Sunday, June 16, 2019

20th Century Music Burns. . . Silent Movie Headliner Douglas MacLean Returns

The 21st century can be quite the mixed bag for dyed-in-the-wool music and movie buffs, with everyone from Dr. John, Leon Redbone, Roky Erickson and silver screen icon Doris Day now off to the rehearsal in the next world. On one hand, one does not have to stay up until 4:30 a.m. to see a Samuel Fuller masterpiece on TV (which we did in the Jurassic pre-VCR days) - and such events as Mostly Lost, wrapping up today in Culpepper, VA, enthusiastically go all in on film preservation.

Indeed, The Library of Congress has been doing and continues to do amazing work identifying and bringing back long-lost celluloid rarities from 100+ years in The Twilight Zone.

In addition, a successful Kickstarter will bring back two feature films starring Douglas MacLean, a witty, charming and likable leading man with a flair for comedy, to DVD.

On the other hand, a New York Times article from a few days ago titled The Day The Music Burned described the Sunday, June 1, 2008 blaze that ripped through Hollywood's Universal Studios. Up in smoke: 500,000 multi-track master recordings and session tapes, including those of Chess Records, Decca Records, ABC/Impulse Records and many more important labels owned by MCA a.k.a. Universal Music Group.

In other words, the life blood of musicians and music lovers.

Kevork Djansezian/Associated Press

The writer of The Day The Music Burned, Jody Rosen, elaborated further in an interview on NPR. Naturally, the suits at Universal Music Group dispute this article's findings. We at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog don't buy UMG's version of these events for a moment; they concealed facts and lied about the extent of the fire's damage for over 10 years. . . Now this music aficionado wishes he had bought ten, no make that TWENTY times as many records as he did!

The destruction of our history and culture the 2008 Universal backlot blaze represents gets this writer thinking of something a bit brighter, the successful fundraiser that Ben Model of Undercrank Productions organized to launch the Douglas MacLean DVD. The Kickstarter not only met its goal within 24 hours, but is now less than $400 away from doubling the goal. Maybe this will allow some room for trailers or short subjects to be added to the mix.

Douglas MacLean, along with his contemporaries Johnny Hines and Reginald Denny, was a dapper light comedian. He starred in 23 features in silents, then moved behind the camera to be a producer and write screenplays in talkies. As Hines did, MacLean excelled as a star of "good guy outsmarts the baddies and emerges triumphant" storylines popularized by Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. and Harold Lloyd, albeit without the numerous death-defying stunts.

McLean, Hines and Denny were to some degree a forerunner of what such actors as Robert Montgomery, whose big screen appeal was bolstered by a triple shot of wry insouciance and urbane good looks, would do just a few years later in the early 1930's.

On the Thrilling Days Of Yesteryear website, Ivan G. Shreve Jr. penned a very good post about the Kickstarter, which runs through June 27, and Douglas MacLean. Mr. Shreve writes:

The two features to which Ben are referring are One a Minute and Bell Boy 13—both released in 1921. Minute survives in an excellent 35mm print and Boy in a very good 16mm. “These are the only prints of these films on the planet,” Model notes because—as always—nitrate won’t wait. The link to contribute is here.

There has been very little written about the films of Douglas MacLean, so this fundraiser and subsequent DVD release, also noted by writer William T. Garver on his classic movie website It Came From The Bottom Shelf, will change that situation and bring MacLean's work as actor in silents and producer/writer in the 1930's overdue recognition.

The blaze that destroyed the masters for a slew of my favorite recordings also recalls the vault fires that incinerated so much of our cinematic heritage - and this trailer to raise funds for a documentary about film preservation, Lost Emulsion by Glenn Andreiev. We sincerely hope this film gets the backing to be completed - looks fantastic.

Lastly, we're also hap-hap-happy to hear about the upcoming release of a second volume of early 1930's pre-Code goodies starring the director/writer/comedian and guy with a transcendently wacky sense of humor Charles Parrott a.k.a. Charley Chase (1893-1940).

Covered frequently on this Hal Roach Studio and 1924-1934 comedy lovin' blog, Chase combined a certain farcical non-slapstick tradition with outrageously silly situations, ingenious sight gags and touches of both unabashed silliness and goofy physical comedy.

Someone had to merge the sophisticated farce tradition of John Bunny & Flora Finch, Al Christie's WW1 era films (especially with Eddie Lyons & Lee Moran) and the marital comedies starring Mr. and Mrs. Sidney Drew and Mr. & Mrs. Carter DeHaven with protean elements from Mack Sennett's Keystone and (especially) Hal Roach's Lot of Fun - and Charley was the right man for the job.

Love Leonard Maltin's review of volume 1 on his website and can't wait to see volume 2, which can be pre-ordered now and shall officially be released on July 16.

Once, complete versions of Chase's films, other than those struck on 16mm film way back when by Film Classics and Blackhawk Films, were rare and difficult to see. Now there are two volumes of Chase's Hal Roach talkies, a few DVDS of his silents and two DVDs compiling Charley's last series for Columbia.

To that, we at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog tip our battered fedora, stylish albeit not nearly as colorful as Mac Rebbenack's.

Wednesday, June 05, 2019

Next Weekend: FOUR Cool Screenings on TWO coasts

There will be cartoons in Brooklyn this Sunday. Tommy Stathes has been hosting a series of monthly screenings in the New York City area called the Cartoon Carnival for 10 years. The 10th anniversary show is the 80th Cartoon Carnival program, holding forth at 389 Melrose Street Brooklyn, NY 11237. Pen-and-ink luminaries Betty Boop, Koko the Clown, Farmer Alfalfa, Bosko the Talk-Ink Kid and Bobby Bumps will be on hand, presented on the big screen via glorious 16mm film.

There will be two shows, at 4pm and 7pm. Buy tickets in advance via Brown Paper Tickets if you’re interested in attending.

There will also be cartoons in L.A. this Saturday, June 8th at 10am, at the New Beverly Cinema, at Beverly and LaBrea in Hollywood. Jerry Beck of the Cartoon Research website and author of numerous books on animation is curating a 35mm Cartoon Club screening. The following Tom & Jerry image expresses the Cartoon Club's theme for this month and gets me thinking of Esther Williams in Dangerous When Wet and Million Dollar Mermaid. Tickets are available at the door - and in advance here.

This Sunday at the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, comedy shall rule the roost.

The Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum is presenting its monthly L&H/Our Gang matinee this Sunday.

The Laurel & Hardy Talkie Matinee program is a Father's Day extravaganza, a week early. Showtime is at 4PM Pacific Standard Time. The lineup of Hal Roach Studio comedies, curated and hosted by Paul Mular, shall be:

Divot Diggers (1936) Our Gang
Brats (1930) Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy
The Count Takes the Count (1936) Charley Chase
Come Clean (1931) Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy

This Saturday at San Leandro's Historic Bal Theatre, horror host and participant in several memorable Psychotronix Film Festival programs Mr. Lobo concludes his West Coast tour with a live taping of two episodes of Cinema Insomnia.

The big screen event starts at 3pm, is free to the public, and features a double bill of Teenagers From Outer Space and Ed Wood's Bride Of The Monster.

All the breaks, trailer and host segments will be recorded in front of the studio audience.

The Historic Bal Theatre is at 14808 E. 14th Avenue, San Leandro, CA.

Postscript: after posting this, learned that there will also be a classic comedy program in NYC as part of The Silent Clowns Film Series. Laurel & Hardy 1929 shorts plus special guests will rock the house this Saturday at the Bruno Walter Auditorium at Lincoln Center, 111 Amsterdam Ave, New York, New York 10023. Showtime is 2:30 p.m. That means the title of this post needs to be updated to FIVE Cool Screenings on TWO Coasts!

Whether in Brooklyn, New York City, Hollywood, Niles or San Leandro, we encourage our readers to check these shows out!

Monday, May 27, 2019

Memorial Day Comedy

Well, Memorial Day is here, so . . . Are we going to reflect upon the meaning of the holiday or watch comedy films? With a tip of the Jimmie Hatlo to and appreciation for all those who served and are currently serving, the Admiral McRavens among us, it's time to watch some Memorial Day comedy films.

Many of us of a certain age had dads and moms who served with distinction in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and WACS. Of all the classic film comedies about the military, this writer thinks it is good bet that their favorite - indeed, one of the very best comedies from the 1940's - would have been Howard Hawks' 1947 film I Was A Male War Bride. As great a light comedian as Cary Grant is, and he's terrific as usual in this, the stellar performance of Ann Sheridan puts this post WW2 comedy over the top.

No doubt a close runner-up for the greatest generation - and easily this blogger's WW2 vet father's fave - was Mister Roberts. Always enjoy watching it just because Jack Lemmon, Henry Fonda, Jimmy Cagney and William Powell - we love 'em all - are in the same movie. At Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog, we have been known to double bill it with The Caine Mutiny.

There are few things we can imagine less than comedian Harry Langdon a.k.a. The Little Elf in the armed forces, yet here he is as a would-be solider in a clip from the 1924 Mack Sennett comedy All Night Long. While the king of the silver screen, Charlie Chaplin set a high bar line for comedians starring in service comedies a few years earlier with his 1918 film Shoulder Arms, the highly original Harry Langdon more than holds his own here. He's in top form, very funny. Harry's offscreen pal and key supporting player Vernon Dent co-stars.

Even goofier than Harry Langdon was a certain comic who started in a comedy team that was a sensation in clubs during the last half of the 1940's and subsequently were the principal stars of The Colgate Comedy Hour and a bunch of movies, Martin & Lewis. In Jumping Jacks, Dino sings and Jerry is the human wrecking ball, more destructive than Snooky the Human-zee.

Even less suited for the military: The Three Stooges.

Among the comedy teams, there are definitely some sleepers in this genre. One would be this Hal Roach Studios opus starring Thelma Todd & Zasu Pitts, helmed by noted silent movie director, offscreen character and carouser Marshall "Mickey" Neilan.

One of the earliest L&H films, WITH LOVE AND HISSES, is a military comedy but not among those sleepers. The duo had not established their characters yet at this point, so the guy we see here is not Stanley from the Laurel & Hardy pictures but the more aggressive Stan we see from his solo films. A few years later, L&H would join the French Foreign Legion in BEAU HUNKS.

The topic of military-related comedies made by the Roach studio in itself could fill a half dozen more Memorial Day posts. Several were musicals starring Charley Chase, something of a mini-series within the larger series - and mostly an excuse for Charley to sing tunes with The Ranch Boys. The standout in these, especially Rough Seas, is invariably the eternally winsome Thelma Todd.

Frame grab courtesy of

Closing today's Memorial Day entry: Abbott & Costello.

The Abbott & Costello Universal Films DVD box set is chock full off World War II themed films.

Any one of the A&C service comedies - Buck Privates, In The Navy, Keep 'Em Flying, Buck Privates Come Home - goes very well on Memorial Day.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Back in 2019: Silent Movie Innovators Bowers & Blaché

Good news for silent movie aficionados: a new Blu-ray set spotlights stop-motion animation innovator Charley Bowers, while a new documentary now in movie theaters covers the career of filmmaking pioneer Alice Guy-Blaché. There is also a new DVD collecting the few existing films starring World War I era comedians Eddie Lyons & Lee Moran.

The Extraordinary World Of Charley Bowers isn't the first Charley Bowers collection; that was a 2-DVD set issued back in the 1990's.

The Extraordinary World Of Charley Bowers is, however, the first collection on Blu-ray and includes newly found titles not on the previous DVD release.

First heard about this Bowers Blu-ray when the collection was announced in 2014 and am happy to see it officially out!

The animation and sight gag-packed Bowers Comedies get the restoration treatment on Blu-ray from Lobster Films, distributed by Flicker Alley.

The films of Bowers, the indescribable comic, animator and illustrator, who blended live-action silent era comedy with innovative stop-motion techniques akin to what Willis "King Kong" O Brien and Ladislaw Starewicz were doing, are more akin to the way-out visionary ideas of Ernie Kovacs than to any of his 1920's contemporaries.

The Charley Bowers Blu-ray is available for pre-order and will be officially released on June 25.

For more on the films of Charley Bowers, check out author Imogen Sara Smith's outstanding and scholarly article on the animator/comedian in Bright Lights Film Journal.

Courtesy of Be Natural Productions

Another extraordinary visionary, high atop the short list of the most important and groundbreaking figures in the history of movies, who was there blazing new trails with the Lumiere brothers at the very beginning: producer-director-writer-cinematographer and head of Solax Studios, Alice Guy-Blaché.

In Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché, one of the very first filmmakers (arguably, the first narrative filmmaker), the cinema's first mogul gets her due.

The new film by Pamela B. Green tells the Alice Guy-Blaché story via a host of recently discovered photos and historic footage.

The following trailer for Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché reveals that, rather astonishingly, a fair number of movie stars, filmmakers, producers and directors had never heard of Alice Guy Blaché.

Frankly, that causes us at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog to shake our heads in disbelief.

We were thrilled and delighted to devote a post to the original Kickstarter which raised the initial funds to get the ball rolling on its production.

As Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy Blaché was in production, a few more of Mademoiselle Blaché's long lost films - it's been estimated that she made over a thousand - turned up. Some are on the Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers Blu-ray and the Early Women Filmmakers: An International Anthology collection from Flicker Alley.

While it's true that very little was said about her in film history courses 40 years ago - her entire cinematic legacy was lost back then - Alice Guy Blaché's legacy as a female moviemaking powerhouse before the rise of Mary Pickford as producer-star, before the word "filmmaker" existed, has received much long overdue acclaim, including several books, theatrical showings of the aforementioned Kino Lorber collection Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers, and a comprehensive Whitney Museum exhibit, over the past decade.

Those who saw her films on Turner Classic Movies in 2013, as well as on the big screen as part of a presentation by the San Francisco Silent Film Festival a few years ago, certainly are well aware of Alice Guy-Blaché.

Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché is the first documentary about Blaché in quite a few years to hit the film festival circuit and receive a theatrical release, but not the first documentary about Alice Guy Blaché.

With the research of historians Anthony Slide and Alison McMahan, who have championed her work for decades, The National Film Board of Canada produced The Lost Garden: The Life and Cinema of Alice Guy-Blaché, which included interview footage of Alice from the 1950's, in 1995.

For more info on Alice Guy-Blaché, see:

Women Film Pioneers Project

Auteur! Auteur!: 'Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché'

Alice Guy-Blaché, Forgotten Film Pioneer

A four book series, The Life and Work of Alice Guy-Blaché by Janelle Dietrick:

Alice & Eiffel: A New History of Early Cinema and the Love Story Kept Secret for a Century

Illuminating Moments: The Films of Alice Guy-Blaché

La Fée Aux Choux: Alice Guy's Garden of Dreams

Mademoiselle Alice: A Novel

Two books by Alison McMahan

Alice Guy Blaché: Lost Visionary of the Cinema

The Solax Films of Alice Guy Blaché

Completing today's post on silent film rarities, a limited edition DVD collects the few surviving films of the prolific comedians Eddie Lyons & Lee Moran.

Lyons & Moran were very talented and funny comic actors, at first part of a troupe directed by Al Christie that made the Nestor Comedies series.

Key in a sophisticated comedy and farce lineage, along with the duo of John Bunny and Fora Finch and the marital comedy stars Mr. and Mrs. Sidney Drew, the witty comic actors were very important in the history of screen humor and among the first to establish the Al Christie studio's situational comedy approach.

Eddie Lyons and Lee Moran co-starred in dozens of sophisticated farces with hints of slapstick and silliness - over 300 films - for Nestor and Universal from 1912-1921.

They also wrote and directed a fair number of their own starring vehicles, especially in the last series for Universal, the Lyons-Moran Star Comedies.

Whether the duo were a comedy team in the same sense as Laurel & Hardy remains debatable - this blogger thinks the troupe as a whole, which also featured comediennes Victoria Forde, Edith Roberts, Betty Compson, Billie Rhodes and Charlotte Merriam, constituted the comedy team - at least now it is possible to see a few of the Lyons & Moran films on DVD, thanks to the Library of Congress and the efforts of Rare Silent Films in Portland, OR.

Even more amazing is that the Early Universal Shorts of Lyons & Moran DVD is labeled volume 1; the incredibly low survivability rate on Lyons & Moran films makes one wonder how there could be actually enough existing titles to make a volume 2. Maybe there are. . .

Monday, May 13, 2019

Saturday in Moraga: Mr. Lobo hosts The Psychotronix Film Festival

Horror host Mr. Lobo from Cinema Insomnia will be the master of ceremonies this Saturday for an evening of psychotronic movie fun at the Rheem Theatre! It's Cinema Insomnia LIVE!

Sci Fi Bob Ekman and Scott Moon from the KFJC Psychotronix Film Festival will present a program of Scopitones and Soundies, cartoons, B-movie trailers, vintage snack bar ads, clips from monster movies, "educational" films and 1950's commercials.

The Rheem Theatre is located at 350 Park Street in Moraga. To contact the theatre's box office, call (925) 388-0751. Main office phone is (925) 388-0752.