Author Archives: The Crane Operator

Wanted

Things that I’m forever looking for that I’ll pay unreasonable sums for:

  • 9.5mm film entitled Une photographie originale or The Camera Never Lies or any other language 9.5mm film that could conceivably translate to either.
  • The same goes for A travers les flammes / Through Fire.
  • The same goes for Captain Blood / Les aventurers de mer. Odd reels too, if you’ve got ’em.
  • And it goes for A Cold-Blooded Animal, La petite espiegle, or La petit angel gardien / Little Angel.
  • Looking for lobby cards and/or production stills of Pampered Youth (Vitagraph, 1925). Lobby cards particularly — I have a partial set, but not all of them. Promotion material (e.g. newspaper or magazine ads) or anything else containing images are welcome as well. Let me know what you have. Send images (I won’t steal them, but low resolution or watermarked if you’re afraid I will).
  • Looking for the same for Black Beauty (Vitagraph, 1921). Lobby cards, production stills, any other images or promotion material. Same goes for the especial interest in lobby cards — I have a number, but my set is not complete.

(Let’s not get nuts about what unreasonable means, but above market value at any rate.)

Contact me however you do. I think you can through WordPress, maybe, I don’t really know, but you can assuredly reach me at wanted@harpodeon.com. I’ve been told by somebody that a Harpodeon Facebook group exists. Don’t contact me through that because it isn’t me — we have no Facebook presence and our Twitter account is little more than a newsfeed, to be honest. I don’t understand social media and don’t care to. Oh, or you could send a private message through YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/harpodeon) unless Google has eliminated that. Wouldn’t surprise me at all if they did. Eliminating basic functionality with each upgrade is Google’s MO. You could go through the website’s contact form — that’s always an option. Point is, I want to hear what you’ve got and are willing to part with.

Edit: Heralds and programs too, of course. Forgot to single out them.

The Power of Innocence (Republic, 1912)

The Power of Innocence (Republic, 1912)

Lucy’s father dies, and without his income, life for her, her mother, and grandma is just an endless toil over the sewing machine. With few prospects in her small Indiana town, she writes to employment agencies in New York and, while she doesn’t hear anything definite, she’s encouraged enough to pack her bags and head to the big city.

George Edwards spots Lucy at the train station and he likes what he sees. He directs her to Violet, who Lucy doesn’t seem to realize is a madam. They get to talking and Lucy tells her life story. Violet is so touched by the girl’s innocence that she gives her a loan and put her on the train back to her mother and out of George’s clutches.

Like The Little Country Mouse (1914), this is another film that survives today thanks to Pack o’ Fun Films. What do you mean The Power of Innocence doesn’t sound terribly funny? (Nor does Country Mouse, for that matter). You’re looking at it from the wrong mindset. The edge code on the film tells us it’s 1940. You need to look at it through the eyes of someone in 1940: the film is silent, ipso facto, it’s funny. I’ve mentioned that before. To the transitional generation, the silent era was an embarrassment. It really took until after their deaths before reassessment could take place.

“Hiss the villain! LOVE this pure innocent maiden!” Pack o’ Fun’s ad copy reads. All of their titles, they promise, are “tragic LAUGH RIOTS!” It’s hard to find out much about them, but I believe they were a division of Stark Films of Baltimore, which began operations in 1920 and continued at least into the ‘50s, but Pack o’ Fun films were sold from 1930 to the first half of the ‘40s (1944 is the latest I’ve seen). I’ve some reason to believe they were connected with, in some fashion, or perhaps subsumed by Castle Films in the 1950s.

Fractured Flickers would add hilarity by simulating projection booth mishaps — projecting things upside down, backwards, or out of order at times. I’ve never seen a Pack o’ Fun film do that, but they are interspersed with stereotypical magic lantern slides (please remove your hats, no spitting, and so forth).

This will be our next release. It was going to be a remaster of an old titles (actually the second remaster of it — it’s one that I’m really rather fond of and I’ve recently obtained a significantly better quality print) but I’ve put that on hold. A bunch of films are on hold, actually: An American in the Making (1913), The Lost Shoe (1923), and Wanted:- A Nurse (1915) are all scanned and waiting to be processed and I don’t seem to have the slightest interest in touching them.

I’ve had this film for many years but never knew exactly what it was. Pack o’ Fun retitled it Only a Poor Working Girl. It was sold to me as She Was Only a Working Girl, but I never thought that’s what it was — nothing about it fits that title. None of the actors are credited and I don’t recognize any of them, but there’s a letter in the film that’s dated and gives one of the characters a first and last name. With that, I could search film summaries in trade magazines and it wasn’t long before I found The Power of Innocence, which matches perfectly.

Decent film. It isn’t all that comprehensible without first reading a summary of it. George Edwards could certainly be better explained. I get Violet, but even after reading the summary, I’m not entirely clear who George is. It’s got a certain charm to it, though. I think I said pretty much the same thing about Country Mouse, that you really only know what’s going on because you’ve seen a movie before and that’s how movies go. With that caveat, I’d recommend it.

My rating: I like it.

Un Drame sur une Locomotive (Lux, 1910)

Un Drame sur une Locomotive (Lux, 1910)
Directed by Jean Durand
Starring Joë Hamman and Gaston Modot

Henri (Gaston Modot) is in love with Jeanne and doesn’t care for how intimately she and Pierre (Joë Hamman) act towards one another. He comes to find out that they’ve been engaged for two months. The two men are engineers and both of them are on the 3:16 express. They argue in the engine. Henri demands the Pierre give up Jeanne, Pierre refuses, a fight breaks out. They blow past the station they were supposed to stop at and run head-long into another train. Both are injured in the wreck — Henri severely so. At the hospital, Pierre tells Jeanne that it wasn’t Henri’s fault — that he did everything in his power to avoid the disaster. Henri, with his dying breath, tells her that Pierre is lying, that the fight and the wreck were his doing, and that Pierre alone is worthy of her love.

It’s a French film, but foreign films were commonly imported to America and often released under alternate titles. This film was very likely released in the US as The Rival Engine Drivers in 1911. Moving Picture World tells us that Drivers was a translation of a Lux film and the plot synopsis it gives is exactly the plot of Locomotive… except for the ending. According to it, the two engineers are killed and their bodies discovered tangled together in the wreckage. Another sticking point is that Drivers is described as being about six minutes long. You have to run Locomotive at 28fps to get its run-time down to six minutes. I’ve got it running at 16fps, where it lasts about ten minutes, but the action still looks reasonable as slow as 14fps. 28fps is way, way, way too fast. Now, at 16fps, the train wreck scene does occur about six and a half minutes in. Perhaps the American release simply stopped there and the entwined bodies bit was just an embellishment by the synopsis writer — it was just implied that they must have been killed, or maybe a title said so. Drivers was released as a split reel with How They Tricked Father. Trimming would be in order then, as a ten minute film doesn’t leave much space on the reel for another picture. The Nickelodeon says Drivers is 367 feet (which is indeed six or seven minutes at silent speed). Locomotive is almost exactly 10,000 frames and that works out to 625 feet of 35mm film. Assuming they are the same film, rather a lot of trimming was in order.

A tale of rivalry, between two engine drivers for a girl, which results in a fight while the train is moving, ending in a collision in which the rivals are killed, and their bodies are found among the wreckage, locked in each other’s arms. The picture is realistic enough, but seems rather improbable, in that two men would scarcely permit anything of this sort to interfere with their duties to the firm which employed them, or the public whose lives, for the time, were in their hands. Real life might have an occasional abnormal case of this sort, but they are uncommon.

That’s Moving Picture World’s summary and review of The Rival Engine Drivers. It certainly is “realistic enough”. Although the crash itself is plainly a model, the aftermath is a real wrecked train. The quality of the wreck scenes is very different, does not match at all with the scenes where the talent are present, and looks for all the world like newsreel footage. I’m certain that was the genesis of the film: we’ve got these trainwreck views, let’s build a story around them. As to the story being unrealistic because their loyalty to the firm would preclude any personal animosity… all right, if you say so, Moving Picture World.

I don’t find it hard to believe, but I also don’t find it much of a plot. Like I said, the film is just some newsreel footage with the barest of a narrative bookend. If The Juggernaut is at one end of movie trainwreck scenes, Un Drame sur une Locomotive is surely at the other. It’s two toy trains bumping into one another. They wisely don’t linger on it too long and quickly cut to their stock footage. It isn’t a bad film, but it doesn’t have anything going for it that could make it good. Joë Hamman and whoever plays Jeanne are fine in their roles, but Gaston Modot overacts like crazy and relies too much on cliches like bringing the back of his hand to his forehead to convey emotion.

My rating: Meh.


Available from Harpodeon

She Took a Chance (Vitagraph, 1915)

She Took a Chance (Vitagraph, 1915)
Directed by C. Jay Williams
Starring Kate Price

Nora Luckey (Kate Price), “always taking chances”, enters a sweepstakes for a piglet. Mike, “her close fisted husband”, disapproves of her “sinful waste of money” gambling, although being “born under a lucky star”, she always seems to win. Porkey comes home and there’s little danger he’ll wind up on the dinner table — he instantly wins Nora’s heart and becomes her beloved pet. Junior’s (Johnny Cahill) dog is evicted from his dog house to make way.

Mike and Junior have had quite enough and begin “building up a strong case against Porkey”, blaming him for eating all the deserts in the ice box and rolling the clean laundry in the mud (Junior, in fact, did both). Nora is irritated but unswayed by the conspiracy.

Nora’s luck wins her a fancy new hat, festooned with evidently real grape bunches. Junior accepts the delivery and amuses himself posing in front of the mirror wearing it. He drops it to the floor when he’s done, Porkey finds it, and helps himself to the grapes. That does it. Nora storms outside and returns with a hatchet, but before Porkey finds himself minus his head, Junior’s dog chases him out of the house and the picture. Just then two men enter, congratulating Nora for her latest win: another pig. Finding new use for the hatchet, she runs them off while menacing them with it.

I’ve collected a fair number of Kate Price Vitagraph shorts. This one is unusual because there’s no ethnic component. She’s usually very stereotypically Irish and speaks in dialect. I mean, take a film like Too Many Caseys: “Irish” is the entire joke. If you don’t find that especially funny, there’s not much else to laugh at. It probably would make She Took a Chance a lot more approachable to modern audiences.

My rating: I like it.

Coming up will be a film I’m particularly excited about. It’s a fairly early French drama — I’ll even make the hint a little easier and say it’s produced by Lux — about a love triangle between railroad engineers that results in a train wreck.

Oh, and in case anyone was worried, my medical debt has been completely resolved. The state will foot the bill — even for the helicopter ride.

An Update

An Update

What is it I said in my last post about not wanting to run a subscription-based service because I could drop dead at any moment? Speak of the devil…

I was ill with what I believed was the flu at the time. Whatever it actually was, I declined rather quickly and contracted pneumonia. I could keep down neither water nor food, and after a week of that, my electrolytes were horribly out of whack. I was in a great amount of pain. I didn’t know at the time that it was my organs slowly failing — kidneys first, then the liver, my lungs were going fast and my heart was dangerously overtaxed. Then I began seizing. I’ve never had a grand mal seizure before, and as far as my memory goes, I still haven’t. The couple weeks prior to the seizure are mostly wiped from my mind — I’m relying greatly on my diary to recall them — and the few days afterward are simply a blank altogether. I bit my tongue almost off. I fell, fracturing my sternum, a number of ribs, and a vertebra; getting a severe concussion; and breaking the rail on the footboard of my bed. The next thing I remember, I’m in the hospital getting hemodialysis with a respirator down my throat. I was there for three weeks before I had enough and left. They wanted to keep me a month longer for monitoring and physical therapy, but I had stuff to do and I was frankly going stir-crazy — I couldn’t even have visitors because of this silly plague going around. I’d lost almost twenty pounds.

I had a number of bad reactions to the drugs I was prescribed, particularly aplastic anemia. Atop the iron-deficient anemia I already had, my skin went from very fair to ghostly white and it left me so completely exhausted that I would have to lie down or else I’d faint simply by walking from my bedroom to the adjoining bathroom. Bad, bad edema as well — my feet were swollen like water balloons — I was retaining about ten pounds or more of fluid.

Ever since, I’ve been to my primary weekly to run new labs on my blood, urine, and stool to see whether I’m improving or worsening. Improving, especially since I stopped taking everything I was told to take. My kidneys, liver, lungs, and heart seem to be fine. I’ve been told by a few doctors how remarkable it is to go from multiple organ failure to a-okay in the span of just three weeks, but here we are.

I’d initially been taken to the local hospital, but they airlifted me to a larger one in Lewiston when they realized how close to death I was. For the first two weeks I was in ICU and I honestly don’t remember much of it. The last week I was in a medsurg unit with a skeleton staff, due to three-quarters of the hospital’s staff being laid off due to the plague — that was part of the reason I didn’t care to stay; I wasn’t receiving any care and was, indeed, being actively harmed. I might have been flown to Mass General, and if I was conscious, I’d have insisted that I was. Mass General is a real hospital. There aren’t any real hospitals in Maine. The pay is too low to attract any but the desperate and the ethics too shocking to retain any but the least competent. I actually can’t follow up with the nephrologist who saw me because he was a new guy who quit before I was even discharged. I go to Boston when I need medical attention.

I’m mostly saddened by the broken foot rail on my bed. It’s an antique and not easily replaceable. Repairing it well will cost about $1,000 to $1,500. Drop in the ocean compared to CMMC’s bill, which is a bit more than half a million dollars. If the case worker doesn’t figure something out I’m just going to be bankrupt for the next several years, but I think she will.

It’s a month late, but the HD remaster of Heaven Will Protect a Woiking Goil is finished and available on the website. Prime will take a while yet (two days my eye — even at the best of times, videos take a week and a half to process). I’m very pleased with the score — it incorporates all the song references in the intertitles. At least, all those that I recognized. “Heaven Will Protect a Working Girl”, “Proud Beauty”, “And the Villain Still Pursued Her” — I knew all those tunes already. The country girl in the city title might reference any number of songs, but I went with one that fit. I tried to see if “yawning chasm” was an allusion, but I couldn’t find anything at all.


Available from Harpodeon

To Stream a Video

To Stream a Video

Prime being what it is and what it’s become, let us now discuss other streaming options. I’ve been asked a number of times why I’m not on Netflix. Let’s talk about that.

Places like Netflix, iTunes, cable/satellite or whatever, aren’t interested in dealing with small fry distributors — at least, not directly. You’ll need to go through an aggregator like Quiver or Walla (or one of dozens of others, but they’re the ones I’m familiar with). Aggregators don’t work out of the kindness of their heart: Walla is $1,000 plus 15% of the gross revenue and Quiver is a flat $1,400. That’s per title, per platform, and there may be issues of exclusivity, with or without carve-out. In the book publishing world, people would tell you that all of this is backwards — that it’s the publisher who should be paying you, not t’other way ‘round, but that’s how it go with videos on the Internet.

It gets very expensive very quickly. Netflix is a little cheaper — about $800 to submit a film — and if they pick it up, they give you a substantial amount of money for distribution rights, but there’s absolutely no guarantee that they will pick it up. More likely than not, you’ll just find yourself out $800. Netflix is barely in the distribution game anymore. They see themselves as a two-bit production house now. They want original material. You might have noticed that their classic content has vanished almost entirely, but pull back a little and take a look — their selection of non-original content has constricted to almost nothing in general.

(Edit: Seriously, look at it. Their selection is about 5,000 titles. The average video rental store in the ‘90s carried 10,000-15,000 and larger stores in college towns could have as much as 40,000. Netflix carries nothing. It’s a serious problem in film schools because films that were once on the syllabus are simply unobtainable now for most students.)

Similarly, Comcast, DirecTV, Dish, premium TV channels like Starz, etc., are closed systems, meaning you can’t just throw enough money at them to take your content — you’ve got to pitch it. Of the closed system, they’re the most “open”, which is why I single them out. Pitching is not a great deal of money, but neither is it free ($150, plus whatever the person who writes your pitch charges — pitching yourself is a bit like representing yourself in court), and the likelihood that they’ll want 100+ year old content is slim.

Now there’s the issue of length. Most silents are shorts, but even silent features tend to be on the short side. Amazon defines a feature as a film 60 minutes or longer (four reels at a silent-ish speed) whereas iTunes make the cut at 45 minutes (three reels). Most others are a lot more demanding and don’t term a film feature-length until it hits the 90 minute mark (six reels), which excludes most silent content. There is remarkably little interest in non-serialized shorts.

You know, when the talkies arrived, it wasn’t very many years before the studios abandoned their silent catalogues and either left the films to disintegrate through neglect or purposefully destroyed them. There would be no more market for silents, they said. As much as fans of silent films lament it, the fact is, the studios were right. They were absolutely right. The films were and are worth less than the shelf space they take up. The market is so vanishingly small as to not exist and the demand for new releases outside of Nosferatu, The Phantom of the Opera, and Metropolis is so minuscule that there may as well not be one. There’s still very much a market for new releases of those three — and two of them are even in the public domain. The third may still have a case or two in court — I don’t think the legality of copyright restoration in the US will be decided until the point is entirely moot.

For obscure silent films (and by “obscure” read “every single title not enumerated above”), I say you’re targeting a market of about five thousand people worldwide. There are some that would say I’m being incredibly generous and that the market of actual buyers and not simply well-wishers is really only about a thousand strong. Regardless, even if you pegged it as something absurd like 20,000, that’s still smaller than even the most niche horror sub-sub-sub-genre of direct to streaming schlock. There is no money — no money at all — in silent film, and while we may have the luxury of running money-losing businesses, the big players expect to turn a profit.

And there’s the odd thing with Amazon: as much as they’re chasing creators away and as frequently as they’ve been purging non-mainstream content lately, we’re getting record viewership and engagement numbers on our Prime videos. December used to be big back when people still bought DVDs. Nowadays, October is the season. The run-up to Halloween is when everyone is streaming — horror films, sure, but people are just watching more in general. We see a big bump in October, generally about three-times normal, but it contracts back a week or so into November. There was no contraction this year. We’re still at October numbers in mid-February, even after all the purges.

What am I leading up to? Not a thing. Just throwing all that out there. I could very well set up a DASH server and going into streaming myself — it’s not in the tiniest bit complicated, but I’d really rather not. There’s a reason my conception of an ideal digital market is one where you pay a one-time fee to download a DRM-free MP4 to do with as you feel fit. I don’t like being beholden to a service — any service — for access to content I’ve paid for, and I really don’t want anyone beholden to me. Suppose I die a year from now. It could happen. What then? No, I don’t like that.

Crowdsourcing is an option, but on the one hand, I don’t like being accountable to anybody, and on the other, I don’t know that there’s enough of a crowd to source from. If I did raise a couple thousand dollars, I wouldn’t spend it on streaming. There’s a project — a bit of a dream project — that I’ve had in mind for a long time that will cost about $2,000. I’ll do it at some point… at some point. That’s straying from the point, though, which is that Netflix ain’t gonna happen.

Oh, hint for next time, it’s an HD remaster of Heaven will Protect a Woiking Goil. What do you mean that wasn’t a hint? Anyway, I’d like to do a collection of tied-to-railroad-track parodies — there are a few of them.

 

Edit:

Oh. I’ve said before, we normally get about 14,000 minutes streamed by Prime subscribers a month. That’s shot up to about 25,000 since last October. Remember how I said Prime royalty rates were now one fifteenth of what they had been? What are were making for those 25,000 minutes? Is it a dollar and sixty-two cents? Yes it is. I really, really hate to do it, but I’m going to have to disable the include with Prime option and just rent and sell through Amazon. I really hate to do it because I want people to watch the films, but a penny an hour is just an insult, Jeff. You’re worth billions, Jeff, give me my 15¢.

I finally got an answer for why Romeo and Juliet keeps getting disabled (and, incidentally, if you ever see one of our videos that Amazon says they can’t show due to rights issues with the creator or whatever — no, that means Amazon chooses not to show it — I have never disabled anything ever). It’s because IMDb doesn’t list us as a distributor of it. Except it does and has for almost as long as Prime Video has existed. Amazon is pondering that now and has been for about two weeks. Perhaps it will be reinstated.

The delay with the Amazon release of When the Tables Turned comes down to its rating. Most of the films I deal with aren’t rated (well, a good many are, but Amazon doesn’t recognize the National Board of Review as a ratings board), so you’ve got to self-rate, and by that, I mean you’ve got to guess what Amazon wants it rated. There are very few films I’d personally rate higher than all ages, but Amazon is conservative in the extreme. If there’s a hint of violence, however cartoonish, you’d best err on the side of 13+. If there’s any smoking shown, oh boy, that’s a 13+. Never had to do an 18+ yet, but I remember one video is 16+ — can’t remember which at the moment. When the Tables Turned has a mock kidnapping in it and that’s causing a lot of ruffled feathers. After some back and forth, I finally got an answer from Amazon that they want it rated 13, so it’s a waiting game now.

The Dust of Egypt (Vitagraph, 1915)

The Dust of Egypt (Vitagraph, 1915)
Directed by George D. Baker
Starring Antonio Moreno and Edith Storey

In the past, I’ve briefly touched on 9.5mm home movie abridgments sometimes representing all that’s known to survive of a film and how these abridgments are by and large ignored. It was the policy of some archives until rather recently to dispose of all their holdings of a film if any part of it showed decomposition — it’s little wonder these abridgments that are, by nature, incomplete would be beneath notice.

Some films are represented in an even more slight degree. Expensive crowd scenes may have been cannibalized in the sound era for stock footage — a bit of The Battle Cry of Peace survives for that reason — or they may have been lampooned in shorts like the Fractured Flickers series. To the transitional generation, who lived through the talkie revolution, silents were not only old hat — they were embarrassments — things that were only suffered to exist that they might be mocked.

About two and a half minutes of The Dust of Egypt survives by way of The Movie Album, a 1931 Vitaphone short. The Movie Album wasn’t as entirely derisive of its subject material as Fractured Flickers — not entirely. The clip actually represents a few fragments as the excerpt snips out quite a bit of material within itself, but all are from the climax, just before the ‘it was all a dream’ reveal.

Geoffrey Lascelles (Antonio Moreno) has just proposed to Violet Manning (Naomi Childers) and she’s accepted. After a night of celebration, Geoffrey stumbles back home to sleep off his intoxication. Enter Simpson (Charles Brown), Professor Johnson’s assistant. The Professor is on a dig in Egypt and sends back a mummy, but the museum is closed and Simpson wants to leave it with Geoffrey until morning.

In his dreams, Geoffrey envisions Ameuset (Edith Storey), a princess of Egypt. She’s bored with life. Her magician, Ani (Edward Elkas), offers her a love potion that cannot fail, but the Princess demands something new. He instead presents a potion that will transmit her through time — thousands of years into the future — to an age entirely unlike their own. She’ll find love there, he promises, and kiss but once, for the second kiss will make her “as the dust of Egypt”.

Startled awake by a sound in the sitting room, Geoffrey goes to investigate. He finds the mummy quite alive and it is the very princess of his dreams. She at first believes he is a magician like her own Ani, in that he commands light at the flick of his finger, but she soon finds amusement with modern technology — the seltzer bottle, especially, entertains her to no end.

Afraid of what it would look like to be found alone with a strange woman late at night, Geoffrey does the first thing that comes to mind and calls the Mannings. Violet is put out. Geoffrey’s tale of five thousand year old Egyptian princesses does not strike her as terribly credible, and as he has no other explanation for Ameuset, she returns his ring.

Violet provokes a rather extreme degree of jealousy in Ameuset. Geoffrey might not love her, but she’s surely taken to him. Suddenly she recalls Ani’s love potion and dumps it in Geoffrey’s glass. True to the sorcerer’s word, Geoffrey at once falls passionately in love with the Egyptian princess. The second kiss — —

Benson (Jack Brawn), Geoffrey’s butler, startles his master. He’s sorry to wake him so early, but a gust of wind tipped over the sarcophagus (or “the blooming mummy case”). Geoffrey inspects it to find it contains nothing but a desiccated mummy quickly turning to dust.

I have so much fun with reconstructions. I didn’t do a full one with The Dust of Egypt partly because there’s so little surviving footage and partly because I was working from an extremely limited number of stills. Most came from the novelization in Motion Picture Magazine, a couple from trade magazines, and a couple more from lobby cards I have. They were just about enough to present the story in a condensed form not much more elaborate than the summary above — to provide context to the surviving fragments and not strive far beyond that.

I can’t in good conscience give a rating. I can hardly tell what sort of a film it was from two and a half minutes of footage and a handful of stills. As it reads, the plot is pretty well bog standard for a mummy come to life comedy, but a well tread plot doesn’t mean the film couldn’t have tread it well. I like Edith Storey — I’ll say that.

Available from Harpodeon.

Prime Royalties

So, Amazon just announced their new Prime royalties rates, effective next year, will be one cent per hour. One shiny penny. For those just tuning in, Prime started at 15¢ per hour, then dropped to 6¢, then 4¢, and now it’s 1¢.

You know, this is probably it for me as far as Prime goes. Rent and buy, sure, but stream free with Prime? I think that’s going bye-bye very soon.

The Timber Queen (Ruth Roland, 1922)

The Timber Queen (Ruth Roland, 1922)
Directed by Fred Jackman
Starring Ruth Roland

I believe I have referenced The Timber Queen (1922) before when speaking of Smashing Barriers (1919) in that the two serials share rather similar plots.

Ruth Reading (Ruth Roland) has just inherited the Reading Timber Tract, a valuable forest in the Far West, subsequent to her father’s death. Her cousin, James Cluxton (Val Paul), is in need of funds and wants to claim the forest for himself. His “evil genius”, Bull Joyce (Leo Willis), is instrumental in the plot, in that it’s him who attempts to murder Ruth several times. Don Mackay (Bruce Gordon), a wealthy young man who’s taken a job in the timberlands for the adventure of it, has fallen in love with Ruth and it’s crucial that she die before they marry, when the will declares that Ruth has inherited the forest for good.

Like Smashing Barriers, The Timber Queen is largely lost, but not so largely. UCLA has a handful of intact or intact-ish episodes, and another was abridged for home release — our video, episode twelve, “The Abyss”.

I have four 9.5mm releases of “The Abyss”. The first I obtained was a Spanish Pathé Baby release from 1926. The old SD video was sourced solely from this print. Next I obtained a British Pathescope release from 1927, a French Pathé Baby release from 1926, and an American Pathex release from 1929. All of them are different. The differences are slight between the Spanish and French prints — a frame or two more or less, but the exact same series of shots. The Pathescope is cut more noticeably different, but again, it’s the same shots. The Pathex occasionally has overlapping footage, but for the most part, it diverges entirely from all those that came before. Some shots are shorter than their corresponding Pathé Baby versions, but others are longer, and many are alternate takes altogether.

The Spanish and British titles are plainly translated from the French translation, excepting the character names, which are all over the place. The only commonality there is that the main character is called Ruth. I don’t know Spanish and can’t comment on how well it reads, but the English text sounds like a French person who isn’t entirely fluent in English wrote it. I understand French okay enough to see that it’s written like French, just using English words. The American titles do not come from the French. If they’re not original, they at least read more like a native English speaker wrote them. There are some discrepancies in re the character names — James Cluxton is named James Claxton, for instance — but they are, for the most part, correct.

The Pathescope’s image quality is rather poor. The French and Spanish Baby’s are about equal and I would say are good to very good, if a little soft. The Pathex I think edges out all of them in terms of sharpness and contrast, but it is badly cropped.

All of the abridgments are in two sixty foot bobbins — running about six minutes, give or take for projection speed and how long you linger on the titles, but taking all the unique footage and joining it together, it comes out to more than ten minutes. That’s still about half the length of the original episode, but that’s not bad as abridgments go.

The opening title sequence is based on The Haunted Valley, another Ruth Roland serial from the same period. I also modeled the font on The Haunted Valley’s. “Patheserial”, I call it. Pathé latterly used Pastel, which there’s no need to re-create when Silentina’s already available, but Pastel was created in 1924. Fonts are often an instant give-away that the titles are replacements from a later release — that’s how I knew the titles in the surviving print of The Inside of the White Slave Traffic could not very well have been made in 1913 when the font they use is a decade younger than that. I don’t think the original “Patheserial” was an actual font — I think it was hand drawn like Vitagraph’s lettering — but it’s more or less consistent in The Haunted Valley. Gaudy, but consistent. I suppose Vitagraph’s is gaudy, too, but I’m just so used to it, I don’t notice. With the contrast boosted, you can actually see the faint pencil lines drawn on Vitagraph title cards to keep the text straight. (And read “typeface” where I say “font” if you want to be pedantic, but I don’t care — it’s a font so far as I’m concerned.)

You know, it’s funny how, until quite recently, these 9.5mm abridgments were wholly disregarded. it was just me and a couple others who acknowledged that they were a thing and actually do represent surviving footage, which is weird given how fragmentary even “intact” films are — most are missing a more or less significant amount of footage — and the fact that there is no definitive version of any silent film. Multiple negatives were assembled from different takes to strike prints to be sent hither and yon, and those were all cut severely by every censor whose hands they crossed. I really don’t think it was until the Cagliostro (1929) release that abridgments hit the mainstream — if there is such a thing as mainstream in the silent film world. Cagliostro was a bit forward in its claims of being a rediscovered film. The home movie abridgment it was 95% sourced from has never been unavailable since its release in ‘31.

I like it. Ruth isn’t as strong or as satisfying a character as Helen in Smashing Barriers, but the stunt work on the runaway boxcar is top notch and the finale — Don swinging on the lasso and catching Ruth just before the car goes off the edge of the cliff — had to have taken a lot of preparation and planning.

My rating: I like it.


Available from Harpodeon

Views of Daggett Rock (Me, circa 2008)

Let’s have a post for the mere sake of posting and to let you know I’m alive and still in business — although Amazon has had another round of random purges.

Here’re a couple views of Daggett Rock taken in 2008 or a bit earlier. The more that I think on it, the more I’m convinced it was 2007, but I’ll not be bothered to change a YouTube description.

Daggett Rock is a local-ish natural attraction that, like most Maine attractions, does its best to keep tourists away. It’s down a long single-lane dirt road winding around a mountain followed by a half-mile trek up a ravine until you hit a clearing in the woods. There you’ll find a big rock historically called “The Big Rock” until the Daggett’s bought the land it sits on. It’s the largest glacial erratic in New England, although it split in three pieces under its own weight as the glacier receded. There’s a person in a light-colored shirt milling around both views for scale. You can walk around it, walk through the cracks, and there are usually some logs propped-up on it if you’re game enough to shimmy up them and reach the top. There’s a Victorian-era brickwork bench if you’d like your picture taken in front of it, as travelers have done for some 150 years.

The views were taken with my silent-era camera on a couple 36-exposure cartridges of Tri-X film bought at the local pharmacy — the film pulled out and wound onto spools in a changing bag in the trunk of the car. It was developed in much the same way, bucket-style, with the processing stripped down to just a developer bath and then fixer. The transfer, I’m sure, was just videotaping the view port of my upright Movieola that I watch all my 35mm film on.

I mostly remember hauling the camera and tripod, which have to weigh 30 pounds combined, up the ravine, which is not the easiest hike in the world. It was barely Spring and the rocks were still coated in ice. Going back downhill was much worse than the ascent.

 

Edit:

Every video has been relisted except Bathing Beauties and Big Boobs (1918) because I think Amazon thinks it’s porn — it’s not, it’s using “boob” in the sense of “foolish person”; and Romeo and Juliet (1911) for reasons that are beyond me. Nearest I can tell is that it’s only part two, and that’s for the very good reason that part two is the only part that exists, but then again, they’ve got no issue with The Timber Queen and that’s only part twelve.

Cinderella (1911) they initially rejected because they said the title wasn’t visible in the key art. It’s literally written in a highway sign font — DIN 1451 very closely matches the Thanhouser house typeface — bold, white, with a thick black outline, sized to cover as much of the image as possible. I fail to imagine how more visible it could be. I submitted it again and it went through the second time.

Amazon’s ways are not our ways.