Auntie’s Portrait (Vitagraph, 1915)
I think I must have referenced Auntie’s Portrait at least two or three times when talking about other Sidney Drew films, but I’ve never spoken about it directly. I should rectify that.
Auntie’s Portrait is usually cast as a “rare” film, but for all it’s supposed rarity, I’ve got five prints of it. The old standard definition video was sourced from the best print I had at the time, which still wasn’t very good — a bit soft and more than a bit dark. The new high definition remaster comes from the last print I obtained, which is just all around gorgeous. I’m very happy to have it as Auntie’s Portrait is my favorite Drew short.
Mr. and Mrs. Honeypet (Sidney Drew and Jane Morrow) are newlyweds. They receive a gift from Mrs. Honeypet’s wealthy aunt Flora (Ethel Lee). They dig into the box eager to see what it contains only to find a hideous portrait of Auntie herself. The Honeypets are obviously middle class, but they’ve got pretensions and this picture would disgrace their carefully curated walls. Not expecting Auntie to visit anytime soon, they decide to worry about it later. In the meantime, the portrait is consigned to the attic.
The next day, who should drop by but Auntie Flora, every bit as harsh and mean-looking as her picture. And about that picture — no sooner does she take off her hat and coat than the lorgnette comes out and she begins scanning the walls for it. Mr. Honeypet retrieves the portrait from the attic and tries to quickly hang it, but they don’t have a big place — just a few rooms downstairs — and he keeps being interrupted by Auntie. It seems like all is lost when he drops the picture and the frame breaks, but then inspiration strikes and Mr. Honeypet rushes out the back door.
Auntie, having gone round the house several times, has determined that her portrait is nowhere to be found. “I shall leave this house and never return,” she tells her niece, “and I’ll leave you out of my will, too!” She’s almost out the door when Mr. Honeypet barges in. “We sent it away to have this beautiful frame put on it,” he explains, showing her the picture with a new, elaborate gilt frame. “We wanted to surprise you!”
I tend to bring up Auntie’s Portrait when talking about Drew films because I really consider it the gold standard of their formula: newlyweds that are pretentious social climbers and probably a bit insufferable to be around, but not so bad that you want to see them fail. It’s not too confining as formulas go and there’s a lot that can be mined from it. There’s nothing wacky about the Drews’ better domestic comedies. Their world is really only a slightly heightened version of our own. You probably know people in real life not too unlike the Honeypets.
My rating: I like it.
Available from Harpodeon
And now, unless you enjoy my continued ramblings about Amazon, you can stop reading and I’ll think nothing less of you for it.
There was a lot of grumbling around the Internet about YouTube dropping all but high-performing partners. Me, I don’t really care. YouTube’s new subscriber threshold is about the size of the entire global market for silent cinema. Literally, every single person on the planet with an interest in silent film would have to subscribe to reach partner level. That isn’t going to happen. But really, it hardly matters. In the past, I’ve had other YouTube channels with a much broader appeal, with a viewership in the low millions, and I still rarely made more than one or two hundred dollars a month. Tiny channels might garner a few cents, with luck. It simply isn’t worth it to care.
Amazon Prime halving their royalty rates hits me more. I knew it was coming for several weeks — I didn’t have the exact numbers, but I had an “in” you might say and I’d been tipped off that the royalty rates would be radically reduced — but it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. It’s hardly an uncharacteristic move for Amazon. Like when they quadrupled their fee for DVD listings and made it simply unfeasible to sell budget-priced videos through them anymore.
The only people getting the higher royalty rate (which, previously, was the baseline rate) are in a weird little middle ground. Their videos require viewership numbers no obscure film could ever hope to get, but they can’t be popular — even mild popularity would bump them up into the top category. Royalty rates for the top category are the same as for the bottom. I’m going to say that again in case you blacked-out: Royalty rates for the top category are the same as for the bottom. You know, I weirdly respect Amazon for how flagrant that move is. There’s no YouTube-ish “this is good news for the creators because…” spin. Amazon would just rather keep the money they’d been paying you. Also, nice touch making the earning data “temporarily unavailable” for an entire quarter, undoubted in the hope that producers would have forgotten what they were previously making in that time.
Prime was pretty good. I mean, you weren’t going to get rich off of it. I once did a back-of-the-envelope calculation and I figured I’d need to have 2,800 videos up to break a poverty-level income, and that’s assuming the videos are magicked into existence and cost nothing to produce, and that they maintain their popularity forever and don’t steadily lose viewers after a month or two — but still, Prime wasn’t bad compared to the alternatives. With the halving, it is comparably bad now.
For the record, we currently have 48 videos available on Prime. The film collection altogether stands at about 752 titles — about, I say, because while that’s how many are in the catalogue, that’s not necessarily how many there are. Not every reel has been inspected and just going by what’s written on the can or even the leader isn’t always a safe bet. Some films that I now consider to be duplicates might very well be different titles. It’s happened before. And of course, not all of those are releasable due to rights issues, although with the public domain now reopening, the number that can be released will go up every year.
If you want to support me, buy videos directly from the website. But if you want to buy one from Amazon, fine, I’ll get $1.50; or if you want to rent it, fine, I’ll get a $1; or if you have Prime and want to stream it, fine, I’ll get 1.5¢ per reel. Or, hey, if you want to pirate it, that’s fine, too.
I’m very attached to my film — film as in the physical medium that I can look at and touch and feel secure in the sense that it exists and is mine — but I labor under no illusion that the film as in the story it tells on screen through picture and text belongs to me. It takes a little bit of money and a great bit of work to bring a film to video, but at the end of the day, none of that means a thing.
I’m aware that several of “my” videos are on YouTube and that there are torrents of many more, and while I don’t encourage that — the sale of videos really does go a long way toward offsetting my operating costs — the bare and honest truth is that I don’t care. Removing the YouTube videos would be trivially easy, but I’ll never do that. I don’t know how you combat a torrent, but it doesn’t matter, because I’ll never do that either. Loads of my videos are sold on bootleg DVD-Rs on eBay and iOffer. I don’t particularly care for myself, but in those cases I’m saddened more for the people who buy them not realizing they’re paying sometimes twice as much as if they’d legitimately bought it from me. Piracy only really bothers me when it’s coming from people who should know better. There is a major distributor — I won’t name names, but they are large, well known, they’re affiliated with a major institute, and are quite respected. They’re also unrepentant thieves and plagiarists. I don’t care for them.