Saturday, February 17, 2018

Upcoming Kansas Silent Film Festival, February 23 & 24

This year's Kansas Silent Film Festival is set to take place February 23 & 24 in Topeka, Kansas. Along with a special guest appearance by film historian Cari Beauchamp, another highlight of this year's festival is a screening of the terrific 1929 Colleen Moore film, Why Be Good? If you like Louise Brooks' films, you love this Colleen Moore film. Find out more about the festival HERE.

We've wanted to do a ‘Women in Silent Film’ theme for some years now, but the timing was never right. The opportunity to introduce our audience to some wonderful female artists, many of whom they may not have heard of before, worked out perfectly this year with the acceptance of our invitation by Cari Beauchamp, author of the seminal work on screenwriter Frances Marion. Women have always had an important place in film history, most particularly in the early years when everything was new and untested. Women could carve out a career in just about any area of film work they wanted and not just in front of the cameras. Then came Steve Massa's fine book, Slapstick Divas: The Women of Silent Comedy, published in 2017 which really brought home the idea of just how far away we are from this era of strong women. It's time to celebrate Women in Silent Film!

Fri. & Sat., February 23 & 24, 2018
White Concert Hall, Washburn University
17th and Jewell, Topeka, Kansas

Denise Morrison, film commentator
Live Musical Accompaniment by:
Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra
Marvin Faulwell, organ
Bob Keckeisen, percussion
Jeff Rapsis, piano
Bill Beningfield, organ

Special Guest:
Cari Beauchamp, author specializing in Women in Silent Movies

Thursday, February 15, 2018

CMBA Profiles Louise Brooks Society Blog

The Classic Movie Blog Association (CMBA) is a group of blogs dedicated to the celebration of classic cinema.  And every month or so, the CMBA profiles one of its member blogs. This month, the CMBA profiled the Louise Brooks Society. The profile began by stating, "The Louise Brooks Society is one of the most prolific and professional of the blogs in CMBA. Almost every day, there are updates on the site, and the writing and information is top-notch." It is an honor.

The LBS blog began back in 2002 (on LiveJournal), and has been going ever since. The LBS blog moved to Blogger in 2009, and sometime later this year, it will post its 3000th combined entry. (I managed to move most of the old LiveJournal entries over to Blogger.) Thanks to everyone who has posted a comment or subscribed to the blog or is reading this very entry. Thank you!

To mark this special occasion, I have revamped and updated the blog, adding new links and functionality. I hope you like what I have done.

The Louise Brooks Society has been a member of the CMBA for a few years. I encourage everyone to check out the CMBA website as well as its member blogs and other profiles. It's a great way to explore the web of classic cinema.

The CMBA profile of the LBS blog can be found HERE.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Film Censorship in America, including the silent era

There are a couple of new books out on film censorship. Both look at the history of film censorship in the United States, including the silent era. (Read more about film censorship at Wikipedia)

Monitoring the Movies: The Fight over Film Censorship in Early Twentieth-Century Urban America by Jennifer Fronc
University of Texas Press

From the publisher: "As movies took the country by storm in the early twentieth century, Americans argued fiercely about whether municipal or state authorities should step in to control what people could watch when they went to movie theaters, which seemed to be springing up on every corner. Many who opposed the governmental regulation of film conceded that some entity—boards populated by trusted civic leaders, for example—needed to safeguard the public good. The National Board of Review of Motion Pictures (NB), a civic group founded in New York City in 1909, emerged as a national cultural chaperon well suited to protect this emerging form of expression from state incursions.

Using the National Board's extensive files, Monitoring the Movies offers the first full-length study of the NB and its campaign against motion-picture censorship. Jennifer Fronc traces the NB's Progressive-era founding in New York; its evolving set of "standards" for directors, producers, municipal officers, and citizens; its "city plan," which called on citizens to report screenings of condemned movies to local officials; and the spread of the NB's influence into the urban South. Ultimately, Monitoring the Movies shows how Americans grappled with the issues that arose alongside the powerful new medium of film: the extent of the right to produce and consume images and the proper scope of government control over what citizens can see and show."

Reviews: "This is an extremely important book, a major, highly readable, well-researched contribution to the scholarship on the history of movie censorship and regulation in the Progressive era. Fronc provides a rich and diverse portrait of the social matrix that informed the shape, success, and limits of the National Board of Review’s efforts to encourage better films and defeat censorship laws." — Matthew H. Bernstein, Emory University, author of Screening a Lynching: The Leo Frank Case on Film and Television

"A terrific, well-argued, and engaging book that will appeal to readers in American history and film history. By mining primary sources from institutional records, Jennifer Fronc is able to provide the first account that really gets inside the workings of the National Board of Review." — Kathryn Fuller-Seeley, University of Texas at Austin, author of At the Picture Show: Small Town Audiences and the Creation of Movie Fan Culture


Film Censorship in America: A State-by-State History
by Jeremy Geltzer

I am currently reading this book, and find it to be an interesting, anecdotal account. When I am done, I hope to read Monitoring the Movies.

From the publisher: "Since the first films played in nickelodeons, controversial movies have been cut or banned across the United States. Far from Hollywood, regional productions such as Oscar Micheaux's provocative race films and Nell Shipman's wildlife adventures were censored by men like Major M.L.C. Funkhouser, the terror of Chicago s cinemas, and Myrtelle Snell, the Alabama administrator who made the slogan Banned in Birmingham famous. Censorship continues today, with Utah's case against Deadpool (2016) pending in federal court and Robert Rodriguez's Machete Kills (2013) versus the Texas Film Commission. This authoritative state-by-state account covers the history of film censorship and the battle for free speech in America.

Reviews: "The result of formidable research, this book traces the way each state in the union dealt with censorship from the earliest days of silent films to the present tracking down these particulars, author Geltzer unearthed interesting details about regional film production around the country...this book should prove useful." — Leonard Maltin.


Another related book which I've read and which should prove of interest is this 2007 title. I sure which there was a book like it for each state!

From the publisher: "If you caught a movie in Kansas through much of the past century, you’re likely to have seen a different version than did the rest of America. Theda Bara’s depictions of wicked sexuality were off-limits, and a film such as the 1932 Scarface showed far too much violence for decent folk—a threat to Protestant culture and to the morals of the general population.

 In 1915, Kansas became one of only a handful of states to establish its own film censorship board. The Kansas board controlled screen content in the state for more than fifty years, yet little is known about its activities. This first book-length study of state film censorship examines the unique political, social, and economic factors that led to its implementation in Kansas, examining why censorship legislation was enacted, what the attitudes of Kansans were toward censorship, and why it lasted for half a century.

Cinema historian Gerald Butters places the Kansas Board of Review’s attempts to control screen content in the context of nationwide censorship efforts during the early part of the twentieth century. He tells how factors such as Progressivism, concern over child rearing, and a supportive press contributed to censorship, and he traces the board’s history from the problems posed by the emergence of “talkies” through changing sexual mores in the 1920s to challenges to its power in the 1950s.

In addition to revealing the fine points of film content deemed too sensitive for screening, Butters describes the daily operations of the board, illustrating the difficulties it encountered as it wrestled not only with constantly shifting definitions of morality but also with the vagaries of the political and legal systems. Stills from motion pictures illustrate the type of screen content the board attempted to censor.

As Kansas faced the march of modernity, even state politicians began to criticize film censorship, and Butters tells how by the 1960s the board was fighting to remain relevant as film companies increasingly challenged its attempts to control screen content. Banned in Kansas weaves a fascinating tale of the enforcement of public morality, making it a definitive study for cinema scholars and an entertaining read for film buffs."
Reviews: “I believe that Banned in Kansas will (and should) become a classic in the field of the social history of the motion picture in America. This book makes a very significant contribution and fills a very large void in our understanding of the forces behind the issue of social control of this important medium in the twentieth century.” — Garth Jowett, author of Film: The Democratic Art


It is well known that Brooks two German made films were heavily censored in Europe, while Pandora's Box was further censored when it was first shown in the United States in 1929. 

What is less know is that a handful of Brooks' American silent films were also censored in the United States. I have gotten at some of the remaining censorship records, and have found that the two Brooks' films which suffered the most censorship were The American Venus (1926), due to it's revealing costumes, and The City Gone Wild (1927), because of its violence. 

Monday, February 12, 2018

Edgar Blue Washington

To mark Black History Month, the Louise Brooks Society blog presents this post about actor Edgar "Blue" Washington, a supporting player in the 1928 Louise Brooks film, Beggars of Life.

Black Mose, played by Edgar Washington, carries an injured hobo
This short biographical profile is adapted from my 2017 book, Beggars of Life: A Companion to the 1928 Film. 
Edgar "Blue" Washington (1898–1970), who plays Black Mose, was an actor and one-time prizefighter and professional baseball player. Washington appeared in 74 films between 1919 and 1961. Like Beggars of Life actor Robert Perry, Washington appeared mostly in bit parts throughout his career. And like Perry, Beggars of Life marked a high point in his career. The nickname “Blue” came from director Frank Capra.
Harold Lloyd helped Washington break into acting, and this pioneering African-American actor appeared in the legendary comedian’s Haunted Spooks (1920) and Welcome Danger (1929). Sporadic roles followed, as Washington appeared in films alongside early stars Ricardo Cortez, William Haines, Richard Barthelmess, Ken Maynard, and Tim McCoy.

Director William Wellman worked with Washington again in The Light That Failed (1939). The actor also appeared in a few films helmed by John Ford, including The Whole Town's Talking (1935) and The Prisoner of Shark Island (1936). Other notable movies in which Washington had a small part include King Vidor's all-black production, Hallelujah (1929), Mary Pickford's Kiki (1931), King Kong (1933), Roman Scandals (1933), Annie Oakley (1935), The Plainsman (1936), and Gone with the Wind (1939). He was in three installments in the Charlie Chan series, and appears as a comic sidekick in the John Wayne B-Western Haunted Gold (1933). Washington also had small roles in The Cohens and the Kellys in Africa (1930), Drums of the Congo (1942), Bomba, the Jungle Boy (1949) and other lesser fair. Unfortunately, many of these parts traded on racial stereotypes. His last role, as a limping pool hall attendant, was in The Hustler (1961), with Paul Newman. 

In an article about the film, the Afro-American newspaper wrote, “In Beggars of Life, Edgar Blue Washington, race star, was signed by Paramount for what is regarded as the most important Negro screen role of the year, that of Big Mose. The part is that of a sympathetic character, hardly less important to the epic of tramp life than those of Wallace Beery, Louise Brooks and Richard Arlen, who head the cast.”

Richard Arlen and Edgar Washington
It’s notable that not one but two members of the cast of Beggars of Life gained distinction playing professional baseball, while a third also played organized ball. One of them was Washington,

Washington was discovered while pitching for the Los Angeles White Sox of the Negro League. "Rube" Foster (the father of Black baseball) spotted Washington during the Chicago American Giants’ 1916 West Coast tour. Washington was invited to travel along and pitch for the legendary team, which would eventually produce three National Baseball Hall of Famers. During Washington’s tenure with the American Giants, he pitched in seven games, recording three victories against one loss versus white aggregations of the Pacific Coast and Northwestern Leagues. “Ed Washington,” as sports writers initially referred to him, made a name for himself as he ruled the mound with an unorthodox pitching style. In 1920, Washington joined the newly formed Kansas City Monarchs, where he started at first base and batted .275 in 24 games. After a few months of barnstorming, however, Washington left the Monarchs and returned to Los Angeles. That same year, after his first try at acting, Washington rejoined the Los Angeles White Sox for yet a few more games. Between gigs, Washington continued to play ball, and is believed to have occasionally played for Alexander’s Giants in the integrated California Winter League.

[Washington's son, Kenny Washington, was a two-sport great—the first African-American to play baseball at UCLA, the first Bruin to be named an All-American, and the first African-American to sign a contract with a National Football League team in the post-World War II era. His teammate, Jackie Robinson, described him as the greatest football player he had have ever seen.]

Richard Arlen, William Wellman, and Edgar Washington
To learn more,check out Edgar Washington's Wikipedia page or IMDb or his page at SABR (Society of American Baseball Research).

Friday, February 9, 2018

Some Miscellaneous Images from the Jazz Age

Recently, I was looking through an online magazine archive and came across a handful of interesting, appealing and and novel images. And here they are -- a small gathering of miscellaneous images from the 1920s and 1930s ....


Wednesday, February 7, 2018

It's the Old Army Game announced for release on DVD / Blu-ray

It's the Old Army Game, the delightful 1926 comedy starring W.C. Fields and Louise Brooks, has been announced for release on DVD / Blu-ray by Kino Lorber.

The film was directed by A. Edward Sutherland, who was known as Eddie Sutherland. Brooks and Sutherland met during the making of the film (which was in production during February 1926). They were married in June, 1926 and divorced a couple of years a later.

From Kino: "It’s the Old Army Game (1926) is an uproarious silent comedy in which the inimitable W.C. Fields finds it impossible to get some sleep. It was the fourth film in which Fields appeared, but the first over which he had some control, as it was adapted from his own stage play. Co-starring Louise Brooks (also in her fourth feature), and directed with verve by A. Edward Sutherland, It’s the Old Army Game is a non-stop comedy of errors. Fields plays Elmer Prettywillie, a druggist kept awake by clamorous garbage collectors, a nosy woman seeking a 2-cent stamp, bogus land deals, and phony fortunes."

DVD Extras Include:

Mastered in 2K from 35mm film elements preserved by The Library of Congress
Audio commentary by film historian James L. Neibaur, author of THE W.C. FIELDS FILMS
New score by Ben Model

Some Trivia from the Louise Brooks Society:

It’s the Old Army Game was originally announced as starring Fields and future “It girl” Clara Bow, but as she was shooting Mantrap (1926),  the female lead fell to Brooks. Clarence Badger was originally assigned to directed the film.

The film features the popular stage actress Blanche Ring (1871 – 1961) in one of her few film appearances. Ring was Eddie Sutherland’s aunt. Ring’s sister was Frances Ring, who was married to Thomas Meighan, a popular stage and film actor who appeared with Brooks in The City Gone Wild (1927). Blanche Ring was married four times, the last time being to Charles Winninger, a popular character actor who appeared in God’s Gift to Women (1931) with Brooks.

Outdoor scenes in Palm Beach, Florida were shot at El Mirasol, the estate of multi-millionaire investment banker Edward T. Stotesbury. In 1912, after having been a widower for thirty-some years, Stotesbury remarried and became the stepfather of three children including Henrietta Louise Cromwell Brooks (known simply as Louise Brooks), an American socialite and the first wife of the war hero General Douglas MacArthur. In her heyday, she was “considered one of Washington’s most beautiful and attractive young women”. Because of their names, the two women were sometimes confused in the press.

It’s the Old Army Game received mostly positive reviews, though some critics noted its rather thin plot. Algonquin Round Table playwright Robert E. Sherwood (who would go on to win four Pulitzer Prizes and an Academy Award) was then writing reviews for Life magazine. His pithy critique read, “Mr. Fields has to carry the entire production on his shoulders, with some slight assistance from the sparkling Louise Brooks.”

Monday, February 5, 2018

Louise Brooks is not from these parts, by Luca Spagnoletti

I don't know what it's about (except that it is a novel), or if it has much of anything to do with our Miss Brooks, but there is a new book out in Italy called Louise Brooks non è di queste parti (Louise Brooks is not from these parts). It is authored by Luca Spagnoletti, and was issued by ilmiolibro self publishing. The book is 140 pages, and is available as an e-book and on amazon Italy and at the store Feltrinelli.

Here is an image of the front and back covers.

And here is a page from the publisher, with a description of the book very roughly translated into English:

A veteran, after World War II, looking for his ex-girlfriend, Zoe Lennie. But where is Zoe now, and above all who is she really? The rebellious and apathetic that the mother encouraged to conform, in New England in the early forties or the one that, wandering in a country that is changing face, makes existential questions that nobody seems to be able to - and want to - respond? The author tells us, without pretense, of this oscillating traveler and his "strange" friends, between realism and madness. With her sad look, her jaunty haircut, which makes her look so much like a diva of silent cinema, Zoe will accompany us in her resignation, until she sees that there is a present with which to cohabit, beyond the consolation of the memories and time that often betrays. A novel without concessions, ostentatiously out of fashion: that's why it's already a classic. By Luca Spagnoletti my book has published the collections of poems Lulù of the overhangs and Biancaneve at the Excelsior.
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