September 20, 2010

The Need for "Speed"

Speed (1922)
Coming attraction slides held a relatively unique position in realm of motion picture advertising.  Along with trailers, slides are the only advertising medium displayed exclusively to audiences - seated patrons in the auditorium who had already purchased a ticket.  Their purpose was not to immediately lure customers into the cinema such was generally the case with posters, handbills, lobby displays, newspaper advertising, etc.  Instead, slides and trailers were designed to entice cinema patrons to return again, at a later date, in expectation that the advertised program would be as exciting and wonderful as promised.

Unlike film trailers, which have the advantage of using motion pictures to display scenes from the film to reveal plot plot and genre, and animated text and graphics to pique curiosity and generate interest; slides were required to do the same within the confines of a single static image.  What trailers attempted to accomplish in 15-60 seconds of moving pictures (and after after 1927, sound motion pictures), slides were required to do so within the context of a single silent image.

Slide designers often used collage in order to incorporate as many different elements as possible, thereby appealing to the broadest possible range of interests.  One of my favorite examples in this respect is the slide for the Pathé serial Speed (1922).  The graphics for this 15-episode serial promise a cornucopia of excitement featuring an action hero paired with an apparently hazard-prone heroine in (frequent) need of rescue.  The design for the slide revolves around the the central graphic of the female rescue, surrounded by a constellation of perilous scenarios:  an airplane, a speeding locomotive, a bucking bronco, a rescue at sea, tight rope walking, a high dive, a horse racing an automobile, a derailing caboose, and (of course) alligator wrestling.

If it's excitement you want, don't miss Speed!

New episodes play in this theatre every Wednesday evening.

September 16, 2010

D.W. Griffith Meets the Mystery Woman

Today we have two generic "fill in the blank" slides featuring personality portraits.  Slides of this style often lack any pre-printed text,  featuring only a graphic design or photograph above or alongside a blank space in which exhibitors could write messages appropriate to their programming needs. 

These two slides originated from different manufacturers, though judging from the text and handwriting were used in the same venue.  The first slide below was manufactured by Novelty Slides, Inc., while the second one comes from Universal Film Manufacturing.  Both companies were located in New York City. 
Generic message slide, D.W. Griffith, Novelty Slides Inc., Inc (c. 1912-15?)

While neither slide includes any text identifying the individuals depicted in their respective portraits, the male figure is obviously a young D.W. Griffith.

I have located the original Griffith portrait in Richard Schickel's biography D.W. Griffith:  An American Life, in which he dates the image to circa 1908, stating "This is one of a group of formal portraits for with the actor-playwright sat around the time he was making his first reluctant forays into filmmaking."

D.W. Griffith portrait (c. 1908)
This 1908 date for the portrait marks the earliest possible date for the slide, though it only makes sense that a slide featuring his portrait would have been created after his rise to prominence, probably 1912-13 at the very earliest and more likely a couple of years after that.

The slide featuring the female portrait presents a mystery (to me).  It is likely that the woman is also a motion picture personality, but her face is not immediately recognizable (again, to me).

It may also be possible that the red dice floating around her portrait have significance, such as a reference to a particular role, or that score of the dice toss (10-5) may mean something.
Generic message slide, unidentified woman, Universal Film Mfg. Co. (circa ?)
Of course the minute I post this article I fully expect to receive to hear from someone that setting me straight on her identity - in fact, I sincerely hope so.

What do you think?

Any clues?

Share your thoughts - just click on the "comments" link below and start typing.

September 13, 2010

Bollywood!

Zorro (India, 1975)
There is probably no film genre on earth that I know less about than Bollywood - but what I have discovered is that India had a history of using lantern slides to advertise coming attractions.
Geet Gaaya Pattharone (India, 1964)
Baazi (India, 1968)

I recently came across this handful of Indian slides, advertising film titles with release dates ranging from 1964 to 1983.

 This tiny sample can provide only the most meager clues as to the extent that slides were used to advertise in Indian cinemas, but at least it's a beginning.

One aspect of this collection is that it slightly expands my global time-line.  Prior to finding these slides, the most recent commercial slide I had encountered was a 1982 Australian slide for PoltergeistSati Naag Kayna now expands the time-line to 1983 and a I have a feeling additional slides will inevitably turn up that extend the envelope even further.

Film production in India began during the silent era.  Is it possible that slide advertising for Indian produced films could reach that far back? 

Khel Kilhari Ka (India, 1977)
Sati Naag Kayna (India, 1983)
Physically, the slides are manufactured using two-pane construction and measure 3 ¼ inches square - the same dimensions used everywhere except the United States.  The thickness of the glass, however, is considerably thicker than was used in any other locale.  The glass two panes are taped together using either black or brown masking tape, and none of the slides in the group have any marks or printing that indicate the name or location of the manufacturer

Though I have had only this brief introduction to slides of this genre, I very much enjoy the graphic color and aesthetic design.  Aside from the Baazi, which looks like it could be any mid-1960s American thriller, the slides definitely have a style all their own.

September 11, 2010

Britian Goes Silent

And now!  Yet another update to my global timeline.  Today's update is prompted by two silent-era British slides which were brought to my attention by  Donata Pesenti, conservatore at the Museo Nazionale del Cinema in Turin, Italy.  I have always assumed that lantern slides had been used in Britain during the silent era, but until now had not come across specific examples.

The Merry Madcap (USA, 1915)
These two examples, which are the only coming attraction slides in the Museo's vast collection of over 8,000 slides, are interesting for several reasons.

The slide for The Merry Madcap (USA, 1915) is notable because it is the earliest non-US coming attraction slide that I have encountered.  It measures to the standard European dimension of 3 ¼ square and was professionally manufactured.  It is also interesting that even at this very early stage, this UK slide included the four pre-printed choices for advertising the program start date:  "Coming Shortly," "Next Week," "Monday Next," and "Thursday Next."

These are exactly the same options, and printed in exactly the same format, that UK slides use all the way into the 1950s (described in my August 4 article, Attractions Across the Atlantic.)


The Ever Open Door (UK, 1920)
The other second slide in the Museo collection advertises The Ever Open Door (UK, 1920), and represents the earliest non-US slide I have encountered for a film not produced in the United States.  The film was a crime drama produced by Ideal Studios ("'IDEAL' Pictures are Ideal Pictures") in the UK, directed by Fred Goodwins and starring Hayford Hobbs, Daphne Glenn, Margaret Hope, Sydney Wood, Terence Cavanagh, and Ralph Forster.

With these new examples, my work-in-progress (and sure to be revised again shortly) timeline of professionally produced coming attraction slides looks like this

  • Australia:  1930-1982
  • Canada:  1943-44
  • India:  Professional slides, time line coming soon
  • Ireland:  Only hand-made slides
  • Netherlands:  Only hand-made slides
  • New Zealand:  Evidence of professional slides, no specific examples yet
  • UK:  1915-1956 
  • USA:  1913-1952
One final observation regarding the Museo collection comes not by way of what is in the collection, but what is not.  What cannot be found in their collection are coming attraction slides from any other European country.  The Museo is a very important and prestigious institution with an incredibly rich collection, and yet not a single coming attraction from any other country.  While my search goes on, I am beginning to think that European cinemas did not regularly use lantern slides to advertise motion pictures.  In fact, with the exception of India, perhaps the practice is unique to countries where English the the primary language.

Will this theory hold up?

Stay tuned...

September 7, 2010

Reporting from Hollywood: Cinecon 46

The Green Archer (1940)
Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending the 46th annual Cinecon Classic Film Festival in Hollywood.

The five day festival primarily featured films from the mid-teens to the late-thirties and focused to a great extent on forgotten, or at least seldom seen, titles.  Of course there are often reasons why a title is seldom screened, but even in cases when a film was not Great Cinema (such as was the case with The Green Archer (1940)) it was always Great Fun.

The festival runs a jam packed schedule, with screenings at the Egyptian Theater running back-to-back starting early each day and often continuing past midnight. 

The Freshman (1925)
My favorite aspect of the programming was its great variety, spanning a wide range of eras and genres.  In a way, it was a Whitman's Sampler of classic cinema.  How else would you characterize programming that included Jean Harlow, Constance Talmadge, Claire Trevor, William S. Hart, Bing Crosby, Nita Naldi, Laurel & Hardy, Fanny Ward, Harold Lloyd, and Milton Sills?

The Testing Block (1920)
 In addition to the film programming, Cinecon places a significant emphasis on memorabilia collecting.  In fact, my ongoing search for coming attraction slides and the opportunity to meet collectors was one of the major objectives for making the trip.    In addition to the screenings, the festival hosts a separate convention area for professional memorabilia dealers in which could be found a massive variety of posters, lobby cards, stills, magazines, media, and movie related ephemera - everything except lantern slides. 

This dearth of slides among the dealers was not unexpected and I wasn't disappointed.  My trip to Cinecon this year was to check out the program, renew acquaintances, and to make new friends - and from that perspective the festival was a roaring success.

Cinecon 47 in 2011?

I'll see you there!

September 6, 2010

Sing Along With Roscoe!

"Oh Helen" song slides based on Love (1919)
Though my intent with STARTS THURSDAY!  is to focus exclusively on coming attraction advertising, there are sometimes slides beyond that scope that are just too wonderful not to share.  Such is the case with this delightful set of sing-along slides featuring Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle.  These came to my attention by Donata Pesenti Campagnoni, conservatore at the Museo Nazionale del Cinema in Torino who so generously shared these images with me.

The seven slides in this series are illustrated using scenes from the two reel Comique comedy Love (1919), starring and directed by Roscoe Arbuckle, with cast members including: Al St. John, Winifred Westover, Frank Hayes, and Monty Banks.  Among this cast, Westover, Banks, and of course, Arbuckle, are pictured in the "Oh Helen" slides.

According to Starts Thursday friend Galen Wilkes, it is uncommon to see illustrated song slides as late as this 1919 series.  Galen also noted that the practice of putting lyrics (not just the chorus) in sing-along slides was introduced around 1910 by Century Slides.

Roscoe Arbuckle in Love

Winifred Westover and Roscoe Arbuckle in Love

Winifred Westover and Roscoe Arbuckle in Love

Roscoe Arbuckle and Winifred Westover in Love

Roscoe Arbuckle and Winifred Westover in Love

Monty Banks, Roscoe Arbuckle, and Winifred Westover in Love

Interestingly (perhaps) the sheet music for "Oh Helen" was published in 1918, some time before the the film Love was released (March 2, 1919).  The cover for the sheet music is dedicated simply to Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, Paramount Star, and prominently features his portrait, but makes no mention of any specific film title.  This leads to one possible conclusion that the song was not originally published with any particular film in mind, or that Standard Slide Company just opportunistically combined images from Love with the musical lyrics of the featured "Comic Stuttering Song."  This conclusion seems even more plausible since the film itself contains no reference or comic business to stuttering.

Sheet music for "Oh Helen" (1918)




Slide images in this article courtesy of Museo Nazionale del Cinema, Torino, Italy.