Category Archives: Film

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The Romanticism of Lost Films (2015 For the Love of Film Blogathon)

[This is an entry in the For the Love of Film Blogathon, which supports film restoration and preservation. Please enjoy the post, and look for the link to donate at the bottom.]

Lost movies appeal to our sense of doomed artistry. The movies in your head are always much better than the movies you sit down to see. We build up heroic concepts of certain directors. Then, when their work is lost, we imagine what we’re missing as even better than the movies we have. In that sense, we need lost movies. They fortify our Romantic ideal of cinema, that’s cap-R Romantic of course.

That’s a quote from a character in Farran Smith Nehme’s Missing Reels; Nehme is perhaps better known in these parts as The Self-Styled Siren, co-founder of the For the Love of Movies Film Preservation Blogathon (though she is not hosting it this year), so you’ll have to forgive me for appearing to suck up a bit by beginning with a quote from her novel. In fact, I didn’t know what I was going to write about for this year’s blogathon (or in fact, if I would manage to come up with anything at all) until I happened across this quote.

The speaker in the story is Andy Evans, a colleague of main character Ceinwen’s boyfriend Matthew. Andy is a math professor who happens to be a big collector of silent film memorabilia (and silent films themselves, as well). Nobody likes him much, and in fact, this particular quote is followed by all the other characters saying that this particular sentiment is balderdash, and that Andy’s spent way too much time hanging out with the humanities crowd.

I’m not F.W. Murnau, I’m not Tod Browning, I’m not interested in my own puny concept of what they’d have done. I want to see those movies. I don’t want to get my kicks imagining little scenes with Janet Gaynor.

Harry Engleman in Missing Reels

Perhaps it’s my own background in the humanities (I spend a couple of years doing a masters in English lit, where I did in fact do a very intense semester on Romanticism), but Andy’s words make sense to me – after a fashion. He’s talking here about capital-R Romanticism, meaning he’s referencing the 18th-19th century aesthetic movement of Romanticism and its collective ideals.

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TCM Film Fest 2015: Don’t Bet on Women

Jeanette MacDonald is mostly remembered for her series of light operettas with Nelson Eddy, and for slightly more adventurous classic film fans, for her series of Pre-Code musical comedies with Maurice Chevalier and Ernst Lubitsch. That doesn’t always stand her in good stead, since her particular brand of coloratura soprano singing phased out of mainstream popularity by the 1960s. I’m still a fan of her musicals, but I’m the first to admit they aren’t for everyone. It was a particular joy, then, to hear of Don’t Bet on Women, which is one of MacDonald’s very few non-musical roles, and quite a rousing Pre-Code as well.

Pre-Codes fascinate me not only because they tend to be more risque and innuendo-filled than films either earlier or later, but because the combination of nearly unrestrained sexuality and a society still bound to a great degree by traditional mores often yields films with a very conflicted view of masculinity, femininity, and gender roles. Don’t Bet on Women, aka All Women Are Bad (you can see where we’re headed here), starts off with Roger Fallon (Edmund Lowe) swearing off women following a tender scene where his ex-wife convinces him to pay her a generous allowance since she doesn’t want to make her new husband go to the trouble of, like, working. He and his buddy Chip decide to take a boys-only cruise.

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Watch This: The Dancing Pig (1907)

There’s more TCM Fest stuff to come, including a rundown of the Return of the Dream Machine program, which featured films from 1900-1913 projected with an original 1908 hand-cranked projector – it was a very special evening, and introduced me to one of the most amazing, incredible, and bizarre pieces of early cinema I’ve yet seen. It affected me so much that I feel the need to share it with everyone I know, in every outlet I have. Ladies and gentlemen, behold….The Dancing Pig.

[The most amazing thing about this short is that apparently this vaudeville program was so popular at the time that there were numerous film versions made of it, by almost every studio. This one from Pathe seems to be the main one that's survived to today.]

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TCM Film Fest 2015: So Dear to My Heart

I grew up watching this film, and just assumed that it was as much a part of everyone else’s childhood as it was mine, just like any other Disney movie, or other animal movies like Lassie Come Home or National Velvet. Apparently that’s far from the case, as only one other person I knew at the festival had seen it (and she’s a certified Disney fanatic who went to great lengths to obtain a copy), and most people had never heard of it until it was in the festival program. It has never been released on DVD except as a bonus through the Disney Rewards Program. I’m pretty sure we bought it on VHS when I was a kid, but it’s possible we taped it off the Disney Channel or something. As the sole person in my group who had nostalgia for the film, I found myself trying not to oversell it, fearing that it wouldn’t live up to my memories. Thankfully, while it’s definitely fairly minor Disney, its charm and winsomeness remain intact through some admittedly cornball plot development.

Young boy Jeremiah Kincaid wants nothing more than to own a prize racehorse someday (this being rural Indiana in 1903, it’s harness racing he’s thinking of, not Thoroughbred racing)…until one of the farm’s sheep has a black lamb and refuses to accept him, and Jeremiah convinces his granny (his parents are unmentioned) to let him raise the outcast. Soon Jeremiah has big dreams for the troublemaking lamb Danny, hoping to take him to the state fair and win a blue ribbon. Lots of other little vignettes fill out the story, notably a treacherous trip into the swamp for Jeremiah and his cousin Tildy seeking out a bee tree, and an overnight search for the lost Danny in a frog-drowner of a rainstorm.

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