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Factotum

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About Factotum

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  1. Caught Short used to be in an MGM package of films shown in the 1970's & 80's. I'v e noticed there are several titles they just never show.
  2. Factotum

    Lost Silents

    That may be so, and god bless whoever can maintain a good print. But why be a snob about it? If a film is only available in secondary quality, then see it in secondary quality. We've all put up with it when none better were available.....I was looking at a kinescope of The Thief of Bahgdad on "Silents, Please" (1961) a few weeks ago. It is utterly horrible, looking like a scratched up, dupey, played-a-thousand times, 8mm print from Hell. Yet it was good enough to be broadcast on the ABC network in prime time then. Now it would intolerable anywhere. But if we want to see films, we should take them as they come, because if there's a rare title or one you might enjoy, see it. Life's too short to wait for perfect prints, restored with long lists of contributors and huge money grants, and brass bands. You'll never see half of them then. If they put all the rare films on telecine and gave the public access to them, it would be wonderful. It would be democratic, and engage Americans with a chance to become familiar, certainly far more familiar with that time and it's forgotten pleasures. We could get familiar with once great stars and stories again. it's not like there's nothing left; there's lots of silent films but they are closed off from us precisely because they have to go through a long formal process of high powered funding and paying institutional fees, salaries, and egos, until a chosen film is restored and in the end, perhaps much more significance for it is implied than it had in it's time. And how many other flicks just powder away because they weren't chosen? If cheapie telecines had been made, at least you could see them still, and that's what movies are supposed to be for; for seeing.
  3. Factotum

    Lost Silents

    One of the largest threats to film has not been vault fires so much as copyright control. If a studio can keep these, it can stop anyone from preserving a film. Notice how films that fell out of copyright a long time ago, for instance, most UA titles, have been with us all along. They were always available from Tarbox, or Blackhawk for film collectors, and shown on TV or revival Theatre rentals from Paul Killiam at mid-century. Short subjects, at least the talkies produced by Educational, or the cartoons produced by VanBuren studios, are safe and sound and have always had a lot of currency since they went Public Domain. Meanwhile the treasures of the big studios were left to rot or burn or even get tossed in garbage because far more effort was spend _preventing_ new prints from being made of their films than any effort to preserving them. To a big studio, old films, especially silents, only really had value for thier titles and/or their screenplays, which could be reused or sold for new films. The actual old negatives and prints didn't have much value at all. When shelf space became short, dump the old junk. You only need clear title to them for them to remain legal property, and a file cabinet full of copyright documents in much tidier than a warehouse full of film reels. At the same time, if say by some stroke of luck you found a complete, perfect print of The Devil's Passkey. You couldn't show it, or made copies from it, lest the studio sue you and make you quit, and took it away from you. This was known as fighting "Film Piracy". Who cares about that it's a lost film, or that it's artistic or good at all, or even that it's title, story or revival possibilities were all small-change trifles at that point; nobody was going to make a nickel off their property, even if thousands of dollars were spent to stop you. So they weren't interested in preserving their films, and this control-mad behavior helped discourage anyone else doing it, either. It still holds- where are all the Universal features and talkie shorts right this minute? Under lock and key, turning to dust in the dark.
  4. I've seen MODERN LOVE by way of a privately owned 16mm print in addition to the print that's to be shown at Cinecon. (niether is perfect, bits are missing in both, though fortunately not the same bits) In it there are some funny moments, but clearly Charley is a hired actor, at the mercy of the tepid comedy writing skills of the Universal script writers (in this case, Albert DeMond). I forget if this will have the whole parked car sequence or not, that was the comedy highlight. Miss Garvin only has a very few minutes, so she's pretty much wasted. I think it's a case of one will be pushing oneself to laugh because you want it to be better than it is. Still, it would be nice if it could be completely restored and put out on disc, but where do you begin with Universal? There still are thousands of negatives to their 1920's and 30's shorts and cartoons just moldering away in storage. Anita Garvin shows up in them, and so do many other "Roach" people, performers and writers and directors. They've not been seen in 70+ years. What will ever happen with them?
  5. TCM has no interest in showing any more Vitaphone short titles than they already have made prints of, and shown. There are scores of them, whole series of them, but they've decided they have enough. There's even ones they showed back in the late 1980's/early 90's on TNT that haven't been run again. So they may be showing even less than they did! With so many shorts unseen, that they *do* have access to, can only mean they have something against them. There's some reason that makes them want to fill the time with things everybody's seen a million times instead of keeping it fresh with new-old material.
  6. They've run those two all the way back to the "TNT" days. Just why does TCM have such a reluctance to touch the hundreds of Vitaphone non-musical shorts? They have plenty of negs and or prints, and most titles are in existance, they even made prints of them in the 1950's for a huge TV package- but why do they ignore them? For that matter, why this frustratingly tepid use of the Roach shorts? It's like they have something against anything slightly obscure. Does every minute have to have top stars in it?
  7. Factotum

    Love ... Sound?

    Worse than coughers, laughers or even whining children, is the arrogant know-everything who must loudly proclaim his superiority to the people, attitudes and times onscreen. He's deathly afraid that he may be mistaken for approving of what he's being subjected to, so it's his obligation to help the dumb sheep audience become politically sensitive and aware by just how enlightened he is. In the dark, where you can't see them, he may suddenly believe he's actually in the 1920's, and his mission is to educate the poor primitives as to their cultural shortcomings. This experience has befallen me several times in the past few years, in theatrical showings hundreds of miles apart. The worst part is that there's apparently nothing to stop them. You can't put your hands on them, so theatres and school showings just suffer them until they stop. It didn't used to be this way.
  8. I did hear the score to the Time-Life and the Israel version, and yes, "Freshie" was there. I think that the tune was inspired by the film. As a cultural land mark, The Freshman is responsible for about forty years of rah-rah, never-go-to-classes, football-obsessed college movies. Really, Harold pretty much invented a film genre. Itwas a hit, and almost immediately spawned Universal's well recieved short subject series, "The Collegians" (1926-29), wherein each episode yet another inter-collegiate sports rivalry is addressed down to cross country skiing and water polo. "GOOD NEWS" came along and introduced the musical college/college football theme, and the Marx brothers even had a satire on them. Remember, theatre orchestras mainly played great classical music, and most film scores were derived from classical themes. Lillian Gish once said something to the effect that cinema orchestras " taught people to appreciate great music." Indeed they probably helped. The classics always outsold popular music in phonograph record sales into the 1940's. So perhaps the original scores aren't as self consciously 1920's enough to suit the ones that control the music. The timeless music attached to most dramatic films with vitaphone scores will bear me out on this. The strains of pops/ jazz can be heard on the comedy features, but mostly the cues written many years before as generic "Movie " music by William Axt, Pasternack,Shilkret, etc. Youngson's scores were all heavy handed choices, the sticky sound effects and never leave you alone for a minute narration were more reminiscent of the way silent comedy was abused and debased on Howdy Doody than it's first hand presentation.Yet, the full orchestra track was far closer to the fact than say, Paul Killiam's numbing upright piano doozies. I know the tune OH HAROLD, and sorry to say I haven't got a recording of it. If you are patient enough and keep up with 78rpm record sales, you are bound to find it.
  9. Actually quite a lot of areas didn't run the Loyd series; probably the largest market I've heard of was the New Jersey PBS network, but for the most part something so old is by definition not hip. It is also slapstick comedy, so it is seen as beneath contempt by most PBS progammers. The scores were actually not that bad, and the occassional sound effect is okay. The real problem was the vicious chopping up of the shorts until they were as meaningless and insufferable as the Laurel & Hardy "Laughtoons". The hectoring narration is as welcome as would be a self-appointed loud-voiced member of a cinema audience. As for theFreshman, I still don't know why they don't just record the score that was written for it in 1925.
  10. I recall the "Time-Life presents Harold Lloyd" programmes, I suppose many saw HL for the first time this way when many PBS stations picked them up in 1977. When Lloyd died in 1971, his executors were obliged to let the huge media conglomerate Time-Life have TV rights to the long dormant films. They actually toured some art house cinemas first, hence the 1974 copyright. But they apparently had very little idea on how to show them in any dignified way, and instead used the technique of such crass kiddie presentations as THE FUNNY MANNS, MAD MOVIES or THE MISCHIEF MAKERS. Lloyd himself was appalled by the way his contempoaries were treated on TV, and during his life, resisted allowing his films to go on the tube, for fear this same treatment awaited them. Fortunately for him, he had the wherewithall to legally own them. Alas, he was right, and T-L cut out all the titles and x number of minutes from each short and loaded on an annoying, unsuitable narrator (Henry Corden trying to do Pete Smith) bullying his way through with uneeded puns and flying explanations of the action, to make the films "funnier". A similar fate had befallen the Christie comedies when they were put on TV in the late 1950's. I'm sure Harold saw them and could only give thanks he could save his films from such treatment. As for the features, T-L did include the titles, but they also cut out material to make for convienient TV station use, so 10 minutes of commercials could fit in and it would still come out ending on an hour or half hour mark. Easily half of "Hot Water" for instance, was removed. Well silent film is at last being accorded some respect, and you won't see things like that any more.
  11. Factotum

    Love ... Sound?

    The sound problem is likely your cable provider. You should complain to them. They control the image and sound, so if it's become as bad as you describe, they may not be aware of it.
  12. PLAYING AROUND, to my knowledge, has yet to be shown on cable TV. "TNT" never ran it in the 80's nor TCM in the 90's or 00's. I have a Videotape of it from a 50's TV syndication print.(sorry, I can't make copies! ) Maybe the only time it was offered was in the early going, when a station would snap up a package of 500 features, good or bad, with some big stars or none. It seems that PLAYING AROUND has a fizzy soundtrack most of the way through, as if the track was made from worn out vitaphone discs. That was good enough when TV was starving for film, but a lesser film that's among the oldest in the lot, and it has an imperfection as well, it would be soon permanantly retired as the film packages got smaller and more selective. I must disagree about Miss White's musical talents; Her singing in "BROADWAY BABIES" is shall we say, "charmingly terrible". It brings to mind another cutie-pie flapper type who unexpectedly found herself asked to sing, ready or not, Nancy Carroll. If you ever see her efforts in "CLOSE HARMONY" you'll know what I'm talking about. Also, SWEETHEARTS ON PARADE exists only in a silent form, but the reason for this is that B-picture studios like Columbia (who made this one) went for the small-change 16mm film rental business, and in 1930 very few venues for these films existed with sound equitment, so it only made sense to keep making them in the silent mode, or silentised versions of a talkie film. There are still in existance silent versions of other early Columbia talkies, (THE LOCKED DOOR, MEXICALI ROSE, etc.) but fortunately, the talkie originals still survive too.
  13. My understanding of the Roach studios situation in 1935 was this: Hal Roach found that short subjects were a diminishing proposition for him, his competition being from studio-produced and owned SSs like those from Paramount, Warner Bros. (Vitaphone), RKO-Radio, and the newly created Columbia unit. He was even competing with his own distributor, MGM, who were turning out short musicals, travelogues, comedies and general trivia like Pete Smith offered, and even material in color. For years, Roach wanted his little studio to become a big one that produced features. That year he decided the time had come to end the shorts altogether, save the still highly popular Our Gang series, which nonetheless were cut from two reels to one. The final Laurel & Hardy SS was THICKER THAN WATER in March, the final Thelma Todd/Patsy Kelly was supposed to be in 1936, but Thelma's death provided Patsy with two further co-stars to fill out the remaining shorts Roach had to provide in that series. Charley was also supposed to deliver shorts into 1936. Everyone was to go on to features; L&H had been doing so for years, Our Gang were put in GENERAL SPANKY, Patsy was put in KELLY THE SECOND, (which co-starred Chase), and Charley Chase would make BANK NIGHT. It seems that Hal Roach and Charley had a falling out at this time. To complicate things,Chase had become very ill and couldn't make his final short subject. Roach brutally hacked down the unreleased Feature (now retitled "NEIGHBORHOOD HOUSE") to two reels, and the contracted-for SS was ready. I have the impression Roach had a deep and unshakable animosity for Chase, if not outright hatred. I theorize that that may be among the reasons "KELLY THE SECOND" is so brutally chopped down from the "90 nutty minutes" stated for in virtually all publicity materials, to the 57 in it's present state. If you pay attention, Chase doesn't get anything funny to do, and there are scenes where he starts to talk and he's cut off. Many years later, when Roach was asked specifically why Charley left hm and went to Columbia, he'd bark out, "Charley Chase left me because he DIED!!" in a tone intended to shut you up. And further questions only brought the same illogical, angry insistance. You could feel the rage.
  14. I assume Mamma's suposed to be portraying the way an old person would shake when decrepit and racked by strokes. Pretty heavy handed, almost farcical.
  15. "PEACH GIRL(..THAT WEEPS TEARS OF BLOOD)" was considered a prestige film and would indeed be used for export. The split titles indicate the importance of it's being sent abroad, but significantly the use of American English will imply "Chinatown" destinations in U.S. cities. Chinese studios had very few outlets at home, depending heavily on export for survival, and Hollywood's lack of interest in what was deemed far too insignificant a niche market, meant success for the exporters. Ethnic cinemas were seen a lot in the nation made up of immigrants, with foriegn-produced films finding screens in Italian, German, French and Spanish-speaking communities. The film is really reminicent of some early Griffith-like subject. But I guess the story of interclass love and intolerance is one that is done in every country one way or another. I found the actors on the stiff side, and the boy,Yan Jin, an ulikable, gutless mamma's boy and is not the sort of character that would be the hero in a serious western film. A real burden on storytelling is the puritanical restrictions Chinese films suffered. They weren't allowed to kiss, and he hardly touches her, yet they miraculously have a child. Makes the Hollywood production code seem licentious by comparison.
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