbin but no mention of leading man Ivan Mosjoukine, who is featured prominently in every other legitimate review of the film. (It was released on DVD in 2012.)

Case rested. No more Miss Nice Blogger.

wicked-darling-lon-chaney-tod-browning-grimace

After examining the evidence for this pair of films, as well as several others, I feel it is highly probable that MacIntyre’s reviews were written by someone who had never seen the films in question but had cobbled together the reviews from contemporary accounts and advertisements. There are just too many unexplainable mistakes even for films viewed years before. Of course, it is impossible to prove a negative. My opinion is based on my personal viewing experiences.

Again, I would not get worked up about MacIntyre’s hobby if it did not cause so much damage. Newcomers to silent film are invariably confused when they see detailed reviews of films purported to be lost. Authors and researchers may repeat his errors. It has caused something of a headache for the rest of us.

Oh dear.
Oh dear.

So, basically, trust no one?

In conclusion, it is important to apply the same fact-finding questions to blogs that you do to history books and interview subjects. The most important questions to ask:

Does the blog’s author have an agenda? What is it? (Not all agendas are bad. If a blog’s agenda is to increase awareness of, say, Chinese cinema of the 1930s, I would call that a worthy cause.)

How does the blog’s author describe stars and directors? Does their choice of words give away a bias that may render their research unusable? (It’s okay to have an opinion, that’s the point of a blog, that’s what makes for good reading. However, if an author seems to be obsessed with proving that Mary Astor was a KGB spy and starts every review with “Mary Astor, noted KGB spy…” that is a red flag.)

How do they discuss authors whose work they disagree with? Do they explain their objections? Do they seem to enjoy creating drama or starting fights? Does the author claim to have information that “they” don’t want you to know about? (“They” being the all-powerful cabal of movie critics and film historians. Gotta watch out for them.)

Do they rely heavily on debunked claims or user-edited online content? Contrariwise, do they aim to debunk popular wisdom about the silent era but do not offer their sources? Is their evidence weak or based on wishful thinking? Do they present their theories as fact?

Using unsourced blogs, Wikipedia or IMDB as your research library is a recipe for disaster. Please, please, please, research before you hit the publish button.

In conclusion, you as a blogger have a decision to make. You can be a historian or you can be a Yenta. If you choose to be a Yenta, don’t whine if you are treated like one.

ANNOUNCEMENT: The Fairy Tale Blogathon

la-belle-et-la-bete-de-jean-cocteau

UPDATE: Please visit my event page for direct links to all the participants!

I’m back in the blogathon saddle one more time for 2014!

I have always loved fairy tales. There is something so primal and exciting about these traditional stories. Well, on November 9-11, I am going to be celebrating fairy tales in the movies. Here is the lowdown:

Pick a film or TV show based on a famous fairy tale. It can either be a straightforward adaptation or a looser version. For example, if you wanted to cover Beauty and the Beast, you could go with the Disney cartoon, the famous 1946 French version or even the 1980s modernized television series. There is not date limit for the films and shows.

In order to encourage variety, I am asking for no exact duplicates, please, but you may choose another version of the same tale. So, if someone chooses the Disney version of Cinderella, feel free to go with the 1914 Pickford version or any other version made.

cinderella-boop

A few limits

True Fairy Tales Only: The definition can be broad but for the purpose of this blogathon, I am going to say stories from the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Anderson, Charles Perrault, the Arabian Nights and the like. (Or stories in the classic fairy tale style.) In order to keep the theme strong, I will not be accepting stories from Oz, Wonderland, Camelot, Middle Earth, Neverland, purely religious sources or holiday tales.

In short, this is a fairy tale blogathon not a general fantasy blogathon.

However, amalgamations of fairy tales (e.g. Enchanted) are perfectly acceptable, as are modernizations. Basically, as long as the source is a true fairy tale, it doesn’t matter how crazy the filmmakers get with it.

Family-friendly Event: In order to keep this event reasonably family-friendly, I am asking for no films above a U.S. PG-13/TV-14 rating. Yes, I realize that fairy tales in their original form could have some very distressing content but please humor me on this. And, yes, I realize the rating system here leaves a lot to be desired but it is the simplest way to draw a line on content.

When: November 9-11, 2014

What you need to do: Just tell me your movie or show of choice. If the fairy tale source is not obvious from the title, please be sure to clue me in as to which story it is based on. For example, if you want to claim Ball of Fire as a version of Snow White, simply state both titles and you are good to go.

Once your choice is accepted, grab a banner and display it proudly.

I will not be assigning days. Post your review on one of the three days, send me the URL and I will link over to your site. Easy!

I’ve never done this before but I want to join. Help!

I have written an article on exactly that topic. Here it is. Feel free to contact me if you have any other questions.

Wish List:

These are films and shows I would particularly like to see claimed. (Quite a few of these titles are in the public domain and may be streamed for free online.)

Amalgamations: Into the Woods (1991), The Thief and the Cobbler (1992, 1993, 1995, 2006, 2007 or 2013 versions)

Classic: Shelley Duvall’s Faerie Tale Theatre (episode or series), Arabian Nights (2000), The Swan Princess (1994)

Sequels: Happily Ever After (1993, Snow White), Cinderella II (2002), The Swan Princess: Escape from Castle Mountain (1997)

Fractured: The Frog Prince (Muppet version), Son of Ali Baba (1952), Muppet Classic Theater (1994), The Storyteller (1987-1988), Snow White and the Three Stooges (1961)

Modernized: Ball of Fire (1941, Snow White), Sabrina (1954 or 1995, Cinderella), Beauty and the Beast (1987-1990)

And feel free to choose any Disney or Disney knockoff that strikes your fancy.

Roster:

Movies Silently | Forbidden Fruit (1921, Cecil B. DeMille’s modern Cinderella)

Mildred’s Fatburgers | The Snow Queen (1957)

Portraits by Jenni | Ever After (1998, Drew Barrymore’s Cinderella)

Once Upon a Screen | L0oney Tunes Fairy Tales

Critica Retro | Comparison of Snow White (1916) and Blancanieves (2012)

Sister Celluloid | The Glass Slipper (1955)

Drew’s Movie Reviews | Enchanted (2008)

Enchanted by Film | Beauty and the Beast (1991) and Once Upon a Time (series, 2011-)

100 Films in a Year | The 10th Kingdom (2000) and La Belle et la Bête (1946)

Big V Riot Squad | Nursery Favorites (1913)

Silent Volume | Jack and the Beanstalk (1902) and The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926)

Timeless Hollywood | The Thief of Bagdad (1924)

Destroy All Fanboys | The Thief of Bagdad (1940) and Ray Harryhausen fairy tales

Spellbound by Movies | Claire (2001)

Cinema Moonglow | Shelley Duvall’s Faerie Tale Theatre (1982-1987)

Nitrate Glow | Bluebeard (1901) and Sleeping Beauty (1959)

Wide Screen World | Kirikou and the Sorceress (1998)

Random PicturesSecret Beyond the Door (1948, Fritz Lang’s Bluebeard)

Coolsville | The Juniper Tree (1990)

Silent-ology | Ella Cinders (1926)

A Shroud of Thoughts | Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

Silver Screenings | Cinderella aka Zolushka (1947)

The Cinematic Frontier | Frozen (2014)

Speakeasy | The Happy Prince (1974)

Phantom Empires | Gulliver’s Travels (1977)

Moon in Gemini | Fractured Fairy Tales (1959-1964) and Once Upon a Mattress (2005)

Jim Fanning’s Tulgey Wood | Cinderella (1950)

Margaret Perry | The Little Mermaid (1989)

Caftan Woman | Shirley Temple’s Storybook (1958-1961, Little Mermaid episode)

The Second Sentence | First Love (1939, Deanna Durbin’s Cinderella)

Cary Grant Won’t Eat You | Tangled (2010)

Girls Do Film | A Thousand and One Nights (1945)

Movie Movie Blog Blog | Popeye the Sailor Meets Sinbad the Sailor (1936)

24FPS | Three Wishes for Cinderella (1973)

Mr. Schneid’s Words About Things | Ella Enchanted (2004)

Culture Spy | Aladdin (1992)

Classic Movie Hub | Cinderella (1914)

Girl Meets Cinema | The relationship between Snow White and Prince Charming in Once Upon a Time

Big Screen Small Words | Penelope (2006, Christina Ricci’s Beauty and the Beast)

KaramelKinema | Mirror Mirror (2011) and La Belle et la Bête (2014)

All Eyes on Screen | Sabrina (1995, Cinderella)

The Rosebud Cinema | Peau d’Âne (1970)

The White’s List | Shrek (2001) and Shrek 2 (2004)

Let’s Go to the Movies | Beastly (2011)

Shameless Pile of Stuff | Prinsessa Ruusunen (1949)

Eclectic Alli | Into the Woods (1991)

flixchatter | Legend (1985)

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The “World War One in Classic Film” Blogathon continues!

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Hello and welcome to day two of the World War One in Classic Film Blogathon! The first day was hosted by Silent-ology (be sure to read those great posts) and now it is my turn.

Here are movies that celebrate, inflame, examine, condemn, celebrate and mourn the events of the First World War. Together, they are a powerful slice of history.

Don’t see yourself on the list? Send me your URL and I will be happy to add you. (WordPress has a small bug in its linking procedure. If your link is dead, please let me know at once. I try to test everything but blogathon days are always a little hectic.)

Ready? Let’s go!

The participants

Movies Silently | Barbed Wire (1927)

Movies Silently | Video review of Barbed Wire with a discussion of WWI propaganda, the post-war infusion of German talent into Hollywood and how it changed the way the war was portrayed.

Critica Retro | Alexander’s Ragtime Band (1938)

Wide Screen World | La Grande Illusion (1937)

Nitrate Glow | The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1920)

Cinematic Catharsis | The Little American (1918)

Coolsville | For Me and My Gal (1942)

Girls Do Film | Hell’s Angels (1930)

100 Films in a Year | The Battle of the Somme (1916)

Spellbound by Movies | Dark Journey (1937)

Into the Beautiful New | Outskirts aka The Patriots (Окраина) (1933)

Destroy All Fanboys | The Blue Max (1966)

Cinema MonolithThe Fighting 69th (1940)

Caftan Woman | Ever in My Heart (1933)

At the Sovereign | Wooden Crosses (1932)

Big V Riot Squad | A selection of short propaganda movies including The Leopard’s Spots,Patriotic Porkers, British Effort and British and German newsreels.

A Person in the Dark | Mata Hari (1931)

Silent Volume | All Quiet on the Western Front (1929)

historyonfilm.com | Dishonored (1931)

Great War Films | Oh What a Lovely War (1969)

Moon in Gemini | South (1920)

Immortal Ephemera | The Last Flight (1931)

The Cinematic Packrat | Before the Great Detective there was the Great War (Basil Rathbone’s WWI service)

A Shroud of Thoughts | Sergeant York (1941)

Mildred’s Fatburgers | The Dawn Patrol (1930 and 1938)

Random Pictures | King and Country (1964)

Photoplay Cookbook: Pauline Starke’s “Pepper Eggs”

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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 relatively minor silent star who nevertheless enjoyed excellent company in her filmography.

Pauline Starke in a very perky hat.
Pauline Starke in a very perky hat.

Pauline Starke’s movie career started when she was just a teen. Supposedly, she was one of the many, many dance extras in Intolerance. (I always take those claims with a grain of salt. For a while, everyone in Hollywood claimed to have been discovered by D.W. Griffith.) Starke is probably best remembered for two films that bookended her silent career. She had a supporting role in Eyes of Youth, a 1919 Clara Kimball Young vehicle that also featured Milton Sills. It was one of the few times he would play an unrepentant jerk. Of course, Starke, Sills and Young were all overshadowed by a certain young Italian actor, who stole the show as a smooth gigolo.

The other famous Starke title is the 1928 MGM color film, The Viking. It was about vikings.

Starke carried on in sound films in progressively smaller roles (a familiar story for mid-level silent performers) and made her last screen appearance in 1943.

For her recipe, Miss Starke chose to go for a breakfast/brunch/luncheon dish. The name is not promising, you must agree.

Pauline-Starke-Pepper-Eggs

I followed the recipe exactly with one exception: I substituted a yellow bell pepper for a green one. I prefer yellow, orange or red to the green, especially in cooking. For toast, I used some whole grain honey wheat bread. This had less to do with taste and more to do with the fact that I forgot to buy sourdough or potato bread, either of which would have probably worked better. (White breads generally work better as the toast for this sort of recipe, at least in my experience.)

The recipe was extremely easy and fast. The pepper, catsup and cheese did not look very pretty but they smelled promising as they cooked. Once added, the eggs scrambled up nicely and had a fluffy texture. Onto the toast they went. Here is the result:

The whole shebang.
The whole shebang.
Up close.
Up close.
An unpromising beginning.
An unpromising beginning.
But it smelled yummy...
But it smelled yummy…

And here is the taste test video:

My rating: 3 out of 5. While it’s not exactly gourmet dining (despite what the recipe description may say) Miss Starke’s recipe is fast, tasty and filling. It’s a nice little lacto-ovo vegetarian breakfast dish (a meal that tends to be quite meat-centric if you don’t count pancakes) and is a great way to use leftover bits of vegetable. I could definitely see myself making this again.

Variations: The addition of some finely chopped onions would add a bit of zing, as would some jalapenos, if you like that sort of thing. If you have hardcore carnivores about, some shredded ham or diced bacon would probably be a welcome addition. I would suggest draining any fatty meats before adding them in.