A Letter from Lillian Gish

February 22, 2014

lilliangish_354

In the 1970’s I wrote to the great actress Lillian Gish and she actually replied!  My method was to send a S.A.S.E. (a self-addressed stamped envelope) containing blank index cards.  This worked well, leading to several amazing notes and autographs.  I wish I’d known about acid free paper then.  Some of them are already yellowing.  When I figure out the exact year, I’ll add that information here.  The notes were separated from their envelope and I didn’t want to write on the cards.

This was on one side of the cards:

lillian

Then on the other side of the card was this handwritten message:

gish

gish_two

I love her handwriting.  A transcription:

All my thanks also for your interesting letter.  The world does not know of the power of the silent film with great music and great themes, like Ghandi (Gandi), Napoleon, Birth of a Nation.  We have lived through the stone age-the bronze age-the age of the printing press-Now the film and most powerful of all It is the universal age the Bible tells us will end wars and bring about the Millennium-It is still in its babyhood.  Look how long it took the printing press-this will take longer to make the world One.  So please don’t lose your interest. 

Ever gratefully

Lillian Gish

lillian_gish_1983

So please don’t lose your interest!  I love that.  She took time to write to a young fan.  The message has its real progressive even radical side too.  Can cinema help change the world?  Will the more recent digital/computer revolution also have positive repercussions?  Yes silent movies! Yes end wars and bring on the universal age, with one world all on the same page.  Is all of that still in its babyhood?

I love her work.  From The Wind to The Scarlet Letter to Broken Blossoms to Night of the Hunter, she had an amazing career.

A postscript:

D.W. Griffith did quite a few films.  For many of us “The Birth of a Nation” ruins all of the rest of his work.  I’m not that extreme about it but I won’t apologize for it.  For about twenty years, I’ve refused to watch it again.  That said, I think that he did make some solid films, both shorts and features.

Steven H. Scheuer’s TV Movie Almanac

October 31, 2013

TV movie

I think that this may have been the very first “dictionary style” entertainment guide-book. I’m not sure whether this was the very first one or the second.  I think that he put it out every year from 1958 to 1993.  That’s thirty-five years.

Leonard Maltin started his series ten years later in 1969.  Since then, film critics such as Roger Ebert and David Thomson have put out books of their reviews.  Since, there have been countless books of capsule reviews in both film and music.

I think that it started here.  He didn’t have the directors listed at first.  He did have the year, the actors and a star rating.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steven_H._Scheuer

http://jtlindroos.tumblr.com/post/3490233525/great-movie-books-part-1-steven-h-scheuer

“The Fatal Mallet” or “Was Charlie Chaplin’s tramp in the IWW?”

September 28, 2013

late sept 047

late sept 049

In the 1914 Charlie Chaplin comedy, The Fatal Mallet, the letters IWW are clearly written on the inside of this door.

They also seem to be written on the side of the building.  This refers to the The Industrial Workers of the World.  They were also known as the IWW or the Wobblies.  They’re a key American labor group and are still active today.  I’ve included links to the Wikopedia page for their history and to their current page for further information.

The same year that this film came out an important and revered Wobbly, Joe Hill, was accused of murder in Utah.  The next year he was executed.  He was a poet, songwriter, agitator and an amazing man.

They were quite radical yet also Utopian.  They believed in all the Unions working together to form “one big union.”  I’ll write more something about them someday.  I’ve read a lot about them and have a lot of respect for them.

Back in 1914, the IWW was really in the air.

When I first saw The Fatal Mallet, I did notice the IWW tags or graffiti.  They seem to be written in chalk.

Then earlier this month I read Simon Louvish’s biography Chaplin, the Tramp’s Odyssey.  In it, he mentioned the IWW connection with The Fatal Mallet several times.  I watched the film again, more closely.  It’s not a great one but it has its moments.   Mack Sennett, Mack Swain and Mabel Normand are in it too.

The idea of Charlie Chaplin as a Wobbly is quite appealing to me.   No one knows whether Chaplin or Sennett had anything to do with the IWW being part of the set decoration.  Yet everything we know of his Chaplin’s tramp indicates that it wouldn’t have been out of character for him to do so.

The IWW:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Industrial_Workers_of_the_World

http://www.iww.org/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Fatal_Mallet

A review of the Simon Louvish book, Chaplin, the Tramp’s Odyssey which mentions the IWW scrawl:

http://www.newstatesman.com/books/2009/03/faber-louvish-chaplin-tramp

Further books by Simon Louvish.  I’ve read his books on Mack Sennett, Mae West,  W.C. Fields and the Marx Brothers:

http://simonlouvish.com/bio/

This set has nearly all of Charlie Chaplin’s Keystone work.  It’s been well restored too.  The Fatal Mallet is included on disc two:

http://www.flickeralley.com/fat_chaplin_01.html

The Fatal Mallet on youtube.  Not the best print but here it is:

Kevin Brownlow and Abel Gance’s Napoleon

April 19, 2012

I saw the 1981 version of Abel Gance’s Napoleon, when it played Detroit in the early 1980’s.  I was surprised to see that Kevin Brownlow is still working on this film, trying to assemble a better restoration.  I’d like to see it again, in better quality than in my old VHS version.  There are recent articles on this, linked to below.

If you love silent films, you have to love Brownlow.  This is a follow-up to an earlier post that I wrote in 2009.  He’s done such great work, both alone and in collaboration with Patrick Stanbury and the late David Gill.

I’ve recently seen the Chaplin and Buster Keaton documentaries again, as well as  Garbo, and So Funny It Hurts: Buster Keaton and MGM.

It’s good to see he’s still at it.

http://www.npr.org/2012/03/17/148758170/napoleon-returns-to-conquer-the-screen

http://www.artinfo.com/news/story/762802/abel-gances-legendary-napoleon-restored-again-by-kevin-brownlow-heads-to-oakland-for-unique-screenings

A recent article by Martin Scorsese:

http://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2012/03/brownlow-spotlight-201203

An older, 2010 story:

http://wondersinthedark.wordpress.com/2010/03/25/napoleon-kevin-brownlow-restoration-no-4/

Kevin Brownlow’s 2011 Oscar:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2011/jul/22/kevin-brownlow-academy-award-oscar

I recently saw Charlie Chaplin’s The Gold Rush and noticed he and Gill worked on that  restoration as well:

http://janusfilms.com/goldrush/

My earlier post on Kevin Brownlow:

http://picturesmove211.wordpress.com/2009/12/05/kevin-brownlow/

A Recent Interview (on Movies and the Detroit Film Theatre)

November 11, 2011

http://www.examiner.com/classic-movie-in-detroit/metro-detroit-classic-movie-fan-maurice-greenia

I recently had a fairly extensive interview published in Paula Guthat’s  “Examiner.Com” Classic Movie Blog.  You can read it by clicking onto the link above.  It’s the first time I’ve been interviewed regarding my life as a true “film fanatic.”  I think it’s a good, wide-ranging interview.  I’d liked to have gone into experimental films and documentaries a bit more.  I tried to center it more around “classic films.”

I talked about my experiences as a devotee of the Detroit Institute of Art’s Detroit Film Theatre.  I go there fairly often, going back to the very first season.  I even attended the afternoon movies, before the DFT started.  Eventually, I’ll do a series of blogs on that here.  Watch this space!   Until then though, here’s this.

I also talked about some of my favorite films with a special focus on Erich Von Stroheim’s silent film version of Greed.  Enjoy!

Gibson Gowland and Zasu Pitts in "Greed"

The DuMont Television Network

March 18, 2011

I recently read the book THE FORGOTTEN NETWORK DuMont and the Birth of American Television by David Weinstein. I started reading it because I was interested in the last section (on Ernie Kovacs at DuMont).  It was all a bit before my time, yet I found it quite interesting.
 
From 1946 to 1955, DuMont aired around 200 regular series plus specials.
 
They started off in a small studio at 515 Madison Avenue in New York.  They’d aim the camera out of  the window, so people could see what the weather was like for themselves.  They soon opened a second, larger studio in a department store auditorium. They also had a mid-day Man on the Street program where they’d interview passers-by.
 
Two interesting series started in 1949.  The Plainclothes Man tried to everything out of the main character’s eyes (i.e. subjective camera).  Just reading about it, it sounds like an experimental film noir TV show.
  
Captain Video also sounds quite strange.  It was an early sci-fi themed show, aimed toward the kids.  There were sometimes positive or “inspirational” messages included.  The Captain had an optican scillometer, which let him see through walls.
 
Jackie Gleason got his start at DuMont.  They broadcast the early Honeymooners shows.
 
The Ernie Kovacs Show (for DuMont) was a late night talk show.  It was broadcast for about a year, from April to April of 1954/1955.  It was pretty loose and experimental.  Toward the end of the run, he even changed the name of the show to The Ernie Kovacs Rehearsal.
 
Kovacs devised some of his key characters at DuMont including Howard, the World’s Strongest Ant and the Nairobi Trio.
 
DuMont was also probably  the most jazz-friendly network in the United States.  Birdland, the famous jazz club, was just a few blocks away.  A lot of the people who worked at DuMont would hang out there.  This lead to the classic film of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie performing the tune  Hot House for DuMont.
 
Allen Du Mont was an engineer who ended up running a TV network.  He became disillusioned with television.  In June 1961, he remarked “How can 47 million television sets be tuned to this kind of production five hours and more a day?  My reaction has been that of the creator of Frankenstein.  Yet I am here today, honored by you, because I helped to make this possible… perhaps I should instead be censured.” 
 
 
http://www.dumonthistory.tv/index.html

http://ctva.biz/_Prod_DuMont.htm

Captain Video:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Captain_Video_and_His_Video_Rangers

Scroll Down to February 24, 1952 for information on Charlie Parker’s appearance on the Dumont Network:

http://www.kyushu-ns.ac.jp/~allan/Documents/CP_S_51-55.html

Some Video:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n9525dRYiKM

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Bj5Rfs-6I0

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D-71oSSnLBI

Bird and Dizzy on Dumont:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Clp9AeBdgL0

Jafar Panahi and Mohammad Rasoulof are in Prison in Iran

February 4, 2011

Jafar Panahi

I recently heard that two major film directors are in jail in Iran.  Jafar Panahi is the more famous of the two.  I’ve seen 5 or 6 of his films including Offside, The White Balloon and Crimson Gold.

Mohammad Rasoulof is less known, but I’ve seen his film Iron Island, which I really liked a lot.

They’re sentenced to five years in prison and (after release) a 20 year ban on film making and any foreign travel.

Are there still nations frightened of art?  This is a most extreme punishment, for being “humanist” and for being creative.

We’ll see if any outcry, protests, petitions and so on can have any effect on it or not.  I hope so.

http://cinemaminima.com/blog/1790/iran-sentences-two-directors-one-famous-the-other-not/

A petition:

http://www.quinzaine-realisateurs.com/liberty-for-jafar-panahi-and-mohammad-rasoulof-p91.html

Who’s afraid of Jafar Panahi and Mohammad Rasoulof?:

http://cinemawithoutborders.com/notebook/2412-who%E2%80%99s-afraid-of-jafar-panahi-and-mohammad-rasoulof%3F.html

from The Nation:

http://www.thenation.com/article/157507/year-movies

Mohammad Rasoulof

2010 in review

January 27, 2011

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Minty-Fresh™.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 1,400 times in 2010. That’s about 3 full 747s.

In 2010, there were 8 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 16 posts. There were 22 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 4mb. That’s about 2 pictures per month.

The busiest day of the year was October 2nd with 24 views. The most popular post that day was Panic in the Streets/ A Letter to Elia.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were research.udmercy.edu, mail.yahoo.com, artremedy20.wordpress.com, gambang-x.com, and facebook.com.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for ernie kovacs, praxinoscopes, groucho marx, marx brothers, and le voyage dans la lune.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

Panic in the Streets/ A Letter to Elia September 2010

2

The Amazing Ernie Kovacs! August 2009
4 comments

3

Groucho and Me July 2010

4

The Silent Era May 2010
1 comment

5

The Invention of Hugo Cabret March 2010

ZOOMAR: a novel by Ernie Kovacs

December 15, 2010

I recently read Ernie Kovac’s novel Zoomar.  I’ve had a copy for years.  The “modern popular novel” is generally not my cup of tea.  But Ernie Kovacs is an old hero and favorite of mine.  Then, Zoomar was published over fifty years ago (in 1957) thus it’s not too modern.

I found a second copy (with the dust jacket, as pictured).

In Diana Rico’s Ernie Kovacs biography KOVACSLAND, she says “In Zoomar Ernie vivesected everything he hated or couldn’t understand about commercial TV: the misdirected network brass decision-making, the stupidity of sponsors, the shlocky shows, the political game playing, the Byzantine cost-accounting systems, the ridiculous pampering of stars.”

She also discounts Ernie’s claims to have written the book in thirteen days.  His editor Kenneth McCormick thinks it was closer to two months.  Either way, he still wrote it quite quickly.

It’s interesting to look at the television industry of fifty years ago, and try to figure out how it compares to the industry today.  Even then, he wrote that “We are the strongest, most influential medium in the entire world.”  Even as a baby, TV was feeling its power grow.

One section, late in the book, makes fun of television ads: “So get Invincible Spray today.” and so on.

Yet for all his criticisms, you also get the sense of his love for and enthusiasm over “the tube.”  In one section, he speaks of the early, rough days of the medium: 

“I started this business in Philly far enough back to remember the vocalist getting burned across the face and chest from the early lighting system.  I helped put the first prisms into a can that had been used for frozen orange juice.  We painted the can black.  This was probably the first image inverter in the business.” 

He goes on to talk about using orange crates for pedestals, and other improvisations.

There’s a “self-referential scene” where one character asks another about Sid Caesar (miss-spelled as Caeser) and it goes on:

How about Kovacs,” as asked.

“Too erratic,” said Hope, “his comedy is too extreme and too frequently he gets his punch line from the grisly side of life…man being torn apart by horse…trick golf expert missing the golf ball and bashing in his assistant’s head.”

“I like him,” said Matti.

“Oh you like everybody,” said Hope.”

There are also references to old movies and movie stars.  If you know who Erich Von Stroheim and Eric Blore were, you’ll better appreciate one of his wisecracks.  Others mention include Walt Disney, Phil Silvers, Sam Goldwyn, Ruby Keeler, Roy Rogers and (I think)  Orson Welles. 

Other (non- movie) people mentioned include Goethe, Nietzsche, Lewis Carroll, Heinrich Heine, dancer Maria Tallchief and cartoonist Al Capp.

There are some nice accounts of the Stork Club and of Christmas in New York.  You get some sense of the city back in the 1950’s.  He also describes the automobile phone (an ancestor of today’s “cell phone”). 

The book notes the existence of sexuality, homosexuality and infidelity.  Today, many of its values may seem out of date, sexist, inappropriate and so on.  The book does seem a product of its times.  There’s one passage which details a sort of “woman-machine.”  Yet for all that, there’s also this, talking about a housecat:

“She wouldn’t eat a poor defenseless bird,” Eileen said, with that misplaced faith that women have in men and animals.

I appreciated this book for giving me more insights into Ernie Kovacs and his times.  Of course, I prefer his television work.  Yet reading this makes one wonder whether he’d have gone on writing books had he lived.  If he had, I think he’d have done some interesting work.

I’ve been doing further studies involving the great Mr. Kovacs.  Expect another post on him from me next year.

My previous blog post on Ernie Kovacs:

http://picturesmove211.wordpress.com/2009/08/20/the-amazing-ernie-kovacs/

An old article which talks about Zoomar:

http://www.angelfire.com/ct3/pouruchista/ek8.htm

This includes an image of the paperback edition of Zoomar:

http://www.erniekovacs.net/

Roger Ebert

November 20, 2010

Number 3: This the third in a series exploring those who write about the cinema.  Roger Ebert is among those who’ve done some film work, but is primarily a critic, historian and all around film writer.

Director Werner Herzog dedicated his documentary Encounters at the End of the World to Roger Ebert.  In part of the commentary track he calls Mr. Ebert “a warrior of the cinema.”  This means that he believes Ebert fights for quality and supports “underdog films” and tries to help them.  There’s also a grander sense, in which some people do see themselves in a sort of “Don Quixote” role, fight for cinema.

Ebert repaid the compliment in a letter to Werner Herzog. Roger Ebert started writing about films in 1967.  He did some screenplay work for Russ Meyer, including the infamous Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.   The photo above shows Russ Meyer with Roger Ebert.

From 1975 to 1999 he hosted a television “movie review show” with Gene Siskel.  When Siskel died, he continued with a similar show until around 2008.  He’s an interesting figure, both a good writer and popular.  Besides movie reviews, he’s done books on Martin Scorsese and an autobiographical memoir.   He’s also written books on  such topics as cooking and travel.

In the last decade, he’s battled cancer.  He’s hanging in there and is working on a new movie-centered television program including Detroit’s Elvis Mitchell.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roger_Ebert

http://rogerebert-prod-1056988946.us-east-1.elb.amazonaws.com/

The new Roger Ebert presents At the Movies:

http://screenrant.com/roget-ebert-presents-at-movies-ross-78098/

Werner Herzog and Roger Ebert:

http://rogerebert-prod-1056988946.us-east-1.elb.amazonaws.com/interviews/a-letter-to-werner-herzog-in-praise-of-rapturous-truth

Update:

Roger Ebert died April 4, 2013:

http://www.suntimes.com/17320958-761/roger-ebert-dies-at-70-after-battle-with-cancer.html

http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2013/04/04/176282302/chaz-ebert-tired-of-cancer-fight-ebert-said-he-had-lived-a-great-and-full-life

http://rogerebert-prod-1056988946.us-east-1.elb.amazonaws.com/


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