When Charlie Chaplin comes to town

When Charlie Chaplin comes to town

The silent Keystone comedy, Kid Auto Races at Venice, should have been exactly that — a newsreel documenting a soapbox derby race. But as children race along an audience-lined pathway, a curious fellow wearing a bowler hat and baggy pants emerges into the frame, constantly interrupting the shot. The man is Charlie Chaplin. In cinematic terms, he was the original photobomber. Released in February, 1914, the film marks Chaplin’s first publicly screened appearance as the…

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Napoleon conquers California

Napoleon conquers California

Unseen in North America in over three decades, Abel Gance’s 1927 multi-screen silent epic Napoleon (1927) was presented before a live orchestra at the Paramount Theatre in Oakland, California. Eric sat down with film historian and restoration expert Kevin Brownlow to discuss the French director’s masterpiece. This report originally aired on France 24’s Culture Show on March 27, 2012. Napoleon conquers California from Eric Veillette on Vimeo.

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Oscar Micheaux and the birth of black cinema

Oscar Micheaux and the birth of black cinema

From 1919 to 1948, Oscar Micheaux directed 42 films with all-black casts shown to black audiences in black theatres. In Classified X, a documentary about Hollywood’s history of racist portrayals of African-Americans, a montage ends on a shot of a frightened black actor, teeth chattering, seeking consolation from his white boss. “Why is he so scared?” asks narrator Melvin Van Peebles. Cutting to the iconic photograph of the lynching of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith,…

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Eight Dickens shorts from the silent era in rare screening

Eight Dickens shorts from the silent era in rare screening

The filmmakers of the late 19th century and early 20th century were not short on material to adapt. Some of the earliest cinematic narratives featured the work of Shakespeare and Conan Doyle, but none drew the crowds quite like the stories of Charles Dickens. The silent era saw the production of about 100 films based on Dickens’ work. Eight shorts, made between 1901 and 1912 — including the earliest filmed version of A Christmas Carol…

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Is cinema facing a digital dark age?

Is cinema facing a digital dark age?

The unexpected success of The Artist, nominated for 10 Academy Awards last week, would have one believe that a silent cinema renaissance is under way. It ain’t necessarily so, says George Eastman House Motion Picture curator Paolo Cherchi Usai. Instead, the applause for The Artist signals the eventual museumification of the original cinematic experience. That experience — millions of images on 35-millimetre film flickering at 24 or 16 frames per second — is on its…

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Reviving the sounds of silents

Reviving the sounds of silents

Musicians breathe new life into mute movies at Toronto Silent Film Festival. The films of the silent era were a varied lot, from slapstick to melodrama, featuring high society folk, cowboys, swashbucklers, vamps, flappers and rascals. Nearly a century later, these films are anything but silent. Plenty of music, both traditional and modern, will be heard during the Toronto Silent Film Festival, which runs March 30 to April 7. The lineup — seven screenings held…

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The day Shakespeare was banned

The day Shakespeare was banned

There was a time in Ontario when film versions of Shakespeare’s greatest plays were too violent or too racy for the public good. In February 1910, one Staff Insp. Kennedy seized a print of Hamlet. The Daily Star quoted this arbiter of public morals about how how he “witnessed a moving picture show of Hamlet, written I think by Shakespeare, this week. . . .That’s all very well to say it’s a famous drama, but…

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Festival celebrates lost art of silent films

Festival celebrates lost art of silent films

In the early days of movie-going, when silent films reigned supreme, there were no snack bars, reclining seats, or disclaimers discouraging cellphone use (although friendly title-cards kindly asked ladies to remove their hats); coming attractions were projected on glass slides and hand-painted posters graced sandwich boards placed outside the street-front cinemas. When talkies arrived in Toronto in late 1928, silent films disappeared, replaced by the chatter of jazz-babies and tough-talking heavies as theatres were quickly…

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