theater

Things You Find When You Live in a Former Movie Theatre

Living in a former movie theatre, it was the architecture of the place that connected my home to its former function–until this week. This week I went up into my attic, the former projection booth, to see how its roof has been holding up under the recent barrage of rain. My landlord was too good at clearing away the materials associated with movie exhibition. Most of the items in my attic were from recent tenants who used it as a dumping ground. I happened to notice a plastic shopping bag that hadn’t caught my eye before, and I picked it up to see what was inside. I found film!

As you can see above, the film isn’t in great shape. I stuck my nose in the bag to sniff. I was looking for a vinegar odor. That’s what decaying nitrate film stinks like. No such luck or peril! Touching the film, it felt like plastic. It must be safety stock. You can see the pieces vary in length, but all are short, and some have masking tape notations, which state the names of the movies they were once attached to. I had found mostly film leaders, the heads and ends of film used to thread movies into projectors.

I sorted through all the pieces to see if any contained images of interest. Most did not. I found some pieces with their titles imprinted on their frames, and I found three fragments of one theatre-specific film. I’ve included pictures of the ones that caught my attention the most in this post.

Two things I love about the above film leader–my home started as a silent movie theatre, so it’s fun to find a piece labelled sound, and the stencil font used is striking and vintage.

A lot of the film leaders are from sixties films, like this one for DEVIL’S ANGELS (1967), a Roger Corman production that starred actor and film director John Cassavetes.

NIGHTMARE IN WAX (1969) was a low budget horror movie that revisited the mad man populating his wax museum with stolen bodies plot.

Long-term readers of this blog know I am a Judy Holliday fan. I was smiling almost as big as Gladys Glover when she sees her first billboard when I found part of THE SOLID GOLD CADILLAC (1956) in my hands!

The above is my favorite! I’m guessing it is the oldest I found since it touts a Wednesday prize night, and it sports an Art Deco motif under the text. I’m going to take a closer look at it for dating. A visit to my town’s museum might help me find out what years the theatre ran their promotion. I’ve been meaning to go anyway!

Leave or Read Comments.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Fifi D'Orsay Thanksgiving Publicity Still

Things have been hectic at chez Spellbound. We’re moving! As I pack today, my husband’s been cooking our Thanksgiving dinner. While we hadn’t planned to move yet (our landlords are resuming occupancy of our apartment), something stressful has turned into a blessing. We’re relocating to a cool, new home–a loft on the second story of what used to be a movie theatre. We’re grateful for the family and friends who have been supportive through all parts of this process, and we can’t wait to settle into our new home.

I, also, can’t wait to take our turkey out of our oven like Fifi D’Orsay above. Marketed “The French Bombshell,” D’Orsay never set foot in France. She was born in Montréal, and her real name was Marie-Rose Angelina Yvonne Lussier. D’Orsay was clever. When auditioning for the Greenwich Village Follies, she sang her song in French to make herself stand out. She reinvented herself as an ex-Follies Bèrgere showgirl, and the Parisian persona stuck! Her career stretched from vaudeville to Hollywood movies to television to a final return to the stage, only on Broadway. She played Solange LaFitte, a former Follies star, in the Sondheim musical, FOLLIES. A perfect role to cap her career!

While I eat my meal tonight, I’ll take a moment to think of D’Orsay. I’m inspired by her ingenuity and drive, and those are traits I’ll call upon as Hubbs and I make a new home.

Leave or Read Comments.

San Francisco Silent Film Festival Preview, Why Be Good? (1929)

My San Francisco Silent Film Festival preview was interrupted due to being felled by a bug, but I want to mention a surefire hit of the fest screening today–Colleen Moore in Why Be Good? (1929).

Bodil Rosing & Colleen Moore in Why Be Good?

Bodil Rosing & Colleen Moore in Why Be Good? (1929)

Thanks to Ron Hutchinson and The Vitaphone Project, Colleen Moore returns to the festival in Why Be Good (1929)! Her Wild Oat Screened in 2008. Colleen may be eclipsed in current collective memory by another helmet bobbed honey Louise Brooks, but Colleen was the bigger star in her era. The loss of so many of her films, her lack of comparative screenings, a less dangerous, more girl next door sensuality than the troubled Louise, and those Pabst films helped history get revised to reflect contemporary popularity. Why Be Good? along with another new preservation effort, Synthetic Sin, will help Colleen get the attention and the acclaim she deserves today. Both films focus on the ideas of her being a good girl and what makes any woman good. They play around with Colleen’s good girl flapper comedienne image. Why Be Good? lays out how confusing being a modern maiden is for the woman and society. How game does she have to be to be considered fun and one of the gang before fellas, parents, and society misconstrue her character? There are plenty of gags, dancing, fashions, and Colleen to keep this upbeat. The Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra accompany this film.

Leave or Read Comments.

San Francisco Silent Film Festival Preview, Part 2

SPEEDY (Paramount, 1928) Harold Lloyd, Ann Christie

Speedy (1928) Photo Courtesy of the Harold Lloyd Trust

Saturday morning’s program starts with the family-friendly Speedy (1928), and some parents likely will bring their tots for an outing to this screening. I love seeing kids getting their introduction to silents or enjoying a return trip to the festival. Comedies are a great gateway into silent film for all ages. In this slapstick feature, Harold Lloyd plays baseball obsessed Harold “Speedy” Swift, who can’t keep a job as well as he can keep up with his team. His being able to find a job every Monday after he’s lost one the previous week keeps dashing the marriage hopes of his honey, Jane Dillon (Ann Christy). While the younger generation discovers life’s tribulations anew, Speedy’s dad Pop Dillon (Bert Woodruff) moves more slowly. He’s the last horse-drawn streetcar driver in New York City, and a wheeler and dealer wants Pop’s track. Will big business push or buy him out? A son’s love for his father becomes an indefatigable force in a battle for a family’s future. The Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra accompanies the film.

Visages d'enfants Table Scene with Mother

Visages d’enfants (1925)

Visages d’enfants (1925), or Faces of Children, is another film that focuses on a family. It covers a theme that often appears at this festival–what makes a family. Son Jean Amsler (Jean Forest) is only a child, and he’s having a hard time coping with his mother’s passing. His father Pierre (Victor Vina) temporarily sends Jean away, and Pierre remarries during his son’s absence. Jean returns to a household changed once again. Not only does he get a Step-Mother (Jeanne Dutois played by Rachel Devirys), but also he gains a Step-Sister (Arlette portrayed by Arlette Peyran). He takes his resentment of Jeanne out on Arlette, and his actions escalate until they could cause a tragedy. Director Jacques Feyder‘s exploration of psychological family drama and childhood grief earned him critical acclaim, and it’s been called his best workStephen Horne accompanies the film.

Capra's The Donovan Affair (1929)

The Donovan Affair (1929)

Silent film purists might object to the The Donovan Affair (1929) being placed on the schedule. Technically it’s only a silent through circumstance. Director Frank Capra filmed the dark house mystery as a talkie. It was “his first ‘100% all-Dialogue Picture.’” “Its original soundtrack, recorded on transcription discs,” was lost. Ignore the pedants! The solutions to the challenges this screening presents are fun. Bruce Goldstein, director of programming at New York’s Film Forum, made it his mission to make screening the film possible. The original script was lost, but he found “half the dialogue in the archives of the now-defunct New York State Censorship Board.” He searched for actors with a feel for the era who could convincingly sound of it and become the voices of Capra’s onscreen cast. Goldstein’s actors became the Gower Gulch Players, and they helped him recreate the script further. They pieced together more of the movie’s dialogue through lipreading its actors. Pianist Steve Sterner created the film’s “new score.” This will be the troupe’s fourth public performance of The Donovan Affair. Frank Buxton is a guest performer.

Flesh and the Devil (1926)  Directed by Clarence Brown Shown: Greta Garbo, John Gilbert

Flesh and the Devil (1926)

Flesh and the Devil (1926) starring John Gilbert and Greta Garbo likely will be a sold-out screening, so you should get the the Castro Theatre early for this film! A crowd will turn-out to see Garbo and Gilbert sizzle on the screen. Their character’s onscreen romance was paralleled by the actors’ offscreen one, and because Gilbert fell hard for his leading lady, he made sure she would shine in what was only her third American picture. Gilbert was the bigger, more established star of the two, and Irving Thalberg, “banked on his highest paid player to help define an unknown entity.” Gilbert’s help went much further than agreeing to stare with the mysterious new discovery and share equal billing. He was an experienced actor, and he was a screenwriter and an assistant director. While she had “It,” he had the knowledge of what worked in front of the camera. He asked for retakes of any scenes where Garbo could have shone better,  and he didn’t object to camera angles designed or requested to show off her beauty. Garbo was grateful for his help. “If he had not come into my life at this time, I should probably have come home to Sweden at once, my American career over.” While the behind-the-scenes history of the movie overshadows its conventional romantic melodramatic plot of a friendship torn apart by a woman’s love, its luminous stars and their multi-layered romances show the power silent film icons had to seem more than us watching them on the screen. They were bigger in size, the most beautiful, grander in lifestyle, fuller of feeling, and capable of great love.

From the silent film community’s murmurings after 2014’s Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pan (1922) will be the sleeper hit of the San Francisco festival. Descriptions of Knut Hamsun‘s book make it seem a straightforward tale. Two disparate strangers are pulled together by an “overwhelming attraction“. She is a wealthy, educated townswoman, and he is an ex-soldier turned hunter living in a forest with his dog. Despite their love, they don’t understand each other’s ways, and they seem fated not to be together. It’s the rendering of this story that makes it outstanding. Silent London wrote, “Lush, detailed photography, delicately tinted, with epigrammatic intertitles, and many a layer of mystery to uncover, this was a film of great beauty and unique oddity.” Pan was a success, but it was Harald Schwenzen‘s only directing credit. He’s like the debut novelist who retires after writing a masterpiece. See why the Film Noir Foundation said Pan “secured Schwenzen’s reputation in cinema history.” Guenter Buchwald accompanies the film.

There it is (1928), a Charley Bowers Silent Comedy

There It Is (1928)

More all ages comedy kicks off Sunday’s screenings! There’s an entire program devoted to the shorts of The Amazing Charley Bowers.  He was almost forgotten in his home country the United States until “Serge Bromberg of Lobster Films revived his oeuvre in 2010.” The shorts he restored are thought to be a portion of Bowers’ existing work. More may exist in archives. What a shame it would be for Bowers’ works to be lost by lack of interest! His films are surrealistic slapstick outings mixing live action with animation and often featuring “complex Rube Goldberg gadgets.” The best comedians make us look at the world or life in a new way while we laugh, and Bowers had that talent and a singular vision. Who else would make a film starring a kilt mad laddie investigating a mystery with a cockroach detective also clad in a kilt? No wonder Bowers was beloved by André Breton and the Surrealists. Featured shorts include A Wild Roomer (1926, 24 minutes), Now You Tell One (1926, 22 minutes), Many a Slip (1927, 12 minutes), and There It Is (1928, 17 minutes). Serge Bromberg accompanies the films.

Ménilmontant directed by Dimitri Kirsanoff, 1926

Ménilmontant (1926)

Avant-Garde Paris showcases two films from 1920s Paris that illustrate the creative experimentation of the city, making it a beacon for artists.

Emak-Bakia (1927, 16 minutes) is a cinépoème by visual artist Man Ray. The title is “Basque for Leave me alone.How that relates to the film is up to individual interpretation. After the title and credits, the first image seen is a man with his camera with human eye on its side, so everything that follows could be a film dreamed up by a crazed cinematographer. Light, image, double exposure, speed, rhythm, angle, extreme close-ups, and a sometimes unsteady camera are played with. Images range from the abstract to the identifiable. Fans of vintage personalities should know Kiki of Montparnasse (Alice Prin) makes an appearance. Earplay accompanies the film with a score created by Nicolas Tzortzis.

Ménilmontant (1926, 44 minutes) may look more conventional in comparison to Emak-Bakia, since the former film is a narrative, but Ménilmontant’s director Dimitri Kirsanoff experimented with techniques and images in telling a comprehendible story, and he didn’t use intertitles. His leads (Nadia Sibirskaïa and Yolande Beaulieu) portray two sisters. When the film starts, they look like innocent D.W. Griffith heroines. The girls are wearing big bows, running about, and playing with each other and their cats. An axe murderer kills their parents, and their lives are disrupted. When we next see them, they’re chaperoneless young women of the flapper era, and their bond is threatened by a man with no intent of joining the family.  Stephen Horne accompanies the film.

My San Francisco Silent Film Festival preview continues with Part 3 tomorrow. If you missed Part 1 of my preview, you can read it here.

Leave or Read Comments.

 

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!

Leave or Read Comments.

San Francisco Silent Film Festival Official Press Accreditation

San Francisco Silent Film Festival Poster 2015

Saturday’s post was the start of my San Francisco Silent Film Festival coverage. I’m happy to announce Spellbound by Movies has received official press accreditation to the festival! In the coming days, look to this blog for an in-depth preview to the festival, an interview or two, and onsite write-ups. I’ll be live-tweeting the event here as well.

If you’re attending the event, please comment and let me know! If you cannot attend, I hope my posts will give you a sense of what the festival and this years’ films are like.

Leave or read comments.

You Know You’re A Film Fanatic When–Judy Holliday!

Judy Holliday as Billie Dawn Posing in front of a Dictionary

 

You know you’re a film fanatic when you get emotional defending Judy Holliday‘s 1950 Oscar win for Born Yesterday to your husband–and he agrees with you the whole time!

Judy had formidable competition that year. She was up against Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard, Bette Davis and Anne Baxter for All About Eve, and Eleanor Parker for Caged. While the other actresses starred in dramas and noirs with camp elements, Judy was the only lead in a straight comedy. Two out of the four films, Sunset Boulevard and All About Eve, continue to inspire rabid devotion today. Anyone with general classic film knowledge knows those films.

Judy’s legacy has another hurdle. She’s not as well-known to people who aren’t classic film fans, and even some classic film fans aren’t too familiar with her. Also a stage actress, Judy left a limited amount of filmed work when she died young, and not all of it is in-print to view at home. In stills, she looks like yet another actress playing yet another voluptuous, dumb blonde.

On film, she could take a role that would be a caricature in lesser hands and make her a character. She never overintellectualized her roles. She made being and seeming look easy. Judy had that same ability as Clara Bow to quickly shift emotions and thoughts across her face. She could make you laugh and break your heart at the same time, and she did as Billie Dawn in Born Yesterday. Out of the four nominees, she’s the only one whose role I can’t imagine being played by another with the same impact. She owned her part. No one else would have given as an affecting or original performance as Billie.

Leave or Read Comments.

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.


Leave or Read Comments.