Showing posts with label Undercrank Productions. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Undercrank Productions. Show all posts

Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Beverly of Graustark (1926) Undercrank Productions

photo credit: Museum of Modern Art Film Stills Archive
Undercrank Productions, Library of Congress

Beverly of Graustark (1926) stars Marion Davies as Beverly Calhoun, cousin to Oscar (Creighton Hale), the prince heir of the fictional kingdom of Graustark. Beverly has intimate knowledge of the family and specifically Oscar with whom she was raised almost as sibling. Graustark is expecting his arrival for the coronation but shortly before setting out on the journey Oscar is severely injured in a skiing accident. General Marlanax (Roy D'Arcy) convinces Beverly that she can pretend to be Oscar and complete the journey for him. Oscar hasn't been seen publicly since he was an infant and Beverly is the one person who knows Oscar well enough to play him. Beverly dresses in royal uniform and makes the treacherous journey to Graustark. On the way, Beverly meets Dantan (Antonio Moreno) a dashing and handsome goat farmer who saves Beverly/Oscar from an ambush. Dantan takes on the task of being her bodyguard not knowing that Oscar is really Beverly. The two begin to fall for each other causing a major identity crisis for Beverly who is eager to become herself again.

photo credit: Museum of Modern Art Film Stills Archive
Undercrank Productions, Library of Congress

This film is an adaptation of George Barr McCutcheon's 1904 novel Beverly of Graustark. McCutcheon wrote a series of books about the fictional kingdom of Graustark a few of each had been adapted. Beverly of Graustark had previously been adapted in 1914 with actress Linda Arvidson in the title role. This 1926 adaptation was made at MGM where Marion Davies was a contract star. A castle set was built specifically for the movie and outside the studio on location shooting was done in the Sierra Nevada mountains.

I enjoy stories about gender and identity and while the conceit of Beverly of Graustark is not terribly believable, Marion Davies does a fantastic job playing both Beverly and Beverly pretending to be Oscar. She looks quite handsome in her royal uniforms! She's matched beautifully with one of the Latin Lovers of early cinema, Antonio Moreno. They both carry the film when the plot is lacking.

Marion Davies also starred in Little Old New York (1923), another film where she plays a young woman dressed like a man. I enjoyed that one better than Beverly of Graustark but also believe both could be enjoyable in a double bill. I reviewed the DVD release of Little Old New York from Undercrank Productions last year.

Beverly of Graustark is available on Blu-ray from Undercrank Productions. The film was digitally restored from a 4k scan of a 35mm nitrate print from the Library of Congress’ National Audio Visual Conservation Center. The Blu-ray contains this restoration along with the 2-strip Technicolor sequence and an original score from silent film accompanist Ben Model. There are no extras but the restoration looks fantastic and the Technicolor sequence is a treasure (many others from this era are lost).

Thank you to Undercrank Productions for sending me a copy for review.

I share more thoughts about the film and the Blu-ray on episode #6 of The Classic Movie Roundup on YouTube. Watch here:

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Raymond Griffith: The Silk Hat Comedian

Raymond Griffith: The Silk Hat Comedian Blu-ray from Undercrank Productions presents a double-feature of newly restored 7-reel comedies starring silent film comedian Raymond Griffith. 

A little background on Raymond Griffith. He was born in 1895 in Boston, Massachusetts and was raised by a theatrical family. Bby the time he was a toddler he was already performing on stage. Griffith unfortunately lost his voice at a young age—the result of a childhood bout of respiratory diphtheria and overworking his vocal chords. From then on he spoke in a hoarse whisper (think Jack Klugman post-cancer). While this sidelined his theatrical career, silent films gave Griffith a new opportunity to showcase his acting talents when his voice wasn't needed. Griffith was a natural comedian and worked with everyone from Mack Sennett to Cecil B. DeMille to Alice Howell. He went under contract with Paramount Pictures and starred in a series of film as a bon vivant character who donned a silk hat and a tuxedo with coattails. This gave him a signature look much in the vein of other silent film comedians.  Harold Lloyd had his glasses. Charlie Chaplin had his mustache and bowler hat and Buster Keaton had his stoneface expression. Raymond Griffith had his silk hat. When the industry transitioned from silent film to sound, his hoarse whisper prevented him from continuing his acting work. He did make one notable appearance in the film All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) as a dying French soldier. He shifted his focus to production and was an associate producer or producer throughout the 1930s working on films like Three on a Match (1932), Baby Face (1933) and Gold Diggers of 1933.

While popular in his day, he's since become an obscure figure of the past. Much of his film work is lost which makes the release of this double-feature all that more special.

photo credit:  Museum of Modern Art Film Stills

The first film on the Blu-ray is Paths to Paradise (1925).  Set in 1920s San Francisco, the story follows two con-artists—played by Raymond Griffith and Betty Compson—who join force to steal a necklace. Their target is a wealthy man who plans to gift the necklace to his daughter on her wedding day. He's a bit too vocal about his prized possession telling everyone that it contains the largest diamond in the country. The story then follows the hijinks of the two con-artists as they attempt to steal the necklace and get away with it. 

It's a fun comedy made even more delightful with a cute dog who seems to be the only character who realizes what the con-artists are doing. The film does contain an unfortunate sequence set in Chinatown which features offensive language and actors in yellow face. A warning about this content is given before the start of the film. This is a seven-reel comedy missing its final reel. Information gathered from surviving stills as well as a continuity script is presented in several title cards, accompanied by the musical score, where the seventh reel be played.

photo credit:  Museum of Modern Art Film Stills

You'd be Surprised (1926) is a typical murder mystery set in a mansion. Raymond Griffith plays an overly dressed coroner who is called to investigate the murder of a district attorney. Like Paths to Paradise, this story is centered around a stolen necklace. Griffith's leading lady Dorothy Sebastian plays the district attorney's ward and she's the prime suspect of the murder. Griffith's character barely examines the body of the murder victim. Instead, he takes over the investigation when the bumbling cops can't seem to do their job. All of the action takes place in the living room of the mansion.

Unlike Paths to Paradise, You'd be Surprised is intact with all seven reels presented. This is the weaker of the two. Because it's so constrained and because the coroner character is constantly trying to do several things at once, it becomes overwhelming but not in a funny way. However, with that said it is fun to see Raymond Griffith in all his silk hat and tuxedo glory. All of the dinner guests are dressed to the nines which showcase the finer apparel of the era. Anyone into fashion history, specifically the 1920s, will want to check this one out for the eye candy.

Raymond Griffith: The Silk Hat Comedian Blu-ray contains the double feature as well as a twelve minute video essay about Raymond Griffith's life and career and narrated by film historian Steve Massa. They include musical scores performed by silent film accompanist Ben Model played on a pipe organ. Both films have been restored in 2k resolution from original 35mm nitrate prints from The Library of Congress' Paramount collection.

Raymond Griffith: The Silk Hat Comedian is available on Blu-ray wherever Undercrank Productions releases are sold. 

Thank you to Undercrank Productions for sending me a copy for review.

I share more thoughts about the film and the Blu-ray on episode #4 of The Classic Movie Roundup on YouTube. Watch here:

Thursday, June 8, 2023

Interview with Ben Model of Undercrank Productions


June 2023 marks the 10th anniversary of Undercrank Productions, a DVD distributor founded by silent film accompanist Ben Model. I've had the privilege to interview Ben Model at the TCM Classic Film Festival a few years ago. And now he's back with an interview for Out of the Past.

Check out my interview below. And if you're interested in buying some DVDs, Undercrank Productions titles are discounted on Critics Choice VideoDeep Discount and Movies Unlimited for a limited time.

Raquel Stecher: I really enjoyed your recent performance at the 2023 TCM Classic Film Festival for the Rin Tin Tin movie Clash of the Wolves (1925). It was a festival favorite for sure! Can you tell me a bit about how you became a silent film accompanist?

Ben Model: I got my start accompanying films while I was a film production student at NYU. I was a big silent film fan growing up, and also played piano. The first semester of the basic overview film history course we all took Freshman year was silent films. And I do mean silent – these were screened in 16mm prints that had no soundtracks. I don’t know what possessed me but the next year I volunteered to play for the silent film screenings, and found myself playing for 2 or sometimes 3 classes a week. I made a point of meeting film accompanists in NYC to get advice. William Perry – who was MoMA’s film pianist 1969-1982 and scored films for “The Silent Years” on PBS – was a big help. Lee Erwin, who was the organist at the revival theater “The Carnegie Hall Cinema”, became a friend and mentor – Lee had been a movie theater organist in the 1920s

Still from Clash of the Wolves (1925)

TCM's Jacqueline Stewart with Ben Model at the 2023 TCM Classic Film Festival

Raquel: Congratulations on the 10th anniversary of Undercrank Productions! How did your label come about and how did you come up with the name?

Ben: A few things I was interested in kind of came together at the same time. I was looking for a way to do more scoring for silent films on home video than I was being hired to do already, I was interested in the process of how DVDs get made and released, and I was looking at ways of getting some obscure and rare silent comedy shorts I owned in 16mm out to fans who’d want to see them. During 2012, I figured out the various pieces of how this could happen, and also became aware of Amazon’s just-launched manufacture-on-demand DVD platform. Around the same time, I learned about Kickstarter, which had only been around for a couple years, and realized that involving fans of silent films in the process by crowdfunding my first DVD project, that would take care of the production costs. I’m pretty sure the Kickstarter I did to produce and release Accidentally Preserved was the first time this had been done with a silent or classic film home-video release. The whole thing worked, and I kept doing one or two of these every year. 

The name comes from my fascination with the way undercranking was used and utilized throughout the silent film era and was a ubiquitous part of the movie-making process for the camera operators and the performers. I thought naming my DVD company “Undercrank Productions” would help promote awareness of this. I also was looking for a name that had a few of “K” sounds in it. 

Raquel: How have you used Kickstarter as a platform to help create awareness and fund your projects?

Ben: I’ve found Kickstarter to be a great way to democratize the process of funding these projects. For the video I made for my 2nd or 3rd Kickstarter I came up with the tag-line, “Why not be part of the ‘someone’ in ‘why doesn’t someone put that out on DVD?’”. I try to emphasize the fact that if we all get out and push, we can make this happen. Ten years ago, it felt a little funny to be going hat-in-hand on social media, but by now – even 5 years ago – I think everyone gets it.

Raquel: What is the workflow like for your releases in terms of curation, restoration, accompaniment and distribution?

Ben: If it’s a disc of comedy shorts, Steve Massa and I start with picking an overlooked or forgotten comedian and then seeing if there’s enough of their films extant and available – through collectors or, more often, from the Library of Congress – to fill up a disc. Sometimes we’ve been able to add to a playlist of shorts with a title that we’d get, through the Library of Congress, from MoMA or the EYE Filmmuseum. We’ll screen the material for completeness and image quality and make a decision from there. Because these are fan-funded, manufacture-on-demand projects, that takes the issue of whether or not we’re going to sell 1000 or 2000 units off the table. Who the heck is Marcel Perez? Or Alice Howell? Nobody knows or remembers them, but that doesn’t matter. Once I have the funding from the Kickstarter, scans are ordered from the Library of Congress, and I get high-end video files of the film or films. 

If the Kickstarter campaign goes way way over the funding goal, then there’s a budget for digital restoration. Then there’s inter-title recreation, if needed. Then the restored version of the files get graded, which means someone goes shot by shot and corrects exposure, and will also reinstate color tinting if we know what it was supposed to be originally. Once we have the final version of the restored film, then I create a screener for myself, and create the scores on either piano or theatre organ.

Once I’m at that phase, Marlene Weisman begins work on the graphic design of the Blu-ray and DVD case. She is beyond fantastic, and I think the artwork on a release is crucial. It’s your first line of defense online, and makes an important impression – just because a release is self-published it doesn’t have to have a self-published look to it. Once all the video and audio pieces are done, then the “authoring” happens, when the files get woven into something that can be burned into a disc and play in your physical media player.

For distribution, I’ve been using Alliance Entertainment to do all the manufacturing, order fulfillment and online listings on the various platforms like Amazon and DeepDiscount, et al. The final files and graphics get uploaded to Alliance, and I set the street date. I write a press release and send it out to my press list, and we mail out copies of the finished disc to reviewers… and hope for the best.

Raquel: Tell me about your partnership with the Library of Congress and your Found at Mostly Lost series.

Ben: Rob Stone, who is a Curator in the Moving Image Section of the Library of Congress’ National Audio Visual Conservation Center, came up with the idea of doing this. He’d worked out a co-branding deal with Kino Lorber in 2012 for their release of King: A Filmed Record... Montgomery to Memphis. I’m one of the resident silent film accompanists at the NAVCC’s Packard Campus Theatre, and am down in Culpeper VA for a show a handful of times a year. I was set to Kickstart and produce my 2nd project, The Mishaps of Musty Suffer (1916-1917), a slapstick comedy serial, and Rob got the idea to apply what had been done with Kino with me and Undercrank Productions. It meant I’d have to put the Library of Congress’ logo at the head of the film and on the DVD case, which was a huge plus for me. I had no name recognition, but the LoC sure did. 

Anyone can pay for scans of films from the Library, as long as they’re public domain films and have no donor restrictions, and get them as files or on a disc. My co-branding relationship with the LoC allows me to do a slightly deeper dive into the collection when I’m considering a film or bunch of shorts. It’s made it possible for me to release silent films that the more established labels might not be interested in, which is a win for the Library as it helps get films they’ve preserved and worked on get out that ordinarily wouldn’t see the light of day.

The two Found at Mostly Lost DVDs are actually comprised of films that were identified at the “Mostly Lost” film identification workshops held at the Library of Congress in the 2010s. These films had been scanned and scored for a DVD included in the “swag-bag” attendees got each year. My idea was to make these available for the general public, for the folks who were interested. The workshop hasn’t happened for a few years, due to the pandemic, and while there aren’t any concrete plans for when it will happen again, I’m hoping that it’s just hibernating and will resurface in the next year or so.

Raquel: You've done a great job releasing the lesser known work from some key figures from film history including Lon Chaney, Marion Davies, Frank Borzage and Edward Everett Horton. Why is it important that these rare silents be preserved and shared with silent film enthusiasts and beyond? 

Ben: The silent movies I release, thankfully, have already been preserved by the film archives. I feel like my role in the overall process is one of feeding and enriching the interest and fandom of silent cinema, including my own, by helping to fill out the landscape of silent cinema beyond the “usual suspects” tentpole films. These are the movies everyone went to see and enjoyed back in the silent era while they were waiting for the next Mary Pickford or Harold Lloyd film to be released.

Raquel: Is there one release that you're particularly proud of?

Ben: It’s hard to pick just one. But I’m really pleased with what we’ve done to make the films of comedian Marcel Perez available. Steve Massa got me interested in these, and they’re all excellent comedies. Perez was one of the many comedian-filmmakers of the silent era, physical comedians who also had a unique and recognizable directorial style. His own grandchildren–who Steve had connected with– had never seen Perez’s films and believed them to be lost. Most of his U.S.-made films are missing and we’re hoping more of them turn up so we can do a third volume.

Raquel: I really loved The Alice Howell Collection! Can you tell me more about how you came to curate and release that collection?

Ben: We have Steve Massa once again to thank for this project. Alice Howell is on the cover of his book Slapstick Divas, which is a huge book all about the women of silent film comedy. The more of her films we tracked down, watched, and showed in film programs we worked on, the more I thought a DVD of her films needed to happen. She starred in her own series of comedy shorts for about ten years and was popular and successful. You can see a link – even if it’s one you’re threading yourself – from Alice Howell to Lucille Ball to Carol Burnett and onward. She’s also got an important Hollywood legacy: her daughter married film director George Stevens, and her grandson George Stevens, Jr. is a filmmaker, founder of the American Film Institute and is co-creator of the Kennedy Center Honors. The Alice Howell DVD wound up being a 2-disc set, and was another Undercrank Productions release that was done through my co-branding arrangement with the Library of Congress. 

Raquel: During the early days of the pandemic you and Steve Massa started The Silent Comedy Watch Party series which now has over 90 episodes on YouTube. Can you tell me how this came about?

Ben: I’d had the basic concept for this for a few years. Somewhere here I have a drawing I made of how the equipment and the piano would be set up. The second week of March 2020 we all knew something was coming and we didn’t know what, but things were beginning to close up a little, and we were starting to hear about staying 6 feet away from each other. I live-streamed the show’s pilot, sort of a proof-of-concept to see if I could do it and to see if it worked for viewers. The reaction we got was enthusiastic and heartfelt – people who posted comments or sent emails thanked us for giving them some laughs. It was that release from the stress we were anticipating we’d be under, and then a couple days later I watched every gig I had get canceled, and the shutdown happened. 

We now had to do the show, and had to continue doing it. There was nowhere for anyone to go, and we knew people really needed the laughs. This was more than just putting on a silent film show, we realized we were now helping people get through what they were going through. Marlene created the title logo for The Silent Comedy Watch Party, I figured out how we would bring Steve on from his place for his intros – for the pilot, he’d come over to my apartment – my wife Mana had to learn how to operate a camera and tripod, and she and Steve’s wife Susan worked out how they’d stage-manage the show together via text while we were “on the air”. And I now found myself in the position of silent film accompanist-presenter and also the director of a live television show, both at the same time. 

It was the comments we’d get every week from people who were watching around the globe that let us know how much the shows and getting to laugh and forget everything for 90 minutes every Sunday meant to them. Now I meet people at in-person shows who recognize me and come up and tell me how The Silent Comedy Watch Party helped get them through the pandemic. It’s very moving.

Raquel: What's next for Undercrank Productions and where can people follow you?

Ben: We’re releasing a disc of restored Raymond Griffith silent comedies on June 13th, and a disc of restored Tom Mix westerns on July 11th. We’re in the midst of production on a project of restorations of films starring and directed by Francis Ford, and I expect to announce a Kickstarter later in the year for our first collaboration with the UCLA Film & TV Archive. The month-long anniversary sale on all our releases during June will hopefully give silent film fans a chance to discover some of the many silent comedy gems we’ve released, and for any loyal fans to fill out their Undercrank Productions media shelf. My website’s the best place to check out my blog or sign up for my emails, check out my Silent Film Music Podcast, and find out where I’m performing. My Twitter and Instagram handle is @silentfilmmusic, and my YouTube channel is

You can buy Undercrank Productions DVDs at a discounted price on Critics Choice VideoDeep Discount and Movies Unlimited for a limited time.

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Undercrank Productions: Little Old New York (1923)

What would you do for a million dollars? For Patricia O'Day (Marion Davies), she would go as far as live her life as a boy so that her family could inherit what was rightfully theirs. When Patricia's rich American uncle passes away, she and her father John (J.M. Kerrigan) are visited in Ireland by the uncle's proprietor. The uncle's will stipulates that the sole heir of the $1 million fortune is Patrick O'Day (Stephen Carr), Patricia's brother. Patrick has two months to travel to New York to claim the inheritance or lose it forever. However, Patrick is gravely ill and won't survive the treacherous journey over the Atlantic. 

Upon arrival, Patricia plays the part of her brother by donning a page boy haircut and boys clothes. She meets Larry Delavan (Harrison Ford, the other one!) whom everyone, including Larry himself, thought would inherit his step-father's fortune. The story follows Patricia as she plays the part of Patrick, enters high society, invests in steamboat technology, gets caught up in the world of sports gambling, faces an identity crisis and falls in love.

Little Old New York (1923) was a box office hit for star Marion Davies. The film was so popular that it beat box office sales for the previous record holder Robin Hood (1922). Based on the play by Rida Johnson Young, the film adaptation was produced by William Randolph Hearst's company Cosmopolitan Corporation and filmed at his studio on 127th Street and 2nd Avenue in New York City. A fire broke out at the studio while filming was still underway. The negatives for the film, which at that point was two-thirds complete, were miraculously salvaged. However, costumes and sets had to be recreated. 

A big marketing push for the film included a press conference with Davies, an invitation for the public to be extras in one of the scenes and having theater usherettes dress like characters in the movie (not sure if they were made to mimic Marion Davies' boy look or the other female characters wearing 19th century garb). The film premiered at Hearst's Majestic theatre in Columbus Circle and a couple months later premiered in London. Little Old New York was remade in 1940 with Alice Faye in the lead role.

Marion Davies is absolutely charming as the lead character. She uses her feminine wiles and masculine energy to adeptly play this binary role. I'm really drawn to stories about gender representation especially when they spotlight stereotypes in a way that criticizes them (whether intentional or not). I would recommend this film to fans of silents, Marion Davies and period pieces.

At 1 hour and 47 minutes, Little Old New York feels a bit too long. A natural resolution to the story could have happened much earlier in the film. Overall, the movie watched more like chapters in story of Patricia/Patrick O'Day's adventures rather than one cohesive feature film. 

Little Old New York (1923) is available on DVD from Undercrank Productions, in association with Edward Lorusso, and features a lively original score by accompanist Ben Model. According to Undercrank's website, the film is presented from a 2k digital scan made from the Library of Congress's 35mm nitrate print. The DVD is a result of a Kickstarter campaign and also includes an excerpt from Hold Fast (1916).

Shop Little Old New York (1923) DVD at the following retailers.

AmazonBarnes and Noble — Deep DiscountMovies Unlimited

Thank you to Undercrank Productions for sending me a copy for review!

Monday, July 1, 2019

The Alice Howell Collection

Distilled Love (1920)

Ben Model's Undercrank Productions has released The Alice Howell collection, a two DVD set featuring 12 short films from master silent film comedienne Alice Howell. A mix of screwball and slapstick comedies, Howell knew how to entertain audiences with her knack for physical comedy, her amusing expressions and signature look. Model offers the following description:

"The character that she had developed was a slightly addled working-class girl with a round Kewpie-doll face topped off with a mountain of frizzy hair piled high on her head."

Howell reminds me a lot of British comedienne and actress Dawn French. As as a silent film star Howell pretty much stands on her own. Howell's career began when she and her husband relocated to California when he fell ill. Howell found work as an extra for Mack Sennett's Keystone Film Company. She eventually graduated from extra to supporting cast to leading lady. In addition to Keystone she also worked for L-Ko Komedy, Century Comedies, Emerald Film Co., Reelcraft and Universal. 

Neptune's Naughty Daughter (1917)

The shorts in The Alice Howell Collection have been digitally remastered from 35mm and 16mm print. Sources include the Library of Congress, the BFI National Archive, the Danish Film Institute among others. Each film is presented with an original musical score written and performed by Ben Model himself. A brief intro explains what's been done to restore each film and points out any missing scenes/reels, title cards or notable damage. The films are all offered in the best presentation possible making this collection of early comedies well worth the investment of any silent film enthusiast.

The films in the set include: 

Disc One:
Shot in The Excitement (1914) 
Father Was a Loafer (1915) 
Under New Management (1915) 
How Stars Are Made (1916) 
Neptune's Naughty Daughter (1917) 
In Dutch (1918)

Disc Two:
Distilled Love (1920) 
His Wooden Leg-acy (1920) 
Her Lucky (1920) 
Cinderella Cinders (1920) 
A Convict's Happy Bride (1920) 
Under a Spell (1925)

I didn't know anything about Alice Howell until I received this set and she's been a delightful discovery. My favorite shorts in the set include the boozy and whacky adventure comedy Distilled Love (1920) which features Oliver Hardy in a very early role, the madcap screwball comedy where Howell has triplets (in addition to her four kids) and her loser husband tries to abandon the family with hilarious results Father Was a Loafer (1915) and the backstage comedy (with an explosive ending!) where Howell pretends to be an actress to appear on promotional float How Stars Are Made (1916). Other notable films include Neptune's Naughty Daughter (1917) which is the only surviving film of the six shorts she made with Century Comedies and His Wooden Leg-acy (1920), one of several films Howell made in Chicago and is a side-splitting rags to riches to rags tale.

Alice Howell was a daredevil comedian and some of the stunts she did in the film are as impressive now as they were back then. She's largely forgotten today but is well overdue for a comeback. If you've never heard of Howell but love silent comedies or you're a well-established fan, you need to get your hands on this set!

Thank you to Ben Model for sending me a copy of this set for review!

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Found at Mostly Lost Vol. 2

Found at Mostly Lost Vol. 2
On sale October 30th

Earlier this year at the TCM Classic Film Festival I attended a presentation on the Mostly Lost workshop and let’s just say I was utterly fascinated. For those of you unfamiliar with Mostly Lost, it’s a film identification workshop run by the Library of Congress at their National Audio-Visual Conservation Center in Culpeper, VA. Started in 2012, the workshop gathers historians, experts and fans to collaborate on identifying silent and early sound films. These are movies, pulled from the LoC’s film archive, that are missing titles or other identifiers or have been previously  misidentified. Attendees are encouraged to shout out anything they recognize whether it’s an actor or actress, a film studio logo, a location, a period style of dress or hairdo, car models, or anything that will provide some information about the film. Live music, by silent film accompanists like Ben Model, is performed at these screenings. Attendees bring laptops, smartphones, books, etc. to help them in their research. This sounds like such a fun workshop especially for any film historian who loves research. It's also another way in which the Library of Congress contributes to film preservation and knowledge.

Thanks to Ben Model and his distribution company Undercrank Productions, a selection of films identified during the workshop are now available on DVD! In Found At Mostly Lost: Volume 2, Model offers 10 shorts ranging from 7-22 minutes in length. These films were identified by the Mostly Lost team during 2015-2017 workshops and features new piano scores by accompanists Philip Carli, Andrew E. Simpson and Ben Model.

Do Me a Favor (1922)

The DVD includes the following:
Adolph Zink (1903) - Thomas A. Edison Co. - 11 minutes
And the Villain Still Pursued Her; or the Author’s Dream (1906) - Vitagraph - 8 minutes
Derby Day (1922) - Monty Banks - 12 minutes
Do Me a Favor (1922) - Snub Pollard - 10 minutes
The Faithful Dog; or, True to the End (1907) - Eclipse - 8 minutes
The Falling Arrow (1909) - James Young Deer - 8 minutes
Fresh Fish (1922) - Bobby Bumps (animated)  - 7 minutes
In the Tall Grass Country (1910) - Francis Ford, Edith Storey - 10 minutes
The Noodle Nut (1921) - Billy Bletcher - 8 minutes
The Sunshine Spreader (1920s) - 22 minutes

Monty Banks and Lucille Hutton in Derby Day (1922)

My favorite film of the collection was Derby Day, a hilarious 12 minute short starring Monty Banks as a guy who just wants some lunch. In his pursuit for food, he gets caught up in random, bizarre situations that culminate with him racing in a local Derby. The only downside to the short is that it came with German title cards, one of which I stopped to translate online just to figure out what was going on.

Another comedy short I enjoyed was The Noodle Nut, a zany story about two noodle factory workers vying for the hand of one woman. They compete to sell a pack of 5 foot long noodles to a Mack R. Roni, a noodle buyer. The man who sells the noodles gets the girl. Things go awry and hilarity inevitably ensues.

Fresh Fish was an interesting short, a mix of live action and animation. This cute story features a young boy hand cranking an animated movie while his cat watches on. Within the animation is the story of a boy going fishing with his dog. Eventually the animated dog and the live action cat interact with each other.

The collection also features a few dramas. My favorite of those was The Faithful Dog, a tragic tale of a blind beggar and his beloved companion who sticks with him to the bitter end. I also enjoyed In the Tall Grass Country, a modest story of a country boy in love with a girl who has mistaken his sister as a rival love interest.


Found at Mostly Lost: Vol 2 DVD goes on sale 10/30/18. This would make a great gift for the silent film enthusiast or film history buff in your life.

Thank you to Ben Model of Undercrank Productions for sending me a copy for review!

Monday, August 13, 2018

The Kinetophone: A Fact! A Reality!: Talking Pictures from 1913!

Jack's Joke (1913)
Photo Credit: courtesy Undercrank Productions/Library of Congress

Before there was the Vitaphone there was Thomas Edison's Kinetophone. Over a decade before Al Jolson proclaimed "you ain't heard nothing yet" in The Jazz Singer (1927), Kinetophone brought talking pictures to audiences. The technology was a marriage between the Kinetoscope and the Phonograph. According to silent film accompanist Ben Model,

"Showing the films in theaters involved a complex system involving a hand-cranked projector connected by a system of pulleys to a modified Edison cylinder player at the front of the theatre, operated at both ends by technicians connected by head-sets. The Kinetophone films, like the early Vitaphone shorts, were of theatrical or vaudeville acts, dramatic scenes and musical performances."
Over two hundred Kinetophone shorts featuring vaudeville acts, musical numbers, short dramas and other theatrical productions were released. The first ones premiered in New York on February 17, 1913. Only 8 of these shorts survived and 105 years later those 8, plus a 3 minute Kinetophone lecture, are available to the general public for the first time.

Model's distribution company Undercrank Productions has recently released The Kinetophone: A Fact! A Reality!: Talking Pictures from 1913, on DVD. It includes:

The Edison Kinetophone
The Musical Blacksmiths
The Deaf Mute: A Military Drama
The Five Bachelors
The Politician

As a bonus the set also includes the 24 minute documentary: So Amazingly Perfect They are Really Weird: The History and Restoration of Edison Kinetophone Films. The doc is hosted by George Willeman, Nitrate Film Vault Manager for the Library of Congress. Willeman discusses at length the history behind the Kinetophone technology and provides background on the players featured in the various shorts.

Each short is roughly six minutes long and features synchronized sound. The only exception to this is The Politician which is still missing its sound cylinder. Preceding each short is a brief introduction presented in the form of title cards. These include information about the source materials, restoration and synchronization of the short film. Any syncing issues are flagged up.

I've watched a few of these Kinetophone films before at Capitolfest in 2016. It was great to see all the surviving Kinetophones in one collection. With the exception of Nursery Favorites, these have not been released to the general public since their premiere in 1913!

These Kinetophone shorts are more than just curios from the past. They're an important piece of film history. This treasure trove from a forgotten era of filmmaking is one classic film enthusiasts will want to get their hands on.

The Kinetophone: A Fact! A Reality!: Talking Pictures from 1913! DVD is available from Undercrank Productions. Many thanks to Ben for sending me a screener to review.

Check out my red carpet interview with Ben Model at the 2018 TCM Classic Film Festival. He discusses at length about some of the upcoming releases from Undercrank Productions.

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