Silence is golden

We enjoyed this video tribute to the silent era, and thought we’d share it with you.

The person behind it, Alejandra Espasande Bouza, is an independent filmmaker based in Los Angeles. She holds a B.A. from the USC School of Cinematic Arts and a M.A. in Moving Image Archive Studies from UCLA. and here’s what she has to say about the project:

This video is a tribute to the forgotten pioneer Hollywood cinematographers who captured the moving images of the silent film era. In turn, these images serve as a reminder of the intrinsic beauty and charm of silent cinema, and the importance of its preservation. To that end, and in the tradition of this historic film period, no narration is employed. Apart from film stars of the time, the video showcases scenes that represent main themes of this film period: slapstick, adventure, horror and romance.

Sit back and enjoy the beauty of these moving images edited to the rhythm of Antonio Vivaldi.

Featured actors include: Gloria Swanson, Rudolph Valentino, Greta Garbo, Clara Bow, Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, William S. Hart, Ben Turpin, Harry Langdon, Buster Keaton, Harry Gribbon, Harold Lloyd, Mary Philbin, Lon Chaney and Roscoe Arbuckle.

If you enjoyed this, cast your vote for Ms. Bouza’s work in the MishMash Getty Images Music/Video/Remix competition.

A photo of a line of silent movie camera operators

Goodbye to another glorious gal: Barbara Kent

Some years ago, we had the pleasure of viewing Lonesome, a silent-talkie hybrid that was released in 1928. It’s not an easy movie to catch; as far as we know, the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York, has one of the few extant prints. (Someone seems to have loaded Lonesome up on YouTube, and we suppose that’s better than not seeing it at all, but just barely.)

Lonesome could not be more charming. Its appeal is based in large part on the fact that much of it was filmed on Coney Island, and any glimpse of that magical setting as it was in the 1920s is to be treasured.

But the plot of the picture is engaging, too. It tells the tale of two lonely Manhattanites who experience a chance meeting at Coney Island and go on to spend a magical day together before getting separated that evening, with neither having learned the other’s last name. In a city of millions, will they ever manage to find each other? (If you think we’re going to tell you how it turns out, you can think again. No blabbermouths, we.)

Lonesome was originally released as a silent picture, but with all the fuss over the new sound technology, it was decided to bring back all involved parties to film three scenes with synchronized music and dialogue. So it’s not quite a silent and not quite a talkie.

But it’s certainly delightful, in our opinion, and we encourage you, if you ever have the opportunity, to see it (in a theatre and not streaming online, if at all possible).

But you might well be wondering why we’re mentioning what is today a rather obscure picture now? Well, we’re sad to report that it’s because the movie’s leading lady, Barbara Kent, one of Universal Studios’ original contract stars and the final surviving WAMPAS Baby Star of 1927, died a week ago yesterday at the age of 103.

The Canadian-born Kent (her birthname was Barbara Cloutman) was not, admittedly, the biggest of names, even at the height of her career, but she made her mark, making eight or nine silents before successfully navigating the switch to talking pictures. She made 25 sound movies following her appearance in Lonesome, but retired from acting in 1935.

Among Kent’s most notable films were her screen debut in Flesh and the Devil (1926), with John Gilbert and Greta Garbo; a pair of starring roles opposite Harold Lloyd, in 1929’s Welcome Danger and Feet First a year later; a supporting role in Indiscreet (1931), which starred Gloria Swanson; and Emma, which featured Myrna Loy and Marie Dressler.

In the course of her nine-year career, Kent also worked alongside Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Richard Barthelmess, Edward G. Robinson, Charles “Buddy” Rogers, Andy Devine, James Gleason, Ben Lyon, Gilbert Roland, Noah Beery, Victor Jory, Dickie Moore, Monte Blue, Wallace Ford, Ward Bond, Arthur Lake, and Rex the Wonder Horse. That may not qualify as a Hall of Fame roster of co-stars, but many an actress has done worse.

After retiring, Kent refused virtually all interviews about her years in Hollywood—one notable exception was the time she afforded author Michael G. Ankerich, who profiled Kent in The Sound of Silence: Conversations with 16 Film and Stage Personalities Who Bridged the Gap Between Silents and Talkies—as she settled into a successive pair of happy marriages—first to Harry Edington, a Hollywood agent, whom she wed in 1932, and then, some years after Edington’s death in 1949, she married Jack Monroe, a Lockheed engineer. Aside from evading would-be interviewers, Kent reportedly spent her free time in her golden years as a golfer and a pilot.

For more on Kent’s life and career, give this New York Times obit a look.

Clap hands, here comes Charlie

Usually, when we have occasion to recommend a film festival or other vintage event, the proceedings are taking place in New York City, the home of Cladrite Headquarters, but our recommendation for this Friday and Saturday is directed at those in Southern California.

We’re not the biggest of Charlie Chaplin fans—among the great silent-movie comedians, Buster Keaton stands above all others in our estimation, with Harold Lloyd coming in second. But we’ve enjoyed our share of laughs over the years, courtesy of the Little Tramp, and we certainly acknowledge and respect the key role he plays in cinematic history.

So it’s with pleasure that we inform you that, this weekend, the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society, the William S. Hart Park and Museum, the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, and the Los Angeles County Department of Parks & Recreation are commemmorating the 75th anniversary of Modern Times, the picture that some say marked the end of the silent era, with a two-day celebration dubbed ChaplinFest.

The Santa Clarita Valley is a fitting site for this event, becuase it was there, on the Sierra Highway near Vasquez Rocks, that Chaplin filmed Modern Times‘ final scene. If you’ve seen the movie, you’ll recall it—the Little Tramp walks off into the distance with Paulette Goddard on his arm.

Chaplin also filmed a scene for The Pilgrim (1923) at the nearby Saugus Train Station, which has been preserved and moved to Heritage Junction park.

ChaplinFest boasts a number of intriguing events over its two days: A screening of Robert Downey Jr.’s biopic Chaplin; a ceremony dedicating a Chaplin monument at William S. Hart Park, with special guests Tippi Hedren and Leonard Maltin; screenings of Modern Times accompanied by artifacts from the movie, including Chaplin’s “Little Tramp” overalls; a book signing withJohn Bengtson, author of Silent Traces: Discovering Early Hollywood Through the Films of Charlie Chaplin; a screening of The Pilgrim at the Heritage Junction Train Station; A rare screening of the recently discovered Keystone comedy A Thief Catcher, with Chaplin as a Keystone Cop, and much more.

If we were within striking distance of Santa Clarita, you can bet we’d be in attendance at ChaplinFest this weekend. Since we’re not, we hope some of our SoCal readers will make it—and perhaps they’ll even send us photos of the event.

Watching the stars come out

We have a grand time when we visit Los Angeles (pronounce it “Angle-eez,” with the hard G, if you please). As movie buffs, we get a kick out of just driving around the various neighborhoods and imagining who once lived in the bungalows we’re passing. Lucille Ball, f’rinstance.

Then there are the more substantial residences that the familiar stars of the Golden Age of Hollywood moved into, once they’d hit it big.

In our several trips to Tinsel Town, we’ve never taken one of the commercial tours of the stars’ homes, but we suspect they tend to focus on the abodes of contemporary stars—Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Justin Bieber—at the expense of the former residences of your Humphrey Bogarts, your Bette Davises, your Una Merkels. And who can blame them? It’s always good policy to give the people what they want, and we who are more interested in seeing where and how the stars of yesteryear lived are undeniably in the minority.

There are guidebooks that provide pointers that allow us to catch a glimpse of where Bogart, Davis, and Merkel lived, worked, and played, of course (we’re partial to Richard Alleman’s Hollywood: The Movie Lover’s Guide: The Ultimate Insider Tour of Movie L.A.), but what if one doesn’t have the wherewithal (or accrued vacation days) to to arrange a Southern California sojorn?

In that case, one turns, as one tends to do these days, to the internet—specifically to Image-Archeology.com and their collection of vintage linen postcards that depict the residences of those performers who made our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents laugh, cry and tap their toes (though not simultaneously).

Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks’
home, Pickfair
Jean Harlow’s Beverily Hills residence Claudette Colbert’s hilltop residence
in Hollywood

At this delightful site, one can gaze upon a palatial Hancock Park home while imagining Buster Keaton stepping out to pick up the morning paper, compare contrast two of Groucho Marx‘s Beverly Hills homes, and kill two birds with one stone as you assess the love nest once blissfully shared by a pair of stars who were married once upon a time, Dick Powell and Joan Blondell.

And the list goes on—Myrna Loy, Harold Lloyd, Ginger Rogers, Barbara Stanwyck; one could grow breathless reciting them. All the cards, from A to Z (well, A to Y—Loretta Young is the last star on the list) are in terrific shape and lovingly presented. We encourage all our readers to experience a little California sunshine by spending some time there.