April is a crazy month for classic comedy anniversaries, including the birthdays of Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd and (this year) the centennial of the first comedy short directed by Buster Keaton (though not the first one he released). And numerous others, as well. Join me Monday, April 19 (7pm) for my zoom crash course on classic comedy, where we’ll be talking about these guys and many others, and what makes them unique, how they influenced each other, and everyone who came since! The talk will be available only to members of my Patreon family — go here to join so you can take part in all the Travalanche zoom talks, and other exclusive benefits, like my upcoming Podcast about Old Time Medicine Shows, coming up in early May. Come find out why the poet tell us “April is the Foolish Month”!
The annual silent horror event from Knoxville, TN is back for its 5th year in a virtual mini-edition.
Streaming live on October 20th, 2020 at 7:30 pm
Hosted by Kelly Robinson
The V doesn’t just stand for Knoxferatu’s fifth year—it also stands for VIRTUAL.
Rather than canceling the event during the pandemic, Knoxferatu is breaking out of Knoxville with a live streaming mini-event for everyone.
Oops! All Shorts!
One of the audience’s favorite parts of Knoxferatu every year is the slate of creepy, weird, and obscure shorts. So, for the virtual mini-edition of Knoxferatu, the event will be completely made up of shorts.
Knoxferatu V will feature some of the most popular comedy-horror shorts from past years, as well as some new picks.
Live music accompaniment by Ben Model
Knoxferatu V will be streamed on YouTube with live music accompaniment by Ben Model, one of the classic film world’s leading silent film accompanists.
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One of the funniest, if not the funniest comedic actor of all time being interviewed on network TV by Gene Shalit in 1980. So much fun watching him change accents and talk about his career.
He is best remembered for his role of inept French police Inspector ‘Jacques Clouseau’ in the “Pink Panther” series of films (1964 to 1982). The last of that series, “Trail of the Pink Panther” (1982) was made after his death, using film clips and unseen footage from his earlier “Pink Panther” movies. Born Richard Henry Sellers in Southsea, Hampshire, England, his parents worked in an acting company run by his grandmother. During World War II, he enlisted in the British Army, where he met future actors Spike Milligan, Harry Secombe, and Michael Bentine. Following the war, he set up a review in London, which was a combination of music and impressions (he played the drums), which led to his doing impressions on BBC television’s “The Goon Show.” Moving rapidly into a series of British comedy films during the mid-1950s, he quickly caught widespread audience appeal, and each successful role led to more and better films. Following British comic tradition of doing multiple roles in the same play, he was adept at performing multiple roles in his movies, including his hilarious “The Mouse that Roared” (1959) (playing three different parts), the black comedy, “Dr. Strangelove” (1964), (playing an pragmatic RAF officer, a wimpy United States President and a weird German scientist), and “The Prisoner of Zenda” (1979) (playing the roles of Rudolf IV, Rudolf V, and Syd Frewin). In 1959, he won the British equivalent of an Oscar for his role of ‘Fred Kite’, a labor leader in “I’m All Right, Now,” (1959), and in 1979 he was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for his role of ‘Chance Gardiner’ in his film, “Being There” (1979). He was married four times, to Ann Howe (1951 to 1961), to actress Britt Ekland (1964 to 1968), to Miranda Quarry (1970 to 1974), and to actress Lynn Frederick (1977 to his death in 1980).
Britt Ekland and Peter Sellers. Married 1964 to 1968.
July 24, 1980: Pink Panther actor and former Goon Show star Peter Sellers.
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On one of our visits to the top, it was so windy I couldn’t believe Philippe wanted to go up there. We climbed the 110 flights and when we arrived on the top floor (below the roof) the wind was so strong that debris was flying all over and coming into the entrance we needed to use for access to the roof. We finally climbed the wooden ladder that led us to the roof (still unfinished concrete) and Philippe walked cautiously across to the other side of the roof. I remained near the entrance with camera in hand. A huge wind came and blew Philippe off his feet but he was able to hold onto one of the concrete columns and prevent from being blown away like a leaf in the wind. I was petrified! I had never seen Philippe walk on a wire before I agreed to help him with this crazy caper. The rest is history and with the help of Jean Louis Blondeau (pulling an attaching the cable from one tower to the other successfully!), Philippe was able to fulfill his dream of walking on a wire (1″ thick) between the North and South towers of the not yet completed World Trade Center.
One of the scariest and mind-boggling things we did was to rent a helicopter service to fly over the top of the towers. I hung out the side window and took this photograph. We flew up the Hudson River and had spectacular views of the city and the towers. These photographs were used by Philippe later to plan the actual ‘day of’ strategy.
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Wonder through the carnival grounds to the sideshow and feast your eyes on the amazing curious people that perform for your entertainment.
~ Jeff Krulik on Traveling Sideshow-Shocked and Amazed ~
I trace it all back to buying a paperback of Very Special People on a 7th-grade
field trip. On the bus back to school, my classmates and I sat mesmerized by the
human oddities within. Or maybe it was an animal freak show under a tent at the
neighborhood carnival one year, with the five-legged cows and pickled pig
fetuses on display. My Dad even collected stamps that were known as freaks, or
oddities, that were just mechanical mistakes, and I of course followed suit at my
junior stamp club. So maybe there’s something in my DNA that drew me to the
Shocked and Amazed book series as a customer at Atomic Books in Baltimore,
where I soon after made the acquaintance of one James Taylor since I felt
confident we’d speak the same lingo.
At this time in the mid-90s I was also winging it as a freelance producer after a
multi-year stint on staff at Discovery Channel; I had wanted to get my hands dirty
making TV documentaries instead of watching other people have all the fun (or
misery), so I dove headfirst into the world of independent production, successful
or otherwise. Cut to 1999 when James’ American Dime Museum opened up right
next door to Atomic Books, and I showed up with my new camera to record what
was unfolding. About this time, a benevolent friend (and the man who came up
with Shark Week for Discovery Channel) became head of programming for
Travel Channel, and I pitched the idea of taking “Shocked and Amazed” from the
printed word to the TV screen. It worked. And a TV gig was born, modeled after
my lifelong interest and partnering with James’ brand. It should have just been
called “Shocked and Amazed!” but because Travel Channel was commissioning
it the full name became “Traveling Sideshow: Shocked and Amazed!”
Fine. We could live with that title compromise because here was a chance to go
as far and as wide as we could on the subject of freaks and circus sideshows,
hoping it could turn into a multi-part series. We shot glorious amounts of footage
from road trips to the Sideshow Gathering in Wilkes Barre, to Manhattan and
Brooklyn and Gibsonton, Florida. I kept thinking what we don’t use here will be
for parts 2, 3, etc.
Any production features many peaks and valleys and this one was no exception.
Many of the high points are right on the screen, and additionally, I had enough
foresight to save copies of all the footage. Most TV works-for-hire require all
source material turned over, and I obliged. But not before making copies of
everything, hence my ability to preserve Ward Hall’s roast at Inkin the
Valley/Sideshow Gathering in 2002, as well as his tangential connection to the
Rolling Stones, both of which I have posted on YouTube.
But there were some disappointments too, including our very first ambitious
crew shoot, a four-hour drive to Bloomsburg PA Fair to see the California Hell
Drivers, ruined by torrential rain. Or even more heartbreaking, my production
assistant unable to rendezvous with Presto the Magician to reunite him with his
Hubert’s Freak Museum colleague Hovey Burgess. Oh what could have been.
And of course, the whole thing was shelved right after production because Travel
Channel went in another direction (word had it that some hi-level suit took
offense at the “Jim Rose Twisted Tour” series already being aired). Nothing
personal but that’s showbiz. Our program eventually aired a few years later on a
digital channel so obscure I can’t even recall by name, but I since took to sharing
it online via YouTube, Vimeo, etc. which is how it continues to find new audiences
There are a few people that need special mention, and I couldn’t have done this
without them. My “with it and for it” coproducer Adam Eisenberg who turned over
the bedroom in his house for an edit suite. And to the dear departed Kathleen
Kotcher, James’ publishing partner who was such an asset to the production, as
well as the preservation of sideshow history.
My thanks and good wishes and I hope you enjoy Shocked and Amazed!
Traveling Sideshow – Shocked and Amazed!
by James Taylor – May 2020
I can’t tell you when nor where I met Jeff Krulik, filmmaker to the real world, you know, the folks who seek the “other” showbiz, the other forms of education that come from discovering the strange, the bizarre, the weird, the odd and the unusual. All us oddballs. I’d known of Jeff for years c/o his cult classic, “Heavy Metal Parking Lot,” but no, I can’t say when nor where he and I first connected, but I can tell you what we talked about: We talked about sideshow. And “weirdness as entertainment,” to re-coin filmmaker Fred Olen Ray’s line.
And the topic of discussion between Krulik & me centered on the idea of a show that would air not as a single doc (which you’re about to watch) but as regular programming, airing weekly, a show that presented novelty & variety acts in all their glory, connecting all the talent across the broad spectrum of the “new” sideshow that was being ushered in at the beginning of this century. That was the idea, anyway, Jeff having crossed paths with my “Shocked and Amazed! On & Off the Midway,” still the world’s only journal devoted to the history of novelty & variety exhibition; ok: sideshow. And Krulik was ready to rock & roll.
Sadly, we – Krulik, Kathleen Kotcher (my late partner and this documentary’s co-producer), and I – watched the project go from a proposed series to, well, this hour-long doc. Which wasn’t aired for nearly two years after production wrapped. But that doesn’t diminish the product one iota. Not one jot. You see, still, “Traveling Sideshow – Shocked and Amazed!” is one of a damn tiny number of essential documentaries on this end of the showbiz, picking up on the business at that seminal moment when the business, about to explode into the mainstream, was starting to boil up, attracting more & more talent into this strangest – but oldest, historically – form of distraction. Of amusement. Of entertainment. And while we were (and remain) disappointed that our dream of a series didn’t pan out, there’s this visual record of not only what was but what is, since the business we all love – in its current iteration – was birthed, as much as, in front of Krulik’s cameras. And we should all thank him for that.
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I am a big fan of the Silent-ology site and as such, I am doing a down and out PLUG for the upcoming Blogathon!
When: Monday, March 9 and Tuesday, March 10, 2020.
Where: Right here on Silent-ology!
How: To join in, please leave me a comment on this post and let me know which Buster film or Buster-related topic you want to cover! (Or feel free to send me a message). Please add one of my banners to your blog (see the original post at Silent-ology.com) to help spread the word about this event. During the blogathon itself, when you publish your post leave me a comment with the post’s link, or send me a message, whichever you prefer. Please mention my blog and the name of the event in your blogathon post (such as “This post is part of Sixth Annual Buster Keaton Blogathon hosted by Silent-ology.”) Post whenever you have time during March 9 and 10th, no pressure! If you post before March 9 that’s fine too, just give me a head’s up.
What to write about: Anything and everything related to the brilliant Buster Keaton’s life and career. (Check out his filmography for some ideas.) Articles about his crew and the many wonderful actors who appeared in his films are welcome, too.
I’m also thrilled to share that this year the venerable International Buster Keaton Society is our blogathon’s official sponsor! Founded by Patricia Tobias in 1994, the Keaton Society (nicknamed the “Damfinos”) has worked tirelessly to help preserve Buster’s legacy and introduce him to new generations. From their website:
- to foster and perpetuate appreciation and understanding of the life, career, and films of comedian/filmmaker Buster Keaton;
- to advocate for historical accuracy about Keaton’s life and work;
- to encourage dissemination of information about Keaton;
- to endorse preservation and restoration of Keaton’s films and performances;
- to do all of the above with a sense of humor that includes an ongoing awareness of the surreal and absurd joy with which Keaton made his films.
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When you visit Coney Island USA you have an odd feeling you have stepped into another time. This ‘not-for-profit’ corporation is dedicated to ‘popular entertainment’ and like the rest of Coney Island, it means fun and excitement.
Dick Zigun is the founder of this wonderful oasis and has created a “Sideshow Hall of Fame” for all of us that are a ‘little different’.
Here he explains it all for you in this Vaudevisuals interview.
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James Abbe – 1883-1973
James Abbe deserves his place in the hall of fame of great photographers for the two important strands of his career: as portraitist to the glittering stars of the 1920’s world of theater and film, and as a pioneer American Photojournalist observing firsthand the dramatically changing European cultural and political situation in his various travels throughout the late 1920s and 1930s.
Abbe was lured to the limelight of the east and west coast film studios of America and the theater stages of New York, London and Paris. In each place, he managed to encapsulate the illusions of performance into still visions of enchantment.
Russian film director Serge Eisenstein 1927 ©2019 James Abbe Archive
The first film star Abbe photographed was Marguerite Clark. Although now more or less forgotten, Clark was one of the highest-paid and most popular stars of her day. The New York Times ranked his as one of “the big four”, her fame rivaled that of Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, and Douglas Fairbanks Sr., all of whom Abbe also captured.
Charlie Chaplin in The Pilgrim ©2019 James Abbe Archive
Perhaps his most enduring relationship in the film world was with the Gish sisters. Lillian Gish is thought to be the greatest dramatic actress of the silent era, and her sister Dorothy, capable of a wide range of acting styles, was one of the greatest comediennes of the time.
Anna Pavlova ©2019 James Abbe Archives
Abbe visited Hollywood in 1920 and 1922 where he took portraits of Mary Pickford and Charlie Chaplin, and also directed a film for Mack Sennett. After working for seven months on location in Italy with Ronald Colman – Lillian Gish film ‘The White Sister“(1923), Abbe made his base in Paris. His main reputation as a theater photographer preceded him and soon he was gravitating towards the best in French theatre and revue, including the Dolly Sisters, and Mistinguette, introducing them to a worldwide audience through his picture syndication.
George Gershwin ©2019 James Abbe Archives
Abbe soon became one of the leading celebrity photographers of the 1920s and is best known for these iconic portraits of both cinema and stage. He quickly established an international reputation, appearing in Vanity Fair, Ladies Home Journal, Vogue, British Tatler, French Vu, and many other publications.
Throughout the 1920s, Abbe made regular trips back and forth between London, Paris, and London to photograph theatre and film-making activities. He also traveled to Spain, Germany, Russian, the USA, and Mexico as a correspondent.
Louise Brooks ©2019 James Abbe Archives
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Wednesday, March 6 | Friday March 8 | Monday March 11
FREE + Open to public. First come, first served.
The fifth annual Segal Center Film Festival on Theatre and Performance (FTP). The program includes a roster of more than 25 features, shorts, and documentaries by artists from Argentina, Russia, Haiti, Switzerland, Spain, Germany, Japan, Romania, Australia, Chile, Poland, Belgium, France, the United States, and more. The festival takes place on Wednesday, March 6; Friday, March 8; and Monday, March 11 at The Martin E. Segal Theatre Center, located at The Graduate Center, City University of New York, NYC, 365 Fifth Avenue, at 34th Street.
An annual event that showcases films drawn from the world of theatre and performance, the Segal Film Festival presents an international array of work from experimental, emerging, and established theatre artists and filmmakers. This festival is curated from a list nominations by theatre-makers, filmmakers, scholars, and arts professionals. Please visit the Segal Center at www.segalcenter.org for more.
Producer: Mike LoCicero (MESTC).
Chris Tanner‘s film ‘Theater of Life/Death” screens on Wed. at 1pm
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When you think of jobs that have gone the way of the dodo, certain ones spring to mind right away: chimney sweeps. Switchboard operators. Bowling alley pinsetters. Organ grinders’ monkeys. Almost every flea circus ringmaster. Well, just imagine what it was like to have a career as a title card artist or title card writer in the late 1920s when talkies were coming in–it must’ve been pretty intense.
It must’ve been a little sad, too. For even though titles (or “captions,” or “subtitles,” or “leaders,” as they were variously called–today we often call them “intertitles”) were sometimes considered a tad intrusive even back then, they did evolve into their own skilled artform.
Tracking the early stages of that evolution is tough, since many of the oldest silents are missing their titles–typically the main titles. Usually this is due to being damaged by countless threadings on countless projectors, or because the film stock was cheap and didn’t hold up over time. Plus, foreign theaters often swapped English titles for ones in their own language.
From what we can tell, 1900s and early 1910s films often used plain black backgrounds with white lettering. This was the standard since they were thought to be easier on the eyes than white backgrounds (eye strain was a big concern in the early cinema dadys). Since piracy became an issue almost the second Louis Le Prince and Thomas Edison got twinkles in their eyes, studios soon began adding their logos to the titles.
Notice the plain, sans-serif font above. As studios began churning out alarming amounts of one-reel and split-reel films, they found one of the quickest ways to make titles was to arrange simple white metal or cardboard letters on a black velvet background. There were also special printing machines available just for creating title cards, helping to further streamline the process.
At times, early titles could be a bit experimental. In this still from Alice in Wonderland(1903), the title is overlaid over a live action shot of Alice:
And in the famous The Great Train Robbery (1903), we see what are hand-drawn (or perhaps artfully arranged) letters complete with flourishes:
In time, studios started adopting specific templates for their titles, putting the words inside artistic frames. Each studio had their own style, whether it was the same frame for every film (like Keystone’s main titles) or several frames with similar motifs (like the work of Segundo de Chomón):
By the 1910s, film was rapidly growing more sophisticated, and so were title cards. While typed letters were still in use, hand-drawn lettering was very common since filmmakers felt it had more character. Stencils with openings for rows of words ensured everything was properly spaced and centered. Designers began utilizing more of the empty spaces, adding painterly backgrounds or “pictorial embellishments” and trying different fonts, as in this example in From the Manger to the Cross (1912):
In time, someone (wish I knew who) came up with one of the most popular trends of the silent era–adding little cartoons or paintings that served as humorous illustrations or visual commentary. Slapstick comedy and light comedies especially gravitated toward these charming touches:
These kinds of “art titles” became so common that directors of “serious” dramas would sometimes deliberately opt for plain titles–a 1922 book called Photoplay Writingexplained: “There is a mighty good theory on the part of some producers that the plainly lettered title devoid of ‘art’ or the trick photography is better calculated to carry along the story, for, after all, the play is the thing!” Well, that was one opinion, anyways.
Other trends were temporary. Starting in 1912, many of the major studios would add a film’s name to the top of all its title cards. This was mainly for people who would stroll into the theater in the middle of the show (a common occurrence when films were replayed all day). It also helped solve the problem of those easily-wrecked main titles.
Other things like textured backgrounds became very common, a nice break from the usual black velvet. Wallpaper, watercolor paintings, wood panels, burlap, carpeting, and different types of cloth could all be used, with the actual titles superimposed using double exposures.
And as the plain backgrounds became more decorative, the plainer fonts of the 1900s gradually gave way to the quainter letters that we associate with silent films today. These often included modest flourishes:
Probably the most widely-used type of lettering was what I’ve dubbed the “lazy ‘E’ font,” neat and rounded with a slightly tilted “E”. Note the extra tall “illuminated capital” in the example below, also a very common embellishment:
There were animated titles too, such as this famous “watery” example from Sunrise(1927):
And of course, in the meantime the avant-garde world tended to do precisely what it wanted to:
Title cards did linger into the talkie era a bit, popping up sparingly in comedy shorts and dramas. And of course, the main titles were essential. But the heyday of printed captions was over, and the artists and writers responsible for them (hopefully) transitioned into set design and screenplay writing.
And that takes us to Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times (1936), sometimes considered the very last silent film. And if we consider it the last silent film, then perhaps this is the very last official title card–a plucky message of hope as the Tramp and his love walk off hand-in-hand. For me, there is perhaps a faint tinge of nostalgia for the title card itself:
A “thank you” to historian Paul Gierucki for assisting me with some of the information on Keystone title cards!
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Lea Stans writes this wonderful blog and it can be read at HERE!
Celebrating the 5th Year of SILENT-OLOGY!
Thank You for sharing your wonderful blog with my readers!
A version of this article was originally written for Classic Movie Hub, where I write a monthly column on–you guessed it–silent films. Hope you enjoy!
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