Buster Keaton in COLLEGE (1927)

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Buster Keaton was at his best in the years prior to leaving for MGM. During this time in the mid to late twenties, anything collegiate was all the style rage. Although Harold Lloyd tackled the topic first in THE FRESHMAN (1925), Keaton ‘took a run’ at it in his lesser known classic, COLLEGE (1927).

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In this story, scholarly nerd Ronald (Buster Keaton) starts off on a bad foot with his valedictorian address to his high school classmates. He condenscendingly insults the jocks and sports fans by praising academics over the pursuit of athletics. His gal Mary (Anne Cornwall) is not impressed. She thinks young men should be more athletic like Jeff (Harold Goodwin).

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With a fresh start in college, Ronald is determined to win her back by attempting to learn how to become the jock of her dreams. He scrambles to balance his studies with training on a variety of sports, and pursuing a couple of part-time jobs, too. If anyone is the master at juggling physicality, it’s Buster. Which is exactly why this character is so hilariously ironic. Buster Keaton was hands-down the most athletically fit of any comedian in history. And for anyone looking for some Buster eye candy, this film shows off his physique quite nicely.

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While pursuing some part-time gigs, he hides from his girl (he assumes Mary frowns upon a working man) as both a soda jerk and briefly in a racy scene as a waiter in blackface. The soda jerk scene is ironic again as he attempts miserably to keep up with the stylish skills of the current expert, mixing masterfully at the counter. (Behind the scenes you wonder if the teacher and student were flipped.) I found a personal thrill watching this scene as the role of a real soda jerk was my real job at the age of fourteen at an old-fashioned counter. As for the scene when he attempts to disguise himself when a restaurant is hiring African American servers, it’s incredibly clever and funny. But any blackface scene makes me squirm with awkward discomfort.

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With each sport and team he pursues, he fails in hilarious results. In a last-minute intervene of ‘fate’ Ronald subs as the coxswain for the crew team and manages to overcome his bumbling clutzy self on the “Damfino” (a nod to Buster’s earlier 1921 film, THE BOAT) then the “Old Iron Bottom” rowing team boats by strapping an impromptu rudder to his back and edges out the competition to win the race.

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Expecting to finally impress his gal after leading his team’s victory, she was no where to be seen. As we all suspected, Jeff is a cad. He’s trapped her in the dorm room in an attempt to force her hand otherwise be scandalously shamed and thereby kicked out of the ‘no boys allowed’ residence.

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In an impressive ending, Ronald rushes to her rescue by showing off all those skills he’s been in training (track, shot-put, discus, javelin, and even pole-vaulting) were honed after all. He just needed a little romantic, chivalrous push… and the athletic skills that only the great Buster Keaton could muster. Full disclosure: the pole-vaulting scene where he nabs a make-shift pole from a neighboring clothesline and leaps into a 2nd story window is one of the very few (some say only) stunts he didn’t do himself. He later said this was due to the fact he simply had never pole-vaulted before and didn’t want to waste months learning the skill. Something tells me if he had, he would’ve been the first actor to learn pole-vaulting and shortly become an Olympian at the sport even as a novice.

COLLEGE (1927) may not be as well known or as celebrated as Buster Keaton’s other classics such as STEAMBOAT BILL, JR. or as THE GENERAL, but it delivers impressive physical comedy and solid entertainment as only a brilliant Buster Keaton film can.

*This article was my contribution to THE SILENT CINEMA BLOGATHON, hosted by In The Good Old Days Of Classic Hollywood and Lauren Champkin. Please explore their blogs for a full roster of talented contributors.

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Producer: Joseph M. Schenck

Director: James W. Horne/Buster Keaton (uncredited, but Keaton claimed he did all the directing)

Screenplay: Bryan Foy, Carl Harbaugh
Cinematography: Bert Haines, Devereaux Jennings
Film Editing: Sherman Kell
Cast: Buster Keaton (Ronald), Anne Cornwall (The Girl, Mary), Flora Bramley (Her Friend), Harold Goodwin (A rival), Snitz Edwards (The Dean), Carl Harbaugh (Crew Coach).
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CLASSIC FILM FALL REPORT: Fly in to ‘Fly Over States’

Fields of sunflowers with their friendly faces reaching up to the sky, as rumbles of enormous dark storm clouds approach rapidly. This scene was played out just a couple of days ago in my town and is pretty typical here in the heartland, as we transition from the long, hot days of late summer into cool Autumn. But what may be less known about this part of the country, is the surprising storm of classic film events swiftly advancing in the next few weeks.

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In a fun mix of both silent greats and film noir dark delights, classic film fans can appreciate the multiple offerings in northeastern Kansas and Kansas City metro area.

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FOOTPRINTS presents METROPOLIS:

  • Sunday, 9/20 at 7:30pm
  • Alloy Orchestra live musical accompaniment
  • Lawrence Arts Center, Lawrence, KS
  • cost: $19 + tax
  • Tickets and more info: FOOTPRINTS site

Mick Ranney has been the owner of FOOTPRINTS shoe store for over 35 years, operating out of an old limestone storefront, originally built as a grocery store in the 1870s. Now a successful business with a heavy focus on all things Birkenstock (plus a few other lines to boot), Mick has turned his strong ties to the community combined with his passion of classic film to bring spectacular classic film events to this enchanting small town.

For several years now, he has brought silent masterpieces and recently restored gems such as NOSFERATU (1922), BLACK MAIL (1929), BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN (1925) and the restored classic THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES (part of his WW2 Film Festival, which at that time was recently restored and only being shown in 2 venues across the country – the Film Forum in NYC and little Lawrence, KS). Always presented with live musical accompaniment (usually the famous Alloy Orchestra or Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra) in the intimate setting of the 300 seat capacity Lawrence Arts Center. You can find tickets online here, but you may want to hurry before it sells out.

*Mick’s creative skills are playfully expressed in his video clips to promote his screenings. I highly recommend not only attending in person, but also ‘liking’ the Footprints FaceBook page to check out his fun video clips.

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BUSTER KEATON CELEBRATION:

This year’s theme is Buster Keaton & The Marx Brothers: Celebrating American Laughter.  Andy Marx, Groucho’s grandson was originally scheduled to appear but canceled last month. No worries, a great line-up of guest speakers and artists are firmly on board with a full schedule of silver screen comedy treats.

Hosting this annual event since 1993, Iola is short hop from Piqua (pronounced “PICKway”), Buster Keaton’s birthplace. Recent presenters and speakers have included: members of the Keaton and Talmadge family, Oscar and Emmy winning director/producer/silent film extraordinaire Kevin Brownlow, actor and close friend of Buster’s James Karen, comedy legend Steve Allen, film critic Leonard Maltin, film preservationist David Shepard, Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra, and many more.

This is a must for Buster aficionados, comedy and silent film fans, and frankly anyone up for great Autumnal weekend in this quant little town.

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NOIR CITY Kansas City:

  • Friday, 10/2, Saturday 10/3, Sunday 10/4
  • Alamo Drafthouse Mainstreet, Kansas City, MO
  • cost: $75 for a passport to all 10 screenings plus nightclub party
  • all the info: NoirCityKC.com 
"Czar of Noir" Eddie Muller, president and founder of the Film Noir Foundation

“Czar of Noir” Eddie Muller, president and founder of the Film Noir Foundation is a modern-day renaissance man of multi talents

Just over the state line on the Missouri side, this is the 2nd annual installment of the Kansas City Film Noir Festival. Presented in part by the Film Noir Foundation, the “Czar of Noir” Eddie Muller’s ‘baby,’ ushers in 3 days and nights of 10 noir gems. The schedule of films include two 35mm restorations and two 35mm preservations! (Three of these four are fresh from FNF!) A total of ten dark delectables to savor including, of course, The Kansas City Confidential.

Individual screenings are very affordable starting $7 per show. Full beverage and food service is offered at these shows. The Nightclub event gets swinging Friday night, 9pm-2am. With three noir acts to set the retro KC mood with sexy, jazzy and even burlesque tones, Laura Ellis, Evie Lovelle, The Latenight Callers will perform at The Chesterfield.  [NOIR CITY KC TIP: save that Alamo Drafthouse movie tix stub for a $2 drink discount.] Tickets: $10 in advance.

The best Noir City KC tip I can offer is to purchase the passport. It’s a steal for $75 smackers to get into all 10 screenings, the Nightclub and speedier, shorter lines for best seating. For directions and parking options, click HERE.

As you can see, you don’t have to fly out to one of the coasts to experience some amazing classic film events. If you’re not familiar with the Kansas/Missouri/Kansas City area, feel free to contact me for details on logistics and good places to stay and eat. Hope to see you there! Who knows. This might just change your definition of ‘the flyover states.’

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Beach Party Films: the Fashion, Music and Pop Culture, Daddy-O!

 

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In the steamy summers as a kid, I would often pass the time in the muggy Kansas heat at my grandparents’ houses. When I needed a break from the lake or the community pool or my uncle’s baseball games and yet that sweet bombpop barely satiated with a few sticky bites- it was the perfect time to come inside to the cool A/C and enjoy a beach party movie.

With the popularity of Sandra Dee, Frankie and Annette, Elvis, and cameos from many classic actors discovering a career resurgence in their later years- the 1960s introduced a wave of films with the beach party theme. These movies were the ultimate in campy fare, showcasing sex-starved teenagers and reflecting the latest trends in fashion, music and even slang terms of pop culture.

the fashions:

They say the bikini was invented in 1946 by French designer Louis Reard but didn’t really hit the American scene until the late 50s/early 60s. Ursula Andress made a splash in DR. NO (1962) in her sultry bikini, designed by Tessa Welborn. After this Bond film was released, bikini swimwear sales skyrocketed. But it was Sandra Dee in GIDGET (1959) that kicked off the bikini fashion sensation for the ‘teen California surf’ craze.

American International Pictures jumped on this popular phenomenon with a series of beach party films, starting with BEACH PARTY in 1963. A total of seven films were made from 1963 to 1966. Other films were made by various studios who piled on during this fad- often with the same low-budget, that highlighted trendy music, and were light on plot, but heavy on silly comedic nonsense with frequent opportunities for attractive young ladies posing in bikinis. There was also a cross-over into campy horror and creature-feature themes in a few, to capitalize on the drive-in experience.

The colors were always vibrantly bright- on swimwear, sweaters, capris, surf boards, even their vehicles.

The colors were always vibrantly bright- on swimwear, sweaters, pedal-pushers, surf boards, even their vehicles.

As vibrantly displayed in all of these teen-exploit beach films, the colors were very bright (in shades like yellow, orange and prints like daisy) and the bikinis were skimpy (for that day’s standards certainly) yet usually structured. Annette Funicello seemed to wear the more modest (thanks in part to uncle Walt’s requests in her tasteful transition as a mousketeer) and most structured swim suits and beach wear (because with her healthy wealth of curves, she needed it).

Pajama wear was just one of the MANY fashion trends highlighted both on and off screen, prime example of fashion influence on film.

Pajama wear was just one of the MANY fashion trends highlighted both on and off screen, prime example of fashion influence on film.

With a quirky cast of characters, the fashions were not always limited to California surfer swimsuits and beachwear. They include: Eric Von Zipper’s gang of the biker leather look (influence from the teen rebellion films as seen in James Dean and Marlon Brando films), occasional Tiki masks, beatniks in black turtlenecks and berets spouting poetry, greased up muscle-building guys wearing not much else than a skivvy metallic bottom, and the drag racing popularity managed to squeeze in with striped racing jackets. [I can personally attest to the racing craze, as I was born in 1966 and found an old pic of my mother, my father and I as a toddler- we’re all wearing matching racing jackets.] To respond to the British invasion of the swinging sixties, we see a couple of Brit characters pop in including our own Frankie Avalon taking on an over-the-top Brit characterization, complete with a Terry Thomas look. Basically, if there was a trend going on, these movies found a way to pull it in, whether it fit in any way into what little of a plot was present or not.

One of the quirky continuing characters was Candy Johnson who had quake-and-shake dance moves that literally knocked guys out.

One of the quirky continuing characters was Candy Johnson who had quake-and-shake shimmy that literally knocked guys out.

Buster Keaton made appearances in several AIP beach party films, seen here in Tiki attire to match his famous porkpie hat. Remember, it doesn't need to make sense- it's nonsensical fun!

Buster Keaton made appearances in several AIP beach party films, seen here in Tiki attire to match his famous porkpie hat. Remember, it didn’t need to actually make any sense- it’s nonsensical fun!

Pop culture of the beach party films was so prominent it was reflected in fashion, music, and even product promotion.

Pop culture of the beach party films was so prominent it was reflected in fashion, music, and even product promotion.

the music:

If Frankie Avalon or Annette Funicello were in it, you were guaranteed to hear them sing- sometimes solos, sometimes duets together. Frankie and Annette utilized the success of these films to launch the soundtracks and other similar themed albums to further their singing careers.

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But Frankie and Annette weren’t the only ones. Just like the latest fashions, trending music acts of the day managed to find a spot in these surfer slapsticks, as well. Other musicians/singers/musical groups (i.e. The Pyramids, Dick Dale and the Del-Tones, the Supremes, “little” Stevie Wonder, Nancy Sinatra…) were showcased in not only the main AIP seven but other beach/teen-focused romps to promote their music. Here are just a few…

Dick Dale and the Del-Tones, “Swingin’ And Surfin'” in Beach Party (1963)

The Beach Boys, “Little Honda” in The Girls On The Beach (1965)

James Brown & the Famous Flames, “I Feel Good” in Ski Party (1965)

The Animals, “We Gotta Get Out Of This Place” in It’s a Bikini World (1967)

Donna Loren, “It Only Hurts When I Cry” in Beach Blanket Bingo (1965)

“Little” Stevie Wonder, “Happy Street” in Muscle Beach Party (1964)| “C’Mon Everybody” and “Happy Feelin’ Dance and Shout” in Bikini Beach (1964)

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To review all of the musical scores and performers in vivid detail, I highly recommend the Music Of The Beach Party Movies site. It’s everything you’d ever want to know plus so much more on this subject- and so fun!

*It should be noted that in the case of many of the soundtracks for the seven AIP beach party films, the music and lyrics were often written by a talented teaming of lyricists and composers for film and TV such as Guy Hemric, Gary Usher, Jerry Styner, Roger Christain, and Brian Wilson (yes THAT Brian Wilson).

the movies:

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American International Pictures is credited for kicking off the beach party film craze starting with BEACH PARTY in 1963, starring Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon.

MUSCLE BEACH PARTY- Avalon's character was usually called "Frankie" and Funicello's character was usually "Delores" or "Dee Dee"

MUSCLE BEACH PARTY- Avalon’s character was usually called “Frankie” and Funicello’s character was usually “Delores” or “Dee Dee”

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These films had many continuing characters such as Jody McCrea (yup, Joel McCrea’s son) and Harvey Lembeck as Eric Von Zipper, the comical biker leader with a paralizing “the finger”manuever. Also starring Don Rickles, John Ashley and Frankie in a Brit dual role as “the potato bug.”

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PAJAMA PARTY (1964) has Disney’s Tommy Kirk replacing Frankie as a martian. In addition to continuing characters, we see familiar faces like screen vets like Elsa Lanchester, Dorothy Lamour and Buster Keaton.

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Frankie returns (whew!) in BEACH BLANKET BINGO (1965) with other returning faves, plus Linda Evans, Deborah Walley and Paul Lynde added.

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Frankie makes only brief cameo as Dwayne Hickman moves in the male lead in HOW TO STUFF A WILD BIKINI (1965)-this one also features Mickey Rooney, Beverly Adams, Brian Donlevy and Buster Keaton returns again in one of his last films.

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GHOST IN THE INVISIBLE BIKINI (1966) takes comedy in a campy and creepy way with a kooky cast of Deborah Walley, Tommy Kirk, Boris Karloff, Nancy Sinatra, Basil Rathbone. Even with the biggest budget of the seven, this last one was a total flop without the chemistry of Annette and Frankie.

For a list of characters from the best beach flicks, check out this handy reference list of “Beach Party Movies A to Z” on movie fanfare.com, authored by my fellow blogging pal Rick from Classic Film and TV Cafe. (Check out these sites for all sorts of great stuff!)… http://www.moviefanfare.com/movie-list/the-beach-party-movies-a-to-z/ 

Other Notables: Blue Hawaii (1961), Get Yourself A College Girl (1964), The Horror Of Party Beach (1964), Ride The Wild Surf (1964), Ski Party (1965), Dr. Goldfoot And The Bikini Machine (1965), Beachball (1965), A Swingin’ Summer (1965), The Beach Girls And The Monster (1965), The Girls On The Beach (1965), Fireball 500 (1966), It’s A Bikini World (1967), The Fat Spy (1966)

the slang, Daddy-o:

To translate words and expressions inspired by the surfer/beatnik movements as often heard in these beach party films, I included an excerpt from TheCoolestWords.com of the Top 12 Slang Terms of the 60s. I also provided a link HERE for an even more in-depth list, in alpha order !

Ankle Biter – This 60’s slang term was used to describe a young child referring to not only their short stature, but their desire to sometimes bite the ankles of adults. I.e. “Toddlers are notorious ankle biters.”
Drag – Used to express disappointment in someone of something. “That night was such a drag.”
Cruising – This slang was used to describe a pass time of teenagers in the 60’s to cruise up and down a singular street in their car to find car races, girls, guys or other forms of entertainment. I.e. “Jenny and I went cruising with the boys last Friday night.”
Gimme Some Skin – This 60’s slang term was used to ask to shake hands in hello, goodbye or as a way of arranging a deal. I.e. “Hey man, how’s it going… gimme some skin.”
Hang Loose – A term used to describe relaxing, taking it easy, etc. I.e. “I decided to just hang loose today instead of going out on the town.”
Jam/Let’s Jam – This 60’s term was used in two different ways: 1) to describe a group of musicians playing music together or 2) to describe leaving a place very quickly. I.e. 1) “I was jamming with The Beatles in the music studio today.” 2) “That’s the cops, let’s jam!”
Keen – Used to describe being excited about something or to describe a person who is great, awesome, etc. I.e. “That Lucy was pretty keen, wasn’t she?”
Outta Sight – This slang term was used when someone wanted to express amazement, excitement, etc. I.e. “This new car is outta sight, man!”
Primo – The 60’s slang word was used when someone wanted to say that something or someone was the best, awesome, first class, high quality, etc. I.e. “That new song from the Beach Boys was primo!”
Going Steady – As a slang term, this was used to describe two people who were dating exclusively. I.e. “Mary and Johnny are going steady.”
Lay It On Me – This slang term from the 60’s was used to ask someone to tell them something or to speak their peace. I.e. “I know you want to talk to me, so lay it on me.”
Split – This 60’s slang word was used to leave the scene or area, to cut out, etc. I.e. “As soon as they heard the cops coming they split.”
It’s been a real gas, cool cats and chicks. But don’t flip your wigs when I lay it on ya that this beach bunny has to split. See ya at the beach!
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*This post was written as a contribution for the Beach Party Blogathon hosted by my talented blogging pals at SPEAKEASY & SILVER SCREENINGS– check out the list of other creative participants HERE.

2015 Kansas Silent Film Festival

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The last weekend of every February brings two things to the northeastern corner of Kansas- the high likelihood of harsh winter weather and the Kansas Silent Film Festival. This year in celebrating its 19th year, the weather was undoubtedly cold but certainly navigable yet another stellar line-up of silent cinema kept the crowds warm at the Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas.

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Each year, this event brings film fans from the region and beyond to experience this FREE festival which features guest speakers, panels and a variety of silent films, which are presented with musical accompaniment. And for you film fans fearful to dip your toes into the silent film waters, assuming you’ll find these rare gems intimidating or dull… oh contraire! Delve into early cinema history by experiencing it the way it was intended- on a big screen, with an audience and LIVE MUSIC.

I’ve been attending the Kansas Silent Film Festival since 2011 and this year brought a unique feature with national recognition. Only a few select theaters across the country screened this fest’s featured film, the 100th anniversary of the controversial epic D.W. Griffith’s THE BIRTH OF A NATION (1915). Sparking debate even a century later, this film was followed by a panel of speakers that addressed how the film that has been both praised for its technical achievements and blasted for stirring controversary. Based on Thomas Dixon’s The Clansman, a story of two families’ (a Northern and a Southern) experiences in Reconstruction era of post-Civil War. The shock comes with Griffith’s 193 minute take on history, showing the Ku Klux Klan as ‘saviors of the South’. (More on this below)

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Speakers, Musicians and Special Guests:

Jon Mirsalis– pianist/digital pianist for silent films for 20+ years, collector and archivist of rare films, trained scientist in his former life and all-around silent film guru. He was the key note speaker at the Cinema Dinner with “Silent Film Survival: How Bad Is It Really?” which was both a depressing yet fascinating look at which and why specific studios destroyed silents as talkies came into fashion. Quite entertaining with Mirsalis’s dry wit and sharp intellect on this topic.

Kevin Willmott– Associate Professor, Film Studies at the University of Kansas, civil and poverty rights activist, award-winning writer and busy filmmaker with a passion for history. He spoke at the THE BIRTH OF A NATION (1915) panel. This wasn’t the first time I’ve heard him speak and I’m proud to have such an admirable and impressive scholar/filmmaker live in my own town.

Denise Morrison– film historian with a special affinity for the silent era, Director of Collections and Curatorial Services at the Kansas City Museum, and the 2-day emcee. Morrison provides interesting tidbits of trivia and background to each introduction of a film.

Marvin Faulwell– master theater organist for this fest, concerts and other silent film programs across Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas and Minnesota. He performed just last weekend in St. Louis for a screening of first-ever Best Picture Oscar winner WINGS (1927).

Jeff Rapsis– composer/musician and accomplished pianist, hailing from New Hampshire. He’s composed new scores for THE BELLS (1926) and 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA (1916) and he’s a delightful return to KSFF.

Bob Keckeisen– Wichita native, asst. director and principal percussionist of the Topeka Symphony.

Full Schedule:

Friday, 2/27:

GRANDMA’S BOY (1922)

  • 54 mins.
  • produced by Hal Roach
  • directed by Fred C. Newmeyer
  • music by Jon Mirsalis

-starring lovable Harold Lloyd as the sweet coward who gets empowered to tackle the town bully and save the day and win over the pretty girl’s affections (portrayed Mildred Davis- who later married Lloyd), thanks to his loving and scrappy grandmother’s fable of his grandfather’s Civil War days. Noteworthy that 77 year old Anna Townsend who portrayed the Grandma was alive during the Civil War. Sweet and funny flick that laid the foundation for Lloyd’s big hits to come of similar character.

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COLLEGE (1927)

  • 65 mins.
  • featuring Buster Keaton, Ann Cornwell, Harold Goodwin
  • directed by James W. Horne
  • music by Marvin Faulwell, Bob Keckeisen

-following Harold Lloyd’s popular THE FRESHMAN, this film takes on similar suit of this popular collegiate theme of the mid-20’s. Stone face Keaton’s character is the nerdy brainiac that vows to learn how to be athletic (hard to fathom knowing the real-life Buster was the most athletic star of the silent screen) to win over his sweetheart (Ann Cornwell) from the brutish jock (Harold Goodwin) as they begin college. Even the plot sounds pretty familiar, eh? But as formula as this plot goes, the entertainment factor cannot be beat with Keaton’s hilarious physical comedy bits. It climaxes with an jaw-dropping race, including jumping over hedges and leaping into 2nd floor windows via a ladder with a single-bound, that it must be seen to be believed. From what I’ve seen of Keaton’s work, I doubt there was a single spot on his body that wasn’t Olympian-level athletic.

Saturday, 2/28:

*Special Documentary– 60 mins.

KSFF 2015 Laurel and Hardy

THE BATTLE OF THE CENTURY (1928)

  • 13 mins.
  • starring Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy
  • directed by Clyde Bruckman
  • music by Marvin Faulwell

-this boxing short shows just how things can go wrong when Hardy as Laurel’s fight manager tries to profit on an insurance claim, that he’s taken out on Laurel, and attempts to create accidents to ensure a profit. This film also features real pies for an enormous pie fight at the end. For all you trivia fans, can you name a later film that was an homage to Laurel & Hardy which also featured a mega pie fight? (I’ll give you a hint- it was centered around a ‘race’ and it was ‘great’!) Another interesting tidbit: according to KSFF, the first reel of this two-reeler was thought lost, then found in 1979; but still not fully complete. This version shown was the most complete currently available, with stills used in certain segments.

A MOVIE STAR (1916)

  • 20 mins.
  • starring Mack Swain
  • produced by Mack Sennett
  • directed by Fred “Fishback” Hibbard
  • music by Marvin Faulwell

-this silly flick in true Sennett style pokes fun at the Hollywood system and the movie star ego of the unlikely western hero of Swain. They say Mack Sennett introduced this now commonly known style of self-depricating humor.

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THE LITTLE CHURCH AROUND THE CORNER (1923)

  • 64 mins.
  • starring Claire Windsor, Kenneth Harlan, Hobart Bosworth
  • directed by William Seiter
  • music by Jeff Rapsis

-this is a melodramatic mining town tale set in the Victorian era, depicting the class struggles between owners vs. laborers. Of special interest to me is star Claire Windsor. Very few of her films still exist and she’s a Kansas native! So, it seemed fitting to purchase this three-reeler as there were a small collection of silent films for sale. This is now my second silent film purchase (both standard 8s) at this festival. SO exciting! Not exactly a huge collection compared to true collectors but you have to start somewhere, right?

ALL WET (1924)

  • 12 mins.
  • starring Charley Chase, William Gillespie
  • directed by Leo McCarey
  • music by Jeff Rapsis

-simple premise to this short tale is a slew of zany obstacles that Chase encounters on the way to a train station. Known for his “Jimmy Jump” character, Charley Chase is a natural at tickling the funny bone in all his films. A master at exagerrated expressions and ‘knees up’ physical comedy.

THE BIRTH OF A NATION (1915)

  • 193 mins.
  • directed by D.W. Griffith

-as explained above, while this film was considered a technical mastery of its time, its content promotes racist propaganda including a lynching, racial stereotyping, and a depicting of the KKK as ‘heroes.’ Across the country when this film was released, many states banned it because of this. (Kansas held this ban for almost a decade.) Sightings of the KKK and lynchings of African Americans surged across the South following the popularity of the film. I chose to skip this screening yet attend the three speaker panel which followed.

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PANEL DISCUSSION

I found this conversation between Denise Morrison, Jon Mirsalis, and Kevin Willmott very interesting. For the very reasons I did not wish to see THE BIRTH OF A NATION, is exactly why I found the Panel Discussion so fascinating. Some of the best takeaways included Willmott pointing out another classic film that dealt with the KKK and a sympathetic view of the Confederate South, GONE WITH THE WIND (1939), which he cleverly refered to it as ‘racist light,’ for its more glossier and subtle take, such as a scene that refers to a KKK meeting and raid as a “political meeting” and “cleaning up the shanty town.” To this point, it was argued whether almost every film made in the classic era is racist.

KSFF panel 2015

When asked whether the director Griffith, son of a Confederate colonel, and this epic film deserved shunning or accolades due to his racist leanings, Willmott surmised that “Nation” should not be censored. Rather, he said it should be studied to remind us of our place in history and how far we have yet to improve; so that we may never regress again. On the issue of whether such a controversial figure should be honored in namesake (a reference to DGA’s Lifetime Achievement Award dropping Griffith’s name), he also added that someone being a master in their craft (of filmmaking) who utilizes their art to promote and glamorize racism does not discount the fact they shouldn’t be forgiven for their lack of humanity.

MAX LINDER COLLECTION

…A SKATER’S DEBUT (1905), TROUBLES OF A GRASSWIDOWER (1912), MAX AND HIS DOG (1912), MAX JUGGLING FOR LOVE (1912)

  • 25 mins.
  • originated in France
  • music by Jeff Rapsis

-this was a delightful series of snippets of the top hat festooned and ever-debonair star Linder at the height of his international career. It was a treat to see such early cinema.

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THE SEA HAWK (1924)

  • 123 mins.
  • starring Milton Sills, Enid Bennett, Lloyd Hughes, Wallace Beery
  • directed by Frank Lloyd
  • music by Jon Mirsalis

-as someone who had only seen the 1940 Errol Flynn version, this was a real treat! I adore Flynn in all his swashbuckling charm, but I seriously think the compelling narrative in this high seas tale of love and betrayal gives that one a run for its money. A young Beery is the charmer here and the costumes and set design are fabulous. Film historian Morrison stated that for achieving authenticity, director Frank Lloyd spent $200,000 just on the real ships alone. That investment paid off because this film was the highlight sceening of the fest!

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For more information on this outstanding annual film festival, or how you can submit donations to keep this unique event going… www.kssilentfilmfest.org. Hope to see you there in 2016!

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