2017 Kansas Silent Film Festival Review

Open, general discussion of silent films, personalities and history.
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2017 Kansas Silent Film Festival Review

PostTue Feb 28, 2017 9:53 pm

I’ve been attending the Kansas Silent Film Festival for a long time now, and while I love the films, the charm of this festival is always the friendly people and the incredible live music presented with each silent film. It was a special treat this year, as there were two special guests. One was Nitratevillain Ben Model, who played both the organ and the piano. The other guest was Dr. Harriet Fields, grand-daughter of W. C. Fields.

David Shepard had been a supporter of the KSFF for more than a decade, both by supplying films and by giving presentations before some films and the cinema dinner. As a tribute to his years of service, the festival presented several unannounced short films from the Flicker Alley Saved From the Flames DVD set. The first was Kiriki, Japanese Acrobats (1907), which was a French Pathé Freres short directed by Spaniard Segundo de Chomon. The film featured beautiful tints, restored by Serge and Helèn Bromberg. The film features a troupe of Japanese Acrobats who climb on each other and make some interesting contortions. The trick is that they are actually lying on a black floor and pretenting to climb on each other, allowing them to perform some remarkable-looking contortions. **½ (Music by Jeff Rapsis)

The Noon Whistle (1923) is a Stan Laurel solo short that was his first film with Jimmy Finlayson. Stan plays a worker at a lumber yard who is “thick as a brick”. He is constantly annoying Finlayson, and accidentally hitting Fin with boards and bags of concrete. This short is thin on characterization, but has some outstanding gags (some of which were repeated in Laurel & Hardy’s The Finishing Touch and Busy Bodies. *** (Piano by Jeff Rapsis)

Crazy Like a Fox (1926) stars Charley Chase and Martha Sleeper as young adults who are pledged to marry each other, but they have never met. Charley has to meet her parents, and he devises a plan to pretend that he is crazy to get out of the arrangement. A brilliant gag has Charley’s valet telling the parents to just blow a whistle and Charley will snap out of his “craziness”. Oliver Hardy, freshly shaved from appearing in Galloping Ghosts is scared of Charley, and calls out the guys from the local nut house. ***½ (Organ by Marvin Faulwell and percussion by Bob Keckceisen.)

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It’s the Old Army Game (1926) stars W. C. Fields and Louise Brooks. This is the same story as W. C. Fields sound classic It’s a Gift (1934), although this film isn’t quite as good. Many of the same sequences from It's a Gift are in this film, as the sleepless morning on the porch swing and the messy picnic on the mansion lawn. But there is no Mr. Muckle or Carl LaFong in this film. Louise Brooks is as lovely as ever, but she really doesn’t have much to do. The best sequence is at the beginning where the fire department is called to the pharmacy for a false alarm. Fields makes them all leave, because they are ogling Miss Brooks. As soon as they are gone, he accidentally starts a real fire, and has to put it out himself. *** (Music by Ben Model).

Montmartre’s Kids (1916) was a French film filmed during the war by Francis Poulbot. A group of street urchins play “war’ on the streets of Montmartre. A charming film, but there is not much story. [This film is available on the Saved From the Flames DVD.] **

The Cartoon Factory (1924) is an animated KoKo the Clown cartoon with Max Fleisher. Koko draws items that come to life. But Max draws a cartoon drawing machine that erases most of everything that Koko draws. There’s not much of a plot, but this is wildly entertaining. ***½ (Marvin Faulwell on the organ.)

The Adventures of Helen (1915/1919). The Hazards of Helen was the longest serial ever, running 119 one-reel chapters. Helen Holmes starred in the first 48 episodes, and was replaced in the later episodes by Helen Gibson when Holmes left with director J. P. McGowan. In 1919, Awyon re-edited some of the episodes into 12 two-reel episodes for re-release. In the first half, Helen is a school-teacher who is fired by the town because they don’t like her. She gets a job at the railroad and has barely started when a box-car full of explosives rolls downhill and is in a collision course with an excursion train full of schoolkids. Luckily, Helen is able to divert the boxcar and she saves the kids. In the second half of this episode, she applies to work at the railroad as a telegraph operator, but one of the older supervisors is furious that she was hired. An engineer is knocked off a train, and there is a runaway engine headed for another train. As soon as Helen gets the telegraph message, she borrows a motorcycle and rides down the track to warn the on-coming train. She is even knocked into a river when a drawbridge goes up to let a ship through. I had a couple of people tell me that they thought that this was a thrilling episode. *** (Organ by Marvin Faulwell.)

The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926) is a cut-out silhouette animation film by German Lotte Reiniger. It is frankly amazing how expressive the silhouettes can be even though we can’t really see their faces. The film has beautiful color. It is a fairy tale where an evil magician, sends Achmed away on a flying unicorn so that the magician can steal the beautiful Princess Peri Banu. She is then imprisoned on an island and guarded by demons. Achmed has to enlist the help of Aladdin and his lamp to rescue the princess. This is an amazing film, like nothing that you have seen before. ***½ (Jeff Rapsis played an outstanding score.)

The Boat is one of Buster Keaton’s best shorts. Buster’s project is a boat named the “Damfino”. This film is one of the few times that he not only has a wife, but two boy children. It is full of inventive gags, such as when the boat is launched and it sinks like a rock. There is an amazing set that can turn 360 degrees to simulate the boat turning over and over. **** (Organ by Marvin Faulwell.)

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I was most anxious to see Barbed Wire (1927) with Pola Negri, and it did not disappoint. Pola plays a French farm woman who sees her brother leave for the front when World War I breaks out. The French Army confiscates part of her farm for a prison camp. Clive Brook is a captured German soldier who speaks French because he had worked in Paris. Clyde Cook provides nice comic relief as a German soldier who tries his darndest to get Negri to smile. An attraction develops between the two, but obviously a French/German romance is taboo during the war. When a French officer tries to rape Negri, but Brook protects her. The officer accuses Brook of escaping, and he is put on trial. The film shows the raw hatred of the French and German people, even after the war is over. Excellent performances by Negri and Brook.(Music by Marvin Faulwell and Bob Keckeisen.) ****

The Cardinal’s Conspiracy (1909) was an early D. W. Griffith film starring Florence Lawrence. Apparently the print was from the original negative at the New York Museum of Modern Art, because it was missing the titles and inserts, but there were flash frames indicating where these go. Add to that the fact that Griffith shot it all in long shot, and it was really difficult to tell what was going on. A royal woman refuses to be married off to a nobleman. With some help from the Cardinal, the nobleman shaves off his beard and changes clothes and becomes a musketeer to win her hand. * (Piano by Jeff Rapsis)

Why Change Your Wife? (1920) is a silly but charming Cecil B. DeMille light comedy about marriage and divorce. Thomas Meighan is bored with his marriage to Gloria Swanson, who is always trying to “improve” him. He is embarrassed shopping for lingerie, and model Bebe Daniels decides to pursue him. Swanson refuses to wear her gift, and wants Meighan to attend a boring recital. Meghan gets tickets to a play, but Swanson won’t go, so he asks Bebe Daniels instead. So Swanson divorces him, and he is soon married to Bebe. Swanson soon realizes that she still loves him, and the competition is on! *** (Music by Ben Model).

Dr. Harriet Fields is the sweetest lady. She spoke before It’s the Old Army Game and did a Q&A after So’s Your Old Man. During the Cinema Dinner, she showed some W. C. Fields Clips from the sound films The Pharmacist and You’re Telling Me so that we could compare them to It’s the Old Army Game and So’s Your Old Man. She carries around a copy of Ronald Fields’ W. C. Fields book that she has tabbed and indexed so that she can find things quickly. (She is a nurse Dr., and has done a lot of humanitarian work in Africa.)

Technicolor Fashion Parade (1927) caused a lot of “ooohs” and “aaahs” from the ladies in the audience. There is no story, it’s basically several Hollywood stars like Raquel Torres and Laura La Plante wearing 1927 fashions in color. Because this is two-color Technicolor, their dresses and hats are mostly red and green. Even if you were not interested in the fashions, it was quite startling to see these actresses in color. [This film is available on the Saved From the Flames DVD.] ***


Be Reasonable (1921) is a better than usual Mack Sennett comedy starring Billy Bevan. Billy has his eye on a cute lady at the beach, so he buys a pearl necklace on a payment plan. Unfortunately, a burly lifeguard (Eddie Gribbon) quickly steals the lady’s affections. To make things worse for Billy, some collections agents want a payment or the pearls, and now Billy has neither. Billy resorts to stealing the necklace from her apartment as she sleeps, with pillows on his feet! He is quickly discovered, and the rest of the film is the usual Keystone Kop chase. **½ (Music by Jeff Rapsis)

Maid in Morocco (1925) stars Lupino Lane as a tourist in a Middle Eastern country that is blithely unaware that the local Arabs want to kill him. Lane’s brother Wallace Lupino is unrecognizable as the local Caliph who has a huge harem of women, and he wants to add Lupino’s wife. The rest of the film is a chase around the palace. Lane does some incredible stunts and I’m not really sure how he ran around the inside of an arched doorway. *** (Music by Ben Model)

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So’s Your Old Man (1926) is the film that was remade as You’re Telling Me (1934). It is pretty much the same film as the latter, only silent and with different actors. In this film his invention is a shatter-proof windshield. In the latter, it is a puncture-proof tire. The golf scene is funnier in the latter film, as in the silent film we can’t hear all the annoying noises that the caddy makes. Alice Joyce is both beautiful and sweet and the princess that Fields unknowingly meets on the train. Charles Buddy Rogers has a small part as Fields’ daughter’s boyfriend. This was one of the highlights of the festival. **** (Music by Marvin Faulwell and Bob Keckeisen.)
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Re: 2017 Kansas Silent Film Festival Review

PostTue Feb 28, 2017 11:29 pm

Bruce, great to see you and Jim once again at the Kansas Silent Film Festival. And thanks for your kind words about the score for 'Achmed.' It's a great film for music and I'm so glad what I came up with seemed to please so many in attendance. See you next time, if not before!
Jeff Rapsis
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Re: 2017 Kansas Silent Film Festival Review

PostTue Mar 07, 2017 6:56 am

Excellent recap, Bruce! I agree with your summary, especially with your comment about So’s Your Old Man being one of the highlights of the festival! I also really enjoyed The Hazards of Helen. It was fun and thrilling, leaving me excited to see more episodes.

The good folks at the Kansas Silent Film Festival work hard to put together a line-up of good films and quality talent. Jeff, Martin, and Bob were brilliant as always, and it was great to have an opportunity to hear Ben Model perform live.

Bruce, Jim, and Jeff it was great seeing you again and I look forward to enjoying the festival with you again next year!

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