I decided it might be a good idea to make what’s known as a “sticky post” here on the front page for those coming in who might be concerned about spoilers. In these posts I’m going to be talking about varying aspects of movies that I’ve been watching, This may include writing about things that some would consider spoilers, including, at times, the endings of these movies. Those who are particularly spoiler averse may want to avoid reading these posts if they are planning to watch the movie in question. In certain circumstances where I will be discussing events towards the end of the movie, including the ending in at least a vague way, or when a movie contains a particular plot twist that might be considered major, I will try to post a more specific spoiler warning, because I do recognize that even though I may be writing about a movie that is decades old, it’s still going to be new to some people. Okay, with that out of the way, let’s get on with it, shall we?
Okay, so usually “Silent Sunday” is a day where I just post a short introduction and then let the movie “speak” (even though there’s no actual speaking) for itself. It’s a nice bit, and a fitting theme, and honestly a nice way to get a day’s worth of content up with minimal effort. Unfortunately though, it’s also a bit constricting at times, so I’m working on ways to change that, but, for today, while I’m still figuring out just what I want to do with that, I thought we’d explore something a little different.
So, in that vein, I thought I’d do a little experiment to see what would come up when I put the phrase “How to watch silent film” into the search bar on YouTube.
I mean, let’s be honest, watching silent films is a completely different experience not only from watching today’s movies, but even from watching those from just a few years after the introduction of sound. How could it not be? Even discounting the earliest films when the sheer novelty of watching “moving pictures” in a theater was a source of wonder, since at that point film was a more purely (though definitely not exclusively, and that’s something we’ll explore much more at another time) visual medium, it evolved a language and acting style that was more expressive and more suited to that kind of story telling.
Of course, this acting style is also a reflection of the fact that many of the earliest actors (and audiences, for that matter) were more accustomed to staged performances which encouraged broader performances that could reach the back of a large theater, and it took awhile for adjustments to be made for the more intimate portrayals that could be accomplished on film. This was something that even the early “talkies” were still often dealing with. One only has to look at Universal’s classic Dracula to see this effect. One of the most often-leveled criticisms of it by modern audiences is that it seems “stagey”, which should come as no surprise since it was adapted from a stage play and Bela Lugosi first honed his performance of the character in that play rather than coming to it fresh with the eyes of a film actor.
Anyway, I thought since we’re starting a new year, it might be a good time to take a fresh look at just how we watch these films. Thus, the search “How to watch silent films?” And, as I suppose you might expect, my search only really came up with a couple of real answers, I mean, let’s be honest, it’s not exactly a hot-button topic at the moment. So, I’ve also decided to include a couple of other items of interest on the topic.
Btw, understand that I’m not necessarily endorsing these videos, nor am I saying that any of these are the way that I would introduce a newcomer to the world of silent film. (We’ll get to that in a bit, possibly.) But there are a few pretty good takeaways here, and sometimes it’s good just to take a step back and take a fresh look at things. So here you go:
Okay, I know I said I was going to be posting a follow-up to Thursday’s column on the Public Domain status of the John Wayne movie McLintock! today, but to be honest, it’s more complex than you might think, and since part of the reason for shifting things around here was to give myself the time to go as in-depth as I really want to on some of these issues rather than simply post something because it’s time to, I’ve decided to put that off for a couple of days so I can do it properly.
However, rather than not give you anything today, I’ve decided to go ahead start up one of the new “occasional” features that I’m bringing to the blog.
Short films, when they’re done right, can truly be some of the most interesting works out there. The key to that sentence, though, is “when they’re done right”. All too often, however, it can seem like the film makers behind shorts simply have a scene or two that they have fallen in love with and that they want to put on film, but they forget that no matter the length or limitations they are working within, they still need to tell a full story with a beginning, a middle and an end. Otherwise, well, you haven’t really made a film, have you? You’ve just shot a scene or a series of images.
(Unless, I suppose, you’re trying to go for a surrealist vibe or something like that, but those films are a case unto themselves.)
So what I want to do here is spotlight some of those films that I think do get it right, and that, since most theaters don’t show shorts ahead of features anymore, unless you’re specifically looking for them, you most likely won’t see.
Now, I’ll admit that you could accuse me of stacking the deck by starting off with this one, since not only is it animated (which actually, I think, lends itself just a bit more to the short film), but it was nominated for an Academy Award (yes, there are actually three short-film categories that receive Oscars – Animated, Live-Action, and Documentary – and, even more interestingly, they are one of the few categories that allow international entries, which, given the fact that Hollywood has forgotten how to make a movie under 3 hours and 47 minutes is probably a necessity), but even given that, I’m still willing to bet that most of you out there haven’t seem it.
Animal Behaviour is a 2018 short film from Canada, written and directed by directed by Alison Snowden and David Fine. Its cast includes Ryan Beil as Dr. Clement, Taz VanRassel as Victor the ape, Leah Juel as Lorraine the leech, Andrea Libman as Cheryl the mantis, Toby Berner as Todd the pig, James Kirk as Jeffrey the bird, and Snowden herself as Linda the cat. It has a total run time of just over 14 minutes.
Which means, you can watch the whole thing below in probably less time that it took you to read this blathery introduction.
Yeah, I know I threw some of you yesterday when I said I was going to do a follow-up to that post on Saturday, which is usually when I post the Double Feature, but that’s because I knew (and y’all didn’t yet) that the DF was moving to Friday.
So, the way the Double Feature usually works is that I pick a movie that’s opening this weekend and pair it up with a movie from the past (I like to generally go 80s or before, but that’s variable, especially now that we’ve moved into 2020 which means that even movies that came out before 2000 are older than this year’s crop of college freshmen) that relates to it in some way. It could be thematically, it could be an actor or director, it could even just be something that the title reminds me of. The main point is just to hopefully introduce some folks to movies that they may not know about or perhaps just re-contextualize things a bit.
But, here’s the thing. January is pretty well known as a dumping ground for the studios. They’ve saturated the market with their Oscar hopefuls, trying to get them qualified with December screenings, and at the same and at the same time they’ve dropped the last of their blockbusters trying to get all the folks bored with their families and the holidays or who have extra time off into the theaters to get that nice big year-end boost of cash. So that doesn’t leave much for January, and this year is starting off as no exception, with the only movie opening wide this week being the latest take on The Grudge, and honestly, that just left me kind of uninspired.
So, I seriously considered just skipping this week and re-starting the column next week until I realized that there was a big flick that came out recently that I hadn’t done a column on, and once i gave it a little thought, i realized that I knew the absolute perfect film to pair it with.
Which brings us to… Cats. Yeah, the nightmare musical. The CGI monstrosity that should never have been made (or at least not made this way). Okay, yeah, I know it’s got singing cockroaches with human faces, and you might think that would redeem it some, but in the end even that can’t save it.
It wasn’t until I was listening to somebody talk about the “plot” of this movie that it occurred to me that it was… extremely familiar.
Okay, so the way I understand it, the main “story” of Cats is that each year, this particular group of “jelly-bowl cats” has to get together and perform a song and dance routine to introduce themselves to the group (even though they do this every year) and to try to please the main high-father cat, Old Dootybooty, and if they do, then they get to… umm… die and go to the afterlife? live and go to the afterlife? eat a can of Afterlife Flavored 9 Lives cat food? I dunno, but apparently it’s something that they all want to do even if they’re only on, say, life three of their supposed nine.
Maybe it’s one of those karmic reincarnation things where actually having nine lives is a punishment and they’re supposed to be learning from each one, and once they hit the 9th they’re stuck unless Ol’ Geteroffame says they’re worthy? But only one gets chosen each year, so what happens to the ones already on their ninth that die before the next round of Jenitals Got Talent?
Oh! I gt it now! That’s where the roaches come from! Okay, see all you unbelievers out there? It does make perfect sense after all!
Anyway, like I was saying, I was listening to someone describe this and it suddenly struck me that I had seen this exact same plot before. A group of creatures gets together, has to perform for their king, and if they please him enough, they get to move on to the afterlife?
Yeah, I know that movie.
Ed Wood Jr. made it 54 years ago.
Only he called it Orgy of the Dead.
Oh, and instead of filling his movie with some kind of hybrid (or possibly inbred) cat creatures from outer space, he filled it with women from the local burlesque show who strip down to their panties and don’t even try to sing – they just have to do an interpretive dance that relates to who they were in life.
Other than that, and the fact that the person they are dancing for is the “King of the Night” (played with his usual gusto by Wood regular Criswell) and instead of cats, the ones looking to move on to a more positive afterlife are the spirits of the dead who killed their lovers or committed other crimes, meaning their motivation actually makes more sense than what we are given in the “respectable” movie, it’s almost exactly the same “plot”.
Oh, and Wood also inserts a slight subplot about a writer’s-blocked author and his wife who are driving at night, have a wreck, stumble upon the proceedings, are eventually discovered, are then forced to watch, and are threatened with being dispatched before the end of the night, meaning there’s actually some extra tension beyond just who can give the king a boner worthy of the afterlife (and apparently I could be talking quite literally about either movie here, since that’s what they both seem to boil down to).
Oh, and did I happen to mention that Wood throws in a mummy and a werewolf and a Vampira knockoff just for good measure?
And that nobody has to eat tap-dancing cockroaches? (Yes, that’s really what happens… apparently Rebel Wilson strips out of her fur (?!?!) and eats them before they can get away!)
And that Wood even has a dancer that starts out (for reasons I can’t remember at the moment) in a cat costume that is far less disturbing than anything in the newer movie?
Anyway, I know that there are those horror movie fans out there that will opt for the most terrifying thing they can find in to watch, and for you guys it’s going to be a tough choice between Cats and The Grudge, but for me, well the choice of what to watch seems quite obvious.
Here’s your very NSFW trailer:
Between this blog and my previous one, Professor Damian’s Public Domain Treasure Chest, I’ve been writing about movies for quite a while now. Because of that, there are a lot of posts that have simply gotten lost to the mists of time. So, I figured I’d use the idea of “Throwback Thursday” to spotlight some of those older posts, re-presenting them pretty much exactly as they first appeared except for updating links where necessary or possible, and doing just a bit of re-formatting to help them fit better into the style of this blog. Hope you enjoy these looks back.
Okay, you’ll notice that in the intro I reference my previous blog, Professor Damian’s Public Domain Treasure Chest, and since we celebrated Public Domain Day yesterday, I thought it might bea good time to look back at the very first post that appeared on that blog, and if you’re expecting it to be some black and white creeper from the 20s, well, you may be surprised.
So here we go, from way back in February of 2010…
(Oh, and just to show how complicated all of this copyright/public domain business can be, I’m planning a follow-up post for Saturday on the current status of McLintock!.
Yes. For Saturday. “But what about the Saturday Double Feature?!”
Hey, I told you there were going to be some changes around here, didn’t i?
Monday Oaters – McLintock! (1963) starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara
Hello, kiddies! Or perhaps today I should say “Howdy, Pilgrims!” It’s your humble host Professor Damian with today’s offering from the public domain treasure chest, and we’re starting off with a great one!
In 1963, 13 years after they had first appeared together in the John Ford epic Rio Grande and 11 years after they both appeared in what may be Wayne’s greatest non-western movie, The Quiet Man, John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara came together once again to bring the story of The Taming of the Shrew to the wild west.
In the movie, Wayne plays George Washington McLintock, a cattle baron, mine owner, lumberyard boss, and generally the biggest man (physically and financially) in a town that has even been named after him. However, no matter how big McLintock may be, his biggest challenge may have just arrived on the morning train. No, it’s not a gunslinger come to challenge the rancher. Or even one of the new settlers who are intent on farming land given to them by the government. No, the true challenge to McLintock’s power (and his sanity) is his estranged wife, Katherine (O’Hara) who has just returned to town to meet up with their daughter, Becky, (Stephanie Powers) who is coming home from college. Katherine plans to take Becky east to start a new life, but McLintock is, shall we say, less than thrilled with the idea.
The sparks soon begin to fly, but the question soon becomes: will the two exes simply burn each other up, or are the sparks merely a prelude to renewed romantic fireworks?
The film definitely has its ups and downs. The chemistry between the two leads is immediately obvious, and they are backed by a supporting cast that not only includes Powers and Wayne’s son Patrick and daughter Aissa, but also the lovely Yvonne De Carlo (yes, Lily Munster herself), Jerry Van Dyke, Bruce Cabot, Strother Martin, and Chill Wills as Mclintock’s right hand man Drago.
The highlight of the movie has to be the oft highlighted “mud fight scene”, which begins with Drago trying to calm his boss down. “I know, I know. I’m gonna use good judgement,” Mclintock says through gritted teeth. “I haven’t lost my temper in forty years, but pilgrim you caused a lot of trouble this morning, might have got somebody killed… and somebody oughta belt you in the mouth. But I won’t.” He begins to turn away. “I won’t… The HELL I won’t!”
And with that he belts the other man, knocking him down a hill and into a mud pit. Donnybrooking soon ensues. (The entire scene can be seen here.)
On the negative side, the movie is definitely a product of its time and attitudes. One of the reasons that I chose to feature the poster above is that it highlights one of the scenes that has been, in later years, highly criticised. Actually there are two spanking scenes in the movie, one in which Mclintock turns Katherine over his knee, another which involves Becky and her fiancee. For those who are offended by that kind of thing, I can only say that it seems to me sort of part-and-parcel with the whole Taming of the Shrew theme, and also that throughout the movie, it seems that both women for the most part give as good as they get.
Then there is the portrayal of Native Americans. I’m not even going to try to defend this one, though I will say that it seems at least a bit more enlightened than some of Wayne’s earlier “Injun Fighter” westerns. At a couple of points, McLintock is shown as a fighter for indian rights and rescues a Comanche friend from hanging for a crime he didn’t commit. At one point, one of the characters even has the dialogue “Yes, I know I’m an Indian. But I’m also the fastest runner in town. I’ve got a college education and I’m also the railroad telegrapher. But does anybody say ‘Hello Runner’ or ‘Hello College Man’ or ‘Hello Telegrapher’? No! Not even ‘Hello Knothead’! It’s always ‘Let the Indian do it.'”
So how did a movie from 1963 with a major star like John Wayne, produced by his own Batjac production company wind up in the Public Domain? The answer is simple. When the movie was made, in 1963, the term for copyrights was 28 years with a possible 28 year extension. When the time for renewal came up in 1991, Wayne’s son, Michael, who was in charge of Batjac at the time, failed to file for the extension. Therefore it automatically fell into the Public Domain.
And now, just to whet your appetite and give you a taste of this gem from the Public Domain, here is the trailer for McLintock!
OK, enough commentary. Here’s the skinny:
Release Date: 1963
Running Time: 127 min.
Stars: John Wayne, Mureen O’Hara, Patrick Wayne, Stephanie Powers
Director: Andrew V. McLaglen
Producer: Michael Wayne
Production Company: Batjac
Distributed by: United Artists
Until next time, Happy Treasure Hunting
Looking back, I see that I wasn’t blogging this time last year, and that’s a shame, because that’s the first time i would have been able to wish you a Happy Public Domain Day instead of an (Un)Happy one as had become the annual tradition around here. Why? Because last year was the first in far, far too long that new items were actually allowed to enter the Public Domain here in the U.S.
Why it’s almost enough to make me want to revive my old blog, Professor Damian’s Public Domain Treasure Chest.
But not quite.
I do have some ideas about what to do with some of that material and research, but that will have to wait for another time. Today we’re here to celebrate!
So what is Public Domain Day? well, as of last year, it the day that we celebrate new works actually entering the Public Domain. Of course, it’s still only a partial celebration, since, up until the copyright law was changes in 1978 and subsequently, most of the items we’re celebrating today would have become your property much, much earlier, and there is a treasure trove of material that should be available that won’t be for years to come. As a matter of fact, the ones that would have been released before those changes won’t actually become part of the common weal until 2058. Again, though, that only applies to the U.S. Other countries have other laws regarding copyright and the Public Domain, so depending on where you’re reading this from, you may have more or less reason to celebrate.
So wait… I keep using this term “Public Domain”, but what exactly is the Public Domain, and what does it mean if a work is part of it? Well, to quote the Duke Law School’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain
The public domain is the realm of material — ideas, images, sounds, discoveries, facts, texts — that is unprotected by intellectual property rights and free for all to use or build upon. It includes our collective cultural and scientific heritage, and the raw materials for future expression, research, democratic dialogue and education.
To take that a little further,
Public domain material is “free” as in “free speech,” not “free” as in “free beer” — because it is unprotected by intellectual property rights, it is free of centralized control as a legal matter, and you can use it without having to get permission. But we hope that in many cases it would also be available at little or no cost. So for example, the works of Charles Dickens are in the public domain even though they are still for sale, but if you love A Tale of Two Cities you can freely translate it, make it into a movie, or turn it into a present-day tale of two cities without permission. Conversely, many copyrighted works may be available free of cost online, but because they are copyrighted you would need permission before translating or selling or adapting them.
Okay, all of that is fine, I hear you say, but how can I actually use material that’s in the Public Domain?, Well…
Below are only a few examples of activities enabled by a robust public domain… Artists of all kinds — writers, musicians, filmmakers, painters — rely on the public domain: “Poetry can only be made out of other poems, novels out of other novels,” as the critic Northrop Frye put it. Creators draw on previous works, and on the cultural artifacts around them; they remix vintage footage with new clips, turn books into plays and musicals, borrow lyrics and melodies from old songs, adapt classic stories to present day circumstances. For example, you or your children may have been transfixed by Disney’s beloved versions of Cinderella, Snow White, Pinocchio, and The Little Mermaid, which are based on public domain works by Charles Perrault, The Brothers Grimm, Carlo Collodi, and Hans Christian Anderson….
Libraries, museums, historians, archivists, teachers, filmmakers, publishers, and database creators rely on the public domain to collect, preserve, and teach us about our past. Anyone can freely restore and digitize works published in 1924 and before, but far too many projects have had to abandon older works because of the extraordinarily long copyright term. Libraries avoid digitizing important resources, archives and databases are incomplete, important historical images are redacted from documentaries, museums cannot publish or digitize millions of pages of archival documents, photographs, oral histories, and reels of film (as the US Copyright Office has explained), all because the copyright ownership of these orphan works cannot be determined…
The case of film preservation is particularly troubling because older films are literally disintegrating, soon to be lost forever. The overwhelming majority of our cinematic heritage consists of orphan films — they are covered by copyright but have no ascertainable copyright owner. They include newsreels, documentaries, anthropological films, portraits of minority life in the United States, instructional films, and even some Hollywood studio productions. Because copyright law prevents scholars and citizens from using these orphan films (including copying and restoring them for preservation), the existing copies are actually disintegrating….
So after all that, what is actually entering the Public Domain today? Well, here are just a few examples:
- Buster Keaton’s Sherlock, Jr. and The Navigator
- Harold Lloyd’s Girl Shy and Hot Water
- The first film adaptation of Peter Pan
- The Sea Hawk
- He Who Gets Slapped
- Dante’s Inferno
- Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain
- E.M. Forster, A Passage to India
- Ford Madox Ford, Some Do Not… (the first volume of his “Parade’s End” tetralogy)
- Eugene O’Neill, Desire Under the Elms
- Edith Wharton, Old New York (four novellas)
- Yevgeny Zamyatin, We (the English translation by Gregory Zilboorg)
- A.A. Milne, When We Were Very Young
- Hugh Lofting, Doctor Dolittle’s Circus
- Edgar Rice Burroughs, Tarzan and the Ant Men
- Agatha Christie, The Man in the Brown Suit
- Lord Dunsany (Edward Plunkett), The King of Elfland’s Daughter
- Rhapsody in Blue, George Gershwin
- Fascinating Rhythm and Oh, Lady Be Good, music George Gershwin, lyrics Ira Gershwin
- Lazy, Irving Berlin
- Jealous Hearted Blues, Cora “Lovie” Austin (composer, pianist, bandleader) (recorded by Ma Rainey)
- Santa Claus Blues, Charley Straight and Gus Kahn (recorded by Louis Armstrong)
- Nobody’s Sweetheart, music Billy Meyers and Elmer Schoebel, lyrics Gus Kahn and Ernie Erdman
And so, so, much more. All of which is great, and cause to celebrate. But when you look at what might have been before the changes in the law, well, I’ll quote one last time:
…under the laws that were in effect until 1978, thousands of works from 1963 would be entering the public domain this year. They range from the books The Fire Next Time and Where the Wild Things Are, to the film The Birds and the albums and The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, and much more. Have a look at some of the others. In fact, since copyright used to come in renewable terms of 28 years, and 85% of authors did not renew, 85% of the works from 1991 might be entering the public domain! Imagine what the great libraries of the world—or just internet hobbyists—could do: digitizing those holdings, making them available for education and research, for pleasure and for creative reuse.
Anyway, let’s be positive and grateful today that we’re finally getting something, and that congress didn’t change the laws again just to make sure that the giant corporations that either control so much of our media or make it nearly impossible to work with what we do have could maintain mastery over this, too.
And with that, I’ll wish you a Happy Public Domain Day, and also a very, very Happy New Year!
Since Sunday tends to be a day of quiet and reflection for many people, it seems an appropriate day to celebrate silent movies. But in keeping with the “day of rest” theme, I’m just going to post this without any commentary and just sit back and let you enjoy.
You may have noticed that posts here lately have been few and far between. yes, that is partially due to the holidays, but it’s also because I’m working on a pretty major revamp of the site for the upcoming new year.
Now, when i say “revamp”, I’m not so much talking about the look of the site (though I’m sure that could use some work to, and I will get around to it eventually) as I am the content.
So what’s going to change? Well, I’m not quite ready to say just yet, but i will let you in on a couple of things: first, both Silent Sunday and the Double Feature will definitely be hanging around (though even they might undergo some slight changes); second, most of the other features will be hanging around in some form or fashion. The biggest thing you’ll really notice is that I’m going to be moving away from the “this day for this feature” format. For instance, where before it was Monday is Made-for-TV movies and Tuesday is Old Time Radio day, those won’t be set in stone anymore. there will still be features on both of those topics, but the day they show up won’t be quite as rigid.
Why? Well, again, it’s a two part answer. One reason is that I often find myself not quite giving things the time and in-depth attention that I really want to because I feel the pressure to have them ready for posting each week. Quite often lately, I’ve found myself saying “Ooh, I’d like to get into that a little more, but I can’t take the extra day it would take to do the research and write it up because it needs to be posted tomorrow. So in not sticking to that kind of arbitrary, self-imposed deadline, hopefully you, my readers, will be getting more quality writing.
The second reason is simply that I have more ideas and want to try out more different things than that type of format will allow. Some of them will be more involved, some of them may just warrant a trial to see how they work, but the main point right now is simply to give myself just a bit more freedom to let things grow a bit more organically.
Anyway, mostly I just wanted to let you all know at least part of what was going on with the blog and to reassure you that all new content will be coming, starting with our annual “celebration” of Public Domain Day on January 1st.
And between now and then, well, in the words of someone famous “I would like you to do us a favor, though”. If you have any ideas or thoughts or suggestions – things you would like to see, new ideas, things you want to see more of or less of or want to make sure don’t go away or get overlooked, please let me know in the comments below, or you can email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org . I would love to get your input and know what you want to see here. And I promise, no matter how outrageous you think your suggestion might be, if I find it interesting or intriguing, I’ll at least consider it.
Oh, and one last thing: if you’re here and reading this, thank you. I definitely appreciate everyone who comes here and shares a little bit of their day with me. And especially if you like, share, or leave a comment, it means so much.
Now go on, get out of here. Go watch a movie. Do your holiday thing. Spend some time with your family. But don’t forget to pop back by in the new year to see what we’ve gotten up to here.