Baseball films on DVD: From Babe Ruth to Colleen Moore
Kino’s “Reel Baseball - 1899–1926” two-disc set has become one of that DVD distributor’s biggest sellers in their silent film division.
Produced for video by Jessica Rosner, “Reel Baseball” includes the following:
On Disc 1: Headin’ Home a 73-minute feature starring baseball legend Babe Ruth (who himself was the subject of a 1949 biopic starring William Bendix) and three shorts: Kinogram, a one-minute bit with Babe Ruth; His Last Game a 1909 drama about a Native American who plays his last game (what follows isn’t pretty); and The Ball Player and the Bandit, a 12-minute 1912 short featuring popular actor Harold Lockwood. (Six years later, the handsome Lockwood, at age 31, succumbed to the Spanish influenza pandemic.)
On Disc 2: The 1919 feature The Busher, a comedy-drama starring Charles Ray – a major star whose ego was blamed for his dramatic downfall a few years later – in addition to future superstars Colleen Moore and John Gilbert. Disc 2 also includes several shorts, among them Felix Saves the Day, starring Felix the Cat; the 1922 experimental sound film Casey at the Bat, with DeWolf Hopper reciting Ernest Lawrence Thayer’s poem; an excerpt showing New York Giants manager John McGraw playing himself in the 1917 production One Touch of Nature; and the 33-minute “short” (or medium-length) Hearts and Diamonds, a 1914 comedy starring John Bunny, quite possibly the most popular film comedian of the early 1910s. (Bunny would die the following year.)
Those newly remastered silent films are accompanied by music composed by David Drazin, David Knudtson, and Ben Model.
Needless to say, many of those films are extremely rare. It was thus a tremendous pleasure to find them looking as good as technically possible on this DVD set.
Whether you love, hate, or are indifferent to baseball, “Reel Baseball” is a must for any serious film collector. As so often happens when it comes to old, rare, forgotten films, the artistic quality of, say, The Busher or Hearts and Diamonds is less important than what they have to tell us about a time and a place that no longer exist – even though, as those same movies show, we as human beings haven’t changed all that much (if at all) in the last century.
Kino Lorber Reel Baseball DVD page.
‘Lonesome’ Screening: Silent Classic Returns
Paul Fejos’ 1928 part-talkie Lonesome, a tale of love found and lost on one day in New York City, will be screened at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills on Friday, September 14, at 8 p.m. Lonesome will be accompanied by the Alloy Orchestra.
According to the Academy’s press release, “the film’s stunning views of Coney Island and other Gotham locations will be shown to full advantage in the newly tinted print to be screened courtesy of the George Eastman House and Universal.”
Lonesome sounds a bit like F.W. Murnau’s Sunrise, released the previous year. The film stars two little-known performers, Glenn Tryon and Barbara Kent – who’s to the best of my knowledge still around at the age of 100. I haven’t seen Lonesome, but I’ve heard several other Alloy scores before.
Once again, quoting from the Academy’s press release, “the three-man musical ensemble, under the direction of Ken Winokur, frequently uses electronic synthesizers alongside such outrageous objects as musical saws and toilet seats – part of its ‘rack of junk’ – to create its renowned silent film scores.”
Now, while watching my silent movies, I can certainly do without the rhythms of toilet seats. Whenever I listen to the melodious film scores composed in the 1910s and 1920s, I’m reminded of how far off the mark modern composers usually are when scoring silent films. Their work isn’t just inadequate; it’s a crime against art. Anyhow, here’s hoping that this particular musical accompaniment will be faithful to both Lonesome and its era.
Tickets to Lonesome are $5 for the general public and $3 for Academy members. They may be purchased by mail or at the Academy box office during regular business hours. Tickets also may be purchased online at www.oscars.org/events until noon PDT on the day of the event. There are no minimum order requirements and no transaction or processing fees.
Doors will open at 7 p.m. Seating is on a first-come, first-served basis. The Samuel Goldwyn Theater is located at 8949 Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills. For additional information, call (310) 247-3600.
Barbara Kent photo: © A.M.P.A.S.
Robert Thom & Jennifer Jones: ‘Angel Angel Down We Go’
Louis Black revisits Robert Thom in The Austin Chronicle:
“The camera heads up the stairs, past artwork to shelves of clothes neatly laid out, mostly sweaters except for a row of riding boots on the bottom. It continues across the room to display a case full of equestrian medals and statues and then along a wall of photographs of such notables as Eisenhower and LBJ. It tilts down to some bathrobes and bedclothes strewn on the floor leading into the bathroom. In the shower are a young man and an older one soaping themselves up.
“The voice says, ‘It’s not true that my father was a homosexual,’ as the drums keep going.
“Now the film’s title appears. Depending on which print you’re watching, it’s either Angel, Angel, Down We Go or Cult of the Damned. Soon, the camera will plunge into a more modern art: rich crayon lines wrapped around a photo collage.
“Angel, Angel Down We Go (the title I prefer) is a masterpiece of fingernails-on-chalkboard cinema. Its layered contradictions are not only the ideal way to introduce the film but also its maker, Robert Thom, who wrote and directed. If it were all he had ever done, I’d honor his career. But there is much more.”
All I can picture in my mind now regarding Angel, Angel, Down We Go are LSD trips of some sort of other, Roddy McDowall looking even more fey than usual, and Jennifer Jones. Jennifer Jones??? Yup, Jennifer Jones, saying stuff like, “I’ve made thirty stag films and I never faked an orgasm.”
Not that I have anything against either stag films or orgasms, but I do remember wondering at the time how on Earth had Jennifer Jones – she of The Song of Bernadette, Portrait of Jennie, Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing, Duel in the Sun; one Oscar, four additional nominations – gotten herself involved in something that trippy. (One explanation: David O. Selznick, who’d died in 1965, was no longer around to micromanage her career.)
In truth, Jones’ previous film wasn’t much better – The Idol, made in the UK in 1966 – and her following one would be just as bad as (though much more expensive and much less colorful than) Angel, Angel, Down We Go: The Towering Inferno. Ironically, Jennifer Jones goes down in that one, falling off of an elevator. And when she dies, so does the film.
Check out this brief commentary on Angel, Angel, Down We Go (and on other Jennifer Jones films).
Inceville: Film Pioneer Thomas Ince’s Studios
Libby Motika in The Palisadian-Post:
“Once there was a city spread out idyllically on the slopes of Santa Ynez Canyon [between Santa Monica and Malibu] with sweeping views of the sea. The streets were lined with houses of many types, from humble cottages to mansions, and the buildings were fashioned after the architecture of many lands.
“But as ephemeral as Atlantis, this city appeared and then disappeared in 12 short years. [Unless I missed something, the article goes on to say that Inceville was destroyed in 1922. That would make 10 short years.]
“This was the creation of American silent film producer/director Thomas Ince, who in 1912 built a city of motion picture sets on several thousand acres of land in and around the hills and plateaus of the canyon, where he was able to shoot many of the outdoor locales needed for his films.
“It was here at Inceville, now Sunset [Boulevard] at Pacific Coast Highway, where in 1913 alone, Ince made over 150 two-reeler movies, mostly Westerns, thereby anchoring the popularity of the genre for decades. It was at Inceville where many of the filmmaker’s innovations were developed, such as the shooting script, which included stage direction, dialogue and scene description for interiors and exteriors.”
Ince moved to Washington Boulevard in Culver City in 1915 and built the Triangle studios, which three years later were acquired by Goldwyn Pictures, and in 1924 were turned into the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios. Following Goldwyn’s acquisition of the Triangle lot, Ince moved down the street and built what eventually became the David O. Selznick studios.
Throughout the years, among those who filmed at Ince’s former Culver City studios were Cecil B. DeMille, Pathé, RKO, Desilu (Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz’s company), and more recently, Sony. Not too long ago, Sony sold the Culver Studios, as they’re currently known, to a group of investors.
Thomas Ince died of heart failure in 1924. Following Ince’s death, wild rumors about his “mysterious” demise have been circulating. The most popular tale has newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst accidentally shooting Ince – Trigger Happy Hearst was aiming for Charles Chaplin, who was supposed to be having an affair with Marion Davies who happened to be both Hearst’s lover and a very good comedienne.
Peter Bogdanovich’s The Cat’s Meow (screenplay by Steven Peros, from his play) took the sensationalistic route. Cary Elwes played Ince, Edward Herrmann was Hearst, Kirsten Dunst was (an absurd) Marion Davies, and Eddie Izzard was (an even more absurd) Charles Chaplin.
Cinesation: Norma Talmadge & Silent Movies’ Harrison Ford
Cinesation, a film festival that focuses on hard-to-find samples of vintage American cinema, will return to the historic Lincoln Theatre in Massillon, Ohio, for its 17th year. The festival runs from Thursday, Sept. 27 through Sunday, Sept. 30.
Titles that have already been announced are:
Rubber Tires (1927, right), the last film directed by Alan Hale, best known as a supporting player in numerous Warner Bros. films of the ’30s and ’40s. This cross-country road movie stars Bessie Love, who was featured in the first talkie to win a best picture Academy Award, the mammoth 1929 hit The Broadway Melody; silent era leading man Harrison Ford (no relation to the Indiana Jones actor); and May Robson, just about every film performer’ warmly grouchy mom, grandma, aunt, etc. throughout the ’30s). Screenplay adaptation – from Frank Condon’s story – by future director Tay Garnett and the respected Zelda Sears.
Laughing at Life (1933), a film that even I had never heard of… This obscure rarity – an action-adventure tale about a soldier of fortune and gun runner – was directed by Ford Beebe, and it stars future Academy Award winner Victor McLaglen, whose subtlest performances would make master scenery-chewers like Robert Duvall and Jack Nicholson look subdued; Spanish beauty Conchita Montenegro, currently 94 years old and living in Paris; off-screen (and off-stage) rabble-rouser William “Stage” Boyd (not to be confused with William Boyd of Hopalong Cassidy fame); Regis Toomey, Guinn “Big Boy” Williams, and silent era veterans Lois Wilson, Pat O’Malley, Noah Beery, Tully Marshall, and William Desmond (not to be confused with murdered director William Desmond Taylor).
Where the North Begins (1923), directed by Chester M. Franklin, and starring Rin Tin Tin in one of his popular adventure tales for Warners. In case there’s anyone out there who cares, the biped characters are played by Claire Adams and Walter McGrail.
Future possibilities include:
If I Were King (1920), directed by J. Gordon Edwards, who handled superstar Theda Bara in Cleopatra, and who happens to be director Blake Edwards’ grandfather. William Farnum stars as the early modern era’s favorite vagabond, François Villon.
The Life of the Party (1920), directed by Joseph Henabery, and starring a pre-“wild party” scandal Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle. Also in the cast, the late great Viora Daniel. (So, I’ve never heard of her, but with a name like that – it sounds like a rip-off of Metro star Viola Dana’s moniker – she had to be listed.)
The Forbidden City (1918), an interethnic love story directed by future Oscar nominee Sidney Franklin, an underrated director who displayed a remarkably deft touch throughout the silent era. The drama features up-and-coming superstars Norma Talmadge (playing Chinese) and Thomas Meighan.
For additional information and new additions to the festival, visit www.cinephiles.org, or contact Dennis Atkinson at firstname.lastname@example.org or Terry Hoover at email@example.com.
Warner Bros. Hollywood Studio Sale: ‘The Jazz Singer’ Filmed There
Warner Bros. Hollywood studio for sale. The Jazz Singer filmed there. The old Warner Bros. studio on Sunset Boulevard, now housing the Los Angeles television station KTLA, is up for sale.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Tribune Co., the Chicago-based conglomerate that also owns the Times, has decided to sell the old Warner Bros. studios “amid a wave of high-stakes real estate investment in Hollywood.”
As per the Times report, “no price has been set for the block-size property at the southeast corner of Sunset and Bronson Avenue that also houses Tribune Entertainment and Tribune Studios. In recent years, other studios and historic properties in the neighborhood have sold for millions of dollars as investors race to take part in Hollywood’s resurgence.
“A real estate expert who asked not to be identified because he may become involved in the bidding process valued the property at about $175 million. Nearby Sunset-Gower Studios, the former Columbia Pictures headquarters, sold this month for more than $200 million.”
The Jazz Singer: First talkie filmed at Warner Bros. Hollywood Studios
Warner Bros. built its Hollywood studio in 1919. That’s where the first (part-)talking feature film, Alan Crosland’s The Jazz Singer, starring Al Jolson and May McAvoy, was made in 1927.
Since the 1930s, the Warner Bros. studios – formerly, the First National studios – have been located in Burbank, north of downtown Los Angeles, though Warners continued to produce films on the Hollywood lot until the property was sold to Paramount in 1954.
According to the Times article, the Colonial-style building and a sound stage are registered historic properties, and cannot be demolished or “substantially altered.”
Note: The old Warner Bros. Hollywood studio is not to be confused with the old Warner-Hollywood lot (a.k.a. the even older Mary Pickford / Douglas Fairbanks Studios), located at 7200 Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood.
More info on the Warner/KTLA studios here.