A Picture is Worth Many Words

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: This film still is an odd, 5″x7″ size, came as part of a collection we amassed purchasing pieces off an artist photo archive being sold on eBay over a period of weeks, a few years back now. I believe it was a photo morgue assembled by an illustrator. Among the photos we purchased from that group was one I featured on an earlier post, Jes Call Me Bill. There are additional future posts to be had from that wonderful group of photos. There’s no information about this one and we haven’t been able to figure out what film it might have come from.

This photo was on my mind and I could not put my hands on it until recently while cleaning up and going through some photos given to us by a friend of Kim’s. This one had accidentally found it’s way into that pile. In part it is the composition that attracts me. I couldn’t ask for better. The light that is hitting the roof is great and there is just barely enough of it. The whole story is here – he’s pulling her into that thatched house against her will, the guy on the horse is covering him with a gun and looking off in one direction, but meanwhile, no one sees our hero coming out of the doorway. He’ll save her! Not really a beautiful photo so much as a good one. This is the beauty of both silent films and good photography. The picture grabs you – and gives you the whole story.

Try a Skyrocket!

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post:This was a surprising find – it is a press photo of the Our Gang kids. It is dated July 28, 1925 and says, The Cleveland News, Reference (something I can’t read) Cleveland, Ohio. Also written on the back it says, Don’t Hitch Your Wagon to a Star! Try a Skyrocket! Here are the diminutive Pathy comedians of Roach’s “Our Gang” celebrating the Fourth in their own fashion. Quite the fire crackers, yes? I have always thought that if I was going to have a still from Our Gang that I would want one of the crazy machines or cars in it and this is pretty dandy, even though it isn’t a still, but a photo made expressly for this purpose. I just wish they could have gotten Pete up there too! The photo is a collage montage of images and the “flames” shooting out the back and the lines indicating speed seem to have actually been scratched onto the negative. Very resourceful.

Like many people, I guess, some of my earliest television memories is a wonderful, never-ending unspooling of Our Gang and Little Rascal shorts on weekend afternoons. These films informed our childhoods and convinced us that we should have a neighborhood gang of kids and dogs, and be capable of building glorious fire engine go-carts, our own taxi cabs, other cars, and club houses – and sit around eating huge cream puff donuts the like of which you never see in real life. (Having said that, I actually finally had a cream puff donut of the kind I am describing the other day – it was on special at Le Pain Quotidien and I split it with a friend – absolutely glorious. I now understand why they were always longing for them in the shorts.) It was years before it occurred to me that those wonderful go-carts and club houses were built by talented adults with virtually endless resources – not a superior kind of extinct child from an earlier generation. It was probably good to have the bar set high however.

Although I watched them all with impunity, it was the earliest generation of them that I liked best. (However, I did not catch up with the silent ones until adulthood so I am thinking of the first generation of sound ones.) I loved this image when I saw it and it set me thinking about a short where they do indeed build a rocket and take off around the neighborhood. Surely there was one like that, wasn’t there?

Mistinguett – Felix Goes to the Dogs

 

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post:  Shown here is a recent acquisition. A press photo of a French stage star posing with her dog – and Felix! Plenty of evidence that, in addition to regular folks, stars enjoyed posing with Felix to help burnish their public image. (My Felix Makes the Picture Better illustrates this point, and look for several of actress Lilian Harvey that will be future posts.)

This one is undated which is unusual for a press photo. Glued to the back is a scrap of paper that reads, MISTINGUETT, the French musical comedy star, concluding her appearance here in ‘Innocent Eyes,’ sailed yesterday with her ‘million dollar legs’ for home abroad the Paris. She was accompanied by her dog, Alfred! And his stuffed playmate, Felix. staff Photo-Steffen

Okay, more about Mistinguett in a moment – but the Felix belonged to her dog? As a toy collector I am, needless to say, a bit horrified. We will assume that, if true, those particular toys are unlikely to show up on eBay today – although an interesting story for someone who finds one with little dog-toothy tears. How often did the Felix-es need replacing I wonder – Felix is almost as big as Alfred. I take comfort in the fact that I deeply suspect that it was a put up job for the photograph and that the pristine Felix toy went on his way with the photographer awaiting his turn with Dolores Costello and others.

There is a huge amount of information about Mistinguett on the internet. Born on April 5, 1875 as Jeanne Bourgeois she evidently decided to be an entertainer at an early age. She took the stage name Mistinguett and became the toast of Paris – the highest paid entertainer of her day. Her actual skill as a singer seems to be questionable, but clearly she had something and was quite the ‘It Girl’ of her time. The lover of Maurice Chevalier and King Alfonso XIII of Spain, she was a famous dancer of the Apache – one of France’s contributions to socially acceptable S&M entertainment. The IMDb database claims that her legs were insured for a mere 50,000 francs – but let’s not quibble. Her long filmography starts in 1908, but with only one film in the sound era, the 1936 Rigolboche, which appears to be available. One review sites her as a bit long in the tooth for the part – understandable since she was 61 at that point. (In all fairness, there’s a leggy photo of her when she was 50 that is pretty hotsy-totsy. It can be viewed, with much additional information on her at www.yodaslair.com/dumboozle/mist/mistdex.html) There are several fuzzy dupey clips of her singing on Youtube and I have spared you any of these.

Innocent Eyes, the show mentioned on the photo, was mounted to feature her and introduce her to American audiences and was pretty soundly panned. She never clicked here. Mistinguett seemed unperturbed however and I snatch a quote from the above mentioned website, In her autobiography, Mistinguett recalls the results of her efforts to learn English for this engagement:  My pronunciation was a great success.  ‘Innocent Eyes’ on my tongue became ‘Innocent Asses.’ I was begged not to improve on it. She was, as my grandmother used to say, a real piece of work.

And I can only guess that she was perhaps less than entertained with the idea of posing with the American film super star, Felix. Perhaps that is how she came to demote him to the role of dog toy!

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Are those cat ears? An early poster image borrowed from the Google photo file.

Jes Call Me Bill

 

 

 

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Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: A few years ago I hit a streak on eBay where someone was selling a film still archive and I just bought and bought and bought some more – Kim jumped in with me. With the exception of my still from Lazy Bones (which was how I fell into the whole wonderful thing) we just bought photos that were appealing, followed our noses – all photos from films we had never seen, many lost.  This one was identified on the back as Jes Call Me Bill, a Will Rogers film from 1920. This is just simply one of the most beautiful stills I have ever seen – hard to imagine the movie could live up to it. The film seems to exist but I haven’t seen it – Kim says he caught a bit of it on the tail end of a bootleg tape years ago.  This photo hangs where we can see it everyday and I often spend a few minutes dreaming in front of it.  Hope you like it as much as I do.

Lucky Star

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Check out some of Lucky Star:

 

Pam Pictorama photo post, From one of my all time favorite films, Frank Borzage’s silent, Lucky Star.  I say silent, although evidently a part talkie was also made which I have not seen, but may exist at least partially.  I have seen stills from it.  I do not think this still represents a scene that actually made it into the film, although the appropriate part of the film is in the outtake YouTube I have linked to here.  Take a stroll through it – or even better, tuck in and watch the whole film!  I can and have watched it again and again.

The Back Pay still is one we’ve had for a while – framed up on the wall right next to our computer where I am sitting right now.  I have never seen the film and it may be lost.  Both of these stills embody what I like best about Frank Borzage films – a sort of magical artificial world.  For me, Frank Borzage is one of the more or less unsung heroes of film – working shoulder to shoulder with the likes of John Ford in those early years.  Another favorite to look out for Lazy Bones stars Buck Jones – as sweet a movie as you could ever want to see! While these are not yet entirely common place viewing, a giant Frank Borzage set put out a few years ago has made some of these available.  And I think my friends over at TCM are starting to promote at least his later work a bit.

Although my first viewing of Lucky Star was at MoMA we were lucky enough to catch up with a multi-day Borzage fest at the Museum of the Moving Image.  (Where we also attended several days of William S. Hart films – bliss!) Sadly that venue doesn’t seem to be showing many silents any longer, let alone those glorious festivals!  However, I hope I have done my part to introduce Lucky Star to even a few more people.  Enjoy!