Nuts; you’ve got your hands full.

Silent film nuts, that is. It’s a busy, busy weekend for silent film enthusiasts in the area. Unfortunately, due to the impending state of end-of-the-worldness we will only be able to make it to about half of these screenings. Impending doom aside, you’re still going to have to make some tough choices this Sunday.

THURSDAY, May 19th:

  • American Cinemathque is presenting a double-feature of Tod Browning’s haunting silent films The Unknown, starring Lon Chaney and Joan Crawford and The Unholy Three, also starring Lon Chaney at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica. These two films actually kick-off the series AMERICAN GOTHIC: A TOD BROWNING RETROSPECTIVE, this weekend at The Aero. The two films are the only silents in the series but if you’re into silent films, you’re likely in to classic cinema period and will definitely enjoy the lineup for the rest of the weekend, including Dracula (1931) and the infamous Freaks (1932). Check out the American Cinematheque website for more details.

FRIDAY, May 21st:

  • The Old Town Music Hall in El Segundo is showing the 1927 classic ‘Wings’, starring “it” girl Clara Bow & Gary Cooper, 4 times this weekend so if you’ve got a hankering to see this, this first Academy Award Winning Film, you’ve got some options here. Friday’s screening is at 8:15 in the evening and will be accompanied by the Wurlitzer Theatre Pipe Organ. Saturday has tow screenings, one at 2:30 and the other at 8:15.

SUNDAY, May 22nd:

  • At 2 in the afternoon the San Gabriel Mission Playhouse presents “WURLITZIA!”, “featuring some of the nation’s foremost musicians playing on our beautifully restored Wurlitzer Theatre Organ together with a Swing Band, trumpet soloist, vocalist and concert pianist, this very special event brings together Chris Gorsuch, Ken Double, Russ Peck, Laney Wilson and the Temple City High School Gold Jazz Band playing some of the best music from the golden era of swing. All this plus Charlie Chaplin’s Silent Movie Classic The Fireman on the big screen with live accompaniment
  • If I was to pick one DO-NOT-MISS event from all the events going on this weekend, the Egyptian Theatre’s screening of Harold Lloyd’s Girl Shy & Never Weaken would be it. Author John Bengston will be hosting the evening’s screenings and if you don’t know about Mr. Bengston, you’re about to fall in love. Bengston is the author of Silent TracesSilent Echoesand Silent Visions. These books, “examine the historical settings preserved in the background of their [Chaplin, Keaton & Lloyd’s] classic films, and the changes wrought by the ensuing decades”. Having John Bengston presenting these films is a real treat but even more exciting is that, in addition to a book signing, Bengston will be leading a small walking tour pointing out some Harold Lloyd filming locations nearby. He’ll even be pointing out a location right next door at the Pig’n’Whistle that appears in Never Weaken, one of the films showing that night. Chaplin with the chamber orchestra will be a tough one to miss out on but I’d say this is worth the sacrifice. The films showing are fantastic and the opportunity that comes with it is rare. The walking tour begins at 3:45. Also, check out John’s website here.
  • At 6:30 a Charlie Chaplin double feature is screening at UCLA’s Royce Hall. A Chaplin double-header of A Dog’s Life & Shoulder Arms is a great opportunity in and of itself but this evening’s screening will be accompanied by the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. In A Dog’s Life, the Little Tramp finds companionship with two fellow outcasts – Scraps, a stray mongrel, and a young girl exploited as a hostess in a disreputable dive, The Green Lantern. With Scraps’s help he overcomes two thieves from whom he wins a well-filled wallet, which provides the three with a happy end together. In Shoulder Arms, Charlie is recruited to the “awkward squad.” Posted to the front line in France, he encounters all the privations of trench life – snipers, flood, food rations, solitude, lice and other vermin. He meets a French girl, whom he subsequently rescues from the German troops. After assuming a series of disguises, he manages to hijack the German Kaiser along with the Crown Prince and General von Hindenburg… but then wakes up, still in the “awkward squad.”

Mankind is over. Enjoy the Silents

The killer quake comes on the 19th of this month and end of the world is scheduled for the 21st. These two films shown at The Aero Theatre in Santa Monica may well be the last silents ever screened in Los Angeles. Here’s your chance to make history this Thursday…or what’s left of it…

THE UNKNOWN, 1927, MGM Repertory, 63 min, Melodrama/Horror, USA. Armless circus performer Lon Chaney falls for stunning, scantily clad bareback rider Joan Crawford (who, conveniently, is pathologically terrified of mens hands) in this typically haunting Tod Browning melodrama. Burt Lancaster once praised Chaneys performance in this film as the most emotionally compelling work ever committed to celluloid.

THE UNHOLY THREE, 1925, MGM Repertory, 86 min, Horror/Melodrama, USA. One of director Tod Brownings earliest evocations of death, perversity and deformity, this silent masterpiece follows a crime syndicate comprised of a dwarf, a strongman and a ventriloquist (as the latter, Lon Chaney dresses up as a woman in one of the many instances of transvestism in Brownings ouevre). Live musical accompaniment during both films.

She blinded me with silents…

Just a note as to how Silent L.A. works. I blog every now and then but the real feature of this site is the calendar section. If you’re new here, that’s probably where you’ll want to go first. It’s really the whole point of this site: a listing of all the silent movie screenings in the Los Angeles & surrounding Southern California area.

Silent L.A. is also on Twitter so you can stay up to date on screenings that way as well. I usually update the Twitter feed the day-of or the day-before a screening so if you want advance notice, this is the place to be.

I’m also adding other services such as a list of silent films on Netflix and silent films available through YouTube’s “Openflix” channel. Bookmark us, subscribe to us, follow us – do whatever you’ve got to do to not forget about us!

Daniel; the culprit behind Silent Los Angeles

Buster Keaton’s ‘College’ screening in Santa Ana, 6/4/11

The 1927 Buster Keaton feature ‘College’ was just added to the calendar section.

The Orange County Archives and OC Parks present “On Location: Orange County In Silent Film” inspired by Jim Sleeper’s book Shot in Orange County, from May 6 through August 5, 2011 at the Old Orange County Courthouse, 211 W. Santa Ana Blvd., 3rd Floor Exhibition Gallery, Santa Ana, CA 92701. Open Monday through Friday from 9:00 to 5:00, free admission.

In addition to the exhibit, there will be an open house on Saturday, June 4 from 12:00 to 4:00 p.m., where you can tour the exhibit and the Orange County Archives, then attend a special showing of Buster Keaton in “College”, accompanied on organ by William Campbell. Free admission.

On Wednesday June 15, Brent Walker, author of “Mack Sennett’s Fun Factory” will give a talk.

Special thanks to Bruce Calvert, American Mutoscope and Biograph Co., History for Hire, and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Without your help, this exhibit would just have been an interesting idea.

a modern silent: ‘The Call of Cthulhu’, 2005. A review

The Call of Cthulhu

click title to watch 

(the movie above is the full version. A commercial free version of the film is also available to Netflix customers)

The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.

~ H.P. Lovecraft“The Call of Cthulhu”

I first saw this 2005 film about 4 years ago in a film appreciation class and truth be told, it’s one of the films that fostered my love for silent film and inspired me to create my own using the same green screen technology that the creators employed in some scenes in The Call of Cthulhu . Admittedly it was also one of the first silent films I’d ever seen, albeit it was made 78 years after talkies overthrew Hollywood. I blossomed a little late.

I recently revisited the film after steeping in 1920’s culture and silent-films in the recent years. I also have been working in the film & visual effects field for the last 4+ years so be default I watched it with a fresh pair of eyes & new, double-thick lenses.

The movie is based on a short story of the same name by 1920’s era horror/science fiction writer H.P. Lovecraft,
who is largely responsible for the now-commonplace combination of science & horror in literature. The Call of Cthulhu short story is highly complex with multiple characters, numerous story lines, settings on different continents, and these story lines are not all happening simultaneously either. With that in mind, the masterminds behind the film, Sean Branney & Andrew Leman, showed much bravado to take this on as their first film.

This film was not only an inspiration for me to get into silent film but it was also an inspiration to start reading H.P. Lovecraft as well. Now, in retrospect,  having read so much of his works, I can think of dozens of his short stories that would’ve been much easier to get their feet wet with but they went for the jugular by adapting The Call of Cthulhu for the screen. Cthulhu is probably the most famous/infamous character in the Lovecraft mythos and fittingly this film stands on top of many lesser adaptations with obviously bigger budgets.

They told this intricate storyline amazingly and given what they had to work with (and I mean that as a compliment to Mr. Lovecraft, not a detraction) they managed to make it concise, true to source, comprehendible and lo and behold, enjoyable. The story is told in 3 parts and each section is cleverly and clearly vignetted though not necessarily billboarded. Silent films in general do take a great deal of attention (as I’d mentioned elsewhere) and this film doubles the effort it takes in following it. Look away for a minute and you’ve gone from Rhode Island to Oslo or from writhing cultists to a German-expressionist dream sequence with little warning. This film hits the ground running and doesn’t wait for stragglers.

H.P. Lovecraft

Technically and visually they got a lot of things right. Underneath the finished product I can see that someone did a lot of homework. The aspect ratio is 1:33 which is was what most silent films were shot at. Painstaking attention was payed to every detail and when we finally get to see the infamous Cthulhu, he get’s a proper Lost-Worldesque claymation treatment. What a great solution to the problem of having to create a gigantic monster from 1927…especially when every film-maker in 2005 would’ve turned to CGI without batting an eyelash (or a tentacle). The finished product was classic motion-blur-less stuttery claymation but, honey, that’s its charm. It was fun and refreshing and I’ll choose that any day over a slick & rendered so-hyper-real-it-doesn’t-look-real Hollywood treatment.

The acting is well done and so true to the period. It takes the genre and the period seriously without mocking it like many modern renditions do. The acting is subtle when it needs to be, over the top when in needs to be. The standout players are no contest: the protagonist, played by Matt Foyer

Matt Foyer as ‘The Man’

and Inspector Legrasse played by David Mersault. Legrasse in particular is visually riveting and he, more than anyone else in the film, looks as if he were plucked right off the Paramount film lot in 1927 and placed in this film. If I had my druthers I’d have loved to see him with more screen time. Hopefully Leman and Branney will use him in future films as it’d be a shame if this is all we see of him. One of my favorite shots is an easily missable moment where, when Inspector Legrasse sees a group of half-naked cultists squirming about he simply gazes at them and cooly shapes his moustache with his fingertip, at a loss for words and a response. A brilliant nuance.

The aforementioned Matt Foyer is brilliant and I love reading his face in that rich black and white. The camera reads his subtleties very well. The creators of this film have recently finished another adaptation of an HP Lovecraft short story and cast Matt as the lead in that one as well. I’m looking forward to seeing his performance in that film and getting to hear him speak as this next film, The Whisperer in the Darkness, is one of those new-fangled ‘talkies’ I read about in papers. It appears to be set in the 30’s perhaps. In fact, in October of 09′ I was an extra in a scene they were shooting in the auditorium at Pasadena City College and was able to see Matt and all the over fine actors up close. I even made it into the trailer of the film:

Subtle. right?

But I digress.

This film did a bang up job with makeup and wardrobe but where I think a detail that this movie could have shined a little more was with the hair. I know, I know, I know…I’m straining out gnats, I know. Forgive me. But it’s a pet peeve of mine that so many period films do (regardless of the budget). I’m guilty of this in my own films as well. Many of the actors had modern haircuts combed and plastered into older hairstyles. I swear I can tell the difference between hair tonic & brylcreem from regular hair gel a mile and a half  away. Maybe 2.  Granted the general public wouldn’t notice (or care!) but for some reason I always scan the hair of all the actors to see who looks authentic and which ones are time-travellers incognito. I suppose it’s the curse of the period film as you’ve got nit-pickers, such as myself, combing through your film, looking for anachronisms.

Over and above, this film’s a brilliant achievement … especially given the complexity of the content, the scope of the film, and the size of the budget, which IMDB estimates was around $50,000. In 1927 money that’s $642K and even that would be an extremely modest budget for making a film to~day.

Though the film is available to watch for free on Hulu and Netflix, the DVD has great behind-the-scenes and making-of footage that’s absolutely fascinating, especially if you’re a film maker looking to make films in an older looking style.  I highly recommend purchasing it. Plus it directly supports Mr. Branney’s and Mr. Leman’s efforts of bringing us vintage films in the modern era.

Watch the film and let me know what you think!

Bashing a bottle of champagne against the site.

Some people impulse buy. They see a candy bar by the checkout register and they buy it. I start websites/blogs on impulse. This is one of those. I saw what Silent London was doing for her part of town and was inspired to do something for this side of the pond, hence Silent L.A.. I’m unsure as to if I’m going to do much blogging/review on this site as I have other sites that I blog on regularly as well.

To use this site, it’s very simple: just click on the “Silent Los Angeles Calendar” tab for a list of films in Los Angeles County and the surrounding area. If you are screening a silent film or know of a silent film here that’s not listed, please do not hesitate to drop me a line and let me know! I’ll include it here.

See you in the funny papers!
~ Daniel