Indeed, this is an amazing treasure trove for film buffs and includes a host of intriguing extras. If you're an animation or classic movie buff, just buy it and enjoy.
Kudos to Jerry Beck and many others who made this happen!
My last entry covering the 12th San Francisco Silent Film Festival will attempt to explain something that totally defies rational explanation: the fascinating yet disturbing allure of ultra-rare time capsules from the earliest days of cinema. How early? Imagine movie buffs watching Ratatouille in, say, 2111-2114 - that's how early!
Serge Bromberg, founder of Lobster Films, presented one of his celebrated Retour de Flamme (Saved From The Flames) programs - an annual tradition in Paris - for this year's fest. While the show included a very funny 1928 short about a drunken, showgirl-crazy fireman who saw naked Folies-Bergere dancers, including a somewhat more clothed but always witty and striking Josephine Baker, everywhere he looked, most of the 35mm French rarities dated from the turn of the 20th century. The core of the program spotlighted ultra-rare "trick films" by Georges Méliès, Gaston Velle, Segundo de Chomom, Ferdinand Zecca and others.
The modus operandi of the earliest trick films is "hey, look - we can do this", and draws from magic tricks, vaudeville and Grand Guignol. One very early "short short" solely featured a guy getting his head chopped off, while another (more entertaining) later trick film had a fellow's barber decapitate and re-capitate him - something I'm pretty sure was not taught in barber college. Another trick film portrayed an overenthusiastic musician who, incessantly playing his clarinet for captive audiences, suffered an accident that shoved the instrument through and out the top of his head; the big joke, even better than Steve Martin's arrow-through-the-head gag, was that he continued playing. Still another sublimely ridiculous reel consisted entirely of a zaftig showgirl doing a series of little dances with an actor in a giant pig costume.
The fascination in such wonderfully bizarre relics is self-evident, but what causes me to describe them as disturbing? It isn't the content, but the visceral experience of seeing living history: walking, breathing people who lived and died long ago in a 19th century Victorian world so very different from our own. Some of this rings true in the more advanced pre-WWI silent cinema of D.W. Griffith, Max Linder, G.M. "Broncho Billy" Anderson and others, but it's really resonant after experiencing 90 minutes of pre-1905 movies - and brings one vividly in touch with that pesky, nagging topic of mortality.
I'm still waiting for Elvis Costello's variation on "My Little Red Book".
In "Wild Bill" Wellman's Beggars Of Life (1928), Wallace Beery absolutely nailed a plum role as a "good bad guy", while his half-brother Noah exemplified slimy, despicable villainy as "The Brute" in the festival's closing opus (by that master of mayhem, Cecil B. DeMille). As "Oklahoma Red", larger-than-life godfather of the rail-ridin' hobos, Wallace stole the picture and got top billing in the main titles. Noah Beery played one sicko juvenile detention prison guard - sadistic and a craven coward to boot - and really gave audiences a "man you love to hate" in The Godless Girl.
The joint was packed for every show, and you could literally spot internationally reknowned film historians, authors and archivists everywhere.
Still recovering from the last opus of this year's festival, one doozy of a Cecil B. DeMille spectacle, The Godless Girl (1929) starring Marie Prevost (yes, Nick Lowe fans, that Marie Prevost), I will need a day or two to collect my thoughts on this mind-blowing trek through the way-back machine.
The original 1967 recording features Arthur's rap, which pre-dates The Last Poets, Gil Scott-Heron, The Sugar Hill Gang, etc. . . (although its cadence reminds me of Bob Dylan's "talkin' blues" spoken word numbers). Heavyweight champ Muhammad Ali, however, may well have beat Arthur - and everyone else, with the possible exception of some 1960's Jamaican reggae vocalists - to the punch on that "first rapper" claim.
Lee, like Brian Wilson and Fleetwood Mac co-founder Peter Green, was a visionary who, after an extended stretch of hard times, re-emerged, revitalized and returned to performing more than three decades after his 1960's exploits. The following clip, from the January 15, 2003 Royal Albert Hall performance (adeptly accompanied by Baby Lemonade and The Stockholm Strings N' Horns), is available on the highly recommended Forever Changes Live DVD
For all you Noel Coward fans out there, Moe, Larry and Shemp in Goof On The Roof, directed by the infamous Jules White.
And, for the handful of comedy fetishists who fancy only the most obscure trivia, the little guy who shows up with his big, beautiful, blushing bride (Maxine Gates) in the last minute of this opus is Frank Mitchell, formerly of the knockabout comedy team Mitchell and Durant. . . you know, the two boxers-turned-comedians who beat the crap out of each other on stage and screen in the 20's and 30's.