In collaboration with the Library of Congress, Kino Lorber and film historian Shelley Stamp have curated an impressive and comprehensive collection of early female directed efilms. Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers is a 6 disc Blu-ray set (also comes in DVD format) that contains over 50 films ranging from shorts, feature films and incomplete movies. The set also includes 8 short informational documentaries, various commentary tracks and original music. What began as a Kickstarter campaign now is is a bonafide piece of film history that any movie buff would be proud to own.
We talk about Pre-Codes, that time period after the silent film era and before the strict enforcement of the Hays Code, when filmmakers had more free rein on releasing films with explicit content. But what about the pre-studio era of silent films? In the early days of motion pictures, the art form wasn’t taken seriously. This opened doors for African-American, Jewish and Female filmmakers to use their creative talents in a new field. Being a film director was a viable career for women because there was no set gender standard. According to film historian Cari Beauchamp, there were over 100 movie studios in the 1910s and between 1920 and 1933 those consolidated into only 7. Along with the male-dominated unions and guilds that sprung up during this time, female filmmakers were shut out making room for the male directors who would take over Hollywood. For one glorious period in early film history however, there was an output of great films that ranged in breadth, depth and subject matter.
“The films that these female pioneers wrote, produced, and often directed have an emotional depth one doesn’t find in other films.” – Ileana Douglas
Included in Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers are 58 of these films, each offering a look into an incredible time in the early history of film. Each disc is arranged by theme and a handful of the films included are exclusive to the Blu-ray set which makes that one even more valuable. With 80% of silent films lost, it’s incredibly important to appreciate what we have and that includes incomplete films. According to Rob Stone, Moving Image Curator for the Library of Congress, fragments tend to languish in vaults and are even more forgotten than whole surviving films. I’m grateful that the Pioneers set includes fragments as well films with some damage, restored to the best of the ability of the preservationists who worked on this project.
Each of the 6 discs contains extras, either commentary tracks or documentaries, averaging about 15 minutes each, on different subjects. These documentaries add real value to the set and I encourage you to watch them before tackling any of the films. They provide context and background information that is crucial to appreciating the movies you are about to see. The talking heads in these docs include principal curator Shelley Stamp as well as other curators, film historians, experts, archivists, preservationists, etc. My only small critique is that these extras start rather abruptly and could have used a short intro for more ease in viewing.
In addition to the docs and commentary is a 76 page booklet which includes an introduction by Ileana Douglas, an essay on the history of female filmmaking by Shelley Stamp, essays on the restoration and spotlights on one particular film and one particular filmmaker, information about the Women’s Film Preservation Fund and a thorough index of credits for the films included in the set. It’s a substantial booklet that reads like a film history book on its own. Another element that adds a lot of value to the set is the original music by silent film accompanists and composers such as Ben Model, the Berklee Silent Film Orchestra, Renee C. Baker, Makia Matsumura, Maud Nelissen, Dana Reason, Aleksandra Vrebalov, etc. I was particularly struck by the score for Back to God’s Country (1919) by Dana Reason and Salome (1923) by Aleksandra Vrebalov.
Going through the Pioneers set was an education in itself. It’s feminist film history in a box. These trailbrazers set a precedent that film history has forgotten and it’s up to us to make sure those lessons are not lost. The subject matters range from gender identity, marriage, adultery, birth control, religion, sexual abuse, etc. However not all of these directors were progressive proto-feminists. Lois Weber for example was a former missionary and had very conservative views. As we’ve learned over the years of studying the history of film, the more perspectives the better.
Some of my favorite films in this set include Mabel Normand’s comedies, Alice Guy Blache’s rags-to-riches-to-rags short A Fool and His Money (1912), Zora Neale Hurston's ethnograph vignettes of African-American life in rural Florida circa 1928, Lois Weber’s controversial feature Where Are My Children? (1916) (starring Tyrone Power Sr.!), Weber’s marital drama Too Wise Wives (1921) (featuring a very young Louis Calhern), Nell Shipman’s Back to God’s Country (1919) (she’s my favorite of the early female filmmakers) and Nazimova’s fantastical Salome (1923).
The Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers set contains the following:
Disc 1: Alice Guy-Blaché Disc 2: Lois Weber Disc 3: Genre Pioneers Discs 4 & 5: Social Commentary Disc 6: Feature Films Era
Directed by Alice Guy-Blaché Greater Love Hath No Man (1911) Tramp Strategy (1911) Algie the Miner (1912) Canned Harmony (1912) Falling Leaves (1912) A Fool and His Money (1912) The High Cost of Living (1912) The Little Rangers (1912) Burstup Homes' Murder Case (1913) The Coming of Sunbeam (1913) A House Divided (1913) Matrimony's Speed Limit (1913) The Ocean Waif (1916)
Directed by Lois Weber On the Brink (1911) Fine Feathers (1912) From Death to Life (1912) Hypocrites (1912) The Rosary (1913) Suspense (1913) Lost By a Hair (1915) Sunshine Molly (1915) Idle Wives (1916) Scandal (aka Scandal Mongers) (1916) Where Are My Children? (1916) Too Wise Wives (1921) What Do Men Want? (1921)
Directed by Helen Holmes Hazards of Helen Ep. 09: Leap From the Water Tower (1915) Hazards of Helen Ep.13: The Escape on the Fast Freight (1915) The Hazards of Helen Ep. 26: Wild Engine (1915)
Directed by Grace Cunard Purple Mask, The; Episode 5, Part 1 (1917) Purple Mask, The: Episode 12 (Vault of Mystery) (1917) Purple Mask, The; Episode 13, Part 1 (The Leap) (1917) A Daughter of "The Law" (1921)
Directed by Mabel Normand Caught in a Cabaret (1914) Mabel's Blunder (1914) Mabel Lost and Won (1915) Mabel and Fatty's Wash Day (1916)
Directed by Nell Shipman Back to God's Country (1919) Something New (1920)
Directed by Ida May Park The Risky Road (1918) Bread (1918) Broadway Love (1918)
Miscellaneous 49 - '17 (1917) directed by Ruth Ann Baldwin The Colleen Bawn (1911) script by Gene Gauntier That Ice Ticket (1923) directed by Angela Murray Gibson Ethnographic Films (1929) directed by Zora Neale Hurston The Call of the Cumberlands (1916) directed by Julia Crawford Ivers Motherhood: Life's Greatest Miracle (1925) directed by Lita Lawrence Eleanor's Catch (1916) directed by Cleo Madison Her Defiance (1916) directed by Cleo Madison The Song of Love (1923) directed by dir. Frances Marion Salome (1923) produced by Alla Nazimova The Red Kimona (1925) directed by Dorothy Davenport Reid Linda (1929) directed by Dorothy Davenport Reid When Little Lindy Sang (1916) directed by Lule Warrenton The Cricket (1917) directed by Elsie Jane Wilson The Dream Lady (1918) directed by Elsie Jane Wilson Curse of Quon Gwon: When the Far East Mingle with the West (1916) directed by Marion E. Wong
Extras/Short Documentaries An Introduction to Series About the Restorations Alice Guy-Blache Lois Weber Mabel Normand Serial Queens Social Commentary The End of an Era
Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers – Official Trailer - YouTube
Thank you to Kino Lorber for sending me a copy of Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers for review.
You can’t watch 30 Christmas movies in one day. But you can experience them all in one afternoon with Jeremy Arnold’s new book Christmas in the Movies: 30 Classics to Celebrate the Season. Starting with Miracle on Main Street (1939) and ending with Love, Actually (2003), this new genre book from Turner Classic Movies’ joint imprint with Running Press captures the spirit of the holiday with the most beloved of the beloved Christmas classics.
Each of the 30 films gets a 5-6 page treatment with photos, credits, an overview of the plot, and information on how the movie came to be made and how it uses the holiday to tell its story. There is also a Holiday Moment aside which describes a particularly Christmassy scene from the film. All the classics are here including Remember the Night (1940), Holiday Inn (1942), Meet Me In St. Louis (1944), It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), The Bishop’s Wife (1947), White Christmas (1954), etc . And my personal favorites Christmas in Connecticut (1945) and Holiday Affair (1949) are in here too. Arnold spotlights films that either completely framed within the holiday or they feature Christmas in a significant way. Some of the latter include The Apartment (1960), Gremlins (1984), and Die Hard (1988) (which people love to proclaim is or is not a Christmas movie). Modern classics featured in the book include Little Women (1994), Elf (2003) and Love, Actually (2003) among others.
Why are Christmas movies so enduring? Arnold explains that they conjure up feelings of nostalgia, they focus on family dynamics, they lend themselves to the rituals of the holiday and their feel-good vibes and happy endings make them utterly enjoyable to movie going audiences.
Reading about each of these movies taps into the pleasure that the films themselves. I really enjoyed Arnold’s narrative voice which is very welcoming. The book goes down easy like a cup of hot cocoa with extra marshmallows. While the articles featured are not ground-breaking, I found some nugget of information to take away from almost every single one. You may know everything there is to know about Christmas movies (or can easily Google the information you need) but I don’t think that will hamper your appreciation of this book. I learned the most from the Love, Actually article, a film I used to adore but have grown to dislike over the years and have been meaning to revisit, and was interested in the background of how the story came to be. And there are a few films I had never seen before, including Miracle on Main Street and The Holly and the Ivy (1952) that I bookmarked for future viewing.
Some interesting tidbits include:
The original and final lyrics for “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas", the song written for Meet Me In St. Louis, are presented side by side in the book. I’m glad they were changed because the original song was quite dark.
There was a backlash against Alastair Sim starring as Ebenezer Scrooge in the 1951 adaptation of A Christmas Carol, Scrooge.
Warner Bros. threw a parade in Norwalk, CT for the premiere of Christmas in Connecticut.
I got a newfound appreciation for how TV was instrumental in making so many overlooked Christmas movies into widely appreciated classics.
The idea for The Apartment came to Billy Wilder after he saw one particular scene in Brief Encounter (1945)
Christmas in the Movies is a keepsake treasure perfect for gift giving. And it’s very likely that if your loved one doesn’t watch classic movies that they’ve seen several of the classic Christmas films listed in the book. It’s beautifully designed and I particularly liked its more compact size. If you’re looking for a coffee table type book this is not it. It’s better suited on your mantle next to your Elf on the shelf and above your Christmas stocking.
Thank you to Jeremy Arnold and Running Press for sending me a copy of Christmas in the Movies for review.
Another holiday season is upon us and if you're looking for a gift for the classic film lover in your life you've come to the right place. Today I present to you my 2018 Classic Film Holiday Gift Guide. Here you'll find a variety of gift ideas that would make for great stocking stuffers or wrapped presents under the tree. Or if you're looking for great products to buy for yourself with gift cards or holiday cash, I have some nice selections for you. Yay for physical media!
The guide is split into two sections. These are some of the products that I've enjoyed over the past year. The second section is my personal wish list of items I have my eye on.
When you use my buy links to do your holiday shopping you help support this site. Thank you!
As always, I'd love to hear from you. In the comment section below tell me which of these items appeals to you or would make a great gift for a loved one. And I want to know what's on your holiday wish list this year!
Kino Lorber's Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers Blu-ray Set
An ambitious project resulted in one of the most impressive film boxed sets ever released. A must have for film historians and feminists alike, this set includes a variety of female directed silent films and a bunch of amazing extras. Review to come!
2018 was an especially good year for Blu-ray releases from the Warner Archive Collection. They keep cranking out some great discs and I'm forever grateful. Here are four of my favorites from this year. No surprise that two of them are Fritz Lang films!
The good folks at the Warner Archive Collection keep digging into their vaults to find more treasures for us classic film lovers to enjoy. Whether it's a film new to DVD or one that's gone out of print, access is key and WAC is making that happen. Here are three previously unreleased films now available on DVD-MOD.
Kino Lorber has been growing their classic film Blu-ray and DVD releases for their main catalog and also for their Studio Classics line. A lot of these are independent releases, not attached to a particular studio, and it's great that KL has stepped in to give these films the release they deserve. Here are some of my favorites from this year.
Olive Films continues to release unique offerings that keep us cinephiles happy. Whether it's their super deluxe Signature Editions that sell like hotcakes or their regular Blu-ray and DVD releases jam packed with extras, there is much to enjoy from their catalog. Here are some of my favorite Olive Films Blu-ray releases from 2018.
Earlier this year I celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In with a look back at the history behind this zany and hilarious show. TIME Life has released individual seasons in DVD boxed sets and the second season happens to be my personal favorite.
Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In: The Complete Second Season DVD Set (Review)
Seduction: Sex, Lies, and Stardom in Howard Hughes' Hollywood by Karina Longworth
I'm endlessly fascinated with Howard Hughes and his impact, both negative and positive, on Hollywood. And being familiar with Longworth's podcast You Must Remember This, I know her new book will be well-researched and juicy!
“I think there is still a misconception that all directors are Cecil B. De Mille types with a loud voice and a whip. Perhaps maybe that’s why there’s always been some puzzlement about a woman in the director’s role.” – Gillian Armstrong
TCM host and film expert Alicia Malone's follow-up to her book Backwards and in Heels, is a comprehensive guide to the history of female directors in Hollywood and beyond. The Female Gaze: Essential Movies Made By Women catalogs over 50 films, directed by women, in chronological order from 1906 to present day. The book is a mix of articles written by Malone as well as a variety of female film critics and experts.
Malone's articles in particular are in-depth studies of particular films with an examination of the plot, behind the scenes information and biographical details on the woman director. Malone also focuses on the director's career, especially before, during and after making the discussed film. A common thread in her research, something Malone will tell you herself, is that the success of a movie made by a woman director does not necessarily open doors to other work. Looking at the chronological order of the book we see far more female directed films in this century than in the previous one. However, even today, women directors still face an uphill battle to get their movies made.
“With conversations about women’s experiences in Hollywood currently at fever pitch, I am often asked how to best support women in film. The answer? What movies made by women.” - Alicia Malone
Why does this matter? If you're a woman on film Twitter, you've had a man try to explain to you (i.e. mansplain) that there is no difference between a male and female director in terms of the end product. But the truth is that there is a difference. A big one. Representation matters and having a diverse group of voices helps us avoid the reinforcement of stereotypes and caricatures and gives us new perspectives that both enlighten and inform. Malone's book is invaluable not only in that it spotlights the female filmmakers but it also explains how their visions made their film unique. Reading each essay, especially about the films I hadn't seen, felt like uncovering a new treasure.
In addition to Malone's articles are a variety of short form pieces by other female film critics. I was happy to see familiar names including friends Marya Gates, Farran Smith Nehme, Danielle Solzman and so on. In a few cases one movie is discussed twice and because the pieces are by two different writers it gives a nice balance of perspectives. And for those of you worried that the book is too one-sided, there are quotes from male voices too including Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Robert Osborne, Roger Ebert, Barry Jenkins, etc.
The Female Gaze is more skewed to 21st century films but there are some fine articles about early movies that classic film fans will enjoy. Pieces on Alice Guy-Blache's The Consequences of Feminism (1906), Germaine Dulac's La Souriante Madame Beudet (1922), Dorothy Arzner's Dance, Girl, Dance (1940), Maya Deren's Meshes of the Afternoon (1943), Ida Lupino's The Hitch-Hiker (1953). I wish there were a few more articles about classic female film directors. Maybe one on my favorite early female director Nell Shipman would have been a nice addition. If you picked up Kino Lorber's Pioneers First Women Filmmakers boxed set (review coming soon!), a collection of silent films made by female film directors, Malone's book would make for a nice companion.
Alicia Malone’s The Female Gaze shines a much needed spotlight on female filmmakers and their movies. This is an indispensable resource for film historians and feminists alike.
Thank you to Mango for sending me an electronic copy of The Female Gaze for review.
“Sterling Hayden, the individualist who could never quite belong or find contentment.”
This is not a biography about the actor Sterling Hayden. This a biography about a man and the struggles that plagued him for his 70 years on earth. There’s very little information in this book about Hayden’s acting career. Probably because Hayden himself was so indifferent about his movie roles. His acting was just a means to an end. To get the money he needed to finance his true passion: sailing.
Sterling Walter was born March 26, 1916 in New Jersey. His father died when he was only 9 years old and his mother remarried James Hayden, a shifty businessman who eventually gave Sterling his new surname. They moved around quite a bit, always staying fairly close to the sea. In fact the Hayden family lived for several years in my home state of Massachusetts. He even worked for a short stint at the legendary (and now demolished) Filene’s Basement in Boston.
As Hayden biographer Lee Mandel describes it, Hayden was “enchanted by the ocean” and dreamed of going out on adventures. He went on his first voyage at the age of 17. As a sailor he was a natural fit. He was eager to learn, becoming an expert in no time, and could handle long and grueling voyages. Each new trip just fueled the flames and he’d spend the rest of his life always trying to get back to sea.
Photo Source: University Press of Mississipi/Catherine Hayden
Being a full-time sailor didn’t pay well and his seafaring friends encouraged him to find another job that would help fund his interests. Two of his drinking buddies thought the tall, handsome and brawny Hayden had the looks and charisma to become a movie star. One buddy had the connections and the other helped him get an audition with Paramount executive Edward H. Griffith. Hayden had absolutely no acting experience and had never entertained the idea of becoming an actor. It might have seemed like a gamble but Griffith saw a lot of potential in Hayden. Paramount's publicity campaign to launch Hayden into the stratosphere involved proclaiming him “the most beautiful man in Hollywood” and giving him the second male lead in Virginia (1941) alongside stars Madeleine Carroll and Fred MacMurray.
As soon as Hayden’s acting career started it was put on hold when the U.S. entered WWII. Hayden had recently married his co-star Carroll but the two would spend the war years apart and their marriage never got the foundation it needed. They eventually divorced. Hayden enlisted in the Marine Corps but quickly discovered that his newfound fame was a burden. Not wanting any special treatment, he legally changed his name to John Hamilton to separate himself from his public persona (he changed it back to Sterling Hayden in 1958). Mandel’s book goes into painstaking detail about Hayden’s years as a Marine. Readers learn about Operation AUDREY, the HACIENDA mission, his work for the Office of Strategic Service and his time in Yugoslavia. He rose in ranks to Lieutenant and then Captain and received medals for his service.
Hayden’s time overseas heavily influenced his politics and when he came back to the states he joined the Communist party. He quickly grew disillusioned and after 6 months. When the HUAC (House of Un-American Activities Committee) began their Communist witch hunt, Hayden at first hid his former political ties. He even joined the Hollywood delegation that fought back against the HUAC. When things took a turn, he followed his lawyer’s advice to contact the FBI and voluntarily testify at a HUAC hearing. Naming names was “the price of forgiveness” and while he was able to bounce back into his acting career his decision adversely affected the careers of others. He regretted the decision for the rest of his life.
The Asphalt Jungle was a turning point in his acting career and according to Mandel, Dr. Strangelove “proved to be a sort of renaissance for Hayden, who seemed to have recreated himself as a character actor." Mandel briefly touches upon Hayden’s films such as Blaze of Noon, Journey into Light, The Star, Johnny Guitar,Suddenly, The Killing, Hard Contract, The Godfather and The Long Goodbye. When he wasn’t acting, he regularly attended therapy sessions and sought financing for ocean voyages. Hayden’s post-HUAC life included a contentious marriage with his second wife Betty which lead to their divorce and bitter custody battle for their four kids. Hayden won custody and worked hard at being a good father (a rarity among Hollywood actors). He married his third wife Kitty and they remained together until his death in 1986 at the age of 70. It wasn’t a perfect marriage but they stuck with it. Mandel paints a glowing portrait of Kitty as a long-suffering wife who was a veritable saint to stick by Hayden through the many problems that plagued him in his later years.
Lee Mandel’s Sterling Hayden’s Wars is not a typical biography. Especially not one about an actor. Instead of the traditional biography, this book focuses closely on Hayden’s battles which can be broken down into the following list:
WWII HUAC Finances Self-doubt Second marriage Custody of his children 4 month trip on his schooner The Wanderer Alcoholism Depression Cancer
"We are brainwashed by our economic system until we end up in a tomb beneath a pyramid of time payments, mortgages, preposterous gadgetry, playthings that divert our attention from the sheer idocy of the charade... The years thunder by. The dreams of our youth grow dim where they lie caked in dust on the shelves of patience. Before we know it, the tomb is sealed.” – Sterling Hayden
I’d be lying if I said I was okay with there not being much information about Hayden’s acting career. With that being said, in Hayden’s story I found someone who was real and relatable. I could empathize with his disconnect between the career that paid and the passion that didn’t. I shared some of his social ideals and his fervent desire for travel and adventure. I admired his natural ability to write and his deep, brooding thoughts. However, he could also be a very frustrating figure to understand. Self-doubt and a need to be taken seriously constantly got in the way of rational decision making. I was interested to learn that Dalton Trumbo, a victim of the HUAC and Hollywood Blacklist, approached Hayden to play Joe’s father in the film adaptation of Johnny Got His Gun. Hayden turned down the role because it hit too close to home. I wish he had gone through with it.
If it wasn’t such a damn interesting story I would say skip this book because of the lack of content of Hayden’s acting career. But the truth is Lee Mandel’s Sterling Hayden’s Wars is more than worthy of your time. If you've read Hayden's memoir Wanderer and wanted to keep that voyage going, make sure you give Mandel's book a shot.
Thank you to University press of Mississippi for sending me a copy of Sterling Hayden's Wars to review.