horror

You Know You’re a Film Fanatic When–This is Your Gym Tee!

Spellbound by Movie's Beth Ann Gallagher in Rock Rebel's Universal Monsters Collage Tee

I can’t resist showing my movie love when at my new gym. Since I’m only a beginner, its circuit training sessions are grueling, but I keep myself peppy by wearing film-related tees. Today’s reflected my lifelong enjoyment of the Universal Monsters series.

Starting as a tot, I’d tune in to local station WLVI for The Creature Double Feature every Saturday. The show didn’t have the typical costumed horror host, but the announcer was enthusiastic, and he never talked down about the material. The program’s introductory sequences built anticipation of what was to come by containing horror clips, sometimes altered in psychedelic ways, accompanied by electronic music and vocal effects.

I credit The Creature Double Feature as one of the influences that turned me into a film fanatic. It was pure cinema of entertainment until commercials temporarily interrupted whatever was onscreen. Besides Universal, the program showcased Toho Studio‘s giant monster movies, American International Pictures‘ fifties films, Hammer Studios, and Roger Corman‘s sixties horror flicks.

Mention The Creature Double feature to anyone who grew up watching it, and you’ll get a smile from someone eager to chat. The name acts like a secret handshake. If you search the web, you’ll find fan pages and a message board run by people nostalgic for the show. I even found a list of every movie it ever played. That’s a great help because I know I’ve watched Hammer movies, but sometimes I can’t remember which ones. I enjoyed them, but the melancholy monsters of Universal Studios stuck with me.

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San Francisco Silent Film Festival Preview, Part 1

The San Francisco Silent Film Festival is almost here! Its first film fills the Castro Theatre’s screen on Thursday night. We’ll rewind our scene to before its audience sits, before they pile into the picture palace, before they stand in a line snaking down Castro and stretching around the corner down 17th, and stop where they chat with anticipation about the experience that awaits them with their friends. Let’s take a look at the films selected to celebrate the festival’s twentieth anniversary.

All Quiet on the Western Front Field Juxtopostion

It’s incorrect to say the festival eases into its first screening with only one feature. A centerpiece film always kicks off the event in grand style. This year it’s the silent version of war film All Quiet On The Western Front (1930), directed by Lewis Milestone. There were actually two versions of the film made simultaneously, a sound version for English-speaking audiences and an “International Sound Version,” essentially a silent with a later added score and intertitles, written for foreign language markets. While the talkie version was nominated for four Academy Awards and won two, festival Artistic Director Anita Monga says, “Many people consider it to be superior to the sound version.” The epic devastatingly details what happens to a group of young German boys recruited to the trenches of World War I. The Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra accompany the film.

An off-site opening night party follows the movie. The McRoskey Mattress Company‘s top-floor loft turns into the Kit Kat Club, a 1920s Berlin cabaret hosted by Swedish chanteuse Clara Gustavsson. Also performing are the Craig Ventresco Trio, featuring Meredith Axelrod. Fine food and drink are part of the festivities. Your party ticket gets you nibbles from Poesia Osteria Italiana, wine from Barefoot Wine and Bubbly, beer from Sierra Nevada, and a special cocktail—the Voluptuous Panic—created by Bartavelle‘s Suzanne Drexhage. Vintage attire and dancing are encouraged! Something called the Naughty Boudoir Photo Booth makes a first appearance. Whether you enter the booth before or after imbibing is up to you!

2014 Amazing Tales From the Aarchives Bryony Presentation

Photo by Pamela Gentile from the San Francisco Silent Film Festival’s Site

If you attend the party, keep in mind that Day 2 of the fest begins bright and early at 10 AM with Amazing Tales from the Archives! If you miss this educational session, your hardcore silent film fan friends will brag about all the interesting facts they learned and rare films they saw. The ever entertaining Serge Bromberg, of Lobster Films, recounts finding Maurice Tourneur’s 1914 short Figures de Cire (House of Wax). Bryony Dixon brings a treasure trove of footage about the RMS Lusitania to mark the centennial of its sinking, and crowd favorite actor Paul McGann adds narration to her films. Festival President Robert Byrne describes the meticulous process of reconstructing and restoring William Gillette’s Sherlock Holmes. In recognition of another centennial, this time Technicolor‘s, Movette Film Transfer‘s Jennifer Miko screens a home movie shot at Hearst Castle and starring its architect Julia Morgan and W.R. HearstDonald Sosin accompanies this program.

Cave of the Spider Women

I’m excited this year’s Chinese selection deviates from past offerings. While the suffering women dramas previously screened, often starring Ruan Lingyu, were excellent, Cave of the Spider Women or Pan si dong (1927) offers something new to the program. It is a magic-spirit film, a genre popular in 1920s Shanghai, but quite rare to screen today due to so much of early Chinese film being lost. A nitrate 35mm print of the movie was discovered in the National Library of Norway‘s archives. This is not an unusual occurrence. Staffing and funding limitations mean that films listed as lost might lay in other archives undocumented and awaiting discovery and thus restoration before they deteriorate too badly to be saved. In the film. a monk and his followers—a monkey, pig, and shark spirit–search for Buddhist texts while facing dangers like the seductive Spider Queen and her handmaidens. Donald Sosin and Frank Bockius accompany the film.

When the Earth Trembled Poster

Poster Image Courtesy of EYE Filmmuseum, Desmet Collection

When the Earth Trembled (1913) fills the local interest slot. If you’re guessing by the title that it’s about the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, then you are correct! The movie may be the first fictional one made about the disaster, and it incorporates real newsreel footage shot in the earthquake’s aftermath. That’s of special note since the Lubin Manufacturing Company later lost the majority of its newsreel footage in a vault fire, so contained within this disaster epic is a chance to see true life scenes that otherwise would have been destroyed. Director Barry O’Neil‘s insistence on realistic recreations adds to the sense of danger. His leading lady Ethel Clayton almost died when a chandelier fell on her during an earthquake scene. Due to his attention to detail and film mogul Siegmund Lubin devoting four months to making the movie, when normally his studio cranked out two pictures a week, they produced a mega-spectacle that’s sure to thrill today. Multi-instrumentalist Stephen Horne accompanies the film.

F.W. Murnau Der letzte Mann 1924 Grooming Scene

Film critic Paul Rotha described The Last Laugh (1924), or Der letzte Mann, as “cine-fiction in its purest form.” Director F.W. Murnau‘s technique was revolutionary. He created a drama focused on an ordinary man’s fall using few intertitles, a fluid camera, and the best of Emil Jannings‘ acting ability. Jannings’ character, a hotel doorman, takes pride in the fine uniform his job provides him. The uniform brings him respect and gives him greater status in his workingclass neighborhood. When his job and uniform are taken away from him, his identity and position are the greater losses compared to the income. The perilousness of work instability and its impact on self-worth and class and social status can resonate for today’s audiences experienced in recession. Berklee Silent Film Orchestra, in its inaugural appearance accompanies the film.

Ghost Train 1927 Still

Image Courtesy of the British Film Institute

The Ghost Train (1927) is the first film adaptation of the popular stage play by Arnold Ridley. It blends horror and comedy elements in depicting what happens when strangers are stranded at a supposedly haunted train station. I’ve seen the 1941 version starring Arthur Askey, which emphasized comedy over the supernatural, and I’m looking forward to seeing how Hungarian director Géza von Bolváry was freer to play up the story’s spookier and darker aspects. After American horror hits Dracula and Frankenstein upset some vocal members of the public, the British Board of Film Censors created the H(orror) certificate as an advisement in 1932, but in reality that resulted in children under 16 being banned from cinemas showing films labeled such. British filmmakers avoided getting the certificate by avoiding the horror genre. Online clips from the silent version show clever uses of animation and superimposition. Stephen Horne and Frank Bockius accompany the film, and Paul McGann provides narration.

This concludes Part 1 of my San Francisco Silent Film Festival preview. Part 2 follows tomorrow!

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A Movie Manifesta

Spellbound by Movies is a passion project. I fell in love with movies at a young age. As an only child I might have been more susceptible to their lure. I was making up my own stories already, and I grew up in a place rich with history, which meant listening to others’ stories. Seeing a movie on the big screen or on TV, I was able to suspend my disbelief and let the magic of the movies wash over me.

Millicent Library Fairhaven Mass

In a lot of ways, I feel lucky to have grown up when I did. My family are moviegoers, and they took me when I was too little to take myself or make my own film choices. My maternal grandfather loved country music, and he used to make up stories of knowing cowboys like John Wayne or belles like Mae West. I knew his stories were fabrications, but they were fun nonetheless.

John Wayne Portrait

Weekend TV was full of classic comedies like Laurel and Hardy and Abbott and Costello as well as creature and horror features from Universal and other studios. Black and white was simply another viewing option, not an impediment to enjoyment. Some of the comedies were talkies and some were silent save for their musical score. All were funny.

Laurel and Hardy Sssh

We got cable when I was in elementary school, and my options of movie choices expanded. Perhaps M was a little intense for an elementary school-aged child to watch by herself, it was disturbing, but I was blown away by how powerful a movie it was and how a balloon floating away could say so much about another child’s fate. Channels like AMC and later TCM gave me greater exposure to film classics.

M Balloon Floating Away

Then the home video explosion occurred and became affordable, and I could watch anything available to rent on VHS from the teen favorites of those who a little older than I was to horror, foreign, art house and more. I was old enough not to drive yet, but I could rent my own movies. I kept watching as VHS shifted to DVDs and as my friends and I got old enough to drive ourselves.

Colleen Moore Electric Car Synthetic Sin

When I started taking film classes at my university, I came to some realizations. I had a very good memory for films and their details compared to my peers. I could recall scenes in detail they couldn’t, and I had aural abilities that allowed me to recognize pieces of music quickly, like soundtrack music. I had a facility for talking about film that improved under instruction. I also developed a greater appreciation for silent film inspired by a classroom screening of The Wind.

Lillian Gish at Door The Wind

When I left school, I graduated with a renewed love of film. It later showed itself in the silent film nights I organized at Flywheel, where I served as a member of the arts collective for several years. It shows itself in my reading choices and book collection and in the art I have on my walls. It shows in my movie logging on Twitter, where I often record watching out-of-print movies on VHS secured by interlibrary loan by my husband, also a movie lover.

Musidora as Irma Vep Stows Away Medium

Even though I may offer more criticism of the medium now, it’s done with love and enthusiasm, never cynicism or nihilism. My goals are to discuss the medium and to connect with others. If anything more comes from the blog, fantastic! If not, it’s time well spent. Who wouldn’t want to be spellbound at least once in a while?

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Elsa Lanchester, What A Character!

What A Character Blogathon 2012 Badge

This month I’m participating in the What A Character! Blogathon. Organized by Paula of Paula’s Cinema Club, Kellee of Outspoken & Freckled, and Aurora of Once Upon a Screen, the blogathon celebrates those character actors and actresses whose impact on classic film warrants as much attention and discussion as any star’s. My subject is Elsa Lanchester, best remembered today as the Bride of Frankenstein, despite a career that spanned over fifty years in film, cabaret, theatre, and television.

I ordered her out-of-print memoir, Elsa Lanchester Herself, to prepare:

Elsa Lanchester Herself Cover

I managed to score online a first edition in near fine condition with a dust jacket in similar condition and protected by a Brodart cover for a reasonable price. That was hard to do. There were a lot of ex-library and beat up copies flooding the online marketplace. That helps prove that at one time there was greater general interest in Elsa Lanchester.

I love the art deco design which extends to the decorations bookending each chapter number:

Elsa Lanchester Herself Chapter Number Art

While they appear to be peacock feathers, they manager to evoke the angle of the Bride’s very distinctive hairstyle. That must have been intentional!

And here is a sneak peak of Lanchester and her many characters:

The Many Faces of Elsa Lanchester


UPDATE: My contribution to the blogathon is now up! Click here to learn more about the talented Elsa Lanchester and her portrayal of Queenie in Bell, Book and Candle.


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