Thursday, April 29, 2010

David Menefee

Yesterday, we wrote about the new book by David Menefee, George O'Brien: A Man's Man in Hollywood (BearManor Media). We also mentioned that Menefee, a Texas-based biographer and film historian, will be signing copies of his books at this summer's San Francisco Silent Film Festival. The SFSFF is set to take place July 15th - 18th at the Castro Theater in San Francisco, California.

David Menefee, who now works as an editor in the field of early film, has also authored a handfull of books on the subject. They include two biographies, "Otay!" - The Billy "Buckwheat" Thomas Story (BearManor Media, 2010) and Richard Barthelmess - A Life in Pictures (BearManor Media, 2009), as well as Sarah Bernhardt in the Theatre of Films and Sound Recordings (McFarland, 2003). The latter book, the first ever study of the actress' recorded work, features a foreword by Kevin Brownlow. (Menefee also collaborated with Richard Davis on Lilian Hall-Davis: The English Rose, a biography of Britain’s famous silent film star.)

Two of Menefee's earlier books are group biographies, The First Female Stars: Women of the Silent Era (Praeger, 2004), and The First Male Stars  (BearManor Media, 2007).

The First Female Stars includes material on 15 actresses including Theda Bara, Beverly Bayne, Sarah Bernhardt,
Pauline Frederick, Carol Dempster, Gene Gauntier, Janet Gaynor, Dorothy Gish, Mae Marsh, Mae Murray, Alla Nazimova, Constance Talmadge, Norma Talmadge,
Laurette Taylor, and Pearl White. The First Male Stars includes material on John Barrymore, Lionel Barrymore, Richard Barthelmess, John Bunny, Francis X. Bushman, Lon Chaney, Jackie Coogan, William S. Hart, Tom Mix, Antonio Moreno, Jack Pickford, Wallace Reid, Rudolph Valentino, and Crane Wilbur.

Hopefully, most of Menefee's work should be available at the book table on the Castro Mezzanine. Come say hello. Menefee is currently working on biographies of the actors Lou-Tellegen and Wallace Reid.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

George O'Brien

Just out from the good folks at BearManor Media is George O'Brien: A Man's Man in Hollywood, by David Menefee. This recommended new book tells the story of  the San Francisco-born silent and sound-era film star whose signature roles in F. W. Murnau's Sunrise, Michael Curtiz' Noah's Ark, and more than a few John Ford films still thrill audiences today.

One of those early John Ford films, The Iron Horse (1924), will be shown this July during the annual San Francisco Silent Film Festival. It's a must see movie, a truly fine film, and the film which made O'Brien a star. And, we are pleased to announce, film historian and O'Brien biographer David Menefee will be in attendance at this year's festival.

During the Twenties and Thirties, O'Brien was one of America's most beloved actors. And what's more, his on-screen heroics more than matched his real life bravery. For the first time, film historian and author David Menefee tells the story of how O'Brien survived the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and grew up to become a superb athlete, a decorated hero in World War One, and a stunt double for film idol Rudolph Valentino. O'Brien was one of hundreds working as an assistant cameraman, extra, and bit player when he was plucked from obscurity to head the cast of John Ford's epic, The Iron Horse. O'Brien became a star overnight.

The actor's rise to the top ranks of silent film reached sublime proportions when F. W. Murnau featured him in the classic romance, Sunrise. Soon, Warner Bros. plunged him into one of the first talking pictures when director Michael Curtiz converted his silent  Noah's Ark epic to sound. Many men, women, and animals were injured during the climatic flood scenes, but O'Brien lived through the deluge to enjoy a long career that would last more than another twenty years. (All told, O'Brien appeared in more than a hundred credited and unaccredited films.)

George O'Brien: A Man's Man in Hollywood is a richly detailed work which draws from hundreds of sources, including major archives and the George O'Brien Estate. It also includes hundreds of photos and illustrations, many unseen for the past eighty years, including a few that might make a fair maiden blush. (Undoubtedly your eyes have already been drawn to them. There are others, and others more revealing, in this new book.) It is thoroughly researched - and includes an extensive filmography, rare portraits, posters and lobby cards that capture the glamour of early Hollywood's.

David Menefee will be signing copies of this new book, George O'Brien: A Man's Man in Hollywood, at this summer's San Francisco Silent Film Festival. Copies will be for sale at the book table on the Castro mezzanine. If you can't wait till then, this recommended book can be found online and at select independent bookstores. We will have more on this new book later on . . . .

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Weekend update #7

Here are some brief bits of news - offered on a regular basis - from and about the San Francisco Silent Film Festival and the world of silent film:

1) "It has recently become axiomatic that film criticism is in crisis." If you hadn't known, or perhaps had an inkling, or just had your doubts - be sure and check out the article about film scholar David Bordwell in today's New York Times. It's an interesting read. Bordwell is, of course, best known for the book he co-authored with Kristin Thompson and Janet Staiger, The Classical Hollywood Cinema: Film Style & Mode of Production to 1960 (Columbia University Press, 1985). Bordwell, now retired, also has an active website and blog.

Of that well known book, Manhola Dargis wrote in the New York Times: "Though well received, the book had its detractors and continues to draw criticism for, among other things, its cut-off dates and insistence on the coherence of the Hollywood style. The book alone certainly didn’t reintroduce history back into film studies, but its insistence on the historical conditions that control and shape 'textual processes,' along with the depth and breadth it brought to writing film history, has been profound. The discipline’s new emphasis on cinema’s past has been rewarding, but it also suggests that film studies has entered a nostalgic, even elegiac stage: many scholars have turned back the clock to write about early and silent cinema at the very moment that others are theorizing about the end of cinema in the digital age."

2) Are you looking to get rid of a playable upright or baby grand piano that can be tuned for a professional? We would be delighted to take it off your hands to use for the festivities surrounding the 15th Anniversary Festival, and beyond. If you or someone you know has just such a piano, please email San Francisco Silent Film Festival office manager Lucia Pier. Or give us a call! Contact info can be found on the SFSFF website.

3) Excitement continues to grow around the screening of the restored Metropolis at this summer's San Francisco Silent Film Festival. This very special event will mark the first showing of the restored version in Northern California! The world famous Alloy Orchestra will debut their score for the film!! And as well, archivists Paula Felix Didier and Fernando Peña of the Museo del Cine in Buenos Aires, Argentina (the team responsible for bringing the lost Metropolis footage to light) will be in attendance and introduce the film!!!  It's an event not to be missed!!!! KINO has just launched a mini-website all about the newly restored Metropolis. It contains lots of stuff, including a history of the film, stills, artwork, video clips and more. [Image courtesy of the Deutsche Kinemathek.]

Saturday, April 24, 2010

A Letter from Leonard Maltin

Dear Friend of Silent Film,

Hi, I’m Leonard Maltin, and I have some great news for you. This July, the San Francisco Silent Film Festival will celebrate its 15th anniversary. I’ve just seen a preview of the program lineup, and I think you’re going to be very excited by what festival producers have in store to mark the occasion!

You may already have heard that they’re featuring the highly anticipated restoration of Metropolis, with nearly thirty minutes of lost footage. This would be reason enough to mark your calendars, but there is much more: they’ve added one full day to the festival, along with four more programs! This year’s selection of films covers seven countries, and involves the most extensive array yet of international musicians and special guests (including three different ensembles). There will also be two preservation programs, and a special presentation on silent film music, featuring discussions and demonstrations by many of the musicians you’ll see throughout the festival.

When I realized that the festival turns fifteen this year, I was struck by how far it has come in this relatively short period of time. When Melissa Chittick and Stephen Salmons founded the organization, it wasn’t just because they thought silent movies weren’t getting the audiences they deserve. They were convinced that the best way to get people to appreciate silent movies was to present them as they are meant to be seen — on pristine 35mm prints, in a classic movie palace, and accompanied by carefully crafted live music. They knew that once people saw just how good these early films are, they would be hooked.

They were right. Year by year, the audience has grown, and growth has brought with it a greater number of films, and a more diverse selection. It has created more opportunities for talented, innovative musicians to compose and perform. And it has offered those who devote their lives to saving these films — the archivists and preservationist — the special satisfaction of seeing their hard work enjoyed by large and enthusiastic audiences. For many of us, it has become an almost magical place of discovery and rediscovery, a place where we revisit old favorites and uncover forgotten treasures, where we can learn about film and music, but still lose ourselves in the indefinable but irresistible pleasure of movies.

Reflecting on the past fifteen years not only made me thankful to those who have produced the Festival, but also to everyone who has supported it. Showing these rare, vulnerable films in archival prints and with live music costs much more than presenting a contemporary sound film. Grants, sponsorships, and ticket sales do take care of some expenses, but most are covered by your generous donations. This is why I urge you to make your donation today. If you’ve given in the past, please make the 15th anniversary an occasion to increase your contribution. If you haven’t given before, take a look at the enclosed donor benefit materials and find the level that's right for you. I think you’ll be pleased with the value you get for your money.

Plus, if you renew or join at $250 or above by April 30, you'll receive two invitations to a special reception, where you’ll get the first look at the complete program lineup.

And that’s not all. Everyone who gives by April 30 has a chance to have their donation doubled, thanks to one of the festival’s major donors, who has offered to match — dollar for dollar — every new donation of $50 or more, and any increase over last year’s gift!

I’ve been involved with the Silent Film Festival in many ways over the years, often on stage talking about movies or interviewing guests, and sometimes being interviewed myself. But my favorite spot, by far, is right there in the seats of the magnificent Castro Theatre, marveling yet again at the artistry of silent movies, and being reminded why these early films once captivated the world, and why they continue to inspire and entertain people today. I hope to see you there!

Warm Regards,

Leonard Maltin

P.S. Remember to make your donation by April 30!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Our special guests

Today, we thought we might take a peak at a few of the special guests and authors who are set to attend this year's San Francisco Silent Film Festival. Not only is our annual event a swell opportunity to see some great films, it is also a great opportunity to meet some of the many key individuals involved in helping keep silent film before the public eye.

The hugely successful free program, Amazing Tales from the Archives, has been so popular over the past four years that the festival has decided to have two presentations this year - ­with special guests and speakers for each  to be announced next month. . . . 

(The complete program for the July event will be announced on May 19th.)

However, we can tell you at this time that among the special guests set to attend the Festival are the distinguished archivists Paula Felix Didier and Fernando Peña from Museo del Cine in Buenos Aires, Argentina. They are ­ the team responsible for bringing the lost Metropolis footage to light. [Image courtesy of the Deutsche Kinemathek.]

And, as mentioned earlier this week, film preservationists David Shepard and Serge Bromberg will be on hand to curate a selection of short films by the French fantasist George Méliès.

Festival regular and film historian Leonard Maltin will be on hand to introduce films, as will television writer and director Frank Buxton. Maltin is also the author of a new book, Leonard Maltin's 151 Best Movies You've Never Seen (HarperStudio).

Along with Ira Resnick, whose book Starstruck: Vintage Movie Posters from Classic Hollywood (Abbeville) we wrote about earlier this week, some of the other film historians and film biographers whose books we've also highlighted on this blog will be in attendance. Among them are Anthony Slide, Sarah Baker, Lucy Autrey Wilson and David Keihn. Each will be signing books sometime during the Festival.

Anthony Slide is the author of recently profiled Inside the Hollywood Fan Magazine: A History of Star Makers, Fabricators, and Gossip Mongers (University Press of Mississippi), as well as other notable books. He has attended past Festivals.

Sarah Baker is the author of  Lucky Stars: Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell (BearManor), which tells the story of one-time Castro theater usherette Janet Gaynor and her on and off screen relationship with frequent co-star Charles Farrell.

Lucy Autrey Wilson is the co-editor of George Lucas's Blockbusting: A Decade-by-Decade Survey of Timeless Movies Including Untold Secrets of Their Financial and Cultural Success (IT Books / HarperCollins). David Keihn is a local film historian and contributor to the just mentioned book, as well as the author of Broncho Billy and the Essanay Film Company (Farwell Books).

Also coming to the Festival are actor and author Robert Dix. He is the author of Out of Hollywood (Ernest Publishing), which tells his own story and that of his father, silent film great Richard Dix. L.A. screenwriter and playwright Samuel Bernstein will also be in attendence, signing copies of his new novel about Louise Brooks, Lulu - A Novel (Walford Press). As will Gregory Paul Williams, author of the lavish, must-have pictorial, The Story of Hollywood: An Illustrated History (BL Press). Williams is a Hollywood designer whose credits include Men in Black and Pee-wee's Playhouse.

Elaine Mae Woo, the director and producer of the documentary Anna May Wong ~ Frosted Yellow Willows: Her Life, Times, and Legend, will also be on hand. Her acclaimed documentary has just been made available as a limited edition DVD. 

A half dozen other author appearances and booksignings are also in the works - including a few with some really big names in the world of silent movies. Put them all together, and you won't want to miss this year's San Francisco Silent Film Festival.

The San Francisco Silent Film Festival is set to take place July 15th - 18th at the Castro Theater. For more info, be sure and visit the SFSFF website at

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Music in the air

Since 1996, the Silent Film Festival has dazzled audiences with films from the silent era that exemplify its motto: “True art transcends time.” 

Bringing to light beloved classics and new discoveries, the festival takes great care to secure the best prints and present films on the big screen as they were made to be seen. These films, however, were never intended to be presented in silence, and the Silent Film Festival enlists the talents of an extraordinary collection of musicians from around the world to provide musical accompaniment.

In 2010, the festival is expanding from three days to four, with the addition of more films, more special guests, more musicians, and a very special program we’re calling "Variations on a Theme­" - a presentation that will highlight the creative process that goes into composing music for silent films. All of the festival musicians will participate. "Variations on a Theme­" will be moderated by a surprise guest.

This year, returning musicians include pianists Stephen Horne and Donald Sosin, the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra, and the master of the Mighty Wurlitzer, Dennis James. And, as mentioned earlier this week as part of our "sneak peak" at the 2010 Festival, the Alloy Orchestra will grace the event with their composition for the rediscovery of the century - ­Fritz Lang’s original version of Metropolis

And that's not all. We're excited. And we're also thrilled to present, in their West Coast Premiere, the Matti Bye Ensemble from Sweden. Musician/composer Bye won the Golden Beetle­ - the Swedish Oscar­ - for his score for Jan Troell’s Everlasting Moments, Sweden’s 2009 submission to the Academy Awards.

The San Francisco Silent Film Festival is set to take place July 15th - 18th at the Castro Theater. The complete program will be announced on May 19th. For more info, be sure and visit the SFSFF website at AND, be sure and attend this year's event - and see and hear it all for yourself.

Tomorrow, we will take a peak at some of the special guests and authors who are set to attend this year's festival. Stay tuned (pun intended).

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

George Méliès

George Méliès (1861-1938) is one of the most important of the early European filmmakers. He was a pioneer, and is widely credited as the innovator of special effects which still enchant audiences today. Méliès discovered the stop trick, or substitution in 1896, and was one of the first filmmakers to use time-lapse photography, multiple exposures, dissolves, and hand-painted color in his films. Méliès' best known work may be Le voyage dans la Lune (A Trip to the Moon), from 1902. It is an exceptional and whimsical work of cinematic fantasy.

Méliès films will be featured at the upcoming San Francisco Silent Film Festival, which is set to take place July 15th - 18th at the Castro Theater. Renowned film preservationists David Shepard and Serge Bromberg will curate a selection of short films by the French fantasist which are set to play throughout the event. This mini "festival within a festival" is a great opportunity to see Méliès' magical motion pictures on the big screen.

Shepard and Bromberg, along with Eric Lange, are also the archivists behind the recently released DVD, George Méliès Encore, from Flicker Alley. This new disc is a companion to Flicker Alley’s monumental thirteen-hour, five-DVD set, Georges Méliès, First Wizard of the Cinema

Since that massive set was released in 2008, an additional 26 short films produced by Méliès between 1896 and 1911 have been found and have now been made available on this single-disc, supplemental collection. They further support the widely held notion that Méliès was the most accomplished filmmaker in the world during the first years of cinema.

Be sure and attend this year's San Francisco Silent Film Festival and see for yourself. More about Georges Méliès, First Wizard of the Cinema and George Méliès Encore, including lists of films and a few short clips, can be found on the Flicker Alley website. Additionally, we expect that each of these titles will be for sale at the book and DVD tables on the mezzanine.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Starstruck : Vintage Movie Posters from Classic Hollywood

As mentioned in yesterday's blog, Abbeville has recently published Ira M. Resnick's Starstruck: Vintage Movie Posters from Classic Hollywood. Though this full color coffee table book spans six decades, we're happy to report it includes many wonderful examples of silent era posters and lobby cards within its gorgeous 272 pages. 

Simply put, Starstruck is a must-have for early film buffs and collectors alike. The Los Angeles Times described it as "More than just a picture book of some of the most beautiful and rare posters from 1912 to 1962, Starstruck also is an exploration of one man's unending passion."

Indeed, this is a beautifully illustrated, personal tour of both one man's collection and a bygone era in motion picture art. (Courtesy of the publisher, a few of the silent era posters and lobby cards found within its pages are included as illustrations in this write-up. There were many to choose from. Thus, we selected a few examples of artwork for films which have been screened in past years by the San Francisco Silent Film Festival.)

For four decades, this photographer, collector, film lover and one-time San Francisco Bay Area resident has been amassing a remarkable assembly of more than 2,000 vintage movie posters and more than 1,500 vintage movie stills - many of which have not been seen or published in decades.

Resnick's book highlights the best of his collection. Included are vivid reproductions of 250 posters and forty stills.

Resnick started collecting while studying at New York University Film School. By that time, had already fallen in love with the old movies which he had seen on late night television. 

In the book's introduction, the author relates how his love of vintage movie art translated into an eventual career as a collector and the founder of the Motion Picture Arts Gallery, the first gallery devoted exclusively to the art of the movies.

Resnick writes, "I bought my first film posters forty years ago, and I still have all three. I found them at Cinemabilia, a now-legendary movie bookstore on Cornelia Street in Greenwich Village. I paid $50 - a heavy price at the time - for a title lobby card from Stage Door, and $35 each for one-sheets promoting Love Before Breakfast and The Awful Truth. This was the modest beginning of a collection of posters and stills, spanning the years 1912 to 1962, which now numbers in the thousands. Initially I was attracted to them because they appealed to my visual sense and reinforced the pleasure I had recently discovered in the world of classic movies, and then, as the collection grew, because they gave me access to a vivid slice of American history. In time I came to feel that I had a responsibility to preserve these artifacts, once taken for granted and considered ephemeral, now increasingly rare and precious as representatives of a lost era. When all is said and done, though, I fell in love with film posters because they let me cut myself a slice of movie magic, because they provided me with a special and almost visceral connection to the movies I loved, and to the actors and actresses who brought them to life."

In the early 1970's, Resnick lived in San Francisco and worked as a magazine and rock music photographer. In Starstruck, he remembers the city as a "mecca for those of us who love old movies, home to revival houses and dealers in cinema collectibles of all kinds." Among those recalled were a " . . . cafe and poster gallery called Cinemonde on Polk Street in San Francisco."

Resnick's account includes anecdotes about how he managed to acquire various posters or lobby cards, about how he came to meet a few of the cinema legends whose work he admired, as well as biographical and historical information about some of the stars and films depicted in the book. Favorites, like Lillian Gish, Greta Garbo, John Barrymore, Louise Brooks, Marlene Dietrich and the Marx Brothers are shown in more than a couple works. As are Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, and Bette Davis.

While guiding the reader through the best posters and stills in his collection, Resnick also provides a personal tour of the history of the movies, starting with the silent film era and continuing through Breakfast at Tiffany's. Resnick seems to be the most enamored with  American films of the Twenties and Thirties. They dominate the book.

Starstruck includes a foreword by director Martin Scorsese (one of Resnick's instructors at NYU), a list of the author's fifty favorite one-sheets, helpful tips for collectors, and a glossary of terms and poster sizes. To learn more about this title, visit the publisher's page at Or, check out this informative review of the book at Women's Wear Daily (WWD).

Besides running his gallery, Resnick is a trustee of the Film Society of Lincoln Center, and a trustee of the International Center of Photography and MUSE Film and Television. To learn more about the author and his involvement in the world of film, visit his website at

As part of our week-long sneak peak at some of the films, musicians, special guests, authors and book signings taking place at our upcoming July event - we are pleased to announce that Ira Resnick will be attending this summers' San Francisco Silent Film Festival. Copies of Starstruck will be on sale at the Festival, and Resnick will be signing books on Saturday, July 17th. If you can't wait till July, Starstruck: Vintage Movie Posters from Classic Hollywood is available on-line or through independent bookstores.


Monday, April 19, 2010

A sneak peak at this year's silent film festival

The staff at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival is busy, busy, busy preparing for its annual Summer event. As you may have heard, the Festival is EXPANDING to four days, and this year's event - the 15th Anniversary Festival - promises to be bigger and better than ever before. Not unexpectedly, details are still being ironed out around the films and the special guests who will be in attendance. (For example, one special guest debuting their silent film documentary on DVD was just added today!) Here is a look at four films on the schedule at this July's not to be missed event:

The opening night film, The Iron Horse, is John Ford’s masterful depiction of the romance and history of the American West. Strapping men, barroom gals, frontier justice, Abe Lincoln, and trains – the first transcontinental railroad will be built before your very eyes to the resounding strains of the Mighty Wurlitzer as played by Dennis James.

From the Norman Studios in Jacksonville, Florida comes The Flying Ace, the delightful story of a crime-fighting ace pilot. What truly sets this film apart is its all-black cast, an anomaly of the silent-era, when blacks were mostly demeaned in mainstream movies. 

Rotaie, a cinematic gem from Italy, follows two impoverished lovers whose desperation and pure luck leads them to a whirlwind two weeks of glamorous living. With the drama and lyricism of Stephen Horne’s piano accompaniment, this beautiful Expressionist film promises to give our audience something to talk about (it was also the surprise hit of this year’s Pordenone Silent Film Festival in Italy!).

Pride of place will be given to the newly restored Metropolis. The long missing half hour of the film that you have heard so much about came to light through pluck and persistence. This summer, Fernando Peña and Paula Felix Didier, the cinematic detectives who made this incredible discovery, are coming from Argentina to introduce Metropolis with their personal account of rescuing the long-forgotten and invaluable footage from a vault in Buenos Aires! Add accompaniment by the Alloy Orchestra, and this program is, quite simply, not to be missed!

The Metropolis lobby card pictured above can be found Ira M. Resnick's stunning new book, Starstruck: Vintage Movie Posters from Classic Hollywood (Abbeville). More on Ira Resnick tomorrow. . . ! 

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Weekend update #6

Here are some brief bits of news - offered on a regular basis - from and about the San Francisco Silent Film Festival and the world of silent film:

1) All next week on this blog look for announcements regarding some of the many happenings taking place at this summer's San Francisco Silent Film Festival. Its expanding to four days! And that means more movies, more special guests, and more opportunities to experience what it was like to go to the movies back in the days of silent film. Announcement week will offer a sneak peak at some of the many films, musicians, special guests, authors and book signings taking place at the annual July event.

2) As a follow up to yesterday's post featuring a 1925 newspaper from Reykjavik, Iceland, we wanted to let you know about an excellent guide to the ever increasing number of historic newspapers which can be found on-line. Many of them are searchable in one form or another! This "most excellent" list can be found on Wikipedia under "List of online newspaper archives." There, one can link to newspaper archives from not only across the United States but also Australia and Austria, Canada, Latvia, The Netherlands, New Zealand, and elsewhere. There is also an archive of Hebrew newspapers from the 19th - 20th centuries, and an archive of Jewish (Hebrew, French and English) newspapers from the 19th - 20th centuries. Interested in exploring the world of silent film (as reported in the popular press) in such far flung lands as Estonia, Ireland, or even Michigan - here is the place to start.

3) Today marks the 104th anniversary of the earthquake which struck San Francisco in 1906. To mark the occasion, we've embedded a short film depicting the pre-earthquake city; A Trip Down Market Street (1906, Miles Brothers) was made just prior to the tragic event, a fact only recently uncovered by local film historian David Kiehn. The film was originally thought to be from 1905. However, Kiehn discovered it was filmed only four days before the great quake. 

The Niles Film Museum historian was led to his discovery after having come across announcements of the film’s debut in old motion picture trade publications. Kiehn also noticed other internal evidence within the film itself – such as evidence of a recent heavy rainfall, and shadows on the street indicating time of year. These observations linked-up with the historical record. As did the license plates seen on some of the cars. Kiehn was even able to track down the registration details on some of these vehicles!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Iceland and silent film, in the news

The recent eruption of a volcano in Iceland and the havoc it is causing across Europe has returned the island nation to the news.

During the silent film era, the motion picture was a international art form. And even an European island nation in the northern reaches of the Atlantic Ocean enjoyed films from all around the world. Here is a typical front page from the Morgunbladid newspaper from Reykjavik, Iceland. It dates from November, 1925. As can be clearly seen in the lower right hand corner, silent films from overseas played in the Icelandic capitol. Why, that's Ben Turpin on the front page!

Individuals interested in further exploring the online Morgunbladid newspaper archive should visit this page. It is part of the VESTNORD project (1696-2002). Of course, the handful of newspapers found there are in the Icelandic language, but keyword searches in English under the name of an actor or actress will get some results. And from there, one can start to piece together bit and pieces.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Baby Peggy screening in Eugene, Oregon

Diana Serra Cary, aka Baby Peggy, was the toast of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival in 2002 when her classic 1924 film, Captain January, was screened. The booksigning which followed was also a hit - many lined up to meet and even get the autograph of a REAL film star.

On Saturday, April 17th, audiences in Eugene, Oregon will have the chance to meet the actress and Northern California resident when the Willamette Oaks Silent Film Series screens The Family Secret (1924), a delight comedy starring the child star. More on this special event (which also includes a discussion and booksigning) can be found on and the website for the local NBC affiliate, KMTR.

In recent years, Diana Serra Cary has established herself as a insightful film historian and writer. Her books include What Ever Happened to Baby Peggy: The Autobiography of Hollywood's Pioneer Child Star (St. Martins, 1996), and three works of film history, The Hollywood Posse: The Story of a Gallant Band of Horsemen Who Made Movie History (Houghton Mifflin, 1975), Hollywood's Children: An Inside Account of the Child Star Era (Houghton Mifflin, 1979 – with an introduction by Kevin Brownlow), and Jackie Coogan: The World's Boy King: A Biography of Hollywood's Legendary Child Star (Scarecrow Press, 2003). Each has been reprinted in softcover.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Long lost Lincoln film discovered

A long lost 1913 film about Abraham Lincoln will be unveiled to the public at Keene State College in New Hampshire on April 20th. Considered lost for many years, When Lincoln Paid is a 30-minute film about the mother of a dead Union soldier who asks President Lincoln to pardon a Confederate soldier whom she had turned in.

A nitrate print of the film was found in a barn in southern New Hampshire in 2006. It has been restored and preserved by the Film Department at Keene State College. A 35mm copy is held by Keene State and another has been deposited at the George Eastman House in Rochester. The film stars Francis Ford, the brother of director John Ford. When the film was released, Moving Picture World described it as "a great war drama" with vivid battle scenes.

According to an AP wire story, local film professor Larry Benaquist suggested the film may have once been screened for children who attended the many summer camps located in the area. Benaquist said there was a boys' camp in the area of the barn, and he "believes the films were shown to entertain the children, then put away and forgotten."

Keene State College, to whom this only known surviving print was donated, has posted further information and a couple of brief clips from the film.

Monday, April 12, 2010

South pole films shown for first time since 1912

The Independent newspaper has an interesting article about long lost footage of Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen's race to the South Pole in 1911. The film, which has not been seen since 1912, will be screened this week in the UK as part of the British Film Institute's Silent Film Festival in Leicester. Also scheduled to be shown is the better known and now fully restored The Great White Silence, a sponsored film by Amundsen's rival, the Englishman Robert Scott. The article can be found here.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Weekend update #5

Here are some brief bits of news - offered on a regular basis - from the San Francisco Silent Film Festival and the world of silent film:

1) Last weekend, we reported that a long lost 8mm home movie featuring footage of Charlie Chaplin had resurfaced, and would be shown in public for the first time in the United States. The footage was in the possession of Vermont resident Susan Cooke Kittredge, daughter of the late journalist and television host Alistair Cooke, who shot the film in 1933. The film was lost for over 70 years, and was only rediscovered after Cooke’s death in 2004.

After Kittredge discovered the film, she had the print restored. The 11-minute silent short, All at Sea, was screened on April 7th in Montpelier, Vermont. More than 100 people attended the event. According to the Canadian Press and other media sources, Kittredge plans a second showing in Middlebury on May 5, as part of a lecture about her father's life. However, she has no plans to sell the lone copy of the film, or seek a wider audience for it.

2) Back in 2007, the San Francisco Silent Film Festival screened Beggars of Life, the rarely shown 1928 William Wellman film based on the acclaimed book by hobo-writer Jim Tully. It, and the live musical accompaniment by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra, drew a standing ovation. The film returns to the screen in the UK, where it will be shown with live musical accompaniment by the Dodge Brothers on April 18th as part of the British Silent Film Festival. More info here.

3) According to articles in the Utica Observer-Dispatch and elsewhere, controversy has once again broken out over the screening of the D.W. Griffith film Birth of a Nation (1915). The Upstate New York paper reports that a local theater plans to go ahead with its April 17th screening, despite letters to the editor and calls from community leaders demanding the screening be canceled.

Art Pierce, Executive Director of the Capitol Theater in Rome, N.Y., said the purpose behind showing the film is "not to 'create racial unrest' but to explore the film's artistic merits and to encourage understanding of a time in our nation's history a century ago when racial divisions were particularly evident." The Capitol Theatre, however, did agree to restrict those under 16 from entering the film without a parent or guardian.

Follow the links contained in this short write-up for more about the current controversy. A fascinating book which explores the history of the film and the controversy which has surrounded it in the past is Melyvn Stokes' D.W. Griffith's the Birth of a Nation: A History of the Most Controversial Motion Picture of All Time (Oxford University Press). That recommended book can be found online and at better independent bookstore.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Speaking of old movie publications

Speaking of old movie publications . . . here is a real gem from the silent film era. Its Film Flashes: The Wit and Humor of a Nation in Pictures, published by the Leslie-Judge Company in 1916. The copy you see below is hosted on the Internet Archive, where it can be downloaded for free or read online.

Its hard to find out much information about Film Flashes, but it appears to be an annual - a compilation of material which appeared in earlier publications. According to Anthony Slide's just published book, Inside the Hollywood Fan Magazine (see yesterday's blog), the Leslie-Judge Company published Film Fun beginning in 1914. Perhaps some of the material in Film Flashes comes from Film Fun, or from another Leslie-Judge annual which we've come across, Caricature: The Wit & Humor of a Nation in Picture, Song & Story. Its hard to say, as there is little bibliographical data about any of these publications to be found online. (Leslie-Judge also published a humor magazine titled Judge, as well as Leslie's Weekly.)

One thing we do know about Film Flashes is that it is a whole lot of fun and contains images and articles about many of the favorite film stars of the time. Among them are Charlie Chaplin, Fatty Arbuckle, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Norma Talmadge, Marie Dressler, Mabel Normand, Wallace Beery, Mary Fuller, Rozsika Dolly, and a young Bessie Love. There are also poems, bits of humor, cartoons, color plates, scene stills and more, including a serious article by Mrs. D.W. Griffith.

We've seen other editions of Film Flashes (also copyrighted in 1916) which differ from the edition shown below. If you know any more about these wonderful old publications, please post a comment.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Inside the Hollywood Fan Magazine

Just out from the University Press of Mississippi is Inside the Hollywood Fan Magazine: A History of Star Makers, Fabricators, and Gossip Mongers, by the acclaimed film historian Anthony Slide. 

This  illustrated hardcover work is sure to be one of the big film books of the year. Copies are just now hitting store shelves, and it looks to be not only a great reference work but also a great read. And, there's also lots of material on the silent film era within its 288 pages.

Slide's new book is certainly the definitive history of the movie fan magazine and how it both espoused hoopla and fashioned stardom. Of it, Kevin Brownlow wrote "I am enthusiastic about this survey - it is as entertaining as it is informative."

Leonard Maltin noted, "For anyone who equates 'fan magazines' with supermarket tabloids, this book should come as a revelation. Tony Slide has done a formidable job of research to chart the birth, rise, and fall of Hollywood fan magazines in the twentieth century, their relationship to the industry they covered, and the readers they served. It's a colorful, well-told history that's full of surprises."

According to the publisher:
The fan magazine has often been viewed simply as a publicity tool, a fluffy exercise in self-promotion by the film industry. But as an arbiter of good and bad taste, as a source of knowledge, and as a gateway to the fabled land of Hollywood and its stars, the American fan magazine represents a fascinating and indispensable chapter in journalism and popular culture.

Anthony Slide's Inside the Hollywood Fan Magazine provides the definitive history of this artifact. It charts the development of the fan magazine from the golden years when Motion Picture Story Magazine and Photoplay first appeared in 1911 to its decline into provocative headlines and titillation in the 1960s and afterward. Slide discusses how the fan magazines dealt with gossip and innuendo, and how they handled nationwide issues such as Hollywood scandals of the 1920s, World War II, the blacklist, and the death of President Kennedy. Fan magazines thrived in the twentieth century, and they presented the history of an industry in a unique, sometimes accurate, and always entertaining style.

This major cultural history includes a new interview with 1970s media personality Rona Barrett, as well as original commentary from a dozen editors and writers. Also included is a chapter on contributions to the fan magazines from well-known writers such as Theodore Dreiser and e. e. cummings. The book is enhanced by an appendix documenting some 268 American fan magazines and includes detailed publication histories.
Anthony Slide is an independent scholar who has published more than seventy books on the movies and popular culture. He has been an associate archivist for the American Film Institute, the resident film historian of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences,  a specialist appraiser of entertainment memorabilia for more than thirty years, and a two time guest at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. His Silent Players: A Biographical and Autobiographical Study of 100 Silent Film Actors and Actresses has been a perennial bestseller at past Festivals.

Inside the Hollywood Fan Magazine: A History of Star Makers, Fabricators, and Gossip Mongers is a worthy addition to the shelves of any student of film history. There should be a big stack of them (at the book table on the mezzanine) at the Silent Film Festival in July. If you can't wait till then, the book is available on-line or through better independent bookstores.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Who's reading this blog

Recently, the San Francisco Silent Film Festival blog installed a "Live Traffic Feed" on this page. The feed can be found lower down, on the left hand side, following the various links to other silent film websites, blogs, and twitter folks. It's fun to check out.

What fascinating about this live, ever changing feed is the fact that people from around the United States and even the world read this blog. Of course, there are many readers from San Francisco and Oakland and Sunnyvale and our neighbors to the north in Portland, Oregon. There are visitors as well from Chicago, Illinois and Plano, Texas and Washington D.C. and New York City. 

We've also noticed recent visitors from Avignon, Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur and even Okinawa, Japan. There have also been visitors from various cities and towns in Canada, from Farnham, Surrey in the UK, from Athens, Greece and even from Moscow in Russia! Wow, who would have thunk?

It's great to know individuals from all over the world read this blog. We would love to hear from you. Please take a moment to post a comment or two. Where are you from?

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

SF Symphony presents Chaplin's "The Gold Rush"

Next week, the San Francisco Symphony presents three screenings of Charlie Chaplin’s The Gold Rush at Davies Symphony Hall. Its an event not to be missed. The orchestra, led by Assistant Conductor Donato Cabrera, will perform Chaplin’s original score to accompany this rare presentation.

The Gold Rush (1925) is one of Chaplin’s most successful films, and the highest grossing silent film comedy of all time. It was written, produced, directed by, and starred the comedic actor. The Gold Rush was also Chaplin’s favorite work, and the one by which he said he would most wish to be remembered. It was re-released in 1942 with a full orchestral score composed by the actor.

Inspired in part by the 1898 Klondike Gold Rush, the film tells the story of  a lone prospector. At the time of it's release in 1925, the critic for the New York Times wrote:
Here is a comedy with streaks of poetry, pathos, tenderness, linked with brusqueness and boisterousness. It is the outstanding gem of all Chaplin's pictures, as it has more thought and originality than even such masterpieces of mirth as The Kid and Shoulder Arms.
In 1992, The Gold Rush was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."

This special event will take place at Davies Symphony Hall, 201 Van Ness Avenue in San Francisco on Thursday, April 15th at 2 p.m., Friday, April 16th at 8 p.m., and Saturday, April 17th at 2 p.m. Stephen Salmons, former artistic director of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, will give a talk one hour prior to each performance. The talks are free to all concert ticket holders; doors open 15 minutes before-hand. Further information at

Tickets (from $35-$135) are available at, by phone at 415-864-6000, and at the Davies Symphony Hall Box Office, on Grove Street between Van Ness Avenue and Franklin Street in San Francisco.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Chaplin Days in Niles

Once again, our neighbors at the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum in Fremont will be hosting their annual "Charlie Chaplin Days" event. There is a lot going on, which you can check out below. Or visit their website for details.


Sunday, April 4, 2010

Weekend update #4

Here are some brief bits of news - offered on a regular basis - from the San Francisco Silent Film Festival and the world of silent film:

1) The Times Argus (which serves Barre and the capital of Montpelier in central Vermont) reports that Vermont resident Susan Cooke Kittredge, daughter of the late journalist and television host Alistair Cooke, will give a talk about her father’s life which will include a  screening of his 1933 short film featuring Charlie Chaplin. The talk and screening will take place at the Trinity United Methodist Church on April 7th. The paper also reports that the talk has been moved from its original venue to accommodate a larger audience due to the addition of the rarely screened film.

Cooke filmed the 11-minute silent short, All at Sea, during a weekend boat trip with the comedian off the coast of California in 1933. The film was lost for over 70 years and was only rediscovered after Cooke’s death in 2004. It has been screened only once before in public — at the Pordenone Silent Film Festival in 2007. The short features Chaplin miming fellow actors Greta Garbo and Jean Harlow as well as public and historical figures like the Prince of Wales and Napoleon. More info at

2) The International Buster Keaton Society website has been updated with information about the 2010 Damfinos Convention in Muskegon, Michigan. The 16th Annual Damfinos Convention will take place October 1st & 2nd. Why Muskegon? Because that was Keaton's childhood home.The Damfino's have many activities planned. More info at

3) This may not mean a lot to most folks, but we thought it was kind of interesting . . . . It concerns movie heralds, how they were distributed, and how some movies were promoted during the silent film era. As most of you know, movie heralds were small, illustrated, cheaply printed, folded sheets (like a flyer) which promoted the showing of a film at a particular theater. Usually, the herald had a blank back where the theater could stamp its name and the dates when a film was to show. Heralds were supplied by the studio, and could be purchased by a theater along with lobby cards, posters, stills, and other material  with which to promote a film. Today, vintage heralds are still pretty common. A search of "silent film herald" on Google, for example, will turn up a number of examples.

Its commonly thought that heralds were distributed in advance of a screening at the theater, or handed-out on the street, not unlike restaurants today which pay individuals to pass out flyers announcing their lunch specials. Recently, however, we came across a previously unknown means of distribution - the local newspaper. 

While scrolling through some newspaper microfilm of  the 1927 News Messenger (serving Lincoln and Placer County in Northern California), we came across something we've never seen before. It was a movie herald, bound in along with the newspaper. And because it had been bound in, it was microfilmed along with the papers. Apparently, this was one way one theater distributed heralds and promoted its films. Certainly, others must have as well? Who knew?

A scan of this small discovery is included below. The herald in question promotes The Plastic Age, a 1925 Paramount Production which starred Clara Bow. The film was adapted for the screen by Frederica Sagor, who at the age of 99 was a guest at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival in 1999.

Thursday, April 1, 2010


As today is April 1st, we thought to offer you a kind-of cautionary tale . . . about some of the "shadowy" figures which lurk in the very shadows of film land. They sit, spellbound in darkness, inhabiting that not quite black, not quite white world known as . . . . well, we're not quite sure what to call it.

It was a dark and stormy night . . . when one such figure crossed our paths at the SFSFF Winter Event in December. The Festival had just screened West of Zanzibar (1928). This Tod Browning directed film stars Lon Chaney as "Dead Legs," a magician who seeks revenge upon his rival, dramatically played by Lionel Barrymore. Oh what a tale it told!

Well, anyways, like we were saying, lurking about the Castro Theatre mezzanine was a somewhat suspect figure who caught our eye - and who was in turn caught by the paparazzi in the very act, yes, we declare - the very act, of concealing valuable nitrate film beneath his jacket! (See image above.) Who this strange and mysterious personage was we cannot say, but we did notice a rather curious and perhaps not uncoincidental resemblance to a certain other figure who was on everyone's mind that very evening. (See figure below.)

We invite comparison. Notice the intense gaze. Notice the gripping hand. Notice the concealment of mysterious matters beneath the jacket. For heaven's sake, notice the grin! Are they not one and the same?

When confronted, this somewhat shadowy figure became agitated - and admitted being drawn to the event in question because of the Browning / Chaney motion picture being projected upon the screen. "Ha, ha," we thought to ourselves, "that proves it."

And, when pressed to reveal the nature of the film he so gripped in his possession - he blurted out "London After Midnight." All were amazed! Could it be that this legendary lost film had been found? Could it be this somewhat suspect, somewhat shadowy figure possessed what so many others have so long sought? Could it be? The answer to these questions may never be known, as this shadowy figure soon disappeared into the gray night, taking with him those fragments of film with which he astonished us all. He is legend.

And now, all that remain are these few "frames" found on youtube.