Film History: Nils Asther

Photographer Unknown, “Nils Asther”, July of 1932, Publicity Shot for Cine-Mundial, A New York-based Spanish Magazine

Born in Copenhagen in January of 1897, Nils Anton Althild Asther was a Swedish gay actor who was active in Hollywood from 1926 until the mid-1950s. He was the son of Anton Andersson Asther and Hildegard Augusta Åkerlund, who had accepted his father’s proposal but was unwed at the time of Nils’s birth. Asther spent his first year as a foster child and rejoined his parents after their marriage on May 29th of 1898 in the city of Malmö. He grew up in a deeply religious Lutheran home, where homosexuality was considered a sin by the church and viewed as a disease by Swedish society.

Nils Asther, still a young man, moved to Stockholm where he studied acting under the tutelage of Swedish silent-film and stage actress Augusta Lindberg. Through the endorsement of his teacher, he received his first theatrical engagement at Lorensbergsteatern, the art performance theater in the city of Gothenburg. Asther performed in several productions in Stockholm which included two plays in 1923, “The Importance of Being Earnest” and “ The Admirable Crichton”, and the 1924 production of “Othello” at the Royal Dramatic Theater. 

In 1916 at the age of nineteen, Asther was cast by the pioneer Swedish film director Mauritz Stiller for his silent film “Vingarne (The Wings)”. This production was based the novel “Mikaël” by the internationally recognized Danish author Herman Bang. It starred silent-film actors Egil Eide, Lars Hanson, and Lill Bech, with Nils Asther in a supporting role. Besides being an early gay-themed film, it is recognized for it innovative use of a framing story, a main narrative which is divided into a set of shorter stories, and for its use of flashbacks as the primary plot source. Although only thirty minutes of its seventy-minute length survived, a 1987 restoration used still photos and title cards to bridge the missing sections. 

Now residing in Copenhagen, Nils Asther received support from actor Aage Hertel, a member of the Royal Danish Theater and a leading actor at Nordisk Film. Between 1918 and 1926, Asther appeared in a number of film roles in Denmark, Sweden and Germany. After being approached by a representative from United Artists, he traveled to Hollywood  where he was given the role of  George Shelby in director Delmer Lord’s “Topsy and Eva”, a 1927 silent drama produced by Feature Productions. By 1928 Asther’s suave appearance placed him in leading roles; he soon played opposite such stars as Marion Davies and Joan Crawford.  

Asther appeared in director Harry Beaumont’s 1928 “Our Dancing Daughters”, a silent drama depicting the dangers of loose morals among the young. The film cast included John Mack Brown and Joan Crawford; it was this film role of Charleston-dancing, Prohibition-era drinking Diana Medford that launched Joan Crawford’s career. Asther was next given the leading role of handsome Prince de Gace, who played opposite Greta Garbo’s role of Lillie Sterling, in director Sidney Franklin’s 1929 drama “Wild Orchids”. Though often listed as a silent film, it was released as a non-talking film with orchestral score, sound effects, and title cards for dialogue. Asther had previously known Garbo in Sweden and would continue to be close friends; they appeared together in a second film of the same year, the MGM romantic drama “The Single Standard”. 

With the arrival of sound in film, Nils Asther began voice and diction lessons to minimize his Nordic accent. Due to his accent, many of his early roles in sound films were characters of foreign origins. Asther appeared with Robert Montgomery and, once again, with Joan Crawford in Clarence Brown’s 1932 drama “Letty Lynton”, which recounts the historical murder allegedly committed by nineteenth-century Glasgow socialite madeleine Smith, played by Crawford. In 1933, he was given the role of General Yen in Frank Capra’s drama war film “The Bitter Tea of General Yen”, where he  played opposite Barbara Stanwyck and, after its premiere, received good reviews for his portrayal.

After an alleged breach of contract led to a studio-based blacklist, Asther was forced to work in England between the years 1935 and 1940. He made six films in England before his return to Hollywood. Upon his return, Asther made nineteen more films before 1949; however, he was mostly given small supporting roles from which his career never returned to its former height. During the early 1950s, Asther attempted to revive his career with appearances on television which was becoming a rapidly growing phenomenon in the United States. Managing only to secure roles in a small number of minor television series, he decided in 1958 to return to Sweden. Asther had four film roles and an engagement with a local theater before 1963, at which time he retired from acting and devoted himself to painting. 

Nils Asther passed away on the 13th of October in 1981, at the age of eighty-four, at the Farsta Hospital in Stockholm. He is buried in the village of Hotagen, located in Jämtland, Sweden. Asther was inducted in 1960 into the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his contributions to the film industry; his star is located at 6705 Hollywood Boulevard. 

Asther was a gay man in a time when it was both a personal and professional social stigma. Although the film industry in the 1920s accepted gay actors with little reservation, the actors had to remain discreet about their sexual orientation. In August of 1930, Asther entered into a lavender marriage with Vivian Duncan, one of the his costars from the 1927 “Topsy and Eva”. This turbulent marriage produced one daughter and resulted, after much media discussion, in a divorce in 1932. 

Nils Asther’s memoir, “The Road of the Jester: Not a God’s Tale: A Memoir”, was published posthumously in 1988 in Stockholm. In this volume, he mentions relationships he had in the 1930s with director Mauritz Stiller and Swedish author Hjalmar Bergman. Asther also had a long-term relationship with actor and  stuntman Ken DuMain, whom he met on Hollywood Boulevard in the early 1940s. 

Top Insert Image: George Hurrell, “Nils Asther”, circa 1930s, MGM Publicity Still, 25.4 x 33 cm, Private Collection

Second Insert Image: Photographer Unknown, “Nils Asther and Greta Garbo”, 1929, MGM Publicity Shot

Third Insert Image: Photographer Unknown, “Nils Asther”, French Postcard by Europe, No. 909, MGM Studio Publicity Shot, Date Unknown

Fourth Insert Image: Photographer Unknown, “Nils Asther”, Date Unknown, Publicity Shot, John Kobal Foundation, Getty Images

Bottom Insert Image: George Hurrell, “Nils Asther and Joan Crawford”, 1932, MGM Publicity Shot

Film History: William Haines

Photographers Unknown, Twelve Men During the Day

Born in Staunton, Virginia in January of 1900, Charles William Haines was an American actor and interior designer. He was the third child of seven siblings, two of which died in infancy, born to George Adam Haines, a cigar maker, and Laura Virginia (Matthews) Haines. He became fascinated at an early age with motion pictures and stage performances. 

At the age of fourteen, William Haines ran away from home accompanied by an unidentified young man. They both gained employment at the DuPont factory in Hopewell, Virginia, where they earned fifty dollars a week producing nitrocellulose which in its finished form is used for photography. Tracked by the police, Haines made an arrangement with his parents where he could remain in Hopewell and, with his earnings, send support to his family. The two boys remained in Hopewell until the 1915 fire which destroyed most of the city. 

Haines relocated to New York City until 1917, when a family crisis caused him to move to his family’s new home in Richmond, Virginia, to lend financial and emotional support. With the family’s recovery in 1919, Haines returned to New York City and settled in the growing gay community of Greenwich Village. He worked at various odd jobs and eventually gained employment as a model. Haines entered the Goldwyn Pictures’s contest, “New Faces of 1922”, and was discovered by Bijou Fernandez, a silent film actress and theatrical agent. Signed to a forty dollar per week contract with Goldwyn Pictures, he traveled to Hollywood in March of 1922 along with fellow contestant Eleanor Boardman.

William Haines initially played uncredited roles; his first significant casting was a high-profile role in director King Vidor’s 1923 silent drama “Three Wise Fools”, for which he received positive notices in reviews. This was followed in the same year by another significant role in Fox Studios’s silent western “The Desert Outlaw”. In 1924, MGM lent Haines to Columbia Pictures for a five-picture deal. The first of these films, the 1924 crime film “The Midnight Express” received excellent reviews. 

Haines had his first major personal success with the starring role in MGM’s 1926 silent drama “Brown of Harvard”. The character he played, a young arrogant man later humbled, was a role he would repeat for the next several years. On a publicity trip to New York City in 1926, Haines met James Shields. He convinced Shields to move to Los Angeles and promised to secure him work as an extra in films. Haines and Shields began living together and saw themselves as a committed couple. Although many actors in the film industry knew of their commitment, Haines never publicly affirmed his sexuality and there was no mention of their relationship in the press.

William Haines next appeared in two successful films, the 1925 comedy-drama “Little Annie Rooney”, co-starring with Mary Pickford, and the 1926 comedy “Show People”, co-starring with Marion Davies. He was one of the top five box-office stars from 1928 to 1932. With the advent of sound in film, Haines was able, with elocution lessons, to make the transition and maintain his star status. His first starring role in a full-sound film was the 1929 romance  “Navy Blues” for MGM; this was followed by the 1930 western parody “Way Out West”. At this point in his career, Haines was listed as the top box-office attraction in the country. 

Haines’s films began to drop at the box-office by the late 1930s. MGM canceled his contract in 1931 and, later, brought him back to the studio as a featured player with a reduced salary. Haines next starred in the film, “Just a Gigolo”; but that production failed to turn his slipping ratings. The MGM Studio finally terminated Haines’s contract with the studio in early 1933. 

The termination of Haines was the result of multiple factors.  With the depression, studios were very concerned about their films’ profit margins; Haines was aging and had not successfully completed his transition from his early “Brown of Harvard” persona; and Haines, despite not affirming his sexuality publicly, did not agree to a studio-supported lavender marriage as other gay actors had done. The impending Hays Production Code and the decreasing profits from Haines’s films put pressure on the studio and made it difficult for MGM to continue placing him in starring roles.

William Haines’s final two films were produced in 1934 by Mascot Pictures, a studio known for producing serials and B-movies. The first was the romantic comedy “Young and Beautiful”, which starred Haines opposite actress Judith Allen, and the second was a war-romance film “The Marines Are Coming”, in which Haines played opposite Conrad Nagel and Esther Ralston. Although Haines still received offers from minor studios, he made the decision to retire from acting and commit himself to his and Shield’s interior design business. Over his acting career, Haines had appeared appeared in fifty-four films, the majority of which were in starring roles.

In 1930, William Haines and James Shield had begun a successful dual career as interior designers and antique dealers. Hand-painted wallpaper, ottoman tables, and low to the ground sitting rooms became signature pieces of their work. Their antiques and artwork were loaned for film stage sets, including Haines’s personal paintings for Tara’s interior walls in “Gone With the Wind”. Among their clients were friends such as Gloria Swanson, George Cukor, Carole Lombard, and Joan Crawford.  In 1937, Haines was hired to decorate the estate of studio executive Jack L. Warner.  In the late 1930s through an introduction made by Joan Crawford, Haines and Shield decorated Villa Valentino, a secluded estate owned by Tom Lyle Williams, the founder of Maybelline Cosmetics, and his life-long partner Emery Shaver.

Haines and Shield settled in the Hollywood community of Brentwood and, except for a brief period of Haines’s service during World War II, they remained together and ran their prosperous business. By the time of their retirement in the early 1970s, their clients included socialite and philanthropist Betsy Bloomingdale and Governor Ronald Reagan and Nancy Reagan. Haines was also hired to redecorate London’s Winfield House, the official United States embassy residence, by the U.S. Ambassador Walter Annenberg.

William Haines and James Shield remained together in a relationship for forty-seven years. They enjoyed a high position in Hollywood for decades, supported by many loyal friends. On December 26th of 1973, William Haines died, at the age of seventy-three, from lung cancer in Santa Monica, California. Shortly afterward on March 6th of 1974, James Shield, who was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, dressed in Haines’s pajamas, wrote a note about his loneliness, and took an overdose of sleeping pills. They are interred side by side in Santa Monica’s Woodlawn Memorial Cemetery. For his contribution to the motion-picture industry, William Haines has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame located at number 7012.

Third Insert Image: Photographer Unknown, Louis B Mayer, William Haines, Marion Davis, and James Shields at the Premiere of “A Tailor Made Man”, March 1931

British Pathé, RMS Titanic

 

Artist Unknown, Titanic Moored at Dock, Gifs, British Pathé, 1912

These three colorized gifs were taken from the beginning of a film, jointly owned by British Pathé and Gaumont Newsreels, containing known footage of the RMSTitanic. Slightly different versions of this film are held by British Movietone and the National Film and Television Archive.

The three gifs depict the Titanic moored, probably on April 2nd of 1912, at the Thompson Graving Dock on Queen’s Island in Belfast, where the RMS Titanic was fitted out. In these shots, men can be seen walking beside the ship and smoke is seen issuing from the third funnel of the Titanic.

The British Pathé’s newsreel, just over six minutes in length,  covers several episodes in the story of the RMS Titanic’s final days. The captain of the RMS Titanic, Edward J. Smith, who perished when the ship sank, is shown on board the RMS Olympic, before assuming duty on the Titanic. Newsreel footage of icebergs and ice floes are shown to portray the scene of the disaster. Scenes of the rescue ship, Carpathia, nearing New York City with survivors, and scenes of the departing search and rescue vessel, Mackay Bennet, also are included in this Pathé footage.

At the forefront of cinematic journalism, British Pathé was a producer of newsreels and documentaries from 1910 to 1970 in England. The company blended information with entertainment for movie theater attendees who came to watch the news. Over the course of its sixty years, it documented everything from major armed conflicts and international political crises to the curious hobbies and eccentric lives of ordinary people.

British Pathé’s roots lie in 1896 Paris, France, when Société Pathé Frères  was founded by Charles Pathé and his brothers, who pioneered the development of the moving image. In 1908, the company invented the cinema newsreel with its introduction of the Pathé-Journal and opened a newsreel office on Wardour Street, London, in 1910. These early silent  newsreels, issued every two weeks and running about four minutes in length, were shown in local theaters; sound was introduced beginning in 1928. The Pathé newsreels captured events such as suffragette Emily Danison’s fatal injury by a racehorse at the 1913 Epsom Derby and Franz Reichelt’s fatal descent by parachute from the Eiffel Tower in February of 1912.

Considered now to be the finest newsreel archive in the world, British Pathé is a treasure trove of eighty-five thousand films unmatched in their historical and cultural significance. The company also represents the Reuters historical collection, which includes more than one hundred thirty-six thousand items from the following news agencies: Gaumont Graphic, active from 1910 to 1932; Empire News Bulletin, a film library from 1926 to 1930;  British Paramount,  a collection spanning from 1931 to 1957; and Gaumont British’s collection  from 1934 to 1959. Included in Pathés vast library of film is the collected content from the Visnews service active from 1957 until the end of 1984.

The full footage of British Pathé’s Titanic black and white newsreel can be found at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=05o7sOAjtXE

All footage can be viewed on the British Pathé website. https://www.britishpathe.com/

Magnus Hirschfeld

Magnus Hirschfeld, “Different from the Others”, 1919,  Directed by Richard Oswald, Cinematography by Max Fassbender, Richard Oswald Film, Berlin

Video Soundtrack: “Meditation de Thais” by Joshua Bell

Born in May of 1868 in Kolberg, Prussia, Magnus Hirschfeld was a German physician and sexologist educated primarily in Germany, earning his doctoral degree in 1892. Observing the suicide rate of his gay patients, he became an outspoken advocate for sexual minorities. In May of 1897 Hirschfeld founded the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee, a campaign for social recognition of gay, bisexual, and transgender men and women, and against their legal persecution. Under Herschfeld’s leadership, the Committee gathered over five thousand signatures on a petition to overturn Paragraph 175, the section of the German penal code that criminalized homosexuality. It received little support in the Reichstag in 1898, made some progress later, until its demise with the Nazi Party took power. 

With the rise of the national socialist party in Germany, Magnus Hirschfeld was badly beaten by a group of võlkisch activists who attacked him on the streeet. In 1933, his Institute for the Research of Sexuality was sacked, the staff beaten, and its contents of books and documents burned on the street. At the time of the book burning, Hirschfeld was on a world speaking tour. He never returned to Germany, eventually near the end of his life, settling in Nice, France. Magnus Hirschfeld died in Nice on May 14, 1935 and is buried in the Caucade Cemetery.  

Enacted in 1871, the German penal code’s Paragraph 175 sentenced thousands of accused German homosexual men to jail terms for “unnatural vice between men.” In 1919, director Richard Oswald and psychologist Dr.Magnus Hirschfeld created a film intended to expose the unjust Paragraph 175 and help liberate the “third sex” from legal persecution and public scorn. It was the first movie to portray homosexual characters beyond the usual innuendo and ridicule.

“Different from the Others” casts Conrad Veidt as Paul Korner, a gay concert pianist blackmailed by a closeted crook named Bollek. When Korner’s budding romance with Kurt Sivers, a handsome young music student, played by Fritz Schulz,  runs afoul of Bollek’s extortion, Korner goes to the German courts for protection. But the draconian Paragraph 175 makes criminals out of both accuser and accused, ultimately costing Korner his career, his freedom, and his life.

One of the first gay-themed films in the history of cinema, “Different from the Others” was banned at the time of its release, later burned by the Nazis and was believed lost for more than forty years. Using recently discovered film segments, still photos and censorship documents from different archives, Filmmuseum Muenchen has resurrected this truly groundbreaking silent film for DVD.

Second Insert Image: Photographer Unknown, “Magnus Hirschfeld with his partner, Li Shiu Tong in Nice, France”. 1934-1935, Gelatin Silver Print

Third Image Insert: Magnus Hirschfeld, on the right, with his partner Tao Li, at the fourth conference of the World League for Sexual Reform in 1932. Tao Li’s father, Li Kam-tong, a wealthy Hong Kong business man, approved of his son’s relationship with Hirschfeld.

Film video reblogged with thanks to:  https://www.kinolorber.com/film/view/id/732

Sergei Eisenstein

Sergei Eisenstein, “The General Line (The Old and the New)”, 1929, The “Cream Separator” Sequence, Co-directed by Grigori Aleksandrov, Cinematography by Eduard Tisse

Born in January of 1898 in Riga, Latvia, Sergei Mikhailovich Eisenstein was a film director, scriptwriter, film theorist, and a pioneer in the theory and development of montage. Using his technique of montage film editing, he portrayed the rapid developments of events on the screen, separating each scene into fragments and rearranging them into his preferred order.

Eisenstein studied engineering at the Petrograd Institute of Civil Engineering, leaving in 1918 to join the Red Army in the revolution. Still a member of the Red Army after the Bolshevik seizure of power, he took part in many theater productions and was eventually assigned to organizing productions and ensembles. In 1920 Eisenstein returned to Moscow and worked with the Proletkult Theater, becoming co-director and later the most noteworthy theater director in the USSR.

While still a theater director, Eisenstein wrote a manifesto, “Montage of Attractions,” for the literary journal “Lef”, rejecting the idea that dialogue is the dominant element in theater and claiming that all the elements function on equal terms, forming a fusion or montage that made the entire work. Montage in film, as Eisenstein understood it, means that a film should be constructed not in narrative fashion but from brief segments that serve to reinforce and counterpoint one another. The meaning of the film arises from the interplay of these elements, leading the audience into new recognitions.

In the spring of 1924, Eisenstein proposed that Proletkult undertake a series of films portraying the Russian revolutionary movements before 1917. Working with cameraman Eduard Tisse, a Latvian newsreel photographer who would go on to be the cameraman on all his films, he took on the making of “Strike”, the fifth film in the series. In 1925, Eisenstein made his second and probably his greatest film “Battleship Potemkin”, examining the  mutiny carried out by sailors of the Russian warship, Prince Potemkin, stationed in the Black Sea fleet near Odessa. 

Sergei Eisenstein’s film “The General Line”was an experiment in presenting the feeling of ecstasy in film. Directed by both Eisenstein and Grigori Aleksandrov, the film, centering on a rural heroine instead of a group of characters, was a celebration of the collectivization of agriculture, a policy championed by Bolshevik Leon Trotsky.  Eisenstein used his montage method with great success in the filming of the milk coop, its sequence conceived as a enthralling spectacle of raptured faces and the triumphant introduction of new farm machinery. After Trotsky’s fall from grace, the film was quickly re-edited and released in 1929 as “The Old and the New”.

Eisenstein’s vision of Communism brought him into conflict with officials in the ruling regime of Stalin. Frequent attacks on Eisenstein and then subsequent rehabilitation would be a repeated pattern throughout his life. His popularity and influence in his own land thus waxed and waned with the success of his films and the passage of time. In 1930, Eisenstein was approached with offers from Paramount Studios for several films; however, because of his artistic approach and disagreements with scripts, the contract was declared void by mutual agreement. 

Eisenstein came back into prominence with the 1938 “Alexander Nevsky”, in which Eisenstein exchanged his montage style for one that focused and developed the individual characters to a greater extent. This was due to the rise of Socialist Realism in the arts which was becoming the cultural and artistic policy of the state. Well received, the film won Eisenstein the Order of Lenin and the Stalin Prize.  

Eisenstein’s 1944 “Ivan the Terrible, Part One”, a film presenting Ivan IV as a national hero, also won the approval of Stalin and a Stalin Prize. However, the sequel “Ivan the Terrible, Part Two, although finished in 1945, was criticized by the government and not released until 1958. All footage from the unfinished Part Three was confiscated by the state and mostly destroyed, with only a few scenes still existing.

Sergei Eisenstein suffered a heart attack in February of 1946, recovered, but died from a second heart attack in February of 1948, at the age of fifty. His body laid in state in the Hall of the Cinema Workers, was cremated two days later, and his ashes buried in the Novodevichy Cemetery in Moscow.

Second Insert Image: Sergei Eisenstein, “The Battleship Potemkin”, 1925, The Odessa Steps Sequence

Third Insert Image: Sergei Eisenstein, “Que Viva Mexico!”, 1932, Directed by Eisenstein and Gregory Aleksandrov

Bottom Insert Image: Sergei Eisenstein, “Strike”, 1925, Cinematography by Eduard Tisse, Vladmir Popov, Vasili Khvatov

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A Year: Day to Day Men: 27th of November,  Solar Year 2018

The Lure of a Blue Room

November 27, 1920 marks the release of Douglas Fairbanks’s “The Mark of Zorro”.

“The Mark of Zorro” was a 1920 silent adventure romance film, starring Douglas Fairbanks and Noah Beery Senior’, based on Johnston McCulley’s 1919 “The Curse of Capistrano” which introduced the character of Zorro. The story was adapted into a screenplay by Fairbanks, under the name of Elton Thomas, and Eugene Miller.  “The Mark of Zorro” was the first film released through United Artists, formed by Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin, D.W. Griffith, and Fairbanks.

Douglas Fairbanks played Don Diego Vega, the effete son of a wealthy ranch owner, who has the secret identity of a masked Robin Hood- like rogue, known as Zorro, or The Fox. He is the champion of the people who appears out of nowhere to protect and right wrongs. He has a love interest, Lolita played by Marguerite De La Motte, and is pursued by the authorities, including Sergeant Pedro Gonzales played by Noah Beery Senior.

“The Mark of Zorro” is a landmark in the career of Douglas Fairbanks and in the development of the action adventure film. This was Fairbanks’s thirtieth motion picture; and he used it to transition from comedies to costume adventure films, which is how most people remember him. The audiences responded with enthusiasm to Fairbanks’s  new persona, which allowed him to flaunt his considerable athleticism to its fullest advantage. Fairbanks’s stunts have lost none of their impact; no later cinematic superhero has ever been half so convincing as his Zorro leaping from rooftop to rooftop, and over the heads of his enemies.

This film helped popularize one of Americas’s most prominent creations of fiction; the enduring character of the superhero. It established the pattern for future caped crusaders with dual identities. “The Mark of Zorro” was remade twice: in 1940 starring Tyrone Power and in 1974 starring Frank Langella. The United States Library of Congress selected it in 2015 for preservation in the National Film Registry.

In DC Comics, it is established that “The Mark of Zorro” was the film that young Bruce Wayne saw just before the death of his parents outside the movie theater. Zorro is often portrayed as Bruce Wayne’s childhood hero and an influence upon his Batman persona. Bill Finger, co-creator with Bob Kane of the character Batman, was inspired by the Zorro played by Fairbanks, leading to similarities in costumes, the secret caves, and the unexpected secret identities.

Hitchcock’s “The Lodger”

Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Lodger”, 1927

The Lodger, the silent film that Hitchcock directed in 1927, is generally acknowledged to be the one where he properly found his “voice”: that distinctive combination of death and fetishism, trick shots and music-hall humour, intense menace and elegant camerawork that assured his place among cinema’s giants.

The material, drawn from a novel by Marie Belloc Lowndes, is rather obviously inspired by the Jack the Ripper murders; they were still within living memory. Hitchcock himself claimed later that producing studio Gainsborough, including Michael Balcon, ordered him to remove any ambiguity that the central character, the mysterious room-renter of the title, might be guilty of the crimes himself, instead of simply the innocent victim of false suspicion.

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A Year: Day to Day Men: 5th of September, Solar Year 2018

Mystical Smoker

September 5, 1916 marks the film release of D.W. Griffith’s “Intolerance”.

“Intolerance” is an epic silent film directed by D.W. Griffith and regarded as one of the great masterpieces of the silent era of film.  The three and a half hour epic has four parallel story lines: a Modern melodrama of crime and redemption, a Judean story of Jesus’ mission and death, a French story of the 1572 Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, and the story of the fall of the Babylonian Empire. In the original print, each story had its own distinctive color tint.

Breaks between the differing time periods are marked by the symbolic image of a mother rocking a cradle, representing the passing of generations. The film simultaneously cross-cuts back and forth and interweaves the segments over great gaps of space and time, with over 50 transitions between the segments. Director Griffith wanted his characters to be emblematic of human types; thus, in the film many of the characters do not have names. The central modern female character is called “The Dear One”, her young husband “The Boy”, and the leader of the local Mafia is “The Musketeer of the Slums”.

“Intolerance” was a colossal undertaking featuring monumental sets, lavish period costumes, and more than 3,000 extras. The lot on Sunset Boulevard featured a Babylon set with 300 feet walls as well as streets of Judea and medieval France. The extras were reported to have been paid a combined total of $12,000 a day. The cost of producing the film was almost $386,000, which was financed mostly by Griffith himself, contributing to Griffith’s financial ruin for the rest of his life.

“Intolerance” had enthusiastic reception from the film critics at its premiere. Even though the film was the most expensive American film made up to that point and it did far less business than Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation”, it earned approximately $1 million for its backers, a respectable performance and enough to recoup its budget. In 1989, “Intolerance” was one of the first films to be selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.

In 1989 “Intolerance” was given a formal restoration by film preservationists Kevin Brownlow and David Gill. This version, running 177 minutes, was prepared by Thames Television from original 35 millimeter material, and its tones and tints were restored per Griffith’s original intent. It also has a digitally recorded orchestral score by Carl Davis. This version is part of the Rohauer Collection who worked in association with Thames on the restoration. It was given a further digital restoration by Cohen Media Group and was reissued to select theaters, as well as on DVD and Blu-ray, in 2013. This print contains footage not found on other versions.

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A Year: Day to Day Men: 12th of August, Solar Year 2018

The Dagger and the Key

August 12, 1927 was the release date of “Wings”, the only silent film to win an Oscar.

The American silent war film “Wings” was a romantic action-war movie set during the First World War. It starred Clara Bow, Charles”Buddy” Rogers and Richard Arlen. The film was shot on location at Kelly Field, a military facility in San Antonio, Texas, from September of 1926 to April of 1927 on a budget of two million dollars.

Producers Lucien Hubbard and Jesse L. Lasky hired director William Wellman as he was the only director in Hollywood at the time who had World War I combat pilot experience. Actor Richard Arlen and writer John Monk Saunders had also served in World War I as military aviators. Arlen was able to do his own flying in the film and actor Charles Rogers, a non-pilot, underwent flight training during the course of the production, so that, like Arlen, Rogers could also be filmed in closeup in the air. Director Wellman was able to attract War Department support and involvement in the project, and displayed considerable prowess and confidence in dealing with planes and pilots onscreen.

Primary scout aircraft flown in the film were Thomas-Morse MB-3s standing in for American-flown SPADs and Curtiss P-1 Hawks painted in German livery. Developing the techniques needed for filming closeups of the pilots in the air and capturing the speed and motion of the planes onscreen took time, and little usable footage was produced in the first two months. Wellman soon realized that Kelly Field did not have the adequate numbers of planes or skilled pilots to perform the needed aerial maneuvers, and he had to request technical assistance and a supply of planes and pilots from Washington.

Hundreds of extras were brought in to shoot the picture, and some 300 pilots were involved in the filming. If possible, Wellman attempted to capture footage in the air in contrast to clouds in the background, above or in front of cloud banks to generate a sense of velocity and danger. During the delays in the aerial shooting because of weather conditions, Wellman extensively rehearsed the scenes for the Battle of Saint-Mihiel over ten days with some 3500 infantrymen. A large battlefield with trenches and barbed wire was created on location for the filming. Wellman took responsibility for the meticulously-planned explosions himself, detonating them at the right time from his control panel. At least 20 young men, including cameraman William Clothier, were given hand-held cameras to film anything and everything during the filming.

On May 16, 1929, the first Academy Award ceremony was held at the Hotel Roosevelt in Hollywood to honor outstanding film achievements of 1927–1928. “Wings” was entered in a number of categories and was the first film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture; Roy Pomercy, the special effects artist for the film, won Best Engineering Effects for that year. For many years, “Wings” was considered a lost film until 1992 when a print was found in the film archive of Cinémathèque Française in Paris. It was quickly copied form nitrate film to safety film stock and is shown again in theaters, sometimes accompanied by Wurlitzer pipe organs.

Segundo De Chomon, “Le Grenouille”

Segundo De Chomon, “La Grenouille (The Frog)”, 1908, Pathé Films

“La Grenouille” is a short early silent film that was released in France in 1908.  It was created and directed by Segundo De Chomon. The story follows a magical frog and a young woman whom upon climbing unto a fountain rock initiates a series of spectacles.  It was a rather unusual film for the era; it employed film illusion techniques used only by a few directors at that time of early filmmaking .

Segundo Víctor Aurelio Chomón y Ruiz was born on October,17 in 1871, He  was a pioneering Spanish film director who produced many short films in France while working for Pathé Frères. De Chamon has been compared to Georges Méliès, due to his frequent camera tricks and optical illusions.

The soundtrack is contemporary, not the original score.

Buster Keaton

Buster Keaton: “The Bell Boy”, 1918, Silent Film

“The Bell Boy” is a 1918 American two-reel silent comedy film produced by the Comique Film Company. It was written by actor and director Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle with starring roles by Arbuckle and Buster Keaton as bell boys in the Elk’s Head Hotel. The cinematography was done by Elgin Lessley, an American hand-crank cameramen of the silent film era,  and cameraman George Peters. “The Bell Boy” was released by Paramount Pictures on March 18, 1918 with a running length of thirty-three minutes. 

Much of the material in the film was later re-used by Buster Keaton in his 1937 “Love Nest On Wheels”, one of the rare films in which Keaton appeared onscreen with his family, with whom he had performed on the vaudeville stage. The mop sequence in the film was reused by Keaton in his last film appearance in the 1966 comedy short “The Scribe”, filmed shortly before his death from lung cancer on February 1, 1966. 

Buster Keaton was recognized as the seventh-greatest film director by Entertainment Weekly in 1996 and the American Film Institute ranked him in 1999 as the 21st greatest male star of the classic Hollywood cinema. Keaton was presented in 1959 with an Academy Honorary Award to celebrate his achievements in the film industry. 

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A Year: Day to Day Men: 26th of June, Solar Year 2018

The Art of Concentration

June 26, 1925 marks the release of the Charlie Chaplin film “The Gold Rush”.

The 1925 American comedy “The Gold Rush” was in every respect the most elaborate undertaking of Charlie Chaplin¹s career. For two weeks the unit shot on location at Truckee in the snow country of the Sierra Nevada. Here Chaplin faithfully recreated the historic image of the prospectors struggling up the Chilkoot Pass. Six hundred extras, many drawn from the vagrants and derelicts of Sacramento, were brought by train, to clamber up the 2300-feet pass dug through the mountain snow.

For the main shooting the unit returned to the Hollywood studio, where a remarkably convincing miniature mountain range was created out of timber (a quarter of a million feet, it was reported), chicken wire, burlap, plaster, salt and flour. The spectacle of this Alaskan snowscape improbably glistening under the baking Californian summer sun drew crowds of sightseers

In addition, the studio technicians devised exquisite models to produce the special effects which Chaplin demanded, like the miners’ hut which is blown by the tempest to teeter on the edge of a precipice, for one of the cinema’s most sustained sequences of comic suspense. Often it is impossible to detect the shift from model to full-size set.

“The Gold Rush” abounds with now-classic comedy scenes. The historic horrors of the starving 19th century pioneers inspired the sequence in which Charlie and his partner Big Jim  are snowbound and ravenous. Charlie cooks and eats his boot, with all the airs of a gourmet. In the eyes of the delirious Big Jim, he is transformed into a chicken – a triumph both for the cameramen who had to effect the elaborate trick work entirely in the camera; and for Chaplin who magically becomes a bird.

The lone prospector’s dream of hosting a New Year dinner for the beautiful dance-hall girl provides the opportunity for another famous Chaplin set-piece: the dance of the rolls. The gag had been done before, by Chaplin’s one-time co-star Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle; but Chaplin gave unique personality to the dancing legs created out of forks and rolls. When the film was first shown audiences were so thrilled by the scene that some theaters were obliged to stop the film, roll it back and perform an encore.

“The Gold Rush” was the first of his silent films which Chaplin revived, with the addition of sound, for new audiences. For the 1942 reissue he composed an orchestral score, and replaced the inter-titles with a commentary which he spoke himself. The film today is accepted to be one of Chaplin’s most perfectly accomplished films and declared by him to be the one by which he wanted to be remembered.

Guy Jones, “1911: A Trip Through New York City”

Guy Jones, “1911: A Trip Through New York City”

Videographer Guy Jones edited century-old film to more accurately match the video standards of the present day. For the black and white clip of New York City in 1911 shown above, Jones slowed down the film’s original speed and added ambient sound to match the activity seen on the city’s streets. The subtle additions allow for a more engaging experience when viewing of the 20th-century footage, and presents the urban milieu in a more realistic light.

This particular film print was created by the Swedish company Svenska Biografteatern company during a trip to America, and remains in mint condition.

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A Year: Day to Day Men: 20th of April, Solar Year 2018

The Rising of the Sun

Harold Clayton Lloyd was born on April 20, 1893 in Burchard, Nebraska.

Harold Lloyd was an American actor, comedian, director, producer, screenwriter, and stunt performer who is best known for his silent comedy films. He ranks alongside Chaplin and Keaton as one of the most popular and influential film comedians of the silent film era. Lloyd made nearly 200 comedy films, both silent and sound, between 1914 and 1947.

His films frequently contained “thrill sequences” of extended chase scenes and daredevil physical feats, for which he is best remembered today. Lloyd desperately hanging from the hands of a skyscraper clock high above the street in the 1923 film “Safety Last” is one of the most enduring images in all of cinema. This was achieved through using camera angles and successively taller buildings to create the illusion of distance and perspective, always keeping the street below in full view. Lloyd, however, did many other dangerous stunts in his films himself.

Harold Lloyd moved away from playing tragicomic personas; he started portraying the  ‘everyman’ with that character’s unwavering confidence and optimism. The persona Lloyd referred to as his “Glass” character (often named “Harold” in the silent films) was a much more mature comedy character with greater potential for sympathy and emotional depth, and was easy for audiences of the time to identify with.  To create his new character Lloyd donned a pair of lensless horn-rimmed eyeglasses but wore normal clothing.

In 1924 Harold Lloyd became the independent producer of his own films. These included his most accomplished mature features “Girl Shy”, “The Freshman” (his highest-grossing silent feature), “The Kid Brother” and “Speedy”, his final silent film. The 1929 film “Welcome Danger”  was originally a silent film but Lloyd decided late in the production to remake it with dialogue. All of these films were enormously successful and profitable, and Lloyd would eventually become the highest paid film performer of the 1920s.

In the early 1960s, Lloyd produced two compilation films, featuring scenes from his old comedies, “Harold Lloyd’s World of Comedy” and “The Funny Side of Life”.  The first film was premiered at the 1962 Cannes Film Festival, where Lloyd was fêted as a major rediscovery. The renewed interest in Lloyd helped restore his status among film historians. Lloyd was honored in 1960 for his contribution to motion pictures with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame located at 1503 Vine Street.

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A Year: Day to Day Men: 6th of April, Solar Year 2018

Wet and Heated by the Sun

On April 6, 1906 the first drawn animation film is copyrighted by J. Stuart Blackton.

J. Stuart Blackton was an Anglo-American filmmaker, co-founder of the Vitagraph Studios and one of the first to use animation in his films. ”The Enchanted Drawing” in 1900 is considered to be the first film recorded on standard picture film that included some sequences that are sometimes regarded as animation. It shows Blackton doing some “lightning sketches” of a face, cigars, a bottle of wine and a glass. The face changes expression when Blackton pours some wine into the face’s mouth and takes his cigar.

The technique used in this film was basically the substitution splice: the single change to scenes was that a drawing was replaced by a similar drawing with a different facial expression (or a drawn bottle and glass were replaced by real objects). Thus the effect is not considered animation.

Blackton’s 1906 film “Humorous Phases of Funny Faces” is often regarded as the oldest known drawn animation on standard film. He later copyrighted this film on April 6 in 1908. It features a sequence made with blackboard drawings that are changed between frames to show two faces changing expressions and some billowing cigar smoke, as well as two sequences that feature cutout animation.

Blackton’s “The Haunted Hotel” in 1907 featured a combination of live-action with practical special effects and stop-motion animation of objects, a puppet and a model of the haunted hotel. It was the first stop-motion film to receive wide scale appreciation. Especially a large close-up view of a table being set by itself baffled viewers; there were no visible wires or other noticeable well-known tricks. This inspired other filmmakers, including French animator Émile Cohl and Segundo de Chomón, to work with the new technique. De Chomón would release the similar “House of Ghosts” and “El Hotel Electrico” in 1908.

J Stuart Blackton left Vitagraph to go independent in 1917, but returned in 1923 as junior partner to Albert Smith. In 1925, Smith sold the company to Warner Brothers for a comfortable profit. Blackton did quite well with his share until the stock market crash in 1929, which destroyed his savings. He spent his last years on the road, showing his old films and lecturing about the days of silent movies. Blackton died August 13, 1941, a few days after he was hit by a car while crossing the street with his son. At the time of his death he was working for Hal Roach on experiments to improve color process backgrounds.

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A Year: Day to Day Men: 24th of March, Solar Year 2018

Tensile Strength of Cotton

March 24, 1887 is the birthdate of Roscoe Conkling Arbuckle, an American comedian and film director.

At twenty years of age Roscoe Arbuckle was already a veteran of carnivals, vaudeville, and traveling stock companies, with an act that consisted of jokes, songs, acrobatics, and magic tricks. Weighing between 250 and 300 pounds for most of his adult life, he amazed audiences with his physical prowess and gained a reputation for versatility.

Roscoe Arbuckle was hired by Mack Sennett’s Keystone comedy studio in 1913. Appearing opposite such seasoned clowns as Ford Sterling, Mabel Normand, and Charlie Chaplin, “Fatty” Arbuckle quickly emerged as one of Keystone’s top attractions. From late 1914 onward he wrote and directed virtually all the comedies in which he starred, including such classics as “Fatty and Mabel Adrift” and “He Did and He Didn’t”.

In 1917 Arbuckle took creative control of producer Joseph M. Schenck’s Comique Film Corporation, for which he directed and starred in a series of knockabout two-reelers. During this period he also discovered and nurtured the talents of the young Buster Keaton who costarred in several Arbuckle films. With “The Round Up” in 1920, Arbuckle became the first major comedy star to make the transition from short subjects to feature films. Though most of his subsequent features tended to downplay slapstick in favor of situational humor, his popularity grew unabated.

After completing three films back to back in September 1921, an exhausted Arbuckle attended a weekend party at the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco. A few days after the drunken festivities, one of the participants, movie starlet Virginia Rappe, died of a ruptured bladder. On the basis of questionable “eyewitness” testimony, Arbuckle was accused of rape and manslaughter by a battery of politically ambitious prosecutors. He also endured a prejudicial “trial by headline,” orchestrated largely by newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst. Ultimately, three court trials were held; the first two ended in hung juries, but the third resulted in a full acquittal.

This verdict notwithstanding, Hollywood’s top executives, hoping to deflect attention from other scandals in the motion picture industry, persuaded censorship czar Will Hayes to ban Arbuckle from the screen. Throughout the 1920s and early ’30s, Arbuckle found work as a film director using the pseudonym William Goodrich (his father’s name) and enjoyed modest success in vaudeville and as co-owner of a popular California nightclub. He made an impressive screen comeback in 1932 as the star of a series of Vitaphone two-reel comedies. On the evening of June 29, 1933 after signing a lucrative feature film contract with Warner Brothers, he died in his sleep.

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A Year: Day to Day Men: 6th of February, Solar Year 2018

One Hot Day… .

Ninety five years ago, on February 6, 1921, Charlie Chaplin’s silent film “The Kid” was released around the country.

“The Kid” is an American silent film written, directed, produced by and starring Charlie Chaplin in 1921. Since this film was written and shot during the economic depression of 1920-1921, one can see a very strong influence of the classic lifestyle of a lower class citizen with economic struggles throughout the film. This was Chaplin’s first feature film and was a huge success when it was released, making it the second highest grossing film in 1921.

“The Kid” is a highly meaningful, perhaps philosophical film about fatherhood and childhood. It is almost pure drama and Chaplin shows himself more of a dramatic actor and less of a clown than in any previous film. Laughter springs most often to the situation or pantomime, not rude or playful harlequinades. The scenario is studied and the dramatic situations are dealt with in a realistic style that foreshadowed his previous films. The film lets see how this misery can give a powerful sensitivity to those who suffer. Among these beings hunted and constantly on the defensive, the least little dramas soon take a look, a tone of tragedy.

The film made Jackie Coogan, then a five year old vaudeville performer, into the first major child star of the movies. Many of the Chaplin biographers have attributed the relationship portrayed in the film to have resulted from the death of Chaplin’s firstborn infant son just ten days before the production began.

In December 2011, “The Kid” was chosen to be preserved in the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry. The Registry said that the film is “an artful melding of touching drama, social commentary and inventive comedy” and praised Chaplin’s ability to “sustain his artistry beyond the length of his usual short subjects and could deftly elicit a variety of emotions from his audiences by skillfully blending slapstick and pathos.”