Buster Keaton

The Road to TCMFF 2017: My Wish List

Since only a portion of the TCM Classic Film Festival offerings has been revealed, I’m going to fantasize about what else the festival programmers could schedule. In making my ideal list, I’ll pretend rights or physical print restrictions don’t exist, and I’ll stick to this year’s theme of MAKE ‘EM LAUGH: COMEDY IN THE MOVIES. I’m sure some of the programs and films I’d like to see at the festival will surprise you!

SPEEDY showing Harold Llloyd and Ann Christy at Coney Island

Harold Lloyd and Ann Christy in SPEEDY (1928)

Long-term readers and Twitter followers know I’m a silent film buff, and I know the perfect gateway to introduce others to the medium is comedy. I have multiple suggestions in this category. Harold Lloyd will be shown, but due to his granddaughter Suzanne Lloyd‘s activism in preserving and promoting his work, his work screening at the fest is usually likely. I’m a fan, so I don’t object. I’d like more silents at the festival!

Alice Howell in Cinderella Cinders

Alice Howell in CINDERELLA CINDERS (1920)

I’d love TCM to put together a program of silent film comediennes’ shorts. That way the audience could get exposure to or reacquaint themselves with multiple women stars from that era. There have been recent restorations, including some recently screened on the network, that could help fill the bill. Gloria Swanson, Louise Fazenda, Mabel Normand, Bebe Daniels, Flora Finch, Carole Lombard, Alice Howell, Marie Dressler, and Elsa Lanchester are all comediennes with existing silent shorts. If looking for a longer bill, shorts could be paired with Constance Talmadge‘s hour-long, recently found and restored comedy GOOD REFERENCES (1920).

Clara Bow and Buddy Rogers in GET YOUR MAN

Clara Bow and Buddy Rogers in GET YOUR MAN (1927)

Clara Bow‘s GET YOUR MAN (1927) provides the perfect excuse for a spotlight on the jazziest silent film comedienne. More exposure for Bow, especially with an introduction by her biographer David Stenn, will spotlight why America’s former favorite redhead deserves to be remembered as a talented comedienne whose onscreen naturalism belied self-aware technique. Discussion of how an incomplete film was reconstructed by the Library of Congress using “still photographs and inter-titles from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to fill in the narrative gaps” would be a mini-course in film preservation. If the program needs filling out because GET YOUR MAN is fifty-seven minutes long, short materials like the fragment of RED HAIR (1928) can be screened.

ZaSu Pitts and Thelma Todd Laughing in Bed

ZaSu Pitts and Thelma Todd

I’m divided whether I want a program of comedy duo shorts or one featuring duos whatever the length of their films. Shorts duos I’d be delighted to watch at TCMFF included Thelma Todd and ZaSu Pitts, Todd and Patsy Kelly, Buster Keaton and Fatty Arbuckle, and Laurel and Hardy. If the fest highlights comedic duos’ best moments even from longer fare, I’d want to see added Marie Dressler and Polly Moran, Abbott and Costello, and Wheeler and Woolsey. I’m sure including Bob Hope and Bing Crosby along with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis would make even more fans happy!

Moonstruck Moon over Bridge Shot

MOONSTRUCK (1987)

With Norman Jewison already in attendance for the fiftieth anniversary of IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT (1967), I hope another one of his films celebrating its thirtieth anniversary gets snuck onto the schedule–MOONSTRUCK (1987). It’s laugh out loud funny in an idiosyncratic way, and it celebrates life and the mistakes that make it interesting with no cynicism. It, also, captures an old New York City that’s been disappearing via gentrification, displacement, and the passing of the older generations.

Now that you’ve read my picks, what films or programs would you like to see at TCMFF?

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Book Review: The Ice Cream Blonde

The Ice Cream Blonde Book Cover Michelle Morgan Chicago Review Press Large

While Thelma Todd‘s death often overshadows her work, Michelle Morgan has written the biography the actress deserves. Any book about Thelma must mention her death and the mystery that surrounds it, but Morgan spends the majority of The Ice Cream Blonde discussing the slapstick comedienne’s life and career.

Thelma Todd and Charley Chase

Morgan researched her subject well. The book is filled with details whose sources are carefully listed in the notes and bibliography sections. She shows how a prim and proper New Englander originally intent on becoming a schoolteacher became “Hot Toddy” roughhousing with a veritable who’s who of silent and early talkie comedy. Her famous co-stars included the Marx BrothersCharley ChaseBuster Keaton, Harry LangdonJoe E. BrownWheeler and Woolsey, and Laurel and Hardy.

Zasu Pitts and Thelma Todd in Asleep in the Feet (1933)

Producer Hal Roach sought to make a female comedy short duo as popular as his Laurel and Hardy pairing. He first paired Thelma with ZaSu Pitts, and when Pitts left his studio, he replaced her with Patsy Kelly. While the shorts’ detractors call them derivative and uninspired, Thelma and her co-stars draw laughs in their roles, and the films’ plots, while sometimes bizarre like The Tin Man, put slapstick into female realms, seemingly to offer a woman’s take on this comedy form despite being written and directed by men.

Buster Keaton and Thelma Todd in Speak Easily (1932)

Even though Thelma wanted a break-out role to lead to feature starring work, she was more concerned with expanding her talent and roles and securing her future than the fame associated with stardom. She was never too proud to not take a pratfall or to recognize and respect everyone working on-set. She knew the names of those working behind the scenes because she chatted with them about their families. As a consequence, she was beloved wherever she worked, at Roach’s or on loan.

Thelma Todd and Patsy Kelly

Her generosity helped many a friend. When New York stage star Patsy Kelly wasn’t adapting to life on the West Coast or slapstick screen work, and her debts threatened to drown her, Thelma’s intervention prevented Patsy from returning east in defeat. When Patsy was fleeing California, Thelma became determined to save Patsy before the studio got word. Thelma hopped into her car and dragged Patsy off of her eastbound train. The two had an all-nighter, full of heart-to-hearts and advice. A lifelong friendship developed.

Thelma Todd’s Sidewalk Café

When her big break didn’t seem to be coming, Thelma’s practical side made her plan for her post-screen future by becoming a businesswoman. She partnered with former lover Roland West and his wife Jewel Carmen to open Thelma Todd’s Sidewalk Café. Initially Thelma was to provide her name and presence, while the Wests were to provide the financing and management, but Thelma became very hands on, learning to run most aspects of the business. She could be found hostessing and personally preparing food, and her presence attracted everyone from tourists to fellow film stars.

Roland West

Her business put her on the trajectory to tragedy. Soon after becoming partners with West, the two became romantically involved again, and Thelma moved into the café’s apartment in a room next to his, only separated by a sliding door. The pair’s relationship was volatile, and at least once resulted in physical violence. Her alleged mobster ex-husband Pat DiCicco had been physically abusive as well. The smart starlet was not so smart in her choice of men. The eatery’s success and perhaps secret on-site gambling of Hollywood stars attracted mob interest. Meanwhile Thelma started receiving anonymous blackmail threats in the mail. Whatever your theory about Thelma’s subsequent death in the café’s garage, these incidents provided possible motives for murder.

Newspaper Diagram of Thelma Todd's Death Scene

In dissecting the available evidence surrounding Thelma’s death and the subsequent inquests, Morgan carefully conveys which testimonies and pieces of evidence she finds credible and why. She reviews the theories relating to accidental death, suicide, and murder, and she favors one, but she doesn’t belittle those coming in with others. For instance, she asks if Thelma truly walked to the garage herself why was no mention made of the state of her hosiery? Thelma was wearing high-heeled sandals, and such a long walk in or not in non-protective footwear would have resulted in dirtiness and runs.

Thelma Todd's Shoes Worn at Death in 1935Don’t think Morgan’s fact-focused approached leads to a dry style, quite the contrary. While her style is non-sensationalistic, it is engaging and allows the personalities she describes to be experienced through her words, especially in the book’s concluding and haunting quote from the actress. Maybe Thelma truly had the last word. Always the planner, she had posted Christmas cards and presents early. Friends and family received them a few days after her death. Still trying to make others happy. Her true legacy.

Merry Christmas from Thelma Todd

Disclosure: I was provided a review copy by the book’s publisher, Chicago Review Press.

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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.

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San Francisco Silent Film Festival Preview

In one week, the San Francisco Silent Film Festival kicks off with a return of everyone’s favorite former showgirl, Louise Brooks. She stars in the recently restored Prix de Beauté. Thirteen other feature-length films follow as do two programs of shorts. Amazing Tales from the Archives returns to highlight film preservation. Since silent film crossed international boundaries easily, so do the festival’s featured movies and musicians. The major programs represent the creative production of nine countries, and as there are always shorts before each feature, the count may go up by the festival’s end.

All screenings occur in the Castro Theatre. Details from the program follow below!

Louise Brooks in Prix de Beauté

Thursday, July 18 at 7:00 PM
Prix de Beauté (France, 1930)
Musical Accompaniment by Stephen Horne
Director: Augusto Genina
Cast: Louise Brooks, Georges Charlia, H. Bandini, A. Nicolle, M. Ziboulsky, Yves Glad, Alex Bernard

“Prix de Beauté marks Louise Brooks’s last starring role in a feature. Less known than her work with G.W. Pabst (Pandora’s Box, Diary of a Lost Girl), Prix de Beauté was marred by its foray into early sound (Brooks’s voice was dubbed). Our presentation is the superior silent version recently restored by the Cineteca di Bologna. Brooks is stunning as Lucienne, the ‘everygirl’ typist who enters a beauty contest and is introduced to a shiny world of fame and modernity. But Prix’s script, a collaboration between René Clair and G.W. Pabst, doesn’t leave Lucienne in a fairy tale bubble but leads to a powerful, moving denouement. Cinematographers Rudolph Maté and Louis Née make beautiful use of Brooks’s glorious face. Approximately 108 minutes. 2012 Restoration courtesy of Cineteca Bologna, screening in DCP.”

San Francisco Silent Film Party 2012

Thursday, July 18 at 9:00 PM
Opening Night Party
Location: McRoskey Mattress Company

“Celebrate the start of SFSFF 2013 with drinks, hors d’oeuvres, dancing to the Frisky Frolics, and the first-ever SF Silent Film Festival Beauty Contest, all on the amazing top floor loft of the historic McRoskey Mattress Company!”

SF Silent Film Archive Photo

Friday, July 19 at 11:00 AM
Amazing Tales from the Archives (Free!)
Musical accompaniment by Stephen Horne

“Céline Ruivo, Director of Film Collections at the Cinémathèque française, will present on the Cinémathèque’s restoration of films from the Paris Exposition of 1900, Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre. Rob Byrne, film preservationist, will present on his restoration of Allan Dwan’s The Half-Breed starring Douglas Fairbanks (and premiering on July 20).”

The First Born

Friday, July 19 at 2:00 PM
The First Born (UK, 1928)
Musical accompaniment by Stephen Horne
Director: Miles Mander
Cast: Miles Mander, Madeleine Carroll, John Loder, Margot Armand, Ellat Atherton, Ivo Dawson Scenario Miles Mander, Alma Reville

“The directorial debut of actor, writer, and producer Miles Mander, The First Born was adapted from his own novel and play, set in a British upper-class milieu and touching on morality, politics, and the disintegration of a marriage. Sir Hugh Boycott (Mander) and his young bride Madeleine (Madeleine Carroll) have a passionate marriage that is rocked when she fails to produce an heir. Mander’s gem rises above standard melodrama with its deft observance of character, perhaps helped by its co-writer Alma Reville, a well-known advisor to her husband Alfred Hitchcock. The First Born was recently restored by the BFI National Archive. Approximately 88 minutes. 35mm restored print from the BFI National Archive.”

Tokyo Chorus 1

Friday, July 19 at 4:30 PM
Tokyo Chorus (Japan, 1931)
Musical accompaniment by Günter Buchwald
Director: Yasujiro Ozu
Cast: Tokihiko Okada, Emiko Yagumo, Hideo Sugawara, Hideko Takamine, Tatsuo Saito, Chouko Iida

“Yasujiro Ozu’s Tokyo Chorus is a delicately composed tale of parental love, middle-class dreams, and suburban and urban realities. A young insurance salesman finds his life turned upside-down when he defends a fired co-worker. His family’s response, particularly his young son who wants a bicycle, is the heart of this film which shows the emergence of Ozu’s mature style—and a wonderful blend of comedy and drama. Approximately 90 minutes. 35mm print from Janus Films.”

The Patsy (1928)directed by King Vidorshown: Marion Davies

Friday, July 19 at 7:00 PM
The Patsy (USA, 1928)
Musical accompaniment by Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra
Director: King Vidor
Cast: Marion Davies, Orville Caldwell, Marie Dressler, Dell Henderson, Lawrence Gray, Jane Winton

“Before William Randolph Hearst decided that comedic roles were beneath her, Marion Davies had already established herself as a madcap comedienne on the musical stage. Director King Vidor had enough Hollywood clout to defy Hearst and play to Davies’ true strengths and the result is demonstrated in her incandescent performance in The Patsy. J.B. Kaufman writes, “Energetic, irrepressible, bubbling over with good humor yet capable of quiet sensitivity, she proves herself once and for all a genuine star. In her most celebrated scene she demonstrates her talent for mimicry by offering devastatingly accurate impressions of Mae Murray, Lillian Gish, and Pola Negri. (Mae Murray and Lillian Gish were, like Davies, MGM stars at the time, and Pola Negri’s Three Sinners was released almost simultaneously with The Patsy.)” Approximately 84 minutes. 35mm print from the Library of Congress.”

Klovnen (A.W. Sandberg, DK, 1926)

Friday, July 19 at 9:30 PM
The Golden Clown/Klovnen (Denmark, 1926)
Musical Accompaniment by Matti Bye Ensemble
Director: A.W. Sandberg
Cast: Gösta Ekman, Maurice de Féraudy, Kate Fabian, Karina Bell, Robert Schmidt, Erik Bertner

“Gösta Ekman is the eponymous clown in this tale of rural ways confronting the glamour and danger of the big city. The small town Joe (Ekman) and his circus princess Daisy (Karina Bell) find success in Paris, but become embroiled in a love triangle with a Parisian bon vivant. This beautiful restoration by the Danish Film Institute highlights the exquisite cinematography of Chresten Jørgensen and Einar Olsen. Approximately 128 minutes. 35mm restored print courtesy of the Danish Film Institute.”

Gertie The Dinosaur

Saturday, July 20 at 10:00 AM
Winsor McCay: His Life and Art
Musical accompaniment by Stephen Horne

“John Canemaker acclaimed biography Winsor McCay: His Life and Art celebrates the early-twentieth-century genius who gave the world Little Nemo and Gertie the Dinosaur. This special presentation is illustrated with stunning images from Canemaker’s book, as well as screenings of four of McCay’s greatest films: Little Nemo (1911, 3 mins), the first adaptation of a comic strip to a film format; the indelibly disturbing How a Mosquito Operates (1912, 6 mins); Gertie the Dinosaur (1914, 18 mins), the charming and infinitely influential animation McCay designed as part of a Vaudeville act; and The Sinking of the Lusitania (1918, 12 mins), a somber animated counterpart to McCay’s editorial cartoons. Approximately 70 minutes.”

The Half-Breed

Saturday, July 20 at 12:00 PM
The Half-Breed (USA, 1916)
Musical accompaniment by Günter Buchwald
Director: Allan Dwan
Cast: Douglas Fairbanks, Alma Rubens, Sam De Grasse, Tom Wilson, Frank Brownlee, Jewel Carmen, George Beranger

“The great Allan Dwan directed this western drama set amongst the redwoods and filmed in part near Boulder Creek (with Victor Fleming behind the camera!). Based on a story by Bret Harte and adapted by Anita Loos, The Half-Breed stars Douglas Fairbanks as Lo Dorman, a half-Indian outcast from society who lives in the forest and makes his home in a hollow tree. The coquettish pastor’s daughter (Jewel Carmen) toys with his affections, but it is Teresa (Alma Reuben) on the run from the law, who shares Lo’s status as an outsider. This brand new restoration is the result of a partnership between Cinémathèque Française and the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. World Premiere! Approximately 70 minutes. 2013 Restoration 35mm print.”

Legong

Saturday, July 20 at 2:15 PM
Legong: Dance of the Virgins (Bali, 1935)
Musical accompaniment by Clubfoot Orchestra & Gamelan Sekar Jaya
Director: Henri de la Falaise
Cast: Poetoe Aloes Goesti, Bagus Mara Goesti, Saplak Njoman, Njong Njong Njoman

“One of the last features shot in two-strip Technicolor, Legong was filmed entirely on location in Bali in 1935 by the Marquis Henry de la Falaise (a WWI hero, the ex-husband of Gloria Swanson, and the current spouse of Constance Bennett). The film is a tragic tale of love denied—Poutou, a respected Legong dancer, falls in love with young musician, Nyoung. Her father is delighted with Poutou’s choice and wants to help her to conquer Nyoung’s heart. But Poutou’s half-sister Saplak pines for the musician. When Nyoung chooses Saplak, Poutou drowns herself. Legong’s real theme is much more than mere melodrama—it is the delineation of Balinese culture. De la Falaise captured religious rituals including frenetic dances and mystical parades, and everyday dealings at the local marketplace. Small details chronicling the life of the villagers make the film an absorbing and mesmerizing quasi-documentary in gorgeous Two-Color Technicolor! Approximately 65 minutes. 35mm restored print courtesy of the UCLA Film & Television Archive.”

Gribiche

Saturday, July 20 at 4:00 PM
Gribiche (France, 1926)
Musical accompaniment by Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra
Director: Jacques Feyder
Cast: Jean Forest, Françoise Rosay, Cécile Guyon, Rolla Norman, Charles Barrois, Andrée Canti, Armand Dufour, Serge Otto, Alice Tissot, Major Heitner, Georges Pionnier, Soufflot, Mme. Surgères

“Jacques Feyder’s first film for Films Albatros is the story of a young boy (Jean Forest) who lives with his widowed mother (Cécile Guyon) in a lower-middle-class Paris neighborhood when he is ‘discovered’ by a rich American widow, Mrs. Maranet (Françoise Rosay in her first important role), who decides to adopt the boy and give him a ‘proper education.’ This charming film was recently restored by the Cinémathèque Française with the collaboration of the Franco-American Cultural Fund—DGA, MPA, SACEM, WGA. Approximately 112 minutes. Restored 35mm print from the Cinémathèque Française.”

Parasha from House on Trubnaya Square

Saturday, July 20 at 6:30 PM
The House on Trubnaya Square (USSR, 1928)
Musical accompaniment by Stephen Horne
Director: Boris Barnet
Cast: Vera Maretskaya, Vladimir Fogel, Yelena Tyapkina, Sergei Komarov, Anel Duakevich, Ada Vojtsik

“Our vote for Best Soviet Silent Comedy ever, Trubnaya is a brilliant look at class distinctions in the newly urbanized Soviet Union. ‘Set in a Moscow housing project, where a young scrubwoman discovers a new sense of self after she sees a film about Joan of Arc, this silent 1928 comedy displays a superb technique, a grace with actors, and a talent for eccentric characterizations that suggest Leo McCarey more than Karl Marx.’-—Dave Kehr, Chicago Reader. Approximately 64 minutes. 35mm print courtesy of the Pacific Film Archive.”

Joyless Street Scene 2

Saturday, July 20 at 8:30 PM
The Joyless Street/Die freudlose Gasse (Germany, 1925)
Musical accompaniment by Matti Bye Ensemble
Director: G.W. Pabst
Cast: Asta Nielsen, Greta Garbo, Gräfin, Agnes Esterhazy, Werner Krauß, Henry Stuart, Einar Hanson, Grigori Chmara

“Not only one of the most important films of Weimar-era Germany, The Joyless Street is also one of the most spectacular censorship cases of the era. The story from the inflationary period in Vienna in the years immediately after World War I was considered too much of a provocation with its juxtaposition of haves and have nots—that and its frank sexuality. Pabst’s film was twice shortened by the German censors and other countries made cuts or outright banned the film. This painstaking restoration supervised by Stefan Drössler has reconstructed the film as close as possible to Pabst’s intention. It is a magnificent achievement. Approximately 150 minutes. Restored 35mm print from Filmmuseum München.”

Love Nest

Sunday, July 21 at 10:00 AM
Kings of (Silent) Comedy
Musical accompaniment by Günter Buchwald

“Preservationist and showman Serge Bromberg has selected some of his favorite silent era shorts to make gorgeous new transfers using the best materials possible. The films in our program feature titans of silent comedy—Charley Chase, Charles Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and of course, Felix the Cat. The Silent Film Festival starts Sunday morning right–with a program fit for the entire family. Titles include: Felix Goes West (USA, d. Otto Messmer, 1924), Mighty Like a Moose (USA, d. Leo McCarey, 1926), The Love Nest (USA, d. Buster Keaton, 1923), The Immigrant (USA, d. Charles Chaplin, 1917). Approximately 71 minutes. DCP presentation.”

Outlaw and His Wife

Sunday, July 21 at 1:00 PM
The Outlaw and His Wife/Berg-Ejvind och hans hustru (Sweden, 1918)
Musical accompaniment by Matti Bye Ensemble
Director: Victor Sjöström
Cast: Victor Sjöström, Edith Erastoff, John Ekman, Jenny Tschernichin-Larsson, Artur Rolén, Nils Aréhn

“Produced during a renaissance in the Swedish film industry, The Outlaw and His Wife confirmed the promise of director Victor Sjöström, whose previous film, Terje Vigen, had been a big success for Svenska Biograf. Like a western with a romanticized renegade hero, The Outlaw and His Wife is the ballad of an accused thief on the run (played by Sjöström) who finds work on the farm of a generous, self-sufficient widow, and their growing attraction turns to love. When a jealous rival alerts the authorities to the thief’s real identity, the couple take off together into the wilds of Iceland. Approximately 105 minutes. 2013 35mm restoration courtesy of the Swedish Film Institute.”

Last Edition.3

Sunday, July 21 at 3:30 PM
The Last Edition (USA)
Musical accompaniment by Stephen Horne

“In 2011, film preservationist and SFSFF Board President Rob Byrne learned that an original nitrate print—the only known surviving copy—of The Last Edition existed in the vaults of the Dutch national archive. One of the few surviving films created by Emory Johnson in the mid-1920s, The Last Edition stars veteran actor Ralph Lewis as a pressman at the San Francisco Chronicle. Shot in and around the Chronicle building, the action-packed drama features thrilling chases throughout San Francisco, newspaper production from press to print, and a (literally) ‘stop the presses’ climax that includes a dramatic fire and rescue. This brand new restoration is the result of a partnership between EYE Film Institute Netherlands and the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. World Premiere! Approximately 105 minutes. 2013 35mm restoration.”

The Weavers

Sunday, July 21 at 6:00 PM
The Weavers/Die Weber (Germany, 1927)
Musical accompaniment by Günter Buchwald
Director: Friedrich Zelnik
Cast: Paul Wegener, Valeska Stock, Georg Burhahrdt, Emil Lind, Wilhelm Dieterle, Hermann Picha, Herta von Walther, Camilla von Hollay, Theodor Loos, Dagny Servaes

“Based on the 1892 play by Gerhart Hauptman dramatizing a Silesian cotton weavers uprising of 1844, The Weavers was once known as the German Potemkin. Its makers downplayed its radical message, but The Weavers resonated with viewers in 1927 whose social reality reflected a chasm between rich and poor. George Grosz’s sardonic, beautifully drawn intertitle art has been restored to this riveting film. Approximately 97 minutes. 2012 restoration courtesy of F. W. Murnau Stiftung and Transit Film GmbH. Screening in DCP.”

Safety Last Clock Scene

Sunday, July 21 at 8:30 PM
Safety Last! (USA, 1923)
Musical accompaniment by Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra
Directors: Sam Taylor, Fred Newmeyer
Cast: Harold Lloyd, Mildred Davis, Bill Strother, Noah Young, Westcott B. Clarke

“A bespectacled man hanging off the hands of a collapsing clock on the side of a skyscraper high above teeming city streets is one of the most indelible images of cinema. The thrilling climax of Safety Last! is made all the more exciting because Harold Lloyd, one of the masters of silent-era comedy, didn’t need CGI to make it happen. But why he is up there in the first place? A girl of course! Safety Last! takes a familiar story of a boy meets girl and turns it into high-art comedy. Layered with expert gags, the 1923 film inspired Pulitzer Prize-winning author James Agee to write of the climb: ‘Each new floor is like a stanza in a poem.’ Approximately 70 minutes. 2013 restoration courtesy of Janus Films, screening in DCP.”

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San Francisco Silent Film Festival Silent Winter 2013

The San Francisco Silent Film Festival‘s annual Silent Winter closed with the grand sounds of the Mighty Wurlitzer last night. I had to sit in my seat overwhelmed by the last film and the day for a moment. Before the festival’s end, we were treated to fairy tales, laughs, romance, heartbreak, and redemption. All this filled a thirteen-hour day, but it was worth sitting for so long. Any San Francisco Silent Film Festival event event offers the rare chance to see silents accompanied lived and with a grateful and appreciative audience, making it easy to feel like a time traveller for a day or weekend.

My impressions of the day’s films follow below!

Snow White Dances with Prince

Snow White (1916)
Marguerite Clark revises her hit stage role for this adaptation. While she was thirty-three when she made this movie, her movements, manner, dress, and styling come together to give an impression of youth. She’s the sweet soul whose fairytale existence turns into a nightmare.

Her beautiful mother dies young, and her father the King dies shortly after marriage to an evil, formerly ugly woman (Dorothy Cumming), who promised the heart of Snow White to Witch Hex in return for possessing a greater beauty than the girl’s. The witch strikes the deal due to her vanity–she’s bald and wants a full head of hair.

The newly widowed Queen Brangomar makes the rightful heir to the throne a household slave like that other fairytale heroine, Cinderella. There’s even a moment when her former handmaids act like Cinderella’s fairy godmother and dress Snow White in their clothes and accessories to attend a party, where she turns a princely head before having to flee. The Queen is enraged. She wanted the younger man for herself.

More trials upon the good are shown in the form of the hunstman Berthold (Lionel Braham). He’s an honorable man and father, but the Queen threatens to kill his brood unless he brings her Snow White’s heart. His attempt to save his children, yet spare Snow White, sets in motion the rest of the film.

There is more darkness to this retelling than later film versions. Jealousy, threats, dark magic, and death color scenes with dread and danger. This is countered by beauty, whimsy, and nature. The good are all beautiful or handsome or funny. They’re in harmony with the world and order (like Snow White led to safety by a bird) or work in the natural world (like Bethold and the dwarves). The dwarves provide humor, but their love and kindness makes them protect Snow White. Despite the happy ending, there’s the threat of potential chaos after-the-fact. A now hirsute Witch Hex and her strange humanoid cat not only survive, but also celebrate with the court.

One Week with Keaton & Seely

Think Slow, Act Fast: Buster Keaton Shorts (1920-1921)
Before attending the festival, I told my friend new to seeing silents live that Buster Keaton was handsome when he was young and that his segment was one she’d enjoy. She told me I was right on both accounts! Buster won over another filmgoer to silents.

The shorts screened were One Week (1920), The Scarecrow (1920), and The Play House (1921). When Buster is at his best, it’s easy to feel like Sybil Seely in a favorite scene from One Week. Chaos surrounds her. She sits inside a spinning house on a spinning chair, and she enjoys every moment laughing the whole time. Buster’s clever gags and freneticism take us all on a wild, fun ride. The only down moment was the audience’s palpable uncomfortableness at the minstrel scenes in The Play House, but it relaxed and laughed again once those scenes had passed.

Thief of Bagdad with Fairbanks & Johnston

The Thief of Bagdad (1924)
Douglas Fairbanks plays the titular thief, a lazy, self-absorbed, chaos bringer made less threatening and redeemable by the actor’s charms. When we first see the thief Ahmed, he’s like Aesop’s grasshopper. He lounges and plays. When he has a need to be met, he steals from one of the ants, the people whose work have provided them homes he loots for food and fun. What he wants, he takes with no thought to others. After stealing a magic rope, he breaks into the Caliph’s (Brandon Hurst) home, and the sight of the sleeping Princess (Julanne Johnston) makes him pause. She awakens him.

After getting chased off from the palace, he returns as an imposter and suitor. The Caliph is trying to marry off the Princess, so princes from around the world are presenting themselves for consideration. Marriage to her means inheriting and ruling the kingdom once her father dies. Ahmed as false prince actually fulfills a prophecy. One of the Princess’s slaves has the gift of sight-seeing. Whoever touches the rosebush first will marry the Princess. Ahmed gets thrown into the bush by his horse!

While he successfully woos the Princess, he falls in love and cannot lie to her anymore. A spy for one of the other suitors (Anna May Wong), the Mongol Prince (Sojin), overhears his confession, which she shares. This competitor uses the information to his advantage, and he informs the Caliph of the deception.

After a discovered Ahmed is once again chased out of the palace, the Caliph wants to force the Princess to make a choice. Her loyal soothsayer once again helps. She devises a delay. The Princess will marry after seven moons the man who brings her the rarest gift. The princes and Ahmed then travel the world seeking the rarest gift to win the Princess.

This fantastical world is created through grand sets and inhabited by mysterious beings and dangerous creatures. Fairbanks shows off his athleticism jumping, swinging, and battling man and creature through these sets. Their scale often dwarf him until close-up.

Everything proceeds very straightforwardly. If you want a simple tale of the hero’s journey, then this film succeeds. If you want more of the wit that glints in Fairbanks’ eyes, then you’ll wish that Anita Loos had punched up the intertitles or scenarios like I did. Despite this quibble, the film entertains and teaches. Who can argue with the moral of this tale? Happiness must be earned, and it is.

Mary Pickford & Charles "Buddy" Rogers in My Best Girl (1927)

My Best Girl (1927)
This sweet film goes down like a bon bon, but it also contains another false suitor and adds class angst. Mary Pickford plays Maggie Johnson, a working class girl. She takes a shine to the new stock boy at the five and dime, Joe (Buddy Rogers). At first he’s terrible at his job, but under Maggie’s tutelage he earns a promotion. The two fall in love during their time together. Maggie doesn’t know two important things. Joe already has a girlfriend, and his family owns the store. Their love gets tested by these revelations, his family’s disapproval, and her home life complicated by a troubled and trashy sister.

Some say you can see Mary and Buddy fall in love while making this picture. I’m not sure about that, but they have onscreen chemistry. Despite the out-of-date clothes Maggie wears, Mary looks pretty as Maggie. Her looks and sweetness make it believable that Joe would fall in love with her. Buddy is full of boyish charm and good looks. His clothes, energy, and any make-up used give him a modern, youthful look. If you look a little too closely at the pair and their scenes, Mary screens a little older than he. That’s due to her make-up, the sometimes hazy close-up lenses, and the unfashionable clothing, yet there is youthfulness in her looks and energy and that chemistry, so the pairing works.

This movie shares the theme with The Thief of Bagdad that happiness is earned. Maggie and her father (Lucien Littlefield) work to provide for the family. In fact Maggie often acts as their mother figure. Her mother (Sunshine Hart) is more interested in attending funerals than running her own home, and Maggie helps her sister Liz (Carmelita Geraghty) get out of constant scrapes. Liz is content to take anything given to her by her family. She doesn’t work, so she has time to get involved with ne’er-do-wells.

Maggie’s enmeshment with her family is presented as more of an obstacle than the class difference. Her first date with Joe runs long. No one in her family cooked dinner because they expected her to. Worse her sister gets in trouble with the law, and her parents don’t know what to do. Whether or not she can break away from them and their dependence on her provides drama to the comedy.

The most dramatic scene occurs in the family’s kitchen. I do not want to spoil the impact or surprise of the scene, but Maggie shows how much she loves Joe when Mary shows off her range of acting ability within minutes. It’s saddening and upsetting. Before long the sugary goodness of this romance returns. The film’s end uplifts and affirms romance.

Faust, Gretchen, & Mephisto

Faust (1926)
At first I was not going to stay for Faust. I’ve seen it before on the small screen, but I couldn’t remember a lot of this version, so I stayed. The high brought about by My Best Girl was destroyed. When the scholar Faust (Gösta Ekmann) makes deals with the Mephisto (Emil Jannings), Faust brings suffering to himself and anyone he loves, like the innocent Gretchen (Camilla Horn). She loses everything, her family, good name, baby, and eventually her life. The misery of what occurs onscreen is supposed to be tempered by the redemption of Faust’s soul and their love living on into the afterlife.

The film is a prime example of German Expressionism. The scenes are striking. Any still from the film likely looks like a piece of art. Strange angles and bold shadows dominate. They are anxiety-provoking. Within these sets and shots, Jannings runs through his arsenal of mannerisms and expressions. Some could be nightmare provoking, particularly when he’s in Mephisto’s true form.

Although all accompanists were excellent this day, Christian Elliott‘s performance on the Mighty Wurlitzer for this film was outstanding. At times the sound was booming and domineering, other times it was more subtle and sad. During the devil’s scenes, the organ’s sinister sounds amped up his awfulness. The organ’s final tones were exhilarant for Faust’s and Gretchen’s souls ascension to heaven.

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Feeling burdened by your daily drudgeries?

 
My Best Girl Pickford Pot & Pans
 
Always hanging out doing the same old thing?
 
c. 1920s: Actor Buster Keaton Dressed as a Scarecrow
 
Dreaming of doing something new?
 
Snow White 1916 MC Sleeping
 
Fear being led astray?
 
Faust Being Led
 
Get yourself down to the Castro Theatre!
 
Thief of Bagdad Carpet Ride
 
For a feast of films at the Silent Winter Event.
 
My Best Girl Dining
 
And for a royally good time!
 
Snow White Queen
 
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Charlie Chaplin Drag

Thanks to Project Rungay, I discovered designer John Galliano used comedian Charlie Chaplin as chief inspiration for the staging of his latest menswear show. It started with a model in Charlie Chaplin drag popping out of a clock reminiscent of the one from Modern Times while a sound excerpt from another Chaplin film, The Great Dictator, played.  Then as the dance beats took over various Chaplins paraded down the catwalk joined by Buster Keaton and maybe Max Linder. Eventually recognizable icons gave way to pretty boys who looked like they had escaped from a German Expressionist film via a late 80s night club. I’m not sure the show was cohesive in styling or even in its references, but it is a curiosity to watch as you can see below.