Alice In Wonderland – A Silent First

Long before Disney’s animated version or Tim Burton got his hands on it, Lewis Carroll’s classic book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland received it’s first film adaptation during the age of silents.

The 1903 version of Alice In Wonderland, directed by Cecil Hepworth and Percy Stow, stars a young teenage May Clark as Alice and is based on the artwork of Sir John Tenniel, the original illustrator for Carroll’s story.

Shot at Hepworth’s studio in Walton-on-Thames, UK, the director also makes an appearance as the Frog, and his wife can be seen performing costumed as both the White Rabbit and the Queen of Hearts. Best of all in my opinion is the family kitty as the Cheshire Cat looking completely grumpy and nonplussed with the whole thing.

The surrealness of the story beams through the film well over a century later, and it’s clever use of special effects in particular for the scenes where Alice shrinks and grows are fantastic to watch. The White Rabbit is rather terrifying to me though, and I feel like the costume designer for Donnie Darko could well have gotten their inspiration for the design of ‘Frank’ from this 1903 silent.

Alice Dreams Silent Film IntertitleThe White RabbitDown the Rabbit Hole - Alice In WonderlandDrink MeAlice shrinking effect in the silent film versionSilent Film Intertitle - Alice In Wonderland (1903)Alice meets a grumpy Cheshire Catmad-hatter-teaparty-silent-filmAlice In Wonderland Playing Card ProcessionThe Queen of Hearts - Alice In Wonderland
Originally 12 minutes in length, the BFI was able to restore 8 minutes of the surviving film from ‘severely damaged materials‘. So if you have some time spare today (or whenever you’re reading this), have a watch, it’s a great way to celebrate Lewis Carroll’s Birthday today.

Tod Browning – The Edgar Allan Poe of Cinema

Tod Browning by Basil Gogos

Today marks the birthday of actor, screenwriter and director Tod Browning.

We have Browning to thank for the classic and the most well known version of Dracula starring Bela Lugosi, as well as cult favourite and deeply disturbing Freaks (I still can’t shake scenes from that film years later, and the memory of it gives me shivers yet!)

Bela Lugosi as Dracula by Basil Gogos

The early life of Tod Browning is fascinating. Particularly how as a teenager he ran away from home to become a performer – traveling and working a variety of jobs in circuses, sideshows and carnivals. The biography Dark Carnival: The Secret World of Tod Browning is an interesting insight into the life of the man whose films are so well known in the horror genre.

Continue reading Tod Browning – The Edgar Allan Poe of Cinema

Silent Ladies – Stacia Napierkowska

A Look At Silent Film Actress Stacia Napierkowska

Stacia Napierkowska with dogI’m absolutely enchanted by these photos of French silent film actress Stacia Napierkowska. Best known for her portrayal as Marfa Koutiloff in Louis Feuillade’s 1915 silent film serial Les Vampires – particularly episode 2, ‘The Ring That Kills‘, dancing as a vampire bat, she was a talented dancer and actress, as well as having also tried her hand at directing.

Continue reading Silent Ladies – Stacia Napierkowska

Wings – The First Best Picture

Clara Bow in Wings (1927)

For the longest time I had a framed photograph of the above image which travelled with me everywhere. It’s a photo of Clara Bow from the 1927 silent film WingsI originally bought the photo from a small shop in New York that specialized in prints of film stills, lobby cards and 8x10s of your favourite matinee idol.

I have no idea where the shop is, having stumbled upon it back in 1999 – I’m not even sure if it exists any longer. With books upon books to flick through and pick out images you wanted copies of, it was an incredible little shop, and I imagined myself like a young girl in the days of silents looking through Photoplay for images to post on my wall.

The little black and white 8×10 travelled with me back to the UK and on several subsequent moves, to Slovakia and back again to the UK, finally calling home with my friends on the head office walls at the Lab Theatre Collective.

Tonight the 85th Oscars are being held with people all over the world watching and hosting their own Oscar parties, but what of the first film to ever win the Academy for Best Picture?

Wings Opening Film Credits

The story behind the filming of the first film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture – Wings and particularly that of the director William A. Wellman, is an interesting one.

William Wellman in WW1William Wellman during World War I

Wellman, was originally an Aviator, flying as part of the Black Cat Squadron during World War I in France. The adventure of learning to fly, tragedy of war, and staggering personal heartbreak and loss are chronicled in his son William Wellman Jr’s excellent book The Man and His WINGS: William A. Wellman and the Making of the First Best Picture.

Battlefield Scene in Wings

During the war Wellman received a cable from Hollywood leading man Douglas Fairbanks congratulating him on a job well done and telling him that he had a job waiting for him on his return. Returning to the States a hero with an uncertain future now that he was back in civilian life, Wellman decided to take Fairbanks up on his offer. And spectacularly so – Wild Bill (nicknamed so during the war) landed his plane at one of Fairbanks famed parties and asked the Hollywood star for a job.

And job he did get, as an actor in a Western picture. Acting didn’t suit Wellman, with dreams of becoming a Director he traded in the acting gig for work on set climbing his way up the ranks to his ultimate goal.

Buddy Rogers, Clara Bow and Richard Arlen in WingsBuddy Rogers, Clara Bow and Richard Arlen in Wings (1927)

Wellman was a new Director when the opportunity to direct Wings came along. BP Schulberg, the Producer of the film, argued in favour of using Wellman because of the complex nature of the film Schulberg believed that only a man with a war background could fully do justice to the story of the film.

Clara Bow was the first actor cast, and given her celebrity and use of her superstardom to assure against a massive financial risk the script was rewritten to improve her part as Mary Preston, the girl next door originally overlooked by Jack.

Wellman fought against the studios to cast two unknowns in the other leads roles – Richard Arlen and Buddy Rogers (who would later wed Mary Pickford) and also gave Gary Cooper the role that would launch his career.

Gary Cooper in WingsGary Cooper in Wings (1927)

Wings had a budget of 16 million in government manpower and equipment with an additional 2 million budget, making the film the most expensive of its time. Willam Wellman Jr. in his book comments that he believes Wings was the last great silent film and was “the Star Wars of its generation“. And given the incredible shots, innovative stunts and camera techniques utilized throughout I’m inclined to agree.

After an initial 2 months of filming Wellman threw out all the flying scenes on the basis that they didn’t look real. Arlen and Rogers would have to learn to fly. The film is a testament to Wellman’s passion for realism and is reflected in the incredible aerial battles that take place in the film.

Wings Poster Art

Besides the hijinks normally associated with Clara Bow and her paramours, one of the stories I love most from the filming of Wings is about Clara’s distaste for her costume. She found the costume shapeless, and would constantly (to the horror of the wardrobe mistresses) add a belt to it, which would also constantly be taken off her as well.

In May of 1929 the first ever Academy Awards were held, with Wings winning for Best Picture. Clara Bow accepted the Oscar on behalf of the producers from Douglas Fairbanks.

The First Oscars Held in 1929Last year saw the release of a stunning remastered, high def version of Wings now available on DVD and Blu-ray, and also has seen the films resurgence in cinema screenings as well I’m very glad to say. Be sure to check it out, Wings is an incredible piece of work which gives one a fascinating insight into the world shortly after the great war and how it viewed the horrors of World War I less than a decade later. Plus, Clara Bow!

Scenes from Wings (1927)

Covet – Gifts for the Silent Film Lover

Clara Bow in Mantrap

The Holidays are approaching at breakneck speed, and I’ve yet to consume enough Egg-Noggy goodness for the rest of the year (Obligatory Geek Quote: ‘Tis the season, Marge! We only get thirty sweet noggy days. Then the government takes it away again.), so without further hesitation, for this installment of “Covet“, I bring you a few lovely gifts for the Silent Film lover.

Silent Film Xmas Presents

Vintage Silent Film Star Glasses 1927 Wings Handmade Journal The Lost World of Mitchell & Kenyon DVD Metropolis Inspired Ring Steven Severin Vampyr Soundtrack Buster Keaton Art Print Devil's Needle Blu-Ray Silent Film Inspired Greeting Cards Clara Bow Biography by David Stenn

First Row

1. Set of 8 Vintage Glasses $50.00 from Eco-Friendly Freckles
2. Wings Handmade Journal $22.00 from Gablehatch
3. The Lost World of Mitchell & Kenyon DVD £19.99 from The BFI Film Shop

Second Row

4. Metropolis Sterling Silver Mens Ring $85.00 from K.A 4 Designs
5. Steven Severin “Vampyr” Soundtrack by Steven Severin £8 Digital Album (CD available direct through StevenSeverin.com)
6. Buster Keaton Original 8×10 Black & White Screenprint $18.00 from AwApplesauce

Third Row

7. The Devil’s Needle & Other Tales of Vice and Redemption BLU-Ray $27.97 from Kino Lorber
8. Printed Intertitle Greeting Cards, Set of 3 $10 from Lucky Duck Press
9. Clara Bow: Runnin’ Wild [Paperback] by
David Stenn
$16.47 from Amazon

It Began in Berlin – at the Carnival

Hello! So, these things must start somewhere, (things being this blog)and this is as good a time and place as anywhere. And so:

It Began In Berlin - At the Carnival

“It Began in Berlin – at the Carnival – “
Intertitle screen capture from Variété (1925)
Lya De Putti & Warwick Ward in Variete, 1925Flying Trapeze scene from Variete, 1925

I had the good fortune the other night of catching Varieté, the last film showing at the Toronto Silent Film Festival this year. Starring Emil Jannings (known for his roles in Murnau’s The Last Laugh and of course in The Blue Angel starring opposite Marlene Dietrich) Lya de Putti, Warwick Ward, and Maly Delschaft.

The film was fantastic, with striking camera techniques that recreated the dizzying heights experienced by the Aerialists. All the more enhanced by the live musical interpretation of Laura Silberberg.

Below is a brief video with scenes from Varieté and commentary by Kristin Thompson.

 If you have a chance to catch this playing anywhere, especially with live accompiant, do so! By all accounts Varieté is one of the last great German expressionist films made.

The Trapeze scenes in particular are fascinating to watch and were actually filmed at the  Berlin Wintergarten Theatre, the original building however was destroyed in 1944 bombings of the city, later to be rebuilt.