Monday, December 10, 2018

Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers





curated by Shelley Stamp



In collaboration with the Library of Congress, Kino Lorber and film historian Shelley Stamp have curated an impressive and comprehensive collection of early female directed films. Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers is a 6 disc Blu-ray set (also comes in DVD format) that contains over 50 films ranging from shorts, feature films and incomplete movies. The set also includes 8 short informational documentaries, various commentary tracks and original music. What began as a Kickstarter campaign now is is a bonafide piece of film history that any movie buff would be proud to own.

We talk about Pre-Codes, that time period after the silent film era and before the strict enforcement of the Hays Code, when filmmakers had more free rein on releasing films with explicit content. But what about the pre-studio era of silent films? In the early days of motion pictures, the art form wasn’t taken seriously. This opened doors for African-American, Jewish and Female filmmakers to use their creative talents in a new field. Being a film director was a viable career for women because there was no set gender standard. According to film historian Cari Beauchamp, there were over 100 movie studios in the 1910s and between 1920 and 1933 those consolidated into only 7. Along with the male-dominated unions and guilds that sprung up during this time, female filmmakers were shut out making room for the male directors who would take over Hollywood. For one glorious period in early film history however, there was an output of great films that ranged in breadth, depth and subject matter.

“The films that these female pioneers wrote, produced, and often directed have an emotional depth one doesn’t find in other films.” – Ileana Douglas

Included in Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers are 58 of these films, each offering a look into an incredible time in the early history of film. Each disc is arranged by theme and a handful of the films included are exclusive to the Blu-ray set which makes that one even more valuable. With 80% of silent films lost, it’s incredibly important to appreciate what we have and that includes incomplete films. According to Rob Stone, Moving Image Curator for the Library of Congress, fragments tend to languish in vaults and are even more forgotten than whole surviving films. I’m grateful that the Pioneers set includes fragments as well films with some damage, restored to the best of the ability of the preservationists who worked on this project.

Each of the 6 discs contains extras, either commentary tracks or documentaries, averaging about 15 minutes each, on different subjects. These documentaries add real value to the set and I encourage you to watch them before tackling any of the films. They provide context and background information that is crucial to appreciating the movies you are about to see. The talking heads in these docs include principal curator Shelley Stamp as well as other curators, film historians, experts, archivists, preservationists, etc. My only small critique is that these extras start rather abruptly and could have used a short intro for more ease in viewing.

In addition to the docs and commentary is a 76 page booklet which includes an introduction by Ileana Douglas, an essay on the history of female filmmaking by Shelley Stamp, essays on the restoration and spotlights on one particular film and one particular filmmaker, information about the Women’s Film Preservation Fund and a thorough index of credits for the films included in the set. It’s a substantial booklet that reads like a film history book on its own. Another element that adds a lot of value to the set is the original music by silent film accompanists and composers such as Ben Model, the Berklee Silent Film Orchestra, Renee C. Baker, Makia Matsumura, Maud Nelissen, Dana Reason, Aleksandra Vrebalov, etc. I was particularly struck by the score for Back to God’s Country (1919) by Dana Reason and Salome (1923) by Aleksandra Vrebalov.

Going through the Pioneers set was an education in itself. It’s feminist film history in a box. These trailbrazers set a precedent that film history has forgotten and it’s up to us to make sure those lessons are not lost. The subject matters range from gender identity, marriage, adultery, birth control, religion, sexual abuse, etc. However not all of these directors were progressive proto-feminists. Lois Weber for example was a former missionary and had very conservative views. As we’ve learned over the years of studying the history of film, the more perspectives the better.

Some of my favorite films in this set include Mabel Normand’s comedies, Alice Guy Blache’s rags-to-riches-to-rags short A Fool and His Money (1912), Zora Neale Hurston's ethnograph vignettes of African-American life in rural Florida circa 1928, Lois Weber’s controversial feature Where Are My Children? (1916) (starring Tyrone Power Sr.!), Weber’s marital drama Too Wise Wives (1921) (featuring a very young Louis Calhern), Nell Shipman’s Back to God’s Country (1919) (she’s my favorite of the early female filmmakers) and Nazimova’s fantastical Salome (1923).

The Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers set contains the following:

Disc 1: Alice Guy-Blaché 
Disc 2: Lois Weber
Disc 3: Genre Pioneers
Discs 4 & 5: Social Commentary
Disc 6: Feature Films Era

Directed by Alice Guy-Blaché 
Greater Love Hath No Man (1911)
Tramp Strategy (1911)
Algie the Miner (1912)
Canned Harmony (1912)
Falling Leaves (1912)
A Fool and His Money (1912)
The High Cost of Living (1912)
The Little Rangers (1912)
Burstup Homes' Murder Case (1913)
The Coming of Sunbeam (1913)
A House Divided (1913)
Matrimony's Speed Limit (1913)
The Ocean Waif (1916)

Directed by Lois Weber
On the Brink (1911)
Fine Feathers (1912)
From Death to Life (1912)
Hypocrites (1912)
The Rosary (1913)
Suspense (1913)
Lost By a Hair (1915)
Sunshine Molly (1915)
Idle Wives (1916)
Scandal (aka Scandal Mongers) (1916)
Where Are My Children? (1916)
Too Wise Wives (1921)
What Do Men Want? (1921)

Directed by Helen Holmes
Hazards of Helen Ep. 09: Leap From the Water Tower (1915)
Hazards of Helen Ep.13: The Escape on the Fast Freight (1915)
The Hazards of Helen Ep. 26: Wild Engine (1915)

Directed by Grace Cunard
Purple Mask, The; Episode 5, Part 1 (1917)
Purple Mask, The: Episode 12 (Vault of Mystery) (1917)
Purple Mask, The; Episode 13, Part 1 (The Leap) (1917)
A Daughter of "The Law" (1921)

Directed by Mabel Normand
Caught in a Cabaret (1914)
Mabel's Blunder (1914)
Mabel Lost and Won (1915)
Mabel and Fatty's Wash Day (1916)

Directed by Nell Shipman
Back to God's Country (1919)
Something New (1920)

Directed by Ida May Park
The Risky Road (1918)
Bread (1918)
Broadway Love (1918)

Miscellaneous
49 - '17 (1917) directed by Ruth Ann Baldwin
The Colleen Bawn (1911) script by Gene Gauntier
That Ice Ticket (1923) directed by Angela Murray Gibson
Ethnographic Films (1929) directed by Zora Neale Hurston
The Call of the Cumberlands (1916) directed by Julia Crawford Ivers
Motherhood: Life's Greatest Miracle (1925) directed by Lita Lawrence
Eleanor's Catch (1916) directed by Cleo Madison
Her Defiance (1916) directed by Cleo Madison
The Song of Love (1923) directed by dir. Frances Marion
Salome (1923) produced by Alla Nazimova
The Red Kimona (1925) directed by Dorothy Davenport Reid
Linda (1929) directed by Dorothy Davenport Reid
When Little Lindy Sang (1916) directed by Lule Warrenton
The Cricket (1917) directed by Elsie Jane Wilson
The Dream Lady (1918) directed by Elsie Jane Wilson
Curse of Quon Gwon: When the Far East Mingle with the West (1916) directed by Marion E. Wong

Extras/Short Documentaries
An Introduction to Series
About the Restorations
Alice Guy-Blache
Lois Weber
Mabel Normand
Serial Queens
Social Commentary
The End of an Era








Thank you to Kino Lorber for sending me a copy of Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers for review.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Christmas in the Movies: 30 Classics to Celebrate the Season by Jeremy Arnold

Christmas in the Movies
30 Classics to Celebrate the Season
by Jeremy Arnold
Turner Classic Movies/Running Press
Hardcover ISBN: 97807624924801
October 2018
208 pages

Amazon — Barnes and Noble — Powell's— TCM Shop


You can’t watch 30 Christmas movies in one day. But you can experience them all in one afternoon with Jeremy Arnold’s new book Christmas in the Movies: 30 Classics to Celebrate the Season. Starting with Miracle on Main Street (1939) and ending with Love, Actually (2003), this new genre book from Turner Classic Movies’ joint imprint with Running Press captures the spirit of the holiday with the most beloved of the beloved Christmas classics.

Each of the 30 films gets a 5-6 page treatment with photos, credits, an overview of the plot, and information on how the movie came to be made and how it uses the holiday to tell its story. There is also a Holiday Moment aside which describes a particularly Christmassy scene from the film. All the classics are here including Remember the Night (1940), Holiday Inn (1942), Meet Me In St. Louis (1944), It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), The Bishop’s Wife (1947), White Christmas (1954), etc . And my personal favorites Christmas in Connecticut (1945) and Holiday Affair (1949) are in here too. Arnold spotlights films that either completely framed within the holiday or they feature Christmas in a significant way. Some of the latter include The Apartment (1960), Gremlins (1984), and Die Hard (1988) (which people love to proclaim is or is not a Christmas movie). Modern classics featured in the book include Little Women (1994), Elf (2003) and Love, Actually (2003) among others.








Why are Christmas movies so enduring? Arnold explains that they conjure up feelings of nostalgia, they focus on family dynamics, they lend themselves to the rituals of the holiday and their feel-good vibes and happy endings make them utterly enjoyable to movie going audiences.

Reading about each of these movies taps into the pleasure that the films themselves. I really enjoyed Arnold’s narrative voice which is very welcoming. The book goes down easy like a cup of hot cocoa with extra marshmallows. While the articles featured are not ground-breaking, I found some nugget of information to take away from almost every single one. You may know everything there is to know about Christmas movies (or can easily Google the information you need) but I don’t think that will hamper your appreciation of this book. I learned the most from the Love, Actually article, a film I used to adore but have grown to dislike over the years and have been meaning to revisit, and was interested in the background of how the story came to be. And there are a few films I had never seen before, including Miracle on Main Street and The Holly and the Ivy (1952) that I bookmarked for future viewing.

Some interesting tidbits include:


  • The original and final lyrics for “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas", the song written for Meet Me In St. Louis, are presented side by side in the book. I’m glad they were changed because the original song was quite dark.
  • There was a backlash against Alastair Sim starring as Ebenezer Scrooge in the 1951 adaptation of A Christmas Carol, Scrooge
  • Warner Bros. threw a parade in Norwalk, CT for the premiere of Christmas in Connecticut.
  • I got a newfound appreciation for how TV was instrumental in making so many overlooked Christmas movies into widely appreciated classics.
  • The idea for The Apartment came to Billy Wilder after he saw one particular scene in Brief Encounter (1945)


Christmas in the Movies is a keepsake treasure perfect for gift giving. And it’s very likely that if your loved one doesn’t watch classic movies that they’ve seen several of the classic Christmas films listed in the book. It’s beautifully designed and I particularly liked its more compact size. If you’re looking for a coffee table type book this is not it. It’s better suited on your mantle next to your Elf on the shelf and above your Christmas stocking.

Thank you to Jeremy Arnold and Running Press for sending me a copy of Christmas in the Movies for review.

Monday, December 3, 2018

2018 Classic Film Holiday Gift Guide



Another holiday season is upon us and if you're looking for a gift for the classic film lover in your life you've come to the right place. Today I present to you my 2018 Classic Film Holiday Gift Guide. Here you'll find a variety of gift ideas that would make for great stocking stuffers or wrapped presents under the tree. Or if you're looking for great products to buy for yourself with gift cards or holiday cash, I have some nice selections for you. Yay for physical media!

The guide is split into two sections. These are some of the products that I've enjoyed over the past year. The second section is my personal wish list of items I have my eye on.

When you use my buy links to do your holiday shopping you help support this site. Thank you!

As always, I'd love to hear from you. In the comment section below tell me which of these items appeals to you or would make a great gift for a loved one. And I want to know what's on your holiday wish list this year!






Kino Lorber's Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers Blu-ray Set

An ambitious project resulted in one of the most impressive film boxed sets ever released. A must have for film historians and feminists alike, this set includes a variety of female directed silent films and a bunch of amazing extras. Review to come!


And if you're passionate about supporting women in film, check out Alicia Malone's latest book. 

The Female Gaze Essential Movies Made by Women by Alicia Malone (Review)




Warner Archive Blu-rays

2018 was an especially good year for Blu-ray releases from the Warner Archive Collection. They keep cranking out some great discs and I'm forever grateful. Here are four of my favorites from this year. No surprise that two of them are Fritz Lang films!

Harper (1966) Blu-ray (Review)

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (1956) Blu-ray (Review)

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954) Blu-ray (Review)

While the City Sleeps (1956) Blu-ray (Review)



Warner Archive DVDs

The good folks at the Warner Archive Collection keep digging into their vaults to find more treasures for us classic film lovers to enjoy. Whether it's a film new to DVD or one that's gone out of print, access is key and WAC is making that happen. Here are three previously unreleased films now available on DVD-MOD.

Hide-Out (1934)

Comet Over Broadway (1938) (Review)
Amazon  — TCM Shop — WB Shop

Tender Comrade (1943) (Review)



Kino Lorber Blu-rays

Kino Lorber has been growing their classic film Blu-ray and DVD releases for their main catalog and also for their Studio Classics line. A lot of these are independent releases, not attached to a particular studio, and it's great that KL has stepped in to give these films the release they deserve. Here are some of my favorites from this year.

Lisbon (1956) Blu-ray

The Woman in the Window (1944) Blu-ray (Review)

Intermezzo: A Love Story (1939) Blu-ray (Review)

Trapeze (1956) Blu-ray (Review)



Olive Films Blu-rays

Olive Films continues to release unique offerings that keep us cinephiles happy. Whether it's their super deluxe Signature Editions that sell like hotcakes or their regular Blu-ray and DVD releases jam packed with extras, there is much to enjoy from their catalog. Here are some of my favorite Olive Films Blu-ray releases from 2018.

Birdman of Alcatraz (1962) Blu-ray (Review)

The Miracle Worker (1962) Blu-ray (Review)

Odds Against Tomorrow (1959) Blu-ray (Review)

Mr. Capra Goes to War: Frank Capra's World War II Documentaries Blu-ray (Review)




TCM and Running Press Genre Books

Running Press' joint imprint with Turner Classic Movies keeps cranking out some really great classic film books. I feel like they're hitting their stride with these two genre books. 

Must See Sci-Fi: 50 Movies That Are Out of This World by Sloan de Forest (Review)

Christmas in the Movies: 50 Classics to Celebrate the Season by Jeremy Arnold (Review coming soon!)



TIME Life Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In

Earlier this year I celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In with a look back at the history behind this zany and hilarious show. TIME Life has released individual seasons in DVD boxed sets and the second season happens to be my personal favorite.

Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In: The Complete Second Season DVD Set (Review)
Complete collection available at TIME Life







Seduction: Sex, Lies, and Stardom in Howard Hughes' Hollywood
by Karina Longworth

I'm endlessly fascinated with Howard Hughes and his impact, both negative and positive, on Hollywood. And being familiar with Longworth's podcast You Must Remember This, I know her new book will be well-researched and juicy!




Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood
by William J. Mann 

Hearing Vanessa Buttino discuss this book on the Movie Palace Podcast made me move it up further on my wish list of must have books! Watch her Book Talk on YouTube for more details.

Amazon — Barnes and Noble — Powell's 



Notorious (1946) Criterion Collection Blu-ray

My husband and I realized we don't have a copy of this Hitchcock classic so we're holding out for the upcoming Criterion release which looks amazing. Just look at

Coming January 2019


Fandango Gift Cards

I love watching movies on the big screen but it can get pricey. I was treated to a few gift cards this year and I felt absolutely pampered.

Fandango Shop


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