Thoughts On My Month of Silents and Other Things; An October Wrap-Up

The month of October has come to an end and with it so has my month-long viewing of silent movies. Overall, I have to say that I was surprised just how much I enjoyed this month. As I said, going in I had a very limited experience with silent films. My main exposure had come from Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton.  I had never seen silent dramas or even other comedies.  I knew the names of people like Lillian Gish and Louise Brooks but I had never seen them on film.  And I have to admit that I probably was suffering under the delusion of several common myths about silent films.  Well, this month changed all that for me.  Here is some of what I learned.

Frame Rate and Silent Films – Going in I had no idea that many silent films were shown at incorrect, or sound film, frame rates.  This means that the reason people in silent films used to look jumpy and twitchy was because the film was being played at too high a rate of speed.  It would be like watching a movie on fast forward the whole time.

Women in Silent Films – Women were kind of awesome during the time of silent films.  Not only were they directors, writers, and editors, they were also actors playing roles that allowed them to be smart, strong, and funny.  Of course you still can find examples of the weepy damsel in distress but I was pleasantly surprised just how many of these films allowed women to be just as tough as the men.

Colleen Moore and Lon Chaney – No this is not Hollywood’s newest power couple.  This was my first time seeing either of these actors in any film and I was hooked!  Colleen Moore is a fabulous comedienne and from the brief bit that I have read, a smart and capable lady in her own life.  When people think of dark haired silent film actresses with a bob most will think of Louise Brooks but I will think of Colleen Moore and her dance in ELLA CINDERS.  As for Lon Chaney…man oh, man.  I am STILL not recovered from watching THE PENALTY.  That man is amazing.

Silent Films and Your Brain – This is something that I realized over the course of the month and I feel like it is important.  Silent films require your brain.  They require your attention.  We’ve all done it, started watching a movie on TCM or on a DVD and then done something else.  We’ve checked our phones, our email, our Facebook or Twitter.  We’ve gone into the kitchen to get a snack or check on dinner.  All the while we are keeping half an ear out for the dialogue of the film we are “watching” in order to keep tabs on what is going on.  But with silent films you can’t do that, if you aren’t paying attention you miss dialogue and plot.  You miss the film.  And it was an adjustment at first, the urge to check stuff is hard to resist, but after a time I found that not only was I able to pay attention without wandering off but it was also nice to do so.  These days we are given so many options for input that we often split our attention twenty times or more without realizing it, and often to our deficit.  Watching silent films was a respite from that and it felt nice to finally block everything else out and just watch the movie.  It is a habit that I am going to strive to carry over into my daily life.

Sherlock Holmes and TwitterFlicker Alley recently organized a live tweet during the TCM premiere of the 1916 Sherlock Holmes starring William Gillette.  Not only was the film enjoyable but the experience of watching a newly discovered silent film with a community of classic film lovers was even better.  I hope that Flicker Alley and TCM collaborate again in the future!

My month of silent films was really enjoyable and I can say that I think I have become a silent film junkie.  I’m almost sad to leave the world of strictly silents.  But never fear!  I will now be making a point to watch more silent films, along with my talkies, so you will see more posts on the blog for sure!

Other Things of Interest – I have just started reading Swanson on Swanson written by (you guessed it) Gloria Swanson.  I am only about a chapter and a half in but really enjoying it so far.  I am looking forward to learning more about Gloria Swanson as when I think of her now my first thought is SUNSET BOULEVARD.  My Dad sent me this article from the Wall Street Journal about why we keep physical copies of media in the age of the cloud.  This was an interesting read to me as I am the sort of person who will read an article online or watch a movie on my iPad, but still prefer print books and DVDs (and Blu Rays).  Also, if you are looking for an introduction to silent films, Fritzi of Movies Silently is running a series of articles providing just that.

Favorite Film Discovery of the Month – This was tough but I would have to say THE PENALTY with Lon Chaney.  While I saw a lot of great films this month this is the one that has stuck with me the longest.  I wasn’t sure what to expect when the film started but by the time my husband came and found me at the halfway point I was totally hooked.  I think my exact words to him were, “This film is CRAZY!  You have to see it!”.


That was my month of October!  How was yours?  Any new discoveries?  

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Random Harvest of Thoughts: UPCOMING STUFF IN OCTOBER AND BEYOND

Just a quick post to update you all on what is coming at the blog in the next few months!

First and foremost get ready for October when I will be watching nothing but silent films!  I am really excited to get into this as silent film is an area where I feel like my cinematic education is definitely lacking.  I am interested to see how this goes and it might just end up being something I try to do every few months!

Second, it will come as no surprise at all that I am taking part in some blogathons over the next few months!  Here are the ones that are coming…

THE CMBA FALL BLOGATHON hosted by The CMBA

I will cover THE LADY VANISHES

THE SWASHATHON hosted by Fritzi of Movies Silently

I will cover THE PRISONER OF ZENDA

THE WHAT A CHARACTER! BLOGATHON hosted by Once Upon a Screen, Outspoken & Freckled, and Paula’s Cinema Club

I will cover Robert Barratt

THE CRITERION BLOGATHON hosted by Criterion Blues, Speakeasy, and Silver Screenings

I will cover RIDE THE PINK HORSE

Finally, the fabulous Fritzi of Movies Silently and I are going to be live tweeting another silent serial!  We are starting this Thursday (October 1st) with the first episode of HOUSE OF MYSTERY at 8:30 PM EST so come and join us if you have an inclination!  Judex was a ton of fun and I have a feeling this will be just as good!

Random Harvest of Thoughts: CITY NOIR by John Adams

The Summer of Darkness has come and gone but the thirst for noir still remains.

My Dad recently told me about a piece of music written by modern American composer John Adams.  I have liked some of Adams’ other works so I thought I would give this one a try, especially after my Dad told me that the piece was meant to be part of a soundtrack to an imaginary film noir.  I listened to it and definitely felt the influence of noir on his work, and decided to share it with all of you.  I think that you’ll enjoy this piece, even if you aren’t usually a fan of modern classical music.  Here is an article about Adams’ more recent saxophone concerto (2104) which was inspired by City Noir (2009).

Without further ado…City Noir.

Spending My Birthday With Katharine, Cary, Jimmy, and My Mom

Today is my birthday!  It is also Susan Hayward’s, Glenda Farrell’s, and Marya’s from Cinema Fanatic…as well as the day that RED HEADED WOMAN was released.  But yes, it is my birthday!

Imagine my excitement when I realized that TCM was showing my favorite movie, THE PHILADELPHIA STORY, at 1PM on my birthday!  Imagine my dismay when I realized by addled brain had misread the guide and it was actually playing at 1AM on my birthday.  Never fear, Mom to the rescue!

To celebrate my Mom came over to my house with sandwiches and all kinds of junk food and treats that we never eat and we watched THE PHILADELPHIA STORY.  At first it was just the two of us and later it was the two of us and my son, who was resisting his nap and ending up sleeping next to us after watching some Cary Grant.  We spent the time chatting, discussing trivia, and deciding who would be a modern day cast if they ever remade the film today.  We decided on Leonardo DiCaprio for CK Dexter Haven, Lee Pace for Mike Conner, Jennifer Lawrence for Liz Imbry, Bradley Cooper for George Kittridge, and either Jessica Chastain or Amy Adams for Tracy Lord.  And Bill Murray for Uncle Willy.  But we both agreed that you really shouldn’t mess with perfection that is Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart, and Katharine Hepburn.

Our snacks…

My Mom doing her best Greta Garbo…

My feet (My feet are made of clay, made of clay did you know?)

All in all a delightful afternoon and way to spend my birthday!  Thanks Mom!

Random Harvest of Thoughts: Classic Film Fans Save History

Will McKinley recently wrote a truly wonderful post over at his blog.  In it he described the heartache that classic film fans suffer as our idols grow old and pass on, and how this is the price we have to pay for loving these films and their stars as much as we do.  I think that while we suffer for our love we also receive the opportunity to do and be more because of it.

Inside every classic film fan is an old soul yearning to find its counterpoint in the world.  Sometimes we get lucky and find new friends on Twitter, Facebook, or (most rare of all) in the real world.  But for the most part classic film fans are a less than popular option when it comes to finding a hobby.  And that is where I think something important happens.  It happens when we realize and accept that being a classic film fan isn’t just a hobby for the weekends but rather it is a way of life.  Classic films, their actors and directors, the music, the books, the fashion, everything from that time seeps into our hearts and souls and finds purchase there, changing us forever.  It is because of this that we are so deeply affected by the passing of yet another classic film star, but it is also because of this that we have the chance to do something greater…a chance to save history.

Let’s be honest, in today’s society things that are old are not considered worthwhile or given much respect.  This goes for clothes, books, movies, music, and even people.  Before my son was born I worked as a nurse in an intensive care unit, and I saw first hand how the elderly are treated, more often than not, like children or idiots or burdens rather than what they are which is young people who got old.  I saw how doctors, nurses, therapists, social workers, even their own family members left the room as quickly as possible instead of sitting and trying to talk with them.  I saw the empty rooms with no visitors for days and weeks on end.  I saw the people forgotten in beds, with no one to help them move to the chair next to the window.  Now I wasn’t perfect, I had days where I was busy or tired and didn’t do the best job I could have.  But for the most part I tried to give these patients a little extra time and comfort.  I tried to talk with them, to hear a story or two, to return to them a little of the respect and dignity that had been lost to them, and at the very least I tried to see if they liked TCM.  And in return I was given smiles, pats, the occasional attempt at a cash tip, a few flirts, and stories about lives and times that were long past.  I heard from a man who was supposed to be in the first wave of the planned invasion of Japan during WWII and who later travelled to New York and saw the perfect game in baseball.  A woman who used to hide the dinner rolls in her purse told me about how she and her husband travelled doing USO tours during the war.  I heard stories about children, grandchildren, sisters and brothers, and these are stories I still remember to this day.

Classic film fans are a window to a part of our past and our history that is starting to be forgotten.  As the living links to this time begin to fade away we remain, standing resolute against the dimming light.  Even though it isn’t popular or “cool” it is something that is needed and vital for what we hope society can be.  I’m not foolish enough to think that the time of classic films was an ideal utopia that we should bring back in its entirety, but I do think that there are certain pieces and attitudes of it that are needed today.  Like knowing your neighbor, like having a sense of community and pride in that community.  In this world a child can’t walk to the park down the street by himself without fear of his parents being arrested for neglect, people are more likely to text someone than call, email than write a letter, Facebook than actually go and see someone face to face.  We seem to have lost the sense of strength and togetherness we used to have, the sense of belonging to something bigger than ourselves, and the respect for each other and the world around us.  But as classic film fans we still see those values and attitudes reflected back at us in the movies we watch, the songs we listen to, and the books we read.  And we have a chance to help keep all that alive, to continue standing firm holding up our small lights in the approaching darkness, showing anyone and everyone that classic films not only matter but that they are important, smart, fun, and life changing.  And all we have to do is watch the films we love, read the books we enjoy, and listen to the stories that people want to tell us.

DVD Haul! A Morning At The Princeton Record Exchange

Today I finally got to go to one of my favorite places to find classic films on DVDs (and Blu Rays), a little place called The Princeton Record Exchange.  Located in Princeton, NJ (funnily enough) this is a shop that sells various CDs, DVDs, and vinyl providing customers with tons of different movies, music, and TV shows.  They are also staffed by some truly friendly, knowledgable, and helpful staff (Hi to Mike who was nice enough to cut open our emergency stroller)!  And where else can you get an $8 Criterion or a $6 Blu Ray?!

So, without further ado…here is my haul!

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What I Got

THE GOOD FAIRY – Margaret Sullavan and Herbert Marshall in a film directed by William Wyler and written by Preston Sturges?!  How have I not seen this one yet??

Literary Classics Double Feature – Both versions of THE PRISONER OF ZENDA!

A STAR IS BORN – Janet Gaynor and Frederic March in the original film about a wife whose star is rising even as her husband’s is falling.

DR. MABUSE; THAN GAMBLER – This is not one that I had heard of but it looks to be something like a serial directed by Fritz Lang with “shoot-outs, car chases, bomb explosions, (and) gruesome deaths…” Color me intrigued.

THE WILDCAT – Being a fan of Fritzi’s over at Movies Silently, I am always alert for the name Pola Negri.  When I saw that it was directed by Ernst Lubitsch I knew that I had to get this one!

THE BELOVED ROUGE – This is another one thanks to Fritzi and her video review of this John Barrymore silent flick.

THE VIVIEN LEIGH ANNIVERSARY COLLECTION – This collection has FIRE OVER ENGLAND, STORM IN A TEACUP, DARK JOURNEY, and ST. MARTIN’S LANE.

THE AFRICAN QUEEN – Commemorative Box Set on Blue Ray!

FRANK CAPRA THE EARLY COLLECTION – I have wanted this collection for a long time because I loved THE MIRACLE WOMAN.  It also has LADIES OF LEISURE, RAIN OR SHINE, FORBIDDEN, and THE BITTER TEA OF GENERAL YEN.

LADY OF BURLESQUE – I will watch Babara Stanwyck in anything…and this is one that I haven’t seen yet…and it is directed by William Wellman!

I AM A FUGITIVE FROM A CHAIN GANG – Paul Muni pre-code for only $8!

Criterion Collection – I grabbed a bunch of Criterions for less than $15 each!  THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST, BLACK NARCISSUS, and GREEN FOR DANGER were all over half off!  I splurged on a Criterion edition of REBECCA because it is out of print and I love that movie!


If you are ever in the Princeton area I highly recommend heading over to The Princeton Record Exchange.  They are continuing to build up their classics collection and there were TONS that I didn’t get!  They also give you a 6% discount if you pay with cash, just FYI.

Let me know if you ever head over that way and I might just see you there…because I am sure that I will be back!

Upcoming Blogathons, NEW Blogathon, Blog Announcements

January is here and there are many things happening!  Not only do I have THREE blogathons that I am participating in this month, BUT I have a few blog announcements!

First up let’s recap the blogathons that are coming up this month:

January 17th – Contrary to Popular Opinion Blogathon hosted by SisterCelluloid and MoviesSilently, I will be contributing an “anti” post about DR ZHIVAGO 

January 22-25th – Miriam Hopkins Blogathon hosted by SilverScreenings and ASmallPressLife, I’ll be writing a post about TROUBLE IN PARADISE

January 31st – Dueling Divas Blogathon hosted by Backlots, I will be writing about the relationship between Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine

And NOW I am joining a new blogathon coming up this March and I am so so so so excited about it!  I am so excited, in fact, that I am doing TWO blog posts for it!  It is the Pre-Code Blogathon hosted by Danny at Pre-Code.com and ShadowsandSatin, running March 31st-April 3rd.  I am planning to write about two films, SAFE IN HELL and THE STRANGE LOVE OF MOLLY LOUVAIN.

I am so excited about this newest blogathon, since I have a deep and abiding love for pre-code films, that I am planning to spend the month of March watching nothing but pre-code films!  This is still in the early stages but I am thinking that this blogathon is the perfect excuse to watch all eight volumes of FORBIDDEN HOLLYWOOD from the Warner Archive.

Finally, a great big THANK YOU to everyone who has read this blog, left comments, RT’d entries on Twitter, liked my links on Facebook, or supported the blog in anyway!  We are over 1,000 views already and I can’t wait to share more movies with all of you!

The Awesomeness of the Warner Archive Podcast

Being a classic film lover in these modern times often means that we are finding new and technologically advanced ways to express, share, and cultivate our collections and enjoyment of classic films.  In days past there were fan clubs, magazines, records, VHS tapes, running home to set your VCR for the movie playing that night, and radio shows.  Today we have blogs, DVDs, Blu Rays, DVRs, Twitter accounts, Facebook, and of course the podcast.  I am always on the look out for enjoyable and informative podcasts, especially those that relate to my love of classic films and television.  A few months ago I discovered the Warner Archive podcast but have only recently begun to fully appreciate the awesomeness of the thing.  For those who haven’t had the chance to experience it for themselves allow me to inform you just what makes this podcast so great.

The Films

This sort of goes without saying, but let’s say it any way.  I have been a fan of the Warner Archive for a long time, pretty much since it’s inception.  As a young twenty-something, while my friends were spending money on shoes, clothes, or dinners out…I was buying the 1929 version of THE LETTER and a copy of RIPTIDE.  I remember spending hours sitting in front of my computer with my copy of Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie guide browsing the latest additions to the Archive.  I was always able to find something that piqued my interest or captured my attention, and this still remains true when listening to the podcast.  Inevitably, at least once during the episode I will hear some movie mentioned that I have never seen before but one that just sounds too good to miss out on!  And now with the ability to watch these films on my iPad…well let’s just say that my spare time could be taken up very easily.

The Fan Interaction

Not only can you post a question on Facebook or Twitter and get an ANSWER, but it will be from a real person!  And it will be in a reasonable amount of time!  But wait, there’s more!  Fans are invited to send letters in to the podcast to ask questions, request titles, or just talk about what movies are in their DVD collection, and they will all be read on the podcast!  Not only that, but if people send a self addressed stamped envelope along with their letter, I have heard tell that they will receive a gift from the podcast in return.  This might not seem like a big deal but I have found the fan interaction a real joy and a big component of the enjoyment I get from the podcast.  Part of being a fan of anything is being able to not only share your enjoyment with other fans, but also those “powers-that-be” for lack of a better word.  It really makes the entire experience more like a one-on-one conversation with a fellow enthusiast versus lip service from a corporation.  And at the end of the day, the classic film fan community is more like a family and this easily accessible communication definitely has friendly feeling.

The Hosts

George, DW, and Matt are really the linchpin of the whole podcast experience.  If the hosts aren’t good then usually the podcast won’t work as well as it could.  Luckily, this trio is fantastic!  They each have their own areas of expertise, but they all have a great deal of knowledge about the films and television shows that they talk about.  Listening to them discuss various movies or shows, you feel like you are sitting around listening to three friends chat, argue, and share their thoughts and opinions.  But for me, the thing that really makes this podcast special is the palpable enthusiasm coming from these three.  It is a situation where you don’t always have to like the subject or movie being talked about, just the passion and glee that George, DW, and Matt have when talking about them will suck you in.  And at the end of the day, isn’t that what you want in a podcast?

Every week I look forward to listening to a new episode of the podcast, and luckily there are plenty of old episodes backed up to get me through during the interim.  It’s is definitely a podcast that all classic movie fans would enjoy and I definitely recommend it highly!  So, thanks George, DW, and Matt!  I’m a big fan!

I’m always on the look out for new classic film podcasts to enjoy so tell me, what podcasts do you listen to?  Let me know in a comment below what podcasts you think are great and what ones you think I should give a listen to!

How to Make Friends and Influence People (to Love Classic Films)

Recently I came across a blog post written by the fantastic Vanessa over at bawler.blogspot.com.  Her post, which can be found here, is about the solitary nature of being a classic film fan.  It extends into all aspects of your social life, including your romantic entanglements as Vanessa describes.  Her post got me thinking…and inspired me to write one of my own.

If you can name the two actors and the movie, we should be friends! Also, do you feel like this when you try to convince someone to watch a classic film with you?

I have always been a fan of classic films, even before I knew that they were classic films.  I grew up watching THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD, and THE GREAT ESCAPE with my Dad.  My sister and I watched THE WIZARD OF OZ so many times there are parts of the VHS tape that are worn down.  I loved MR. HOBBES TAKES A VACATION, THE TROUBLE WITH ANGELS, and the “Road Movies” from Bob Hope and Bing Crosby from the time I was ten years old.  I still remember the summer I was fourteen and had just finished reading GONE WITH THE WIND.  What better way to celebrate than by going to see the film as it was re-released in theaters?  I have always been watching classic films.  It was just a part of who I was.  So imagine my surprise when I found out that most people my age didn’t share my passion.  Imagine my shock when, after telling one of my friends that I liked “old movies”, she responded “Oh, you mean from like 1980?”.

It was the same story whenever I tried to talk classic films with people my own age.  They usually said something along the lines of, “I don’t like black and white movies” or “Old movies are boring”.  Boring?!  How could they say that?   Hadn’t they ever seen the sword fights in THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD?  Steve McQueen in THE GREAT ESCAPE?  The madcap antics of BRINGING UP BABY?  The quick patter of any of the “Road Movies”?  SOME LIKE IT HOT?!  It didn’t matter.  No matter what I said or examples I gave, my friends usually just shrugged and changed the subject.  Forget getting a boyfriend who liked classic films, I couldn’t even get a friend to watch one with me!  So, I spent my time watching classic movies either alone or with my family.  And it was fine, really lovely actually, spending that time and sharing those films.

But after reading Vanessa’s post, I started thinking about it again.  You see, I have a son.  He isn’t old enough to watch movies with me yet, but I am hoping that he will grow up to share Mom’s passion for classic films.  I am already planning a ROBIN HOOD viewing party.  I also have a husband who, though initially resistant, has started to watch movies with me and even enjoy them.  I know that he liked Daphne in SOME LIKE IT HOT, and after watching TO BE OR NOT TO BE he declared his favorite part to be “The part when they were in Poland” which I take to mean that he liked the whole movie. But I still have no friends my own age who share my love of classic film.  The only people who have ever looked at me with surprise and recognition when I start talking about Cary Grant, Myrna Loy, or William Powell are well above my age bracket.  Why is that?  Why don’t more young people love these movies?  I don’t mind talking to someone’s grandma or great uncle about why THE PHILADELPHIA STORY is so great (answer, because it is!), but there is a part of me that would really love to have a friend my own age to go to lunch with and discuss who was the better son in the Charlie Chan series (my vote is for number one son).

I have some theories.  Maybe it has something to do with the fact that most classic film fans have a love of reading.  Not just reading, not just HUNGER GAMES and FIFTY SHADES OF GREY, not just a quick skim of a magazine or an iPhone screen, but READING reading.  The kind of reading that means Dickens, Tolstoy, Austen, and even G.R.R. Martin.  The kind of reading that goes everywhere with you, on the train, at lunch, even to the shower.  The majority of classic film fans that I have come across seem to have a love of reading and books.  I count myself among them.  I have shelves and shelves of classic films on DVD, and piles and piles of books.  Along with a love of classic films, I have always had a love of reading and books.  And this is another thing that most of my friends don’t share. Let’s be honest, the majority of people today don’t read that much.  For most people in their thirties or younger reading isn’t a pleasure activity, its homework.  But classic films are far more literate than the popular films made today.  Of course every once in a while a movie is made today with witty dialogue and a complex story.  But the majority of films, the ones that make the most money, are not on the same literate scale as THE PHILADELPHIA STORY, HIS GIRL FRIDAY, or TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD.  Could this be a reason?  Could classic films be considered “too hard” to be enjoyable?  Or is it something less intellectual?  Is it something as simple as the world has changed?  Looking at what is considered important in today’s culture, looking at what is of value to the majority of the younger population, looking at what is considered “cool”, it doesn’t seem to mesh up with the values, standards, and stories put forward in these classic films.  With so much emphasis placed on being cool and accepted, no wonder most younger people reject classic movies.  But my Dad used to say that certain books and movie were like candy, easy and enjoyable but not that fulfilling.  And while I enjoy having candy every now and then, who doesn’t, I really prefer to have something that I can sink my teeth and my brain into.

So Vanessa, if you are reading this, I am a thirty year old classic film fan who loves to read…let’s be friends!  🙂