Copyright: (c) 1999-2002 Rick Levinson and Emily Way
Maintainer: Emily Way <firstname.lastname@example.org>
and Rick Levinson <Rick.Levinson@sympatico.ca>
See reader questions & answers on this topic! - Help others by sharing your knowledge
FAQ about silent film: alt.movies.silent ----------------------------------------------------------- This document is the first of four FAQs for the Usenet newsgroup alt.movies.silent, and contains information about the newsgroup itself. There is some overlap in the content of the FAQs. If you don't find what you're looking for here, try one of the related FAQs (see the last question for a complete list). 1. What is alt.movies.silent for? 2. Is it okay to post about talkies? 3. Some newsgroups are really courteous. Others are nasty. How does the silent film newsgroup rate? 4. Is it okay to buy, sell, and swap films on the newsgroup? 5. What are the recurring in-jokes and threads? 5a. Charles Ogle 5b. Snitz Edwards 5c. LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT 5d. SH! THE OCTOPUS 5e. GREED 5f. THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA 5g. Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle 5h. The proper running speed of silent film 6. What do some of the terms and abbreviations mean? 7. Is it okay to ask whether a certain film still exists? 8. How do I catch up on the newsgroup if I've missed a couple of weeks? 9. Where are the other silent film FAQs? ----------------------------------------------------------- 1. What is the newsgroup alt.movies.silent for? alt.movies.silent is for people who love silent film. There's a fairly broad base of people in the group. Some have been collectors and aficionados of silent film for many decades. Others discovered silent film relatively recently. Some have a particular favourite film star, filmmaker, or genre. Others enjoy all types of silent film. Some prefer late silents from the '20s. Others enjoy all types of silent film from the turn of the century to the end of the silent era. The benefits of connecting with the silent film group include: * learning about silent film in particular and in general * finding out about recent developments within the silent film community * learning about silent film festivals * meeting with people whose expertise of silent film in all its facets is unparalleled. Whether you are new to silent film or a veteran, please feel free to post opinions, comments, suggestions, queries, lists, arguments, and anything else related to silent films. 2. Is it okay to post about talkies? Occasionally there are discussions about early talkies, silent filmmakers and performers in talkies, biopics about silent film, and so forth. So this kind of posting is fine. 3. Some newsgroups are really courteous. Others are nasty. How does the silent film newsgroup rate? There are the occasional rhubarbs -- all newsgroups have them -- but generally the level of discourse tends to be civil. Obviously we all love silent film and some of us are more knowledgeable than others, but generally we welcome any comments, suggestions, or opinions from anyone and everyone. If you want to pick a fight with someone, go offline and duke it out mano à mano. Try not to engage in a personal grudge match over the newsgroup. If you find yourself in a flamewar with someone on the group, try to keep your posts limited; have your say, let someone post his or her response, reply, and then stop there. Go to email if you want to continue the fight. 4. Is it okay to buy, sell, and swap films on the newsgroup? Unless you are a retailer by profession, it is illegal to sell copyright-protected material publicly. If you want to sell or trade your silent film cache, you can mention it on the newsgroup, but do your actual business by email. If you want to buy or sell silent film or silent film memorabilia, check out the online auction site, eBay: http://www.ebay.com/ You must register online with eBay before you sell or bid on items. 5. What are the recurring in-jokes and threads? There's a few perennials: 5a. Charles Ogle Charles Ogle (1865-1940) was an actor who started with Edison in 1909. His most celebrated role is that of the Frankenstein monster in 1910 in what is considered to be the first screen adaptation of Mary Shelley's novel. He was a prolific character actor in silent film. Why is Ogle mentioned so frequently on the silent film newsgroup? The answer is shrouded in mystery. It may be because the name "Ogle" sounds humorous in a vague sort of way. Jeremy Bond Shepherd <email@example.com> has shed some light on the Ogle phenomenon on the newsgroup: I think it's because of Firezine's numerous Ogle references. He used to chime in every time a film was being discussed in which Ogle had even the smallest walkon. A most endearing habit. The Silents Majority Web site has an Ogle page: http://www.mdle.com/ClassicFilms/Guest/ogle.htm for all your Ogle needs. 5b. Snitz Edwards Snitz Edwards, a small, homely character actor who worked with everyone from Jack Gilbert to Mary Pickford to Douglas Fairbanks Sr. to Buster Keaton, is also mentioned a lot, probably because of the amusement value of his first name. Say it out loud: "Snitz!" See? The Silents Majority site also has a Snitz page: http://www.mdle.com/ClassicFilms/FeaturedStar/sedwards.htm 5c. LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT is a 1927 film starring Lon Chaney and directed by horror auteur Tod Browning. It is a lost film and it is mentioned to torment Jon Mirsalis, a/k/a ChaneyFan. Q. I heard that a collector has LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT and is waiting for its copyright to expire so he can release the film. Is this true? A: Almost certainly not. Tod Browning's LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT (1927), starring Lon Chaney Sr. in a dual role as a Scotland Yard inspector and as a pointy-toothed vampire, is the most famous of lost films -- mainly because Forrest J. Ackerman, with the aid of the film's admittedly tantalizing stills, spent a lot of energy hyping it as a lost masterpiece in his teen-oriented horror magazines. The reality is that those who saw the film as late as the 1950s, such as William K. Everson and David Bradley, considered it well short of a masterpiece -- inferior to Browning's talkie remake, MARK OF THE VAMPIRE (1935), with Bela Lugosi, and not even the most desirable lost film of Chaney's career. The most persistent rumor about LAM is that some collector has the film and has been waiting for the copyright to expire in 2002. The legend probably dates back to the early 70's, when a New England rental source named Cecil Miller listed LAM among his upcoming titles, presumably as a gag. (Later versions of the same gag have included reviews of the film on the Internet Movie Database and April Fool's discussions of showings on Turner Classic Movies in alt.movies.silent.) This mythical collector is in for a longer wait now -- copyright law has been changed, making the date LAM would become public domain 2022. For that reason, it is likely that any such collector who wanted to cash in during his own lifetime would have already come forward to make a deal with the current copyright holders (Time Warner). In fact, the odds are not high that any print ever got loose in the first place. According to Jon Mirsalis, MGM "was very diligent about collecting prints after the completion of their print run, making it unlikely that a retired projectionist has a copy hiding in his attic... The last time the film was inspected by MGM was in 1955. It was stored in vault 7 and a vault fire (circa 1967) in vault 7 destroyed the last known print. All the MGM nitrate material was subsequently donated to Eastman House, but by then the print and camera negative were gone." As Bob Birchard further points out, "MGM did a worldwide search when it decided to copy its nitrate to safety in the 1970's," and turned up nothing. Even so... another MGM film that vanished around the same time was Victor Sjostrom's THE DIVINE WOMAN, with Greta Garbo. Yet a ten-minute fragment of that film subsequently turned up in Eastern Europe. So the possibility that LAM will turn up in some unexpected place cannot be ruled out completely. Just... nearly completely. In the meantime, the closest you are likely ever to come to seeing LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT is in the pages of Philip J. Riley's book LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT, published by Cornwall Books in 1985 -- and by watching MARK OF THE VAMPIRE. [Thanks to Michel Gebert for the above information on LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT.] 5d. SH! THE OCTOPUS! Not a silent, but a 1937 Warner Bros. B-picture--running a scant 54 minutes and filmed almost entirely on one set. It's a loose remake of the comedy-mystery warhorse "The Gorilla," and stars Allan Jenkins and Hugh Herbert. A particular favorite of Michael Schlesinger (a.k.a. Precode), who often jokingly cites it as the standard by which all films must be judged. 5e. GREED GREED (1925) is famed director Erich von Stroheim's epic, based on the Frank Norris novel McTeague. Von Stroheim filmed Lord knows how many reels. MGM released it in a cut version. To this day silent film aficionados will argue over how many reels constitute the "director's cut" of the film. So it's not uncommon for someone to say, apropos of nothing, "well, I've seen the 72-reel version of GREED," just to start an argument and tick others off. GREED was restored to four hours in 1999, shown on Turner Classic Movies, and then released on video. The 1999 version restores lost subplots, secondary characters, and important bits of development of the main characters. Although much of Von Stroheim's cut footage is gone forever, the restoration uses some of the extensive stills that exist, in the same way as the restored version of Frank Capra's LOST HORIZON. The 1999 version is about as close to Von Stroheim's original vision as we're likely to get. 5f. Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle You may have heard of the famous scandal involving the death of a young actress at a party thrown by Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle. Once and for all, Arbuckle absolutely did not rape, kill, or harm anyone. An unemployed actress named Virginia Rappe took ill during a party held in Roscoe Arbuckle's suite at the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco. Arbuckle found her in his bathroon, and called for a doctor. Four days later, Rappe died of acute peritonitis, while in a maternity hospital. Many experts today believe she died from a botched abortion done a short time before the party. Another party guest, Maude Delmont, declared that Arbuckle had raped Rappe at the party. Yellow journalistic newspapers, led by the Hearst newspaper chain, used Delmont's story to paint Arbuckle as a murderer. Tabloid-like banner headlines attacked Arbuckle's reputation daily over several months. On Delmont's statement, Arbuckle was arrested by the police for murder. However, the state prosecution found that Delmont was an unusable witness because of her criminal record and her being a complusive liar. Nevertheless, pressured by the public, the prosecution pushed forward and tried Arbuckle for the reduced charges of manslaughter. After two hung juries, Arbuckle was found not guilty by a third jury in five minutes. Arbuckle's jury then made this statement to the press: "Acquittal is not enough for Roscoe Arbuckle. We feel that a great injustice has been done him. We feel also that it was only our plain duty to give him this exoneration, under the evidence, for there was not the slightest proof adduced to connect him in any way with the commission of a crime. He was manly throughout the case, and told a straightforward story on the witness stand, which we all believed. "The happening at the hotel was an unfortunate affair for which Arbuckle, so the evidence shows, was in no way responsible. We wish him success and hope that the American people will take the judgement of fourteen men and women who have sat listening for thirty-one days to the evidence, that Roscoe Arbuckle is entirely innocent and free of all blame." Despite this complete vindication, Arbuckle's reputation as a film star remained in tatters. Arbuckle was effectively banned from acting in Hollywood for a period of eleven years. Returning to the screen in 1932, Arbuckle died in 1933, immediately after celebrating his signing of a new starring contract with Warner Brothers, and the completion of six comedy shorts which re-established him as a comedian. For more information, see Arbucklemania: http://silent-movies.com/Arbucklemania/ 5g. THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA Scott MacQueen <firstname.lastname@example.org> posted this to the newsgroup: This issue of the versions of Chaney's PHANTOM just doesn't go away, and there doesn't seem to be a definitive answer. Here is what we know: The 1925 ("Astor Theater") version: this is what opened in NYC in September after all the monkeying around. It was in 10 reels. It only survives in 16mm Universal Show-at-Home copies that were reduction printed in the 1930s, by which time the domestic "A" negative was very heavily worn. John Hampton had several copies of this, which he cannabalized, yet still never got a full 100% print. Hampton allowed one of these to be duped in the 1960s, which is why there are collector prints about. The Packard Foundation now has Hampton's original Show-at-Homes, and have funded a restoration at UCLA which Bob Gitt has been overseeing. The 35mm blow-up work is superb, and the best possible allowing for the indifferent quality of the source material and the printed-in cinches and scratches. However, authentic 1925 Main Titles are still proving elusive...so check your closets & cellars. No word on when UCLA will consider this done. Bob did locate a 35mm dupe negative of a 1925 version in Italy, but the quality is said to be indifferent, though it offered one shot that appears nowhere else. The 1925 version is a VERY full 2 reels longer than the reissue print, with a different continuity (i.e. placement of chandelier fall). While sound discs are known for the 1930 sound version, there is no corresponding bona fide picture. The surviving copy ,the common Phantom, was obtained as a 35mm acetate print in 1950 by Jim Card from Universal. It is likely that it was the only negative Universal had at that date, and clearly it was decomposing when the print was struck (perfs break into picture, the sequence in Christine's undergrounf bedroom rippling and hypoing). It was clearly stated in 1929-30 by U that PHANTOM was "sound on disc only". No paperwork has surfaced re: a foreign version, but all of the evidence is that the GEH print is a non-dialogue Music & Effects version for Europe. It is from a "B" (or "C") alternate camera negative, alongside and often at a different elevation than the "A" camera. All of the intertitles are physically spliced into the 35mm print, so they were printed up seperately either from title rolls (my guess) or flash frames. None of the newly-shot dialogue scenes are included, but the Faust "Jewel Song" is, at 24 fps (shot on Agfa negative, by the way!) with a new performer. The "old" Carlotta retained in the silent footage is now called "Carlotta's Mother" via a changed title. All of the intertitles are simplied and refilmed. Those cards with live background plates (inlcuding the Main Title) of the Phantom are newly shot with a double for Chaney. The Main Titles, by the way, have been truncated -- probably by Jim Card; look at the jump cut, which removes the production credits including cameramen...this same card carried the "Western Electric Sound System" credit. In the domestic version of the talkie, as much old footage was used as could be dalvaged, and Joseph Buquet & the ballerinas were looped with "synthetic dialogue" in the manner of CHINATOWN NIGHTS. Now, the Man With the Lantern. He does NOT appear in the domestic talking version. He appears in the Eastman House print, in a long 24 fps take, with the Phantom's double/shadow gliding by. It is likely that THIS scene alone was for foreign dialogue so the picture could be advertised as "talking" in other countries. Either A) the long shot allowed for asynchronous dubbing, or, B) there were inserts created for the major language territories and positive assembled to the prints (this is how Universal handled the various European and Latin emcees for THE KING OF JAZZ in 29-30!). The figure is wardrobed like Snitz Edwards (he is NOT Snitz) so it is possible that he was meant to be Florine Papillion. I have another theory. The dupes of the Show-at-Home contain the Main Titles and the Man With Lantern, lifted from the Eastman House print. BUT! They also contain a Medium Shot of the Man which is clearly from different preprint! There is a different pattern of tram lines and wear, suggesting that this shot was cut in to the master print being duped. Also, in MS this guy looks nothing like Snitz, much uglier and heavier -- and the generic Parisian workman's clothes and cap leave one other alternative: he is Simon Buquet's brother Joseph -- the SOB who is found strangled by the Phantom later. Makes narrative sense. QUESTION: what the hell print did THAT shot come from? Unfortunately I found no corroboration of this when I was researching at Universal in the '80s, and since then U's PHANTOM holdings have, uh, been "liberated", shall we say, by a "historian" armed with carte blanche from Mr. Wasserman. So if the answers were once at the studio, they're gone now. PHANTOM still lacks color inserts. In Reel 1, the shots of the audience arriving, with the uniformed soldiers "fashion show" as it were, was originally in Prizma (U tested both Prizma & Technicolor). Contemporary reviews indicate that "all views" in the auditorium were in color, yet this is not born out by continuities -- I believe that SOME long shots of the house curtain were color. The "Apollo's Lyre" sequence was blue tinted (or toned) with red Handschlegl, which I helped Kevin Brownlow replicate for this recent version (the intertitles here were originally all in GREEN, but Kevin elected to keep them uniform with the scene). The second half of the Masked Ball, from the lovers' return from the room through Florine's fainting number, was also Tech, and again it was my privilige to replicate this for Photoplay's version which will be on TCM. The tints were very interesting, and in no version are done correctly -- for example, the flashing of the chandelier prior to falling was amber/blue/amber/blue to action, and similar color cutting was done in the torture chamber with the waves of heat and light. The Phantom's rooms "below stairs" (including the unmasking) were entirely in B&W. The "Honeymoon in Viroflay" tag that closed Reel 10 (still in the Show-at-Home in B&W) was also -- once -- in Technicolor. The Technicolor masked ball sequence was rescued by David Shephered years ago, and is from a 1930 dye transfer copy. In the latest versions restored by both Shephered and Photoplay, an effort was made to remove the heavy amber color, which was a by-product of the early 2-color process (perhaps varnish to keep the print from scratching). This version has a much wider range of colors than we have seen previously, and the color is clearly more accurate to the 2-color primaries and what colors were actually under camera -- Mary Philbin's gown is now salmon-pink as it should be, not gold. For purists, who want the IB color warts and all, there is adequate preservation of excellent quality already accomplised on a one-to-one basis by both UCLA and Mr. Shepherd. Photoplay's version, by the way, is the best looking edition I have seen. Sharp, steady, nicely tinted. The heavily decomposed section prior to the unmasking was blow-up from the Hampton 16mm at UCLA, which will give you an idea of the pictorial qualities of the two surviving editions. Unfortunately, the Eastman House print was struck with a block in the track position, so the far left of image is lost forever, and the movie is now best shown with something approaching Movietone (1.17) aperture. Whew! 5h. The proper running speed of silent film There are infrequent disputes over the proper running speed of silent film. Please don't mention this. It's been known to cause nervous breakdowns. Okay; if you want the goods on the proper running speed, check out David Pierce's peerless Silent Film Bookshelf Web site: http://www.cinemaweb.com/silentfilm/bookshelf/ Bob Lipton notes: "there is no 'proper' running speed for silents. As both cameras and projectors were hand-cranked, the action running speeds varied according to the dictates and whims of the cameramen and projectionists. Comedies were typically run faster than dramas." In his book SEDUCTIVE CINEMA: THE ART OF SILENT FILM (Knopf: New York, 1994), James Card, the founder of the famed George Eastman film archive housed in Rochester, New York, discusses among other things the holy grail of the "proper" running speed for silent film, on pp. 52-56. 6. What do some of the terms and abbreviations mean? Here is a list of frequently used initialisms, courtesy of Jon Mirsalis: LOC: Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. GEH: George Eastman House, Rochester, NY MOMA: Museum of Modern Art, New York City PFA: Pacific Film Archive, Berkeley, CA UCLA: University of California-Los Angeles FIAF: La Federation Internationale des Archives du Film AFI: American Film Institute BFI: British Film Institute (which isn't an archive really, but they acquire films that are then stored at the National Film Archives in London) NARS: National Archives, Washington, D.C. fps: frames per second Jon also notes that he and others frequently refer to things being at "Turner." This refers to Ted Turner's Turner Entertainment; however, the company is now known as Warner Brothers Classics since Time/Warner bought Turner Entertainment in a billion-dollar stock swap. 7. Is it okay to ask whether a certain film still exists? Tragically, about 80% of the films of the silent era no longer exist. Many were lost in fires because of the volatility of nitrate film stock; some were destroyed deliberately for their silver content; some were just allowed to decompose. It's fine to post and ask if a film survives. Someone will get back to you on it. Bruce Calvert has pointed out that you can search the UCLA Film and Television Archives' database online. Here is the information he posted to the newsgroup: Telnet to telnet://melvyl.ucop.edu/ . If you don't know how to do that, just enter "telnet://melvyl.ucop.edu/" (without the quotation marks) into your Web browser. If you've never used telnet before, you may need to select the Terminal Menu->Preferences. Click on local echo. Click on OK, and then enter VT100 for your terminal type. Press RETURN. You're in! Now you need to tell the system what you want to search. Enter SET FORM VIDEO, FILM . This will look at videotapes, discs, and film. You can search on titles actors or directors. To search on a title, type FIND TW . TW stands for title words. You don't have to put every word in the title, but it helps. For example FIND TW DREAM LOVE . (You can use lower case.) I didn't find "Dream of Love" in the archive. Here's an example of a film that does exist... FIND TW PATHS TO PARADISE Search request: FIND TW PATHS TO PARADISE (AND SETTING: FORMS VIDEORECORDINGS, MOTION PICTURES) Search result: 1 record at all libraries Type HELP for other display options. 1. MOTION PICTURE Paths to paradise / Famous Players-Lasky ; presented by Adolph Zukor, Jesse L. Lasky ; director, Clarence Badger ; screenplay, Keene Thompson. 1925. UCLA Film TV A1-3-1 Research Copy. Viewing on premises only. Type EXP FTV ARCHIVE for viewing details 1 reel of 1 (ca. 2000 ft.) : si. ; 16 mm.$3safety print. This tells me that they have a 16mm print of the film. Other films will have 35mm prints or negatives, VHS video tapes, or laserdiscs. If you want to view the film, you'll have to go to Los Angeles. If multiple entries are found, you can press D to start displaying them, and RETURN to go to the next page. To search on a directors name use "PA" for personal author. For example, FIND PA KING VIDOR 8. How do I catch up on the newsgroup if I've missed a couple of weeks? Deja.com archives Usenet postings, and Dave Garrett posted a link to a handy interface that you can use to search Deja for what you've missed: http://www.exit109.com/~jeremy/news/deja.html 9. Where are the other silent film FAQs? There are three other FAQs for the alt.movies.silent newsgroup: * Online resources for silent film * Books and documentaries about silent film * Where to see silent films The complete set of alt.movies.silent FAQs lives on Emily Way's REEL WORLD Web site: http://www.vex.net/~emily/film/amsfaq/ The FAQs are also posted to alt.movies.silent, news.answers, and alt.answers once a month. They are also archived automatically at the following sites: * ftp://rtfm.mit.edu/pub/usenet/news.answers/movies/silent/ * http://www.cis.ohio-state.edu/hypertext/faq/usenet/movies/silent/top.html * http://www.cs.ruu.nl/wais/html/na-dir/movies/silent/.html * http://www.faqs.org/faqs/movies/silent/ ----------------------------------------------------------- Rick Levinson (Rick.Levinson@sympatico.ca) and Emily Way (email@example.com) Last updated February 15, 2002 -- Emily Way * emily at vex.net "No one knows what's on his mind except him and his monkey"