Memory, Images, History
Tuesday, April 6, 2010
Blog written by Jan-Christopher Horak, director, UCLA Film & Television Archive
Not many people would go to Syracuse, N.Y, in the dead of winter, but for cinephiles who love old movies, Cinefest is the place to be.
Leonard Maltin has been a regular for years, as have David Sheppard (Blackhawk Films) and numerous film archivists. Cinefest is a convention of film collectors, which includes a market for film memorabilia and 16mm film screenings at a local hotel from 9 AM to 12:30 AM, as well as 35mm screenings in a local cinema. Almost none of the films are available on television or video.
Some of the highlights of this year’s program included: THE VALIANT (1929), starring Paul Muni, directed by William K. Howard. A very sweet little melodrama by Frank Borzage, LIFE'S HARMONY (1916), which is one of his earliest films, but instantly recognizable as a Borzage in its focus on family life. CONRAD IN QUEST OF HIS YOUTH (1920), directed by William DeMille. Less well-known that his younger brother, Cecil, William's films have always struck me as very quiet, understated narratives (unlike Cecil), and this film was no exception. With virtually no plot, the film follows a war vet trying to recapture memories of his youth.
HUMAN HEARTS (1922), a typical rural melodrama from Universal, was directed by King Baggot. The story of a “bad” city girl vamp and honest country blacksmith was predictable, but the acting was good. A TALE OF TWO WORLDS (1921), starring Wallace Beery as a Chinese heavy in yellow face, featured Leatrice Joy in a Chinatown tale of miscegenation, with lots of racial stereotypes, of course. LITTLE CHURCH AROUND THE CORNER (1923, WB), about a mining town clergyman who mediates between capital (Hobart Bosworth) and labor. I wouldn't be surprised if Thea von Harbou saw the film before writing METROPOLIS. AREN”T PARENTS PEOPLE? (1925), a comedy of “remarriage” as Gerald Mast has called similar films from the 1930s, directed by Mal St. Clair, starred the wonderfully droll Adolphe Menjou
A "fake" Republic serial, CAPTAIN CELLULOID VS. THE FILM PIRATES (1962-68), shot on weekends with non-synch sound by a group of amateurs, including the late William K. Everson. LIFE RETURNS (1934): directed by Eugene Frenke, the film was a very weird but interesting hybrid, which took as its starting point a medical documentary about the first experiments to resuscitate a dog that was clinically dead, then created a feature length narrative around it about a father who neglects his son. A very early talkie from Tiffany Studios, PEACOCK ALLEY (1930), starring Mae Murray in one of her last films. No longer the dynamo of THE MERRY WIDOW, she’s a bit over-the-hill and having problems talking and acting at the same time. By the end of day two, I’d seen 15 features, 1/2 a serial and a couple of shorts, none made after 1950.
The 35mm program on Saturday in Rome at the Capitol Theatre, built in 1928, began with THE GRASP OF GREED (1916). The continuity, unfortunately, was somewhat confused, because of major decomposition, but the film did feature Lon Chaney in a very early bit part, doing a jig. EAST SIDE, WEST SIDE (1927, Allan Dwan), starring George O’Brien, was a lively melodrama that shuttles between New York’s Jewish and poor lower East Side and the rich, WASP West Side. The story involves an inter-ethnic romance, but the ladies in the audience couldn’t get over how much beefcake O’Brien sported here, coming as it did shortly after his nude photos were published.
PLEASURE BEFORE BUSINESS was a Columbia feature, starring Max Davidson, one of the great under-rated comedians in one of his few features; another Jewish-themed film. Next was THE IRON MULE, a screamingly funny comedy short of the first railroad, starring Al St. John and featuring an uncredited Buster Keaton as an Indian chief. Finally, ROARING RAILS (1924) was an independent modern western, starring Harry Carey who brings a French orphan back to America after World War II. Carey who of course had been a big star a decade earlier in John Ford westerns, demonstrates why his star career was coming to a halt.
While the 35mm films have been preserved at film archives, such as the Museum of Modern Art, George Eastman House, and Library of Congress, the 16mm program came almost exclusively from film collectors, who have made a major contribution towards saving films that otherwise don’t exist in Archives or at the studios. Increasingly, archives have been working with collectors to preserve these priceless treasures.