Sunday, October 06, 2019

Evolution of Hollywood Studio Tours (five short films)

Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM), Pordenone.
Films on Film - Prog. 1: Evolution of Hollywood Studio Tours
Grand piano: Mauro Colombis.
Teatro Verdi, e-subtitles in Italian by Underlight, 6 Oct 2019.

(reissue, early 1970s, with introduction)
regia/dir: Hunt Stromberg. photog: Henry Sharp. prod: Thomas H. Ince. dist: Triangle Film Corporation. uscita/rel: 9.1920. copia/copy: DCP, 24′; did./titles: ENG. fonte/source: Lobster Films, Paris.

Dimitrios Latsis (GCM): "As historian and Thomas Ince biographer Brian Taves has demonstrated, Ince can be claimed as the originator of the unit production system, among other innovations that he pioneered at his Inceville studio in the Santa Monica mountains in Malibu – the first full-scale facility of its kind in Southern California. With almost 500 films under his belt as a producer-director, he was one of the most influential creative forces of the pre-studio system period. By 1915 Ince was ready to expand his operations, and struck a deal with real estate mogul Harry Culver to relocate his operations to the newly formed “Culver City,” where he partnered with D.W. Griffith and Mack Sennett to form the Triangle Motion Picture Company (the new studio’s 1918 Colonial-style administrative “Mansion” was later occupied by Selznick International Pictures). In the remaining nine years of his life – until his premature demise in 1924 – Ince went further than any other filmmaker in developing a persona as a legitimate artist-entrepreneur who was intimately involved in every single stage of his productions (something clearly reflected in this Tour). As Anthony Slide has argued in his 1979 book Films on Film History, Ince used this short to “not only promote his players and his productions [as many other studios already had with similar “tours”], but also to curry favor with the news media.” Local newspapers in the cities where it was screened were credited as “distributors,” while Ince publicity department director Hunt Stromberg (who directed the film) was a former newspaperman himself. This originally three-reel film, compiled from footage shot in the late 1910s, is second only to the 1925 M-G-M studio tour in terms of the number of copies that have survived in archives around the world, testifying to Ince’s (and Triangle’s) worldwide popularity and reputation for “quality pictures” in the early feature era."

"The film begins with a panoramic shot of the studio facilities along Washington Boulevard in Culver City and proceeds to highlight different aspects of its work. We see the interior of a glass stage, the wardrobe department, plaster mold-making, location shooting (and the portable electric power plant that supports it), the studio’s own fire department in a sequence reminiscent of early film “fire runs,” a succession of sets and the carpenter plant that makes them (along with blueprints and models), the negative developing room, the continuity cutting and art-title departments, and even the studio pool. A number of stars are shown in their daily routines (in skits clearly staged for the camera): Harold Lloyd, Hobart Bosworth (seen painting), Mabel Normand, Earl Hughes, Enid Bennett, Louise Glaum, Douglas MacLean, House Peters, and Margaret Livingston, as well as studio executive J. Parker Read Jr. Much of the rest of the film is devoted to Ince himself making his rounds, from reviewing scenarios to screening daily rushes. The house in the bungalow complex he is seen leaving is the same one where director William Desmond Taylor was murdered on the evening of 1 February 1922. A different historical development captured in the film is the visit of King Albert I and Queen Elisabeth of the Belgians to the studios, which took place on 17 October 1919." Dimitrios Latsis (GCM)

regia/dir: ?. prod: First National Pictures. dist: First National Pictures. uscita/rel: c. 1926. copia/copy: 35 mm, 1000 ft, 8′ (24 fps); did./titles: ENG. fonte/source: UCLA Film & Television Archive, Los Angeles, CA.

Dimitrios Latsis (GCM): "When this short “coming attractions” promo was released to exhibitors in 1926, First National was third only to M-G-M and Paramount among the major Hollywood studios and was about to celebrate its tenth birthday. Yes, it had lost Chaplin and survived several takeover attempts by its rivals (the 1928 one by Warner Bros would ultimately be successful), but it had also freshly moved to a brand-new 62-acre studio lot in Burbank and had a still-robust stable of stars, including “sweet, scintillating, charming Colleen Moore, […] Milton Sills, the screen’s great he-man,” Norma and Constance Talmadge, Richard Barthelmess, and Harry Langdon. Films of the recent and upcoming seasons previewed here – Sally, We Moderns, The Unguarded Hour, Men of Steel, The Beautiful City, Clothes Make the Pirate, Lunatic at Large, Kiki, and Just Suppose, only the last two of which survive – represent a good mix of the comedy and melodrama that were the staples of the studio in the late silent period." Dimitrios Latsis

CINEMA STARS, No. 16 (US 1925)
regia/dir: R. [Ralph] B. Staub. mont/ed: R.B. Staub. did/titles: Pinto Colvig. cast: Irene Rich, John Harron, James Flood, Frank Lloyd, Roy Stewart, Neely Edwards, Thelma Hill. prod: R.B. Staub, Progress Pictures, Inc. dist: Davis Distributing Division, Inc. uscita/rel: 9.1925. copia/copy: 35 mm, 1000 ft, 8′ (24 fps), imbibito/tinted; did./titles: ENG. fonte/source: UCLA Film & Television Archive, Los Angeles (Stanford Theatre Foundation Collection). Preservazione a partire da una copia nitrato 35 mm. / Preserved from a 35 mm nitrate print.

Dimitrios Latsis (GCM): "Cinema Stars was one of the many newsreel imitators of Harry Cohn’s Screen Snapshots, which had been established in 1919 to provide a “behind-the-scenes” look at film productions and the “private lives” of the stars. As the 1920s progressed, a great variety of theatrical and non-theatrical reels (whether one-offs or series) followed this template, producing program fillers while at the same time drumming up a fan base for the studios’ contract stars. While their promotional purposes, clearly staged vignettes, and repetitive narratives (stars caught “unaware” by the newsreel camera) must be taken with a grain of salt, their inherent modernism lies in their self-reflexivity: their comedic set-ups rely on the film medium itself and the careful balance between dispelling the illusion of screen magic and keeping spectators engaged by granting them privileged access into the goings-on of the industry."

"In 1925, the Davis Distributing Division of “Poverty Row” producer J. Charles Davis, who had developed a niche in extremely low-budget comedies, melodramas, and Westerns, contracted with Arthur C. Bromberg’s Baltimore-based Progress Pictures to produce a series of such reels for the States’ Rights market. Director Ralph B. Staub was a veteran of Columbia’s Screen Snapshots and of the single-reel novelty market more generally, having cranked out more than 300 such shorts throughout the 1920s. With Cinema Stars he tried to recreate that breezy, pithy, star-struck formula in a cheaper package. “If names mean dollars, here’s a Fortune,” trumpeted one ad for the series in Motion Picture News, but as can be seen in issue No. 16, “stars” was a relative term: here Irene Rich and John Harron act under the direction of James Flood in Warner Bros’ The Wife Who Wasn’t Wanted (1925; believed lost), while golfing buddies Frank Lloyd and Roy Stewart tee off in the sunshine. Neely Edwards and Thelma Hill are then seen recreating a scene from Within the Law (which Lloyd himself had adapted to the screen for First National two years earlier). While the initial order for this series of 52 reels doesn’t seem to have been renewed, it is the combination of “canned vaudeville” and scenes from now-lost features that make these curiosities an invaluable witness to entrainment history." Dimitrios Latsis

prod, dist: Blackhawk Films. copia/copy: DCP, 10’23”; did./titles: ENG. fonte/source: Academy Film Archive, Los Angeles (Film Preservation Associates Collection).

Dimitrios Latsis (GCM): "The seminal 16 mm home-market distributor Blackhawk Films produced the compilation now known under the title The Hollywood Dream Factory and How it Grew, which is dated as 1927 by the two primary archives where copies are held (UCLA and the Academy). That was the year that Blackhawk’s predecessor Eastin Pictures was founded in Galesburg, Illinois, before its move to Davenport, Iowa, in 1932 (after the advent of 16 mm sound film). Although the film was very likely assembled later, it is clear from the production shots included that it was shot in 1927. Despite the fact that the shots chosen for this one-reeler don’t differ much in content from any other run-of-the-mill Hollywood backstage tour, their arrangement, the intertitles, and the overall conceit of the film reveal the outlines of an argument about the evolution of Hollywood as both place and industry that was taking root in the mid-to-late 1920s. Hollywood’s growth is laid out chronologically, but simultaneously mapped onto the changing geography of the Los Angeles area during the first quarter of the 20th century. The Hollywood Dream Factory thus anticipates any number of later documentaries by tracking the transformation of Hollywood from “a sleepy little suburb” when the first movie companies arrived in 1907 to the movie mecca of the late 1920s, a narrative also echoed in the “Life in Hollywood” series, also released in 1927. The events evoked will be familiar to any undergraduate student of film history: the boom in real estate, the early disaffection of the locals with the “movie people,” the Edison Patent Trust as a cause for the westward move, World War I as the moment when a critical mass of studios shifted their operations from Fort Lee to L.A., the expansion of the studios toward the suburbs (Burbank, Pasadena, Glendale, Santa Monica, and Culver City) in the 1920s, and so on. All this is illustrated by “on location” shots, demonstrations of special effects (images of Mack Sennett’s cyclorama from this film were later recycled in countless documentaries), and aerial views of massive sets from films like The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923)."

"The most original insight of The Hollywood Dream Factory has to do with the succession of shots depicting the rapid growth of moviemaking into a juggernaut that impacted the very appearance of the land: from the construction of outdoor sets in the early days, to the rise of whole “cities within a city” (images of the Paramount and M-G-M studios), to the increasing use of the backlot as a stand-in for any place in the world. “How far we’ve all come!” seems to be the implication. Such boosterism is typical of the period, but the more surprising claim being staked here is for movies as more than the dominant money-making concern, as indeed the single most important factor in physically shaping the terrain of Southern California." Dimitrios Latsis

regia/dir: Earl J. Denison. photog: Donald B. Keyes. asst. dir: Vernon Keyes. prod: Earl J. Denison, Famous Players-Lasky. dist: Paramount-Famous Players-Lasky. uscita/rel: 10.1923. copia/copy: DCP, 24’53”, col. (da/from 35 mm [orig. 1836 ft], imbibito/tinted); did./titles: ENG. fonte/source: George Eastman Museum, Rochester, NY.

Dimitrios Latsis (GCM):

“A chain is as strong as its weakest link – a film is as good as its poorest splice.”

"Projectionists are rightly said to be the unsung heroes and artists of silent (and subsequent) cinema history, and films did exist showing the importance of their work. Like other shorts in this series targeting film exhibitors, distributors, or just the curious public, such films provide a glimpse of the complex dance of people, print, and machinery that went into a successful show, which would otherwise be taken for granted. Studios rarely took much care to promote the proper handling of prints, and so Paramount’s 1922 illustrated manual Proper Inspection, Splicing, and Care of Films was somewhat of an exception. Its author, Earl J. Denison of the studio’s distribution department, went on a veritable crusade, lecturing on the topic to the Society of Motion Picture Engineers, publishing an article entitled “Sprockets and Splices” in both American Cinematographer and Moving Picture World, and producing this technical two-reeler with the same title, to be distributed to film projectionists dealing with the studio’s prints."

"Denison demonstrates the perils of improper film repair using prints from recent Paramount releases, two of which can be identified: The Cheat (dir. George Fitzmaurice) and The Marriage Maker (dir. William C. de Mille), both released in 1923 and both now believed lost. He also uses the opportunity to promote Famous Players-Lasky’s new automatic splicing machine and Eastman Kodak’s waxing machine as virtual cure-alls for bad splices. With the use of slow-motion and still images, the film follows faulty splices going through different kinds of projectors, and the resulting consequences. Regardless of whether you’ve ever witnessed the amount of labor that takes place in the average projection booth or at a film conservator’s work bench, it can be downright painful to watch the slow-motion sequences where the flexible ribbon of nitrate is battered and stretched through gears, knowing full well that the very film you are currently watching is likely going through the same process at that moment. One also gains a sense of appreciation for the workmanship of these projectors, designed to keep going despite the shoddiest of patching jobs. Aesthetically the close-ups of the projector in action can be compared to the choreography of Ballet mécanique (1923), released just a few months after Sprockets and Splices."

"Maybe we should spare a thought for good ol’ celluloid, and recite along with the projectionist the famous “Film Prayer” (A. P. Hollis, ca. 1920), and Denison’s campaign for better projection will be a step closer to success: “I am celluloid, not steel; O God of the machine, have mercy….”" Dimitrios Latsis

AA: There is nothing to add to the splendid program notes of Dimitrios Latsis. Only that this is a very satisfying and rewarding program about how Hollywood has presented itself. Especially gratifying is the start with Thomas Ince whose self-portrait the first film also is: we see him at his morning exercise and beaming with his family before a demanding day at the studio, ending with a screening of the daily rushes. All staged of course, but with a vibrant feeling from the beginning of the studio system.


My Facebook capsule:

Curated by Dimitrios Latsis, we are seeing a retrospective of "film on film" at Le Giornate del Cinema Muto. From the earliest days film companies had the habit of documenting their activities and history. Today the focus was on Hollywood, and particularly exciting was the first film about the pioneering Thomas H. Ince studio. We even see Ince at his morning swim and exercise and in tender moments with his family. It was the beginning of the film industry in Hollywood in a big way, based on scientific management. It was the birth of the studio system. This show of five films ended with a Paramount instruction manual for projectionists, an illustrated lecture on the importance of correct splices. The beautiful copy was from George Eastman Museum.

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