Film Notes - TSFF2021

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Film Notes

The Gold Diggers 1923
Accompaniment by Marilyn Lerner
 “There is no single number for existing American silent-era feature films, as the surviving copies vary in format and completeness. There are 1,575 titles (14%) surviving as the complete domestic-release version in 35mm, another 1,714 (11%) are complete, but not the original -they are either a foreign-release version in 35mm or in a 28 or 16mm small-gauge print. Another 562 titles (5%) are incomplete -missing either a portion of the film or an abridged version. The remaining 70% are believed to be completely lost…For every film that survives, there are half a dozen that do not, and for every classic that is seen today, many more of equal importance at the time are now missing and presumed lost.” -The Survival of American Silent Feature Films 1912-1929 by David Pearce
 The re-emergence of The Gold Diggers, a film unseen by audiences since 1923 and thought lost until quite recently stands as a beacon for the possibility of other forgotten films returning and a happy move from the “70%+ lost” column list to the “found column” (abet in the 5% incomplete list). The storyline is fortunately intact with the still lost scenes from a couple of reels told through minimal intertitles.
 With so many films having been lost and passed from memory over the past century, the occasional find is always noted and embraced. That the lost film in question was in startlingly good condition and on nitrate puts it in the miracle category. But while the finding of a lost film, any lost film, is cause for celebration, the fact that The Gold Diggers was a top tier film from a major studio and the first film made from the hit play that inspired numerous remakes and with excellent production values and strong cast makes it that much more memorable. How it was found reads like the plot of every film lover’s dream-Josh Cattermole will explain it in his filmed introduction.
 The film is based on the hit 1919 Broadway show also called The Gold Diggers by Avery Hogwood (the “Neil Simon” of his day). The play’s producer was the legendary David Belasco, who also produced the film. While not inventing the term “gold digger” (an earlier common usage referred to people who mine gold which then morphed into men who sought young pretty chorus girls), the play certainly popularized the term in reference to women who sought wealthy partners via their charms. The play starred Ina Claire in the lead role and premiered at the Lyceum Theatre on West 45th Street on September 30th, 1919. It stayed for 2 seasons with 720 performances before going on tour until 1923. The Lyceum Theatre, built in 1903, is considered the oldest continuously operated legitimate theatre on Broadway.  It was also the first Broadway Theatre to be granted landmark status.
 When it came to making the hit play into a hit movie, David Belasco turned to Warner Bros. as his studio of choice and in keeping with his hit play, he also produced the film. Ina Claire was initially supposed to star but she had commitments elsewhere. The Gold Diggers (1923), budgeted for $280,000 grossed over half a million at the box office and spawned a mini series of films with the Gold Digger theme.
 This was the only silent version. The next one, The Gold Diggers of Broadway in 1929, was a talkie (listed as lost) and then came the version that most know the name from, The Gold Diggers of 1933. The Gold Digger franchise continued with Gold Diggers of 1935, the Gold Diggers of 1937, and then finished up the next year the Gold Diggers in Paris. Only the two filmed in the 1920s bear any relation to the play.
The Main Players
 Hope Hampton 1897-1982
 Starting out her film career in 1920 Hope starred in numerous silent films before retiring from the screen at the start of the sound era (although she did return in 1938 for The Road to Reno directed by her husband) But she also had early voice training and after her film career, she turned to opera, debuting with the Philadelphia Opera. In later years she became known as the “Duchess of Park Avenue”, very much a matriarch of the New York social set, living from the 1920s to her death in her glamorous 5 story Park Avenue townhouse, known for her gorgeous wardrobe of gowns, wearing mounds of jewelry and for her prominence on opening nights and on the society pages.
 In 1978, she was crowned “Queen of the Beaux Arts Ball”. She died a few years later of a heart attack at the age of 84 lamenting the fact that glamour had left opening nights.
 Wyndham Standing 1880-1963 British born into a prolific acting family, Wyndham worked steadily in films from 1915 right up until the end of the 40s. in over 130 films from this film to Hell’s Angels to Meet John Doe.
 Louise Fazenda 1895-1962 Fazenda got her start in comedy shorts as early as 1913 with Joker Studios, but soon caught the attention of Mack Sennett and moved to his Keystone Studios where her star rose. As with many other actors at that famous studio, she left seeking greener pastures. By the start of the sound era, she was a well respected and well paid actor, making both short and feature films at all the big studios. While she appeared mostly in comedy and musicals, she had superior skills as a character actor. She was once accurately described as a plain-looking woman but a highly gifted character comedienne.  In 1927 Fazenda married Warner Brothers' producer Hal B. Wallis, a union which lasted until her death. After retiring in 1939, she spent the remainder of her years as an art collector. Louise was last seen at TSFF in the Keystone comedy Hearts and Flowers (1919).
1000 LAFFS: Hal Roach & The Lot of Fun
Accompaniment by Jordan Klapman
 Our last 1000 LAFFS focused on Mack Sennett, and as much heralded as the “King of Comedy” among silent film producers, I have to give the edge for that crown to Hal Roach.
 While Sennett’s studio, best known today for its fast, furious and frantic slapstick, might be termed “The Laugh Factory”, the Hal Roach Studio was christened “The Lot of Fun” by the actors, directors, writers, script girls and carpenters who worked there. Because, well, working there was a lot of fun.
 And it shows on the screen.
 Hal Roach’s unique character-driven brand of comedy separated him from all comers, and anyone who saw the promise and nurtured the likes of Harold Lloyd, Laurel & Hardy and Our Gang definitely knew what he was doing. Nobody’s comedies of the era compared to Hal Roach’s.
 In our programme, we’ll be sampling five of his most successful series over the span of a decade. Trust me, it was tough to pick the cream of the crop – there’s enough to choose from to schedule 10,000 LAFFS.
 Harold Lloyd. The man with the glasses clutching onto a giant clockface 20 stories into the sky – that’s Harold Lloyd, Roach’s first “star” and ultimately one of the greatest comedy stars of the silent era, generally besting Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton at the box office. But it took him a long time to get there. Roach and Lloyd were a couple of bit player buddies when Roach came into a small inheritance and decided to make his own movies with Harold as the star. Success grew slowly as Harold cranked out more than five dozen “Lonesome Luke” comedies – a Chaplinsque wannabe who was popular enough, but on a one-way trip to Nowheresville. Lloyd ditched the funny clothes and moustache and put on a tidy suit and pair of specs. The new Harold was a fresh, All-American Boy with plenty of pep. But there was something else… in a word, “normalcy”.
 Lloyd would quickly move on to feature films like Grandma’s Boy, The Freshman, The Kid Brother, Speedy, the list goes on. He left Roach when he wrapped up Safety Last (the one with the clock) on the friendliest of terms.
 Young Mr. Jazz (1919) is a film whose title pretty much sums up Harold Lloyd in three words. He’s brimming with vim, vigour and vitality, a character created by the jazz age and representing everything it promised.  The girl (there’s always a girl) is Bebe Daniels, soon to find superstardom with Cecil B. Demille. Snub Pollard – with his Kaiser Wilhelm moustache and arched eyebrows, still looking like a refugee from a pie fight – rounds out the trio.
 Our Gang. Best remembered today as “The Little Rascals” (their TV sobriquet), Our Gang had a long run of silent success long before Spanky, Alfalfa, Darla, Porky and Buckwheat were a glimmer in their parents’ eyes. The story goes that Roach gazed out his office window one day, saw a bunch of kids cavorting in a vacant lot and had a “eureka” moment. More likely he was trying to find a better use for his charming child star Ernie “Sunshine Sammy” Morrison, thought to be the first African-American performer signed to a long-term Hollywood contract. Sunshine Sammy was joined by Mickey Daniels, Mary Kornman, Joe Cobb, Jackie Condon and Allen “Farina” Hoskins as a foundation for a series that would last from 1922 to 1944. (Bested only by The Three Stooges as the longest-running short subject series in Hollywood history. Do with that information what you will.)
 The Big Show (1923) is an archetypal Gang outing, one where they see something built by grownups and say, “We can do that!” In this case it’s a county fair, complete with rides, performing animals, and a movin’ pitcher show with the kids imitating Harold Lloyd, Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, William S. Hart, Mary Pickford… well, you name ‘em.
 Charley Chase. Chase (born Charles Parrott) was a Mack Sennett bit player (a little too “normal” for Keystone comedies) and blossoming director before arriving at the Hal Roach Studios as Director-General. Essentially, the guy in charge.
 When Harold Lloyd left the studio, Roach sought out another “All-American Regular Fellow” and Charley stepped into the role; first as a jittery character named Jimmy Jump, then as the equally alliterative Charley Chase — a fellow equally at home as a henpecked hubby or a bon vivant around town. Chase’s particular brand of character-driven situational comedy defined the Roach “house style” for a greater part of the ‘20s, and his career at Roach lasted well into the talkies, where his singing and dancing skills
 Mighty Like a Moose (1926) is a typical Chase farce; comic complications abound as man and wife step out on each other – with each other. (You have to see it to get it.)
 As with most of Charley’s shorts, there’s a little bit of Roaring 20’s naughtiness thrown in. In 2007, Mighty Like A Moose was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress, which recognizes American films deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant." Oh, and it’s funny too.
 Stan Laurel & Oliver Hardy. If Hal Roach is remembered for anything, it’s likely as the one producer who saw the potential of “Mr. Laurel & Mr. Hardy” and gave them free rein to develop and grow their characters into what’s now universally acknowledged as the greatest comedy duo ever on the screen. They took Chase’s cue and slowed down the slapstick, basing the humour around two befuddled buddies caught up in a slightly off-kilter but relatable real world. (The guiding principle, to quote Stan Laurel in one of their later talkies, being “It could happen.”)
 Liberty (1929) sees Stan & Ollie taking on Harold Lloyd’s “high and dizzy” and making it their own; the danger doubled because both are skittering about the skyscraper beams. What gets them up there? A surprisingly risqué twist on their trademark “hat switching” routine – with pants instead of derbies. And there’s a crab. Don’t ask.  Oh, see if you can spot Jean Harlow in here.
 Hal Roach’s All-Stars. The “Lot of Fun” was populated by probably the greatest ensemble of second bananas in the history of comedy. Not quite stars but put them all together and you’ve got All-Stars.
 The series actually began with Roach hiring on-the-wane dramatic stars and using their marquee value for short subjects. Theda Bara, Anna May Wong, Lionel Barrymore, Priscilla Dean, Harry Myers, Mildred Harris – even Mae Busch, she of The Unholy Three, Souls For Sale, and Von Stroheim’s Foolish Wives – found themselves with top billing in two-reelers.
 Ultimately, the series morphed into a playground for folks like Jimmy “D’oh” Finlayson, Edgar “Slow Burn” Kennedy, Max Davidson, Martha Sleeper, Spec O’Donnell, Edna Marian, Eugene Pallette and yes, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy until they eclipsed them all became THE stars on the Roach lot.
 Surprise Anita Garvin & Marion Byron Comedy (1928). With the success of Laurel & Hardy, Roach sat back and said “I’ve got it! What if we had another Laurel & Hardy – except they’re pretty girls!”. (Well, I’m guessing he said that.) The result was the pairing of statuesque and smouldering Anita Garvin with petite and oh-so-sweet Marion Byron (Buster Keaton’s love interest in Steamboat Bill, Jr.). While the series might have tried a bit too hard to at copycatting Stan & Ollie, the chemistry was there, and the three films Anita and Marion made together are just plain delightful.
 Look for some of those familiar faces adding to the fun in this one.  
 Enjoy the show. And have a lot of fun. -Programmer/Presenter Chris Seguin
The Films of Mikio Naruse
Accompaniment by Tania Gill
This programme is supported by a grant from the Japan Foundation (Toronto)
Co-presented by the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre, Toronto
Motion picture technology was patented in France in 1895, and it took just two years before it made its way to Japan with the help of Kyoto business man Katsutaro Inabata, a former classmate of Auguste Lumière, the co-inventor of the Cinematograph. The magic of the movies wasn't the only technological wonder in Japan at the end of the 19th-century though. Since its opening to the outside world in 1853 Japan had undergone rapid industrialization, with the government having both sent delegates to study in the West, but also hiring experts in civil engineering, manufacturing, medicine and education from Germany, France, The Netherlands and England. Gone were the days of the samurai (dissolved by Imperial decree in 1867), Japan was now populated by bureaucrats, factory workers, and doctors and propelled itself into the ranks of the world's greatest powers.
By the 1930's Japan was firmly established as a thriving modern society, and its cinema reflected this. Shochiku, a film studio still operating to this day, specialized in depicting this new world with stories of lower middle class life known as shōshimin-eiga, or shomin-geki. Producer Shiro Kido managed Shochiku's studio in Tokyo's Kamata district, employing a roster of filmmakers, such as Yasujiro Ozu and Hiroshi Shimizu, whose work would come to define not only how much progress Japan had made during the previous half-century but, at times, how far it had strayed from its traditions. One filmmaker who got his start at Shochiku, and whose work would explore this existential schism of modern Japanese life, was Mikio Naruse.
Born into the same lower middle class world that Shochiku's films would highlight, the young Naruse would get his start in the world of filmmaking by working as a props manager at Shochiku for a decade before being allowed by Kido to helm his first directorial effort, Mr. and Mrs. Swordplay (Chanbara fūfū) at the young age of 25. This would be the first of a remarkable 24 films that Naruse would make for Shochiku before leaving the studio in 1934 to join the newly established P.C.L., Photo Chemical Laboratories, soon to be rebranded as Toho, the studio that would famously bring the world the Seven Samurai and Godzilla.
Until a series of retrospectives that happened in the 1980's through the early 2000's, Naruse's work wasn't as well known as such legendary names as Yasujiro Ozu, Akira Kurosawa or Kenji Mizoguchi; but today his films have become synonymous with the shomin-geki genre. Often focusing on the plight of women in Japanese society (having adapted the work of author Fumiko Hayashi six times to the screen), Naruse also became famous for his sparse, pointed dialogue, reductive visual style and most famously in his mature works, such as 1954's Sound of the Mountain (Yama no Oto) and 1960's When a Woman Ascends the Stairs (Onna ga Kaidan o Agaru Toki), for a sometimes dour, pessimistic world view. "From the youngest age, I have thought that the world we live in betrays us; this thought still remains with me,” Naruse was famously quoted as saying.
Despite this later reputation as a serious and somewhat minimalist director, Naruse's early silent work explodes with flashy technical innovations (dramatic dolly-in shots, rapid fire editing, semi-surreal use of reflections and lighting), as well as straight up comedy. All these elements are on display in the two films presented here today. With 1931's Flunky, Work Hard! (Koshiben ganbare) Naruse's earliest surviving film, we're introduced to Okabe, a struggling insurance salesman competing with a rival salesman to sell a policy to a wealthy neighbor. Naruse employs full on slapstick and various other gags here to create a portrait of his brow beaten protagonist, but the mood, and the visuals, change when the life of Susumu, Okabe's son, is threatened.
More in line thematically with Naruse's later work 1933's Apart from You (Kimi to wakarete) follows the parallel stories of Yoshio, a young student whose mother works as a geisha/ bar hostess, and Terugiku, the daughter of a ne'er do well father who plans to sell her sister into the same line of work. Terugiku not only attempts to win the heart of Yoshio, but also tries to show him that despite his mother's profession, she truly loves him and only works as a geisha to provide the best life she can for him. Naruse ratchets up the tension between Yoshio, Terugiku and their families by using expressionistic camera movements, creating a high melodrama about the limited options available to underprivileged women in pre-war Japan.

Flunky, Word Hard! (Kimi to wakarete/ 腰弁頑張れ)
Directed by Mikio Naruse
Starring: Isamu Yamaguchi, Tomoko Naniwa, Shizue Akiyama, Tokio Seki, Seiichi Kato
Apart from You (Kimi to wakarete/ 君と別れて)
Directed by Mikio Naruse
Starring: Mitsuko Yoshikawa, Akio Isono, Sumiko Mizukubo, Reikichi Kawamura, Tatsuko Fuji, Yoko Fujita, Tomio Aoki
Notes by Programmer/Presenter Chris MaGee
The Woman One Longs For 1929 Germany
Accompaniment by Bill O'Meara
 “Glamour is what I sell, it’s my stock in trade, I am not a myth.”
 The sentiments voiced by Marlene Dietrich may have been sincere, may have even been what she believed of herself, but mythology is part of the movie’s stock in trade since day one. The movies create it, commodify it, mold it over the years to fit the changing tides or to act as bulwark against the changing tides. Dietrich knew that more than most and she started her myth making of herself early in her career.
 One part of the Dietrich mythology was her insistence for years that she never did silent films and that it was Josef von Sternberg who created her. Wonderful stories no doubt, and certainly much more quotable than the reality.
 The Woman One Longs For was her second starring role in what was close to a decade working in the German film industry. It’s a fine example of the late silent period both in direction by Curtis (Kurt) Bernhardt, with a noir like structure, heavily influenced at times by German expressionism and punctuated by solid performances.
 The story was adapted by Ladislaus Vajda from the Max Brod novel and centers on Henri Leblanc (Henning), the young industrial heir who, due to the misfortunes of his family business, allows himself to be trapped in an arranged marriage for that sake. About to embark on his honeymoon, he spies Stascha (Dietrich) on the same train as he’s travelling with his new wife. He becomes wholly obsessed, leaves his wife, and follows her. But she is not alone. She appears to be bonded by some dark secret to a rather sadistic Dr. Karoff. Henri plots to remove him so they can be together.
 It's ultimately an ever-tightening circle of people who want to escape their relationships and, as with all circles, the tension mounts as they spiral into the core where tragedy lives.
 Director Curtis (Kurt) Bernhardt may not be as well-known as his other contemporary German filmmakers like Lang, Murnau or Pabst, but he was just as accomplished in the art expressing the story through visuals. You’ll note that several passages are even devoid of intertitles, as none were needed to forward the story, and his keen expressionist styling can be remarked to that effect in some early scenes and at the New Year’s Eve Party.  As it was with many Europeans and especially German filmmakers, he ended up in Hollywood. There, he continued a notable career directing films such as Sirocco, Miss Sadie Thompson, and Beau Brummell.
Viewers of Pandora’s Box will recognize Austrian actor Fritz Kortner (1892-1970) as the sinister Dr. Karoff—a type of role he was noted for. Accomplished Swedish stage and film actor Uno Henning (1895-1970) last seen at TSFF in The Loves of Jeanne Ney (1927), rounds out the 3 main characters.
 But all eyes are on Dietrich as we can see the progression of her mystique-from her stillness at times to the camera lingering longer than one thinks completely necessary on her famous legs. It’s all there. In some ways it was the culmination of what she had been working on for quite some time, testing her image with key overhead spots highlighting those famous cheekbones and de-emphasizing what she considered a less than perfect upturned nose (spending a considerable amount of time working on that in Berlin photobooths). So noted was she in this department, that years later, Hitchcock permitted her to set her lighting for her scenes in Stage Fright (1950), the only actor he would ever allow do so saying, “she knows better than cinematographer how to light her”. The best was yet to come for Dietrich but all the groundwork had been done.  
 When the film opening, the German critics were less than enthusiastic about her performance (“expressionless malice in every look”) and Dietrich was crushed. However, her performance found sympathetic audiences when the film opened in the US under the title Three Loves, as both the critics and public were impressed. The New York Times wrote, “(It) possesses the kind of direction that makes American film magnates cable contracts abroad …. In addition, it boasts of a noteworthy performer in the person of Fritz Kortner, and a rare Garboesque beauty in Marlene Dietrich”.
 Dietrich remained busy, working on a couple more films and going back on stage so it wasn’t until September 1929 that Josef von Sternberg spotted Dietrich in a revue and knew he had found his Lola.
The rest is history, mythology firmly entrenched.
 This film was restored in 2012 by the Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau Stiftung.
 Preceded by: Cinderella 1922
 Made just a few years before her masterpiece The Adventures of Prince Achmed (TSFF2010), Cinderella showcases Lotte Reiniger’s trademark delicate silhouettes. But be warned, there’s some spicier than expected intertitle language and some very un-Disney violence involved all harkening back to the origin story by Charles Perrault in 1697 and Grimms Fairy Tales in 1812.
Beverly of Graustark 1926
Accompaniment by Morgan-Paige Melbourne
There’s a healthy history of prince and pauper type storylines, gender bending disguises and such in film history and Beverly of Graustark is no different. But what are the odds of Marion Davies switching places with Creighton Hale (an unjustly forgotten actor) with no one really noticing? Fairly low. However, this all takes place in a world where the little country of Graustark is a real place (Hollywood was known for creating all sorts of “real” places over the years from Prisoner of Zenda’s Ruritania to modern day Wakanda). It only adds to the suspension of disbelief that’s key to many films over the decades but it’s also obvious that the filmmakers and star are more than happy to have the audience in on the joke.
The set up is short—Beverly, a New York socialite must impersonate her male cousin long enough for him to heal from a skiing accident. The crunch is that he’s the heir to the throne of Graustark and there’s politics afoot. So poor Beverly is out of her element as a male youth but gives it the old college try—she cuts her hair short, (it did start a bit of a real-life trend), dons male garb and away she goes to beat the odds, keep the secret, and stay out of the way of the General (Roy D’Arcy) as much as possible. She runs head long into trouble but a kindly and handsome Dantan, a goat-herder (Antonio Moreno) becomes her guard…well you can guess what starts to happen.
This wasn’t the first time Marion appeared in drag on screen-first was in When Knighthood Was In Flower (TSFF2016) & then in 1923 In Little Old New York. So, for the third time, Marion dresses as a man to save the day. As comic androgyny goes, “she creates the physical sense of the male in her movements and attitude with a grown-up, very meta sense, that anyone as feminine as she could every get away with really fooling anyone…” Jeanine Bassinger, author of Silent Stars
The film is performed with such flawless comedic timing and with so much charm that you’re quite happy to suspend your disbelief for the entire length. That, coupled with a top rate supporting cast in an extremely well produced film, makes it one of the highlights of the mid-20s comedies. The bonus topper is the grand finales of two-strip Technicolor to bring it all home.
The film is based on the popular 1904 book by George Barr McCutcheon. It was a one of a series of novels set in this not-quite-geographically-located principality somewhere probably in “eastern Europe”. The series revolves around intrigues, forbidden romances, rivalries etc.
Marion Davies films were well known for having excellent production values with strong cinematography and costuming and this film fits that description to a T. Director Sidney Franklin was regarded as a top-rated director, making his name directing some of the biggest stars in Hollywood-from Mary Pickford (Hoodlum) to Norma Talmadge (Smilin’ Through) to Greta Garbo (Wild Orchids) and beyond.
It also stars the always reliable matinee idol Antonio Moreno as the Goat Herder who Marion falls for and the delicious wickedness that Roy D’Arcy as the General brings to every film role with ease.  Both actors were last seen at TSFF2019 in The Temptress with Greta Garbo.
We’re fortunate that Marion recognized the value of her films by donating them in the 1950s to the Library of Congress for preservation. For many years, most of her excellent film output was represented by barely a handful of films and because of that, her talents as one of the great comedians of the era has largely gone underseen because of lack of access to her work. In recent years she has undergone a bit of a renaissance with restorations and private physical media kickstarters by Edward Lurosso and Ben Model.
Library of Congress undertook an impressive 4K restoration and in then Ben Model, silent film accompanist and film historian launched a 2019 kickstarter to bring the film onto a BluRay release (TSFF has had Ben up here twice over the years). With more accessible availability of her films and the excellent biography by Lara Gabrielle, hopefully Marion can gather new fans to her life and career.
The DCP of this film is courtesy of Ben Model and his Undercrank Productions.  
The film will be introduced by author Lara Gabrielle in a pre-recorded message. She recently had published a well researched and thoughtfully written biography Captain of Her Soul-The Life of Marion Davies and has introduced this film across the USA to enthusiastic crowds.
Preceded by: A Woman 1915 Charlie Chaplin
© Toronto SILENT FILM Festival 2010-2021
© Toronto SILENT FILM Festival 2010-2021
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