Marion Davies & Ronald Colman + Fritz Lang 'Metropolis' Screening

by Andre Soares

Buster Keaton, Norma Talmadge, Constance Talmadge: Kansas Silent Film Festival

Ronald Colman Constance Talmadge Her Sister from ParisBuster Keaton's Our Hospitality will be introduced by Keaton's granddaughter Melissa Talmadge Cox at the opening of the 14th annual Kansas Silent Film Festival at 7 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 26, in White Concert Hall, Washburn University.  The Festival continues Saturday, Feb. 27. Admission is free both days.  

According to the KSFF press release, Talmadge Cox “will relate how the 1923 film was a family affair, with both her grandparents as the stars (Buster Keaton and Natalie Talmadge) and her great-grandfather (Joe Keaton) and her father (James Keaton) in small roles.” Musical accompaniment will be provided by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra of Boulder, Colo. Preceding Our Hospitality will be two comedy shorts, Angora Love (1929), featuring Laurel and Hardy, and The Vagabond (1916), with Charles Chaplin.

Natalie Talmadge, by the way, was the lesser-known sister of silent era superstars Norma Talmadge and Constance Talmadge, both of whom can be seen on recently released must have Kino DVDs. (More on that in an upcoming post.) They can also be seen in Kansas as well: Norma in the 1922 romantic melodrama Smilin' Through – the highlight of the two-day festival, as far as I'm concerned – and Constance in The Matrimaniac, a likable 1916 comedy in which she co-stars with Douglas Fairbanks, in the days when he was the all-American go-getter. In this particular film, he goes get his wife-to-be.

Also worth of note is The Yankee Clipper, an adventure drama starring William Boyd, a handsome silent era leading man who's best remembered today for playing Hopalong Cassidy on television.

Kansas City film historian Denise Morrison will provide introductions for the films and “give an overview of the silent film era and the artists of that time.” Accompaniment for the feature films and shorts will be provided by the aforementioned Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra; Marvin Faulwell and Greg Forema, organ; Bob Keckeisen, percussion; and Jeff Rapsis, piano.

For more information on the Kansas Silent Film Festival visit www.kssilentfilmfest.org. The KSFF organization runs the festival through sponsorships and donations. See schedule below.

Friday, Feb. 26, 7 p.m.:
Angora Love (1929): Laurel and Hardy comedy
The Vagabond (1916): Charlie Chaplin
Our Hospitality (1923): Buster Keaton plays Willie McKay, who is caught in the middle of a bitter family feud, similar to the Hatfields and the McCoys.

Saturday, Feb. 27
10 a.m.:
Rescued by Rover (1905): The first film in which a dog takes the lead, propels the story and becomes the hero.
The Iron Mule (1925): Featuring Al St. John who started his career in movies as a comedic sidekick to his uncle, Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle
Thundering Fleas (1926): with Our Gang and an all-star cast of Hal Roach regulars.
The Magic Clock (1928): Fantasy film from one of the pioneers in stop-motion puppets.
(Lunch break)

1:30 p.m.:
Flaming Fathers (1927): Featuring comedian Max Davidson
The Matrimaniac (1916): Comedy starring Douglas Fairbanks and Constance Talmadge
Interview with Melissa Talmadge Cox, who will share memories of her great-aunts Norma and Constance Talmadge.
Smilin' Through (1922): A drama with Norma Talmadge and Harrison Ford
(Dinner break)

5:15 p.m.:
Kansas Silent Film Festival cinema reception and buffet dinner, Bradbury Thompson Alumni Center.
Melissa Talmadge Cox will speak about life in the lavish Hollywood mansion of her grandfather, Buster Keaton. This is an informal dinner, but paid reservations are required. Cost: $25 per person (portion of fee goes to KSFF). Call 785.670.3151 or send reservations to KSFF Cinema-Dinner, Box 2032, Topeka 66601-2032.

7 p.m.:
The Unchanging Sea (1910): D.W. Griffith short
A Moony Mariner (1927): starring Billy Dooley
The Yankee Clipper (1927): Premiere showing of full-length, original version. Produced by Cecil B. DeMille, this lavish drama of the high seas, stars William Boyd (TV's future Hopalong Cassidy) and child actor Junior Coghlan. This film depicts a race from China to Boston in the 1850s and has everything a sea-going epic should have – adventure, romance and remarkable high seas footage.

The four-film series “Sound and Silents” – part of the wider “Birds Eye View Film Festival” celebrating women filmmakers – to be held at London's bfi Southbank and the Barbican from March 6-10.

The four screening silent films are: King Vidor's The Patsy (1928), starring Marion Davies; Sidney Franklin's Her Sister from Paris (1925), starring Constance Talmadge and Ronald Colman (right); Cecil B. DeMille's Chicago (1927), with Phyllis Haver and Victor Varconi; and Lotte Reiniger's animated The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926). All four films will feature live musical accompaniment.

The most enjoyable of the four is Sidney Franklin's Lubitschesque Her Sister from Paris, which offers Constance Talmadge at her screwballish best – and this before screwball comedies became known as such. In the film – written by frequent Lubitsch collaborator Hanns Kräly – housewife Talmadge decides to spice things up with hubby Ronald Colman by pretending to be her wordly sister (from Paris). George Cukor would remake it in 1941 as a Greta Garbo vehicle called Two-Faced Woman. The film lost (a little) money and turned out to be Garbo's last. Jane Gardner will provide a “specially commissioned” live musical accompaniment for Her Sister from Paris.

King Vidor's The Patsy has its ups and downs, but Marion Davies' imitation of fellow silent-screen stars Lillian Gish, Mae Murray, and Pola Negri is a masterpiece of comic acting, while the now totally forgotten Orville Caldwell proves himself a likable leading man. The Patsy will have another specially commissioned musical accompaniment, this one by Gwyneth Herbert.

Chicago, for its part, has Victor Varconi at his handsomest and Phyllis Haver at her sluttiest. In my view, Haver's ambitious, selfish, self-centered Roxie Hart is a much superior comic performance to any I've seen by Buster Keaton, Charles Chaplin, Harold Lloyd and all other revered comedy geniuses of the silent era. Cecil B. DeMille, who had made the pious (and all but unwatchable) The King of Kings that same year, opted to have assistant director Frank Urson credited as the official director of the eye-popping Chicago. Rob Marshall should have watched this one before directing the dreadful – and dreadfully miscast – (Oscar-winning) 2002 remake. Patti Plinko will provide the live musical accompaniment.

The Adventures of Prince Achmed is a bit on the slow-moving side. In fact, I'd say it's less a “movie” than animated “performance art.” If you look at it that way, Prince Achmed a stunning piece of artwork. Mira Calix will be present to premiere her new musical accompaniment for this animated classic.

Metropolis Fritz Lang
Metropolis Fritz Lang

“Maybe you've heard the buzz about Metropolis,” reads a newsletter from the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. “The incredible discovery of long-lost footage from director Fritz Lang's masterpiece. Found in a vault in Buenos Aires, the complete film has been reconstructed and restored by the F.W. Murnau Foundation.” The restored 1927 silent classic starring Alfred Abel, Brigitte Helm, and Gustav Fröhlich had its premiere at the Berlin Film Festival on February 12.

Come next July, SFSFF will screen the restored version as part of its 15th anniversary festival. The screening will be accompanied by the Alloy Orchestra.

Back to Metropolis at the Berlin Film Festival: The sold-out screening at the Friedrichstadt Palace was beamed simultaneously to about 2,000 fans at the snowy Brandenburg Gate. The Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra provided live musical accompaniment for the film.

“The extra footage (totalling 30 minutes) had been transferred to 16mm so the new scenes could not be restored to the same aspect ratio of the 35mm original,” explains Kaleem Aftab in The Independent. “Consequently, in the latest restored version there is a slight resizing of the picture when the newly inserted scenes are shown and they are marked with black lines, in contrast to the pristine restoration of 35mm footage. This does not detract from the overall film. Holes in the story have been plugged and the added footage rachets up the tension dramatically. There are far more reaction shots throughout, whole new sequences and a fresh pacing which emphasises the feeling of the perils to come.”

Photos: Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung / Museo del Cine

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