The Gish Sisters Blogathon: The Countdown Begins!

Gish Sisters Blogathon

Gish Sisters Blogathon

It’s hard to believe that the Gish Sisters Blogathon is less than a month away! I just wanted to update everyone on what has been happening.

What is it

A three day celebration of the careers of Lillian and Dorothy Gish.

When is it?

September 7, 8 and 9

Where is it?

Right here or at my co-hostess Lindsey’s blog, The Motion Pictures.

How can I join?

Just contact either one of us and say what you would like to contribute. We

Here is the roster, if you want to take a peek at what other folks are contributing.

If you can’t join…

You can still help us by spreading the word. Every little bit helps and is enormously appreciated.

If you want to join but aren’t sure what to contribute…

Here is a list of film suggestions!

And remember…

Dorothy needs a little help!

(via Tumblr)

While her films are not quite as available as Lillian’s, there are still lots to choose from so please consider contributing something about Dorothy.

“Curse you and your flawless complexion, tempting me away from my deep-held political beliefs!” Animated GIF

volga-boatman-cecil-be-demille-william-boyd-silent-movie-bullet-through-skin-rework

Well, you can’t accuse silent films of being all romance and honey, right? William Boyd has just saved Elinor Fair from being shot (he was supposed to do the shooting). She asks him why he saved her. He is not too happy with the situation so his answer is a bit brusk.

I mean, here he was, minding his own business, starting the Russian Revolution and now he’s stuck with some Czarist dame. See, the problem is that she is just too good at moisturizing and exfoliating and her skin was too nice to put a bullet hole through. It strikes me that perhaps the other Czarists should have considered some mud packs and body butters. It would have saved a whole lot of them from being shot.

(This is from Cecil B. DeMille’s 1926 hit The Volga Boatman.)

Recommended

A Romance of the Redwoods (1917) A Silent Film Review

Mary Pickford is a naive city girl who journeys out to the redwoods to live with her uncle. What she doesn’t know is that her uncle is dead and a bandit (Elliott Dexter) has borrowed his identity as cover for his stagecoach robberies. The pair form an uneasy alliance. Mary has nowhere else to go and Elliott doesn’t dare let her leave since she can blow his cover. That romance in the title? Well, with a city girl and a bandit sharing digs, what do you think will happen?
Continue reading “A Romance of the Redwoods (1917) A Silent Film Review”

Fun Size Review: West of Zanzibar (1928)

West of Zanzibar, Lon Chaney, Mary Nolan, Lionel Barrymore, Warner Baxter, Tod Browning This movie is sick. I’m just getting that out of the way now. Lon Chaney stars, Tod Browning directs. Could it be any other way? Lionel Barrymore steals Chaney’s wife and breaks his back. So Chaney drags himself off to Africa where he plans his revenge for eighteen years or so. It’s a sweaty, grimy and totally un-PC. Chaney is a deranged villain but he also gives one of his most heart-breaking performances. Seek out this twisted little gem if you have the stomach for it. If it were a dessert it would be:

(finecooking.com)

Bittersweet Chocolate Bourbon Ice Pop. Dark, dripping, bitter and most definitely for grown-ups. Read my full-length review.

Recommended

Lost Film Files #19: The Shine Girl (1916)

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The Shine Girl (1916)

Status: Missing and presumed lost

This is a Pollyanna-esque tale of a little shoeshine girl who brightens the lives of all she meets. For the record, Mary Pickford and I feel exactly the same way about Pollyanna (she annoys us) but I rather like Gladys Hulette, who plays the title character in The Shine Girl. (Get it? Get it? Cuz she shines shoes and brightens lives? Get it? Get it?)

The story is about a shoeshine girl who wins the love of a Children’s Court judge.

the-shine-girl-gladys-hulette-1916-lost-film-5

Moving Picture World praised the picture but mentioned a few rough spots:

click to enlarge
click to enlarge

One of the interesting points about this production from the Thanhouser studios is that its scenario was written by Agnes C. Johnson, who is not only one of the youngest, but one of the few scenario writers exhibiting the spark of genius. Miss Johnson is but eighteen years old, and first attracted the notice of the writer through an artistic three-reel production entitled “The Window of Dreams.” While “The Shine Girl” could not be termed a powerful play, it represents an idea of great beauty. The character of the “shine” girl is of the positive, individual sort that is sometimes met with in the most unexpected places. Although this little girl’s vocation was that of a bootblack, she was not content with the mere shining of shoes. She was of a philosophic turn of mind, and believed among other things that sorrow had the same effect on people that show blacking had on shoes, it made them dark at first, but they polished up brighter after if had been rubbed on. She was also the very embodiment of the spirit of love as learned by her only pal Sally; and Sally, by the way, was a poor, sickly geranium, who consented to live only because the little “shine” girl carried her out of her dark corner into the sunshine whenever she ventured forth herself and considered it a privilege to clamber up fire escapes that Sally might drink in larger droughts of the life-giving elements.

This is an index to the nature of the “shine” girl, and early in life she found opportunities to shine human hearts as well as shoes. She also found her way, along with Sally, into the country where she believed the sun always shone through the kind heart of the Judge of the Children’s Court, whom she afterward rescues from committing a folly, and later marries.

Gladys Hulette has given a beautiful portrayal of the character of the “shine” girl , with A. Wayne playing opposite her as the judge. There are a few points at which the picture might be brushed into more professional shape, but here is no denying that the central idea has been clearly defined. Some off-shoots of the theme might have been strengthened in detail, and there may be a felling that the character of the Judge was not a well-balanced one and has been somewhat victimized in bringing about a dramatic climax. Nevertheless the production is distinctly human, clean and beautiful.

Agnes Christine Johnston was all of 20 when she wrote The Shine Girl. As predicted in the review, she did go on to great things. She wrote scenarios for beloved silent classics like Daddy Long Legs and Show People and enjoyed success in the talkies writing screenplays for the Andy Hardy series.

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Gladys Hulette charmed the audiences of the ‘teens.
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click to enlarge

Wid’s Film and Film Folk also praised the concept but considered the film uneven:

Taken as a whole, I would say that this is a production which will be decidedly satisfying with any audience, highbrow or lowbrow. It is sufficiently artistic to please the discriminating, and surely it has a good audience appeal because of the central thought. This is not a wonderful production technically, because of a few little things which hold it down in the ‘good’ class instead of allowing it to soar to great height, but it surely is a splendid audience film. When it comes to box-office appeal, I doubt whether Miss Hulette can pull you much business, unless you go out and aggressively boost this as an artistic, human presentation of a truly big idea. You can possibly arouse a lot of interest in this by announcing that it deals with the juvenile court problem, for this is a question of general interest. If you wanted to start a discussion, you might say in your ads, ‘Is it any worse to steal a man’s wife than it is to steal a loaf of bread?

I am curious to see this “clean and human” film. I certainly would like to see Gladys Hulette in an early role.

the-shine-girl-gladys-hulette-1916-lost-film-2

Recommended

How to liven things up at your local Starbucks, Animated GIF

volga-boatman-cecil-be-demille-william-boyd-silent-movie-white-army

Run in and do this, gestures and all! Extra points if you actually wear the kerchief. Even more if you put on a Russian accent. Unless you really are Russian. In which case, carry on.

(The White Army was the Czarist side in the Russian revolution. The Red Army was, of course, the Bolshevik side.)

Disclaimer: Obviously, this is me being goofy. If you actually run into Starbucks and do this, you are on your own. Don’t call me from the funny farm for help, is what I’m saying.

This is a scene from The Volga Boatman.

Recommended

Silent Take: “24” circa 1927

I have branched into television! Action show 24 reimagined as a 1927 serial.

I must ask for more indulgence than usual with this poster. It is highly unlikely that top-tier actors would consent to appear in a serial. This is make-believe so I hope you forgive me. Rugged Milton Sills is just so perfect for the part! The bad guys won’t stand a chance and, best of all, he can act!

Continue reading “Silent Take: “24” circa 1927″

A few mistakes bloggers make (and how you can avoid them)

I was overwhelmed by the success of my previous post on blogging. The kind words from my readers were really a treat! So, like any good Hollywood producer would do, I have decided to opt for a sequel.

These are mistakes I have made myself and have seen others make. I use WordPress and will be heavily referring to their tutorial section but I think most of these ideas can work for any blogging platform. Here goes nothing!

Not using tags and categories

Dewey Decimal
Keep your blog orderly and you will win over readers. (Gexydaf)

Uncategorized. What does that tell you about a post? Nothing. Thanks to social media platforms like Twitter, the hashtag (you know, #topic) has been helping people organize and comment on their content. That’s what the tags and categories in WordPress (or Labels on Google’s Blogger) do for you. Simply put, tags and categories make it easier for your readers to navigate your blog and read posts similar to the ones that they already enjoy.

Be default, WordPress will list your post as Uncategorized and tagless. We can’t have that! WordPress even has tutorials for adding tags and categories! There’s really no excuse not to use them.

What’s the difference between a Tag and a Category? Well, according to WordPress, a category is for the general topics of your blog, while a label is more specific. For example, if you run a craft blog and want to post an easy wool scarf pattern, you might use the Categories of Crafts and Knitting and use the Tags of Scarf, Easy, Wool and Knitting Pattern.

Don’t sweat too much about which is a tag and which is a category, just use a system that makes sense to you and that you think will make sense to everyone else. The main thing is that you not neglect your tags and categories.

Also, do not go crazy and overtag. This is a red flag to Google and it looks silly.

Not paying attention to site analytics

Emerging blogs need to pay attention to... Ok, Ok, I just wanted to use this weird egg hatching girl image!
Emerging blogs need to pay attention to… Ok, Ok, I just wanted to use this weird egg hatching girl image!

Site analytics are a powerful tool. They tell you how many visitors came to your site, how many pages they viewed and which ones. If you want to know what gets counted and what doesn’t, WordPress has a handy guide. Almost every blogging service offers some sort of stats.

Here are some things that you can do with your site stats:

You can measure how engaged your readers are. How? Well, if your blog got 100 visitors but only 102 page views, that means the readers are only reading one or two pages before leaving. If your stats consistently show this, it may be time to consider livening up your content or providing interesting links that will encourage your readers to stick around.

Find out what features are a hit with your readers. A store owner would be a fool not to check what items are selling and what items are gathering dust on the shelves. Your site stats will tell you which post has received the most hits. Should you be a slave to your stats? Of course not, but why not to follow up a particularly successful post?

Discover who is referring people to your site. Sometimes, you will have a new fan outside of your blogging ecosystem and you won’t even know it until they link back to you. Follow up on referrer links and see if you can make new friends.

Pinpoint your blog’s slow days. Some bloggers report that they have low traffic on a particular day (often Saturday). I enjoy a healthy readership in time zones that are 8-9 hours ahead of me and this seems to prevent me from having a Saturday slowdown. However, it is worth checking out. After all, there’s no point in posting big news on a low traffic day.

But! (This is important) Don’t drive yourself crazy by constantly checking your traffic. Sometimes, you will just have a slow day because that’s how the world works.

Leaving on the default banner for your template

Do you want your site to scream GENERIC? (fuelyourbranding.com)

Okay, this may seem pretty minor but let me put it this way: If you buy a pretty picture frame, do you leave the generic images inside?

The banner is the first thing people see when they visit your blog. Even if your visitors don’t notice that it is generic, that banner is taking up prime real estate and not doing anything for you. Wouldn’t it be better to have a banner that communicates what your site is all about?

You can make a banner with Photoshop, Paintshop Pro, GIMP or even MS Paint! You know, the freebie that comes with Windows. What if you don’t have these programs and do not wish to learn? Just search for “banner maker online” and you will find numerous websites that can generate a custom banner for you. Or you can bribe your sister’s kid to make you one. Some brownies or a frappucino should do the trick.

WordPress has a handy tutorial for this too (the header, not the kid bribing.

Recommended

The Doll (1919) A Silent Film Review

Ernst Lubitsch directs this fractured fairy tale concerning a coddled young man who wants to avoid marriage at all costs– and he is willing to purchase an elaborate mechanical doll to pose as his wife. Petite charmer Ossi Oswalda co-stars as both the doll and the live girl it was modeled after. When the doll is accidentally broken, Ossi must take its place at the wedding. I can’t possibly imagine anything going wrong with this scenario.
Continue reading “The Doll (1919) A Silent Film Review”

Silent Service Review: Is Fandor worth it for silent movie fans?

Let’s take a look at a silent streaming service. (image credit: Fandor)

A lot of people have asked me where I watch my silent movies. Quite a few are from my personal DVD collection but I am a huge fan of streaming movies as well. In the world of subscription-based on-demand movie rentals, the three biggest players are probably Amazon Prime, Hulu and Netflix. However, any fan of a niche genre knows that the big boys are not necessarily the best place to look for more obscure treats.

Silent film fans, in particular, have to be wary of on-demand services. Between battered prints and so-so musical accompaniment, there is just so much that can go wrong with a silent viewing experience.

Fortunately, there are quite a few choices on the market and today I am going to review one of them. Here it is, a silent movie fan’s opinion of the on-demand movie service Fandor.

If you like an article, don't stay mum.
Hmm, is Fandor a good choice for the silent movie fan?

A quick note before I begin: I have a paid personal subscription to Fandor and all opinions are based on my experiences with that subscription. The long and the short is that I do not make any money from folks joining Fandor or Netflix or any other online rental service.

What is it?: Fandor specializes in films outside the mainstream. They have art house, foreign, classic B movies and, best of all, an enormous selection of silent films. Fandor licenses from silent powerhouses like Flicker Alley and Kino-Lorber, which means that the silent films they offer are the best available versions, not battered public domain prints.

Availability: Fandor is currently only available to users in the United States. The films may be viewed from a computer, Roku, iPad or iPhone. There is currently no Android app.

Price: Fandor currently costs $10 a month or $90 a year. There is a free two-week trial period available. You may also purchase a 3 day pass for $3.

What I like about it: Well, it has an unparalleled selection of silent films, first and foremost. It also features what is possibly the best browse function currently available (they call it Discover). Let me give you an example:

Let’s say you are in the mood for a crime film.  You click the Crime genre. Then you get to choose the film by specific crime. Caper, murder, smuggling, courtroom, etc. You also get the choose the country of origin for the film and there are sliders that let you specify the year range of your search.

So here is what I got when I said I wanted a movie about murder made in Italy between 1950 and 1965.

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

Is that cool or what?

(You can also add film duration to the mix, if you like. Very useful when browsing for silent films as they can range from a few seconds to a few hours.)

The browse function is not quite as elaborate on the Roku but it still works quite well. I have not used the iPhone/iPad app, being firmly entrenched in the Android ecosystem.

What I don’t like about it: Even though I am overall pretty happy with Fandor, there are a few issues. First, the player seems to have trouble with the Chrome browser, causing an audio sync problem. As of this writing, Fandor is working on a test player to resolve the un-synced audio. Another issue is that when watching in a browser, the player will sometimes just lose your place in the film and start back at the beginning.

Another issue I have is that the player can enter full-screen mode but it does not shrink down. I like players that can shrink down to an itty bitty size so that I can watch in the corner while I am working on something else. This is a pretty specific use for the player so I am not complaining too much.

The verdict: I have had my subscription for a while now and am overall pleased as punch. There are minor issues but these are more than offset by the service’s advantages. If you are a silent movie fan and can only afford one online streaming service, Fandor is the one to get. The quality and selection are top notch and the wonderful Discover function is the icing on the cake.

Theme Month! August 2013: Crime Inc.

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Gangsters! Petty thieves! Blackmailers! Rum runners! The silent era was a hotbed of crime and if you think that the gangster movie was invented with the talkie, well, prepare to be enlightened!

This month, I will be reviewing silent movies with one thing in common, all of them are about some sort of crime.

In the meantime, here are just a few of my older crime-oriented reviews:

The Bells: Robbery and murder most foul!

Below the Surface: Con games!

Carmen: Banditry and more murder!

The Cradle of Courage: The gangs of ‘Frisco!

Little Annie Rooney: The gangs of New York!

Raffles: Gentlemanly robbery!

The Sheik: Abduction and abduction!

Review #1: Fraud and embezzlement!

The Doll (1919)

In order to avoid marriage (but still claim a hefty dowry) a young man weds a life-size doll. Uproarious comedy from Ernst Lubitsch.

Review #2: Highway robbery and identity theft

A Romance of the Redwoods (1917)

Mary Pickford is a city girl who goes west only to discover that a bandit has stolen the identity of the relative she was to stay with.

Review #3: Safe-cracking

Alias Jimmy Valentine (1915)

A bank robber leaves his life of crime behind after a stint at Sing Sing but the police are not inclined to believe him.

Review #4: Bootlegging

Feel My Pulse (1928)

Bebe Daniels is a hypochondriac heiress who stumbles on a nest of ruthless bootleggers. I feel sorry for the bootleggers.

Recommended

Fun Size Review: Monte Cristo (1922)

Monte Cristo 1922 John Gilbert Estelle Taylor

Monte Cristo 1922 John Gilbert Estelle Taylor

Note to villains: If you want get the hero out of the way by framing him, just make sure he doesn’t get the cell next to the crazy old guy who knows where to find a fabulous treasure. Cuz, you know, he may come back for revenge.

It has a pre-Great Lover John Gilbert and Estelle Taylor playing a good girl for once. It is a little rushed but overall a pretty dern good adaptation.

If it were a dessert it would be:

(food.com)

Butterscotch Banana Muffins. A little bit of added flavor but generally stays close to the classic.

Read my full-length review here.

Recommended

After the Silents: Silent Stars in William Castle Films

What do you think of when you hear the name William Castle? Classic chillers? Clever marketing gimmicks? If you asked a movie-goer in the forties, though, they would have thought of mysteries.

In the forties, Castle was known as a B director who could get films done on-time and on-budget. His output varied during this decade but two series kept cropping up on his resume: The Whistler and The Crime Doctor. Both were low-budget films series involving amateur sleuths and both featured former silent leading men: Richard Dix and Warner Baxter, respectively.

Continue reading “After the Silents: Silent Stars in William Castle Films”

Silent Take: The Princess Bride circa 1928

It’s baaack! Another modern movie re-imagined as a silent. This time, it’s The Princess Bride and it is taking a little trip back to 1928. If you have only seen Mary Astor and William Powell in the talkies, you may be interested to know that in the silents, she was often the dainty princess and he was often a sneering villain. Douglas Fairbanks Jr. did not try his hand at swashbuckling until 1937’s Prisoner of Zenda (Astor was in that one too) but I crave your indulgence because I think he is a perfect Westley.

Continue reading “Silent Take: The Princess Bride circa 1928”

Seriously, if anyone did this to me, I would slug them, Animated GIF

volga-boatman-cecil-be-demille-william-boyd-silent-movie-song-of-love-rework

Cecil B. DeMille was known to use… odd romantic gestures in his films. In this case, Elinor Fair is groovin’ to some boatman music supplied by William Boyd and her fiance, Victor Varconi, is jealous. So what does he do? Make his hands into earmuffs, of course. And she is fine with it. In fact, she thinks it’s pretty wonderful.

The Volga Boatman is stuffed with moments like this, which is why I love it so.

Recommended

Tol’able David meets… The TINGLER!!! Special William Castle Animated GIF

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To honor the start of the William Castle Blogathon, I made this GIF from The Tingler. The titular nasty is loose in a silent movie theater that just happens to be playing Tol’able David, one of my favorite movies. This is the iconic scene in which the Tingler crawls in front of the projector. Brrr! Scary puppet!

You can read the roster of entries here and here. And be sure to look for mine on August 2. And you can read my review of Tol’able David here. The Tingler does overcrank it so that everything is a bit manic looking.

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