Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Month: February, 2015

Picturesque Colorado (1911)

Balanced Rock at Garden of the Gods is among the attractions seen in "Picturesque Colorado." Photo by EvanS, wikimedia commons.

Balanced Rock at Garden of the Gods is among the attractions seen in “Picturesque Colorado.”
Photo by EvanS, wikimedia commons.

The available clips from this travel-promotion film demonstrate a good deal of sophistication and visual diversity. We see the urban landscape of Denver as well as the mountains and wilderness, and a crowded park in Manitou, filed with cars and people. Everything is tailored to make viewers see each piece as a must-see tourist attraction to add to their “bucket list” of activities, except perhaps for the odd inclusion of apple-pickers at work in the orchards, which may be meant to imply the ready availability of fresh nutritious food. Many of the tourists depicted in the movie look directly at the camera, and show a lot of interest in the filmmakers, demonstrating the unfamiliarity of the film camera even at this date. I found the image of the row of cars in Manitou especially telling – in the middle, there is a single horse-and-buggy, which seems to have difficulty parking in the mass of cars. Already by 1911 the automobile was transforming the West. We do see people on horseback at one of the wilderness attractions, but this makes sense as a tourist activity where one is leaving the comfortably paved roads of civilization to enjoy the outdoors, and might look the same today.

There is no available production information for this film at this time. It was made by the Rex Motion Picture Mfg Company, which was founded by Edwin S. Porter.

Run Time: 3 Min 30 secs.

I have been unable to find this for free online, if you know were it can be seen, please tell us in the comments.

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Sunset Limited, Southern Pacific Railroad (1898)

Sunset Limited

While this could be seen as a simple remake of “Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat Station” or for Americans, “Black Diamond Express,” it is also a bit of a demonstration how far movies had come in the short time since those films. While it does depict a train pulling onto the screen and rolling across it, there is more going on here. For one thing, the prominent placement of a sign informs us that this is a deliberate advertisement for the “Sunset Limited,” a train whose name was intended to draw moneyed tourists from the cold North to spend their winters in sunny California. The Edison company catalog emphasized this point as well, proclaiming that the movie offered “special inducements to winter travelers.” The landscape is obviously as important as the moving train to the cameraman, so we get a pleasant Western vista in the background. The people standing by the side of the tracks are not mere spectators, either, but seem to be aware of their roles as actors before the camera, making a point to wave as the train rolls by. Finally, we are treated to a primitive editing technique, for once the train rolls offscreen to the left, a sudden jump occurs and a new train comes on, heading to the right along the same track.

Director: James H. White

Camera:  Frederick Blechynden

Run Time: 1 Min, 24 secs.

You can watch it for free: here.

Girl Ranchers (1913)

Marie Walcamp is one of the "Girl Ranchers."

Marie Walcamp is one of the “Girl Ranchers.”

This light comedy from Universal is a pretty typical comedic spin on “the war of the sexes,” and will probably remind modern viewers of similar comedies from more recent times. A pair of Eastern sisters inherit a Western ranch and choose to move out and run the place themselves. The rough and ready mustachioed ranch hands are unhappy about “skirts” bossing them, but they seem unable to be anything but gallant when the ladies are present. The girls redecorate and invite more and more of their friends out, and tensions rise, but the final straw is when the new owners declare that all men must be clean-shaven for reasons of hygiene. The cowboys storm off in protest, and the women attempt to do the ranch work, leading of course to hilarity at their incompetence. The plot is settled by the contrivance of a generic and unmotivated attack by a local Native American tribe. The men ride back to the rescue and the two genders of white people make common cause – the men give up their mustaches and the women hold a dance. The awkward girl winds up dancing with the awkward short man and everyone presumably lives happily ever after. The tall girl is the source of the only moments of actual comedy in the piece; I believe she is played by Laura Oakley.

Director: Al Christie

Starring: Marie Walcamp, Laura Oakley, Ramona Langley, Lee Moran

Run Time: 14 Min

I have been unable to find this film for free online. If you know where it can be seen, please share it in the comments.

Passing of the Oklahoma Outlaw (1915) (Fragment)

Passing of Oklahoma Outlaw

This movie is not available to view in its entirety, but thanks to the Library of Congress and the National Film Preservation Foundation, several of the most exciting minutes are available to view. The version I saw had a good-but-somewhat distracting score, obviously influenced by Ennio Morricone, tacked on. The movie is the product of real-life Marshall Bill Tilghman, who reportedly stopped shooting at one point to chase real-life outlaws after a bank robbery near the film shoot. He was concerned about the way Westerns were depicting outlaws as heroes and lawmen as fools, so made this movie to tell the story from his own side, using other lawmen, and even one of the criminals he had arrested, as actors in the piece. As an added bonus, he toured with the film, providing narration for audiences eager to hear firsthand accounts of the Wild West from a genuine gunfighter. What we have to see today is a bit less thrilling, the filming is pretty static and unimaginative, although the action is well-staged. I get the impression that most of the producer would have been more adept at making a live Wild West Show than a movie. Fans of Jim Jarmusch will be amused to know that the outlaw identified as “Tulsa Jack” was born William Blake – could this have been an inspiration for “Dead Man” (1995)?

Director: Bill Tilghman

Camera: James Bennie Kent

Starring: Bill Tilghman, E.D. Nix, Chris Madsen, Roy Daugherty

Run Time: 13 Min (orig, 6 reels – up to 90 Min?)

You can watch part of it for free: here. If you can find a more complete version, please tell us in the comments.

Best Picture 1914

At long last, it’s the big one. The one film that represents the pinnacle of motion picture artistry for the year 1914. The end of the night and the end of the Century Awards is nigh. I wasn’t sure, going in, that there would be a lot of good candidates for best picture of 1914. It seemed like movies were still developing, and so many were short, underdeveloped movies, I was expecting a somewhat disappointing array of choices.

Happily, that did not turn out to be the case. There were a surprising number of features released in that year, and considerable quality among them as well. Possibly the best known among modern audiences is the comedy “Tillie’s Punctured Romance,” which still holds up against the best work Chaplin would do in later years. International fans all know about “Cabiria” of course, and I’ve raved about it and its influence enough tonight. D.W. Griffith’s first feature “Judith of Bethulia” admittedly hasn’t gotten a lot of love at this year’s Century Awards (I can just imagine Griffith’s exit interview), but it still deserves to be recognized as a major step forward in American filmmaking. Similarly, Cecil B. DeMille’s debut feature “The Squaw Man” represents great storytelling from a very new talent. Evgeni Bauer demonstrated that Russia had great film talent as well with “Silent Witnesses,” and finally the unusual female-focus of “Salomy Jane” gave it a place in the nominations for the year.

With no further ado, the nominations for best picture of 1914 are:

  1. Tillie’s Punctured Romance (Mack Sennett)
  2. Cabiria (Giovanni Pastrone)
  3. Judith of Bethulia (Biograph Pictures)
  4. The Squaw Man (Cecil B. DeMille & Jesse L. Lasky)
  5. Silent Witnesses (Evgeni Bauer)
  6. Salomy Jane (Alexander E. Beyfuss)

And, the envelope please…The winner is… “Cabiria!”

 Cabiria1

It’s been a night dominated by this name, and no wonder. As interesting and rewarding as it’s been to see all of the movies of 1914, “Cabiria” really is the one that stands the test of time. Its influence 100 years later is undeniable, and it remains an accessible, enjoyable view.

OK, that’s all folks! Have a good night and thanks for reading! Seriously, with the number of hits I got on this blog tonight, I feel like I won the award! Thank you all so much!

Best Director 1914

Even fifty years before the formalization of the “auteur theory,” directors were often given primacy of place in terms of the creation of film. Some might say that in these early days, before powerful studios had the ability to re-cut films or otherwise undermine directors, we can see auteurship in its purest form. On the other hand, one might argue that at this time, when no one was certain what the ultimate division of power might be, perhaps cinematographers or producers were more primary in the creation of a film.

There’s no denying, however, that the directors nominated for Century Awards this year were, one and all, dedicated artists with a vision for their movies as a whole, not mere employees turning out material on demand. D.W. Griffith may have been the very inventor of the idea of director-as-artiste, and “Judith of Bethulia” represented his success in an ongoing battle with Biograph Studios over the production of feature-length films. Like Griffith, Cecil B. DeMille was a born showman, who would promote himself as the premiere filmmaker of his day, and he got off to a strong start with his direction of “The Squaw Man.” Giovanni Pastrone was an innovator in Italian cinema, establishing that nation as a source of some of the most visually satisfying movies in all eras. Louis Feuillade was an amazingly prolific director from cinema’s first nation of France, whose movies range from light comedies to dark crime serials, and who wrote what may have been the first “manifesto” of the movies. Evgeni Bauer was an amazingly advanced filmmaker, who understood more about movement, sets, and lighting than many cinematographers of his day.

The nominees for best director of 1914 are:

  1. W. Griffith for Judith of Bethulia
  2. Cecil B. DeMille for The Squaw Man
  3. Giovanni Pastrone for Cabiria
  4. Louis Feuillade for Fantômas Contre Fantômas
  5. Evgeni Bauer for Silent Witnesses

And the winner is…Giovanni Pastrone for “Cabiria!”

 giovanni-pastrone

This category is our most internationally representative, in terms of the nominees, and my choice reflects, to some degree, my admiration of Italian cinema, which I regard as the most consistently visually satisfying in the world. “Cabiria” demonstrated the director’s ability to not only tell a compelling story, but his commitment to producing it on a grand scale despite the challenges this would present for the actors. For 1914, he went above and beyond what anyone else attempted.

Best Lead Actress 1914

The concept of the “movie star” got underway toward the end of the Nickelodeon Era, in spite of studios like Biograph and Edison that forbade using actors’ names in any publicity or in “credits” attached to the film. But audiences had started to figure out which performers they liked, and to demand more of them, and more information about them as well. And even today there are names from the silent era that shine out among the first stars, many of whom went on to long and rewarding careers.

The women nominated for acting in 1914 are among the most recognizable names of the period. Blanche Sweet got her first shot at a lead role in a feature with “Judith of Bethulia,” while Pearl White will forever be remembered as the Queen of the Serials for “The Perils of Pauline.” Marie Dressler demonstrated remarkable comedic talent in the title role of “Tillie’s Punctured Romance,” holding her own against comedy veterans Charlie Chaplin and Mabel Normand. Mary Pickford is probably one of the most recognizable names of the period, and her performance as the fabled “Cinderella” shows why. Finally, Beatriz Michelena is less well-remembered today (most of her films are lost), but she was no slouch as the first Latina movie star, and represents the strong woman of the West in “Salomy Jane.”

The nominees for best actress in a leading role for 1914 are:

  1. Blanche Sweet for Judith of Bethulia
  2. Pearl White for Perils of Pauline
  3. Marie Dressler for Tillie’s Punctured Romance
  4. Mary Pickford for Cinderella
  5. Beatriz Michelena for Salomy Jane

And the winner is…Marie Dressler for “Tillie’s Punctured Romance!”

 Marie_Dressler

As opposed to the male actors, where I was searching for a performance worthy of an award, this was a tough call because all of the nominated women were terrific. Ultimately, I went with Dressler because her performance is so different to what we expect from the generally young and vivacious actresses of the time. She plays broadly, but with remarkable timing, and shows herself to be one of the great comediennes of her generation.

Best Lead Actor 1914

Acting underwent a major transition during the silent period. When all performances had to be given on the stage, actors relied on their voices, and the ability to project clearly was often more important than to be able to emote subtly. The film camera made the actor’s voice a complete irrelevancy, what was important was to act with one’s face, one’s hands, indeed one’s entire body, which is why it was sometimes easier for slapstick comedians and acrobats to make the transition to the screen.

The actors chosen for 1914 Century Award nominations also generally had non-traditional backgrounds. Charlie Chaplin, whose role in “Tillie’s Punctured Romance” was as a villainous seducer, had made his name doing funny drunk routines on vaudeville stages. Dustin Farnum’s work on the stage emphasized the Western roles he would become famous for in Hollywood, including “The Squaw Man.” Henry B. Walthall’s stage career had just gotten started after his release from the army when he was discovered by D.W. Griffith, who ultimately directed him in “The Avenging Conscience.” Stanley Hunt and Joe Goodboy were both Native Americans (or First Nations citizens), who happened upon filmmakers looking for “authentic” native people to use for their movies, “In the Land of the Head Hunters” and “Last of the Line.” Hunt would never appear in another film.

The nominees for best leading actor in 1914 are:

  1. Dustin Farnum for The Squaw Man
  2. Henry B. Walthall for The Avenging Conscience
  3. Stanley Hunt for In the Land of the Head Hunters
  4. Charlie Chaplin for Tillie’s Punctured Romance
  5. Joe Goodboy for Last of the Line

And the winner is…Joe Goodboy for “Last of the Line!”

 Joe Goodboy

In general, I was underwhelmed by the male actors of 1914, the beginnings of the star system notwithstanding. The women were, on the whole, more memorable. However, Joe Goodboy stood out to me as a man who brought considerable reality to his part and also was capable doing much more with less. Where other silent actors relied on broad gestures and obvious pantomime, Goodboy’s stoic face portrayed pain and determination through simpler expressions. He saved more visible gestures for moment of surprise or other times when the character’s guard would be down. His performance is remarkable, and deserves to be honored.

Best Supporting Actor 1914

Actors are artists, and the best of them hone their talents by trying out a multiplicity of roles. Some are best as leading men, but certain actors will take a seemingly “small” role and find a way to make a mark. Often this involves going beyond what is explicit in the screenplay and giving the character unexpected depth. When an actor finds a way to do this, he can be considered in the category of supporting actor.

In the year 1914, longer films and more complex storylines made for larger casts and gave more actors chances to do good supporting work. Lon Chaney (Sr.) gave one of his first memorable performances as the weaselly villain in “By the Sun’s Rays.” The hulking Bartolomeo Pagano created a powerful yet gentle giant named Maciste in “Cabiria.” Fatty Arbuckle seems to be tutoring Charlie Chaplin to be a funny drunk in “The Rounders,” while Charlie provided Fatty with critical support in “The Knockout.” Finally, Alec B. Francis was outstanding as the grouchy, rejecting father whose heart is won by his son’s fiancée.

The nominees for best supporting actor for 1914 are:

  1. Lon Chaney for By the Sun’s Rays
  2. Bartolomeo Pagano for Cabiria
  3. Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle for The Rounders
  4. Charlie Chaplin for The Knockout
  5. Alec B. Francis for The Wishing Ring

And the winner is…Bartolomeo Pagano for “Cabiria!”

 Bartolomeo_Pagano_Maciste

Once again with “Cabiria,” there was never any serious doubt in my mind that this was the winner. Maciste became a tremendous international star and would be the hero of Italian movies for decades, with a particularly strong revival in the 1960s. Many of these movies were released in the US as “Hercules” movies, so in fact I would argue that all American films about Hercules (including last year’s video-game-like version) have been influenced by Pagano’s performance. Few actors are still influencing performances so directly after 100 years.

Best Supporting Actress 1914

For drama to truly work, there needs to be more than a leading man and a leading lady. They need antagonists, friends, family, and in general a world of people to make their narratives appear convincing, to give them challenges to work against and help in overcoming those challenges. When one of these “other people” is a woman, we refer to her role as a supporting actress, and when they break out of the limitations of their role and make it more than a stereotype or faceless prop, we consider them for this award.

1914 brought us a number of excellent performances by women in supporting roles. Mabel Normand had been on the Keystone scene for a while, but she had a chance to really shine as the villainous counterpart to Charlie Chaplin in “Tillie’s Punctured Romance.” Mae Marsh was one of D.W. Griffith’s favorites, and he gave her an important part as “The Little Mother” in “Judith of Bethulia” – representing, as it were the suffering of an entire people in her own person. Mildred Harris played a migrant transformed into a princess in “The Magic Cloak of Oz,” and in the similar fantasy “Cinderella” Inez Martel is the fairy godmother. Finally, Elsa Krueger brought sex appeal and a sense of amorality to her femme fatale role in “Silent Witnesses.”

The nominees for best supporting actress for 1914 are:

  1. Mabel Normand for Tillie’s Punctured Romance
  2. Mae Marsh for Judith of Bethulia
  3. Mildred Harris for Magic Cloak of Oz
  4. Inez Martel for Cinderella
  5. Elsa Krueger for Silent Witnesses

And the winner is… Elsa Krueger in “Silent Witnesses!”

 Elsa Krueger

All of the women nominated stood out to me in some way, but Elsa Krueger made the strongest impact, with relatively little screen time. She is both vivacious and ego-centric, and the way she treats the servant-heroine of the story as though she weren’t even there heightens the dramatic impact of the tragedy. Truly, she represents the “New Woman” in Russian garb, with the particular sense of class consciousness that country had in the mid-teens.