Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: Flicker Alley

A Day of Silents (1916)

I always like to do a quick writeup when I attend a festival or event where Century Films are shown, and yesterday I flew to San Francisco for the San Francisco Silent Film Festival’sA Day of Silents” at the Castro Theater. There were six blocks of movies on the schedule, all with live musical accompaniment, and all worth seeing in themselves. There was also a book signing and a vendors’ room, conveniently located on the mezzanine level of the Castro. Overall, the event was well-managed and professional, although maybe a bit more “serious” in tone than some of the other festivals I’ve attended.

day-of-silentsThe only true Century Films to screen yesterday were the opening block of Chaplin shorts from Essanay Studios. They showed “His New Job,” “The Champion,” and “A Night in the Show,” all of which I’ve reviewed before (follow the links). In fact, they used the recent digital restorations from Blackhawk films prepared by Flicker Alley, which is exactly the prints I watched on DVD for the reviews, so there was nothing new to me. However, as I’ve long known, silent comedy always benefits from the presence of a live audience, and this was no exception. The experience was boosted by the attendance of my ten-year-old nephew Kai, who laughed and bounced in his seat throughout.

anders_als_die_andern_1919_posterOther close-to-100-year old movies included “Anders als die Andern” (“Different from the Others”) and a collection of Pathé newsclips, some of which dated as far back as 1910. “Different” was a social-reform movie made in Germany to oppose Paragraph 175 of the legal code, which made “active” homosexuality a crime. I’ll be reviewing it in 2019. The Pathé collection (1910-1925) included images from the First World War, the Mexican Revolution, and the soon-to-begin Russian Revolution, as well as uprisings in Ireland and South Africa. Anyone who thinks of the Silent Era as some kind of “simpler time” should look at these clips and think again (they didn’t even include footage of the massive KKK March on Washington in 1925).


A striking image from “Strike”

The movies from the twenties were “So This is Paris” (1926), “Strike” (1925), “The Last Command” (1928) and “Sadie Thompson” (1928). Of these, special mention should go to the Alloy Orchestra for providing an appropriately bombastic score for Sergei Eisenstein’s first feature film. I generally find Eisenstein to be heavy-handed and awkward, despite his great reputation, but with the right music, the images can become an exciting ride. This was a case, for me, of the music being better than the movie. I should also mention Donald Sosin, who gave us piano scores for most of the other movies that fit the pictures nicely.

Generally, the SFSFF manages to happen at a time when I’m too busy with grading to travel, but this one-day jaunt to San Francisco was a pleasant diversion at the end of an academic term. I hope there will be more like this in the future.

Chaplin’s Essanay Comedies (1915-1918, 2015)

Worldcat link for Inter-library loan: http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/50062265

ChaplinEssanay-212x300Most of the DVD reviews on this blog have been about collections that have been available for years, that I got through a library. This set from Flicker Alley is a rare exception – a still quite new release that I purchased with my own money. It seemed necessary in order to assess Charlie Chaplin’s 1915 work before the Century Awards were over for that year. As I’ve indicated above, there are libraries carrying it now, but I don’t know what the wait list would have been like in November.

Burlesque on carmenSo, what did I get for my hard-earned librarian’s pay? This is a three disc set of Chaplin’s critical “second year” in movies (it also comes with a Blu-ray version, which I won’t review since I own neither a Blu-Ray player nor a digital television). The movies are absolutely beautifully restored and digitized. There are other releases of the movies from this period, but I don’t think you will find any of comparable picture quality. In cases like “Burlesque on Carmen” and “Police,” where the studio released butchered versions, the movies have been re-edited and restored as closely as possible to Charlie’s original vision. No doubt there will be disputes about some of the those decisions from people more knowledgeable than I, but it seemed to me that every movie I saw here was an original Chaplin, and having them restored made it much easier to track his progress as a filmmaker. In addition to the fifteen titles Charlie legitimately produced in his year at Essanay Studios, there are also two later releases which the studio patched together from unused footage: “Triple Trouble” (which draws from “Police”) and “Charlie Butts In” (which is a sort of re-edit of “A Night Out”). These are less interesting movies, and lower-quality prints, but they give an idea of the kinds of “inauthentic” Chaplin movies audiences were subjected to at the time.

Night OutThe other “feature” is a nice glossy booklet with an essay by Jeffrey Vance (author of Chaplin: Genius of Cinema) on the work of Chaplin at this point in his career, and with brief discussions of each movie and information about the restorations (some of which is repeated in the credits for the movies). It is attractive and very nicely done, although it doesn’t take the place of commentaries, which I was surprised not to find. Considering the range of talent brought in to work on this release, it would have been nice to get Vance into a sound stage with David Shepard and a couple of the restorationists to talk about at least one of the movies (“Police” would have been my choice). But, really, that’s picking nits. There’s plenty here without it, and they probably would have needed more time and money to make that happen. Lest you think that there is no audio on these “silent” films, I should also mention the marvelous original scores by Robert Israel, Timothy Brock, and the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra. Israel’s work, in particular, captures the range of Chaplin’s emotional development in these films.

Jitney Elopement1In all, this is definitely the collection for serious Chaplin fans to get, and for those who are just meeting Chaplin for the first time to see. The movies are there in better shape than anyone’s seen them for 100 years, possibly better than what you’d have seen in most theaters at the time, and Chaplin’s genius shines through in its fullest glory.

D.W Griffith: Years of Discovery, Flicker Alley/Createspace version (1909-1913)

Years of DiscoveryShortly after this blog began, I reviewed a DVD collection of D.W. Griffith movies that was (and is) readily available through Interlibrary Loan, originally released through Image Entertainment. However, it is out of print, and thus unavailable to many of you who lack access to a well-funded library system (or who, for reasons I cannot fathom, eschew libraries), unless you want to comb the internet for a used copy. Thus, you may have to settle for this version offered through Flicker Alley’s “MOD” (Manufactured on Demand) service, produced through Createspace, the makers of fine books which are completely plagiarized from Wikipedia articles. These DVDs are by no means as good as the original release. They lack the informative commentary track of the original release, as well as any other special features. Indeed, they lack certain features some of us have come to expect on DVDs, like, oh, a menu for instance. These are simply “plug-and-play” DVDs which autoplay the entire set of movies from the beginning every time you put them in. At least each movie is its own chapter, so it isn’t too hard to navigate to a particular one. The image clarity is very good, although for some reason on my set the image insisted on creating a black box around the whole thing that shrank it down without actually changing the aspect ratio.

In short, this collection in its present form is adequate, but hardly great. Hopefully one day the full functionality of the original will again be available for purchase, through one medium or another.

Find it, and other Flicker Alley MOD offerings: here.

Perils of the New Land: Films of the Immigrant Experience (1910-1915)

Perils of the New Land

This will be a somewhat “mixed” review, because there were things I liked about this collection, and others I really didn’t care for. First, the entry on Worldcat says there’s a booklet included, but the version I came with no textual information at all; that’s a failure on Multnomah County Library’s part. Second, I was disappointed that 3 out of the five films on here were actually 1915, so there really isn’t much to the “1910-“ part of the time range. Finally, only one of the movies (“The Italian”) really has anything to do with the “immigrant experience,” and even that was really more about middle America’s view of immigrants. The good news is that the prints of these movies are of high quality, and there’s good piano scores on every one of them – I particularly liked the score on “Traffic in Souls,” which captures the tension perfectly. Finally, both “The Italian” and “Traffic in Souls” have very good commentary tracks by appropriate historians: Giorgio Bertellini for the former, Shelley Stamp for the latter. These are thoughtful, informative, and well-structured. I’m often disappointed by commentaries, which seem to be often created off-the-cuff without preparation, but it’s clear in this case that the historians made a real effort to create good, relevant material for the bonus track.

Worldcat Link: http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/234175776