Friday, June 28, 2013

This Weekend At Niles: 16th Annual Broncho Billy Silent Film Festival



Silent movies rule yet again in the San Francisco Bay Area twice every summer, once at the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum and a few weeks later at San Francisco's Castro Theatre.



This year's fest commemorates the centennial of filmmaking in Niles with, among other programs, an afternoon featuring the few still existing 1912-1913 westerns produced by none other than the legendary Gilbert M. "Broncho Billy" Anderson, a premiere of a western filmed recently in the same Niles Canyon locations, an all-animation show featuring Lotte Reineger's The Adventures Of Prince Achmed, a presentation on the Northern California's historic (and stunning) art deco movie palaces and an appearance by author, historian and silent movie star Diana Serra Cary (a.k.a. Baby Peggy).



Quoting the press release by the museum's Rena Azevedo Kiehn, and the article on the festival in The Tri-City Voice, "if you haven't seen a silent movie in awhile (or ever!) if you keep meaning to stop by, THIS IS THE WEEKEND to come to the movies in Niles! Really! There are classic comedy movies with Marion Davies and Buster Keaton! There are films on animation and stunts! There will be a walking tour and a presentation on classic Bay Area Theaters and one on locations of Sherlock, Jr. There are films made 100 years ago right here - and one made THIS YEAR!"




The 16th Annual Broncho Billy Silent Film Festival holds forth at the Edison Theater, 37417 Niles Boulevard, Fremont, CA 94536-2949.



So, Northern California and Bay Area classic movie buffs, do the right thing, take a break from Turner Classic Movies this weekend and head on down to Niles for a weekend of historic silent movie goodness.



One can check out the schedule, buy advance tickets and festival passes online here or purchase tickets the old-fashioned way, by bringing this order form in person to the museum.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Between Takes With The Monsters



Unquestionably, Peter Lorre, Frankie and The Wolfman got their kicks on Route 66 - even given that Alice Cooper, The Dead Boys and Electric Frankenstein were a few years (or decades) down the road.



And, frankly, I would have found Marty Milner's subsequent cop show, Adam-12, infinitely more entertaining had Karloff, Lorre and Chaney been in the regular cast!



"One Adam-12, gruesome green monster with bolts sticking out his neck wandering aimlessly on Sunset, near the Whisky A Go-Go. Said to have British accent and unkempt werewolf companion. Jim Morrison considering having werewolf sit in with the band."



Meanwhile, although Peter Lorre did not jam with The Doors or The Velvet Underground, he get to have an incredible amount of fun with his screen image on the following 1963 episode of The Jack Benny Program.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

And Now For Some Editorial Cartoons. . .



There have easily been 100 first-rate editorial cartoons over the past three weeks - and these two are the picks for this morning's post (note: Mr. Blogmeister, ever the history geek, is fascinated by brutally satiric political comics, going back to the days of Thomas Nast).



Although satire and social commentary has become something of an endangered species in recent years, this blog keeps an eye on The Daily Show and especially The Colbert Report, the current equivalents of That Was The Week That Was.





And, yes, realizing that editorial cartoons chase away all five readers of this blog, the Blogmeister notes that the delirious yet steadfast focus on the odd corners of 20th century pop culture will absolutely and most assuredly return - and stay there - starting with the next post.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Burt Bacharach - Brian Wilson Day


Today, on the occasion of his 71st birthday, we pay tribute to composer/pianist/arranger Brian Wilson. Since this blog also designates the 20th of every month as Burt Bacharach Day, here's a tune Brian and Burt wrote together.



Too bad a "Beach Boys Sings Burt Bacharach" project didn't happen. This "Walk On By" cover shows great but unrealized potential. Bear in mind that such a move towards pure pop would not have been feasible in 1967-1968, since the band had, practically overnight, transitioned from the hottest thing in show business to, with the commercial dominance of guitar-driven psychedelic rock, such dreaded designations as "old hat", "last year's Trend Du Jour" or even worse, "Box Office Poison".



Invariably, either Mike Love, Capitol Records, Murray Wilson or all of the above would have shot such an idea down in short order. It was most fortuitous that The Beatles actually were not only allowed to grow creatively and supported by their millions of fans, but encouraged to do so - as Brian (and to a lesser degree his songwriting brothers Carl and Dennis) most assuredly were not. At least Brian survived, and with his stellar recording Brian Wilson Presents SMiLE and accompanying tour in 2003-2004, enjoyed some measure of vindication.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Celluloid Rarities "Accidentally Preserved"



No, I am NOT referring to Smucker's delicious Dingleberry Preserves but - yet again - to silent film rarities. On the heels of the recent Mostly Lost gathering of international archivists, historians and celluloid sleuths at the Library Of Congress in Culpepper comes this latest collection of vintage Roaring 20's entertainment, Accidentally Preserved, volume 1, available via Amazon.

Here is the lineup, curated by Ben Model of the Silent Clowns and Cruel & Unusual Comedy film series. Formerly lost films are indicated with a ** and were transferred from the only known print:
  • The Lost Laugh** with Wallace Lupino (1928) - 9 minutes. It's a rough start to Mr. and Mrs. Lupino's day, but Wallace tries to keep a sense of humor about the washing-machine salesman and the worthless piece of junk he sells them.

  • Loose Change with Jack Duffy (1928) - 11 minutes. When filthy rich-but-dirt-cheap Scottish uncle "Sandy McDuff" visits, his nephew's wife vamps the old coot as a prank.

  • Wedding Slips** with Monte Collins (1928) - 9 minutes. The honeymoon takes a turn for the worse when the newlyweds are kidnapped by gypsies and a gorilla.

  • Shoot Straight with Paul Parrott(1923) - 10 minutes. A decade away from his exceptionally productive stint as director/writer of Laurel & Hardy comedies, early 1920's Roach Studio headliner James "Paul" Parrott goes a-hunting, and tangles with wascally wabbits, ducks, a bear and more.

  • The House Of Wonders**(ca. 1931) - 23 minutes. This genuine Depression-era industrial film tours the Elgin Watch Company and shows the assembly of an Elgin watch from start to finish.

  • The Misfit with Clyde Cook (1924) - 12 minutes. After helping wifey shop and paint the living room floor, henpecked Clyde flees and joins the Marines!

  • The Water Plug with Billy Franey (1920) - 12 minutes. An enterprising yet sleazy con-artist hatches a scheme to fleece automobile owners with a portable hydrant from a pawn-shop.

  • Mechanical Doll a.k.a. The Dresden Doll, an "Out Of the Inkwell" cartoon, directed by Dave Fleischer (1922) - 7 minutes. "Uncle Max" Fleischer messes with Koko The Clown even more than usual by drawing a life-size wind-up doll for him.

  • Cheer Up with Cliff Bowes (1924 - 10 minutes). Cliff and Eddie Boland, longtime rivals for Virginia Vance's hand in marriage, find that the (not good-natured) rivalry does not end after Cliff and Virginia wed.

All films are available for viewing online, with introductions, via Ben Model's YouTube channel. Today's posting brings the silent film comedy arc of the past three weeks to a close - well, at least until Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog starts yet another series covering the fun factories of Hal Roach, Mack Sennett, Henry Lehrman, Vitagraph, Jack White/Educational Pictures, Fox, Century, Universal and more.

Friday, June 07, 2013

And This Blog Loves Alice Howell, Cinema's First "Wacky Redhead"



Another movie legend who's rapidly becoming a favorite at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog is gonzo silent film comedienne Alice Howell.



Twenty years before Lucille Ball made her silver screen debut as a showgirl in delirious Busby Berkeley musicals, Alice Howell, the go-for-broke redhead with a Q-Tip hairdo and a flair for knockabout farce, was tearing it up in Mack Sennett's rip-roaring Keystone Comedies.



Here she is, co-starring with Al St. John in a typically slow-paced and genteel Keystone comedy produced in 1914, Shot In The Excitement.



Because only a handful of her 70+ starring vehicles exist - and none were available when Robert Youngson produced his influential series of silent comedy compilation features (The Golden Age Of Comedy, When Comedy Was King, Days Of Thrills & Laughter, 30 Years Of Fun among them) - L-KO, Century Comedies, Emerald Motion Picture Company, Bulls-Eye/Reelcraft and Universal Pictures star Alice Howell is only now starting to get some recognition as one of the frequently crowned Queens Of Slapstick.



As a result of the unavailability of her films, there also hasn't been a heckuva lot written about Alice, besides an excellent article by Trav S.D., author of Chain Of Fools: Silent Comedy And Its Legacies - From Nickelodeons To YouTube, the full chapter she receives in Lame Brains And Lunatics: The Good, The Bad And The Forgotten Of Silent Comedy by Steve Massa and a section in Eccentrics Of Comedy by Anthony Slide.    



While Alice's earliest starring vehicle available, from 1917, is pure knockabout, she delivers the goods with a combination of her trademark over-the-top outrageousness with more naturalistic underplaying.



Unlike many in the arts, Alice was not driven to be in showbiz and couldn't care less about recognition; she happily retired from movies in 1927, never looking back.





Alice's daughter, Yvonne Howell made a few screen appearances as a supporting comedienne and ingenue in silent films.



Yvonne subsequently married Oscar-winning filmmaker George Stevens, himself a former Hal Roach Studio cameraman and director who eventually helmed such ambitious big screen epics as Shane and Giant.



However, before graduating to big-budget "A" pictures at RKO, Stevens directed comedy shorts in both Edgar Kennedy's Mr. Average Man series and the very funny Blondes & The Redheads 2-reelers, featuring the hilarious comic actor (and frequent collaborator of W.C. Fields) Grady Sutton. After this, Stevens graduated to directing features starring the wacky team of Bert Wheeler & Robert Woolsey.



While there's not much from either Howell readily available on DVD, one can find a few of Alice's starring vehicles on scattered European releases and the Rare Film Classics blog.







Better yet, there's volume 1 of the splendid Dizzy Damsels & Crazy Janes DVD series by New Hampshire vintage comedy specialists Looser Than Loose Publishing.



There are also very funny supporting appearances of Alice's from Sennett and L-KO films on the excellent Chaplin At Keystone and Slapstick Encyclopedia sets.



More comic gems will no doubt be brought to light when Paul E. Gierucki's CineMuseum company is officially up and running.



The latest and greatest: the Artie Mogull film collection, which includes four newly discovered Alice Howell Reelcraft comedies from 1920, Her Lucky Day, His Wooden Leg-acy, A Convict's Happy Bride and Squirrel Time, has been acquired by the Library Of Congress.

Saturday, June 01, 2013

More Silent Comedy Clips



Following up the last post about Steve Massa's new book, here are some more imaginative bits of classic comedy goodness from the days of silent pictures.



First and foremost: Mr. Lloyd "Ham" Hamilton.



Marcel Perez, A.K.A. Tweedy and Tweedledum, among that first wave of screen comedians (along with Andre Deed and Max Linder) is becoming a favorite at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog. Not many Perez films survive (he died in 1929), but those that do show a highly creative and original comic mind.



Perez' sense of humor is wacky, surreal, outrageous and a bit risque, by comparison to American comedies from the same period. Here are examples of Perez' early Robinet series.









The aforementioned and always dapper Max Linder was one of the greatest movie comedians who ever lived and, like Perez, preceded Chaplin as a star of his own short subjects series, befire going on to feature films.





Watching 1941, Stephen Spielberg's effects-laden epic (in the vein of Stanley Kramer's It's A Mad Mad Mad Mad World and Blake Edwards' The Great Race) on Turner Classic Movies last night, I couldn't help thinking of Larry Semon, the prolific silent film comedian, director and cartoonist who loved sight gags on an operatic scale.



Mr. Semon would have adored 1941, still the last word in epic cartoonish set pieces and "mass destruction of property is good for a laugh".


Semon began his career directing and writing films for other comedians at Vitagraph, including the team of Earl Montgomery and (future comedy film producer) Joe Rock.





In retrospect, it's too bad Semon, who died in 1928, didn't live long enough to write gags for animated cartoons in talkies. One could imagine him dreaming up way-out stuff for Van Beuren, Fleischer or Terrytoons.



Here's Larry at his manic peak, supported deftly by, among others, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy.