FAQ about silent film: alt.movies.silent


This document is the first of four FAQs for the Usenet newsgroup alt.movies.silent, and contains information about the newsgroup itself. There is some overlap in the content of the FAQs. If you don't find what you're looking for here, try one of the related FAQs (see the last question for a complete list).
  1. What is alt.movies.silent for?
  2. Is it okay to post about talkies?
  3. Some newsgroups are really courteous. Others are nasty. How does the silent film newsgroup rate?
  4. Is it okay to buy, sell, and swap films on the newsgroup?
  5. What are the recurring in-jokes and threads?
  6. What do some of the terms and abbreviations mean?
  7. Is it okay to ask whether a certain film still exists?
  8. How do I catch up on the newsgroup if I've missed a couple of weeks?
  9. Where are the other silent film FAQs?

What is the newsgroup alt.movies.silent for?

alt.movies.silent is for people who love silent film. There's a fairly broad base of people in the group. Some have been collectors and aficionados of silent film for many decades. Others discovered silent film relatively recently. Some have a particular favourite film star, filmmaker, or genre. Others enjoy all types of silent film. Some prefer late silents from the '20s. Others enjoy all types of silent film from the turn of the century to the end of the silent era.

The benefits of connecting with the silent film group include:

  • learning about silent film in particular and in general
  • finding out about recent developments within the silent film community
  • learning about silent film festivals
  • meeting with people whose expertise of silent film in all its facets is unparalleled.
Whether you are new to silent film or a veteran, please feel free to post opinions, comments, suggestions, queries, lists, arguments, and anything else related to silent films.

Is it okay to post about talkies?

Occasionally there are discussions about early talkies, silent filmmakers and performers in talkies, biopics about silent film, and so forth. So this kind of posting is fine.

Some newsgroups are really courteous. Others are nasty. How does the silent film newsgroup rate?

There are the occasional rhubarbs -- all newsgroups have them -- but generally the level of discourse tends to be civil. Obviously we all love silent film and some of us are more knowledgeable than others, but generally we welcome any comments, suggestions, or opinions from anyone and everyone.

If you want to pick a fight with someone, go offline and duke it out mano à mano. Try not to engage in a personal grudge match over the newsgroup.

If you find yourself in a flamewar with someone on the group, try to keep your posts limited; have your say, let someone post his or her response, reply, and then stop there. Go to email if you want to continue the fight.

Is it okay to buy, sell, and swap films on the newsgroup?

Unless you are a retailer by profession, it is illegal to sell copyright-protected material publicly.

If you want to sell or trade your silent film cache, you can mention it on the newsgroup, but do your actual business by email.

If you want to buy or sell silent film or silent film memorabilia, check out the online auction site, eBay:

http://www.ebay.com/

You must register online with eBay before you sell or bid on items.

What are the recurring in-jokes and threads?

There's a few perennials:

Charles Ogle

Charles Ogle (1865-1940) was an actor who started with Edison in 1909. His most celebrated role is that of the Frankenstein monster in 1910 in what is considered to be the first screen adaptation of Mary Shelley's novel. He was a prolific character actor in silent film.

Why is Ogle mentioned so frequently on the silent film newsgroup? The answer is shrouded in mystery. It may be because the name "Ogle" sounds humorous in a vague sort of way.

Jeremy Bond Shepherd <jbond@netcom.com> has shed some light on the Ogle phenomenon on the newsgroup:

I think it's because of Firezine's numerous Ogle references. He used to chime in every time a film was being discussed in which Ogle had even the smallest walkon. A most endearing habit.

The Silents Majority Web site has an Ogle page:

http://www.mdle.com/ClassicFilms/Guest/ogle.htm

for all your Ogle needs.

London After Midnight

London After Midnight is a 1927 film starring Lon Chaney and directed by horror auteur Tod Browning. It is a lost film and it is mentioned to torment Jon Mirsalis, a/k/a ChaneyFan.

Q. I heard that a collector has London After Midnight and is waiting for its copyright to expire so he can release the film. Is this true?

A: Almost certainly not.

Tod Browning's London After Midnight (1927), starring Lon Chaney Sr. in a dual role as a Scotland Yard inspector and as a pointy-toothed vampire, is the most famous of lost films -- mainly because Forrest J. Ackerman, with the aid of the film's admittedly tantalizing stills, spent a lot of energy hyping it as a lost masterpiece in his teen-oriented horror magazines. The reality is that those who saw the film as late as the 1950s, such as William K. Everson and David Bradley, considered it well short of a masterpiece -- inferior to Browning's talkie remake, Mark of the Vampire (1935), with Bela Lugosi, and not even the most desirable lost film of Chaney's career.

The most persistent rumor about LAM is that some collector has the film and has been waiting for the copyright to expire in 2002. The legend probably dates back to the early 70's, when a New England rental source named Cecil Miller listed LAM among his upcoming titles, presumably as a gag. (Later versions of the same gag have included reviews of the film on the Internet Movie Database and April Fool's discussions of showings on Turner Classic Movies in alt.movies.silent.) This mythical collector is in for a longer wait now -- copyright law has been changed, making the date LAM would become public domain 2022. For that reason, it is likely that any such collector who wanted to cash in during his own lifetime would have already come forward to make a deal with the current copyright holders (Time Warner).

In fact, the odds are not high that any print ever got loose in the first place. According to Jon Mirsalis, MGM "was very diligent about collecting prints after the completion of their print run, making it unlikely that a retired projectionist has a copy hiding in his attic... The last time the film was inspected by MGM was in 1955. It was stored in vault 7 and a vault fire (circa 1967) in vault 7 destroyed the last known print. All the MGM nitrate material was subsequently donated to Eastman House, but by then the print and camera negative were gone." As Bob Birchard further points out, "MGM did a worldwide search when it decided to copy its nitrate to safety in the 1970's," and turned up nothing.

Even so... another MGM film that vanished around the same time was Victor Sjostrom's The Divine Woman, with Greta Garbo. Yet a ten-minute fragment of that film subsequently turned up in Eastern Europe. So the possibility that LAM will turn up in some unexpected place cannot be ruled out completely. Just... nearly completely.

In the meantime, the closest you are likely ever to come to seeing London After Midnight is in the pages of Philip J. Riley's book London After Midnight, published by Cornwall Books in 1985 -- and by watching Mark of the Vampire.

[Thanks to Michel Gebert for the above information on London After Midnight.]

Greed

Greed (1925) is famed director Erich von Stroheim's epic, based on the Frank Norris novel McTeague.

Von Stroheim filmed Lord knows how many reels. MGM released it in a cut version. To this day silent film aficionados will argue over how many reels constitute the "director's cut" of the film. So it's not uncommon for someone to say, apropos of nothing, "well, I've seen the 72-reel version of Greed," just to start an argument and tick others off.

Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle

You may have heard of the famous scandal involving the death of a young actress at a party thrown by Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle. Once and for all, Arbuckle absolutely did not rape, kill, or harm anyone.

An unemployed actress named Virginia Rappe took ill during a party held in Roscoe Arbuckle's suite at the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco. Arbuckle found her in his bathroon, and called for a doctor. Four days later, Rappe died of acute peritonitis, while in a maternity hospital. Many experts today believe she died from a botched abortion done a short time before the party.

Another party guest, Maude Delmont, declared that Arbuckle had raped Rappe at the party. Yellow journalistic newspapers, led by the Hearst newspaper chain, used Delmont's story to paint Arbuckle as a murderer. Tabloid-like banner headlines attacked Arbuckle's reputation daily over several months.

On Delmont's statement, Arbuckle was arrested by the police for murder. However, the state prosecution found that Delmont was an unusable witness because of her criminal record and her being a complusive liar. Nevertheless, pressured by the public, the prosecution pushed forward and tried Arbuckle for the reduced charges of manslaughter.

After two hung juries, Arbuckle was found not guilty by a third jury in five minutes. Arbuckle's jury then made this statement to the press:

"Acquittal is not enough for Roscoe Arbuckle. We feel that a great injustice has been done him. We feel also that it was only our plain duty to give him this exoneration, under the evidence, for there was not the slightest proof adduced to connect him in any way with the commission of a crime. He was manly throughout the case, and told a straightforward story on the witness stand, which we all believed.

"The happening at the hotel was an unfortunate affair for which Arbuckle, so the evidence shows, was in no way responsible. We wish him success and hope that the American people will take the judgement of fourteen men and women who have sat listening for thirty-one days to the evidence, that Roscoe Arbuckle is entirely innocent and free of all blame."

Despite this complete vindication, Arbuckle's reputation as a film star remained in tatters. Arbuckle was effectively banned from acting in Hollywood for a period of eleven years. Returning to the screen in 1932, Arbuckle died in 1933, immediately after celebrating his signing of a new starring contract with Warner Brothers, and the completion of six comedy shorts which re-established him as a comedian.

For more information, see Arbucklemania:

http://silent-movies.com/Arbucklemania/

The proper running speed of silent film

There are infrequent disputes over the proper running speed of silent film. Please don't mention this. It's been known to cause nervous breakdowns.

Okay; if you want the goods on the proper running speed, check out David Pierce's peerless Silent Film Bookshelf Web site:

http://www.cinemaweb.com/silentfilm/bookshelf/

Bob Lipton notes: "there is no 'proper' running speed for silents. As both cameras and projectors were hand-cranked, the action running speeds varied according to the dictates and whims of the cameramen and projectionists. Comedies were typically run faster than dramas."

In his book Seductive Cinema: The Art of Silent Film (Knopf: New York, 1994), James Card, the founder of the famed George Eastman film archive housed in Rochester, New York, discusses among other things the holy grail of the "proper" running speed for silent film, on pp. 52-56.

What do some of the terms and abbreviations mean?

Here is a list of frequently used initialisms, courtesy of Jon Mirsalis:

LOC: Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
GEH: George Eastman House, Rochester, NY
MOMA: Museum of Modern Art, New York City
PFA: Pacific Film Archive, Berkeley, CA
UCLA: University of California-Los Angeles
FIAF: La Federation Internationale des Archives du Film
AFI: American Film Institute
BFI: British Film Institute (which isn't an archive really, but they acquire films that are then stored at the National Film Archives in London)
NARS: National Archives, Washington, D.C.
fps: frames per second

Jon also notes that he and others frequently refer to things being at "Turner." This refers to Ted Turner's Turner Entertainment; however, the company is now known as Warner Brothers Classics since Time/Warner bought Turner Entertainment in a billion-dollar stock swap.

Furthermore, Jon has provided a helpful definition of the term "pre-Code," which comes up now and then:

Pre-Code: A term used to describe early sound films made before the Motion Picture Production Code was instituted in 1934. The "Code" placed significant restrictions on any unsavory material. As a result, themes like rape (The Story of Temple Drake), violence and nudity (Tarzan and His Mate), and sexual innuendo (She Done Him Wrong) all but disappeared from motion pictures for more than 30 years. A number of early sound films, especially many made at Warner Brothers, pushed sex, violence, and scanty clothing to the breaking point, and these snappy, sexy films are often referred to as "Pre-Code" because of their obvious flaunting of the immoral. Night Nurse (1931, Warner Bros.) uses every imaginable excuse to have Barbara Stanwyck and Joan Blondell strip to their underwear (of course they have to get in and out of their nurse uniforms, right?). In Baby Face (1933, Warner Bros.), Stanwyck literally sleeps with every guy in the company, gradually working her way up to the secretarial office of the top boss. Even high-class MGM wouldn't pull punches. In Red-Headed Woman (1932, MGM), Jean Harlow puts on a thin dress and steps in front of a window, clearly displaying all her charms. The sales lady gasps, "Oh dear, you can see right through it." "Fine," Jean replies. "I'll take it!" While "Pre-Code" generally refers to an era, approximately 1931-33, it can also be used as an adjective, as in, "That film is really Pre-Code!"

Is it okay to ask whether a certain film still exists?

Tragically, about 80% of the films of the silent era no longer exist. Many were lost in fires because of the volatility of nitrate film stock; some were destroyed deliberately for their silver content; some were just allowed to decompose. It's fine to post and ask if a film survives. Someone will get back to you on it.

How do I catch up on the newsgroup if I've missed a couple of weeks?

Deja.com archives Usenet postings, and Dave Garrett posted a link to a handy interface that you can use to search Deja for what you've missed:

http://www.exit109.com/~jeremy/news/deja.html

Where are the other silent film FAQs?

There are three other FAQs for the alt.movies.silent newsgroup: The complete set of alt.movies.silent FAQs lives on Emily Way's REEL WORLD Web site:

http://www.vex.net/~emily/film/amsfaq/

The FAQs are also posted to alt.movies.silent, news.answers, and alt.answers once a month. They are also archived automatically at the following sites:


Rick Levinson (Rick.Levinson@sympatico.ca) and Emily Way (emily@vex.net)
Last updated February 15, 2002