Saturday, January 30, 2010

What more do you need?

We've been developing the San Francisco Silent Film Festival blog not only as a source of information regarding the Festival - but as a resource for individuals interested in the silent film era. Whether you live in the San Francisco Bay Area or beyond, we hope you've found something of interest here.

We've been working hard to add links to other blogs, websites, and local interest groups which we think will be of interest. We want to make this blog a resourceful page. We've also been creating and developing content you're unlikely to find anywhere else.

Now comes the time to ask a question, "What more do you need?" Is there something we've missed? Have a story idea? Come on and let us know. Post something in the comments section and give us your two cents (things were cheaper back in the teens and twenties). Heck, even Fay Lanphier, the 1925 Miss America from Oakland who has twice appeared at the SFSFF is letting us know what she thinks on her new typewriter.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Then and now

Considering all the silent film activity which takes place in and around the San Francisco Bay Area, it's not a stretch to consider this special place one of the leading centers for an equally special art form.

Historically speaking, the greater San Francisco Bay Area played a notable and well documented role in the production of films during the silent era. (Check out Geoffrey Bell's pioneering 1984 book, The Golden Gate and the Silver Screen.) The tradition continues. These days, there are numerous screenings, film series, and film festivals devoted to early film throughout the region. And on top of that, the Bay Area is home to numerous film historians, archivists and authors who focus their work on the silent era.

Need some further convincing? Just take a look at February's schedule at the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum in Fremont. Not only did the Museum celebrate the fifth anniversary of it's regular weekly screenings last week, but next month they continue doing what they do so well with yet more interesting programs. And, on February 12-14, they will be hosting their “Midwinter Comedy Film Festival.” A complete line-up of films and ticket information about that event can be found at

Monday, January 25, 2010

Talmadge double feature times two

Kino has announced it will be releasing two discs - each a double feature - featuring the films of sisters Norma Talmadge and Constance Talmadge. Both discs are scheduled for release in March.

The "Norma Talmadge Collection" features Kiki (1926) and Within the Law (1923). Kiki was directed by Clarence Brown and co-stars Ronald Colman. Within the Law was directed by Frank Lloyd (the subject of an earlier post) and co-stars Lew Cody. The "Constance Talmadge Collection" features Her Night of Romance (1924) and Her Sister from Paris (1925). Both of these films were directed by Sidney Franklin and co-star Ronald Colman.

Together, these forthcoming discs return the spotlight to two silent film stars each immensely popular in their day; they also shine a light on three early films by another early star, Ronald Colman. Let their many fans rejoice!

When released, each of these DVDs will be available for purchase online through Kino or And with a little luck, we hope to have copies of each available at the book table on the Castro mezzanine at this summer's San Francisco Silent Film Festival.

To date, there have been two books on the Talmadge sisters. The first was by their mother, Margaret Talmadge. The Talmadge Sisters, Norma, Constance, Natalie: An intimate story of the world's most famous screen family was published in 1924 and is now hard to find.The more recent and more reliable is The Talmadge Girls by Anita Loos. This latter book was published in 1978. Used copies can be found online and in better second-hand bookshops.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Why Be Good?

As a kind of follow-up to the previous post . . . be sure and check out Why Be Good? Sexuality and Censorship in Early Cinema, an informative and entertaining documentary about the silent film and early sound era. This film, released in 2007, was directed by Elaina Archer and written by Archer and film historian Scott Eyman.

Other well known film historians and biographers who appear in the film include Jeanine Basinger, Marc Wanamaker, Kevin Thomas and Barry Paris, as are past San Francisco Silent Film Festival guests Cari Beauchamp, Mark Viera, Leatrice Gilbert Fountain, and William Wellman Jr.

Why Be Good? Sexuality and Censorship in Early Cinema traces the fascinating history of sex and sin in early cinema through rare archival footage and revealing interviews with Mary Pickford, Gloria Swanson, Louise Brooks and others.

Narrated by Diane Lane, Why Be Good? Sexuality & Censorship in Early Cinema also features Rudolph Valentino, Clara Bow, Colleen Moore, Douglas Fairbanks, Marlene Dietrich and Barbra Stanwyck in its exploration of the battle between artist and censor. The film reveals little known details of some of the scandals that led to the crackdown known as the Production Code of 1935.

There are not enough documentaries about early film in the world. Why Be Good? Sexuality & Censorship in Early Cinema is a good one, and well worth watching.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Pictures approved by club women

Which films showed where during the silent film era was in part sometimes determined not by individual theaters managers or local tastes but by groups intent on lifting community standards.

Take, for example, this syndicated 1927 newspaper article which grades some 200 films according to their suitability for various audiences. This article ran in the Dispatch-Democrat in Ukiah, California - a small town located about 115 miles north of San Francisco. The article is not unlike other articles and guides authored by local committees which can be found in both small town and big city newspapers around the country.

According to the article, the list of 200 films was based on a published pamphlet. "With the slogan 'Make the Best Pictures Pay Best' a list of two hundred motion pictures has been sent out with the endorsement of the California Federation of Women's Clubs and San Francisco district of Women's clubs, of which the local federated clubs belong. This pamphlet is part of the effort of the women's clubs to raise the standard of moving pictures."

Among the 200 films listed are three shown at past San Francisco Silent Film Festival events - Bardelys the Magnificent, Ben Hur, and The Scarlet Letter. Each received a "Class A" rating. Of course, the California Federation of Women's Clubs -  a group which is still active and today works on different sorts of projects, did not have any influence into their selection. For those interested in film history, it's interesting to note what's on the list - and what's not on the list. Is your favorite film from 1925 or 1926 included? All in all, this article can be read as a "sign of the times."

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Kansas Silent Film Festival announces line-up

Our colleagues at the Kansas Silent Film Festival have announced the line-up for their February, 2010 event. The Festival, which takes place on the campus of Washburn University in Topeka, runs February 26 and 27th.

Highlights of this year's Festival include films featuring Buster Keaton, Douglas Fairbanks, William Boyd, Laurel & Hardy, Charlie Chaplin, and Constance and Norma Talmadge. The Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra, who have performed at past San Francisco Silent Film Festivals, will provide music for the opening program on Friday night.

The special guest at this year's Kansas Silent Film Festival is Melissa Talmadge Cox, the grand-daughter of Buster Keaton and Natalie Talmadge. Cox, who charmed the audience and was a guest at our winter event in December, will introduce the Keaton and Talmadge films being shown throughout the February event as swell as speak about her famous grandfather and famous aunts.

The complete schedule of films and accompanying musicians can be found on the Kansas Silent Film Festival website at

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Learn about cyclones, and then feast your eyes on the wild girl

As noted in the prior blog, during the silent film era movies screened just about everywhere. That was true not only in San Francisco and the Bay Area, but across the United States as well. Movies were shown in theaters as well as in non traditional venues like clubs, community halls, hospitals, retirement homes, and businesses of all kinds.

For example, in the then small rural town of Vacaville (located about 55 miles to the northeast of San Francisco - on the way to Sacramento), motion pictures were shown in both traditional and non-traditional venues.

At the beginning of 1926, Vacaville had one theater for motion pictures. It was the Strand. During the course of the year, in all likelihood, it became known as the Clark Theatre after having been purchased by W. J. Clark. (The building still stands.) Two newspaper  advertisements for this venue are shown below. The Strand Theatre advertisement dates from January, 1926 and the Clark ad dates from December, 1926.

Each advertisement tells us a little something interesting - not only what was showing, but how long each film ran (in each case two days - a not untypical small town run), the price of admission (tickets were reduced in price over the course of the year), and how many shows per night were offered (in each case two). The Vanishing American, which starred Richard Dix and showed at the Strand was recently reprised at the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum in Fremont.

Where else could one see a movie in Vacaville in the mid-1920's? The other place in town, a non-traditional venue, was the local Community Church. It's uncertain what denomination this church was (it may have been Congregational), but what is known is that this church screened motion pictures every Sunday. They called their weekly screenings their "Motion Picture Service."

As can be seen from these newspaper advertisements, The Community Church showed both educational fare as well as dramatic films from both large and small studios. One could see an educational film about cyclones, or take in The Romance Road (1925), a Truart production promising exciting scenes and comic situations. There was also the Frank Borzage directed Wages for Wives (1925), or the William Fox special The Fool (1925).

Not unexpectedly, most of the films shown at The Community Church had a moral tone - while some of the accompanying programs featured old Gospel hymns or sermons. It also interesting to note that sometimes the "Motion Picture Service" dominated the advertisement, even above that for Sunday services. (One Sunday service featured famed Santa Rosa horticulturist Luther Burbank speaking over the radio, "suitably amplified," from San Francisco.) All together, these advertisements typify the sort of rural, small town entertainment one could enjoy during the silent film era.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Movies, movies everwhere

When we consider silent film - we might be tempted to think it was not only a less  sophisticated art form, but a less ubiquitous medium than today. But that's not true. Back in the 1920's, silent films seemed to play just about everywhere. Even exotic fair, like Metropolis, was shown in American cities both large and small. Movies were shown not only in theaters, but also in other non traditional venues like churches, businesses, hospitals, retirement homes, and even army bases.

Shown here is a scan of a "Celebrate Paramount Week" advertisement which ran in the local newspapers in 1926. This kind of ad is not unique to San Francisco. In fact, similar advertisements from the mid-1920's can be found in newspapers across the country.

What makes this advertisement so revealing is the extensive listing of San Francisco, Bay Area, and Northern California theaters. All of the venues listed here - including the various "irregular exhibition spaces" like hospitals, retirement homes and army bases - participated in Paramount Week and showed films for patrons.

This advertisement - and the names and locales of the theaters contained within - acts as a kind of Rosetta Stone in helping document the local exhibition of films in the 1920's.

Who knew, for example, that there were three movie theaters in the Presidio of San Francisco? Or that there was a theater at the Post Exchange on Mare Island?

Or that the P.T.A. in Alpanga showed films? As did the Fire Department in Belvedere, the State Hospital in Stockton, the High School in Gonzales, and the Mt. Shasta Power Company in Mt. Shasta? And don't forget the K. of  P. Hall in Etna Mills, or the Opera House in McCloud, or the Sugar Pine Amusement Co. in Sugar Pine.

If you live in Northern California or nearby Nevada, you will likely enjoy scouring this advertisement for a theater near you. Because of its fine print, we've posted a large scan. Double-clicking on the image will reveal its full size. Isn't it impressive how many movie theatres there were back in the 1920's? They seemed to be located just about everywhere!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Frank Capra silent films featured at PFA

Starting today, the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley is launching a major retrospective of the  films of Frank Capra. The series, “Before ‘Capraesque’: Early Frank Capra,” runs January 16 through February 27.

The PFA series showcases many little-known gems, including rare short films made by Capra in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1921-1922, short comedies he co-wrote while a Hollywood gag man during the silent era, and his first feature as a director, The Strong Man (1926), starring Harry Langdon. Of note, the January 24th screening of Capra's Bay Area films will be accompanied by a talk by Bay Area resident and Capra biographer and past SFSFF guest Joseph McBride.

All together, “Before ‘Capraesque’: Early Frank Capra" is a rare opportunity to see some fine films - both silent and talkie - by one of America’s great directors. For additional details, visit the Pacific Film Archive webpage about the series at or check out this article on

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Follow us on Twitter!

Yes, it true. The San Francisco Silent Film Festival tweets. The SFSFF is now on Twitter.

Twitter is a great way to share and discover what's happening right now in the world of silent film.** It is also an easy and fun way to keep up with announcements, bits of news, links, and other related happenings from the SFSFF.

If you would like to follow the San Francisco Silent Film Festival on Twitter, please visit its very own page at If you have a Twitter account, just click on the follow button. Its that easy. As of today, the SFSFF has 54 followers on Twitter. Are you one of them?


** An earlier blog noted the addition of links (on the bottom left hand column of this blog) to a bunch of other silent film Twitter folk.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Report from Brazil

Chances are if you've attended the San Francisco Silent Film Festival in the past you have read the work of Shari Kizirian. She  is a cultural journalist living in Rio de Janeiro. Since 1998, Kizirian has also been a member of the SFSFF’s writers group and curated the festival’s 2005 presentation of the Brazilian silent film Sangue Mineiro (1930), by director Humberto Mauro.

Recently, Kizirian published an interesting article titled "Open Your Ears: The Sound of Music, Talking, and Foley at the 3rd Annual Jornada Brasileira de Cinema Silencioso." The article appears in the most recent issue of Senses of Cinema, an online film journal based in Australia.

Kizirian article is a detailed report on the 2009 Festival, and as well, it touches on various aspects of Brazilian film history most likely little known to American readers. Kizirian's article is well worth checking out - as is Senses of Cinema.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Happy 100th birthday Luise Rainer

Luise Rainer, one of the last surviving leading ladies of 1930's Hollywood, today celebrates her 100th birthday. Happy birthday Luise.

Born in Dusseldorf, Germany in 1910, Rainer took to the stage and as a young actress was discovered by theater director Max Reinhardt. She became part of his company in Vienna, Austria before moving into films in her native Germany. With the rise of anti-semitism  in Europe, Rainer came to the United States in the mid-1930's. She was quickly cast in a handful of important films. Among them were The Great Ziegfeld (1936), in which she played actress Anna Held, and The Good Earth (1937), which was based on the novel by Pearl S. Buck. Rainer won Oscars for her roles in each film. She was the first actor to do so.

Monday, January 11, 2010

New book on Edison's Frankenstein

A good deal of conjecture surrounds the once lost 1910 Thomas Edison film version of Frankenstein.

The film can rightly be thought of as the first horror movie, though such an appellation was never applied to the approximately 13 minute work when it was initially shown. Then, it was simply a dramatic motion picture.

A new book by Frederick C. Wiebel, Jr., Edison's Frankenstein, has just been published by BearManor Media. This edition, according to the author, corrects all the ‘facts’ and false statements made about the film and reveals for the first time the true story about the finding of the movie and its preparation for release on DVD.

This "100th Anniversary Edition" of Wiebel's book is the result of almost 20 years of research on the 1910 film and contains more information and photos than any of the author's previously self-published editions. This new trade paperback weighs in at 286 pages. According to the author, "The complete tortuous history of the 1910 film version of Frankenstein is narrated in this 100th Anniversary edition. Everything you ever wanted to know about the classic first Frankenstein film and then some."

This thoroughly researched work begins in the archives of Thomas A. Edison and follows a trail of evidence that leads through the pages of pre-Hollywood film history. The story tells of the making of the film starring Charles Ogle, Augustus Phillips, and Mary Fuller, its disappearance, re-discovery, and eventual  release on DVD. Supplemented with obscure Edison Manufacturing Co. documents and numerous rare photographs, many published for the very first time, this motion picture and its impact on later Frankenstein films is revealed.

Frederick C. Wiebel, Jr., Edison's Frankenstein is available directly from the author, from BearManor, or through We recommend purchasing directly from the author. A two-disc version featuring a CD-Rom of the book and DVD of the restored film is also available through TCM. We expect copies of the printed book will be available at the book table on the Castro mezzanine at this summer's San Francisco Silent Film Festival.

One-time San Francisco resident Forrest Ackerman, the late, longtime publisher of Famous Monsters of Filmland, said of an earlier edition of this book, "Of the over 400 books on Frankenstein that I have in my library, this is the gem of my collection and the one I've been waiting for." That's recommendation enough.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

John Gilbert stars tonight on TCM

Tonight, Turner Classic Movies will broadcast the newly restored Bardeleys the Magnificent (1926), the swashbuckling romance starring John Gilbert and Eleanor Boardman shown at the 14th annual San Francisco Silent Film Festival. Undoubtably, this marks the American television broadcast premiere of both the film and its restored version. If you missed it this past July, be sure and check it out tonight. It is a fine film.

Bradley the Magnificent, oops we mean Bardeleys the Magnificent, is being shown as part of TCM's regular Silent Sunday Nights. Check your local listings for the time and channel.

Following the film, Turner Classic Movies will also debut a new 30-minute documentary about John Gilbert.  

Remembering John Gilbert (2009) features an on-camera interview with John Gilbert's daughter and biographer, Leatrice Gilbert Fountain. She is a past guest of the SFSFF, as is the documentary's makers, film historians Jeffrey Vance and Tony Maietta.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Guest blogger: Donna Hill

Donna Hill is a long time attendee of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, as well as one of the leading experts on Rudolph Valentino. Since 1997, she has run Falcon Lair: The Rudolph Valentino Homepage at Donna is also a podcaster. Since 2006, Donna has been broadcasting "Stolen Moments," a unique online audio-cast devoted to Valentino and silent film. Currently, Donna is nearing completion of a new book, Rudolph Valentino: The Silent Idol. In this guest blog, Donna Hill muses on some past (and future) Festivals.


The San Francisco Silent Film Festival is an event to which I eagerly look forward every year.  I’ve attended as long as I’ve lived in San Francisco (interrupted by the hiccup of living on the east coast for a few years). What began as a small event has blossomed into a weekend packed with great films and the chance to revisit with old friends and make new ones.  People around the world plan vacations around attending the San Francisco Silent Film Festival; I am local, but I am still one of them. 

2010 will be a landmark year for the San Francisco Silent Film Festival - its fifteenth anniversary.  As a San Franciscan, I may be biased, but I feel the San Francisco Silent Film Festival is one of the premiere film events in the United States.  Nearly every major star from the silent era has been represented in screenings over the course of those fifteen years. 

A few of the gems shown include: Stage Struck (1925) starring Gloria Swanson (my favorite of her silent films); Aelita Queen of Mars (1927) a cubist propaganda delight from the Soviet Union; Bardelys the Magnificent (1927) a rollicking swashbuckler starring John Gilbert; Chicago (1927) the silent (and superior) film version of the Roxie Hart story; Her Wild Oat (1926) starring the eternal flapper, Colleen Moore; and Sunrise (1927), arguably the greatest film of the American silent film era. Clara Bow, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Buster Keaton, Charles Chaplin, Louise Brooks, Harold Lloyd, Ramon Novarro, Lon Chaney and Rudolph Valentino have all been represented with at least one screening. 

It’s not just all about the films. What am I saying! Of course it is all about the films.  But the venue in which the films are screened is a special one, indeed. The Castro Theater is a beautifully preserved 1920s neighborhood movie theater.  It is not as large as some of the truly massive palaces, but it is a lovely representative of an era when attending a movie - even in your own neighborhood - was an event. It’s easy to be engrossed and seduced by the magic of silent film in such an environment. And seduction is exactly what it is.

The San Francisco Silent Film Festival planners know all too well that silent films were never truly silent.  The Castro has a magnificent Mighty Wurlitzer in house and great care is taken to invite musicians familiar with and eager to play for the films. Philip Carli, The Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra, Donald Sosin, Robert Israel and Dennis James have all come to tickle the ivories and enhance the experience for not only the seasoned silent film fan, but those who’ve never seen a silent before. I overuse this phrase, but the experience is magic. Once you’ve seen a silent film in this environment, you will be changed forever.

In this the 15th anniversary year the length of the festival will increase to a four day festival. July 15-18th are already marked on my calendar.  I’m anxiously awaiting the announcement of the film lineup planned for this year and I am eager to plant myself in the theater and enjoy this unforgotten art form.

I’d like to present a request to the Board and Staff of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival.  As a Valentino fan, I can only lament that his best work has not yet been scheduled by the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. Valentino films have been showcased at the Castro Theater before. It would be dream come true to see Valentino’s 1925 Clarence Brown-directed comedy/adventure film The Eagle under the aegis of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival  A stunning print derived from a 35mm fine grain negative is extant which has been restored by Kevin Brownlow and Patrick Stanbury of Photoplay Productions. That’s my dream for a future San Francisco Silent Film Festival screening.  Perhaps 2010 will be the year my wish comes true.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Film Preservation

As the new Facebook group, For the Love of Film: The Film Preservation Blogathon, notes, "Nitrate preservation costs $3.00 per foot of film preserved. Without the work of dedicated organizations like the NFPF (National Film Preservation Foundation), films without commercial potential are doomed." It's sad but true.

If you love film, it's important to become involved, or to stay informed. Visit the National Film Preservation Foundation website or Facebook page for more info on the subject.

Speaking of staying informed . . . A two-part article by Marjorie Galas was recently published on-line at 411 News. Part one is Film Preservation In The Advent of Digital Media: A Discussion with AMPAS Head of Preservation Mike Pogorzelski, and part two is Video Preservation And The Future Of Digital Preservation: Understanding the hurdles surrounding film preservation. Each are worth reading.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Twitter folk

We've added a bunch of links to silent film Twitter Folk on the bottom left hand column of this blog. More to come. Explore. Enjoy.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Andre Soares interviews Anthony Slide about Frank Lloyd

Alt Film Guide publisher & chief editor Andre Soares recently interviewed film historian Anthony Slide about director Frank Lloyd. Slide, who has signed books on a few occasions at the Silent Film Festival, has recently published a new book on Lloyd, an under-appreciated director whose distinguished career began in the silent era.

Slide's news book is Frank Lloyd: Master of Screen Melodrama. It was published by BearManor late last year. Slide's book is the first book-length study of one of the most prominent studio directors of Hollywood's "golden age."

Lloyd's career spanned the years 1913 through 1955. Among the director's greatest works are Oliver Twist with Jackie Coogan, The Sea Hawk with Milton Sills, and The Divine Lady with Corinne Grifffith, as well as two Academy Award winners for Best Picture, Cavalcade and Mutiny on the Bounty. They are discussed in detail in Slide's new book, along with other prominent Lloyd productions such as Berkeley Square, Wells Fargo, and The Howards of Virginia.

Frank Lloyd won two Academy Awards, and yet he has up till now failed to receive the attention he deserves. With his new book, which includes a filmography and a sampling of writings by the director, Slide sets the record straight.

In Soares' excellent interview with Slide, the widely acclaimed film historian discusses his motivation for writing his new book, as well as some of the things he discovered about the director. The interview makes for good reading, and is illustrated with a number of rarely scene images. Soares' interview with Slide can be found on the excellent Alt Film Guide website starting here.

[Frank Lloyd: Master of Screen Melodrama is available on-line and at better bookstores. Copies will also be available at the mezzanine booktable at this summer's San Francisco Silent Film Festival.]

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

George Lucas's Blockbusting

George Lucas's Blockbusting, a massive new book with a somewhat different take on the great films of the past, has just been published by IT books. Film buffs of all stripes - including those who love silent film - will find something of interest in this new work.

George Lucas's Blockbusting: A Decade-by-Decade Survey of Timeless Movies Including Untold Secrets of Their Financial and Cultural Success, by Alex Ben Block and Lucy Autrey Wilson, focuses on the production histories of 300 of the most critically acclaimed and financially successful movies of all time.

Among the contributors to this 976 page work are a few film historians known to the local silent film community. David Kiehn and Robert S. Birchard wrote the entries in the section of the book devoted to the silent era. Kiehn, the main historian at the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum in Fremont, California is a regular SFSFF attendee as well as  the author of Broncho Billy and the Essanay Film Company. Southern California resident Birchard, who has been spotted more then a few times at the Festival, is the author of a handful of books including, most recently, Early Universal City. Other contributors include local film historians Russell Merritt and Matthew Kennedy, as well as one-time San Francisco Examiner film critic Michael Sragow.

According to the publisher, "By meticulously compiling the details of how movies have been made and financed since the medium′s inception, chronicling their performances at the box office, and offering expert commentary about the most important trends of the last one hundred years, the authors of this book have given readers a singularly unique perspective on the film-making industry and a superlative blueprint for future successful filmmaking ventures."

Decade by decade and film by film, the book examines the revenues, costs, production and distribution of 300 movies - from the film industry's earliest days through 2005. A recently launched blog highlighting various aspects of the book can be found at

The numerous essays found in George Lucas's Blockbusting examine trends in war, noir, biblical, epic, musical, western, disaster, crime, action adventure, and other genres. Additionally, a full complement of charts, graphs and diagrams presents production length, salary histories, awards and honors, advertising expenditures, domestic versus overseas profits, and more. Also included are conversions of past movie-making dollars into current dollar values.

What's the biggest grossing silent film of all time? The answer, likely, won't surprise you. But what may interest you to learn is that in today's dollars, this 1915 film has earned a remarkable $522 million - and which ranks it 21st all time. It is the highest ranked silent film. Another, Daddy Long Legs (1919), ranks 238th with earnings of more than $208 million.

All together, 7 films from the 1910's and 23 films from the 1920's are included among the 300 featured in George Lucas's Blockbusting. Find out more by exploring the nifty widget for this fascinating and detail rich new book.

[George Lucas's Blockbusting is available on-line and at better bookstores. Copies will also be available at the mezzanine booktable at this summer's San Francisco Silent Film Festival.]

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Bradley the Magnificent, and other errors

It seems as thought when ever we are doing a bit of research - or just looking things up for fun, we always seem to come across miss-titled films, typos, misspellings, and other  curious and sometimes outrageous mistakes in newspapers and magazines of the past. That's been the case on more then a few occasions in regards to films shown at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival.

Usually, such errors are slight. Sometimes, a single word is transposed. Or sometimes, a word is only slightly missspelled.

Take, for example, the 1927 newspaper advertisement for the Opal Theatre in Hollister, California. On November 9th it screened Just Another Blonde, a First National comedy starring the frequently paired Dorothy Mackaill and Jack Mulhall. In 1996, as part of a presentation on lost films and film preservation, the SFSFF screened newly discovered fragments from that film. When the Opal advertised it 69 years earlier, the theatre dropped the "e" in Blonde. It's a common mistake.

That's not so bad, however, compared to what the J. and J. Theatre in Soledad, California did to the title of another film shown at the Festival.

This past summer, the San Francisco Silent Film Festival screened a newly restored print of King Vidor's Bardelys the Magnificent, starring John Gilbert and Eleanor Boardman. When the J. and J. advertised its showing of the film in 1927, it mangled the name. Badly.

Somehow, the swashbuckling sounding Bardelys the Magnificent became a far more prosaic Bradley the Magnificent.

One can only wonder how many patrons noticed the mistake? And how many demanded a refund thinking they were going to see a film about an average guy named Bradley - and not the far more noble sounding Bardelys.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

New book on historic Portland, OR theaters

Arcadia Publishing (whose books can often be found at the SFSFF book table) has issued a new book titled Theaters of Portland. It joins a near shelf full of other Arcadia books which visually document local theaters around the country; the series includes titles on San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose, Los Angeles and elsewhere. An article on the new book and the illustrated Arcadia series can be found here.