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Monday, July 25, 2016

Stuff We Might Never Have Seen ...

Found At Mostly Lost Is Goodies Galore

One-man Blu-Ray and DVD labels have taken a lead in silent era rollout. Archives are swell, but I see none releasing titles for home delectation. The Library Of Congress, however, earns praise for sharing with laborers of love such rarity as wouldn't be available any other way. Found At Mostly Lost is gather of shorts so obscure it took an auditorium of experts just to ID the things. Three-day process has become yearly ritual at LoC headquarters in Culpepper, Va., Ben Model and his Undercrank Productions compiling fruit of effort for disc release. Found At Mostly Lost derives from 2012-2014 conclave-ing (a lively audience I hear, membership yelling out clues, palm pilots busy, through race for title/dates). Fact these subjects are obscure doesn't mean they won't entertain, as I found to surprise/delight in seeing the batch (11 total, mostly comedy). Imagine being put in front of a surviving reel from teens or early 20's, with no hint of what's what, and nailing dope within minutes. These are chess champions of the film preserve game, and orchids to them plus Undercrank for sharing fun of rediscovery with the rest of us. I emphasize fun here, as content isn't relics of academic interest only. Watch one and you'll keep on --- share, and hear your crowd call for encore. Quality is done deal thanks to most deriving from 35mm. So who said fragments and nitrate decomp can't look good, especially w/ music overlay by Ben Model, Phillip Carli, and Andrew Simpson. I'm for support of this project so that Found At Mostly Lost might become annual DVD event.

Among highlights: The Nickel Snatcher (1920), a Hank Mann reel directed by Charley Chase with streetcars and bathing girls. All outdoors and along country lanes no longer there. Fidelity (1911), another of weird grave worship shorts (a Nickelodeon sub-genre? We can't know for so few surviving). Don't be misled: screen acting could be wonderfully understated in 1911. Overgrown, crowded-up cemeteries and a dog to again commune with the dead. Another of the past as foreign country, or other world. A Brass Button, also 1911, also well-acted. Starring is James Kirkwood, who'd later do a married-in-the-eyes-of God number on Mary Miles Minter and nearly get killed for it by crazed mother of same. Here was first time I realized how effective this otherwise forgotten player could be. Truth that emerges from watching nickelodeon dramas: virtually all teach sound moral lessons, more so than talkers ever would. We hear lots about censorship and blue-nosers dogging pioneer movies, but writer Terry Lindvall has researched to different, and arresting conclusion, as in discovery of fact that clergy in many locales supported filmgoing and arranged even to run films in church on occasion. Read Lindvall findings in Going To The Movies, edited by Richard Maltby, Melvyn Stokes, and Robert C. Allen, essay entitled Sundays In Norfolk: Toward A Protestant Utopia Through Film Exhibition in Norfolk, Virginia, 1910-1920.

Imagine If That Were DWG Reaching For The Lizard's Snout ...
Or Maybe It's Me That's Reaching

Yes --- It's a Young Bill Frawley
More that's good in Found At Mostly Lost: Jerry's Perfect Day (1916), park bench foolery with George Ovey (not heard of him? Neither had I). Silent clowns worked under a huge tent --- will we ever know them all? A bunch of cops strip down for a swim, Jerry steals clothes, gives them to tramps, pretty girls happen along, cops don tramp attire, get arrested by more cops. Enough of plot summary, but in the right mood, this stuff can grab you. There's also test footage for One Million B.C. (1940) with yard lizards kitted out as dinosaurs. We see human hands reaching in to manipulate the sad things; it can't have been easy to be a working lizard in 1940. Have conditions improved? Just occurs to me: Might D.W. Griffith have supervised these tests? Ventriloquist is William Frawley doing vaudeville, with sound, from 1927. He's smooth, the routine honed over undoubted 100's of times. Another vaude short is The Joy Ride (1928), more obscure, unless you're somehow related to George LeMaire or Joe Phillips. Balance of comedy has Snub Pollard (a good one for Roach), Jimmie Adams, and Monty Banks. These were figured gone since trolleys ran, and would have stayed that way if not for LoC rescue, detection by workshop attendees, and Undercrank offering on disc. Each have thanks coming for splendid result that is Found At Mostly Lost, available from Amazon.


Blogger Reg Hartt said...

Looks like one to get. Until now I had never imagined Bill Frawley as young which, of course, he once was.

7:31 AM  
Blogger Michael J. Hayde said...

As a MOSTLY LOST participant from its start, perhaps your readers would like to know how it works. It's a 3-day workshop during which approximately 100 films and/or surviving excerpts from various archives (Library of Congress, Museum of Modern Art, UCLA, EYE Film, to name a few) are screened. There are about 150-200 film scholars and related experts in attendance. Most of us have electronic devices. To give one example, A BRASS BUTTON - the first film screened at the 2013 session - was ID'd as follows: James Kirkwood and Mary Alden, his leading lady, were identified. That was the cue for various databases to be searched for films in which both appeared. Titles were called out and some began combing the web for synopses (I was one of these). Meanwhile, others were noting visual clues, such as wardrobe and settings, in hopes of pinning down the release year and studio. (The actors worked for both Biograph and Reliance.) Even the musicians get involved here; Phil Carli, for example, is an expert in ID'ing automobile models and years. Others can tell from foliage and building structure whether films were shot in Fort Lee, Philadelphia or Chicago, or anywhere else aside from the more obvious Southern California. By the time the film ended, the ID was down to two possibles. I came across a matching synopsis in a daily newspaper, THE CORTLAND NY STANDARD, and someone else found one in THE NY DRAMATIC MIRROR, cinching the film as A BRASS BUTTON, Reliance 1911.

5:38 AM  
Blogger Mark Mayerson said...

Thank you, Michael for describing the process. I am no kind of expert, but it would be fascinating to be in the room. Perhaps they should think about live streaming it in the future.

11:34 AM  
Blogger Michael J. Hayde said...

Mark, parts of this year's event were live streamed by participant (and founder of Slapsticon) Rob Farr, but it's no substitute for being there. The dynamic of live interaction really makes it work.

Here's a taste of how it went this year:

1:31 PM  
Blogger Donald Benson said...

Also enjoyable: Ben Model's "Accidentally Preserved" DVDs (two so far).

5:35 PM  
Blogger Michael J. Hayde said...

Donald: There are three volumes out, and a fourth is due in the fall!

5:40 PM  
Blogger rnigma said...

The hand holding the lizard might have belonged to Roy Seawright, Hal Roach's head FX guy, or his assistant Jack Glass.

7:25 PM  

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