Classic Movies · Stuff You Should Know

I Lost it at the movies

film

Since 2012, the Library of Congress has hosted an annual workshop known to film fanatics as “Mostly Lost,” in which movie mavens from all walks of life—writers, scholars, activists, filmmakers…and really, just about anyone with a passion for film and its preservation—gather together ’round June at the LoC’s National Audio-Visual Conservation Center (in beautiful downtown Culpeper, VA) and work diligently over a period of three days to screen silent and early sound motion pictures “that have been unidentified, under-identified or misidentified,” as the back notes of the recently released DVD Found at Mostly Lost, Volume 2 report.  This disc (released on October 30) contains 11 uncirculated films—with genres ranging from comedy to drama to cartoons—identified at those LoC workshops held between 2015-2017; as such, we must thank one of the hardest working individuals in the silent film composing-accompaniment business, Ben Model, for bringing us this early Thanksgiving treat. 
 
dvdBen’s specialty DVD label Undercrank Productions has given birth to this sequel to Found at Mostly Lost, which was reviewed on the blog (at the old Blogspot environs) in September of 2016.  The first Mostly Lost DVD brought much pleasure to the House of Yesteryear and I’m pleased as (Hawaiian) Punch to announce that Volume 2 is just as much fun as its predecessor.  As an individual with a deep love and reverence for silent cinema, I devour the contents of these kinds of DVDs with the ferocity of a hungry man attacking a perfectly grilled steak—the highlights of these discs for me are always the comedies, and one entry that was of particular interest (in light of the recent Grapevine Video restoration of A Perfect Gentleman [1928]) was Derby Day (1922), a Warner Brothers comedy short starring Monty Banks. 

derby-day
Monty Banks and Lucille Hutton in Derby Day (1922)

The story on Derby Day seems to be truncated plus its titles are in German…yet that doesn’t take away from the laugh content; as the film unspools, a hungry Monty watches in culinary agony as his girlfriend (Lucille Hutton) tosses what remains of a box lunch into the trash…and goes to hilarious lengths (chasing after the trash truck, etc.) to retrieve the discarded grub.  The short also generates mirth as Banks volunteers to repair Hutton’s automobile (on a hill, of course) before wrapping up in a wild horse race with Monty as jockey.  The first Mostly Lost DVD also spotlighted Monty’s work (with 1921’s In and Out), so it’s nice to see this continuity—I’m becoming more and more of a Monty fan with every film of his I’m able to see. 

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‘Snub’ Pollard and Marie Mosquini in Do Me a Favor (1922)

Also making an encore appearance on Volume 2 is ‘Snub’ Pollard (the comedian’s Fifteen Minutes [1921] was featured in the first volume, and was in my opinion the highlight of the collection), who’s the star of Do Me a Favor (1922), a comedy directed by Charles Parrott (a.k.a. Charley Chase).  A Hal Roach Studios production, Favor finds Marie Mosquini enlisting the help of hobo Snub in putting her besotted hubby (Eddie Baker) to bed for the night.  This one is a winner, too, with some really inventive gags (I liked the streetlight that can be turned on-and-off with a lamp cord).  The comedy oddity on Volume 2 is The Noodle Nut (1921), whose plot concerns two rivals vying to land a noodle order (as in pasta) so they might wed the daughter (Madge Kirby) of the noodle factory’s president.  The hero of this story is played by Billy Bletcher, a wonderful character actor I’ve seen in scores of sound films (he did a lot at Roach, in particular the 1934 Our Gang short The First Round-Up) and heard in many more (scads of voice work in animated cartoons, notably “The Big Bad Wolf” in Disney’s Three Little Pigs [1933]); Bletcher’s work in silents was admittedly something new to me. 

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Fresh Fish (1922)

There are a handful of novelties on Found at Mostly Lost, Volume 2 that I got a tremendous kick out of beginning with the short that starts off the presentations, a bizarre Vitagraph one-reeler entitled And the Villain Still Pursued Her; or The Author’s Dream (1906).  It’s the tale of a writer who nods off while working (I can relate) and has an outlandish dream in which he competes with a Snidely Whiplash-sort for the attentions of a young woman.  Dream was directed by J. Stuart Blackton, an early cinema pioneer whose well-known works include Tearing Down the Spanish Flag (1898) and Humorous Phases of Funny Faces (1906).  An early example of animation is also included in the form of Fresh Fish (1922), a “Bobby Bumps” cartoon that cleverly blends animation with live-action as a young boy “directs” a movie of Bobby and his faithful dog Fido.  (The Bobby Bumps shorts were the creation of animator Earl Hurd, and were released between 1915 and 1925 by Educational Pictures—”The Spice of the Program.”)  

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The Sunshine Spreader

The short on Volume 2 that I found most intriguing was an effort entitled The Sunshine Spreader, which documents the tale of a simple country girl brightening the lives of a grouchy general store proprietor and his son (the store owner’s name is “Lycurgus Beam,” which means his progeny is the “son Beam”) once she’s hired to work in the store.  The print of this film is in amazing, practically pristine shape (Ben mentioned on Facebook that it was 35mm) and while I don’t recognize any of the performers in the two-reel presentation (the info on Spreader is kind of sketchy) I was very impressed.  Rounding out the shorts on Found at Mostly Lost, Volume 2The Faithful Dog; Or, True to the End (1907); The Falling Arrow (1909); Adolph Zink (1903?); and In the Tall Grass Country (1910), a one-reel Western starring Francis Ford (John’s older brother). 

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At right: Ben Model, holding up a few of his wares (including DVDs of Marcel Perez and Musty Suffer). Ben’s frequent collaborator Steve Massa (author of Slapstick Divas) is at left.

“Thousands of films have been preserved by film archives,” acknowledges the notes on the back of Found at Mostly Lost, Volume 2, “but because their main titles are missing no one knows what they are. Thanks to the annual Mostly Lost film identification workshop, this is changing.”  And thanks to Ben Model and Undercrank Productions, the fruits of these workshops have been made accessible to those of us who find this history positively fascinating…and know that we’re not going to scratch this itch for silent cinema with a weekly trip to our friendly neighborhood Redbox.

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