Monday, August 24, 2015

The Silent Image In Modern Medium: "Uncle Grandpa" and The Funny Face Party

I just happened to be watching a streaming episode of the very quirky and strangely entertaining cartoon Uncle Grandpa yesterday, which features the funny face party of season one.  I immediately thought of  a Georges Melies film of 1901 that goes by several names, the two most famous being The Man With A Rubber Head or The India Rubber Head (L'homme á la téte de caoutchouc) , which had to be both the inspiration for the episode and an out and out homage to the Melies.  Both are hilarious and speak for themselves as imagery.  

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Classic Cover: Moving Picture World

Cover of the independent film journal "Moving Picture World" from January 4, 1913 at it's height of popularity and significant influence.  For a brief history, click here.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Magical Magic Laterners

Vintage English illustration claiming Friar and Philosopher Roger Bacon created the first Magic Lantern in the 13th century.  From Princeton's Cotsen Children's Library
In our modern world filled with the moving images everywhere from phone to live streaming, it's hard to appreciate the beginnings of the motion picture.  When most are asked to conjure up where they think movies came from, the first thing that comes to mind is that photography came first.  In fact, projection came first and pre-dated actual photography by around 2 full centuries.

Advertisement for a triple lensed "Triple Lantern" projector from  1886 London newspaper.  The device featured "transitional dissolve," which is achieved through it's three lenses. Found on Wikipedia Page.

The question as to the true inventor of the first projection magic lantern is a bit veiled in historical mystery and slight controversy as what is properly the first true lensed projection device, however, it is popularly attributed to 17th century Dutch astronomer and mathematician Christian Huygens, who is said to have invented it to amuse his children.  [Just as an aside, with a look at fire lamp lit Magic Lanterns, it is easy to imagine that lantern's of the type illustrated above could have been invented much earlier--whether Roger Bacon actually achieved this can not be known at this time--he is credited with all sorts of "magical" discoveries and inventions--some of which he most certainly had nothing to do with. All one would need is a metal lamp with a carved out image in the middle front section--with a candle providing the light from within.]  By the 18th century, these machines were even employed in seances to help dupe the unwary into seeing "real ghosts."

A painted glass slide for early Magic An example of a simple story of a boy falling into a honey pot.

The early lanterns made use of painted glass panels that were drawn across the light source and with the use of lenses, then projected at a distance.  As with the panel above, they told cute little stories mostly intended for children.  Again, this is two centuries before photography.  Of course, with the invention of photography, the advancement in these early slide projectors was quite rapid. And with the invention of, by Muybridge, of true series photography, it is not hard to see where inventors such as Edison and his cohorts in the US, and others such as the Lumiere Bros. in France already had a concept of true moving picture through projection (though early films made use of other forms of viewing apparati--such as the Kinetoscope).  In fact, these machines could actually project early forms of motion photography.  Thus the movies actually began with projection and not photography. It is also worth noting that once the machines were used to project photographs, the notion of hand coloring individual photo stills caught on almost instantly--thus the notion of hand coloring early movies came from this technology as well.  To see these machines is action, please check out this fine page from Jack & Beverly's Optical Toys.

Lamp lit Magic Lantern (from the collection of the Children's Museum, Indianopolis.

A Magic Lantern dating from 1818, found in the collections of Musée des Arts et Métiers in Paris

A primitive plate Lantern found in a museum in Wymondham, England

A Lantern owned by the Smithsonian

A Lantern in a collection from The Netherlands

A Biunial Lantern

A Triunial Lantern from the collection of the Museum Victoria, Australia

Another much earlier Lantern in the Museum Victoria collection.

Another Museum Victoria lantern, much, much later; dating from between 1913 to 1920, note that it's electric.

For More:  Magic Lantern Society
                  Lantern Gallery From The Netherlands

Thursday, August 13, 2015

The MGM Logo Evolution Starting In 1917

I'm posting this for my son, who is a little logo freak!  So, this one is for "Peanut" AKA Mr. P.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Next Studio Innovation: Glass Ceilings

Interior of a very early glass ceiling studio
When you need lighting--what better way to get it than from the sun?  While the very first studio, Edison's Black Maria, was covered completely in tar paper and had more in common with early photographic rooms in the 1830's than it did with what we would think of as a film production studio, it quickly became clear (literally) that as films got longer in length, a better source of lighting was required and artificial light was not really an option given the technology of the day (the Black Maria did actually have a roof that could be opened to the sun).  Glass ceilings were the solution.  As they evolved some studios were eventually made entirely of glass plates. And thus became known as "greenhouse studios."

Back lot of a studio in Fort Lee NJ after 1915.  Not the multiple large glass plated buildings.

As the studio systems and company began their permanent westward migration out to California, many of these massive structures left behind on the east coast were then converted into storage space for early films (note:  early Hollywood had some glass paneled studios of their own in the early days).  This proved to be disastrous for FOX, when in 1937 the nitrate film stored a New Jersey facility spontaneously caught fire and burned almost the entire FOX silent catalog (almost all of Theda Bara vamp films for them went up in flames), the fire also claimed the life of one person, and severely injured two more (anyone who has seen Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds, is familiar with the extreme flammability of nitrate film!).

Kinda Spooky!  The very first Universal studio under construction on Main Street in Fort Lee, NJ.  It's easy to see where the glass paneling is meant to go.

Sunday, August 9, 2015


Formerly Lost Films

This is another case where parts were cut from the film and not properly stored.  In this case it was just the desire of Disney to shorten the film, not a case of censorship (see King Kong 1933 below).  After painstaking efforts, most of the original soundtrack was recovered, along with a few of the missing fragments of print; but the film did require heavy reconstructive measures to get it back to it's original 1971 release length for release as a 30 year commemorative edition.

Beyond The Rocks (1922) IMDb SILENT

The Rudolph Valentino/Gloria Swanson film was famously lost for decade (save for one tiny clip) and was considered permanently lost to history, when a complete copy showed up in the collection of a rather eccentric private collector in Haarlem, The Netherlands was handed over to the The Netherlands Film Museum in 2003.  It was restored by them and the original English dialogue was added back, as the print was in Dutch.  It was screened Cannes in 2005.  It made it's television debut on TCM in 2006 and it was also released on DVD that same year.  What a find!

Condemned To Death (1932) IMDb Mono (RCA)

Though still listed as officially lost, a search undertaken by the British Film Institute in 1992 managed to turn up a print--nearly intact--in France dubbed into French from the original British English.  No word on housing, restoration or condition of the print.  

The Constant Nymph  (1928) IMDb SILENT

Long a famous missing film in the UK, a whole print was found by the 1992 "Missing Believed Lost" campaign by the British Film Institute.  It was subsequently restored and screened at the National Film Theater in London.

The Death Of Poor Joe  (1901) IMDb SILENT

This George Albert Smith directed short was thought lost until a copy was discovered at the British Film Institute.  It now represents the oldest surviving film based on the work of British novelist Charles Dickens.

Fair And Muddy  (1928) IMDb SILENT

I am placing this here out of an abundance of hope that the vague reports of a complete copy having been discovered "abroad" is not a hoax or misunderstanding.  Apart from that description, no other information is known at this time about where this copy supposedly is, who owns or houses it, or what kind of condition the print is in.

A nearly complete copy was found in Russia in a condensed featurized format formerly owned by famed silent Soviet director Sergei Eisenstein.  The feature is minus the spy material--evidently removed because it was considered propaganda.  Eisenstein was a huge fan of star Pearl White.  A newly restored copy was released on DVD May 25, 2015.  Only a couple of the original intact episodes are known to have survived.  Filmed in the "first Hollywood" Fort Lee, NJ, directed by George B. Seitz for Astra Film, distributed by the famous Pathé Fréres.  

King Kong (1933) IMDb Mono (RCA Photophone System)

The story of how this classic film became, for many decades, a partially lost film has everything to do with censorship.  Re-releases in the late 1930's, 1940's and 1950's were increasingly met with demands for more and more cuts to parts of the film that were deemed objectionable.  In the process prints were not preserved, either in their various cut versions, nor were the cut parts of prints properly preserved.  As a result a very large portion of the film was deemed lost forever.  Further adaptations for television didn't help the matter.  Two heavily worn prints from censored 1938 and 1942 prints were located and gave some clues as to what had been cut from the original 1933 print; further, an original print in quite good condition was discovered in the UK in the 1980's.  Warner Brothers conducted what turned out to be a 6 year "best materials" search, which ended in a 4K resolution scanning in 2005 (the year that director Peter Jackson's remake came out with remade version of originally cut scenes), and the original film was finally complete again.  It has subsequently been released for home viewing.

It would not really be strictly speaking true to call with a "formerly lost film;" really, it is more properly called a "reconstructed film."  To be sure, it still remains one of the most famously lost and eagerly sought after of all the lost films out there.  The last known complete print was destroyed in the 1967 MGM Vault Fire.  In 2002, TCM premiered a reconstructed version of the put together from production stills and original script materials by Rick Schmidlin.  It has been aired several times since then.  Still if even a incomplete print of the original of this Tod Browning written and directed horror film, starring Lon Chaney Sr., ever showed up--it would be BIG news!

A nearly complete copy of this 15 part serial directed by Aubrey M. Kennedy (who would go on to be a major studio executive at Goldwyn) was found in 2003 in the home of a former projectionist in Pennsylvania.  One reel was completely deteriorated, but most of the rest of series was there.  Curiously, the film had been edited by the projectionist himself to turn it into a continuous feature; so other parts of some episodes appear missing owed to their having been cut in the editing process.  This is just a theory.  Nonetheless, what was left was restorable and has been released on DVD, but is unavailable as of this writing.  This is remarkable for another historical reason, as it represents the earliest surviving film footage of Boris Karloff, who plays a Mexican in a bar in the 2nd episode.

This Frank Capra romantic comedy was famously lost until a nitrate print was discovered in the 1990's in France's national Cinematheque Francais.  Further print material were located in the Centeca de Bologna.  Restoration efforts were undertaken with great success.  The Academy Film Archive now houses a nearly complete print.  About 5 minutes of the film remains missing.  

For decades, Fritz Lang's Metropolis was the most famous partially lost film (and about 5% of the original uncut film is still missing).  Lang was insistent on his personal hand in editing the film to his desired length and a look--his Citizen Kane long before their WAS a Citizen Kane.  One of the major criticisms of the film upon it's release was that it was simply too long; which lead to efforts to cut it to lengths at theaters to a more acceptable running time.  This of course, incensed Lang; and also lead to the inevitable, that the original edit of the film would be lost to history.  Which, sure enough, it was.  That is, until 2008, when a well worn and damaged print of Lang's original cut of the film was discovered tucked away in a Museum in Argentina.  After two years of very slow and careful restoration, the restored print was returned to the silver screen on the 12th of February 2010 at simultaneous showings in Frankfurt and Berlin.  This film was later released on Blu Ray by Kino.  

The Mystery Of The Wax Museum (1933)  IMDb Mono (Vitaphone)

This film represents on of the last films to be shot in the Technicolor Two-Strip Process and it was thought that the color print of the film was permanently lost, when in the 1950's studios began searching for a copy to transfer for print to be shown on television, one could not be found in any of the locations known to have had a copy.  Instead the surviving black and white version was used for broadcast.  People did not, however, stop looking.  The first glimmer of hope that copies did indeed survive came when the London Warner exchange reported that they had a copy that had been screened in the 1940's, long after all other prints were reported destroyed.  Then, at Technicolor labs itself another print was known to have been saved, and was, in fact, screened privately in the 1960's (that copy is now in the possession of the Academy Film Archive).  Finally, when Jack L. Warner died in 1978, he was found to have saved back a copy in his private collection.  That print was touched up and screened at Grauman's Chinese Theater in Hollywood, with Fay Wray in attendance.  The film has since been released on home entertainment mediums of all sorts, and regularly shown on television as well. 

Considered permanently lost, a copy was found in 1996 in, again, in Moscow by German film researchers that were searching Russian archives.  It was a deteriorated black and white copy, not an original nitrate (original nitrates in any condition are extremely rare!).  Curiously it had rushed new scenes added on and was renamed "Jerusalem's Storm."  A copy was successfully made, with scene corrections and re-tinting following the original tints from the 1920's.  In an very odd twist of fate, the proper corrections in scenes could be made because of detailed notes taken from German Censor's Archives, some of which reportedly included descriptions of "objectionable material" notes made by members of the Nazi party in Bavaria.  In that area, at the time, they had effectively had the film banned.  This one features the "in"famous actor Max Schreck, who is remembered now only as the vampire Count Orlok from Nosferatu (also from 1922).  Here he plays a templar.

Napoléon  (1927) IMDb SILENT

The story of the restoration(s) of this film is quite extensive (so I urge following the links above).  The first restoration came at great pains by film historian Ken Brownlow, who had as a child actually purchased two short reels of the film from a street market!  This lead to a life-long search for material to restore the film to at least screening condition.  He was able to put together about 235 minutes of the original 330 minute film to screen in 1979 at the Telluride Film Festival.  By the year 2000 he aided to providing a further 35 minutes to the film.  The completed film--5 1/2 hours!--was screened several times with full live orchestras (one showing requiring 3 intermissions--with one being a dinner break).  For full restoration information follow this link.  

A Page Of Madness  (1926) IMDb SILENT 

This film was considered completely lost for 40 years--it was probably the most famously lost film in Japan.  In 1971 director Teinosuke Kinugasa found a complete copy in his own storage shed.  

This is yet another example of a film in it's original edit getting lost due to censorship.  Most films that have been subjected to these types of cuts are lost for good.  Not so in the case, thankfully.  This Carl Theodor Dreyer directed film was subjected to cuts on orders from the Archbishop of Paris and by French government censors--it was the only way that Dreyer--who was neither French or Catholic--could get permission to premiere the film in that country.  But it's recovery it not the most remarkable part of this story; it's where the film turned up that truly takes the cake, so to speak.  An employee on a mental institution in Norway found several film canisters marked with the title of the film in a janitors closet 1981; the canisters were sent to the Norwegian Film Institute.  Employees there obviously didn't make examining the film a high priority, as they didn't look at the film for three years!  When they did, they were in for a real shock!  Looking into the history of the film it is thought that the director of the institution--who was also a published historian--may have somehow acquired a couple many years before the film's discovery,  So Dreyer's version of the film has been restored and is not available to purchase, all thanks to a mental hospital in Oslo.  

It is so rare to locate a lost Meliés film!  They are so short and so old, that once listed as lost, they tend to stay that way.  This little comical number was discovered in 2004 in extremely serviceable shape.  

Richard III (1912) IMDb SILENT

This was one of the most famously lost films in motion picture history!  Laments of it's loss to the world in it's entirety was written in numerous books on silent films in all aspects.  It's loss was early as well; it was reported permanently lost in 1922.  This again another story of a projectionist having a personal copy in their home.  A full print was discovered in the home a former Bluebird Theater projectionist William Buffum in Portland, Oregon--actually he donated his full nitrate (that's right NITRATE) copy of the film to the American Film Institute (it is unclear if he did, indeed, remember that he had the copy all along or not).  The AFI was able to successfully transfer the nitrate copy to a stable medium and retouched the tinting in the restoration process.  In June of 2001, Kino International released the film on DVD with a new soundtrack by famed film composer Ennio Morricone.  I have a blog post for a blogathon that I was privileged to be a participant in last year, that can be found here.  The film now represents the oldest surviving American feature length film and is thought to have been the world's first feature length film based on a Shakespeare play.

Salomy Jane (1914) IMDb

This film was thought lost forever when the only known print of it went up in flames in a 1931 studio vault fire San Rafael, CA, after a child's firecracker stunt near by went terrible wrong--burning all prints contained in the building.  However, a copy was found in 1996 in Australia.  It was preserved the Library of Congress, with new 35 mm prints produced in limited distribution by 2008.  It has since been fully restored and released on DVD by The National Film Preservation Foundation.  

The Satanist (1968) IMDb Mono

Long thought lost, this stylish lat 1960's horror film was screened from a 35mm print at the 2014 Exhumed Films "Lost" Film Festival.  No one at this time where the print came from (possibly the director's family??)

Sherlock Holmes Baffled  (1900) IMDb SILENT

This very first Sir Arthur Conan Doyle "Sherlock Holmes" adaptation was long lost; it was the brain child of Arthur Marvin.  It was shot for the canival style Mutoscope machine--a viewing machine patented by American Mutoscope for paid viewing.  A LARGE number of  these films are indeed (probably) permanently lost to history.  However the larger studios that invented these viewing machines would submit paper copies of their films for copyright, as actual film copyright did not become law until 1912 (believe it or not).  This was an espcially common practice at the Edison Co. and American Mutoscope & Biograph compnay.  It's not clear at this time when or where (possibly the Library of Congress) the paper copy of the film turned up.  What is known is that it has since been transferred to a 16mm print and is currently housed at the Library of Congress. 

The Stain (1914 IMDb SILENT

Thought lost for good, a copy was discovered in Australia in the 1990's and is housed at the Gorge Eastman House, where it was completely restored, including the original tinting.  It is a remarkable film for many reasons, as it is one the very earliest feature length films produced and it was shot extensively on location.  Probably the most important thing about it in terms of history, is that it marks one of the only surviving Theda Bara films--and it marks her film debut to boot--under her real name of Theodosia Goodman.

A Star Is Born (1954) IMDb 4-Track Stereo (RCA)

For many years this Academy Award winning George Cukor film has bits missing; principally missing were several musical numbers--dialogue was also missing.  In a desire to complete the film for a 30 year anniversary, a serious search of the film vaults of Warner Bros. and several missing scenes were turned up. The film was "restored" for release in 1983, with the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts and Science being involved.  Much of the "restoration" was taken from pan and scan production stills, as all of the missing elements of the film have yet to surface.  In all about 30 minutes of the film was missing.  Ironically director George Cukor died the day before the restored screening in 1983.

A Thief Catcher (1914) IMDb SILENT

Charlie Chaplin had always maintained that he had played a Keystone Cop during his tenure at Mack Sennett's Keystone Film Company, but no one could confirm this because many prints from that company during this time period were missing and presumed permanently lost.  However, early film historian Paul E. Gierucki surprisingly discovered and purchased at print of this film in 2010 (in a 16 MM format) at a antique sale in Michigan.  Sure enough, there was Chaplin as one of the cops.  It was screened later in that same year at a slapstick film festival.

Victor Sjöström directed film from Sweden, that he starred in himself, was actually the very first film to be banned in Sweden.  The film was famously lost until 1979 when a copy was found in a archive somewhere in the U.S.  The film was restored and premiered in Stockholm on the 14th of October in 1980.


This Phil Rosen directed drama starred the like of Irene Rich and Clara Bow.  A print was discovered to have survived at Lobster Film in France.  No word on plans for restoration and release or screenings.

Too Much Johnson  (1938) IMDb SILENT

This Orson Welles late 1930's silent was thought lost to a villa fire that destroyed Welles' Madrid Home--at the time he had housed the only known copy of the film there.  However in 2008 a complete copy was found in a warehouse in Pordenone, Italy.  It as been restored and screened at the Pordenone Silent Film Festival on the 9th of October in 2013. The print and modern edit were then made available online at The National Film Preservation Foundation. Below is the embed of that copy with original music by the modern and uber talented silent film accompanist Ben Model.

Considered another casualty of the infamous Fox Film fire, a copy of this lost anthology was discovered and is now in the considerable collection of films at the UCLA Film and Television Archive (note:  there isn't a great deal of information as to where the film turned up--it's possible that a copy had been at UCLA all along before someone rediscovered it there).  The film was directed by Charles Brabin, who was Theda Bara's husband.  It is a 3 part anthology that stars Estelle Taylor and Marc McDermott.  It's running time is 1 hour and 20 minutes.  As of this writing, it does not appear to have been released in any format for home viewing; but UCLA has screened it more than once.  


This film only recently turned up (and apparently only two thirds of the film has been found).  It was either found at the Czech Film Archive, or donated anonymously to them in 2016.  No word on it's restoration and distribution.  Yet another reason to hold out hope for other lost films--this is not only an early film--it's a Méliès film!

The X-Ray Fiend (1897) IMDb SILENT

It is always a pleasure to be able to include any film from the 19th century on this list.  This little comedic short was one of early British film pioneer George Albert Smith's trick films.  It employs similar trick photography to that found in Méliès films of the same time period.  It is less than 1 minute in running time (around 45 seconds).