Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: blogathons

The Goat (1921)

Buster Keaton stars in and co-directs this two-reel short from his second year as a starring comedian. A simple premise once again leads to a lot of gags, and Keaton continues to demonstrate his developing abilities as a film maker.

The movie begins with an out-of-work Keaton getting into a bread line, but without noticing he stands behind two mannequins in front of a clothing store. The line moves up and all the bread is gone, but the two guys in front of him never move. When it threatens to rain, the proprietor moves his dummies inside, but Buster is too late to get any bread. Forlornly walking the streets, he looks into a barred window of one building, which happens to be a jail. The room he looks in upon is a mug shot room where the police are photographing one Dead Shot Dan (Malcolm St. Clair), a murderer. Seeing that the photographer is looking away, Dan moves his head to the side and snaps a picture of Buster without anybody noticing. Thus, when Dan escapes, the wanted posters all show Buster with his hands on the bars.

Shortly, and before anyone knows that Dan has escaped, Keaton gets himself in trouble with a patrolling policeman by throwing a horseshoe over his shoulder for luck, accidentally hitting the man in the face. Each time it looks as if he will get away, something happens, usually resulting in an additional officer getting knocked down and joining the chase. There are several clever gags in which Keaton jumps onto a vehicle, anticipating that it will pull away and save him, only to discover that he is being left behind somehow. At one point, he tries hiding behind a traffic cop, simulating his arm gestures until he walks away and Buster is exposed trying to direct traffic himself. He gets a brief reprieve when he lures the officers into the back of a truck and locks the door.

During this interval, he meets Virginia Fox, who is being hassled by a man on the street. Keaton defends her, and throws the man to the ground in a rather clever backflip move. Before he can introduce himself to Virginia, the truck delivers the policemen to the corner they are at, and Buster runs away again. After a few more false starts, he escapes by hopping onto a train going to a nearby town. Unfortunately for Buster, the town has heard of Dan’s escape, and newspapers and wanted posters with Buster’s picture are everywhere. The townspeople run from him in terror wherever he goes. Soon, he encounters the local police chief (Joe Roberts), who is the one man not afraid to face down Dead Shot Dan. The real Dan makes an attempt on his life, but is able to plant the gun on Buster, increasing his suspicions. He is able to escape the chief only by dumping a load of coal on him.

After making that escape, Buster runs into Virginia, pretending to be a man of means by stepping out of a taxi as he sees her approach, then scaring away the irate taxi driver by showing him a newspaper with him on the front cover. Virginia invites him to dinner and he goes up to her apartment to meet the parents. Of course, her dad is Joe Roberts. A new chase begins, involving the elevator in their apartment building and several rather silly gags involving the floor indicator. Virginia sides with Buster and the two of them escape together. Buster observes a sign outside a furniture store that says “You furnish the Girl, we furnish the home!” He carries his date into the store.

For me, this movie is something of a turning point of Buster Keaton’s early movies. Something about the rhythm of the comedy speaks to later films and the undeniable genius of “The General” or “Steamboat Bill, Jr.” Not only does it not let up, it hits in just the right way each time. The theme of the poor slob who can’t seem to get a break has been a common one in Keaton’s movies up to this point, but there’s something wonderful in each revelation as we think for a moment that he’s gotten away, only to wind up on the run again. There is surprise after surprise as the movie progresses. Even the most illogical moments (like being able to eject an elevator through the roof of a building by moving the floor indicator) are funny because they are surprising, surreal, and internally consistent.

All of that said, it’s also really indicative of Keaton’s working method at the time. He had one good idea: his character would be mistaken for a killer because he looked in a jail window as he was photographed, and he started filming with nothing more than that as a script. In that sense, the plot is almost nonexistent (again), and the only thing holding the movie together is impromptu gags, many of which don’t even seem to belong in the same film together. Luckily he had a team of professionals who knew how to work with that, and they wound up putting together a really successful film. This is pretty much how he had learned to work at Comique with Roscoe Arbuckle, so it make sense, but it’s a very different approach to that developed by fellow clown-kings Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd at the time.

I’m always surprised when I see this movie that there’s no actual (animal) goat in it. Somehow I manage to forget that it isn’t about a lonely farm boy who takes his goat to the big city. That must be a story I made up myself.

This has been my contribution to the Buster Keaton Blogathon, hosted by Silentology. Don’t forget to head over and check out the other great blogs contributing this year! Many thanks to Lea for hosting, as always.

Director: Buster Keaton, Malcolm St. Clair

Camera: Elgin Lessley

Starring: Buster Keaton, Virginia Fox, Joe Roberts, Malcolm St. Clair, Edward F. Cline

Run Time: 27 Min

You can watch it for free: here (no music) or here (with music).

Joining the Swashathon

I’m a bit late with this announcement, but there’s still plenty of time before the event!

Movies Silently will be hosting the “Swashathon,” a blogathon dedicated to swashbuckling movies, TV shows, etc, and I will be participating. I will be covering the 1917 Douglas Fairbanks classic “A Modern Musketeer.” The event takes place July 14-17.

For more information, and a complete list of entries to date, see this post at Movies Silently.

Early Women Filmmakers Announcement

This is just a quick post to let my readers know that I will be participating in the Early Women Filmmakers Blogathon, hosted by Fritzi at Movies Silently! I plan to do a writeup of the career of Alice Guy Blaché, whose movies I covered extensively last Spring/Summer.

Here are links to a few favorites from that cycle:

The Birth, the Life, and the Death of Christ

The Drunken Mattress

The Consequences of Feminism

Alice Guy Films a Phonoscene

And, of course, the obligatory banner (starring Mabel Normand, another favorite woman filmmaker, who I’ve written about before):


Plans and Blogathons for a New Year

I did my retrospective on 2016/1916, and now it’s time to start looking ahead to the future! Next year will be 1917, an exciting year for Century News and for movies! In some ways, I think of 1917 as the first “normal” year of American movie-making. It’s not a groundbreaking year that introduces new techniques or standards, nor is it dominated by a single name or talent, it’s just a year when hundreds of new features were produced and marketed. While seeing a movie from 1914 is something of an accomplishment, lots of classic film buffs have seen (or at least heard of) one or two from 1917.

This year, the Academy Awards are scheduled for February 26th, so that’s the day I’ll be posting my Century Awards for 1916. Be sure to tune in and see how your favorites did. The nominations come out on January 24, so there’s hardly any time at all for me to catch up on everything I missed this year!

With the new year looming, I’ve also started to put my name in the ring for some blogathons. Here’s what I’m planning:

O Canada BannerOn February 3, I’ll be taking part in the “Oh! Canada” blogathon, sponsored by two of my favorite blogs, Speakeasy and Silver Screenings. I’m signed up to discuss “Canadian Official War Films” from the First World War. Canada was for almost three years my adopted home, so I’m happy to get a chance to discuss their contribution to history and the history of film.

buster-blogathon-the-third-1-copy1917 marks the beginning of the career of the third member of the “Big Three” slapstick comedians (Chaplin and Lloyd are already working), and I’m excited to participate in the “Third Annual Buster Keaton Blogathon” sponsored by Silentology on February 19. For that, I plan to review “Oh, Doctor!” one of the movies he made with Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle.

Looking forward to an exciting year of movies in 1917!

The Broncho Billy Marathon

Blogathon Marathon StarsFor this “Marathon Star Blogathon” post, I’m going to binge-watch several of Gilbert “Broncho Billy” Anderson’s movies, and write about him as I go. Don’t worry, each film will get it’s own individual review in the weeks to come; in accordance with the rules of this blogathon tonight I’ll be focusing on Anderson himself and what I learn by looking at so much of him at once. Incidentally, a year or so back I watched another one: “Broncho Billy and the Schoolmistress,” and I have also watched “His Regeneration” before, in connection with my many reviews of Charlie Chaplin.

OK, here we go…

Making of Broncho BillyFirst up, “The Making of Broncho Billy” (1913). The DVD I bought has a nice brief introduction to the star, reminding us that he was born “Max Aronson,” a Jewish man from Arkansas, and that he finagled a job as “Max Anderson” on “The Great Train Robbery” working for Edwin S. Porter. Supposedly, his horse threw him and he never was in any of the chase scenes, since he couldn’t ride. After founding Essanay, his own production company, with George K. Spoor, he went on to make over 350 films, mostly Westerns. Anyway, this film is a kind of “origin story” for Broncho Billy, although of course there had been many movies made before it. Anderson shows up in a Western town wearing Eastern clothes (he looks sort of like a young D.W. Griffith) and is mercilessly mocked by the local cowhands. When he tries to fight one in a bar, he learns that he must learn to shoot to gain their respect. We see him attempt shooting a bottle in his Eastern garb, but he can’t hit the side of a barn until he puts on a Stetson hat and cowboy shirt. After he confronts one of the bullies, he rides to the sheriff for protection as an angry mob comes after him, but the surviving bully just wants to shake his hand. Anderson is good in this, changing his body language and his acting style as he goes from the victim to the tough guy. Read the rest of this entry »


In an attempt to keep expanding my readership, I have decided to get back into the Blogathon circuit. As of now, I am signed up for three upcoming blogathons:

Blogathon Marathon StarsFirst up, in March, we have the Marathon Stars Blogathon, hosted by In the Good Old Days of Hollywood and The Wonderful Word of Cinema. I’ll be writing about Gilbert “Broncho Billy” Anderson.

Book BannerNext will be the Beyond the Cover Blogathon hosted by two of my favorite blogs, Speakeasy and Now Voyaging. For this one I’m writing about “Sherlock Holmes” (1916).

Blogathon Words Words WordsLast but not least, will be the official CMBA Spring blogathon: “Words! Words! Words!” I’m pretty excited, because that was the topic I proposed, and it won the election (incidentally, the title is a quote from “Dracula” (1931) not “Sunset Boulevard” (1950)). For this one, I’m writing about “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” (1916).

Nervy Nat Kisses the Bride (1904)

Kiss BlogathonSeveral of the important elements of early cinema come together to make up this short Edison Studios comedy directed by Edwin S. Porter. While much of the film is built on established formulas of the previous ten years, we also get a glimpse of some of the coming direction of American cinema, especially in the realm of slapstick.

The Kiss.

The Kiss.

The movie essentially consists of three scenes, each in a separate location, and each shown in long shot by a stationary camera. The first scene takes place in a train station, signaled by the closed “ticket” window on the left side of the stage. There is a man in “bumpkin” clothes asleep on a bench as the scene opens. Soon, another figure enters through the door beside the bench. This is “Nervy Nat,” and he is dressed in rather frayed and worn-looking evening clothes, with a top hat, and moves in broad gestures that suggest possible inebriation. He goes to the water cooler and pours a glass, confirming our suspicions when he spits it out, disappointed that it is unadulterated by liquor. Then, he notices our bumpkin character, and stealthily checks his coat pocket, pulling out a train ticket and absconding with it. The next scene is aboard a train car, and two newlyweds are the only ones in the car at first. They are kissing, but the conductor comes in to warn them that another passenger will be joining them, and they assume a more demure posture. The new passenger is Nervy Nat, who takes the seat behind them. The husband pulls out a cigar, and invites his wife to join him for a smoke, but she isn’t interested, and they quarrel, the husband finally leaving when his wife turns to look away from him pointedly. Nervy Nat takes the opportunity to sit next to the woman, and tries to take her in his arms. She, still looking out the window, resists, presumably thinking that her husband is attempting an awkward apology. Then she turns and looks, and starts screaming, bringing the husband and two conductors back into the car, and they grab Nat and drag him out the door. The final scene is an exterior of train tracks, with a train rushing by. When the last car passes, we see two men hurl another off the back of the moving train. Nervy Nat gets up, dusts himself off and shakes his fist at the train before walking off.

Nervy Nat Kisses the BrideThe movies, especially American movies, were still figuring themselves out at this time. While there had been artistic and commercial breakthroughs, like Porter’s own “The Great Train Robbery” from the year before, most of the movies seen in American theaters at this time were coming from Europe, mostly France. There was huge demand for new films, but American studios simply didn’t have the capacity to make enough pictures. This was only aggravated by the fact that the Edison company claimed to have the only legitimate patent for motion picture equipment in the USA, and was suing its competition left and right, even taking theater owners to court if they showed non-Edison content. The American film industry was in a fairly sorry state in 1904, but was beginning to function despite itself, due to the enormous audience interest in simple, entertaining stories.

Porter successfully transported several pieces from “The Great Train Robbery” to this movie, made about nine months later. The locations – a ticket station, a train, and the train tracks – are similar in both films. The editing sequence is much simpler for this shorter movie, but still applies the same basic linear conventions we see in “Train Robbery.” Also the aspect of the train itself as a place where “outside” elements can invade and interrupt staid middle class lives is in common between the two. There is also a common special effect: the use of a jump cut and a dummy to simulate a body being thrown off a train. In the “Robbery” we see two men fighting on the back of the train, when one wins, the cut happens and he throws a dummy off. Here the sequence is reversed: we see the men throw the dummy off the train, there is an edit, and then Nervy Nat gets up where the dummy would have been. This combination of dummies and trick photography goes back at least as far as “The Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots,” an American movie, and such camera trickery would be perfected by Georges Méliès of France in the intervening years. I think Méliès would have done it a bit more smoothly by 1904, but I admit I had to re-run it to make sure I caught where the edit happened.

Nervy Nat Kisses the Bride2The character of Nervy Nat, while not very fleshed-out in the run time of this movie, seems to herald future developments in American comedy. I was particularly reminded of Charlie Chaplin’s “Little Tramp” character, both by the behavior and the outfit of Nat. He is dressed up, but at the same time, obviously down and out. He drinks, he steals, he covets, and he has problems understanding social boundaries. In the end, his behavior brings worse trouble on his head. None of this is to say that Chaplin necessarily “stole” his idea from this movie (or even saw it), but it indicates the way that the “Little Tramp” was a part of an established comedic tradition; Chaplin had been doing “funny drunks” on stage for years, and he knew how best to make them funny. Nervy Nat can be seen as a slightly less effective attempt at doing the same thing. Perhaps not surprisingly for slapstick, the part that made me laugh was his ejection from the train.

Nervy Nat Kisses the Bride1In light of the theme of this Blogathon, I should speak a little bit about the romantic side of this comedy. Of course, it is not meant to be a tragic story of love lost; from that point of view, Nervy Nat is simply too unsympathetic and the woman too obviously uninterested in his advances. Nat reminds us, however, as the “Little Tramp” would time and again in future movies, that even the most alienated and unsocialized of characters still want to be loved. Nat does not find his valentine at the end of this movie but the audience can leave with a sense of having learned from his mistakes and acknowledge the universal human need for affection.

This has been my contribution to the “You Must Remember This…A Kiss is Just a Kiss Blogathon.” Don’t forget to check out the other entries!

Director: Edwin S. Porter

Camera: Unknown

Cast: Unknown

Run Time: 2 Min

You can watch it for free: here (no music) or here (with music).

Valentine’s Blogathon

Kiss BlogathonI almost forgot to announce my involvement in a blogathon which is almost upon us! This weekend, I shall be contributing to the “You Must Remember This…A Kiss Is Still a Kiss” Blogathon hosted by Second Sight Cinema. I shall be writing up the early comedy “Nervy Nat Kisses the Bride” (1904) by Edwin S. Porter. Don’t forget to take a look at all the other contributions!

Moving Forward While Looking Backward

FoolMost of the other blogs I read have done some kind of year-in-review, best-of-the-year, and/or annual roundup in the past week or two. I was too busy between work and vacation to do such a thing before the New Year, but it seems worth it to put some time into assessing this project, where it’s been and where it’s going. So, while my focus is usually on 100 years ago, let’s zoom ahead and look at the past 1 year instead.

A year ago, this blog was so obscure that very few people knew about it who didn’t know me in real life. I set a goal to try to double the number of hits for each month, and, instead, I’ve pretty consistently quadrupled my hits per month every month this year. That sounds amazing, but it’s actually more a reflection on how few people read the blog a year ago than anything else. Not surprisingly, my hits mostly come from the US, but I’ve expanded to a number of other countries as well. Countries that visited my site 100 times or more this year include the UK, Belgium, Canada, Germany, France, Spain, and Russia. Australia and New Zealand are just behind.

A couple of things have contributed to getting me out of my ghetto-existence. One was simply finding other people who blog about early and silent film, and commenting on their blogs. A comment on a relevant blog drives a surprising amount of traffic to mine, even when I don’t have that much to say. Once I had made contact in that way, I started entering blogathons. I think the first one was a little over a year ago, actually. The posts I’ve done for blogathons have been consistently the most-read posts I write. Finally, I applied for membership (and was accepted) in CMBA, the Classic Movie Bloggers Association, a really good group of people writing about older film – most of it a lot newer than what I review, but still pretty much kindred spirits.

There are downsides to each of these. First, comments. I find it very hard to write comments that simply say, “Yay! What a good article.” I want to include some critical or contextual information that adds to what the blogger has written. It turns out some bloggers take this as an attack, rather than an invitation to open dialog. I still haven’t figured out the best way to negotiate this. Blogathons are great click-grabbers, but they often force me to devote time to things that are peripheral to the real purpose of this project. Many of them, of course, are about eras or subjects that just don’t fall within my scope (Clara Bow was only 11 in 1916, so I’m probably not going to join a Clara Bow Blogathon), but even when they do, I have to think about the themes I’m working on and how the timing of the event overlaps with what I’m doing. I probably participate in fewer than I could for that reason. And CMBA, fun as it is, runs somewhat against the nature of what I’m doing: where they are interested in “classic” movies, I’m interested in “historical” movies, and in movie history. They are similar concepts, but not necessarily the same. CMBA doesn’t actually prevent me from doing what I want to do, but sometimes I wonder if there’s a better forum for getting my word out.

Now, the content. A year ago, I mostly wrote entries of one or two paragraphs, with one picture (usually from Wikimedia Commons) and a little data at the end. As this year has progressed, I’ve found that I have more to say about even fairly minor short films. This reflects how much I’ve learned as a result of doing this project, and learning is at least 50% of why I’m doing it, so that’s a statistic I’m pretty happy with. But it does make keeping up the number of posts difficult. I started out with one-or-two-posts-a-day, and that gets more taxing as I go. I have developed a schedule that I’m relatively happy with: shorts on weeknights, a “feature” (broadly defined) on Saturday, and a “context” post on Sunday. Really, I’m more likely to post two or three weeknights a week than every night, and that’s not so bad. We’ll see how this develops, but I don’t want to burn myself out too fast. As far as pictures, I’ve gotten more comfortable with taking screen captures from movies (so far, everything I review is in the public domain), and pleased with the quality I’m getting, which is good, but again, it does add to the time needed for each review. I’m tagging more heavily and linking like crazy as well, which is part of my librarian’s way of doing things, but I don’t know whether it helps anyone but me.

I think I’ve mentioned before that at the beginning of this project, I thought it would be “no big deal” to watch every available film from before 1912 in one year, then just focus on the year itself. Well, I still have hundreds of un-reviewed movies to watch from before 1900, let alone 1910! But, 1915 was such an important year that I’m glad I let myself get caught up in it and reviewed so much from it. I think that will probably continue in 1916 and 1917, with older movies coming in piecemeal, because there’s always something you find later. As far as the Century Awards, this approach has worked well. Last year at this time I was scampering to watch “important” movies from 1914, because I didn’t have much ready to nominate, but this year there’s just a few outliers I’d like to get to (and a few “lost” films that I have to let go).

I may shift format a bit when it comes time for the Century Awards themselves, this year. Last year I waited until the day of the Oscars, and posted one an hour (some were pre-written). It was a big day for clicks, but also exhausting. I may try stretching it out over the weekend this time, or combine a multiple awards into single posts, or something else to take the pressure down a notch this year. We’re only two weeks away from nominations, by the way, and if you want to nominate a movie from 1915 in any category, just let me know in comments or email.

Well, all in all, it’s been a great, productive year and I’ve learned a lot and “met” (online) a lot of great people. Let’s look forward to another great year and all the surprises it will bring.

Classic Movie History Blogathon


This was a blogathon I could hardly resist taking part in. Movies Silently, Silver Screenings, and Once Upon a Screen are hosting, and Flicker Alley is sponsoring, an examination of film history, the reason this blog exists! Flicker Alley, a distributor of high-quality home releases of classic movies, is offering a giveaway of their new 3D Rarities Blu Ray collection. If you’re interested in that: follow this link and subscribe to their newsletter. Otherwise, the fun part for me and you will be reading all the movie history posts, come June 26-28!

The tough part was deciding what topic to write about, since almost everything I do here is about “Classic Movie History.” I finally settled on director Raoul Walsh‘s 1915 release “Regeneration.” Walsh is a director I haven’t gotten around to discussing yet, and “Regeneration” is significant both as an early feature-length gangster movie, and because it was lost for many decades before being rediscovered in the 1970s. I plan to post on Friday, June 26, as part of the first day’s examination of early film history. I hope you’ll join me and also check out the other historical posts in this event!