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Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Boobley's Baby

This was part of a series of films shown at this year silent film festival in Pordenone, Italy. It starred Sidney Drew, the talented uncle of the equally talented Barrymore siblings (Ethel, Lionel, and John). The festival showcased the family, though only three of Ethel's films were shown.

Sidney Drew was known more as a comedian than a dramatic actor, and he really shines in this movie. The titular character complains to two coworkers that whenever he rides the streetcar, it's full. If he does manage to find a seat, he has to give it up when an adult with a child boards.

One of his coworkers suggests that Boobley get himself a baby - a big joke to them, since he isn't married. This plants a thought in his head, and during his lunch break, he buys a doll the size of a baby. It works like a charm, and our hero can find a seat whenever he wants one. Then he turns the doll face-down on his lap and rests his newspaper on it, or uses it to fool the fellow residents at his boarding house. It's all great fun, until he falls for a new coworker who believes that the doll is a real baby.

I'd love to have this and Drew's other films on DVD. Sad to say, he died in 1919, having never recovered from the death of his only son in World War I. 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Die Nibelungen

I attended this year's silent film festival (Le Giornate del Cinema Muto) in Pordenone, Italy. One of the movie experiences - and quite the experience it was! - was a showing of both films in Fritz Lang's Die Nibelungen saga.

After the first film (147 minutes), we had an hour break for dinner. It's not easy to scamper quickly to a restaurant when you've been glued to the screen all day. I was a few minutes late for the start of the second movie.

This is a movie saga like no other. Everything is fascinating about it; the story, the performances, the direction, the set and costume designs. Yes, it's long, so it's not for everyone. But it's worth the time taken to watch.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Mickey Rooney

With the recent passing of Mickey Rooney, another piece of silent film history has left us.

Lillian Gish made her first film (with D.W. Griffith) in 1912, and her last in 1987. Rooney has broken this record, having spent approximately 88 years working in front of the camera. How many current stars will be able to say the same?

RIP, Mickey.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Discovery in Iowa

Yes, silent films are still turning up...

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Too Much Johnson

I was one of the lucky crowd at the first-ever public screening of Too Much Johnson, a silent film made by Orson Welles three years before he burst on the screen with Citizen Kane. This silent film was never finished, and the version we saw was a very rough cut by Welles.

We endured some very long speeches before the movie started, then a running commentary. Pordenone is famous for its silent-film festival, and it's almost too good to be true that this movie, long thought to have been lost, was found in Pordenone itself. Hence the speeches; everyone wanted to get in on the fame.

It was fascinating to see Joseph Cotten in the lead, with some truly hair-raising stunts during which he scrambles from one rooftop to another - in a now long-gone New York City. It was equally fascinating to see the home movie footage showing Welles himself, directing the film. The screening room was packed; I don't think there was an empty seat in the house, and several people were leaning against the back wall.

So what happens for the movie now? I don't know. I can only say that watching it was a rare experience.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

A moment of silence...

Fujifilm has stopped making motion-picture film.

Yes, digital is easier. Yes, it has good definition. Yes - and this is VERY important - it's better for the environment.

It's still the passing of an era. The original motion-picture film was nitrate-based. Not only was it highly flammable, it decomposed easily and rapidly (one of the reasons why so many silents are gone).

Safety film took over in the early 1950s, and it deteriorates too, just not the way nitrate stock does. And now, one major producer no longer makes it. Me? I'd like to see it stay around.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Silent Winter

Yes, this is a late announcement, but I'm doing it anyway. San Francisco's Castro Theatre is showing silent films all day tomorrow (February 16).

The schedule:

10 a.m.: Snow White (starring Marguerite Clark)

12 p.m.: Buster Keaton short features

2:30 p.m.: The Thief of Bagdad (starring Douglas Fairbanks)

7:00 p.m.: My Best Girl (starring Mary Pickford)

9:00 p.m.: Faust (starring Emil Jannings)

Ticket prices:
$15 General / $13 Members / $5 Children under 12