January 31, 2011

Chaplin in San Francisco: A Treat for Our Patrons

Generic Chaplin Comedy Slide (c. 1916-23)

In April 1916, Charles Chaplin signed an unprecedented contract with the Mutual Film Company. Calling for him to produce a dozen two-reel comedies at a salary ten times what he had received from his former employer, the agreement made Chaplin the highest paid entertainer in the world.

And he was worth every penny.

Today Chaplin's Mutual period is recognized as one most the inspired creative outbursts in film history.  Chaplin produced his the films at the rate of nearly one per month and each film stands unique and distinct from the others.  Throughout the entire series Chaplin never repeated a characterization or a setting.  The comedy is uniquely Chaplin, and is as clever, funny, and fresh as when the films were originally released almost 100 years ago.

On Saturday February 12, Bay Area audiences will have the opportunity to enjoy three of these mini-masterpieces at Castro Theatre as part of the 6th Annual San Francisco Silent Film Festival Winter Event.

Accompanied on the piano by festival favorite Donald Sosin, the program features three of my personal favorites:  The Pawnshop, The Rink, and The Adventurer.
The Pawnshop (1916)
The New York Dramatic Mirror described The Pawnshop (released October 2, 1916) as "a succession of highly ludicrous scenes" with "one comedy climax after another," concluding that "Chaplin himself has never been funnier or indulged in more of his typical Chaplinisms." I couldn't have said it better myself.
The Rink (1916)
The Rink (released December 4, 1916) was the eighth of the Mutual comedies.  Chaplin's virtuosity on roller skates astonished moviegoers at the time and 100 years later it's still a delightful treat.  The film is one of my personal all-time favorites.  As a teenager I owned a Super 8 print from Blackhawk Films and must have watched it a thousand times.
The Adventurer (1917)
The Adventurer (released October 23, 1917) begins with a chase, ends with a chase, and maintains a fairly frenetic pace throughout.  As coincidence would have it, I also owned The Adventurer on Super 8.  If memory serves me right I paid $12.99 for it back in 1972 or '73, which in my economy of the time would have equated to mowing the lawn approximately 4.3 times.  Like Chaplin's contract with Mutual, it was worth every penny.

January 23, 2011

Dutch Cigarette Advertisments - Light Up and Enjoy

Even though STARTS THURSDAY! is devoted primarily to motion picture coming attraction slides, I  can't resist sharing these gorgeous Dutch cigarette advertising slides.
Dutch or Belgian cigarette advertising slide (c. 1930-40)
These slides were located in Antwerp, and based on a handful of clues I am guessing at 1930-40 as the timeframe in which they were used in Dutch and/or Belgian cinemas.
Dutch or Belgian cigarette advertising slide (c. 1930-40)
The cigarette packaging provides the most obvious clues as to dating the slides.  The only non-English word is "rookt" the Dutch word meaning "smokes" which would have been appropriate for audiences in the Netherlands as well as Belgium.  Likewise, the prices denominated in cents would have been equally appropriate to Dutch Guilders and Belgian Francs.  
Dutch or Belgian cigarette advertising slide (c. 1930-40)
I have found several online sources (who knew so many people collected cigarette packages?) which have yielded several images of cigarette packs similar to those pictured, but all I have been able to glean thus far is that the North Cliff package is attributed to Holland.

Another hint may be the cigarette prices indicated in the advertising.  Though I'm certainly no expert on the price of European cigarettes, it seems that cigarettes priced at 15 to 20 cents per package would indicate a later timeframe.
Dutch or Belgian cigarette advertising slide (c. 1930-40)

I am eager to learn more about the timeframe and/or geographies  in which these slides may have been employed, so please comment below if you have information that can help fill in the gaps.

Otherwise, just sit back, relax and enjoy a nice North Cliff Extra Mild.


Image of North Cliff cigarette package from the Igor Sergeev's web site "The Biggest in the World Collection of Full Cigarette Packs."

January 1, 2011

A Girl In Every Port

What better way to kick off the new year than with another meticulously researched article by our good friend Thomas Gladysz?  Thomas was the very first STARTS THURSDAY! guest contributor with his article last August highlighting Louise Brooks' in American Venus (1926).  Today Thomas continues exploring Brooksie's filmography with Howard Hawks' A Girl In Every Port (1928).  

Slide for A Girl in Every Port (1928)
Throughout the month of January, the British Film Institute is celebrating the work of the American director Howard Hawks (1896 – 1977). Hawks is best known for the movies he made during the sound era. His films include such classics as Dawn Patrol (1930), Scarface (1932), Bringing Up Baby (1938), Only Angels Have Wings (1939), His Girl Friday (1940), Sergeant York (1941), To Have and Have Not (1944), The Big Sleep (1946), Red River (1948), Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), and Rio Bravo (1959). Though a remarkable body of work, one could mention still more notable films by Hawks, including A Girl in Every Port (1928). It’s considered the best of the director’s eight silent films.
Louise Brooks in A Girl in Every Port

A Girl in Every Port is a “buddy film,” and it includes a romantic triangle – a reoccurring motif in many later works by the acclaimed director. The film tells the story of two sailors (played by Victor McLaglen and Robert Armstrong) and their adventures with various women in various ports of call around the world. Louise Brooks plays Marie (Mam’selle Godiva), a high diver and sideshow siren and the love interest of each sailor.

Released by Fox, A Girl in Every Port premiered on February 18, 1928 at the Roxy Theater in New York City. The film received good reviews and played to a packed house. Trade ads placed by Fox claimed the film set a “New House Record – and a World Record – with Daily Receipts on February 22 of $29,463.” Considering ticket prices of the time, that’s a lot of money to take in on a single day.

The film made an even bigger splash in France. Writing in his “Paris Cinema Chatter” column in the New York Times in 1930, Morris Gilbert noted “. . . there are a number of others – mostly American – which have their place as ‘classics’ in the opinion of the French. . . . They love A Girl in Every Port, which has the added distinction of being practically the only American film which keeps its own English title here.” The film enjoyed an extended run in the French capitol, and would linger for decades in the French consciousness.
Slide for A Girl in Every Port
Writing in Cahiers du Cinéma in 1963, the French film archivist Henri Langlois stated, “It seems that A Girl in Every Port was the revelation of the Hawks season at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. For New York audiences of 1962, Louise Brooks suddenly acquired that ‘Face of the century’ aura she had had, many years ago, for spectators at the Cinema des Ursulines. . . . That is why Blaise Cendrars confided a few years ago that he thought A Girl in Every Port definitely marked the first appearance of contemporary cinema. To the Paris of 1928, which was rejecting expressionism, A Girl in Every Port was a film conceived in the present, achieving an identity of its own by repudiating the past.” (from The Modernity of Howard Hawks)

Louise Brooks and Victor McLaglen in A Girl in Every Port
Significantly, Brooks stands as what might be the first “Hawksian woman.” The BFI website additionally notes, "History ranks this as the most significant of Hawks' silent films, because it seemingly persuaded G.W. Pabst to ask for Louise Brooks in Pandora's Box.”

But did it?

The oft repeated claim** that Pabst chose Brooks to play Lulu after having seen her in A Girl in Every Port is open to debate. If one were to look at a chronological list of the actresses’ films, the assumption seems to make sense. As mentioned earlier, the Hawks' film (in which Brooks plays a distant temptress not unlike Lulu) premiered in the United States in February, 1928. In Germany, Pabst was attempting to cast Lulu just months later in the Spring and early Summer of the same year.

However, as Berlin newspaper reviews show, Blaue jungens, blonde Madchen (the German title for A Girl in Every Port) was not shown in the German capitol until December of 1928, after production on Pandora's Box was completed. Could Pabst have seen the Hawks' film prior to its release in Germany? Could he have seen an advance screening?

German newspaper advertisement for Blaue jungens, blonde Madchen (November 1928)
Or, might Pabst have noticed Brooks in one of her earlier films, such as Die Braut am Scheidewege (Just Another Blonde) or Ein Frack Ein Claque Ein Madel (Evening Clothes) - each of which were shown in Berlin and received significant coverage prior to the production of Pandora’s Box?

Whatever the answer, A Girl in Every Port remains an entertaining film worthy of greater recognition – not only because it stars “pert” Louise Brooks, but because it prefigures the great films Hawks made in coming years.

The reviewer for the English Kinematograph Weekly sensed as much in March, 1928 when they wrote, “Louise Brooks made a charmingly heartless vamp. . . . It has the novelty of a love interest that does not materialize, which is replaced by the friendship between two men.”

A Girl in Every Port will screen at the British Film Institute on January 2 and January 7, 2011.

** The claim that Pabst chose Brooks after having seen her in A Girl in Every Port was likely first made by James Card in his 1956 article "Out of Pandora’s Box: Louise Brooks on G. W. Pabst." And, it was repeated by Brooks herself in filmed interviews in the 1970's.


Thomas Gladysz is an arts journalist and author. Recently, he wrote the introduction to a new “Louise Brooks edition” of Margarete Böhme's classic book, The Diary of a Lost Girl (PandorasBox Press). Gladysz will speak about his new book at the Village Voice Bookshop in Paris on January 13, followed by a screening of the film at the nearby Action Cinema.

Gladysz lives in San Francisco and is currently working on a new book about Louise Brooks. He is also maintains the Louise Brooks Society website at www.pandorasbox.com