Posted by davidkalat on January 14, 2012
The inventor steps aboard the train, and loads the packing crates that contain his most wondrous device. It will revolutionize the world. It would not be an exaggeration to say that this is the very birth of the modern age. The inventor takes his seat—it will be a few hours from Leeds to Paris, his old homeland. Although the inventor has been living and working in England, he is French in his blood, and it is in France that he must tie up some last loose ends.
The competition has been fierce. He has not been alone in working on such a device. His is still embryonic and needs improvement—and the idiots at the patent office have fundamentally misunderstood his creation. Sorting out that mess will take time and tact, he thinks to himself. But he can content himself with the knowledge that he is first. He will be rich and famous. The future belongs to him.
But he never gets off the train.
Instead, it arrives in Paris without him, and he will never be seen again. The authorities will search high and low for clues, but the mystery will never be solved. And in the confusion following his disappearance, much of his equipment will also disappear. His legacy will go to others, with more money and power, and his name will fade from the history books altogether.
It is the kind of sensational tragedy that filmmakers like Louis Feuillade will make their names depicting. Pulp films for generations hereafter would find inventors, bankers, and other keepers of valuable prizes attacked on trains. Why, this will be the bread and butter of the nascent film industry in just a couple of decades. But not yet. We are only in 1890 at this point, five years before the first public screening of a motion picture show—the movies don’t yet really exist, and Feuillade is just a pimply teenager. What we have just seen is no fiction, because whatever it is that happened to Louis Le Prince actually happened. Ironically, his invention… well, it was the movies.
Posted by Susan Doll on October 17, 2011
Author Susan Orlean recently published Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend, a biography of the canine movie star. Instead of doing the usual round of book signings at bookstores, which are seldom lucrative these days unless the author is a star or celebrity, Orlean is touring theaters. The author is using the occasion to introduce new generations to Rin Tin Tin by showing a 1925 film starring the talented canine. I thoroughly enjoyed Orlean’s program, which included a short film about Rin Tin Tin, a reading from the book, a screening of Clash of the Wolves, a Q&A with the author, and a signing for those who purchased the book. If Orlean comes to your area, I can’t recommend her program enough; it offers much to think about regarding the meaning and value of pop culture in America, the bond between humans and animals, and the need for writers to find a larger context for their memories and experiences.
Unlike Lassie, who was a character created for the movies and played by several male dogs, Rin Tin Tin was a real pet from the real world before he became a movie star. And, there is much about his life story that is as heart-wrenching as any script for a movie. In September 1918, U.S. soldier Lee Duncan found a family of German shepherds in a bombed-out kennel in Fluiry in the Meuse Valley of France. A female with five puppies seemed to be the last survivors in the kennel, and Duncan took it upon himself to rescue them. He found homes for the mother and three pups, but he adopted the remaining two puppies, which he named Rin Tin Tin and Nenette (some sources use “Nanette”) after popular French dolls of the time. When he tried to arrange for passage for the two puppies on his return trip home to America, he ran into red tape. An officer intervened on Duncan’s behalf, and the puppies made the arduous voyage. Sadly, Nenette died from canine distemper shortly after her arrival in the States, but Rin Tin Tin grew into a strong, athletic dog. A striking-looking dog, Rin Tin Tin was nearly black, with gold marbling on his legs, chin, and chest. His unusually large, tulip-shaped ears were expressive, signaling mood or emotion through their twitchy movements or erect position.
Posted by moirafinnie on February 2, 2011
My fellow Morlock, R. Emmet Sweeney has written an excellent appreciation of the restoration of the long-lost John Ford film Upstream (1927) that was recently screened at New York’s Museum of the Moving Image. Like Rob, I saw this delightful movie for the first time as well–though I was in a relatively small audience at the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York with Philip P. Carli providing live musical accompaniment on the piano. The Dryden Theatre at Eastman House rang with laughter and applause last weekend in response to Upstream, though the audience was also held rapt by another movie on the program created by a member of the same family. Francis Ford (1881-1953), a man who acted in around 400 movies and wrote, directed and produced close to 200 films, preceded his baby brother, the four time Oscar winning director, John Ford, into the burgeoning movie industry by several years. Frank Ford is primarily remembered now as a fairly obscure and often silent member of the John Ford Stock Company in the background of numerous films, including Upstream, where he appears as a medicine show salesman who likes to guzzle his own wares. On rare occasions in his long years as an obscure character actor, Francis had a few moments of glory: his brave (if thirsty) Revolutionary soldier Joe Boleo in Drums Along the Mohawk (1939), the frightened victim of a lynch mob in The Ox-Bow Incident (1943), the old codger who rises from his death bed to witness the battle royal in The Quiet Man (1952) or his silent but animated coonskin-wearing Civil War veteran in The Sun Shines Bright (1953). While Francis was often a sad, peripheral figure after he gave up directing for acting in the late ’20s, filmmaker Francis Ford’s When Lincoln Paid (1913), has only recently been restored after almost 98 years in obscurity, and highlighting a nearly unknown talent.
The film was a thirty minute, two-reeler, made for distribution by Kay-Bee pictures, (Kay-Bee was a subsidiary of Universal and was also known as Bison). The Civil War story may have been directed by and starred John Ford‘s elder brother and unsung pathfinder, Francis Ford a year before John Feeney’s arrival in California, but the seeds of the “Fordian” storytelling that recur so often in justly celebrated films such as The Searchers, Young Mr. Lincoln, and How Green Was My Valley can be discerned in When Lincoln Paid in less polished form, as characters cope with private pain and loss, the longing for revenge, the development of empathy and public action for a greater good. Long forgotten and assumed lost, this movie was unearthed by contractor Peter Massie, who came across a 35mm Monarch projector and seven reels of nitrate film tucked away and forgotten in the summer of 2006 as he prepared to demolish a barn in Nelson, N.H. It was eventually determined that this movie was the only surviving copy of one of the eight silent films starring Francis Ford as Lincoln; there are no known surviving copies of the others.
Posted by davidkalat on January 1, 2011
A few weeks ago I was bloviating self-importantly about Laurel and Hardy’s debut talkie, Unaccustomed As We Are, and how I felt it demonstrated the ability of silent-era comedians to weather the transition to sound without losing a step. Some of the replies in the comments section addressed the central question directly:
“What’s strange to me is that, to judge from most of the histories I’ve heard, people suddenly stopped being interested in the kind of comedy they’d loved for decades, silent comedy in the style rather than the technical sense, as soon as sound showed up. People watch that kind of comedy now- Mr. Bean is an internationally popular figure, and Mr. Hulot was one before him, both of them fundamentally silent comedians dropped into a sound world a la Modern Times. So what killed it back then? Why did people suddenly want all Grouchos and no Harpos?”
That’s a superb question, Tom S., and very carefully phrased at that. It’s a question I’ve been thinking about for many years, and while I can’t pretend to have a definitive answer, I do have some ideas.
Posted by keelsetter on December 5, 2010
To renew or not to renew? That is the $329.99 subscription question.
Posted by R. Emmet Sweeney on November 23, 2010
The wheezing, rickety looking vehicle you see above, silently mocked by the parallel oil pipeline, is desperately straining up the incline, hoping to reach the space outside the CinemaScope frame. Why the hurry? Because they’re trying to….Escape From Zahrain! This 1962 Paramount adventure film is being released on DVD by Olive Films on December 7th, and it delivers the ragtag-group-on-the-run goods. At age 51, it was director Ronald Neame’s first Hollywood production, after a lifetime in the British system.
An assistant cameraman on Hitchcock’s Blackmail (1929), he became a highly sought after cinematographer for 12 years, and worked frequently for David Lean (This Happy Breed, Blithe Spirit). After moving to producing duties on Lean’s Great Expectations and Oliver Twist, he segued into directing with the 1957 relationship drama Windom’s Way (1957). It wasn’t until the success of Tunes of Glory (1960), and its Oscar nomination for best adapted screenplay, that Paramount came calling. He’s mainly remembered now for The Poseidon Adventure‘s disaster theatrics, but his career seems to warrant further investigation. I’m sure there are readers out there more well-versed in Neame’s work, so please send recommendations my way.
The plot of Escape from Zahrain essentially re-locates Stagecoach to a made up Middle Eastern country, throwing together conflicting personalities into a tight space. Sharif (Yul Brynner) is the stoic imprisoned leader of a revolutionary group in Zahrain advocating the expulsion of the corrupt U.S. oil company. A student cell led by Ahmed (Sal Mineo) leads a bold jail-break scheme, springing Sharif as he is being transferred to another city. As they race away from government thugs to the border, they have to deal with the other inmates in Sharif’s car. Huston (Warden) is an arrogant American embezzler, while Tahar (Anthony Caruso) is a murderous, shifty local. When this suspicious group needs a new ride, they kidnap Laila (Madlyn Rhue) and her emergency vehicle in their rumble towards freedom.
Posted by davidkalat on November 20, 2010
Lillian Travers (Edith Story) makes a surprise visit to her boyfriend Dr. Cassadene (Sidney Drew). But the surprise is on her when she catches him in what sure seems like a comprising position with a wealthy widow. He makes the requisite apologies, they make up, and it all goes pear shaped again when he blows their next rendez-vous, once again caught with the same widow. She gives him a third chance—and as she comes out of her house to meet him, there he is, entangled in the clutches of three fawning women. If this were any other movie, you’d expect Lillian to blow her top and walk out on him, continuing the cycle of sitcommy complications that you’ve come to expect by this point. Oh, but A FLORIDA ENCHANTMENT is not any other movie. And let us uncover its fabulousness in stages:
Posted by Susan Doll on August 23, 2010
Each year I look forward to the Silent Summer Film Festival at the Portage Theater, one of Chicago’s few restored movie palaces. For six consecutive Fridays, the Silent Film Society of Chicago (SFSC) presents a variety of well-known and unknown silent movies accompanied with live organ and sound effects by professional “photoplay organists” Dennis Scott and Jay Warren. This year’s lineup included: The Freshman starring Harold Lloyd, the original Ben-Hur, The Mark of Zorro with Douglas Fairbanks, the comic-strip comedy Harold Teen, and Pollyanna starring Mary Pickford. Though the festival isn’t over yet, I have already selected my favorite: Lon Chaney in The Penalty.
Over the years, the SFSC has presented several Chaney films, and I have seen them all, becoming a major fan of this unique star. I had seen film stills and clips of the actor in his most famous roles, but I had never viewed a Chaney movie in its entirety until I saw The Phantom of the Opera a few years ago in all its glory on the big screen with live musical accompaniment. The experience was a terrific introduction to the work of this intense actor whose films are highly recognizable but little seen and whose image is famous but whose real life was overshadowed by publicity.
Posted by keelsetter on February 7, 2010
As is well known, Morlocks like to steal time machines every now and then. With this in mind I decided to hop in one for a quick ride through the decades to see how cinematic entertainment unfurled through the decades here in my particular corner of Colorado. As I span the last 120 years there are no major shifts in human physiology, from say knuckle-draggers to childlike-Eloi to furry hopping herbivores. But when it comes to their clothes and social graces there are major shifts; it’s the difference between hanging out in Deadwood versus sitting next to The Man With the X-Ray Eyes. READ MORE
Posted by moirafinnie on November 25, 2009
If you are like millions of Americans, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade may be playing as video wallpaper in the background of tomorrow’s holiday hubbub in your household. In between stuffing that turkey and unsuccessfully averting your eyes from the crasser, materialistic moments of the television broadcast, it is still fun to catch sight of those unwieldy balloons straining while remaining afloat above the crowded street. Depending on luck, fashions in pop culture and our memories of balloons past (where is Underdog?) these gargantuan floating creatures seem as familiar as that stained recipe card you may be consulting. Yet, as the above image from a 1930s Macy’s Parade illustrates, they were not always quite as cuddly as they seem today. Just as these helium behemoths sometimes elude their handlers and occasionally deflate, the origin of these now familiar fixtures is not well known. Not surprisingly, perhaps, the originator of these unique inflated fantasies dipped a toe into the movie business just as it started to take off as an art form.
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