Cinefest 35 Storifyed!

In advance of my write-up of Cinefest 35, I’ve curated an account of the Syracuse Cinephile Society‘s final film festival from my and other attendees’ social media postings. You can read our shared excitement as the festival unfolded and all the great tidbits we shared about the films and our experiences. It was over much too quickly!

Leave or Read Comments.

Share via:

Happy Easter!

As an Easter treat, here’s the delightfully magical silent short Les oeufs de Pâques. The film was written and directed by Segundo de Chomón for Pathé Frères. A contemporary of Georges Méliès, de Chomón was often compared to the other director due to their work in trick films, but the Spanish director would go on to work in other genres and for other directors, like Abel Gance. If you’ve seen other French silents from this era, then you might recognize this one’s lead actress Julienne Mathieu. She was de Chomón’s wife, and she started in films before he. She encouraged him to seek film work, so we have both to thank for the creation of this bit of whimsy in more than one way!

Leave or Read Comments.

Share via:

The Pre-Code Blogathon: Trouble in Paradise (1932)

Trouble in Paradise Poster

It’s hard not to get seduced into enjoying Trouble in Paradise. Ernst Lubitsch‘s 1932 pre-code delights on all levels. Leads Miriam Hopkins, Kay Francis, and Herbert Marshall look their best while giving career high performances. The dialogue they speak with ease is witty, naughty, and quotable. They move about in gorgeous art deco sets. The celebrated Lubitsch Touch makes everything tastefully titillating as word, image, and actor chemistry combine in a tale of triangular romance that leaves no doubt about consummation between its male and female pairings. The question of which lady will win the man solely seems predetermined along class lines, but digging deeper it’s the characters’ attitudes toward work which will divide them.

Trouble in Paradise Dinner Assignation

When Miriam’s “Countess” meets with Marshall’s “Baron,” they’re both working, but they don’t realize that right away. The Baron’s invited the Countess to an assignation in his hotel room. We’ve been shown clues that the Baron is not what he seems. The film starts with a robbery, which we become sure that the Baron committed. There’s a tension in watching what may be a scene of romance or a seduction designed for further larceny. The Baron told his waiter he wanted a clandestine meal that would turn his Juliet into Cleopatra. He will soon learn how calculating the Countess really is! A phone call we’re privy to both ends of dispels her carefully crafted cover.

The Countess shows some signs of recognition first. “You know when I first saw you, I thought you were an American. Someone from another world. So entirely different. Oh. One gets so tired of one’s own class. Princes and counts and dukes and kings.” Her sharp eyes detected something about him from a distance that betrayed the role he was playing. He is from another world and another class. Her boredom of royalty and aristocracy sounds real. When she discovered he is like her, she was happy and “very proud.” What does she know? In which way are they alike? Her words sound equivocal.

Trouble in Paradise Garter Scene

Over dinner, she is the one to speak first. She admits visiting him for “a little adventure, but that “something’s changed” her, “and it isn’t the champagne.” What seems to be leading up to confession of love turns into an accusation! “Baron, you are a crook. You robbed the gentleman.” As she returns to eating her meal, he tells her he would have told her everything before she left his room. He, “with love” in his heart, says, “Countess, you are a thief.” He tells her she “tickled” him when lifting his wallet, but he did not mind since her embrace was “so sweet.” A game of one-upmanship becomes foreplay. Each shows what the other stole–his wallet, her pin, his watch, and her garter. The last item earns him gasps of respect and causes her to jump into his lap.

They introduce their real selves to each other. When she asks who he is, he starts by mentioning his most famous theft. He entered the The Bank of Constantinople, and he walked out with it. She’s delighted to learn he is The Gaston Monescu. While she, Lily, is not as well known as he, he gushes, “I loved you the moment I saw you. I’m mad about you.” His terms of endearment are all work-related. To him, she’s “my little shoplifter, my sweet little pickpocket, my darling.” He admires her and her craft. They are alike, and they are in love. A night together turns into almost a year of love and thievery.

Trouble in Paradise Purse Return

Their mistake is stealing from a peace conference. He is caught and relieved of their loot by the police, but he escapes. That leaves them looking for more jobs, like stealing a jewel-encrusted purse from Kay Francis’s Madame Mariette Colet at the opera. She’s a young widow quite loose with her inherited money, and she paid 125,000 francs for a purse evaluated by Gaston to be worth only 40,000 francs. She’s innocent enough to believe it lost, so she advertises a reward of 20,000 francs for its safe return. Since the purse is worth less on the black market, Gaston and Lily decide to return the purse and use the money to celebrate their anniversary.

While returning the purse, Gaston sees the possibility of a longer con. Madame is bored “to distraction” by work and detail. She relies on others to maintain her interests and lives a care-free life in pursuit of pleasure and amusement. When she hints she’s uncomfortable bringing up the reward money, Gaston lets her know he’s not to proud to accept it being part of the “nouveau poor.” She’s attracted to him and intrigued by his flirting, so she offers this jobless man the position of personal secretary. Mariette had to let her last one go for having too much fun. He accepts, and over the months he manipulates the situation to be in control of her figure, assets, and household.

Trouble  in Paradise Assistant and Mistress

He even installs Lily as his assistant. She’s uncomfortable with the gig because “this woman has more than jewelry.” Gaston assure Lily that Mariette’s only “sex appeal” is her safe full of money and jewels. In order not be be seen as competition by Mariette, Lily reduces her own sex appeal by wearing glasses and zipping up her tops. She’s Miriam Hopkins, so she’s gorgeous. Mariette decides to increase Lily’s salary by 50 francs so she’ll work harder to make Gaston freer from work, but only if Lily is gone by 5 PM each day. Mariette wants Gaston to herself in the evenings.

There’s the whole question of what kind of man Gaston is becoming. Is he falling in love with Madame and becoming redeemed? Is she in love with him or making him her latest amusement? She’s had string of buffoonish suitors she’s let hang around her for laughs. Will the thief be ruined by the widow? Lily is afraid the answer is yes, that Gaston with all of his skills and intelligence will fall into the lowest category of conman and manhood. “Darling, remember you are Gaston Monescu. You are a crook. I want you as a crook. I love you as a crook. I worship you as a crook. Steal! Swindle! Rob! Oh, but don’t become one of those useless, good for nothing gigolos.”

Trouble in Paradise Bed Shadow

Gaston realizes his identity will be discovered soon, and though he makes plans to flee with Lily, Mariette and Gaston get closer. He tries to be the gentleman that Lily feared he will become and make sure association with a secretary won’t ruin Mariette’s reputation, but she doesn’t care about ruining his reputation. She promises him a long time ahead of them–“weeks, months, years.” She doesn’t care about their class or position differences or gossip. Her suitors figure they’ve lost her to this boring, “dependable,” “insignificant” man, the type women marry. They’re confusing their types with his, and they’re soon shocked with the revelation of who Gaston is!

Mariette goes to Gaston when she hears who he is. She must discover the truth for herself. Unlike Lily, criminality holds no appeal to her. She would act if she discovered she was robbed. She’s becoming embittered because she thought he loved her, not her money. She doesn’t understand a man who started with nothing and worked his way up, even if he started off the wrong way at first. No matter their love and how “marvelous” life could have been together, there will always be the threat of the policeman at the door with a warrant. Gaston’s profession has precluded their chance at happiness, even if she forgives his deception. They understand each other and their situation at last.

Trouble in Paradise End

Gaston returns to Lily with a present taken by him but knowingly given by Mariette, an apology of sorts by both. Gaston and Lily resume their foreplay of mutual thievery from each other’s person, and she knows he has returned to her fully. She embraces him in delight. The crooks get a happier ending than the traditional heroine! They’ll live, love, and work side-by-side. Perhaps their eventual offspring will enter the family business.

Pre-Code Blogathon 2015 Banner

This post is part of The Pre-Code Blogathon hosted by Danny of Pre-Code.Com and Karen of Shadows and Satin. Please click the banner above to read more great entries about this fun time in motion pictures!

Leave or Read Comments.

Share via:

Road Trip to Cinefest 35!

Cinefest 35 Ad

Spellbound By Movies is going on a road trip this month! I’ll be flying out to Syracuse for my first and last Cinefest. I’ve always wanted to attend this film festival. Some fellow film fanatic friends have raved about the rarities and camaraderie they’ve enjoyed at Cinefest year after year. I could not miss its last year.

Cinefest was a formerly annual film festival run by Syracuse Cinephile Society. The group traces its origins back to a 1967 screening organized by a Phil Serling and a Sam Goldsman. The film festival grew out of the organization’s Monday night screening series when members decided to start a film convention. The first was held about 1980. That makes this year’s Cinefest the 35th edition.

The festival is ending for more than one reason. Attendance has been diminishing. The event needs to generate a certain amount of revenue from a paying audience and table vendors in order to pay operating expenses, like shipping films to and from archives. The Society and the festival’s audience have been aging. Organizers haven’t found younger members to take over running the festival, while former attendees became more comfortable watching once hard to find features and shorts on Turner Classic Movies and DVDs. The loss of the event’s former venue must have been a hard hit. The movie theatre where Cinefest used to be held converted to digital projectors.

I suspect due to this being the last Cinefest, its organizers will be surprised by how many will be in attendance, especially in the under sixty set. Social media has allowed so many of us film buffs to connect and share what we’re passionate about. That includes news of regional film festivals like Cinefest, that used to be spread word-of-mouth. I’ve seen tweets and Facebook and blog posts lamenting the festival’s loss or exulting over this year’s schedule. Let’s see if some angels come forward belatedly to carry on the Cinefest tradition.

In the meantime, I’ve been pouring over the festival’s schedule. Jam-packed is an understatement. Attending will be the equivalent of binge-watching. The schedule is stuffed with back-to-back screenings of films from the teens to mostly the thirties. This is the kind of schedule that hardcore early film fanatics crave, except for its breakneck pace. I’m very relieved to see there will be time for decent meal breaks! Check out the schedule in its entirety below. A special thanks goes to Patrick J. Picking for helpfully adding these notes and links to the schedule.

 

Thursday, March 19th

9:00 am – OUT ALL NIGHT – (1933) with Zazu Pitts, Slim Summerville, and Shirley Temple
10:15 am – BEST OF MOSTLY LOST III From the Library of Congress (1)
11:05 am – YELLOW FINGERS – (1926) – starring Olive Borden and Ralph Ince. This rarely seen silent film will be screened courtesy of The Museum Of Modern Art

LUNCH BREAK

1:15 pm – TOWER OF TREASURES, RKO TRAILERS Hosted by Ray Faiola
2:15 pm – LIFE IN THE RAW – (1933) UCLA Film And Television Archives will again be loaning Cinefest several rarely seen films made by Fox from the period between 1930 and 1933. Life In The Raw (1933) stars George O’Brien and Claire Trevor (3)
3:20 pm – THE LAST MAN ON EARTH – (1924) Fox film directed by John Blystone. Starring Earle Foxe. Print is courtesy of The Museum of Modern Art. (4)
4:30 pm – THE ROAD BACK – (1937) with John “Dusty” King, Richard Cromwell, Slim Summerville

DINNER BREAK

8:00 pm – IT PAYS TO BE IGNORANT (1948) with Tom Howard
8:10 pm – KING OF THE KONGO, CHAPTER 10 (1929) With Boris Karloff
8:35 pm – LUCKY BEGINNERS (1935) Hal Roach All Stars
9:00 pm – THE RETURN OF PETER GRIMM – (1926) The Museum Of Modern Art will provide a print of the rarely revived silent version of “The Return Of Peter Grimm” (1926) produced by Fox Films and starring Alec B. Francis and Janet Gaynor. (4)
10:10 pm – CAPTAIN FLY-BY-NIGHT (1922) with Johnnie Walker, Shannon Day
11:15 pm – THE THIRD ALARM (1922) w/Johnnie Walker, Ralph Lewis, Ella Hall

Friday, March 20th

9:00 am – SERVICE STRIPES (1930) Vitaphone short with Joe Penner
9:10 am – MEN ON CALL – (1930) – stars Edmund Lowe, Mae Clarke and Warren Hymer. (courtesy of UCLA Film and Television Archives)
10:20 am – ME AND THE BOYS
10:30 am – DICK BANN’S HAL ROACH SHOW #1 – Hosted by Dick Bann. Read the notes HERE!

LUNCH BREAK

1:00 pm – STORY OF COLOR IN THE MOVIES Hosted by Eric Grayson
2:30 pm – PAINTED WOMAN (1932) with Spencer Tracy, Peggy Shannon (3)
3:40 pm – VITAGRAPH VARIETIES From the Library of Congress (1)
4:45 pm – SECOND FLOOR MYSTERY (1930) with Grant Withers, Loretta Young (3)

DINNER BREAK

8:00 pm – BRIDE OF FINKLESTEIN (2015) Hosted by Michael Schlesinger
8:20 pm – A SONG IN THE DARK, More Dangerous Rhythms by Richard Barrios
9:35 pm – HEART TO HEART (1928) with Mary Astor, Lloyd Hughes (1)
10:40 pm – LUCRETIA LOMBARD (1923) with Irene Rich, Monte Blue
11:45 pm – RISKY BUSINESS (1939) – Remember “Okay America” the 1932 Universal film starring Lew Ayres that we screened at Cinefest back in 1991? Guess what? It was remade in 1939 with George Murphy, Dorthea Kent and everybody’s favorite, El Brendel. The rarely seen remake, Risky Business (1939, Universal) will be screened at Cinefest 35 next March

Saturday, March 21st

9:00 am – SMOKING GUNS (1934) – Smoking Guns (1934, Universal) was the last film made by Ken Maynard on his contract with Universal.
10:00 am – WELCOME DANGER! (1929) – the long unseen SILENT version of Harold Lloyd’s first talkie! With Harold Lloyd, Barbara Kent
12 Noon – THE DAWN OF TECHNICOLOR Early Technicolor Musicals

LUNCH BREAK

1:10 pm – FLORIDA STUDIO FILMS From the Library of Congress (1) Rob Stone and Steve Massa will present two programs of short comedies from the archives of The Library Of Congress at Cinefest 35. One show will spotlight the FLORIDA FUN FACTORIES and highlight the comedies shot down there in the teens. The program will include:

  • AN EXPENSIVE VISIT – (1915) – Lubin starring Babe Hardy
  • A BATH TUB ELOPEMENT – (1916) – Eagle Film starring Marcel Perez, with Louise Carver & Tom Murray
  • A Vim made Pokes and Jabbs short, and others

2:15 pm – THE NEW KLONDIKE (1926) – Based on a short story by Ring Lardner and partially filmed in Florida, “The New Klondike” (1926, Paramount) was directed by Lewis Milestone and stars Thomas Meighan as a minor league ballplayer who gets mixed up with crooked land speculators in Florida. Our friends at Library of Congress will be providing the title to Cinefest 35 for screening next March. Note: the film is missing a bit of footage but those who have seen it, say that it will not effect your enjoyment of this rare title (1)
3:25 pm – SEA SORE (1933) with Arthur Tracy, Baby Rose Marie
3:45 pm – MY LIPS BETRAY (1933) – starring Lillian Harvey and John Boles.
4:50 pm – TESS OF THE STORM COUNTRY – (1914) with Mary Pickford, Harold Lockwood. New restoration.

DINNER BREAK

8:00 pm – WE! WE! MARIE! (1930) with Slim Summerville, Eddie Gribbon
8:20 pm – GERRY ORLANDO COMMENTS
8:30 pm – TEA MAKING TIPS (1941)
8:45 pm – COLLEEN MOORE HOME MOVIES (1)
8:50 pm – SYNTHETIC SIN – (1929) The recently restored Colleen Moore film. Cinefest is grateful to so many people and archives who have made this screening possible and they will all be mentioned and thanked in the program book but we would like to mention here special thanks to Ned Price, Ron Hutchinson and Joe Yranski. This screening will be a highlight of the Syracuse Cinephile Society. If you have not seen the film at one of the recent screenings around the world, you will want to be at Cinefest for this special screening!
10:05 pm – THE DANGER GAME – (1918) Film Historian Richard Koszarski will introduce a new restoration of the long unseen Goldwyn romantic comedy filmed in Ft. Lee N.J. from 1918 “The Danger Game”. The film was directed by Harry Pollard and stars Madge Kennedy and Tom Moore.
11:10 pm – BABIES, THEY’RE WONDERFUL (1947) with Patsy Kelly
11:20 pm – THREE KISSES (1955) Paramount Topper
11:35 pm – THE BACK PAGE (1933) with Peggy Shannon, Russell Hopkin

Sunday, March 22nd

9:00 am – THE BIG BROADCAST – (1932) with Bing Crosby, Burns & Allen, Stu Erwin, Sharon Lynn
10:35 am – THE AUCTION (2015) Hosted by Leonard Maltin and George Read
12:00 pm – HISTORY & DEVELOPMENT OF THE 35MM PROJECTOR
12:30 pm – ONCE A SINNER – (1931) – starring Dorothy McKaill is on the schedule courtesy of UCLA Film And Television Archives
1:40 pm – CALGARY STAMPEDE (1925) with Hoot Gibson, Virginia Brown
2:35 pm – DICK BANN’S HAL ROACH SHOW #2 – Hosted by Dick Bann. Read the notes HERE!
3:40 pm – CODE OF THE SEA (1924) with Rod LaRocque, Jacqueline Logan
4:40 pm – THE SEA LION – (1921) “The Sea Lion” might not be as rare as it was when it was the first silent feature ever screened at the first Cinefest in 1981. It was loaned to Cinefest by legendary film collector and historian Gordon Berkow who always made available any film in his collection to Cinefest. To honor the memory of Gordon, we will be presenting several films from his collection at Cinefest 35. We thought it was apt to screen the exact same print of “The Sea Lion” thirty five years later at Cinefest 35.

(1) Print Courtesy of the Library of Congress
(2) Print Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
(3) Print Courtesy of UCLA Film Archives
(4) Print Courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art
(5) Print Courtesy of the Mary Pickford Foundation and Paramount Pictures

(Films and starting times may be subject to change.)

Leave or Read Comments.

Share via:

The Silent Film Fanatic TCM Film Festival Preview!

TCMCFF 2015 Steamboat Bill Jr Poster

Classic film circles are abuzz about March’s Turner Classic Movies Film Festival. This year’s theme is History According to Hollywood, and many movie buffs are guessing what film favorites fitting that theme will screen. While the festival is only about a month away, its full schedule has not been announced yet. I’ve gone over what titles have been released to create a silent film fanatic preview.

The Grim Game Harry Houdini Fight Still

Harry Houdini in The Grim Game from the Kevin Connolly Collection

Rumored as lost, the Harry Houdini vehicle The Grim Game (1919) is another silent film with a strange-but-true rescue story. A retired juggler named Larry Weeks bought a complete print of the film back in 1947 from the Harry Houdini estate. He had shown it a few times, and he had been unwilling to sell it to any inquirers. In 2014 film scholar and preservationist Rick Schmidlin got a tip that Weeks owned the movie and successfully negotiated for TCM its purchase. Schmidlin oversaw the restoration, and it will make its world premiere at the festival.

The Grim Game is notable for being one of Houdini’s few feature films. Houdini stars as Harvey Hanford, who gets framed for murder. As if the stakes of clearing his name were not high enough, he must rescue his kidnapped fiancée, too. Like a number of Douglas Fairbanks‘s a films were designed to demonstrate his athleticism, Houdini’s movie offers him plenty of opportunities to showcase his skills as an illusionist, escape artist, and stuntman. There’s a dramatic airplane sequence that draws on his reputation as an aviator. The film sounds like a fun popcorn entertainment offering us a glimpse of a major 20th century performer at a career high.

Rick Schmidlin will be a special guest at the screening, and composer Brane Živković will conduct his score for the film live.

Lois Weber's Suspense Split Screen Still

One program gives the rare chance to watch films hand-cranked through a projector just like audiences of yesteryear. It’s The Return of the Dream Machine: Hand-Cranked Films from 1902-1913. Showing movies in this manner relies on the projectionist’s ability to match his hand-cranking rhythm to the action depicted onscreen. If he cranks too fast, a sad scene can become a comedy, and if he cranks too slowly, a comedic scene plays at a dirge tempo. Hand-cranking is a test of hand-eye coordination and endurance.

For this screening, shorts in 35mm prints will be presented. Titles include a color-tinted version of Georges MélièsA Trip to the Moon (1902), the Edison Company’s narrative leap forward The Great Train Robbery (1903), D.W. Griffith’s A Corner in Wheat (1909), and Lois Weber’s split-screen thriller Suspense (1913).

Managing Director of Preservation and Foundation Programs for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Randy Haberkamp will be a special guest at the screening.

Steamboat Bill Jr.

Buster Keaton‘s Steamboat Bill Jr. has two world premiere aspects. The comedy underwent a restoration that’s never been screened publicly before, and composer Carl Davis will conduct his brand-new score live. I see both of these as added bonuses of a film that would have pulled crowds even without them. Silent comedy is often a gateway to silent film for the non-fan, so this is a great film to introduce or sway a classic movie fan to silents, and Buster remains a strong name brand to current silent film fanatics.

In Steamboat Bill Jr., Buster plays William Canfield Jr., the newly returned from college son of  a paddle-steamer captain. He’s not the big strapping lad his father hoped would help him crush his competitor. Worse, Bill falls in love with the competitor’s daughter. This Romeo and Juliet tale contains one of Buster best known stunts that’s among his most dangerous. Look for an in-joke about his iconic pork pie hat. Between the stunts and laughs, if you’re not on Team Buster when you start this film, you’ll likely be at its end.

Charlie Chaplin's Limelight Mirror Still

Technically Limelight (1952) is a talkie, but it will interest silent film fanatics because Charlie Chaplin produced, wrote, directed, composed its music, and stars in the movie.  It has a Buster Keaton cameo as well. Limelight is historic because it’s the only feature film both performed in. During the silent era, they appeared in a First National promotional short, Seeing Stars (1922). They played themselves at a celebrity banquet.

Chaplin intended Limelight to be his last picture. Even if it is not an autobiography, it was a highly personal film. He set it in 1914, the year of his film debut, and a time of change since that was right before World War I. He used to perform in music halls early in his career, so the London music hall settings of Limelight were familiar to him. Some suspect his alcoholic, downwardly mobile clown was based on his father, but Chaplin claimed actor Frank Tierney inspired the role. Whatever the truth, the character was a theatrical archetype. Everything about the film shows a man looking back at the past.

The movie is more bittersweet and hopeful than it may sound. It mixes drama and comedy, as does the best of Chaplin’s work. His character Calvero rescues a ballet dancer played by Claire Bloom from a suicide attempt. His old man nurses the girl back to health, and each finds a friend and confidante. They encourage each other to attempt a comeback. They take to the stage again, and they embrace life again.

Actor, producer, and author, Norman Lloyd, who appears in Limelight, will be a special guest at the screening.

Leave or Read Comments.

Share via:

Merry Christmas!

Colleen Moore Singing Christmas Carols

 

Merry Christmas from Spellbound by Movies HQ! The woman serenading us with carols is actress Colleen Moore. I selected her to share glad holiday tidings because 2014 was a great year for the departed actress. Her long thought lost final two silent films, Why Be Good? and Synthetic Sin, were restored, and they toured specialty cinemas and archives this year. A whole new generation who might not have seen her small number of surviving silents fell in love with one of Hollywood’s original flappers. Today Colleen is often overshadowed by Clara Bow, Joan Crawford, and Louise Brooks. During her height of Colleen’s fame, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, “I was the spark that lit up Flaming Youth, Colleen Moore was the torch. What little things we are to have caused all that trouble.” Now audiences have two more chances to see how brightly she burned.

Leave or Read Comments.

Share via:

Fairy Tale Blogathon: Claire (2001)

Claire_toniet_on_moon_press

Contemporary silent film Claire frames a story of longings once impossible inside a loose adaptation of a Japanese fairy tale. The movie quietly champions the themes of acceptance, fatherhood, and families of choice. The methods used to depict this tale are strictly early twentieth century, and the images they make are a dream-like mix of the quotidian and the mystical. All create a sense of the magic of love.

Tale of the Bamboo Cutter

Claire was inspired by Princess Kaguya, also known as The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter. In the fairy tale, Princess Kaguya is a changeling child. She’s discovered inside a shining stalk of bamboo by an elderly bamboo cutter wandering the forest. She’s no bigger than his thumb. He brings her home, and since he and his wife are childless, they raise the girl. They begin receiving compensation for the care they’d gladly give for free. Every time he cuts down a bamboo stock, he finds a nugget of gold.

Princess Kaguya

Kaguya grows into a great beauty of normal human size. Despite her parents sheltering her, word of her beauty spreads, and she’s wooed by royalty, who want to marry her and take her away. She refuses by assigning them impossible tasks. She only feels the moon’s pull. While she loves her earthly parents, she cries to be separated from the moon. The tension comes from not knowing how and when she will leave her parents. Changeling children never stay. Will romance or the moon finally take her away from the couple?

Claire Interrupted Birthday Party

Filmmaker Milford Thomas sets his version of this story on an Appalachian farm in the 1920s south. The movie starts with a child’s birthday party. A little girl is surrounded by friends and presents while her proud poppa, Josh (Mish P. DeLight) looks on. Suddenly the party is interrupted by a woman and man glaring reprobation. They take the girl away. Josh wakes up from his nightmare, arms flailing about, in bed. His partner lying next to him, Walt (James Ferguson), takes Josh’s hand, which calms him. We’re next shown scenes of their domesticity as they work their corn farm and live the settled, peaceful life of two elderly people who have been together a very long time.

Claire Josh & Walt Finding Surprise in Barn

Josh’s dream shows us the one thing he wants is a child, and his wish is fulfilled one night. He and Walt are startled awake by their animals making noise. When they look out their window to find out what the hullabaloo is about, they see their barn is filled with light. They find a glowing ear of corn inside. While they watch, the husk parts to reveal a glowing miniature, but perfectly proportioned girl (Toniet Gallego). She looks up at them with curiosity and hopefulness. They swaddle her like a baby and bring her into their home. They’re startled awake a third time when furniture gets knocked about. The tiny girl grew into a full-sized one overnight! The couple name her Claire.

Claire Doll Family

Josh and Walt finally have a child to raise and spoil. They throw her a birthday party. They make a cake out of cornmeal. They wrap her present in dried corn husks. Her gift is revealed to be a miniature of their home made out of matchsticks and corn kernels. Inside the house are figurines of each family member. The scene is touching and foreshadowing. Even non-magical girls don’t stay home forever. The local school teacher, Miss Earwood (Anna May Hirsch), wants to send bright Claire away to France to study. Her pupil Richard (Allen Jeffrey Rein) attempts to court Claire, who’s confused about what she wants. She wants to stay with her fathers, but she can’t fight the pull of the moon. She climbs up onto the window sill at night to stare at the moon and cry longingly.

Claire Crying in the MoonlightThomas sets his movie in the past, but the subject of gay fatherhood and adoption remains topical, even though it is more common and acceptable today, yet his film isn’t polemical. In depicting one couple raising one girl, he shows us the love and wonder any father would feel doubled by two. Within the film’s more conservative time period, it’s only the nightmare child snatchers that show disapproval. Whether the townspeople understand Walt and Josh are a couple isn’t made clear, but their neighbors don’t question the men’s ability or motives in raising a girl. That’s not a plot point. Their daughter Claire accepts and loves them for who they are.

Moon Princess Claire

Her fathers must accept her for who she is. Every parent reaches the point when he or she must let a child grow up into her own person. Claire has feelings that she doesn’t understand. She doesn’t know what makes her want to leave her earthly home for the moon. It’s painful and confusing for any child to individuate. The story of the changeling who stays a short time with her foster parents mimics the cycle of the adolescent becoming an adult. Within Claire’s magical story is a second universal one.

Claire Camera 2

Thomas’s visuals aren’t as slick as the ones of The Artist or Blancanieves. He employs no expensive digital arts, and his sets are modest. He did not have the same resources as Michel Hazanavicius or Pablo Berger. He gave himself two challenges to make Claire. He had to do it on a limited budget, and he had to do it using vintage equipment.

Claire Water Nymphs

What’s shown onscreen looks like early vintage filmmaking, and I mean that in the best possible way. He used a Mitchell Standard handcrank camera, the “same type of camera used by cinematographer Charles Rosher to film Mary Pickford in the 1922 Tess of the Storm Country.” Milford overexposed modern monochrome film stocks to get contemporary film to look vintage. He used multiple, in camera exposures to make his special effects. Only an underwater scene was shot on a modern camera. His stylistic influences include Georges MélièsF.W. Murnau, and D. W. Griffith. Few intertitles are employed, save for a scene where Claire reads a poem by Shelley.

Claire Orchestra de Lune

The movie’s soundtrack was recorded live in 2002 at the Herbst Theatre in San Francisco. It was performed by the Orchestra de Lune, directed by composer Anne Richardson. Her score was influenced by “Debussy, Maurice Ravel, and Aaron Copland.” In writing the score, Richardson said, “The images on the screen often spoke to me, as if the music were already there, waiting to be put down on paper.” Her score is dreamy, emotional, and intimate. The audience’s audible responses are affecting. Their laughs, hisses, and applause gave this home viewer the sensation of watching Claire in a theatre with an audience. How long the hearty applause at film’s end goes on will give anyone the impression of how much some fairy tales are needed.

This post is part of the Fairy Tale Blogathon hosted by Movies Silently. Check out its other posts on silent, classic, and modern films, both live action and animated!

Fairy Tale Blogathon Banner Forbidden Fruit

 

Sources:

1. “Groundbreaking Film ‘Claire’ Celebrates a Radical Fairy-tale.” GAVoice. GAVoice, 2 Nov. 2011. Web. 11 Nov. 2014.

2. “Moving Picture Claire.” Moving Picture Claire. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Nov. 2014.

3. Hildreth, Richard. “Claire, 2001.Home. San Francisco Silent Film Festival, 2003. Web. 11 Nov. 2014.

4. Phillips Jordan, Julie. “Atlanta Filmmaker’s ‘Claire’ Pays Homage to Silent Cinema.” Athens Banner-Herald. Athens Banner-Herald, 18 Apr. 2002. Web. 11 Nov. 2014.

 

Leave or Read Comments.

Share via:

More San Francisco Silent Film Festival Fun!

William Gillette in Sherlock Holmes 3

The San Francisco Silent Film Festival has gotten a little longer for its 20th anniversary. A day has been added to the festival! The event now runs Thursday, May 28, 2015 through Monday, June 1, 2015. Past years, programming ended on the Sunday evening. This is great news for attendees. An extra day of films means–more films to be enjoyed. Out-of-town film fanatics should commence in changing their return flights and/or extending lodging stays as soon as possible in order not to miss any of the fun.

With the expanded schedule, I’d like to see the festival stick with the more reasonable break schedule employed during Silent Autumn 2014. There was time to walk around, socialize, and even go to a Castro District restaurant for a sit-down meal. Anyone who’s attended a film festival knows how long-term sitting is brutal on the body. Limb cramps and fatigue aren’t fun, and they’re distracting from what’s on the screen. Plus, there’s no greater advertisement to the event’s sponsors than attendees out on break patronizing area businesses while wearing festival lanyards. That affirms donating to the festival is worthwhile for local business owners. They can see immediate results.

The additional day does mean festival passes are going up in costs. The good news is they’re being discounted until the first of the new year. As of today, passes cost $231 for the general public and $201 for festival members. There is an online processing fee on top of those charges. While the pass costs might look steep to some, buying a pass makes the average cost per program lower if you plan to attend all or most programs. If you’re cherry-picking films, then buying individual tickets will work best for you.

So far only William Gillette‘s long-thought lost silent film Sherlock Holmes has been announced. The complete schedule will be released in the middle of March 2015. Watch this blog for further festival updates!
San Francisco Silent Film Festival Logo

 

Leave or Read Comments.

Share via:

CMBA Forgotten Stars Blogathon: The Time Bebe Daniels Couldn’t Get Out of a Speeding Ticket

 

It reads like a publicity stunt out of the movie Bombshell. Silent film sweetheart Bebe Daniels was ticketed for speeding, tried, convicted, sentenced to jail, and forced to serve time. Rather than being planned like the stunts in that movie, Bebe did like to speed, and she had gotten caught. Her press agent helped her spin a potentially career damaging moment into one that titillated the public. They were not yet weary of or suspicious of Hollywood stars, and speeding seemed like an offense that anyone could get caught committing. Film fans relished each moment of the case as a chance to gossip about a beloved star. Bebe provided them plenty to dish about.

Jack Dempsey Portrait

Let’s back up to January 1921 when she was ticketed. Bebe was behind the wheels of her Marmon Roadster, a car favored by those other fast-livers Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Bebe was hurtling down Route 101 to San Diego with her mother Phyllis Daniels, and they were accompanied by “a well-known Los Angeles pugilist.” At least once source cites him as boxer Marty Farrell, but Bebe herself wrote he was her beau Jack Dempsey. Since Bebe was 19 years-old at this point, her pairing with Jack, six years her senior, wasn’t likely to be controversial, and he was single. He had not yet married actress Estelle Taylor. His identity might have been kept out of the papers as a professional courtesy.

Bebe and Ben

When her car was spotted by motorcycle cop Vernon “Shorty” Myers, Bebe had left Los Angeles County, and she was driving through Orange County in the Santa Ana area. The speed limit along that stretch of the freeway was 35. Bebe would be quoted in the press as driving 56.25 MPH, but in the book Bebe and Ben, she bragged in a later personal account that she was driving 72 MPH. After being issued the ticket, she was warned, “You know we put people in jail for going this fast.” Bebe didn’t believe that would happen to her. She was famous and had connections.

What county she sped in mattered. Her Uncle Jack “was an important newspaper man and ‘in’ very well with the Los Angeles police department.” He had her previous parking tickets taken care of, but this time she had sped in the wrong county. He was powerless in Orange County. There a “notorious anti-speeding crusader” ruled.  Judge John Belshazzar Cox “was a barber, not a lawyer, and was a bicyclist, not an auto driver.” He had little sympathy for speeders. He fined anyone going over 35 MPH and put in jail anyone speeding over 50 MPH. Worse for Bebe, he courted media attention normally. Trying a movie star would give him even more.

She Couldn't Help It Newspaper ad

Her first hearing disappointed the public. Only her lawyer W.I. Gilbert attended and pled her case.  Judge Cox could not be swayed to dismiss her ticket. He gave Bebe the courtesy of a delayed trial, she was finishing her film She Couldn’t Help It, so the trial was set for March. Her lawyer requested a trial by jury, betting Bebe stood a better chance of defeating her ticket that way. In the interim, she finished her film and worked the press harder than a girl gunner. She made a public appearance at a benefit in Fullerton. Wearing a dress called “revealing” and “scanty,” she sang a tune called the The Judge Cox Blues. Her performance bouquets included one from him! “Days before the trial, her publicity agent made sure all the Orange County theaters premiered her latest film.”

The publicity likely sold more movie tickets, and it resulted in an estimated crowd of 1,500 to gawp at the fashionably turned out star at the courthouse, but her antics and film weren’t that influential over the jury and Judge Cox. “The jurors were all elderly men–mostly retired ranchers and a real estate agent.” They did not believe Bebe’s excuse that she was racing her car to be repaired at a San Juan Capistrano garage. The jury deliberated for about seven minutes before returning with a guilty verdict. The Judge, who exchanged smiles with Bebe throughout the trial, wasn’t swayed either. He would not be vamped. Bebe expected a warning and a fine. He sentenced her to ten days in jail! She became the first woman convicted of speeding in Orange County.

Bebe Daniels in Jail

Bebe was told to report to jail on April 16. This second delay was work-related as well. It allowed her to finish her scenes in The Affairs of Anatol. Since she had been convicted of a misdemeanor, she was allowed privileges that other inmates were not. Her mother was given permission to accompany and stay with her daughter. Bebe could wear her own clothes, bring personal belongings, and decorate her cell. Local furniture stores competed to furnish her cell, and area restaurants vied to be the one to provide her meals for free. Bebe being Bebe chose the best of each to supply her.  When the pair arrived, her cell looked more like a fine room, “furnished with wall to wall carpet, chintz curtains,” “twin beds with covers to match the curtains,” and “even bedside tables and lamps.”

Bebe Daniels Jail Cell

The judge greeted her with a bouquet in front of the press and escorted her to her cell. While Bebe thought he acted like a “hotel manager” when he wished her a comfortable stay, she very much felt her loss of freedom. She remembered the sound of the “locks being turned and the iron gates clanking behind” them for the rest of her life. Despite all the comforts she had, she was locked in one room that she could not leave except for set times. She had to find ways to distract herself so she did not pace her cell. Meals, reading, exercise, Mom, her Victrola records, and a who’s who of movie star visitors provided her main distractions. She tried not to look at the clock.

Bebe Daniels Serenade

The jail was overwhelmed at hosting a popular celebrity. Locals left her gifts ranging from chocolates to kittens. The sixty-three “other female inmates, accused of such crimes as bootlegging, forgery, drunkenness, drug-dealing and bigamy, vied for her attention.” A woman only identified as Sadie, convicted of bootlegging, won the privilege of cleaning Bebe’s room daily. Her jailer helped her screen visitors. No one was approved to see her until Bebe saw his or her visitor’s card. One day Abe Lyman appeared outside her windows with his orchestra. They drove down from the Cocoanut Grove in Los Angeles to serenade her with Rose Room Tango, her favorite tango song she used to dance to with Rudolf Valentino. The group played for her all afternoon. Her jailer confessed he was exhausted by the end of her stay. The jail had never been so busy.

Bebe Daniels Released from Jail

Due to Bebe’s good behavior, her sentence was ended one day early. Judge Cox returned for her departure and gave her yet another bouquet, this time roses. He had invited the press and insisted that Bebe pose with him for photographs as he presented her the flowers. Their farewell was widely circulated by the papers as he had intended. Bebe never saw him again. Her jail time had curtailed her desire to speed–at least in real life.

The Speed Girl Poster

Her next picture with Realart was inspired by her experience. It was called The Speed Girl. In this romantic comedy, she played a heroine arrested for speeding. Like Bebe, her character ended up in jail. Unlike Bebe, a love triangle with a naval officer and millionaire complicated the plot. The film was released into theatres in the fall of 1921. Its advertising copy read, “Here is a six cylinder hundred and twenty fun powered and record-breaking comedy with Bebe at the wheel. The brakes are off. Slip her into high. Now step on it!” While it does not sound like the strongest picture (It’s presumed lost), the public positively responded to Bebe’s attempt to move on from what could have been a scandal. Her career survived into the sound era before segueing into radio and TV.

Sources:

1. Allgood, Jill. Bebe and Ben. London: R. Hale, 1975. Print.

2. “Bebe Daniels: The Orange County ‘Speed Girl.'” Orange County Sheriff’s Museum. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Oct. 2014.

3. Rasmussen, Cecilia. “A Celebrity Tossed in the Slammer? That’s Old News.” Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 20 May 2007. Web. 30 Oct. 2014.

4. Mott, Patrick. “Film Star Nabbed in Orange County.” Orange Coast Magazine Apr. 1985: 170-71. Print.

5. Slater, Marilyn. “Bebe Daniel – The Speed Girl.” Looking for Mabel Normand. Marilyn Slater, 1 Aug. 2009. Web. 30 Oct. 2014.

 

This post is an entry in the CMBA Forgotten Stars Blogathon. Click on the banner below to read more posts about yesteryear’s favorite and unjustly forgotten performers by a great roundup of dedicated classic and silent film bloggers!

CMBA Forgotten Stars Blogathon 2014

 

Leave or Read Comments.

Share via:

World War One in Classic Film Blogathon: Dark Journey (1937)

Dark Journey Poster

Vivien Leigh viewed Dark Journey as a “personal failure.” It was her sixth film, but “her first true leading role,” and her lack of confidence during the production made her overly critical of her performance. She might not have counted it among her best, but she plays the part of Madeleine Goddard better than she thought. A double agent during World War One, her Madeleine is a mixture of surface, poise, nerves, and daring. Whether brought out intentionally or accidentally, all are qualities suitable to the role.

Dark Journey Meet the Baron

Her recollections likely were influenced by the movie’s complicated plot, which can be hard to follow. Technically neutral Stockholm, is swimming with spies for all sides. Keeping track of who is an agent and for what side is a task. Then romance is added via Conrad Veidt‘s Baron Karl Von Marwitz. He’s the German secret service leader sent to ferret out the the top spy of French counter-espionage in Stockholm–Madeleine. The theme of star-crossed lovers fighting for opposing sides becomes central to the film, but its most fascinating aspects are the dangers and mechanics of spying.

Dark Journey 1930s Coat & Hat

How accurate is the film at portraying World War One? In regard to portraying certain aspects of the times, you’ll have to suspend your disbelief intentionally. The film was released in 1937. It is set in 1918. Its fashions, make-up, and hairstyles are au courant to 1937. No attempt is made to dress characters in period clothing or stylings. Musically the movie is more faithful to its setting. Its main theme song is a romantic classical piece. Diegetic music in dancing, music hall, and concert scenes are period-appropriate. In street scenes, carriages and early model cars carry passengers to and fro.

Dark Journey Lupita

Any viewer will have to carefully watch performers and their costuming to track their characters’ nationalities. This is a London Films Production, and it’s a very obviously British-made film. The majority of cast actors are British, and only one British actress attempts her character’s accent. Joan Gardner‘s accent for Lupita may not sound quite Brazilian, but it helps keep her distinct, even before stealing scenes with her comedic chops. There’s a submarine scene in which actors speak German, which lends momentary authenticity, but the majority of the movie’s dialogue is in English. Conrad, as a German-born native in real life, sports his natural accent for his role. German, Swedish, French, and Belgian parts are portrayed with British accents.

Dark Journey Cherry Orchard

More care was taken in depicting the wartime activities that occurred in Sweden. The film’s director Victor Saville travelled there for research and met “a retired vice navy admiral who had run the Swedish counterintelligence bureau during the war.” The former officer acted as a technical adviser to the film. His help may be partially why the spy scenes are weightier than the romance. The film starts with Madeleine’s sea journey interrupted by a German submarine. Although the waters between Paris and Stockholm are neutral, her ship is stopped, boarded, and searched for a spy by the German soldiers. Each time she crosses a similar scene occurs, suspense builds as she wonders when they will be searching for her. At customs and immigration checkpoints, political activities are cautioned against, and potential agents are detained. There’s a club called the Cherry Orchard, full of spies partying and paying for information.

14977788168_6c420fae15_o

The cleverest incident of espionage depicted involves the dresses Madeleine imports personally from Paris for her shop. Hidden among the normal frocks are ones with coded messages. The first shown is a sheer number with embroidery. She places it over a lampshade and lines up their markings. The lampshade’s once innocuous map design decodes secret troop movements when paired with the lamp. Coordinates were sewn onto the dress. A fellow spy rushes upstairs to unpack a near empty suitcase. Inside he pulls out a flat surface and what looks like a very basic, flat skeleton of a puppet. He’s setting up a shadow show in front of the window. He projects the image of  the apparatus’s moving arms. They act as and are interpreted like semaphores by another spy on a ship in nearby waters. That is how a message from France decoded in Stockholm gets passed on to Berlin.

Dark Journey Close-Up

Back to the romance, it is not fully believable for reasons outside of plot. Vivien Leigh is photographed beautifully, and she’s dressed and styled impeccably for most of the movie. Even without being investigated by multiple intelligence agencies, her Madeleine would be pursued by many men. Conrad Veidt looks handsome, and he adds class to some lines of dialogue that would have sounded smarmier coming out of another mouth. His Karl may be older than Madeleine, but neither that nor their spying is what makes them seem an unlikely match. They do not have chemistry even though both actors try very hard to create it. The ultimate example of this is a kiss that’s supposed to be their most romantic; it looks very awkward, and the moment falls flat for me. Their ardent fans watching this film will feel their charisma, and any attractions to the performers might be projected onto the lovers they portray. Their star power might make this a quibble to some.

Dark Journey

This is not a movie for history purists, who cannot enjoy one with anachronisms. If you want to experience World War One Stockholm exactly as it was, you will be disappointed with this film. Those wanting an entertaining film with moments of genuine suspense and intrigue will get what they seek. Vivien Leigh and Conrad Veidt fans should watch this, even if they are not completists. Vivien fans will get to see her two years before Gone With The Wind, and they’ll see how much she developed as a screen actress between both films. She, also, has relatively few films to see for a star of her magnitude. While he has many more credits due to starting in the silent film era, he would only live for six years more after making this film. He may be playing yet another German officer as he did during his talkie career, but he brings more to the role than is written, both in its dramatic and comedic scenes. This film captures the moment before one performer’s stardom, and another’s unexpected twilight.

 

WWI Blogathon Banner of the Big Parade

This post was part of the World War One in Classic Film Blogathon, hosted by  Fritzi from Movies Silently and Lea at Silent-Ology. Please click the banner above to be brought to a list of the blogathon’s other participants! They’re a great  group covering a wide range of silent and classic films, celebrated and obscure, about the first Great War.

Leave or Read Comments.

Share via: