Monday, June 7, 2010

Selected short subjects

There’s going to be just a teensy delay in today’s installment of Mayberry Mondays…owing to the fact that I haven’t written it yet. I had planned to work on it yesterday but I had a few distractions, including a dinner invitation at the Double K Ranch. But I spent a good part of the day tweaking my computer in order to be able to do what the kids are calling “screen caps,” and I’d especially like to thank Stacia Jones, She Blogged by Night chronicler and computer technician extraordinaire, for her assistance because as she herself noted during the many experiments: “Windows is a fussy creature, she is.” (By the way, that’s not a photo of Stacia on the right—that’s just some guy who works in her laboratory.)

The Internets have been abuzz lately with the exhilarating news about classic film treasures being recently unearthed. At Greenbriar Picture Shows, John McElwee spreads the exciting announcement of a lost and previously unknown Charlie Chaplin appearance in a one-reel comedy—a 1914 Keystone effort entitled A Thief Catcher, which stars Ford Sterling, Mack Swain and Edgar Kennedy. Chaplin has an extended cameo in the short as a policeman. Paul E. Gierucki, one of the “Godfathers” of the Silent Comedy Mafia, discovered this incredible find…that’s really the only proper adjective to use, incredible.

Dave Kehr of the New York Times has a must-read article about the recent cache of silent treasures unearthed from the New Zealand Film Archive, including a late silent film directed by John Ford (Upstream [1927]), a short directed by the great silent comedy star Mabel Normand (Won in a Cupboard [1914]) and a period costume drama from 1923 (Maytime) starring Clara Bow. There are seventy-five films in total, and two of these will be restored thanks to the fundraising efforts of the recent For the Love of Film blogathon—a 1910 western entitled The Sergeant (this is the film that will appear on the fifth edition of the Treasures from the American Film Archive DVD), filmed on location “in Yosemite Valley before the National Park Service even existed,” notes the Self-Styled Siren, and The Better Man (1912), a Vitagraph western “in which a Mexican-American outlaw proves himself the better man,” according to Marilyn Ferdinand at Ferdy on Films.

And one note. Perhaps you didn't donate in February. The rent was due, the cat was sick, the kids had cavities, Nathan Detroit showed up at the door to remind you of a pressing debt of honor. It is not too late. The donation link still works. And the NFPF is still working to repatriate all those films, and there will always be others.

Those aren’t my words, but a pronouncement from the Siren herownself. Learn it. Know it. Live it.

Speaking of the inestimable Mr. Kehr, he’s also written a nice essay on the comedic prowess of TDOY idol Bob Hope in light of the upcoming release of Bob Hope: Thanks For the Memories, due out tomorrow. Dave’s right on the money regarding Hope’s early film resume but he does commit the all-too-common film critic fox paw of calling Road to Morocco (1942) “the third and possibly funniest of the ‘Road’ pictures.” (I’m beginning to suspect that none of these individuals has seen Road to Utopia [1945]. By the way, I’ve plugged this box set so much now I think Universal should send me a gratis copy. Just sayin’.)

John Farr—“writer, editor and lecturer on timeless film”—has a rant up at The Huffington Post that hits a little close to home for an individual who’s done his fair share of tearing out his hair at the way the movie industry is convinced that everyone going to the movies thinks like a ten-year-old. Entitled “Message to Hollywood: The Viewer is Not a Moron,” I liked quite a bit what Farr is on his soapbox about, particularly this passage:

For example, I love action films and thrillers; all I ask for is a decent, somewhat distinctive story, with characters I can remember and care about. I'm also fond of sex comedies and women's pictures, if done well. In fact, one of my favorite classics is "The Women" (1939), written by Clare Boothe Luce. The movie concerns nothing more than a bunch of women engaging in poisonous gossip about a friend whose husband is dallying with a shop girl- not exactly a lofty premise, but nevertheless executed with taste, cleverness, and flair.

In fact, "The Women" is everything "Sex and The City-2" should have been for our time, if the industry thought it even needed to care about such outmoded qualities as cleverness and flair.


In addition, the list of critically acclaimed classic and foreign films that remain unavailable on DVD defies logic, as well as innumerable stellar titles that were available, but have since been "discontinued". Predictably, studio executives will claim there was limited demand for these films. But how can there be anything more than limited demand if you don't properly promote these movies in the first place? Short answer: there can't be.

Sure, he’s preaching to the choir—but he’s certainly got a witness over in this small scrap of the blogosphere.

Mark Evanier notes the death of veteran comic book and comic strip artist Tony DiPreta, who hung up his pen this past Wednesday (June 2) at the age of 88. He talks about DiPreta’s early career in comic books—something I must reluctantly admit I don’t know that much about, but I was aware that he took over for Mo Leff, assistant to strip creator Ham Fisher, in drawing Joe Palooka from 1959 until its run ended in 1984…and that he also drew Rex Morgan, MD after the demise of the Palooka strip until his retirement in 2000. R.I.P, Mr. DiPreta—both the funny pages and I mourn your passing.

Finally, my esteemed blogging colleague from across the pond, Matthew Coniam, notes the passing of the long-running Britcom Last of the Summer Wine in a post at his Eccentrica Britannica blog. He’s taken some quotes from an article he composed on the show for The Kettering and applied them to his essay…and naturally, because shameless self-promotion is what it’s all about here at TDOY, some of those quotes are from an American blogger who scribbles a good deal about classic movies, television and old-time radio. (I’ll let you guess who that individual is.)

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Stacia said...

I'd love to find a full list of those shorts being restored out of the 75 films found, especially since there was a tantalizing mention of Mack Sennett in regards to Mabel Normand's movie, which I really want to see.

I'm also unusually excited about the industrial Stetson Company short "Birth of a Hat".

When that photo of my minion er I mean the guy next to the "computer" first made the rounds, I knew several people who thought it was real, despite the obviously Photoshopped steering wheel.

Scott said...

As someone who has gotten soul-shriveling notes from producers and directors...
(PRODUCER: No kid's gonna get that reference.
ME: Well, how about if we have a couple of jokes for adults, and just aim Ninety-eight percent of the story at ADHD-afflicted 12-year olds?)
...I can say, with all due sadness, that you'll never see the like of The Women again, for the simple reason that Hollywood no longer buys up the film rights to sparkling, literate stage plays; nowadays all the underlying properies are comic books, old TV shows, and video games.

And even if you had a reincarnated Irving Thalberg running a resurrected MGM, there aren't any plays to buy anymore. Virtually every hit show on Broadway is a musical or British import, or both. Not even a brilliant and critically lauded show like SUPERIOR DONUTS could eke out more than a three month run -- not exactly the sort of sizzling hot property an EVP fresh from the Wharton School would want to snap up and turn into a 60 million dollar movie. Maybe the digital film revolution and direct distribution channels will make those kinds of films feasible again, but it would take a major change in the current economic model of stage production for straight plays to make a significant return to Broadway.

But I still maintain hope that the rise of broadband streaming and digital downloads will mean that no classic (or even just old) film will linger in studio vaults anymore, just as its means that no book need ever again go out of print.