We're in Movies: Palace of Silents & Itinerant
DVD + Blu-ray
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We're in the Movies: Palace of Silents & Itinerant Filmmaking celebrates the passion of do-it-yourself cinema. This unique Blu-ray/DVD collection features two documentaries never before seen on home video, When You Wore a Tulip and I Wore a Big Red Rose and Palace of Silents , as well as five bonus films from early itinerant and local filmmakers.
Palace of Silents: The Silent Movie Theatre in Los Angeles (2010)
On Fairfax Avenue in Los Angeles there is a 150-seat movie theater that for over 68 years has doggedly dedicated itself to the exhibition of silent films. Built in 1942 by maverick film preservationist John Hampton, the theater championed silent film at the very moment when the Hollywood studios across town were busily destroying their nitrate inventories. With hard chairs, phonograph-record accompaniments, and mostly original vintage prints, the dingy mom-and-pop operation was nonetheless a palace to the fanatical few who became its loyal audience. Through the theater's tumultuous years, its owners and employees have struggled to keep a cherished art form alive, often paying a heavy price in the personal tragedies that have stemmed from this struggle: obscurity, financial ruin, and even murder. Through interviews, archival footage and detailed research, Palace of Silents reveals the touching, twisted, and bloody history of one independent theater's successful attempt to stubbornly buck every cinematic trend in the hometown of American cinema.
When You Wore a Tulip and I Wore a Big Red Rose (1983)
In the early 1980s, documentary filmmaker Stephen Schaller was instrumental in the rediscovery and restoration of The Lumberjack (1914), the oldest surviving film made in Wisconsin, and produced by a group of itinerant filmmakers who traveled from town to town making "local talent" pictures. Schaller's lovely and sometimes deeply emotional, 63-minute journal/essay film offers a look at the making of the Wausau, Wisconsin classic, including interviews with the one surviving cast member and the relatives of others who appeared in the movie. His investigation includes moving remembrances of the people and town of Wausau, and even reveals the on-set accidental death of one of The Lumberjack's cameramen. More than just local history, When You Wore a Tulip is also of interest to anyone who cares about film history and preservation.
Bonus materials for We're in the Movies include an original essay by film historian David Shepard, as well as 5 early examples of the cinematic tradition of itinerant filmmaking. The Lumberjack (1914) is the oldest film shot in Wisconsin that still exists in its original, complete form. The short, silent one-reeler tells a romantic story set against the backdrop of the city's lumber mills. Our Southern Mountaineers (1918), In the Moonshine Country (1918), and Mountain Life are a trio of shorts that document the lives of some inhabitants living in the eastern mountains of Tennessee and in the 'moonshine country' of northern Georgia and Kentucky. Also included are Huntingdon's Hero (1934), a local talent film made in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, and a newly-restored, 2012 selection for the National Film Registry, Melton Barker's The Kidnappers Foil (1937), which features a local troupe of children from Corsicana, Texas enacting Barker's basic story of child abduction and escape. All are sourced from original nitrate or preserved 35mm stock, and feature the versatile musical accompaniment of The Ragtime Skedaddlers. The local talent films are presented by courtesy of the Wisconsin Center for Theatre and Film Research, the Academy Film Archive, and the Tennessee Archive of Moving Images and Sound.
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The first is "When You Wore a Tulip and I wore A big Red Rose" a 1983 documentary film about were often called "local talent films". From 1914-1916 a company called Paragon Feature Film Company, would show up in small towns and offer to make a "feature film" which would use local people as the actors and promote the towns attractions. The filmmakers would be paid by the community and the community would get the film. There were hundreds of these made all over the country and - since they were on explosive nitrate film stock - very few survived. Documentarian and film collector Stephen Schaller went to the town of Wausau, WI and discovered the actual reel of film for the movie "The Lumberjack" and had it restored. He was also able to find some of the residents who were in the film and were then in their 80s or 90s. He filmed interviews with them - as well as with a woman who was a piano player for the silent films. It's a fascinating story and this fil runs just over an hour.
The other documentary is more recent - 2014. "Palace of Silents" tells the store of The Silent Movie Theater of Los Angeles (yes, that's the name of the theater), which was started in 1942 to show nothing but silent films (accompanied at first by 78rpm phonograph records to perform as the soundtrack. It had three owners over the years, but I won't tell you more. Like a good movie, the story of TSMTofLA has mystery, crime, robbery, deceit and sexual identity issues all rolled into one fascinating story. The 76 minute film will actually keep you guessing as to how it sends.
Flicker Alley has added some nice bonuses to the set: a half-dozen restored silent films. The prime one is the complete 16-minute version of the aforementioned Wausau film, "The Lumberjack". There is also another "local cast" film titled "The Kidnapper's Foil". The remaining ones capture life in remote regions at that time, such as "Moonshine Country" and "Mountain Life"
"The Lumberjack" is the longest and this, and three other of the films, has a new "soundtrack" by a mandolin, guitar and mandolin-banjo trio named the Ragtime Skedaddlers. While it worked okay for me for the film "Mountain Life:, I found it at odds with the story line of "The Lumberjack". The ragtime music is repetitive and doesn't fit the mood. Flicker Alley usually adds piano or organ accompaniment which is coordinated with the action. A piano would be more appropriate it. I rewatched "The Lumberjack" with the "mute" button on and I actually enjoyed it better.
The "deluxe package" includes a nice 12 page book of essays on the films.
For anyone interested in silent films, the BD/DVD is a must see. Both are highly entertaining and Flicker Alley should be thanked for making them available.
I hope you found this review both informative and helpful.