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Friday, August 16, 2013

It's A Researching Gusher!


LANTERN Lights The Window To Movies Past

The film studies equivalent to the invention of the printing press was unveiled this week. LANTERN is a name I'm going to repeat --- LANTERN --- I won't have to repeat it much longer, you'll be repeating it (to borrow CK trailer parlance). And you likely will use it --- often --- as I have. LANTERN is the resource miracle wrought by David Pierce and Eric Hoyt, part of their ongoing Media History Library. Pierce you will know from much fine writing on varied aspects of film history. Hoyt teaches at UW-Madison Communication Arts and is, to my mind, the lead authority on vintage film libraries and their complex background. Pierce and Hoyt have woven hundreds of thousands of pages from past trade journals, fan mags, and tech periodicals into a searchable index that's easy as pie to use and vastly helpful for anybody digging toward info on past pix (yes, Variety's here too, with more of it to come). Is LANTERN addictive? In a warning word, yes. Don't venture there if you have appointments in the next two hours, or two days, for that matter. Will Greenbriar use LANTERN? Check my last three days of banners --- all LANTERN-derived, and I suspect that's just a beginning.


Now to particulars of LANTERN use: I picked something obscure for an opener search to test depth of resource. Would a one-reel Mack Sennett short from 1913 be there? (there are, by the way, 5777 results on Sennett himself) The Gusher was my choice, having watched again Kino's DVD where it buttressed The Extra Girl, with Mabel Normand. The Gusher is another from Sennett's squirrel cage, Mabel teamed with Ford Sterling and embryonic Keystone Kops to rout villainy that has, among other things, set an oil well afire. That last was an actual event Sennett cameras rushed to record so as to add spectacle to a yarn dreamed up in flame's aftermath. The Gusher fascinates on levels I'd not considered before reading Rob King's terrific book, The Fun Factory, which delves deep into Keystone from beginnings and relates Sennett output to US culture at large. Just what got a mass public primed for slapstick as served by Sennett? Author King proposes answers fresh and thought-provoking. His book certainly made Keystones a richer viewing experience for me --- much of nonsense in these comedies makes better sense now. The Fun Factory is a challenging read that rewards well through its 376 pages (nearly a hundred of which are very informative chapter notes).


So then came time to plug The Gusher into LANTERN. What came of the latter was release date (12-15-13) from a vintage issue of Motion Picture News, then a fascinating reference in which The Gusher was selected as  "Favorite Film" of the week by "John D.," who was among a panel of notables that included Carl Laemmle, Pat Powers, J.M. Kerrigan, each of these familiar, but who was John D? Apparently well known enough at the time for a last name's initial to suffice, but a hundred years later? Draws a blank. There was neat reportage on The Gusher's warm reception in England (left), where a theatre was obliged to run it twice to the same audience. Then I found on LANTERN a still from The Gusher (above) that appeared in a book favorite from way back, Daniel Blum's A Pictorial History Of The Silent Screen. Amazing the images in Blum's books that have shown up no place else. I could probably have found more on The Gusher at LANTERN, the foregoing being what surfaced within initial minutes of search. If a fourteen minute short out of hundreds Keystone made can summon these results, just imagine what high-profile names and titles might yield. LANTERN is a gift to researchers that will keep on giving for productive years ahead. No telling the number of books and articles that will come of its availability, or be enriched thereby. David Pierce and Eric Hoyt have made a contribution to film studies that is beyond calculation. And yes, the word "gift" does apply, as LANTERN is free of charge to users.

2 Comments:

Blogger VP81955 said...

The Media History Digital Library already was a great resource, but now it's infinitely easier to use...a huge boon to research. I've noted about 2,700 references to Carole/Carol Lombard, and further will delve into this in ensuing weeks. Some of what I've already found is at http://carole-and-co.livejournal.com/624814.html.

7:10 PM  
Blogger Jim Lane said...

Just checked out Lantern myself and Wow! What a treasure trove this is already -- and to think that there's more to come. Thanks, John, for the heads-up; we'll all be digging for nuggets in this gold mine, I have no doubt.

5:38 AM  

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