December 28, 2011

Twenty-Five New Inductees for National Film Registry

Coming attraction slides for 2011 National Film Registry inductees:
The Kid (1921) and The Iron Horse (1924)

Yesterday the Library of Congress announced twenty-five new inductees to the National Film Registry.  Every year the Librarian of Congress selects twenty-five American films for addition to the Registry based on suggestions from the library’s National Film Preservation Board as well as the general public.  This years selection included silent era masterpieces such as Charlie Chaplin's The Kid (1921) and John Ford's The Iron Horse (1924), as well as Thanhouser Studio's child labor exposé The Cry of the Children (1912).

Attention of the popular press has focused on the elevation of Forrest Gump (1994) and The Silence of the Lambs (1991), the only two films of recent decades to make the cut.  I am personally struck in Gumplike wonder to see these listed as two of our country's most “culturally, historically or aesthetically” significant motion pictures.  They are fine films to be sure, but it is bewildering to see them so honored when so many films of higher merit remain in the shadows.  

Citizen input is an important component of selection process.  Visit the National Film Registry web site to submit your nominees for 2012.  

The 25 films selected this year for preservation as part of the National Film Registry include:
  • Allures (1961)
  • Bambi (1942)
  • The Big Heat (1953)
  • A Computer Animated Hand (1972)
  • Crisis: Behind A Presidential Commitment (1963)
  • The Cry of the Children (1912)
  • A Cure for Pokeritis (1912)
  • El Mariachi (1992)
  • Faces (1968)
  • Fake Fruit Factory (1986)
  • Forrest Gump (1994)
  • Growing Up Female (1971)
  • Hester Street (1975)
  • I, an Actress (1977)
  • The Iron Horse (1924)
  • The Kid (1921)
  • The Lost Weekend (1945)
  • The Negro Soldier (1944)
  • Nicholas Brothers Family Home Movies (1930s-40s)
  • Norma Rae (1979)
  • Porgy and Bess (1959)
  • The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
  • Stand and Deliver (1988)
  • Twentieth Century (1934)
  • War of the Worlds (1953)

December 25, 2011

These Amazing Shadows

Coming attraction slide for Casablanca (1942)
Inducted to National Film Registry 1989

"It is absolutely imperative that we save the art form of the twentieth century.
How can we not?"
 -- Robin Blaetz, These Amazing Shadows

Time is growing near for the National Film Preservation Board to announce its 2011 inductees into the National Film Registry.  The Registry was created in 1988 by an act of Congress in reaction to Ted Turner's quest to colorize "his films" and recognizes American films deemed to be "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."  The current list of 550 titles (soon to be 575) represents a roll call of cinema treasures, and includes selections from every genre: documentaries, home movies, Hollywood classics, avant-garde, sponsored films, newsreels, actualities, and silent films.

Coming attraction slide for Nanook of the North (1922)
Inducted to National Film Registry 1989
Just in time for the holidays, not to mention the announcement of this year's inductees, comes a wonderful new documentary, These Amazing Shadows, which premieres at 10pm this Thursday (check your local listings!) on the PBS series Independent Lens.  

Rich with imagery, These Amazing Shadows interweaves clips from honored films with interviews of famous actors and directors, but also with archivists, scholars and historians such as Rick Prelinger, Jan-Chris Horak, and Starts Thursday! guest contributor Shelley Stamp.

I was fortunate enough to receive an advance screener of the film and I promise you won't want to miss the broadcast.

These Amazing Shadows tells the story of the passage of the National Film Preservation act of 1988 and how it established a system for identifying noteworthy films.  The Librarian of Congress, with input from the public as well as members of the National Film Preservation Board, selects twenty-five films each year for addition to the registry.  The Registry is not intended to be a "best of" list, though clearly many of our greatest films are listed.  Instead its purpose is to acknowledge the role motion pictures play in shaping and reflecting our history and cultural values.

Coming attraction slide for Easy Rider (1969)
Inducted to National Film Registry 1998
These Amazing Shadows also explores the impact films have had on our collective memory and American attitudes from a variety of perspectives, most pointedly in the history race relations as reflected in such films as The Birth of a Nation (1915) and John Ford's The Searchers (1956).

Personally, I especially appreciated the amount of time the documentary devoted to the dark corners of American film making - sponsored films, early women film makers, home movies, and independent films.  Did I love it that Shelley Stamp received copious screen time to discuss Lois Weber while Citizen Kane (1941) and Gone With the Wind (1939) went completely unmentioned?  I certainly did.  Likewise, how great was it to see local hero Rick Prelinger speak at length about propaganda films and The House in the Middle (1954).

Coming attraction slide for The Thief of Bagdad (1924)
Inducted to National Film Registry 1996
This attention to the full range of motion picture history is ultimately what I feel is These Amazing Shadows greatest strength.  It would be have been an easy cop-out to string together the usual set of  "greatest hits" clips:  Scarlet O'Hara refusing to go hungry, Charles Foster Kane whispering "Rosebud," and Bogie playing it again.  

If you've ever tried to explain film preservation to a friend, spending an hour with These Amazing Shadows may do the trick.  According the press release, film makers Paul Mariano and Ken Norton "show us how movies are part of our history, part of our culture, and part of ourselves."

I couldn't have said it better myself.

These Amazing Shadows 
Starts Thursday (of course), December 29
10pm on PBS Independent Lens

Tell 'em SilentRobert sent yuh.

December 23, 2011

This Week! The (Original) Gold Rush in San Rafael

Coming attraction slide for The Gold Rush (1925)

Of all the silent films I have seen, and there have been thousands, Chaplin's The Gold Rush (1925) is without a doubt the closest to my heart.  As I teenager I discovered silent film through the 8mm holdings of the local university library.  Their collection held only five titles: Metropolis, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Battleship Potemkin, The Phantom of the Opera, and The Gold Rush.  I borrowed, borrowed, and re-borrowed those five titles watching them over and over, the only soundtrack being the click-click-click of my little Eumig projector.  I don't know if anybody else ever borrowed them, possibly they never had the chance since I always had them out.  I remember well The Gold Rush being first that I watched and by the time Charlie finished "dancing" the Oceana Roll I was hooked for life.

Despite timeless acclaim for the film, the original silent version of The Gold Rush has been the most challenging of Chaplin's features to see in a theatrical setting.  Ironically (or not), the villain has been sound.  In 1942 Chaplin re-worked and re-released the film with a synchronized sound track.  He replaced the intertitles with narration (hear Charlie speak!), added sound effects and a musical score of his own composition, and re-edited, rearranged, and trimmed certain sequences.  Furthermore, by adding sound the film required projection at 24 frames per second, speeding up the action and reducing the film's overall running time.  All told, the 1942 re-release plays seven minutes shorter than the original and is a huge disappointment compared to this original 1925 version.  What's worse, until very recently the sound version has been the only version available for theatrical screening.

But wait!  It's a Christmas miracle!  This week the San Rafael Film Center is screening a beautiful  newly restored 35mm print of the original silent version.  The excised footage has been restored, the narration removed, and with the permission of the Chaplin estate, composer Timothy Brock has extended Chaplin's 1942 orchestral score to accommodate is original 90 minute length.

The Gold Rush plays through Thursday at the Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center (1118 Fourth Street).  Info and showtimes:

Happy Holidays!

December 9, 2011

Solve the Mystery! Name the Stars!

Advertising slide for Movie Star Dance (April 28, 1917)
It's time for audience participation!  Can you name these six dancing stars?  In 1917 their images alone were (presumably) enough to sell the show.  That must have been the case since the advertiser found it unnecessary to include their names in the advertising slide.  Apparently he slept through the lesson where they taught the the Four W's of Advertising.

Through diligent research (meaning that I asked my good friend David Kiehn) we have confirmed identification for 4/6 of the cameos.  I'm kicking myself for missing one that I should have recognized immediately, but the others would definitely have taken some digging.

Have you figured them out yet?

Still scratching your head?

The year 1917 was just the beginning for these four, all went on to long and successful careers in film, and even television for two of them.

I'm stalling now, giving you time to think.

Seriously, you don't recognize any of them?

How about a list of their most recents films at the time of the dance?

  • Susie, The Sleuth (April 16, 1917)  [Vitagraph] 
  • Sleeping Fires (April 15, 1917)  [Famous Players]
  • The Hawk (April 23, 1917)   [Vitagraph]
  • God's Man (April 1917)   [Frohman Amusement]

 Give up?

The four stars identified thus far are: Pauline Frederick (top right), Antonio Moreno (bottom left), Edward Earle (bottom middle) and Earle Williams (bottom right).

And now the fun really begins!  ...who are the other two?  ...the women at the top left and center?

Solve the mystery by entering your answer as a comment below.

Please hurry, I'm dying to know.


UPDATE: December 11, 2011

Peggy Hyland
(top center in slide)
Alice Brady
(top left in slide)
We have a winner!  Many many thanks to Mary who dug in and found reference to this event in the April 21, 1917 issue of Moving Picture World.  The two missing pieces of our puzzle are Alice Brady (top left) and Peggy Hyland (top center).

The dance held in the Baltimore Lyric Theatre and was apparently quite the affair, including a "grand march" that preceded the festivities.  Other participating stars not included in this slide were: Ethel Clayton, Anita Stewart, Carlyle Blackwell, Thomas Meighan, and Robert Warwick.

Undoubtedly a good time was had by all.

Moving Picture World, April 21, 1917, page 406

November 13, 2011

Play Ball with Doraldina!

Coming attraction slide for The Untamed Woman (1920)
The wonderful, the fabulous, the exotic DORALDINA!  Born in 1888, San Franciso native, Doraldina (nee Dora Sanders)  found fame performing the hula on the stage in The Road to Mandalay and Frivolities of 1920.  Publicized in today's featured slide as "The World's Dancing Sensation," Doraldina wrote, produced, and starred in The Woman Untamed a melodrama featuring herself as a lovely castaway believed to be a goddess by the local natives.  The feature led to a contract with Metro, with whom she starred in Passion Fruit (1921) which was filmed on location at Monterey, CA.  In Passion Fruit Doraldina starred as the daughter of a South Seas plantation owner desired by a ruthless overseer.

Movie Mirror magazine cover (1920)
According to Who's Who on the Screen (1920),

"Doraldina, one of the newest of Metro stars, though given a splendid opportunity to display her histrionic talents as an actress, will, nevertheless, retain in her pictures the familiar Hawaiian setting with which her legion of admirers have come to associate her. Beginning her career as a manicurist in a San Francisco hotel, Doraldina's rise to fame and stardom comes as a fitting climax to a career during which she put forth every effort to please a discriminating public. Studying the dancing art first in New York, and then in Barcelona, Spain, she returned to New York where her career an dancer, actress, and screen star made of her a national figure. Her first Metro production is "Passion Fruit."

"Histrionic talents" indeed.

The AFI Catalog credits Doraldina with three screen roles:
  • The Naulahka (1918) in which she plays Sitahbai, an exotic dancer from India.
  • The Woman Untamed (1920) which (unsurprisingly) contained many scenes of her performing.
  • Passion Fruit (1921) in which includes no mention of dancing in the synopsis.
While it is not clear whether any of Doraldina's features have survived, her motion picture legacy has not been completely obliterated - at least as far as sports fans are concerned.

On April 2, 1918 she was the featured attraction at the 1918 opening day celebration for the Oakland Oaks baseball team of the Pacific Coast League.  The Oaks opened their home season against the cross-bay rival San Francisco Seals and Doraldina threw out the ceremonial first pitch for the game.

As you can see, she was the hit of the day.

Play Ball!

November 4, 2011

Seeing Double with Eva Novak

Coming attraction slide for The Smart Sex (1921)

You don't need a fine eye to spot the similarities between these slides for two different Eva Novak features, Up in Mary's Attic (1920) and The Smart Sex (1921).  While it is not uncommon to see the same portrait of a star or director reproduced in advertisements for different films (esp. D.W. Griffith and C.B DeMille), this is the first time I've come across re-use of a character in costume.  

Coming attraction slide for Up in Mary's Attic (1920)
It doesn't take a great deal of detective work to figure out that the photo in question originated from The Smart Sex.  Comparing the synopses from the two films makes differentiation a trivial affair.  In The Smart Sex, Novak plays Rose, a stranded showgirl who participates in a local amateur show and wins the prize. After the performance she meets a wealthy young man who buys her supper, gets her an accommodation on a farm adjoining his father's estate, and turns farmhand to win her love. 

Poster for Up in Mary's Attic
Meanwhile, Up in Mary's Attic, Eva plays Mary who risks losing her inheritance if she marries without the approval of her guardian and therefore must keep her marriage to athletic instructor Jack Langdon a secret. This is complicated by the presence of the couple's baby (!) whom Mary has hidden in the school attic.

Does the slide image depict Rose the showgirl, or Mary the girl with a baby and a secret marriage?   

What seems odd about all this is... well, there are a couple of things.  First, Up in Mary's Attic was released first (July 1920), and yet is advertised by a photo from a film released more than a year later (The Smart Sex premiered in April 1921).  How could an image from a 1921 film make its way backward in time to advertise a film released in 1920?  

Second, the image in question has absolutely nothing to do with the plot, the characters, or even the genre of Up in Mary's Attic.  Even if the chronology made sense, you've got to ask yourself "what were they thinking?"  

Obviously the poster is a much more suitable advertisement, though it does make me smile to think about patrons attending a show expecting showgirls and instead getting a hidden (though legitimate!) baby instead.  Imagine the disappointment!

From The Smart Sex
In the end, I think the slide manufacturer must be the one to blame for the mix-up.  It can't be the production companies or the distributors because they were different for each title.  Up in Mary's Attic was produced by Ascher Productions and distributed by Fine Arts Pictures, Inc., while The Smart Sex was produced and distributed by Universal Film Manufacturing Company.  

My theory is that Up in Mary's Attic was making a second round in distribution some time after it's initial release.  The Unique Slide Company (717 Seventh Ave, N.Y.) who manufactured the slide received an order for slides to advertise Mary's Attic, and simply re-purposed an existing design for The Smart Sex by changing the title and the names of the stars at the bottom of the slide.  What's the difference?  They're both Eva Novak pictures aren't they?

The only way to confirm this would be to find a similarly designed slide for The Smart Sex.  Who knows?  Maybe we'll turn one up some day...

October 31, 2011

Trick or Treat with King of the Zombies

Coming attraction slide for King of the Zombies (1941)

Happy Halloween!  Today's spooky treasure is the quintessential WWII zombie horror comedy musical.  Yes, there were so many - but how many included a cast of zombies singing "The Grave Digging Song"?  Not many, I can assure you.  Not only that, but how many zombie pix can you name that were nominated for an Academy Award for Scoring of a Dramatic Picture

If you really must know, here's the plot synopsis from the AFI database.  No, I haven't seen it.  We'll just have to take their word for it.
"Pilot James "Mac" McCarthy (Dick Purcell) goes off course somewhere between Cuba and Puerto Rico and is unable to pick up any radio transmissions. When he and his passengers, Bill Summers and his black valet, Jefferson Jackson, hear a lone transmission in a foreign language, they crash land the plane on the island below. The lost men discover themselves in a graveyard, and follow the sound of drums to a nearby mansion. There they are greeted by Viennese Dr. Sangre (Henry Victor) , who treats Mac's minor head wound with the warning that untreated injuries are easy prey for evil spirits. Sangre says there are no radios on the island and allows the men to spend the night as his guests, although he insists that Jeff stay in the servants quarters in the basement. Jeff becomes alarmed when the maid, Samantha (Marguerite Whitten), and the cook, Tahama (Madam Sul-Te-Wan), call forth two "zombies," but when he runs upstairs to tell his boss, Sangre dismisses the idea as ludicrous. Sangre's wife Alyce (Patricia Stacey) also appears to be in a trance-like state, which Sangre attributes to jungle fever. Sangre appears surprised when Bill tells him about American Admiral Wainwright (Guy Usher), whose plane disappeared in the same location. Sangre then tells the men that no one in his family, which includes his beautiful niece, Barbara Winslow (Joan Woodbury), can leave the island because they are Austrian refugees lacking passports. 
Later that night, Jeff confides in Samantha that Bill is a government agent on a secret mission. Sangre's butler, Momba (Leigh Whipper), Samantha and Tahama leave Jeff alone in the kitchen just before midnight, with the admonition not to pay notice to anything unusual. When two zombies nearly attack Jeff, he runs to Bill and Mac's room for safety. Jeff is later awakened by the appearance of a woman who seems to come and go through a wall, and when he awakens Bill and Mac, they believe him only after finding an earring. The three men split up to search the house, and Bill finds Barbara in the library reading a book on hypnotism. Barbara says that she is reading the book to help her aunt, who has been in the trance-like state since arriving at the island, and Bill confides his belief that Sangre is hiding a radio. Bill and Mac finally believe Jeff's stories about zombies after Mac is attacked by one. The next morning, Mac and Bill discover a freshly dug grave in the cemetery, and that someone has stolen the plane's radio. Mac goes in search of a generator, while Bill returns to the house, unaware that the admiral is being held hostage in a cellar and that Tahama is trying to pry military secrets from him with the use of voodoo. After Sangre calls in a report to his German allies, Mac disappears. Sangre then lures Jeff into the cellar, where he hypnotizes him into believing that he is a zombie. 
While Bill is searching for Mac, he finds Barbara using hypnotism on her aunt, and assumes that she is collaborating with Sangre, despite her protests that she is trying to restore her aunt's memory. Mac returns in a zombie-like state, and a physician called by Sangre says that he has been dead for hours. When Momba receives orders by radio for Sangre to transmit the stolen military information, he and Tahama prepare a special ceremony to wrest the information from the admiral. Jeff lines up with the other zombies for dinner, but Samantha breaks his spell. Jeff then meets with Bill and moments later, they hear a woman's scream and find Alyce dead. Bill and Jeff follow the sound of drums into the cellar, where Sangre is holding a ceremony during which the admiral's thoughts are to be transmitted into Barbara's brain. Bill breaks up the ceremony and when Sangre orders the zombies to attack Bill, they instead follow Mac, and turn on Sangre. Sangre shoots Mac and, while backing away from the zombies, falls to his death into a firepit. After Wainwright phones the Coast Guard, and Mac's injuries are treated, Wainwright tells Bill that Sangre forced his plane to land with a false radio signal, then killed his crew and tortured him for Canal Zone fortification plans. When his torture did not work, he used Alyce and Barbara as test subjects with other methods."       
Pretty spooky!

October 29, 2011

Happy Birthday Baby Peggy!

Coming attraction slide for Captain January (1924)
Today we take a special time-out to wish HAPPY BIRTHDAY! to Diana Serra Cary, known to her fans as Baby Peggy.  Peggy-Jean Montgomery was born 93 years ago on this date, October 19, 1918 and appeared on screen as Baby Peggy a just scant 19 months later.

Baby Peggy was one of the first child actor mega-stars.  In 1924 she signed a $1,500,000 contract with producer Sol Lesser's Principal Pictures, and Captain January (1924) was first her first release as the "Million Dollar Baby."  Over the course of her well chronicled career (if you haven't read her autobiography Whatever Happened to Baby Peggy? you really should) Diana appeared in more than forty shorts and nine features, most of which are now thought to be lost.

Last year Diana was gracious enough to write about the filming of her first feature, The Darling of New York (1923) in one of STARTS THURSDAY's first guest articles, which she further details in the following video interview.

...and Diana isn't finished yet.  She is the subject of a brand new documentary, Baby Peggy, The Elephant in the Room, which has been screening at selected festivals and venues this summer.  It's a wonderful portrait and one not be missed if you get the chance.

Happy Birthday Diana!

Take a deep breath and blow out those candles!

October 25, 2011

Barbara Kent: 1906-2011

Barbara Kent and Raymond Keane in coming attraction slide for The Lone Eagle (1927)

Today we pay tribute to Barbara Kent, one of the last surviving actors of the silent era who died last week at the age 103.  Kent's first screen appearance came in the role of Hertha in Clarence Brown's  steamy Flesh and the Devil (1926) starring John Gilbert and Greta Garbo.  Not a bad way to start!  Those of you that know the film will remember Kent as playing Lars Hanson's teenage sister with the hopeless crush on Gilbert's character, Leo von Harden.

Barbara Kent featured in coming attraction slide for No Living Witness (1932)
Though her film career was relatively brief (1926-35) Barbara Kent appeared an a number of noteworthy silent films, most notably as Marjorie in William Wyler's gritty boxing saga The Shakedown (1929), and as lead character Mary in the touching Lonesome (1929).  For the past year and half she has also appeared uncredited on the masthead of the groundbreaking blog Starts Thursday!  Yes folks, that's her helplessly helplessly surrendering to Raymond Keane passionate embrace atop this very web site.

Not all of Barbara Kent's leading men were human, in No Man's Law (1927) she co-starred with Rex the Wonder Horse
It is has been widely reported that Kent was the last remaining adult actor from the silent era, which may or may not be the case depending on how you define the term.  Carla Laemmle who just turned 102 was 16 when she appeared in The Phantom of the Opera (1925).  What is not in question however, is that we have lost one more of the few remaining gems of the silent era, a reminder that we should treasure those that remain all the more.

The Lone Eagle image courtesy of the Niles Essay Silent Film Museum, No Living Witness image courtesy of the Rob Brooks Collection, and image of No Man's Law courtesy of the Cleveland Public Library.

October 1, 2011

Gloria Swanson Heads for Buenos Aires in "My American Wife"

Custom slide for My American Wife (1922)
I'm back today with two custom venue-produced slides for the 1922 feature My American Wife, starring Gloria Swanson and Antonio Moreno.  In addition to their uniqueness, one thing I like about one-of-a-kind custom produced slides is that, unlike their studio produced brethren, they are that they are uniquely associated with a particular venue and presentation.

Custom slide for My American Wife (1922)

In the case of My American Wife, these two slides came from a collection accumulated from venues in Oakland, California.  The sides themselves were manufactured across the bay in San Francisco, by the Art Slide Studio located at 964 Market Street.

Oakland Tribune, March 7, 1923

Gloria Swanson was the marquee name for the feature, but it is interesting to note how the sponsored newspaper "articles" tout the "handsome and of course... dark Latin type" of Antonio Moreno.  My American Wife was released not long after Rudolph Valentino's triumph in Blood and Sand (1922), so the studio's intent to build Moreno up as the "new and more dashing 'sheik'" comes as no surprise.

Gloria Swanson in My American Wife (1922)
Most online sources also lack even a plot summary of the film, which I reproduce here from the Oakland Tribune (March 7, 1923) account:

In "My American Wife," he [Moreno] has the role of a young aristocrat of Argentine [sic] who becomes enamored of a beautiful Kentucky heiress [seriously?], portrayed by Miss Swanson."

Of course the plot is important, but more critically -   What is she wearing?

This vital information is provided by another Oakland Tribune advertorial (March 6, 1926) which notes that "The locale of the story gives Miss Swanson an opportunity to display an entirely new and striking wardrobe."

...and that's why our Kentucky heiress really finds herself in Buenos Aires.

Alas, My American Wife is a "lost" film, and no prints are known to survive.  The only glimpses we can hope to have of Miss Swanson's glorious costumes must come by way of surviving still photographs, and of course, glass slide advertisements.

And the Art Slide Studio?  It too is lost.  The building is now a check cashing establishment, and its location on Market Street is unfortunately is one of the more blighted stretches of the once grand boulevard.

Former site of Art Slide Studio, 964 Market Street, San Francisco, California

September 20, 2011

The Pharaoh Returns (or) Restoring Like an Egyptian

Coming attraction slide for The Loves of the Pharaoh (1922)
It's not often that I have the opportunity to share a coming attraction slide for the express purpose of actually advertising a coming attraction, but today that is indeed the case.  I'm talking of course about the brand new restoration of Ernst Lubitsch's 1922 epic The Loves of the Pharaoh.  

Last month I had the pleasure of viewing an advance screening at the Reel Thing symposium in which Thomas Bakels of ALPHA-OMEGA presented the details of the project.  Those of you in the know may remember ALPHA-OMEGA as the folks that did the technical work on the Metropolis restoration that we all so recently thrilled to.

For decades The Loves of the Pharaoh had been counted among the lost until the 1970s when a fragmentary print surfaced in the Russian Gosfilmfond archive.  In subsequent years additional material has come to light, making possible this fuller reconstruction.

Like their restoration of Metropolis, the film has received a full digital restoration treatment, including recreation of the original tinting scheme.  To my eyes they may have actually gone slightly overboard with the digital cleanup, resulting in an image so clean and a frame so stable that the "print" no longer looks like film.  However, that is but that it a minor quibble compared to thrill of witnessing this important title's return from the grave. 

For those of you that will be in or around Los Angeles on October 18, you won't want to miss the U.S. theatrical premiere at (appropriately) the Egyptian Theater on Hollywood Boulevard.  For those of you in more distant lands, ALPHA-OMEGA is also planning BluRay and DVD releases this fall, but if you can make the trip to see it on the big screen I promise you won't be disappointed.

You can read more about the film and its restoration on the ALPHA-OMEGA web site, it's definitely worth the read.

SilentRobert says "check it out."

September 8, 2011

A Depressing Slide into the Fifties

Slide for World in My Corner (1956)

What is the the latest date that lantern slides were used for motion picture advertising in the United States?  

This is one of many questions I have been trying to answer through my inquiry.  Though I may never find a definitive answer,  I am constantly discovering evidence that the practice continued, at least on the fringes, late into the 1950s.  Every couple of months I come across a new slide that pushes my terminus post quem a little later.  Most recently I came across a slide for World in My Corner which was released in March 1956, making that the date of my new latest confirmed U.S. slide.

Slide for Jim Thorpe - All American (1951)
But even though the physical manufacture of advertising slides persisted into the mid/late fifties, it is abundantly clear that any consideration that these materials could be interesting, attractive, or creatively designed, had long since retreated into oblivion.  Not only are these slides poorly and cheaply produced, the graphic design is sadly, even depressingly, the same: black and white copy, a sloppy splash of yellow across the title, and a stripe of blue across the text box at the bottom.  

Slide for Retreat Hell! (1952)
It also appears to be the case that by this time the manufacture of coming attraction slides was reduced to a single commercial entity.  While during the silent era there were literally dozens of national and regional concerns producing slides for the cinema, every slide from I have encountered from the 1950s is framed by the same sad nondescript blank cardboard holder, bearing only the title of the film and the assurance that the slide was "MADE IN U.S.A."

Slide for Red Light (1949)
Why anybody thought these advertisements would entice anybody into the cinema is beyond me.  Could they have put any less effort into them?  It's hard to see how.  

For some reason the projectionist's handwritten text in the Red Light slide says it all:  "Soon."  Yeah, what ever.  That's close enough

I get depressed just looking at them.

August 31, 2011

Inverting Negativity - Walter Huston in "A House Divided"

In earlier articles (DYI Coming Attractions, Going Negative, Headin' South with Douglas Fairbanks) I  explored the manufacture of exhibitor-created coming attraction slides.  Unlike commercially produced slides from studios or professional manufacturers, these amateur slides are unique one-of-a-kind artifacts with a unique homegrown appeal that I have come to enjoy.  Like any other form of folk art, exhibitor-created slides vary wildly in style, technique, and artistic quality.  Some examples are elegantly designed while others are crudely slapped together, some are photographically reproduced while others are screened or hand drawn, and the employment of color runs the gamut.

Negative for exhibitor-created slide advertising A House Divided (1931)

Today's example comes by the way of A House Divided, a 1931 early talkie directed by William Wyler and starring Walter Huston, Douglass Montgomery, and Helen Chandler.  I came across this particular slide in the guise of a  photographic glass negative.  It is unknown to me whether the slide produced from the negative still exists, but it seems unlikely given that perhaps only one positive was ever struck.  

Reversed image of slide negative for A House Divided.

My initial interest in the negative was due to the Walter Houston's striking profile, but it wasn't until I scanned the slide and reversed the image that the technique for manufacturing the slide became clear.  The graphic layout is a pasteboard collage of text and image appropriated from another source - probably the exhibitor guide for the film.  The pasteboard was then tacked to a board and photographed.  All this becomes clear in the positive image in which the cut-out nature of the photo and text are more obvious, as is the prominence of the tacks at the pasteboard corner and the grain on the underlying wood mounting.

Mock-up of how exhibitor-created slide for A House Divided may have appeared. 

Lacking the actual slide produced from this negative, I can only guess at how the resulting final product would have looked, but using PhotoShop I have created an informed approximation based on certain reasonable assumptions.  First, the image would have been masked to conceal the tacks and the wood mounting.  It is also fair to assume that the positive slide would have been developed at fairly high contrast to darken the background.  

Walter Huston in A House Divided (1931)
Poster for A House Divided (1931)
Beyond that, color is the big question mark.  Was it colored?  If so, what colors were used?  

For my mock-up I used colors from other slides of the era in hopes getting the palette right.  I could also have tried to adapt colors from the poster (right), but  I just can't believe that the person that handcrafted this slide would have gone with blue coloring for Huston's face.  

Of course, you are free to disagree.

August 18, 2011

Special Feature: Thanhouser Picture

It is my great pleasure to introduce guest contributor, Ned Thanhouser.  When it comes to the family of silent film enthusiasts, you can't get any closer than Ned, who just happens to be the grandson of silent film pioneers Gertrude and Edwin Thanhouser.  Ned also the is founder of  the Thanhouser Film Preservation Trust at the Library of Congress and president of Thanhouser Company Film Preservation, Inc.  Fittingly enough, Ned's article focuses on the glass slides used to promote Thanhouser features - as well as more than a little history of the Thanhouser Company itself. 

Thank you Ned - now take it away...

On March 10, 1911 the Thanhouser Company, one of the pioneering independent motion picture studios based in New Rochelle, New York, released its 104th film, a one-reeler titled The Spirit Hand. The studio provided distributors with a “generic” glass lantern slide titled “Special Feature:  Thanhouser Picture” that included an open window for exhibitors to add specifics for coming attractions. One of these surviving slides was marked by the exhibitor with a grease pen declaring “Mon. and Tues. ‘The Spirit Hand’ One Great Picture.”   This was probably referring to the Monday and Tuesday March 13 and 14 which followed the regular Friday release of this Thanhouser film. A review in The Morning Telegraph on Sunday, March 12, 1911 supported the exhibitor’s claim:  “Congratulations! A novel theme, dramatically put on, entertainingly told.”

Generic Thanhouser advertising slide (c. 1911)

The brains behind Thanhouser’s marketing and advertising campaign, including this very early example of a “Coming Attractions” glass lantern slide, was Bertram Adler.  He was publicity director for Thanhouser starting in 1909 and remained with the company through its acquisition by Mutual in 1912 until his departure to Universal in the autumn of 1914. During the early and most successful years of the firm, Bert Adler created advertising and newsletters, prepared publicity releases, conducted interviews, and otherwise contributed to the public image of the company. By the time of his departure, “Coming Attractions” slides were a key element of the Thanhouser marketing package along with lithograph posters, collector postcards and other related ephemera.  Mrs. Van Ruyter’s Stratagem (Nov. 24, 1914) is an excellent example showing a fully realized “Coming Attractions” glass lantern slide from Mutual’s Thanhouser Film Corporation.  Not only does this slide call out the film by title (vs. the exhibitor adding with a grease pen this critical information to the generic slide of 1911), it also included an image from this two-reel “feature” plus it named the stars of the film (Harry Benham and Muriel Ostriche) to keep in step with the audience’s growing interest in the “stars.”

Advertising slide for Mrs. Van Ruyter's Stratagem (1914)
In June 1914, the Thanhouser Syndicate Film Corporation released its first episode of The Million Dollar Mystery. The brainchild of Charles J. Hite, president of Mutual’s Thanhouser Film Corporation, and chief scenariest Lloyd F. Lonergan, it tells the story of the sudden disappearance of an heiress, played by popular Thanhouser star Florence LaBadie, and her thrilling adventures.  Wildly successful, it earned the company over a million dollars. This cliffhanger serial consisted of 23 two-reel episodes that tapped into the growing interest in serials made popular by The Perils of Pauline. A glass slide was acquired from a collector in the UK used to popularize the serial with the claim of “Nine Miles of Love, Mystery, Thrills, and Adventure.”  Doing some simple math (2 reels/episode * 1,000 feet/reel * 23 episodes) yields approximately Nine Miles of 35mm film – a clever marketing ploy for a thinking man’s audience!

Advertising slide for The Million Dollar Mystery (1914)

After the tragic and untimely death of Thanhouser president Charles Hite in the summer of 1914, Edwin and Gertrude Thanhouser were hired by Mutual in early 1915 to resume leadership of the studio they founded six years earlier. The industry was experiencing monumental change as films matured from one-reel “shorts” to multi-reel “features.” But, in the summer of 1916, upheaval at Mutual resulted in Thanhouser being ejected from the Mutual distribution program. With over a year left on his Mutual contract, Edwin Thanhouser quickly reached an agreement with Pathé Exchange to distribute Thanhouser produced films. He retired the Thanhouser brand and down-sized the studio to produce only multi-reel feature films to be distributed under the “Pathé Gold Rooster Play” logo.  Thanhouser’s most durable and recognizable star, Florence LaBade, was promoted with top-line billing as shown in the glass slide for the 1917 five-reel feature Her Life and His.  Her heartbreaking death at age 29 from an automobile accident in October 1917 robbed Thanhouser of one of the last vestiges of the studio’s public appeal; her death hastened the studio’s exit from the industry later that year.

Advertising slide for Her Life and His (1917)
It is my hope that this selection of “Coming Attractions” glass slides gives you a glimpse into the rich history of the Thanhouser film enterprise. Between 1910 and 1917, the studio released 1,086 films to worldwide distribution, but its history is relatively unknown as there was no central repository for its motion pictures, company records or marketing collateral. Fortunately, many of the artifacts that were scattered across the globe ended up in the hands of archives and private collectors who saved them for us to enjoy today. Starting in 1985, I undertook the task of reconstructing the Thanhouser studio history by locating, identifying, and cataloguing Thanhouser films and ephemera. As of today, 223 Thanhouser productions have been located in archives and private collections around the world, and 56 of films are now available for immediate viewing online for free or purchase on DVD. In addition to these films, hundreds of marketing ephemera (posters, glass slides, post cards, production stills, sheet music, pin backs, heralds, advertisements, etc.) have also been acquired and made available for research and study. To learn more about the history and contributions of this pioneering silent motion picture studio, please visit and become a “fan” on Facebook at

-- Edwin W. (“Ned”) Thanhouser

Edwin W. (“Ned”) Thanhouser is the grandson of silent film pioneers Gertrude and Edwin Thanhouser and is president of Thanhouser Company Film Preservation, Inc., a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation. Working with film archives and private collectors, Mr. Thanhouser has produced twelve DVD titles that contain 56 surviving Thanhouser films not seen by the public for over 100 years. These films are now available for free viewing online for researchers, scholars and film lovers at

Mr. Thanhouser has been active in film preservation since 1986. With his family, he established in 1988 the Thanhouser Film Preservation Trust at the Library of Congress for the acquisition and preservation of nitrate-based Thanhouser films. He is a member of the Association of Moving Images Archivist (AMIA) and in October this year he will be celebrating a Tribute to the Thanhouser film enterprise at the Pordenone Silent Film Festival.  

August 10, 2011

The Mystery of Charlie's Stormy Romance

Advertising slide for Charlie's Stormy Romance (1916)
Back in February I wrote Chaplin at (and after Keystone) which explored the disreputable practice or renaming and re-issuing Charlie Chaplin's titles and pawning them off as new releases.  

Advertising slide for Chase Me Charlie (1918)
Renaming was not the only strategy for creating "new" Chaplin product.  A second approach taken by distributors was to re-combine material from multiple sources to create entirely "new" films.

(Contrary to popular opinion, the appropriation and combination of audio-visual material to create new and/or derivative works did not begin with YouTube.)

The best known of these titles is Triple Trouble which was released by the Essanay Film Company in August 1918.  Nearly two years after Chaplin had left the studio, Essanay combined outtakes from his films Work (June 1915) and Police (May 1916) as well as an unfinished work titled Life, and combined them with newly shot footage to create an entirely new two-reeler.

Most unauthorized Chaplin titles are fairly well documented, for example The Essanay-Chaplin Revue of 1916, Chase Me Charlie (1918), and even the recently uncovered Zepped (1916).  But Charlie's Stormy Romance, the four-reel feature touted in today's featured slide, appears to have escaped notice.  
The Moving Picture World - July 29, 1916

The slide was produced by the Alta Slide Company, located at 1028 Market Street in San Francisco, and it is possible that the film originated in the Bay Area as well.

Brisbane Courier (Australia) - April 12, 1921
The only trade reference I have discovered is from The Moving Picture World (July 29, 1916) stating that Vivian Preston of the Independent Film Exchange (located at 112 Golden Gate Ave.) had great success touring the film south of San Francisco and that the film generated record attendance "due to the manner in which the attraction was advertised."  It is impossible to say, but perhaps this very slide was a component of that advertising campaign.

This mention in The Moving Picture World is the only American reference I have so far uncovered.  After 1916 the film again surfaces in Australia and New Zealand newspaper advertisements beginning around 1918. 

Poverty Bay Herald (New Zealand) - July 23, 1918
Unfortunately these bits are the only primary sources I have discovered - nothing more than a couple pieces of the puzzle.  Checking the usual secondary sources has also been less than successful.

Where did the original footage come from?  Essanay seems like a good guess, but which titles?  

Was it widely distributed in the US, or was it created in the U.S. and then booted overseas?  

Are there extant copies of film?  

What else was included in the advertised road show?  Were the advertised Pickford and Bushman films also unauthorized creations? 

If anyone out there can shed any light on these mysteries, please allow me to direct your attention to the Comment section below.

I'd love to hear from you.

Slide image of Chase Me Charlie courtesy of Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum.