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August 29, 2015
David Kalat
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Go, Miss Mend, Go!

I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but in TCM’s program descriptions, every single silent film shown is described with “In this silent film, …” as a sort of talismanic warning: Abandon All Hope All Ye Who Enter Here.

The presumption is clear: silent films are slow, they’re old, they’re in B&W, they’re silent.  Better warn people so no one turns in unsuspecting.

Of course, the bias is absurd.  Practically everything TCM shows is old and B&W, and most of it is slow–by modern standards, surely.  If you’re watching this channel, you’ve already signed up for a different pace and style to contemporary filmmaking.  So why the fear of silents?  Especially when there are such mad gems as the 1926 Soviet Russian serial Miss Mend, a cliffhanger-driven pulp adventure in the Fantomas vein.  Last week we talked about Arsene Lupin–if you enjoy that, this is up your alley too.

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KEYWORDS: Miss Mend
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Superhero Saturdays on TCM: BATMAN (1943)

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BATMAN is coming to Turner Classic Movies! The revered DC superhero is making his network debut on Saturday, March 7th and viewers will able to tune into TCM every morning (7AM PST – 10Am EST) for the next few months to catch an episode of Columbia Picture’s original 1943 film serial. Serials or “Chapter Plays” were often cheaply produced shorts that were typically shown with cartoons and newsreels before feature films. This format came into prominence during the silent film era and remained viable until the 1950s but fell out fashion due to the development of home television. While many believe that the popularity of superheroes and comic books adaptations are a relatively new phenomenon, the truth is that they’ve been an accepted form of entertainment for decades although until recently they were mostly regulated to short format serials and television. Columbia adapted many well-regarded comic books and strips for the screen including SUPERMAN (1948), TERRY AND THE PIRATES (1940), MANDRAKE THE MAGICIAN (1938), THE PHANTOM (1943), BLACKHAWK (1952) and BRENDA STARR, REPORTER (1945). BATMAN was one of the studio’s most popular productions and it’s earned an important place in comic book history for a number of reasons, which make it a particularly fascinating footnote in the Caped Crusader’s ongoing fight against crime and corruption.

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Musings from an Avid Soap-Opera Fan

Last Friday, the ABC soap opera All My Children aired its last episode on television after a 41- year run. In January, One Life to Live will broadcast its last episode, and though, it hasn’t been formally announced, General Hospital will follow suit in September 2012. Soap fans are angry and disappointed that their shows have been canceled from television after decades on the air. ABC declared that ratings dictated their demise, citing dwindling audiences and changing times as the reason. All My Children was replaced by a cooking show called The Chew, which airs its first episode today. General Hospital will be replaced by Katie Couric’s new program. Good luck with that, Katie. I am sure millions of GH fans can’t wait to watch NBC’s and CBS’s former golden girl try one more time to make her mark, this time with a talk show—a type of programming already glutting the airwaves.

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Summer Blockbuster: Daredevils of the Red Circle (1939)

This year’s summer movie season was inaugurated by the gentle guttural drawl of Vin Diesel in Fast Five, the latest iteration of the jokey car fetishist franchise. Listening to Diesel’s lazy growl battle The Rock’s aggressive, crystalline enunciation offers more diversionary pleasures than most Hollywood money-grabbers. But the most fun I’ve had this year is watching a minor hit from the summer of 1939, the movie serial Daredevils of the Red Circle, which I picked up a $.99 VHS copy of on Amazon. The history of the summer blockbuster is usually traced to Jaws and Star Wars – in which Steven Spielberg and George Lucas filmed B-movie scenarios with A-level budgets and cemented the studios’ preference for the holy teen demographic. Lucas has previously stated that the Flash Gordon serial was one of the influences on Star Wars, and both men further indulged their serial fantasies with the Indiana Jones franchise. While  Spielberg and Lucas continue their attempts to recapture their sense of childhood wonder, always undercut by a winking self-consciousness, the originals are still around, providing unpretentious pleasures their wildly successful descendents have never quite been able to match.

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