THE DREAM MACHINE RETURNS

 

Digital power has brought motion pictures to a new audience.  The discs (or the next format) gives us all an opportunity to hold motion picture history.  The recent TCM CLASSIC FILM FESTIVAL in Los Angeles may have looked at first glance like it was going backward from that. THE RETURN OF THE DREAM MACHINE, HAND CRANKED FILMS  FROM 1902-1913., brought history home.

This event was hosted by Randy HaberKamp, Managing Director of Preservation and Foundation Programs for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Beautiful prints of a hand color tinted version of A TRIP TO THE MOON (1909) by George Melies, Thomas Edison’s THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY (1903), and D.W. Griffith early short film, THOSE AWFUL HATS (1909) from Biograph studios were just three of the eight gems that played.   The difference is that these prints were projected through a genuine 1909 hand cranked Model 6 Cameragraph Motion Picture machine operated by Joe Rinaudo and Gary Gibson. Pre-show music was played by Galen Wilkes on a 1908 Edison Phonograph featuring cylinders of popular music that one would have heard then. There was live musical accompaniment by Michael Mortilla on keyboard during the showings and between features. Each of these people were dressed in period costume that their occupations wore. The concession made to modern times is that the pre-show music was amplified by a microphone. Slides such as, “No spitting in aisles,” and “Ladies, remove your hats,” punctuated the experience between reel changes.

The prints were hand cranked, much the same as the cameras were during the filming of scenes in early motion pictures. The smallest deviation of speed by the projectionist could change to look of a film and subsequent audience feeling. These showings would take place in small towns and cities, sometimes outdoors in the evening, weather permitting, or in halls.  The wonder of the images, which seem very tame to today’s people, of trains going by, people dancing, and the first hand drawn animation such as the work of 1911  N.Y Herald cartoonist brought to life in his ‘ moving comics’ left the audiences awestruck.

This was the beginning of narrative film as the new medium of motion pictures was being developed.  Hollywood was in its infancy as the real power rested back east in New York were the money was and creator Thomas Edison. Ironically, the money has always been back East, even in the Golden Years of Hollywood.  Producers found the California climate, the lushness of the orange and walnut groves, the wide open unspoiled spaces, conducive to film making.  Lighting techniques were not fully developed so even when studios were built in California they had open glass roofs and windows to allow natural light in or they shot outside. What a perfect climate to do this in with year round sun. Hence, the studio migration.

This presentation was something you could only see at a festival or revival of this nature so we were lucky to take advantage of the opportunity. To actually see these pictures in the mode they were originally presented was a treat. One could say it’s similar to the resurgence of vinyl records now as music lovers re-discover or find their roots. There is a level of purity as well as one can respect how far the medium of film has come and wonder where it can go. It is a shame that basically less than ten percent of all the silent film produced by early Hollywood has survived. Great features by many names both big and small are lost though neglect as film was simply tossed away or by numerous fires due to volatile nitrate stock.  I also find even today with history that people simply do not realize what they have sitting in front of them and basically let the ravages of time take its course due to lack of funding. Will future people look at the pictures and technical prowess today with the same nostalgia?  The rest they say is history. One hopes that this history itself is still around for all to see.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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GOODBYE TO ALL OF THIS

 

There comes a time when one must pack up and get back to actual life. If you’re lucky, you get to continue with your love of film.   For some it is their full time job; for others, it can be an all- consuming hobby or Labour of Love.

We try to attend as much as we can, including trying some new things such as getting on the red carpet which was a thrill in itself.  STARDUST AND SHADOWS tries to cover things from a slightly different point of view than other sites and I believe we have achieved it to an extent.   The thing about festivals is that you can’t really do it all, even the stuff you want to because of crowds or sometimes venue location if you need to walk to a venue.   The 2015 TCM CLASSIC FILM FESTIVAL made that all easy with most of the film venues close together, however, they had no control over the traffic lights that were required to cross the major street or the everyday crowds.  It’s all part of going to one of these things.

The Christopher Plummer concrete ceremony (which we viewed from across the road along with many others) was well- handled.  You could hear many of the anecdotes; including Ben Mankiewicz wondering if he had pronounced Montreal correctly (which he had). The Canadian in me wanted to shout out when referring to Montreal, simply to say the phrase, “Twenty four Stanley Cups,” and you would know.

Bill Shatner made an appearance.  I somehow felt he would since both he and Christopher go way back to their days at Stratford Festival and share a Quebec heritage.

This festival shines in great part because of the people you meet. I mean not only the attendees, but the volunteers who have to stay inside these theatres in wonderful weather and answer questions, and move lines of excited film goers.  They get to be strapped up on headsets, trying to coordinate audience entrances, hand out cue numbers in lines etc., all the while being calm.  I can say from what I saw it worked.

In the weeks to come I will be writing more on a couple of pictures I did see as they inspired some article ideas.  I managed to see WHY BE GOOD (1929), a silent picture staring Colleen Moore who is not that well known, and some of you will shake your head why not, but should have been.  The picture was a restoration for the first time presented with the full sound disks of the orchestration and sound effects. The story was the disks of a print had become separated, but amazingly enough this picture was thought to be lost.  WHY BE GOOD (1929) featured a wonderful performance by Neil Hamilton, who had a wonderful career as a romantic leading man in full sound films. Audiences today remember him as Commissioner Gordon from the BATMAN TV series of the 60s.

The pre- film talk was presented by Cari Beauchamp, who wrote one of my favourite books on the women from those early golden years titled Without Lying Down: Frances Marion and the Powerful Women of Early Hollywood.  The print of WHY BE GOOD was excellent as it was digital, in the correct aspect ratio which I prefer for this style of film as it honours the original vision.

We managed to get into a screening of AIR MAIL (1932), directed by John Ford. I have a huge soft sport for airplane pictures and this did not disappoint.  A hobbled (from a twisted ankle) Leonard Maltin honestly introduced the picture by saying it was, “… a good film not a great John Ford film.”  One got to see so people like Pat O Brien as a womanizing, devil may care pilot go up against steadfast Ralph Bellamy.

I have always enjoyed the cracking dialogue of these pictures and AIR MAIL did not disappoint as Pat Obrien’s character Duke Talbot asks, “ Where do I park the body?” when asking where he was to sleep. Anne Dvorak’s real life husband Leslie Fenton was also on hand as in a small role as a disgraced flyer. AIR MAIL also had a particularly graphic sounding death by fire sequence that for me even today was disturbing but it did change the mood as the opening was light hearted.  This was a fine picture to see on the big screen in a glorious 35 mm, black and white print, which for me pretty cool.

STARDUST AND SHADOWS did many other things at the festival and they will come out as time permits. It was a wonderfully hectic time that I can say if any readers have a chance to do, they should do it at least once.  We feel lucky to be here in what TCM gave us in terms of access and other things that made things easier.  There is nothing like seeing the stuff that dreams are made of at its point of origin.