Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Related To Vamps

This is actually a cigarettes case with the image of the most famous vamp of all time.  I don't smoke, but I would love to have one these.  My grandfather, who smoked himself into the grave would have loved it!  He was the biggest influence on me when it came to to silent film.  He was born in 1897 (he was a lot older to my grandmother!), it was he who introduced me to silent film as a very little girl.   He was also a professional photographer and artist.  This is just the sort of thing that I would have loved to give him on his birthday as a kid.  Since this is participation in the Countdown To Halloween post, I will share that his favorite Halloween costume was dressing up as Groucho Marx.

[Source:  I've tried to trace the the source of the photo and case and cannot locate a thing.]

Born Today October 6: Carole Lombard


Born Jane Alice Peters, in Fort Wayne, Indiana, her parents divorced when she was 8, and her mother moved her to Los Angeles.  The story goes that she was spotted on the street playing baseball with neighborhood boys by a film director, which may or may not have been Allan Dwan, and made her screen debut at the age of 12 in the Dwan directed A Perfect Crime (1921).  The experience left her with an acting bug and she signed a contract with Fox Films when she was 16.  In between this time, she appeared in several stage productions and had two bit parts that went uncredited in two short films.  As she was credited in her first film by her birth name, it was probably some Fox studio executive who decided to change her Carole Lombard upon the signing of her contract with Them.  There she played mainly bit roles.  Fox dropped her after she was in a car accident and was left with a scar on her face (nice uh?), so she went to work with comic producer and director Mack Sennett.  For an actress who had no formal training when she made her film debut (although, as mentioned, she did spend a little time on stage, before returning to film 3 years later), she showed every sign that she possessed genuine acting talent and made a fine transition into on screen speaking roles.  So much so that she became a super star.  She even received Best Actress In Leading Role Oscar nomination in 1937.  Her life, along with her mother's and 20 other people (15 of whom were army servicemen) was tragically cut short, when a plane they were traveling on crashed just outside Las Vegas on 16 January 1942.  She was only 33 years of age.  They are were returning to California after going on a war bond promotional event in her birth state of Indiana.  She had previously been married William Powell, and at the time of her death she was married to Clark Gable.  She was entombed as Carole Lombard Gable.  When Clark Gable himself passed away in 1960, he had made plans to be entombed next to her, which he is at Forest Lawn Memorial Park, in Los Angeles. IMDb.

Scare Me On Fridays: Currently On: Evil Dead 2 (1987)

Scare Me On Fridays: Currently On: Evil Dead 2 (1987): I recently posted over Silent film blog about silent images in modern films, in that case about  Bram Stokers Dracula (1992) ; this ...

Reposted because it contains some comparisons to silent film with links.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Born Today October 5: John Alton


Born Johann Jacob Altmann in Sopron in what was then Austria-Hungary, the town in actually located in Hungary.  His father Sam had actually immigrated to the United States in the 1880's and had changed his last name to Alton, but returned to Hungary and changed his name back to Altmann.  Johann himself came to the US in 1919 to live with a wealthy uncle in New York, so he could attend college.  He got into the motion picture industry by being grabbed off the street as he was passing by Heart's Cosmopolitan Studio's on 2nd Avenue. A gateman approached him and proclaimed "you are just the man we are looking for."  He was then made a dress extra and appeared next to Marion Davies and paid $12.50 for the part (no one seems to know which film this was).  This gave him an instant film bug and he promptly ended his involvement with academics.

He most likely moved to Hollywood in 1923.  What is known is that by 1924 he landed a job at MGM as lab technician.  He was a work your way up through the ranks kind of man.  When Paramount offered him a job as cameraman, he jumped at it.  This is when his only silent era credit comes, with going to France with Ernst Lubitsch to film backgrounds for Lubitsch's The Student Prince In Old Heidelberg (1927).  It is around this time he claimed to discover Maurice Chevalier.  In 1932 in left for Argentina, where amongst shooting Spanish language films there, he also designed the that countries first sound studio.  He  returned to the US in the late 1930's and worked as a cinematographer in B-Noir movies.   He then went one to be most sought out cinematographers  in the business.  In 1951 he won an Academy Award for his shooting of the ballet sequence in An American In Paris, the first Hungarian born person to do so.  He also penned a book about the shooting of films in 1949, one of the first cinematographer's to do so.  He also served for the US in World War II.

He passed away on the 2nd of June 1996 at the age of 96.

My, My Theda!

Born Today October 4: Buster Keaton


Born Joseph Frank Keaton in Piqua, Kansas into a vaudevillian family, so like Mickey Rooney, he was basically an actor from birth, though his parents, unlike Rooney's, waited until he was three years of age to put him on the stage.  He is said to have been given the nickname "Buster" accidentally by Harry Houdini (though his age changes from source to source to anywhere between 6 months to 18 months of age, with 3 years being cited at the oldest age in other sources); when he took a tumble large down a flight of stairs, when he sat up unharmed, Houdini reportedly said "he's a real buster."  Another version cites (this with Joseph at the age of 3) that Houdini him picked up and remarked to his father Joe Keaton, "that was a real buster."  The story may not be true, or some elements of may not.  However, Joseph/Buster's father Joe did have a traveling show with Harry Houdini called "The Mohawk Indian Medicine Show," so it's probable that that at least some or all of it is true. It was his father who liked it as a name, and why not?  His son--that is Buster-- was actually Joseph Keaton the 6th!  Keaton himself said that this story was true, but he was, after all a serious trickster!  Links below can detail some of the elements of his vaudevillian upbringing, including issues with schooling, etc.

A six year old Buster in stage act with his parents.

For someone so well remembered as a silent film star and innovator of techniques and gags in films that were not based on film trickery (editing, etc.) his father Joe was well known to have disapproved of the film medium altogether, and Buster obviously had reservations about it as well.  This was proven when he met Roscoe Arbuckle (you know Fatty) in 1917 at the Talmadge Studios in New York City, suspicious of the medium he actually asked borrow a camera (no small request at the time) to take a camera to his hotel room.  Once there, he actually dismantled it and reassembled it and returned it to Talmadge intact and agreed to embark on film work.  His first film appearance came later that year with the release of The Butcher Boy appearing along side Arbuckle.  From there on out his notoriety rose amongst filmmakers, and thus this lead to career in the silent era that truly legendary.  Can't say much more about such a giant of the silent era is just one post.  I will note that he was a defender of Arbuckle in regards to the death of Virginia Rappe (a case for an entirely other post or posts!)

From The Cameraman (1928) 

A joke film about his having actually destroyed the camera he borrowed in 1917
Just as a note:  the man famous with a nickname in the first place had at least two other nicknames (nicknames for a nickname?): Malec, and the most famous, and my personal favorite, The Great Stone Face (is that ever true, just google image him!).  He claimed that he used the stone face, because in vaudeville as a child he was basically what we would refer to as a "stunt man" today.  He was having so much fun he couldn't stop smiling and giggling, so developed deadpan type look (who knows if this was direction from his parents) When his film career was taking off, he said further developed it. He was known for not wanting to be photographed smiling.  People who worked with him said he often laughed and smiled. 

From The General, a genuine stunt he directed himself.  

One thing is absolutely sure, he really isn't given the credit that he deserves as a truly original stunt man. That's a another post for sure!   I should also not that he served in WWI, losing part of his hearing as a result.He passed away from lung cancer on 1 February 1966.

For More:

For silent info IMDb (he has only five credits here for stunts)

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Silent Wierdness: The Haunted House (1908)

Silent Wierdness: The Haunted House (1908): If this looks like a Meliésé film...it's not.  It is a film by early Spanish "trick" film maker  Segundo de Chomon , who, th...

Several Countdowns from years back I embedded some early horror films, I figured it would be easier to just reblog them here rather than create a whole new embed post.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Born Today October 3: Warner Oland


Born Johan Verner Öhlund in Nyby, Sweden (a tiny little place at the time), his family immigrated to the U.S. in 1892.  After finishing school, he went straight to Broadway, where he worked through most of his 20's. He relocated to California in the early 1910's. It was at this time that he took the stage name Warner Oland, although he was affectionately known by his nickname "Jack," which no doubt derived from his birth name of Johan. He first worked on the stage there, while making attempts to break into the film industry, which he finally did in 1912 a two part, two reel film entitled Pilgrim's Progress.  From there on out he went on to have an extremely successful career in Hollywood films.  In the case of actors who are not specialist on the stage, such as he was, he was able to make the transition to silent film and back again to speaking parts when talkies came along.  He had a major role in the legendary early talkie The Jazz Singer in 1927.  He became somewhat of a specialist in "yellow face" (similar term to the more well know "black face," but in this case it means playing Asian--this took much longer to be frowned on in Hollywood, and still a sore topic of debate and conversation today) due a turn as Fu Manchu.  As a result of this he landed the role of Charlie Chan in 1931, a character that had formerly been played by actual Asian actors.  This lead to a slew Chan movies that proved financially lucrative for Fox; unfortunately for them this came to an abrupt end. He lived in Southborough, Ma. as his primary residence for many years with his wife Edith in a very old well preserved farmhouse there, despite his Hollywood career.  He and his wife became involved in a bitter divorce after 30 years of marriage based on finances (filed by her) in 1937-1938, with a settlement finally coming favoring his wife on the day he set sail for Europe (she had, apparently, endured years of serious alcohol and some undisclosed "mental problems" on his behalf--the nature of which Fox kept under serious wraps due the the Chan character).  What is known is that he intended to returned to his mother's home in Sweden; some sort of reconciliation deal was made with Edith (she must have genuinely cared for him) and then he contracted a very serious case bronchial pneumonia, and was transported to a hospital Stockholm, it was discovered by Swedish doctors that he was also suffering from emphysema, but who knows for how long.  He passed away on 6 August 1938 at the age of 57.  His wife had his remains cremated and transported back the Massachusetts for burial in the Southborough Rural Cemetery.  He seems to have been a extremely talented and rather tragic figure.  For his Chan roles, he is said to have took time to time to learn "Chinese." (that may or may not be true). If even half the stories of what he is reported to have said or done are true, it seems he suffered from some sort of schizophrenia.  On one occasion close to his departure from the US, he walked off a set and didn't return, he was apparently over-heard telling a studio executive that the set was possessed by voodoo, and he feared that he would get pneumonia.  Ironic in a way, since that is what he ultimately died of; but it was probably the on-set of the emphysema that was really troubling him (I'm not even going to get into the miniature schnauzers!).  Since this is the Countdown To Halloween it is worth noting that in the silent era he starred opposite the great Vamp herself Theda Bara in the 1915 Sin, and also appeared in "yellow-face" in the 1935 Werewolf Of London.  Let's hope he has found peace.

With Theda

The Silent Image In Modern Film: Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)

There is a fine tribute to the earliest projected films in this plushly shot horror epic of the early 1990's.  It comes in as a scene in a cinema parlor in the heart of 1890's London.  As Mina (Winona Ryder) and The Count (Gary Oldman) enter the room, the projection that is just ending is normal; then as other films start up, the images on the screens eventually morph into silent images that behave like good old fashioned Stop Motion Animation obviously being projected straight through the devices from the vampire himself--echoing similar "silent looking" images from the beginning of the film.  (Watch also for the morphing of the woman in an upright casket into skeleton like figure, just before "vampire projection" starts.) After the wolf clears the cinema, the projections then seem to return to normal.  I believe one of the images at this point are of the ultra short film entitled The Ghost Train, which would bit funny since it wasn't shot until 1903--but I can't be sure.

"No Limits To Science"

 The device in question is the Cinematograph, a device invented by Léon Bouly that was patented by him in 1892, but most closely associated with, and seriously perfected by The Lumiére Brothers.  It was invented to be both a motion picture camera and a projector.  It was designed to trump Edison's Kinetoscope, which was an all together different sort of machine that certainly lacked a projection device of any sort.  The cinematograph became wildly popular, and widely know throughout the world, including remote parts of Asia.  The most important cultural impact of the cinematograph was that it was available to the poorest of people, hence Mina's snobbish quip "how can you call this science?"  It is the sort of place that a young woman of her station should not be frequenting.  Of course, it doesn't help that what is playing when they walk in are the earliest forms of "blue movies"--an early form of pornographic film.  Still "The Count" is right, science it was!  

In fact, throughout the film other images invoke the silent era of cinema, and even employ parlor and stage tricks found in earlier 18th phantasmagoria.  For example, during the beginning of Jonathan Harker's (Keanu Reeves) stay in Dracula's Transylvania castle we see a shadow play that was a common parlor and stage trick from the late 18th and early 19th century.  According to Coppola he used what he termed as a "shadow wrangler" to complete the effect--literally a shadow mime off camera to cast an alternate movement behind Oldman as the scene was shot.  This can clearly be seen in the two clips below. 

Another easily spotted trick employed in the film that references silent "trick films" (most produced in the 1890's and very early 20the century) found in earliest staged film is the use of reverse motion--or the simple use of film in reverse.  This was employed in the case of Lucy The Vampire (Sadie Frost) returning to her casket after being confronted by by Van Helsing (Anthony Hopkins) and his rather over sized cross.

More Images:

Image obviously an homage to Nosferatu (1922)

Echoing The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari

Vampire about town at dusk.  From a part of the film that is shot to mimic old hand turned motion picture cameras.

  For More:

Director Francis Ford Coppola talks Old Hollywood Magic in the film in an article from this past August over at Entertainment Weekly.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Born Today October 2: Groucho Marx


Born Julius Henry Marx in New York City, he is absolutely the most recognized member of the Marx Brothers by a long shot.  His parents where of German Jewish and French Jewish families.  He is often thought to have been the eldest of that highly successful comedic family, when in fact, both Harpo and Chico were older then he was, he was also the longest lived of the Marx Brothers. He was also certainly the most high profile of the group, doing a lot of television and appearing on a lot talk shows.  In the 1950's he was really famous for for being a participant on You Bet Your Life.  As to the history of The Marx Brothers, they started as a vaudeville act in the 1910's.  They were all urged on the stage by their mother because of a uncle that was acting in theater.  His older brother "Chico" (that would be Leonard by birth name) was the first to take to the stage.  Individually, under his birth name Julius, he first took to the stage as "boy singer" in vaudeville in 1905. He must have been hilarious from the beginning; he claimed at one point that his vaudevillian acting as "hopelessly average."  A wisecrack clearly meant to poke at his actual talent.  

Early Stage Vaudevillians Marx Bros. With Parents

In regards to Hollywood there is not a lot to write about in the 1920's.  As with our birthday subject man from yesterday, the venerable Stanley Holloway, because they were solidly theater people, the silent medium didn't really work for them.  They did make one silent film in 1921, a short comedic film Humor Risk, that had only one public showing, and is now sadly lost.  Groucho later claimed "it wasn't very good." So when full blown talkies started to become the norm in 1929 we have what is widely believed to be the very first Marx Brothers movie, The Cocoanuts.  

Julius "Groucho" Marx passed away in on the 19th of August 1977 from complications due to pneumonia.  As a point of just pure trivia:  apparently he was a reader/fan of Horatio Alger in his early years.  I have sometime fellow blogger on my live blog Scare Me On Fridays site Musik Hund to thank for finding the following "Dick Cavett Moment" embeded below.

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