silent film

What the Dickens? An early celluloid gem & more

What the Dickens? An early celluloid gem & more

Check out the latest tidbit from the Internet time capsule: The British Film Institute has rediscovered what is believed to be the earliest celluloid adaptation of a Charles Dickens story. Granted it’s only a 1-minute long silent film depicting a scene from the Charles Dickens’ novel Bleak House, but it’s still impressive considering its provenance. The silent film is believed to have been made in 1901 by G.A. Smith who was a pretty interesting dude. Apparently he was “a stage hypnotist, psychic, magic lantern lecturer, astronomer, inventor, and one of the pioneers of British cinema.”

Most expensive scene in silent film history

Most expensive scene in silent film history

The above cinemagraph is from the 1926 silent film, THE GENERAL, starring and co-directed by Buster Keaton. And this climatic shot is believed to the single most expensive scene in silent film history, at a cost of $400,000. Considered “one of the greatest of all silent comedies (and Keaton’s own favorite) – and undoubtedly the best train film ever made,” this epic scene, filmed near the town of Cottage Grove, Oregon, used a real train (with a “dummy” conductor) and was shot in a single take.

Sarah Bernhardt: Hot Again

Sarah Bernhardt: Hot Again

French performer and arguably the first international star Sarah Bernhardt (1844-1923) is the subject of the newly released “Sarah : The Life of Sarah Bernhardt,” written by Robert Gottlieb and published by Yale University Press.  Hopefully this book will lead to renewed interest in her life.  Although she’s been dead for almost 90 years, some…

SUNRISE: A Song of Two Humans

SUNRISE: A Song of Two Humans

When F.W. Murnau and screenwriter Carl Mayer set out to make their very first Hollywood picture they were given an almost unlimited budget and complete artistic freedom. The result is SUNRISE (1927), one of only a handful of silent pictures without titles (or nearly without them). One of the wisest uses of that budget was hiring Janet Gaynor, one of the biggest names of the time and also one of the few actresses able to retain her star status even after she made the move from silent films to talkies. Her expressions say more than titles ever could have and transform the movie into something more like a visual poem.

Alice Guy Blaché: the first female director

Alice Guy Blaché: the first female director

Still from THE OCEAN WAIF (1916) Alice Guy, as she was known, was not only the first female director, but the first director of narrative films – period. At a time when films were being made mainly for scientific or commercial purposes, Alice Guy had the bright idea to tell a story instead. Her first…

Cruel and Unusual: the art of American slapstick

Cruel and Unusual: the art of American slapstick

Starting tomorrow, for ten days only, the MoMA will screen a collection of uproarious, irreverent, silent, American slapstick comedies, all accompanied by live piano. First up are five short films united by a general cross-dressing theme with silent favorites Stan Laurel, Buster Keaton, Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, and Wallace Beery.