On Friday, September 29, Brian and Gary and I had a second Backyard Movie Party behind their duplex, just three weeks after the one on Labor Day Sunday. Miraculously, the weather cooperated and it was clear, slightly crisp night.
Following are the film list and post-facto program notes from Backyard Movie Party 2006, Part II – The Sequel. When available, the soundtrack on the film was used. For silent prints (and one sound film), recorded music from various modern sources was played. (iPod Nanos were just made for stuff like this.)
Actualities and views filmed in the US by the Lumiere brothers during their first world tour in 1896. They and a crew would shoot new films in the country they were visiting. This footage would then be shown along with the original French prints at huge gala screenings received with tumultuous ovations. Included in this Blackhawk Films compilation are Lumiere actualities of Washington DC, New York City, a police parade in Chicago, and others. The organ music by John Cage was spacious, often very quiet and subtle, and slightly ominous. (I also like the intellectual pun of using Cage to provide the obligatory silent movie organ music.)
KoKo and the Kop (1927, US) b/w
Directed by Dave Fleischer. Produced by Alfred Weiss.
B/W Silent. A 1950 rerelease by Stuart Films, with added jazz soundtrack.
Max Fleischer, in his den, makes cardboard cutouts of some drawn city streets and buildings, tacking them to the wall. The inkwell is opened, and out come KoKo and his sidekick and foil, Pup. KoKo is a policeman who tangles with the hungry Pup, a prankster who’s intent on stealing a bone. Features some particularly surreal and fluid animation for the time. It not only got laughs tonight, it was played again as an encore by audience request. Earlier in 1927 there had been business changes (including a new producer), and the Koko series was renamed from Out of the Inkwell to Inkwell Imps. The different capitalization of Koko/KoKo’s name was a result of related copyright details.
Betty Boop’s Ups and Downs (1932)
B/W Sound. An NTA television print ca. late 1950s or early ’60s
Animated by Willard G. Bowsky and Ugo D’Orsi.
Directed by Dave Fleischer. Produced by Max Fleischer. Executive Producer: Adolph Zukor.
It’s the depths of the Depression, and Betty is dispossessed. As she leaves her house, a “For Sale” sign goes up. The picture backs away, and then the whole block is for sale, then the whole country, and finally, the whole world. The Moon gathers all the planets around to auction off the Earth. Mars and Venus do not bid high enough, but the planet Saturn gets the high bid to buy Earth (of course, the Moon demands cash up front from Saturn, not really seeming to trust him). Saturn decides to see what happens if he takes gravity out of the earth…so he reaches in and pulls out a large magnet. With no gravity, Betty and all her friends and the houses, etc. begin falling up. Gravity is reversed, along with all other activities on earth.
Aladdin’s Lamp (1906, PathÃ© FrÃ¨res, FR)
(aka Aladdin and the Marvelous Lamp, orig. Aladin ou la lampe merveilleuse)
B/W, originally hand-colored. Silent. Music used: “My God My Love Has Come” by the Master Musicians of Jajouka featuring Bachir Attar on Jajouka Between the Mountains (Womad Select CD, 1995)
Directed by Albert Capellani. Production Design by Hugues Laurent. Produced by Ferdinand Zecca.
Cinematography by Segundo de Chomon (who also photographed tonight’s The Red Spectre). With Georges Vinter as Aladin.
A trick film telling the legend of Aladdin and his magic lamp in simplified form. Peasant Aladdin falls in love with a princess. Promising he can win her hand, a mysterious stranger leads him to an enchanted cave, where he is beset by acrobatic gremlins and strange phenomena. He finds the magic lamp and uses it to escape. Back home, the lamp brings Aladdin wealth, luxury, and even marriage to the princess. But an evil magician appears and steals the lamp for himself. All of the magic is undone and Aladdin’s charade is exposed. He must regain the lamp or lose everything — even his life. Aladdin defeats the evil magician, regains the lamp and the princess, and lives happily ever after. In direct competition with Melies, Zecca was responsible for all trick films (and much else) for the Pathe company.
The Skeleton Dance (1929, Disney US)
B/W Sound. Blue toned print
A Disney Silly Symphony (using the Cinephone sound process)
Animated by Ub Iwerks. Music by Carl W. Stalling. Directed by Walt Disney.
Watch The Skeleton Dance at YouTube. The supernatural hijinks that go on in a graveyard at night. A Halloween-season classic featuring dancing skeletons playing each other like xylophones, lovely animation art, and one of the very first Carl Stalling cartoon scores ever. This was the first Disney Silly Symphony film, a sound series created in the immediate afterglow of the smash success of Steamboat Willy. Shown was an extremely rare toned print (or rather, a color copy of a toned print). This is different from tinting, where a wash of colored dye is applied to black-and-white film. This colors the whites and affects the greys, but leaves the blacks (mostly) black. This is the most commonly seen early color process. Toning, on the other hand, is kind of the reverse. Through a chemical process, the black is replaced with a color — red, or blue, or whatever. The blacks still look true, and the whites in the image are still white. But the “greys” are now shades of the color — the red or blue or whatever — instead of black. It’s unusal to see now, and it can be very striking (like in this film). But during the later silent era it was increasingly common. Some deluxe productions even used tinting on top of toned stock. Imagine the possibilities.
The Merry Frolics of Satan (1905, Star Films, FR)
(orig. Les Quatre Cents Farces du Diable)
B/W with multi-colored tinting. Silent. Music: “Hal on Earth” and “Calling All Mothers” by the Hal Russell NRG Ensemble from Hal on Earth (Abduction CD, 1989)
Produced and directed by Georges MÃ©liÃ©s.
Melies is at his peak in this riotous 1905 film. A pair of British dolts visit an old wizard to obtain magic “pills” (more like “bombs” really) that explode and create whatever the thrower wants. Naturally, the wizard is actually Satan himself, who pursues and, well, bedevils the hedonistic fools with an army of acrobatic imps. The more the dolts use the magic bombs, the worse things go. After destroying various vehicles, taverns and dining rooms, the Brits flee on a carriage…until the horse transforms into a demon and carries them all down a volcano, straight into Hell. Dancing legions of demons and imps hoist them overhead, roasting them on a giant gerbil-wheel spit as Satan waves with glee from his throne. Explosions, flame, and brimstone smoke obscure everything, and the film ends. Melies was commissioned to film a version of this to be part of a theatrical pantomime staged by the ChÃ¢telet. The show, based on an 1839 chestnut called The Devil’s Pills, included the “demon horse” sequence as film — the rest was staged live. After that production closed, Melies expanded the film, shot new sequences, and put it into general release through his Star Films company.
The Red Spectre (1907, PathÃ© FrÃ¨res, FR)
(orig. Le Spectre Rouge, aka El Espectro Rojo, Satan de Divierte)
B/W with stencil color and hand-coloring. Silent with added electro-acoustic soundtrack of unknown provenance.
Directed and photographed by Segundo de ChomÃ³n (who also photographed Aladdin’s Lamp in this program).
In a strange grotto deep in the bowels of the earth a coffin uprights itself, dances, then opens, and out steps a demonic magician with skeletal face, horns, and cape. The devilish magician then performs a series of magical acts. A classic trick film of the time, much enhanced by Pathe’s trademark stencil coloring (albeit rather faded in this print), with the rather unusual addition of selected hand coloring. A beautiful and strange film. This particular print also came to me with an unusual optical soundtrack of electro-acoustic music — chamber-orchestral instruments combined with electronics. Some fragments I also recognized in the Blackhawk sound-added print of Nosferatu shown tonight. If the soundtrack was stitched together from royalty-free sources, then someone really put some love into it. Great stuff.
Fall of the House of Usher (1928, US)
B/W Silent. Music used: “Sense of Doubt”, “Moss Garden”, “Neuklon” by David Bowie (with Brian Eno), “Heroes” (LP, 1977)
Director/Cinematographer: James Sibley Watson, Jr. Set Designer: Melville Webber. Writers: Watson, Melville Webber and e.e. cummings, from the 1839 story by Edgar Allen Poe.
A beautifully abstract rendition of Poe’s dark story of the cursed Usher family and their doomed castle. One of the great silent avant garde films. Not to be confused with the longer French version by Jean Epstein and Luis BuÃ±uel, also released the same year. Read some program notes about this film that I compiled in 2003.
Nosferatu, a Symphony of Horror (1922, DE)
(orig. Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens)
B/W Silent, with added orchestral soundtrack (Blackhawk Films print)
Directed by FW Murnau. With Max Shreck as Count Orloff.
The great Murnau horror classic, albeit in the truncated 65 minute edit that has been most common. Fortunately, 90-plus minute restored versions are now available on DVD. Read more about Nosferatu at Wikipedia, which also has an interesting entry on the origins of the word “nosferatu”.
Blah blah blah…
Shortly after the September 3 Backyard Movie Party, house host Brian emailed me and said, “Let’s do another one on Friday, September 29.” I was positive it would rain, but said sure let’s do it. One 3D movie festival later and I’m back in town and Brian’s still up for it — so we go for it. By some miracle the weather actually cooperated beautifully (though it was a little chilly and the post-sunset condensation was more intense than I’d expected — note to self: more plastic bags next time).
Slightly smaller attendance this time, owing in part to the last-second invites (gotta stop that), and despite some returnees mostly a different crowd. Everyone was friendly and had a good time. I was especially flattered by the kind praises of an older gentleman I did not know who, I think, was of British extraction.)
Once again there was a feature (the one-hour version of Nosferatu with a pretty good added orchestral soundtrack) and a bunch of shorts. This one had a slightly artier bent. It was almost all silent film, with added music of one sort or another — except for two early sound cartoons from 1929 and 1932. Basically the program was influenced by the choice of feature (The Fabulous World of Jules Verne was another candidate) and anyway despite being a silent film geek, I don’t get to show them to audiences very much.
I’ve been doing movie parties since I was a kid (a tale for another day), but I can only remember one year when I was able to do two (one in the living room and one in the garage). Multiple screenings, sure, but not movie parties.