Kansas Silent Film Festival, Day 1

Open, general discussion of silent films, personalities and history.
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Kansas Silent Film Festival, Day 1

Unread post by silentfilm » Sat Feb 23, 2008 8:18 am

Festival director Bill Shaffer always likes to have a surprise film at the KSFF. After the opening piano and organ duet, the festival screened four trailers from lost films (taken from the More Treasures From the Archives DVD set). The trailers were from American Venus with Miss America, Ford Sterling, and including a brief scene with Louise Brooks; The Great Gatsby, Gary Cooper in Beau Sabreur, and Emil Jannings in The Patriot. The sets on the latter look incredible. Since The Patriot won an Oscar for Best Screenplay and Jannings also won, it is a shame that this trailer and only one reel survive. [A do think that a few more shots survive in the 1930's Movie Milestones documentary. (Marvin Faulwell on the organ)

Next up was Ben Turpin in A Harem Night (1926). Bill Shaffer created a video restoration using a Blackhawk print and another print that he acquired. Both were missing scenes from the film, but the restoration is substantially complete. This short is as crazy as any Sennett film, but Turpin rises above the fray and contributes some really funny gags. Sultan Marvin Loback spies slender Madeline Hurlock, and immediately makes her part of his harem. A young foreign legion soldier helps her escape. Turpin, as the dashing man-about-town Rodney St. Clair, is walking down the street when the foreign legion boyfriend mugs him and switches his clothes with Hurlock. As Ben walks down the street in his harem dress, the Sultan's guards quickly arrest him and bring him back to the palace. After that confusion is cleared up, Ben just wants to go to bed, but of course Hurlock is already hiding in his room and the Sultan and his guards are waiting outside the door with swords drawn. Best gag: Since Hurlock can walk the streets freely while wearing Turpin's coat and tails, she sits down and kisses her new boyfriend for the first time. A policeman walks by, and is alarmed at the lo-o-o-ng kiss between the two men! Greg Foreman on the organ. **1/2

The second film was Lupino Lane's Only Me, provided by David Shepard on the Slapstick Encyclopedia DVD. Lane does a tour-de-force in that he plays almost every role in the film, assised by his brother Wallace Lupino when needed. It is a virtually plotless riff on vaudeville, with Lane playing the announcer, the acts, and the rowdy audience members. Whenever any of the acts get boring, the clild Lupino pelts the acts with fruit, like the singing diva (Lupino) or the acrobatic lady (Lupino again). Best gag: A drunken Lupino Lane is standing outside the Palace Theater. He hails a taxi and tells the driver to take him to the palace theater. The taxi makes a circle in the street, and drops off Lane at the front of the theater! A very clever comedy. Marvin Faulwell on the organ. ***

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The feature for the evening was Harold Lloyd's Kid Brother (1927). This film was a gorgeous 16mm print, and the music was by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra. This film, inspired by Henry King's Tol'able David, has more drama than the usual Lloyd comedy, but it is masterfully done. Lloyd is the youngest and smallest of three sons. His father and brothers are big, strong guys. (There is no mother around.)

The middle of the film is the funniest part, as Harold tries to make the lovely Jobyna Ralston at home on a rainy night. He doesn't have permission from his father to let her in, and his two brothers don't want to be seen in their pajamas. After lots of great gags, the brothers get pushed out in the rain. The next morning, they are out for (comic) revenge, but Harold outsmarts them every time.

The plot of the story revolves around the community saving money to build a local dam. Harold's sheriff father is holding the money until a government official can pick it up. Two traveling "medicine men" take the money, and the local townspeople accuse the sheriff of taking the money for himself.

(spoilers ahead)
Lloyd's story construction is really brilliant during the film's climax. He stumbles on the hideout, but is too scared to confront the two crooks. As he hides, the two thiefs get into a big fight, and continually reveal Lloyd in his hiding place -- but they are too busy fighting to notice Lloyd. (This gag is similar to the fight in Chaplin's Gold Rush where the gun that "Big Jim" and "Black Larson" are fighting over always seems to point at Chaplin.) Lloyd retrieves the money, but then the villain, Constantine Romanoff takes it away from him. After a big fight, Lloyd subdues the villain (photo above), but Romanoff soon escapes. The two search for each other on the large ship. Lloyd puts his shoes on the monkey, and Romanoff follows the monkey's footsteps all over the ship. Lloyd catches him again, but Romanoff nearly escapes several more times. Catching the bad guy isn't enough though, since the townspeople are about to string up Harold's dad.

I like all of Lloyd's features, but this one is top notch. (****)

It will be Monday before I can report on the rest of the festival. I've got a very long drive back home on Sunday.

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Day 2

Unread post by silentfilm » Mon Feb 25, 2008 11:59 am

JACK THE KISSER (1907) This comic chase film from director Edwin S. Porter had a different hook in that the protagonist hid behind trees and walls until ladies were close, and then he ran up and passionately kissed them. In one "gag", he accidentally kissed a black maid (actually someone in blackface), but luckily the present-day audience did not find this funny. In another gag, a homely lady kept chasing Jack trying to kiss him back. As with most Edison/Porter films from this era, the film suffers because the camera is so far back from the action. I did feel sorry for all those Victorian women who had to chase after "Jack" wearing their thick dresses and big hats. A 16mm print with Marvin Faulwell on the organ. **

BIG BOY (1925) was one of the first of Charley Chase's two reelers. It is really two one-reelers stuck back to back. Leo McCarey directed and so the comedy scenes are excellent. Charley's father and mother don't agree on anything. His father wants him to be a tough-as-nails construction worker, while his mother prefers dancing. While the other construction workers eat steak (with the bone) stuck between two pieces of bread, Charley's mother brings him an elegant lunch with doilies, fine silver, and lots of condiments. The workers mostly fight on the job, but break for lunch. As soon as lunch is over, it's time to resume fighting. After work, Charley goes to his parent's house and girlfriend Martha Sleeper follows. His mother makes him put on a "Pan" outfit and frolic with other dancers playing a small horn as the dancers throw flower petals. Martha dumps him for wearing this ridiculous outfit. The last half of the film is where Charley tries to get in Martha's good graces again by impersonating a "bad boy" gangster. Best gag: in a big fight at the dance hall, Charley picks up an unconscious man, sticks the man's head out the window, and makes a rude gesture at a bunch of bricklayers. The bricklayers shower the dance hall in bricks, taking out most of the gangsters! I've seen this one quite of few times, and I only consider it an above average Chase comedy. The audience seemed to love it though. A 16mm print with Marvin Faulwell on the organ. ***

CLASH OF THE WOLVES (1925) The Saturday morning audience was bigger than normal. That's because everybody turned out to see Rin-Tin-Tin. Although this film has a very young Charles Farrell and June Marlowe (later Miss Crabtree from Our Gang) in the cast, it is Rinty's film all the way. Rinty plays part of the film in disguise (!), and even wears shoes for part of the film. The plot concerns a borax mine claim that is stolen from Farrell. A nice continuing gag has the townspeople thinking Rinty a dog and not a wolf, but the horses are never fooled! DVD projection with Marvin Faulwell on the organ. ***1/2

CONEY ISLAND (1917) This Roscoe Arbuckle comedy with Buster Keaton and Al St. John is virtually plotless, but it is a great example of how much better Arbuckle was after he left Sennett. The plot concerns the married Roscoe ditching his wife at Coney Island and both Roscoe and Al steal Buster's date. Since this is an early Keaton film, he smiles a few times and also gets upset. Best gag: Roscoe steals a large ladies swimsuit because there are none for large men. After putting on the suit, which looks like a dress, he walks into the men's dressing room and shower. Of course the men are upset, and an attendant pushes Roscoe out into the ladies dressing room. At first Roscoe protests, but then realizes that -- he's in the ladies' dressing room. I've seen this one many times too, but it is always funny. Video projection with music by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra. ***1/2

LEAP YEAR (1921) This is a curiosity in that it was completed but never released in the USA due to the Arbuckle-Rappe scandal. I've seen it before on the Laughsmith DVD set. Laughsmith provided a 16mm print, but since Mont Alto's score matches a projection speed of about 22 fps, the video was used. Stuttering Roscoe falls in love with every woman he meets, and usually proposes. On one particulary good (or bad) day, he proposes to three different women -- and they all say "yes". Unfortunately he is really in love with his father's (Lucien Littlefield's) nurse, played by Mary Thurman in a Louise Brooks haircut. This film can probably explain why Arbuckle's comedy was not getting any better when Paramount put him in features. It is based on a stage play, and there is hardly anything in the film tailored to Arbuckle. Arbuckle's dilemma resolves itself without him doing anything to solve it. (He does try to pretend a mental illness, but that doesn't work.) The film is certainly forgettable. It was not releasable after the Arbuckle scandal broke, since all of the women in the film are pursuing Arbuckle. It would definitely have been in poor taste. Mont Alto's score is definitely worth listening to even if the film is mediocre. **

THE MOTHERING HEART (1913) It was great to see this Griffith film, made only six years after the earlier Edwin Porter film. Griffith's camera is so much closer to the actors. The film conveys so much more infomation from Lillian Gish's and Walter Miller's faces. Gish does tragedy so well. It is a shame that after the studio system took over in the 1920s that very few tragedies were still produced. Gish was still a teenager, but she padded her costume and gave a great performance as a young mother. One of the best Biograph two-reelers, as Griffith splurged on a lot of extras and a big restaurant set. A 16mm print with Greg Forman on the organ. ***1/2

DANCING MOTHERS (1926) This was a breakout film for Clara Bow, but Alice Joyce gives a very nice performance also. Joyce is a middle-aged wife (although she's pretty hot for a middle-aged wife) whose husband is never home because he has a mistress. Daughter Clara Bow also is gone partying all night, and has the hots for Conway Tearle. So Alice sits at home eating dinner by herself. A friend gets her to go out dancing, and Joyce decides to pursue Conway Tearle (since he is clearly too old for Bow). I won't give away the surprising ending, but it fits the film. This is better than Garbo's later The Single Standard, which also deals with the different way society treats a man's extramarital affair as opposed to a woman's. A well-worn 16mm Kodascope print with Greg Forman on the organ. ***

ARTHEME SWALLOWS HIS CLARINET (1912) This surprise film was from the new DVD set, Saved From the Flames. It is a clever French Eclipse comedy digitally restored by Serge Bromberg. Artheme plays his clarinet in the park and makes people happy. He plays it for some furniture movers who are lifting a heavy chest, and they accidentally drop the chest on Artheme. The clarinet gets pushed halfway though Artheme's head. Amazingly, the clarinet still works! Ernest Servaes played Artheme in this series of comedies for the French Eclipse company from 1911 through 1916, and he directed the films in the series. A very funny score by Mont Alto's Rodney Sauer and clarinetist Brian Collins. ***

THE BOND (1918) A lot of people dismiss this film since Chaplin made it to promote Liberty Bonds for World War I. It is actually a charming film, with very interesting stylized backgrounds. If Chaplin had failed in comedy, he could have had a great career in advertising. A 16mm print, with an organ score by Greg Foreman. ***

THE SINKING OF THE LUSITANIA (1918). Cartoonist Winsor McCay was a perfectionist. That is why he produced so few cartoons. He drew most of the cartoon himself, and very realistically. The audience was literally stunned when this was over. While certainly an indictment of the Germans, it also illustrates how civillians are the biggest casualties in war. A 16mm print with music by Mont Alto. ***1/2

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THE BIG PARADE (1925) I've seen this film many times, but this was the first time with a live audience and without the Carl Davis score. Not only is it one of the greatest silent films, but one of the greatest war films ever. King Vidor really structured the film well, as the characters have way too much fun in the first two-thirds. This just sets us up for the unexpected violence at the end. I'm sure audiences were really shocked by the combat scenes. Definitely John Gilbert's best role; I wish that he had ditched his moustache more often. The film is full of great scenes, like the chewing-gum sequence, the marching-off-to-the-front sequence, the marching through the woods sequence, etc. Marvin Faulwell's organ score was good, and Bob Keckeisen's drum make the combat scenes very effective. ****

The KSFF is a rare bird on the festival circuit, in that it is meant to appeal to the general public and not cinephiles. The live music really brings in the crowds. There are plenty of cheerful volunteers, who sell t-shirts and DVDs and books. I heard that there were about 400 people in attendance Friday night, and even the early Saturday morning program drew 250 people. Certainly more older people are interested in silent films, but I saw young couples and quite a few college-aged students there.

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