Tuesday, March 27, 2007


From the excellent Falcon Lair:
a series of Rudolph Valentino-themed podcasts
a tour of his Beverly Hills home
and details of a forthcoming book
From Valentino Forever:
The Rudy tour
The Valentino Memorial Service

And finally:
A biography from Hollywood Forever

Kevin Brownlow, Australia, and Cinema Pioneers

To mark the showing of 1906 Australian feature film The Story of the Kelly Gang at the Barbican in London, film historian Kevin Brownlow has an article in The Times on the subject of silent film pioneers:

This year is the 80th anniversary of The Jazz Singer, the film that brought the silent era to an end. The talkie revolution undoubtedly enriched the cinema, but it ended something magnificent. The silent film was a universal language. Change the titles, and your film could be seen from Alaska to Zanzibar. The new art began with simple scenes of workers leaving a factory and graduated to multi-screen epics lasting hours. The fixed camera was soon on the move — lashed to the front of a train, swooping on a trapeze, plunging over a cliff, the editing dazzling the audience with single-frame cuts. Vast picture palaces were built, equipped with symphony orchestras and seating thousands. In New York, the streets around Times Square had to be closed to traffic every evening because the movie-going crowds were so massive. They were not flocking to see the jerky, flickering image of comic legend; silent films at their best were technically superb and aesthetically astonishing. Their stars, Gloria Swanson, Douglas Fairbanks, Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford, were the best-loved people in the world. The movies surpassed even the press as the most powerful medium. And this was achieved, incredibly, in a little over 30 years. Have we come as far since 1972?

Article in full here

Information on the Barbican's Silent Film and Live Music Series here

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Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Everyone Loves Buster

British funnyman Paul Merton has started a series on BBC4, one of the BBC's new digital channels celebrating the Silent comedians. The first, highlighting Buster Keaton, was reviewed in The Guardian Guide by Charlie Brooker - it's good to see appreciation of the great man.

Still to come are Charlie Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy, and Hsrold Lloyd (Lloyd and his grand-daughter are in interview on this BBC Radio 4 clip - RealPlayer required)

Later in the month, the channel will be showing Hindle Wakes, Picadilly, and A Cottage on Dartmoor, just to make me feel really sick at my lack of digital TV...

Friday, February 17, 2006

My poster boy

It's been a while...

From today's Guardian newspaper:

Buster Keaton is the comedian's comedian, a fantastically athletic genius whose stunts are still astonishing today. Armando Iannucci pays tribute

When I was a student, I had up on my wall a very very large poster of Buster Keaton. It was a full-length photo: he was just standing, looking rather stony-faced. A comedian completely slapstick-less. It dominated the room. While my contemporaries raided Athena for tennis players scratching their arse or Debbie Harry looking unobtainable, I had a rather bleak looking individual who was supposed to be funny but seemed suicidal.

Actually, Buster Keaton's face, the look of a silent movie star who was known at the time as "The Great Stoneface", was one of the most magical in cinema history - greater even, I'd say, than Garbo's. Keaton had hit on the rather excellent joke that you could make things funnier the less you showed everyone how funny they were. A house could collapse around him, or 14 tons of soot could fall from above, and it just seemed funnier if he stood there expressionless at the end of it, rather than chucking his hat violently to the ground and storming off mouthing the word "Doh!"

If you're going to characterise your entire career in cinema by a single expression, the expression on Buster Keaton's face is a very good one to have. I remember recognising this when I first saw Steamboat Bill, Jr, made in 1928. There's a scene in it featuring a particularly fierce hurricane visiting destruction on a small town. Keaton is holding on to a tree to stop being blown away by the fierce gale. However, the force is so strong the wind breaks the tree from its roots in the ground and carries it, with Keaton still clinging on, up and across a river where it slowly sinks. Keaton's expression throughout all these stunning visuals is the best part of the joke: he consistently stares blankly at the camera, a man who can't believe his dignity is being robbed in this way. The hard stare remains, even as every last part of him disappears under the water.

Actually, Steamboat Bill, Jr is a very good place to start if you want to find out why it is people in comedy (and quite a lot of people in film) revere Buster Keaton so much. You can take the opportunity to do so at the National Film Theatre in London, which is running a season of Buster Keaton films the way they were intended to be shown but so rarely are: on the big screen. The hurricane sequence in Steamboat Bill, Jr is one of the most celebrated in all cinema. It's a technical masterpiece, pushing the mechanics of a young medium to breaking point.

article continues here

Buster Keaton season at the NFT

Silence Is Golden

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Louise Brooks and Denishawn

Louise Brooks effected her escape from Kansas not through the movies, but thanks to dance. Having impressed Ted Shawn during a touring visit to Wichita, she was offered a place at the Denishawn dance school in New York, arriving there as a 15 year old in 1922. By the years' end, she was a member of their touring company, and remained so, gaining larger and more prominent parts, until her dismissal in 1924, reportedly due to her attitude problems. Discipline never was Brooksie's strong card, not when there was parties to go to, and fun to be had.

For more on Louise's time with the company, Louise Brooks and the Denishawn Dancers gives a good overview.

The ever-impressive Louise Brroks Society has these two features: a bibliography of her press mentions in her Denishawn days; and a collection of Denishawn images.

There are several short biographies of the Denishawn founders: Ruth St Denis here and here; and her husband Ted Shawn here; and their most successful former pupil, Martha Graham, is profiled here.

Finally, two scanned copies of Denishawn souvenir programs, both from after Brooks' departure, but giving a good flavour of their work -
Souvenir Program of 1924 Denishawn USA Tour (part way down page)
Souvenir Program of 1925 Denishawn Oriental Tour (part way down page)

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Guardian Archives, Part Two

For today's collection from The Guardian archives, we have:
an interview extract from 1966 with Charlie Chaplin;
a 2003 appreciation of Carl Dreyer;
an overview of the history of the British film industry;
a piece on Russian cinema, editing, and Vsevolod Pudovkin;
an interview with Gloria Swanson's daughter Michelle;
Charlie Chaplin the composer;
an article on Fritz Lang's ground-breaking Metropolis;
and finally
an obituary of Douglas Fairbanks Jr.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Guardian Archives, Part one

For your reading pleasure, I shall, over the next few days, be bringing together some silent film related articles from the British newspaper The Guardian.

From April 2003, we have renowned author, film historian and director Kevin Brownlow on the work of Clarence Brown. A feature on Carl Davis, composer of many well-received silent film scores, appeared in January 2000.

This April saw an article focussing on the recently rediscovered Rudolph Valentino & Gloria Swanson starrer, Beyond The Rocks. On a similar theme, 2003 saw the rediscovery of an early John Ford film in France.

2004 saw features on Neil Brand, film accompanist, the release on DVD of a collection of risque French silents, In The Good Old Naughty Days, and a piece on Benedict Mason's ChaplinOperas.

A season of his films at the National Film Theatre in 2003 lead to an article focussing on Anthony Asquith, a director today mainly remembered for 1940s British films like The Importance of Being Earnest, but who started his directorial career in the silent era.

Douglas Fairbanks was celebrated in 1999, and a meeting between playwright Samuel Beckett and Buster Keaton was documented in an article from 2000. The same year also sees a review of Laurel and Hardy.

More to follow...

Monday, May 09, 2005

If at first you don't succeed...

Welcome to the new, improved, will actually contain some posts occasionally, Every Little Breeze Blog.
Having let the previous version fall somewhat by the wayside, I am now resolved to turn over a new leaf: there will be at least one post per week, highlighting interesting articles, website updates and more.
The blog will focus both on the central figure of Louise Brooks, and also bring to your attention general silent film related material and issues surrounding the culture and times of silent cinema.
If you should happen to find a link you feel should be posted to the blog, feel free to contact me at the address at the side and I'll give it a look.

And as a starter, here is a recent article by British comedian Paul Merton, on the influence silent slapstick has had on his career.