Hollywood (1980)

If you have the slightest bit of interest in documentaries or in silent movies, this is the series to watch. Not only is it a great wealth of info on the silent era…it’s one of the best documentaries I’ve ever watched. It is made up of 13 different one-hour sections. It’s quite a series at 676 minutes.

All of these are on youtube. I have them listed at the bottom… just click on the links I gave. If a link doesn’t work…just copy the title of the episode on youtube and it will show up. If you want to watch a couple give it a try…I would suggest Episode 8: Comedy – A Serious Business and Episode 12: Star Treatment (The Great Stars Of The Silent Films).

There is one misconception about silent films that most have. When you think of a silent film what do you think of? Some people think of the hard-to-see Keystone cops running about like they snorted Peru… that is NOT what most silent films looked like. They played at normal speed and the cinematography was breathtaking in many of them. They are as clear as any movie you will watch if the print has been taken care of or restored.

Kevin Brownlow's Outstanding 1980 Documentary Miniseries HOLLYWOOD is  Online | Austin Film Society

There was a problem with some prints after the silent era. The holes in the film were at a different gauge for the then-modern film projectors and they played them fast and transferred them fast…that meant everything was sped up.

This documentary is to the Silent Era what Ken Burns Civil War doc is to the Civil War. It starts with the pioneers of the movies to the very end when sound took over and changed and some people say ruined an art form. When movies were silent…they were international…no need for translations…just different text. The sound changed all of that and silent movies were at their height.

You get to know the great directors, actors, actresses, cameramen, stuntmen, and movie moguls.

They interviewed these ladies and gentlemen in the late seventies and it was many of their last appearances on film before they passed away. I’m thankful that Kevin Brownlow got this finished and we now have first-hand knowledge of films’ most exciting eras.

I do wish sound pictures would have been held off a few years. The studios weren’t ready for talking pictures. The first “talky” pictures were clumsy and still. The mics had to be placed in flower vases and other stationary places. The silent artists perfected the art of pantomime. Most had great quality (especially in the 20s) that looked better than movies 40 years later. One problem was with the early transfers from the films…now with Criterion and others cleaning up the transfers…we can watch these beautiful movies the way they were intended.

Just like today, you had your formula movies and your great movies. In my opinion, I think the best genre of silent movies is comedies. Not Keystone Cops…they are more like cartoons than films. For me, it would be Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. They both had some of the most subtle and genius gags. Many of their gags have been copied to this day. There were others like Harry Langdon and Harold Lloyd that were popular.

I know it’s a big task BUT…if you like documentaries or silent movies…this series is worth it! Every episode is out there on youtube.

Critically Acclaimed: We've Got Mail #10 | Buster Keaton vs. Charlie  Chaplin!

Here are the different episodes.

Episode 1: Pioneers (Groundbreakers Of Film)

Episode 2: In The Beginning (Birth Of Cinema)

Episode 3: Single Beds And Double Standards (Censorhip) 

Episode 4: Hollywood Goes To War (World War I)

Episode 5: Hazard Of The Game (Stunts And Stuntmen) 

Episode 6: Swanson & Valentino (The 2 Great Hearthrobs Of The Silent Films)

Episode 7: Autocrats (The Great Directors) 

Episode 8: Comedy – A Serious Business

Episode 9: Out West (Westerns) 

Episode 10: The Man With The Megaphone (The Evolution Of Directors)

Episode 11: Trick Of The Light (The Cameraman) 

Episode 12: Star Treatment (The Great Stars Of The Silent Films)

Episode 13: End Of An Era (The Birth Of Talking Pictures)

Clara Bow - Hollywood Star Walk - Los Angeles Times

This is the 12th episode and it is about two people…John Gilbert and Clara Bow. Clara Bow is my favorite actress of all time…and yes that includes today.

The cast listing is below the video.

Actors

  • Mary Astor
  • Eleanor Boardman
  • Louise Brooks
  • Olive Carey
  • Iron Eyes Cody
  • Jackie Coogan
  • Dolores Costello
  • Viola Dana
  • Douglas Fairbanks Jr.
  • Janet Gaynor
  • Leatrice Joy
  • Lillian Gish
  • Bessie Love
  • Ben Lyon
  • Marion Mack
  • Tim McCoy
  • Colleen Moore
  • Charles ‘Buddy’ Rogers
  • Gloria Swanson
  • Blanche Sweet
  • John Wayne
  • Eva von Berne
  • Lois Wilson

Directors 

  • Dorothy Arzner
  • Clarence Brown
  • Karl Brown
  • Frank Capra
  • George Cukor
  • Allan Dwan
  • Byron Haskin
  • Henry Hathaway
  • Henry King
  • Lewis Milestone
  • Hal Roach
  • Albert S. Rogell
  • King Vidor
  • William Wyler.

Choreographer: Agnes de Mille,

Writer: Anita Loos,

Writer: Adela Rogers St. Johns,

Press Agent/writer: Cedric Belfrage,

Organist: Gaylord Carter,

Cinematographers: George J. Folsey, Lee Garmes and Paul Ivano,

Writer:  Jesse L. Lasky, Jr.,

Special Effects Artist A. Arnold Gillespie, Lord Mountbatten

Agent Paul Kohner

Producer/writer Samuel Marx

Editors William Hornbeck and Grant Whytock

Property Pan: Lefty Hough

Stuntmen Bob Rose, Yakima Canutt: Paul Malvern, and Harvey Parry, Rudolph Valentino’s brother Alberto Valentino

English set Designer Laurence Irving

Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton

Back in the 90s I got into silent films. I would send off for VHS tapes of 1920s classics. The one actress I wanted to see was Clara Bow. After reading about her I started to learn more about Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. I did know of Chaplin but had never seen one of his films. I still love silent cinema from that era.

Charlie and Buster were two of the best screen comedians ever to walk the earth. They both had similar upbringings. Buster and his family in American vaudeville. Charlie worked in British music halls. Charlie rose to stardom in silent movies in the 1910’s beginning with Keystone, Mutual (where he made his best short comedies) Essanay and then he confounded United Artist with Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, and W. D. Griffith. After that Charlie went into full feature films.

Buster started silent shorts in 1917 with Roscoe Arbuckle. After Roscoe broke out on his own so did Buster….he did some more short films which were brilliant. He then went into full features. Buster was just so different than anyone else. He was so still while the world moved into chaos around him. He was a brilliant actor-director and also writer which he often didn’t take credit for doing. If Buster would have just made “The General” his place in film history would be cemented. The same can be said of Charlie Chaplin and his masterpiece “The Gold Rush.”

There was no competition between the two in popularity. Charlie won hands down over Buster and probably everyone else in comedy and drama. His character “The Tramp” was internationally loved. All in all, I’ve always thought Keaton was a better filmmaker but Chaplin the better character. The most recognized character in movie history.  They were two different comedians. Chaplin would reach for pathos…sometimes a little too much. Keaton seemed much more real.

Keaton’s sight gags were incredible and sometimes dangerous to his health…like have a front of a building that weighed a ton (so it wouldn’t twist in the wind) fall on him with the upstairs opening clearing him around 2 inches on each side. He never smiled because it would have ruined his character. Both are worth watching and with Keaton’s films like Sherlock Jr…you wonder how he did some of the things he did with the primitive camera’s they used.

Both were funny men. The other big comedian was Harold Lloyd but he was more of an actor playing a comedian….he was really successful though… second to Chaplin in making money.

Charlie and Buster older both appear in Charlie’s Limelight. This is the only time they ever appeared together in a movie.

Comedian Quotes

I’ve been watching some older comedy movies…I thought I’d pick out some quotes by these early great comedians.

W. C. Fields (Creator) - TV Tropes

W.C. Fields

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit. No use being a damn fool about it.

If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit.

Once, during Prohibition, I was forced to live for days on nothing but food and water.

I like children. If they’re properly cooked.

I never hold a grudge. As soon as I get even with the son-of-a bitch, I forget it.

I was in love with a beautiful blond once. She drove me to drink. That’s the one thing I’m indebted to her for.

The Case for Duck Soup as the Greatest Monologue in Movie History | Den of  Geek

Groucho Marx

A man is only as old as the woman he feels.

Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them… well, I have others.

Marriage is a wonderful institution, but who wants to live in an institution?

I married your mother because I wanted children, imagine my disappointment when you came along

Please accept my resignation. I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member

Stan Laurel (Comedian and Actor) - On This Day

Stan Laurel

You can lead a horse to water, but a pencil must be led.

If any of you cry at my funeral I’ll never speak to you again.

I had a dream that I was awake and I woke up to find myself asleep.

Humor is the truth; wit is an exaggeration of the truth.

Off The Rails: When Buster Keaton Pulled Off Silent Film's Most Expensive  Stunt - Ripley's Believe It or Not!

Buster Keaton

A comedian does funny things. A good comedian does things funny.

Charlie Chaplin and I would have a friendly contest: Who could do the feature film with the least subtitles?

If one more person tells me this is just like old times, I swear I’ll jump out the window.

Harpo Marx | American actor | Britannica

Harpo Marx

The passing of an ordinary man is sad. The passing of a great man is tragic, and doubly tragic when the greatness passes before the man does.

If things get too much for you and you feel the whole world’s against you, go stand on your head. If you can think of anything crazier to do, do it.

The Real Charlie Chaplin' Review: A Telling Look at the Tramp - Variety

Charlie Chaplin

It isn’t the ups and downs that make life difficult; it’s the jerks.

You’ll never find rainbows, If you’re looking down…

A day without laughter is a day wasted.

Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot.

Modern Times

Hanspostcard is hosting a movie draft from 12 different genres…this is my comedy entry.

This was/ the first feature length Chaplin movie I ever watched. It was his last “silent” movie. The year was 1936 and “talkies” had been around for almost a decade and certainly the most popular movie format in the 1930’s. Chaplin stubbornly decided to carry on with another silent movie and I’m glad he did.

Chaplin was a smart man…he knew the little tramp could not talk on screen…the character was over with if he did…finished. That was part of his mystic. Another reason was the beauty of silent film at the time. He had perfected the art and talkies were full of clumsy lines delivered with immobile cameras and primitive microphones. They were improving but when silent movies ended…an art was lost forever.

Other actors at the time didn’t have the power or clout to try this but it worked brilliantly for Chaplin.  It was one of the top-grossing films of 1936. This after being told no one would want to see a silent movie in 1936…Charlie was once again right.

Chaplin did like the fact that he could insert sound effects into the movie with the technology. He wrote, directed, acted,  produced and also wrote the music for this movie. Modern Times has Chaplin’s finest music score. His most recognizable and commercially viable song, “Smile,” emerged from a melody used by him in this movie.

The film is very relevant today. Charlie takes on the machine age as humans are treated like cattle. Chaplin takes a swipe at  capitalism , industrialization and human exploitation.

The little tramp is finding it difficult to survive in the modern mechanized world. Failing as a worker on a factory assembly line, he gets into a series of adventures and misadventures, which leads him meeting a young recently orphaned “gamine” who ran away rather than end up in an orphanage. They try to survive in the world together, both on the run from the law, although his previous stints behind bars… were to him more appealing than life outside in the cold modern world.

The question becomes… can Charlie and the gamine individually or together  find their place in the modern world with all the odds against them?

Some famous scenes are in this movie. Chaplin in the automatic feeding machine, Chaplin and his boss in the gears of the machinery, and Chaplin going insane trying to tighten bolts on every thing.

It is a great film to start watching Chaplin if you haven’t seen any of his previous movies. One of the many remarkable things about Charlie Chaplin is that his films continue to hold up, to attract, and entertain audiences…you will enjoy this one!

Charlie Chaplin – City Lights

Another masterpiece by Chaplin. This 1931 movie followed “The Circus” and is truly a classic. It is like watching poetry in action on the screen. The shooting of this movie was full of stops and troubles for Charlie but the finished product flows perfectly. Chaplin’s pantomime works so well in this silent movie that you never miss dialog.

While other movies at the time were going toward “talkies” Chaplin stuck stubbornly to silent and the film is all the better for it. Sound films at the time were in their infancy and they were more times than not very clumsy. The actors would talk too loud and be glued to a single spot because of bulky cameras and microphones they had to use.

The Gold Rush has been mentioned as Chaplin’s best movie but this one is just as good or better. The last scene is one of the best scenes I’ve ever seen in a movie…silent or otherwise.

Chaplin had trouble with Virginia Cherrill the leading lady. She wasn’t an actress, she was a Chicago Socialite. Chaplin liked working with someone with little or no acting experience. He spent weeks showing her how to hold a flower properly. Chaplin was a perfectionist and would think nothing of shooting a scene over 300 times.

He spent almost 3 years filming this movie and almost scrapped it all at the end and replace Virginia and refilm but decided against it when he looked at the cost. After all of the trouble he went through including a divorce at the beginning of filming…he turned out another masterpiece.

If you haven’t tried a silent movie…give this one a try. Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton made some of the best comedies ever…not just in the silent period.

Below the trailer is an outtake from City Lights that he didn’t use…it’s brilliant how he used a simple piece of wood on a city grate to make a great comedy scene that he deemed unworthy. I used this clip in an earlier post on the Unknown Chaplin…if you get a chance… watch it…it’s only around 7 minutes long.

Short plot description of City Lights from IMDB

A simple story of The Little Tramp who meets a lovely blind girl selling flowers on the sidewalk who mistakes him for a wealthy duke. When he learns that an operation may restore her sight, he sets off to earn the money she needs to have the surgery. In a series of comedy adventures that only Chaplin could pull off, he eventually succeeds, even though his efforts land him in jail. While he is there, the girl has the operation and afterward yearns to meet her benefactor. The tear-inducing closing scene, in which she discovers that he is not a wealthy duke but only The Little Tramp, is one of the highest moments in movies.

Edna Purviance

When I first started to read about and watch Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton in the 90s I noticed in most of Chaplin’s early short films this beautiful lady with expressive eyes as his leading lady. Chaplin never found a better leading lady than Edna.

Edna was born in Paradise Valley, Nevada in 1895. In 1900 her parents moved to Lovelock where they ran the Singer Hotel, though they later divorced. Edna was musically inclined and played the piano well. Shortly after her high school graduation, she moved to San Fransisco, took a business course and began work as a secretary.

While searching for a leading lady in 1915 an associate of Chaplin suggested a girl he remembered as a regular at a local San Francisco café. After rejecting several chorus girls, Chaplin arranged a meeting with Purviance, who he was impressed by her beauty and personality but still wasn’t sure she was right. They went to a party and Chaplin claimed he could hypnotize her and she said he could not in front of everyone… she ended up going along with the joke and pretended to be hypnotized and that won Chaplin over.

In real life as in the films, Purviance and Chaplin were romantically involved, and they remained close friends even after their affair was over in 1918. While he entertained serious thoughts of marriage, he also had doubts that he expressed in his 1964 Autobiography. Edna also had her reservations as well.

Chaplin continued to feel not only friendship but responsibility for Purviance, and she drew a small monthly stipend from his film company for the remainder of her life. Edna was his leading lady from 1915-1923.

Purviance eventually married John Squire, a Pan-American Airlines pilot, in 1938. They remained married until his death in 1945. Edna died of throat cancer on January 13, 1958.

A quote from Edna from IMDB

Mr. Chaplin asked me if I would like to act in pictures with him. I laughed at the idea but agreed to try it. I guess he took me because I had nothing to unlearn and he could teach me in his own way. I want to tell you that I suffered untold agonies. Eyes seemed to be everywhere. I was simply frightened to death. But he had unlimited patience in directing me and teaching me.

 

 

 

 

Charlie Chaplin – The Kid

This 1921 movie by Charlie Chaplin teamed him up with young Jackie Coogan. You may remember the adult Coogan as Uncle Fester on the Addams Family. It’s a great film with some classic scenes between Chaplin and Coogan. This was Chaplin’s first feature film. He was finishing up his First National contract as he co-founded United Artists with Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, and D.W. Griffith.

Image result for jackie coogan kid and adult

The Jackie Coogan and Chaplin…Jackie Coogan as Uncle Fester

The story starts off with a woman (Edna Purviance) that abandons her baby in the back of an expensive car hoping that the owners will give her baby a life that she can not. The car is then stolen and the baby is left on the street. The Tramp (Chaplin) finds the baby and takes it home and raises him. Five years pass and he loves the kid and together they have a great scheme going on.

The kid goes around throwing rocks through windows and out of nowhere later on comes The Tramp who would just so happen to have glass and materials with him to fix the window for a price.

The authorities soon find out that the Tramp is not the kid’s father. While this is going on the mother who is doing really well now is looking for her child. The Tramp and Kid are pursued and in this film, Chaplin had some serious and tender moments combining comedy with pathos which at the time was a turning point. The movie was considered a masterpiece when it was released.

One scene that jumps out is the scene where social services are physically taking the child away and Chaplin fights…not comically but really fights to keep the Kid.

The film was written, directed, produced and starred… Charlie Chaplin. Edna Purviance makes her last appearance acting with Chaplin. She would be directed by him one more time in a drama as a leading lady. This movie kicked off Coogan’s very successful child acting career.

Jackie Coogan would become a star in the twenties. He earned 3-4 million dollars acting and when he turned 21 in 1935 he thought he was set for life only to find out the money was gone. His mother and step-father spent all of his money on furs, jewelry, and cars. His mom said that Jackie enjoyed himself acting and no promises were ever made to give him any of the money. Jackie sued his mom in 1938 and only received 125,000 dollars of his money.

Coogan had financial problems for a long while and even went to Chaplin for help which Chaplin gladly gave him money.

One good thing came out of it. The “Coogan Act” which made parents set aside at least 15 percent of their child’s earnings to a trust fund.

If you get a chance this is a great short entertaining movie.

 

 

The Gold Rush

This is a great movie that was made in 1925 by Charlie Chaplin. It has two of Chaplin’s most famous scenes in this movie…Dance of the Dinner Rolls and when Charlie and his partner get so hungry in a cabin that Charlie cooks his shoe and they eat it. The actual shoe was made of licorice and candy…they both ended up sick after the shoot.

The plot involves Big Jim (Mack Swain) who strikes gold but a blizzard hits and he gets lost. Along comes the lone prospector (Charlie Chaplin) looking for riches. They both find a criminal’s (Tom Murray) cabin to take shelter from the storm and eventually take the cabin over. They are stuck there through the winter with nothing to eat. Big Jim imagines Charlie is a chicken at one time with a very good special effect.

Some people have misconceptions about silent movies. Some think they are fast and jerky…they are not. That was caused early on by not having the correct projector to play them when they were transferred to video. Many of them look much better than the reruns of Andy Griffith or movies from the 50s. They had beautiful cinematography because that is what they relied on to convey the story.

The full feature films of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton are clear and beautiful to watch and very funny. I’ve always thought comedy translated better through the silent era than drama…although there are great dramas such as “Sunrise” that were brilliant.

I would suggest this movie to anyone who is willing to give a silent movie a chance. It’s rated as one of Charlie’s best movies. City Lights, Modern Times, and The Kid are also great Chaplin films. His best sound film, in my opinion, is The Great Dictator.

There are two versions of this movie. One with the title screens and one where Charlie recorded his voice narrating instead of titles. I have found the original one with titles more enjoyable.

This movie is #137 on the IMDB top 250 movies of all time.

https://www.imdb.com/chart/top?ref_=tt_awd