Posted by davidkalat on May 18, 2013
This week TCM debuts some super-rare Harold Lloyd shorts from the early years of his career. I cannot overstate the significance of this find.
I was asked by TCM to write some material for the web site to introduce Harold Lloyd in general and some of these shorts in particular, but the specific remit of that assignment was kind of limiting, so I have a lot else to say about these films that didn’t fit into the website content. But hey—I have a blog!
Posted by davidkalat on May 11, 2013
Later this month, TCM is unveiling a package of Harold Lloyd films, which will include debut screenings of some rarities from the early end of his career. I was asked to contribute some material to the website to help promote and document this Lloyd festival, and in the course of fulfilling that assignment I found myself writing a lot of material that just didn’t fit the specific needs of TCM’s website, so I’ll be letting the excess Lloyd stuff spill over here to Movie Morlocks over the next several weeks.
This week concerns Safety Last, which will be screening on May 23 and is coming out imminently as a deluxe Criterion Collection Blu Ray. It is of course the film from that image comes, the most famous icon of all silent comedy:
And, as it happens, there’s a story behind that image.
Posted by davidkalat on February 9, 2013
While we’re on the topic of great animators, it’s well past time I got around to saying a few words about Winsor McCay.
He’s rightly hailed as one of the early pioneers of animated cartoons. You can’t call him the creator of cartoons–not only did others get there a little before he did, but really, every single movie ever made is animation. Real life proceeds seamlessly, continuously, while movies sample intermittent fragments. Live action takes samples at the same rate at which the resulting sequence of stills is going to replayed–the interstitial moments can be safely ignored. But anytime you extend that interstitial gap, and replay the footage at a different rate than that at which it was taken, you are invoking the principle of animation. This is the gimmick that underlies Melies’ trickery as much as it is the way that drawings can come to life.
But that didn’t stop McCay from staking out a claim for himself as the first cartoonist in his 1911 movie debut, Winsor McCay the Famous Cartoonist of the NY Herald and His Moving Comics.
Posted by R. Emmet Sweeney on November 20, 2012
The 2012 holiday season is also Alfred Hitchcock season, as studios have been looking for various ways to earn your master of suspense dollar. Universal released a brick of new Blu-Rays, HBO aired The Girl, a drama about the Hitch-Tippi Hedren relationship, and Hitchcock, the dubious-looking fiction about the production of Psycho, opens in a limited theatrical release this Friday. The most exciting Hitch development won’t cost you a thing, however, as the three extant reels of The White Shadow (1924) are now free to stream on the National Film Preservation Foundation website. Part of the cache of rarities discovered in the New Zealand Film Archives in 2010, along with John Ford’s Upstream, The White Shadow is the earliest surviving film that Hitchcock worked on. He was assistant director, editor, scenarist and art director, the second of five films on which he was the jack of all trades for director Graham Cutts. The White Shadow was a critical and box office failure, even leading to the dissolution of its production company, but what remains is an essential document of Hitchcock’s artistic maturation, containing themes of doubling and mistaken identity that would re-emerge and deepen throughout his career. Along with The National Film Preservation Foundation, great thanks are also due to David Sterritt for his informative film notes and Marilyn Ferdinand, Farran Smith Nehme and Roderick Heath, whose For The Love Of Film Blogathon funded the recording of the fine score by Michael Mortilla.
Posted by davidkalat on September 15, 2012
Charley Chase was one of the funniest, most widely talented, most important, and most influential comedians of the early 20th century. I’m not even going to bother to argue that statement, it is simply a fact—the way that 2+2=4 is a fact. However, Charely Chase did his work in shorts, not features. With one exception, he did not star in a feature-length comedy, despite a career in movies that spanned over a quarter century. The film critical establishment has historically held a pronounced bias in favor of features, which has meant that by definition Charley Chase’s extraordinary accomplishments and legacy are seen as secondary in stature.
Posted by davidkalat on September 1, 2012
Alone among the great silent comics, Harold Lloyd stood at the exact intersection of slapstick and screwball, at the intersection of physical comedy and dialogue. Harold Lloyd, you see, made a film with Preston Sturges. It was neither man’s greatest hour, but the mere fact of its existence is breathtaking. It’s like finding Ernst Lubitsch directing Charlie Chaplin, or Blake Edwards directing Laurel and Hardy.
Let’s take stock of this for a minute: we have one of the greatest physical comedians of the entire silent era—a man whose work bequeathed to posterity one of the most enduring icons of what silent comedy was all about—yet who is also preternaturally comfortable with the world of talkies. He is paired with a visionary of the new dialogue school of comedy—yet one who has an enduring appreciation of the values of silent comedy. They are going to collaborate as equals on a film that will be made without studio interference. If there is ever going to be a moment when the old guard of silent comedians are going to function uncompromised in this new world of screwball, then there could be no better opportunity than this.
Posted by davidkalat on August 25, 2012
F.W. Murnau’s Sunrise is one of those reliable standbys certain to show up in most critics’ Best Of lists. Thanks, Greg, for noting that Sight and Sound placed it 5th in their latest silly list. It was the very first selection chosen to inaugurate Eureka’s Masters of Cinema DVD collection. It won (for all intents and purposes) the first ever Oscar, has been placed on the National Registry, and was the first silent film put out on Blu-Ray. I could keep going—you get the point. This is one of those “safe” choices, beloved by the pointy heads but not a crowd-pleaser (I mean, c’mon, with a pretentious title like Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, are you kidding me?). Right?
A few weeks ago I played around with viewing Last Year at Marienbad through the lens of science fiction, by way of making its more obtuse aspects less alienating. But Marienbad is a deliberately off-putting exercise. Sunrise is, by contrast, a picture whose artistry is intended to be accessible to mass audiences. It is conventionally beautiful, conventionally narrative, conventionally stirring. It needs no apologies or excuses, it’s just excellent in every way.
But that won’t stop me from approaching it from an oblique angle, just to be ornery. The fact is, Sunrise can actually be enjoyed as a comedy. Yeah, you heard me. Now click that “more” button below the fold and let’s have some fun!
Posted by davidkalat on August 18, 2012
Last week I began a cycle of talking through how the transition to talkies affected the development of American screen comedy, and to continue in this vein we need to take a moment to talk through what that transition was all about. The Jazz Singer has persisted in posterity and popular memory far in excess of the merits of its actual content–it is however remembered as a revolutionary picture, one that precipitated a sudden reorientation of the industry. But the real story behind the switch to talkies is messier–and doesn’t have much of anything to do with The Jazz Singer. It is instead a story about the dynamics of format wars.
Posted by Susan Doll on June 18, 2012
This week, I attended a special screening for Facets patrons of a contemporary, black-and-white, silent film. And, no, the film was not The Artist, the recent Oscar-winning silent comedy-drama by French director Michel Hazanavicius. The film we watched was called Juha, and it was directed by Finland’s talented native son, Aki Kaurismaki. Released in 1999, Juha predates The Artist by a decade, but the very characteristics that made The Artist a much-talked-about sensation in 2012 turned out to be the kiss of death for Juha, at least in the United States. By 2003, after an extensive tour of international festivals, Juha failed to find a distributor. According to Mark Jenkins of the Washington Post, “It’s not hard to understand why American distributors passed on it. Based on a 1911 novel that’s unknown here, the film is in black-and-white and is ‘silent’….” I am not sure I agree with Jenkins.
Exactly why The Artist was a major sensation while Juha failed to find a distributor has little to do with the content of either film but everything to do with availability and exposure. That’s a major issue regarding current independent and international films in the U.S. Without exposure in the press, proper distribution to major cities, and money to market properly, they simply go unnoticed. Juha, and other alternatives to standard Hollywood fare are simply too far off the radar of most movie-lovers. I am convinced that many movie-goers would return to the theaters or eagerly stream/rent non-Hollywood films if only they knew about them.
Posted by davidkalat on April 7, 2012
Last year I had the privilege of participating in the Blu-Ray restoration of the restored version of Metropolis (the UK Blu-Ray edition at least, from Masters of Cinema), recording an audio commentary alongside Jonathan Rosenbaum. It was a tremendous thrill to see this once-lost footage brought back into circulation—it makes you think that maybe anything is possible. But for all that was positive about the experience, there was one point of frustration, centered on how the restored edition was marketed. And to explain my contrarian position, we need to back up over eight decades and tell the convoluted story of multiple Metropoli.
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