Monthly Archives: January 2017

Juggernauting, Part 5

Juggernating
Part 5

I can say with certainty that the short happy ending of The Juggernaut was filmed after-the-fact for the 1916 British release, which was handled through Gaumont. Like the later American re-releases, it was shortened from five reels down to four. Most of this I’m sure came from ditching the hospital scenes, which from the description must have been several minutes long, but you can see evidence of shortening in many places.

In the existing cut, in the scene where Philip learns that Louise is on the doomed train, Philip tells his secretary Reynolds to “get busy on the phone and I’ll try to head them off,” then dashes out of the office. Reynolds picks up the phone and calls Brandon, but is told “It’s too late.” In the original version, Reynolds speaks first, crying “Stop the express at all costs!” before hearing Brandon’s reply.

That’s repeated several times in the last reel — cutting everything but the conclusion from dialogue scenes. It’s actually really well done, and unless you’re reading along with the script (as I’m essentially doing), you don’t notice anything is missing. If you’re an editor tasked with abbreviating a film by about a reel, that’s a great way of accomplishing it without altering the overall narrative.

The last reel is assuredly from the four reel abridgment. The second reel is a different story. The surviving footage follows along exactly with the synopsis, except for one scene that isn’t edited so much as it’s missing entirely. On the screen, we only learn about Philip’s father’s death after the fact when Viola’s mother sees the newspaper headline. That happens in the text, too, but first Philip is supposed to find his father’s body. I know the scene was shot because I have a production still from it. The second reel varies in condition, with some parts that look rather good and others that are considerably decomposed. I suspect the preprint was verging on unsalvagable at that point and they just snipped the whole scene out.

juggernaut-program

All of the film is transferred and the video has been processed and finalized. It actually has been for the better part of six months. I was really just sitting on it and waiting to see if anything more — in terms of stills or information or whatever — should turn up, as it so often does when you near the end of a project. It hasn’t though, so I’m moving into the next stage: reconstructing the missing footage.

On the 2012 DVD, which I’m sure all of you have, you’ll recall that I used all the existing last reel/short happy ending footage in the reconstruction. The other two endings were included in a separate bonus short. I’m not decided, but for the new edition, I’m kind of leaning toward doing two reconstructions: one would be of the New York premier version, the other you might call the “watchable” version. The premier version would be my best stab at re-creating The Juggernaut as it was originally released, but it probably won’t be for the casual viewer. It’s jarring to switch from live action to panning and zooming on stills. Reel two isn’t so much a problem, since again, there’s at most only a minute missing. Reel five, with its frequent abridged scenes, is going to be very choppy indeed. It’s of interest to me and possibly a handful of others, but for those that just want to watch a movie, it’s probably best to leave all the abridgments as they are and interrupt the action as little as possible, even if it doesn’t accurately reflect any particular incarnation of the film (being a melding of both the five and four reel versions). That would only leave the long happy ending unrepresented, but it could be done in a bonus video.

I imagine this will be the last Juggernating post until I actually get around to reviewing the film, but who knows? That will still be some time yet. In other news, a hint as to the video coming out next week or so: Bessie Love joins the circus.

Bathing Beauties and Big Boobs (Vitagraph, 1918)

bathing-beauties-and-big-boobs-screenshot-1Bathing Beauties and Big Boobs (Vitagraph, 1918)
Directed by Larry Semon
Starring Larry Semon and Madge Kirby

You don’t have to hang around long with a group of silent comedy enthusiasts before at least a few of them will make sure you know of their vehement hatred of Larry Semon. I wonder how much of that is because of his adaption of The Wizard of Oz (1925). Oz is a film so terrible I don’t think even his defenders would pretend to like it, but unfortunately for Semon, it’s probably the work he’s most known for today.

Certainly, his work is formulaic. In my review of The Sawmill (1922), I gave a rundown of features common to pretty much every Larry Semon film — and the film I’ll be presently getting to, Bathing Beauties and Big Boobs, is no exception — but in his day, Semon was rather popular. I think the similarity of his films worked in his favor. You know exactly what you’re going to get, and if his shtick is the kind of thing you’re into, well, you know you won’t be disappointed no matter what title is playing.

I just acquired a new print of Bathing Beauties a few weeks ago that’s of infinitely better quality than any of my other ones. It shouldn’t matter — theoretically, a good film should be able to shine through a muddy picture — but of course, bathing-beauties-and-big-boobs-screenshot-2quality does matter. You, me, and everyone else is going to give a fairer shake to whichever print looks the prettiest. Going back to The Sawmill, I recall that I had to re-evaluate my opinion of it after screening an original Kodascope.

Larry Semon is at the beach and falls in love with Madge Kirby (I’m just going to call them that—they’re not characters enough to have names), but her father disapproves. Naturally, the only course of action is for Larry and his rotund friend Frank Alexander to stage a robbery which Larry can then foil and thus win over the old man. Unfortunately, there’s also of pair of actual robbers running about to be contended with. Cue the chase and the inexplicable tower that must be jumped from several times. The robbers caught and the swag retrieved, Larry goes to claim his girl only to see her and Frank hand-in-hand — “I owe everything to this stout young man,” her father says approvingly.

It’s… not bad? Yes, there’s the unfortunate scene where Larry confuses the maid for Madge — “Man, yo’ sho’ am a fast worker!” “You’re tanned up a bit too much for me!” — but that aside, I’ve seen much worse slapstick comedies. Yes, it ticks every box on the Larry Semon Checklist of Plot Points, and yes, the requisite tower comes out of nowhere, but still… it kind of works.

I think I’ve seen too many Larry Semon pictures. I’m developing Stockholm Syndrome.

My rating: I like it.

The Tale of Amazon Direct

Amazon Instant is dead. Long live Amazon Direct.

This is a long tale of intrigue and woe that has nothing to do with film reviewing and probably isn’t of interest to anyone, so I’ve hidden it behind a “read more” link.

Read the rest of this entry

Be Honest (Hal Roach, 1923)

be-honest-screenshot-1Be Honest (Hal Roach, 1923)
Directed by Len Powers
Starring the Dippy-Doo-Dads

Like Lampblack, Amateur Detective, this is another film that I had no idea what was until I transferred it, as it was a retitled Pathé Baby release in French without any clues in the catalogue description as to what its original title might have been. Unlike Lampblack, this didn’t turn out to be an excerpt or an abridgment — it’s a complete and unedited copy of Be Honest (1923).

Be Honest is an early (third episode, I think) installment of the Dippy-Doo-Dads series. These are live action films with an all-animal cast that are meant to be funny although they come across as more horrifying than anything else. And that isn’t just me looking back at them with modern eyes — check out some of the contemporary protests lodged by the American Animal Defense League against abusive animal pictures in general and the Dippy-Doo-Dads in particular. These “animals are undoubted cruelly treated”, they allege, and I doubt any sane viewer would disagree. The monkey who plays Siki looks positively terrified in every scene he’s in.

Hal Roach went all-out for the later releases and built a whole town at miniature scale for the Dippy-Doo-Dads, but Be Honest and earlier films were just shot at some dilapidated farm.

be-honest-screenshot-2Latude has been caged for thirty-five days (weirdly high-brow reference for this sort of film) and has grown bored and hungry. He provokes a nearby horse into kicking open the cage. Once he escapes, Latude goes on a feeding frenzy — stealing all the eggs from the farm. Siki, astride his canine mount Toto, assumes the role of policeman in bringing Latude to justice, but Latude is a wily fugitive, and even after Siki seems to have drowned him in a sack at the bottom of the lake, he effects one more “legendary escape” and lives to see another day.

My print spent the last fifty years in a puddle of standing water. Once the video is released (which it will be soon), try to guess which two bobbins were on the bottom of the stack; I don’t think the answer will surprise you. One is bad, but the third bobbin was so warped and rusted, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to get the film out. Despite the humidity, the two bobbins that weren’t in actual contact with the water — two and four — are in nearly perfect condition.

It sometimes takes effort to sufficiently divorce yourself from the content of a film that you can come to appreciate it for what it is. It’s not a matter of liking it; I can appreciate films that I find thoroughly unpleasant. But then there comes a film like Broken China, which is just insurmountably racist, or this, which revels in abusing animals. These are films I don’t think I can ever appreciate, let alone like.

My rating: I don’t like it.


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