2020: A Year of Virtual Screenings and Silent Film

On January 1, 2020, I decided to kick off the new decade with a favorite film from 1920. I chose Buster Keaton’s One Week, one of my favorites of his shorts. Little did any of us know what awaited us in this unprecedented year of hardships. Despite a rough year, I found peace in escaping to the past. Serving as my time machine was a variety of virtual screenings and fellow film lovers who helped make this year bearable. I would like to take the time to acknowledge and thank the following people for making 2020 a memorable year of film.

Silent Comedy Watch Party

First and foremost, I must thank Ben Model and Steve Massa for their creation of the Silent Comedy Watch Party. The two began putting on a live virtual screening event with live musical accompaniment every Sunday afternoon beginning in March. The show contains silent comedy shorts from Ben Model’s label Undercrank Productions and various film archives. Each film is paired with live piano accompaniment by Ben Model and commentary by both Steve Massa and Ben Model. Model and Massa are incredibly knowledgeable on the topic of silent film comedy that each episode is like a crash course on the subject. Through the Silent Comedy Watch Party, I have been introduced to several comedians such as Marcel Perez, Alice Howell, Martha Sleeper, Billy Bevan, and more. I also got to learn more about comedians I already enjoyed, such as Charlie Chase. The Silent Comedy Watch Party is an event that I continue to look forward to every Sunday. I highly recommend checking it out if you haven’t already! Each episode is available on YouTube and I cannot emphasize enough how much of a treat that is for silent film fans.

Ben Model’s website

Silent Comedy Watch Party YouTube channel

Ben Model’s Patreon

Pordenone Silent Film Festival

I have often dreamed of attending a silent film festival but unfortunately, I live in a silent film screenings desert. I never imagined that 2020 would be the year that I would finally get to attend one, albeit virtually. While a virtual film festival cannot compare to a live event, it was the best possible option for such a crazy year and I am beyond thankful for those who worked hard to make it happen. For under $15, attendees were granted access to several feature films, shorts, documentaries, interviews, and panels for a 10-day period.

In addition, Le Giornate del Cinema Muto has a “Silent Stream” where you can access silent films throughout the year for free. Each film is up for a limited time so enjoy them while you can!

I am not sure whether or not Pordenone will be virtual or in-person in 2021 but I can’t say I wouldn’t be thrilled if virtual was at least an option again!

Le Giornate del Cinema Muto website

Kennington Bioscope

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Before COVID-19, the Kennington Bioscope Silent Comedy Weekend took place at the Cinema Museum in London. Unfortunately, the museum had to be closed and the live screenings have come to a temporary halt. Thankfully, they have been able to continue hosting silent film screenings virtually on the Kennington Bioscope YouTube channel. I started this one a little late but have enjoyed it tremendously. Each film includes an introduction by Michelle Facey and musical accompaniment by a variety of wonderful musicians. Facey is very knowledgeable and provides excellent introductions to each film. Episodes contain anywhere from a couple of films to several films. Much like the Silent Comedy Watch Party, these episodes remain available on YouTube and are a treat to be able to watch or revisit. Being from across the pond, it is great to get to see clips of the Cinema Museum before each episode. And that catchy tune is sure to get stuck in your head!

Kennington Bioscope website

Kennington Bioscope YouTube channel

Cinema Museum website

Retroformat Los Angeles

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Another great streaming option is Retroformat Los Angeles. The non-profit company normally spreads the love of silent film through live screening events in Los Angeles. This past year, they moved online and started hosting Monday evening virtual screenings with live music accompaniment by the talented Cliff Retallick. Each film is introduced by Sean P. Malone, cinematographer and Retroformat board member. They have had special guests including Suzanne Lloyd, granddaughter of Harold Lloyd. All of the episodes are available on Retroformat’s YouTube page and I highly recommend checking it out!

Retroformat Los Angeles website

Retroformat Los Angeles YouTube channel

Lastly, I would like to recommend a slew of archives and film foundations who have been uploading and keeping me company in 2020.

UCLA Film & Television Archive

Mary Pickford Foundation

San Francisco Silent Film Festival

Danish Silent Film

Henri, Cinematheque Francais

Here’s to a better 2021 and another year of streaming films!

Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. at the Movies: The Air Mail (1925)

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Quick Facts
Director:
Irvin Willat

Cast: Warner Baxter, Billie Dove, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., and Mary Brian
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Length: 8 reels (6,976 feet)
Status: Four of eight reels are preserved at the Library of Congress

In 1925, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. returned to Hollywood after being uncertain of his future movie career when Stephen Steps Out failed at the box office. The fall of 1923 had been a whirlwind for the teenage Fairbanks. He arrived in Hollywood in October to much fanfare to begin his movie career, and by December 9th, his fourteenth birthday, a defeated Fairbanks and his mother were headed back east on the Twentieth Century Limited. Two years later, he was a little wiser, had grown a bit more into himself, and was ready to give Hollywood another go. Jesse L. Lasky was also ready to give the young Fairbanks another shot and once again, Fairbanks and his mother were in dire straits financially. This time around Fairbanks wasn’t going to be in the lead role nor would there be any major publicity surrounding his return. But unlike in 1923, Fairbanks’ movie career stuck after his second role and his star began to slowly rise.

theairmail1925

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Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. at the Movies: Stephen Steps Out (1923)

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Quick Facts
Director: Joseph Henabery
Cast: Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Theodore Roberts, Harry Myers, and Noah Beery
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Length: 6 reels (5,152 feet)
Status: Presumed Lost

The story of Douglas Fairbanks, Jr’s career in Hollywood begins, and nearly ends, in 1923 when he was just thirteen years old. He entered the film industry on the heels of his father’s rise to movie fame and movie studios were already looking for new ways to cash in on the Fairbanks name. Coincidentally, a young Fairbanks and his mother (the former wife of Fairbanks, Sr.) were also seeking ways to earn money.  He and his mother had been scraping by in Paris, France and his mother did not want their dire need for money to be brought to the attention of Fairbanks, Sr. For this reason, when Jesse L. Lasky offered a movie contract to Fairbanks, Jr., it was an easy decision for him to make. He always held firmly to the fact that he entered the business strictly for financial reasons. 

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Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. on the set of Stephen Steps Out

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Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. Visits Dallas, Texas

In 1962, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. guest starred in Route 66, a television show about the adventures of two guys, played by Martin Milner and George Maharis, as they travel along Route 66 in their Corvette convertible. Fairbanks plays a criminal, Charles Clayton, who, in a desperate move, leaves his sanctuary in Brazil to return to the United States to stop his daughter from becoming a nun. All the while, he is having to dodge the Dallas Police Department and journalists at the Dallas Times Herald. As one of the first television shows to film on location, the entire episode takes place in Dallas, Texas and made the episode a fun watch for this Texan. The episode sent me on a deep investigation of the filming locations and here’s what I discovered.

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Book Review: “The Fourth Musketeer,” by Letitia Fairbanks and Ralph Hancock, edited by Kelley Smoot, 2019

It is said that American royalty is made up of the larger-than-life entertainers that dominate our popular culture. They are said to represent our ideals, influence our appearances, and even live in castle-like homes where they are often seen as untouchable. The reign of the American movie star was on the rise in the ever-growing movie industry of the early twentieth century and by the 1920s, Hollywood had its first King and Queen. At the head of the throne were the newly married Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford. The Fourth Musketeer, by Letitia Fairbanks and Ralph Hancock and edited by Kelley Smoot, takes readers on a journey through the life of Hollywood’s first king, Douglas Fairbanks, through the eyes of his niece.

One of the most appealing aspects of The Fourth Musketeer is its approach to telling Fairbanks’ life story. It’s not written like a traditional biography but is instead written more like a story with characters, conversations, and plenty of adventure. Letitia breathes life into the revered public hero by celebrating his exceptionality while still reminding us of his more human side. Even Douglas Fairbanks had flaws that were masked by his youthful, vigorous, can-do approach to life. The very same traits that made him a star. Letitia captures all sides of Fairbanks by conveying stories from his childhood, providing glimpses into the interesting characters that shaped him along the way, and allowing readers to discover who he was behind-the-scenes of his illustrious career. Highlights include first-hand accounts about how Fairbanks met his true love, Mary Pickford, and how he met his lifelong friend, Charlie Chaplin.

Originally published in 1953, the newest edition of The Fourth Musketeer has been taken to the next level by Kelley Smoot, daughter of Letitia Fairbanks. Numerous rarely seen photographs that create visuals to go along with the text have been added, many coming from archival collections and family archives. In addition, Smoot’s carefully researched photo captions provide even greater insight into the already rich history of Fairbanks’ life and career. Her contributions to the book are reason enough to add The Fourth Musketeer to your must-read list. Smoot has also re-packaged the book in a new sleek design with an iconic image of Fairbanks sitting atop a roof with his bow and arrow like a modern day Robin Hood on the front cover, making it a great book to add to your coffee table or shelf display. Smoot also added a wonderful introduction by Fairbanks’ great-grandson, Dominick Fairbanks, and a foreward by Eileen Whitfield. Smoot’s dedication to keeping the Fairbanks legacy alive is truly admirable.

If you are a Douglas Fairbanks fan, The Fourth Musketeer is a must-have. It truly is the closest we will ever get to an autobiography of the great actor. But this book is for a much wider audience than already established fans of Fairbanks. If you love Hollywood history, silent film, romance, and adventure, then you, too, will enjoy The Fourth Musketeer. As the book shows us, no matter how much time may pass, there will never be another Douglas Fairbanks.

 

Book arrives February 1, 2019!

Very special thanks to Kelley Smoot for asking me to review the book and allowing me an advance copy. I am honored to be able to do my part in spreading the word about all-things Fairbanks.

 

Pre-Order The Fourth Musketeer:

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

Visit: www.thefourthmusketeer.com

Follow Letitia Fairbanks on Twitter (all tweets are by Kelley Smoot): www.twitter.com/letitiafairbank

 

Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. on TCM, Filmstruck, and Other News

It’s been way too long since my last update but I’ve been working on some exciting new ideas for my blog! I will have it up and running with regular posts once again and couldn’t be more thrilled.

Starting in January I am beginning two regular blog series. One that will involve going through Fairbanks, Jr.’s filmography in chronological order and another in which I will be sharing glimpses into my Fairbanks collection with tips and tricks for preservation and archiving of collectibles. I am also looking forward to getting back into blogathons!

Until then, be sure to check out these upcoming Fairbanks films on Turner Classic Movies and Filmstruck!

Turner Classic Movies

Flight Commander / Dawn Patrol (1930)

October 24 @ 6:30am (CST)

Little Caesar (1930)

November 5 @ 7:00pm (CST)

Mary Pickford: Muse of the Movies (2008)

November 7 @ 11:45am (CST)

Gunga Din (1939)

November 23 @ 3:00pm (CST)

Filmstruck

For Filmstruck subscribers, be sure to check out the following Fairbanks movies currently streaming!