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Posts Tagged ‘film history

“The cinema is an invention without any future”*…

Some lost films are more lost than others. There are very early works that no one now alive has seen, and we have little hope of recovering. While later silent feature films were duplicated and distributed widely, there are hundreds of short experiments by the first film-makers, movies no more than a few seconds long, that no longer exist even as a memory.

It seemed too good to be true, then, that lost films by Georges Méliès could really have been found by chance in a German bookshop in 2013. Yet a dogged research project by an independent scholar from France, Thierry Lecointe, has helped uncover miraculous images from lost films, not just by Méliès, but also by Alice Guy-Blaché.

The frames were preserved as images printed on to the card pages of tiny flipbooks. With digital technology, the flipbooks, known as folioscopes, have now become something like film fragments again. The photographer Onno Petersen shot each page in high-resolution and the motion-picture restoration expert Robert Byrne, from the San Francisco Silent Film festival, produced animations revealing such treats as a long-lost magic trick, dance, comic sketch or a train caught on camera more than a century ago

Some of the earliest experiments in film 120 years ago were reproduced as flipbooks for wider audiences. Now a painstaking restoration project has brought long-lost gems back to life: “What the flip! The chance discovery that’s uncovered treasures of the very earliest cinema.”

See also Variety‘s account of a similar reclamation project: “George Melies Flip Book Sets off Crowdsourcing.”

* Cinema pioneer Louis Lumière… who was, happily, wrong

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As we enjoy our popcorn, we might recall that it was on this date in 1942 that “Tweety,” the star of 46 Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons, made his official debut in “A Tale of Two Kitties.”

Originally created by Bob Clampett (who also created the first version of Bugs Bunny and went to to such marvels as Beany and Cecil), Tweety was redesigned by Fritz Freleng– who took over when Clampett left Warner Bros, reimagined Tweety, and crucially, added Sylvester the Cat. The first short to team Tweety and and his hapless nemesis, 1947’s Tweetie Pie, won Warner Bros its first Academy Award for Best Short Subject (Cartoons). Both Tweety and Sylvester were, of course, voiced by the great Mel Blanc.

In related news, there is a live action reboot of Tom and Jerry on the way…

“The cheaper the crook, the gaudier the patter”*…

 

maltesefalcon

 

The term “film noir” is typically credited to French critic Nino Frank, who apparently coined it in a 1946 essay published in the magazine L’Écran français to describe four American crime films: John Huston’s The Maltese Falcon, Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity, Otto Preminger’s Laura, and Edward Dmytryk’s Murder, My Sweet.

“These ‘noir’ films no longer have anything in common with the usual kind of police reel,” Frank wrote. “They are essentially psychological narratives with the action—however violent or fast-paced—less significant than faces, gestures, words—than the truth of the characters.”

The films in question grew out of the hardboiled detective genre birthed by novelists like Dashiell Hammett, James M. Cain, and Raymond Chandler. Notably, two of the movies Frank wrote about—Double Indemnity and Murder, My Sweet, based on novels by Cain and Chandler, respectively—were set in Los Angeles, a city whose glamorous reputation became laced with stories of crime, scandal, and corruption…

Laced with corruption in the 1940s and ’50s, LA became the birthplace of a literary and cinematic style: “13 of the best noir films set in Los Angeles.”

* Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart), The Maltese Falcon (in the sequence pictured above; source)

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As we celebrate the gum on our shoes, we might recall that it was on this date in 1929 that the first Academy Awards presentation was held.  The brainchild of Louis B. Mayer, the awards were meant to to unite the five branches of the film industry, including actors, directors, producers, technicians, and writers.  As Mayer explained:

I found that the best way to handle [filmmakers] was to hang medals all over them … If I got them cups and awards, they’d kill to produce what I wanted. That’s why the Academy Award was created.  (source)

270 people attended the ceremony, which was hosted by Douglas Fairbanks and held over dinner at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel; tickets were $5 (about $74 in today’s coin).  12 awards were presented in 15 minutes: the award for Outstanding (now “Best”) Picture went to Wings.

It was the only Academy Awards ceremony not to be broadcast on either radio or television.

220px-1stOscars_1929 source

 

Written by LW

May 16, 2020 at 1:01 am

“Dying is easy, comedy is hard”*…

 

neighbors-keaton

Neighbors. Dir. Edward F. Cline/Buster Keaton. Perf. Buster Keaton, Virginia Fox, Joe Keaton. Metro Pictures, 1920.

 

As he migrated from vaudeville stage to movie set, [Buster] Keaton realised the comedy itself did not need changing, though the opportunities afforded by the camera could extend the world in which the spatial interplay he had developed since childhood took place.

“…the greatest thing to me about picturemaking was the way it automatically did away with the physical limitations of the theatre. On the stage, even one as immense as the New York Hippodrome stage, one could only show so much. The camera had no such limitations. The whole world was its stage. If you wanted cities, deserts, the Atlantic Ocean, Persia, or the Rocky Mountains for your scenery and background, you merely took your camera to them.”

Keaton’s comedy derives largely from the positioning —and constant, unexpected repositioning— of his body in space, and in architectural space particularly. Unlike other slapstick performers who relished in the close-up and detailed attention to the protagonist, Keaton frequently directed the camera to film with a wide far-shot that could contain the whole of a building’s facade or urban span within the frame. Proud of always carrying out his own (often extremely dangerous) stunts, this enabled him to show the audience that his actions were performed in real-time —and real-place— rather than simply being tricks of the camera or editing process. It also allowed him to visually explore the many ways in which his body could engage with the urban form…

An appreciation of that greatest of all silent comedians: “Buster Keaton: Anarchitect.”

* variously attributed to actors Edmund Keane, Edmund Gwynn, and Peter O’Toole

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As we take the fall, we might send delighted birthday greetings to Stanley Donen; he was born on this date in 1924.  A Broadway dancer (who befriended a young Gene Kelly), Donen followed Kelly to Hollywood as choreographer, then a director– of such classics as On the Town (1949) and Singin’ in the Rain (1952), both of which starred Kelly who co-directed.  Donen’s other films include Royal Wedding (1951), Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954),  Funny Face (1957), Indiscreet (1958), and Charade (1963).  Credited (with his rival, Vincent Minelli) with having transitioned Hollywood musical films from realistic backstage dramas (a la Busby Berkeley) to a more integrated art form in which the songs were a natural continuation of the story, Donen is highly regarded by film historians.

One might note a kinship between Keeton’s astounding physical relationship to his surroundings and that of Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, and Fred Astaire in Donen’s films…

Stanley_Donen_(cropped) source

 

Written by LW

April 13, 2019 at 1:01 am

“Not too big, not too small… just right”*…

 

dimensions

Dimensions.Guide is a comprehensive [and free]reference database of [thousands of] dimensioned drawings documenting the standard measurements and sizes of the everyday objects and spaces that make up our world. We offer our resources to professional designers, students, and the public alike as a way to enhance our global collective awareness of the parameters and dimensions of the things around us…

For example…

Screen Shot 2019-02-02 at 3.24.06 PM

Browse at Dimensions.Guide.

* The Goldilocks Principle

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As we size it up, we might recall that it was on this date in 1921 that Charlie Chaplin released the first feature-length film in which he both starred (as “The Tramp”) and directed, The Kid.  Chaplin also wrote and produced the film.

Widely considered one of the greatest films of the silent era, it was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.

 

Written by LW

February 7, 2019 at 1:01 am

“I am big! It’s the pictures that got small.”*…

 

Romaine Fielding

Romaine Fielding got famous making a bunch of films in nothing flat—something like 100 films in just four years, from 1912 to 1915. Some of the films were probably awful. Others were showered with critical praise. Film was a fledgling medium still trying to find its voice, still battling to evolve from novelty to art. But Romaine rose above the melodramatic din of the silent film era. He was, by some accounts, America’s first movie star and, by even more accounts, among the medium’s first true visionaries…

Romaine had already lived a lot of life when he began making films in 1912. There were only a dozen film companies in Hollywood. The magazine that would launch our nation’s rabidity for celebrity culture, Photoplay, had just published its first issue. Romaine was 43 and on his fourth name by then: baby William Grant Blandin became Royal A. Blandin became Romanzo A. Blandin who made the leap finally to Romaine Fielding at the dawn of the 20th century.

There are lots of reasons for adopting pseudonyms and these include shame or aspiration or fear of legal recourse or extralegal recourse or confusion about identity or certainty about identity or general restlessness and for some it is all of this plus the usual feeling of fraudulence and an overdeveloped flair for the dramatic. In 1867 Romaine was born out of wedlock in an Iowa that wouldn’t stand for it and so his first name change was the projection of others’ shame. For the rest of his life he layered on identities, ever grander, though never entirely disingenuous…

After the success of The Toll of Fear (one of the first great psychological thrillers, made in 1913) Romaine made the cover of Motion Picture Magazine. He was voted America’s Most Popular Player by the magazine’s readers, snagging over 1.3 million of the 7 million votes cast by film buffs.

This award was a remarkable accomplishment in the pre-Oscars era. He beat out Mary Pickford, an early cinema powerhouse and eventual cofounder of the famed United Artists studio. He beat out Bronco Billy, who had starred in The Great Train Robbery (1903), arguably the first ever Western film…

The genuinely remarkable tale of an American original: “The Lost Apocalypse of Romaine Fielding.”

* “Norma Desmond” (Gloria Swanson) in Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard

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As we see stars, we might spare a thought for Herbert Eugene Ives; he died on this date in 1953.  A scientist and engineer who headed the development of facsimile and television systems at AT&T in the first half of the twentieth century, he is best known for the 1938 Ives–Stilwell experiment, which provided direct confirmation of special relativity’s time dilation (though Ives himself did not accept special relativity, and argued instead for an alternative interpretation of the experimental results).

But relevantly to this post, Ives also led AT&T’s development of video and television. His 1927 transmission–  of images of then-Commerce Secretary Herbert Hoover, from Washington, DC to New York– was the first successful long distance demonstration of television. Two years later, he achieved the first successful long-distance transmission of color images.

220px-Ives_3819812229_f084c217d1_o source

 

Written by LW

November 13, 2018 at 1:01 am

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