Ford’s “Upstream” at AMPAS

John Ford’s rediscovered 1927 “Upstream” will have its American re-premiere at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science’s Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Los Angeles Wednesday night, so I’ve set aside this space for reactions from those lucky enough to be in attendance. Masterpiece, minor footnote, or (most likely), something in between? Please share your thoughts.

Here’s the title card for “Strong Boy,” a still-missing Ford feature from 1929. The trailer was also found in the New Zealand archive that yielded “Upstream,” and was screened along with it at Wednesday’s presentation.

36 comments to Ford’s “Upstream” at AMPAS

  • I saw a press preview of UPSTREAM yesterday at AMPAS. It’s an entertaining movie, full of charming performances, but my initial thought is that any claims of Murnau’s influence are probably exaggerated; only a handful of shots seem particularly expressionist or even atypical of Hollywood style at the time. I know Ford shot MOTHER MACHEE in September ’26 but it wasn’t released until ’28, and SUNRISE was in production from August ’26 to February ’27. Does anyone know when UPSTREAM was actually filmed?

  • Tom Brueggemann

    Just got back – the fullest house I’ve ever seen for a screening at the Academy theatre (I usually go to less than half-filmed foreign committee screenings with a member friend).

    The musical presentation – a three-piece group which provided both very appropriate and imaginative music plus bonus audio effects – was one of the best I’ve seen for a silent film event. I’d expect their score will be the one used in wider circulation.

    The film? Very entertaining, very funny/droll on the surface, great intertitles (how much Ford had to do with I have no idea).

    These are scattered initial reactions; I need to place the film in context of Ford films of the era, and then not really by the most likely to provide any sort of profound criticism, but here goes:

    1) Murnau effects – this was release in early 1927, so filmed late 1926 – any Sunrise influence would be from his possibly visiting the set and maybe seeing some rushes (it seems there could have been some parallel shooting going on, though Sunrise was not released for another 10 months.
    As Doug mentioned, one would need to strain (or at least I do) to find influences. The shots of the Hamlet set in London are quite atmospheric, far beyond what one usually sees in filming of theatre scenes – lots of fog, couple actors dimly scene in the haze. Also one beautiful shot of a cameraman taking a wedding photo and the smoke from the flash dissolving into an entering central character, very nicely framed, but again, likely has antecedents within Ford.

    2) For me far more interesting is the foregrounding of something very common in Ford but not that much commented on. Just as Hitchcock had his fixation on blonde women, Ford throughout his career cast one kind of male actor over and over again – very tall (there is no one who so consistently cast actors over 6 feet, the exception even more then than now), lean, ruggedly handsome, usually quite masculine but not without some hint of refinement.
    The two lead actors here – the little known Earle Fox and better known Grant Withers – were 6’2 and 6’3 respectively. And both are strikingly similar looking (both likely playing around the same age, mid 20s perhaps, though Fox surprisingly was 40 already; Withers, 24). Both actors, as one finds so often with Ford, were called back for roles of various size in later Ford films, Fox much more often – once he found an actor of a type he liked, he seemed to like him around later in some form.

    3) The story is more or less a love triangle, but it one of the weirder ones you’ll ever see. The comedy of the film sort of disguises the strangeness, which basically comes from both leads – one a knife-thrower of middling talent, the other a member of a famous acting family whose name leads to his being cast as Hamlet and brought to London from New York – being even for Ford films having an obtuseness or shyness or just plain lack of instinct for courting that on reflection seems to have some significance. The poor girl in the middle – who early on is actually costumed in something like a man’s shirt, coat and tie – is more than an afterthought, but she seems to be the only one of the three throughout most of the film who sort of gets what is supposed to go on between men and women.

    4) Strong sense of community – the majority of the film takes places at a rundown New York actors’ boarding house. The group and the house have its rules, which as so often happens in Ford films serve as both a starting point for a code of behavior but also seem to have a common understanding of right and wrong.

    5) Great depth of characterization – the film is only about an hour, but I could probably give several minutes detail of description for about 10 characters.

    6) Ford as mentor, particularly for throughout his career of a large group of actors, many of whom owed their career to him, is one of the strong undercurrents of his biography. So that one character serves in part as mentor for the not-so-good actor with the famous name does stand out as an element. When the actor is panicking before his opening in London, there is crosscutting between New York and London – the actor calls out to his mentor (one of the other tenants at the boardinghouse) for help, and he appears to him on screen giving him support. The girl is praying for him; but she makes no appearance in the actor’s thoughts. So anyway, mentor is seen as far more important than any female muse. (And the mentor’s ultimate reaction to his pupil also is of note).

    7) The crosscutting between NY and London, though not widespread, is certainly also unusual – it’s one of those things without ever really thinking about it seems like a device not too often done in any period of movies, much less a pretty simple somewhat routine late 1920s production. Yet it comes across without any awkwardness or seeming gimmicky

    Anyway, some impressions, most of which will make a lot more sense when more people get a chance to see this. I eagerly look forward to others.

  • Great observations, Tom, you’re definitely right about the Fordian sense of community. I was unfamiliar with the cast, but it did seem like a very strong collection of character actors. The flashbulbs are used expressionistically as you note, as is the double-exposed clapping audience, and the psychological projection of the mentor’s ghost (a kind of Hamlet-esque touch as well). But these are really only brief moments in the film.

  • Peter Henne

    There are numerous theatrical characters on the edges of Ford’s films, as well as many characters aping theatrical gestures, and, in the playful spirit of the film, UPSTREAM struck me as if it were a place where these margins could be brought together and comingle, bristling upon contact as one might expect, yet woven together into a cohesive, entertaining and clever film. I enjoyed the visual jokes in the film, such as a mock-newsreel point of view. I wonder if Ford had anything to do with a hilarious intertitle staggered into two parts, spoken in a drunken stupor to an obnoxious actor, “How are you doing ham” followed by “let?” That sure brought on the laughs at the Academy, as did many fine moments. Like Doug just said, UPSTREAM is another of Ford’s communal films; I always come away from these reminded of the sharp essential differences in American life and how we work together on so many levels anyway (which is not to say anything insipid like the left and right just need to give each other a hug to work things out). For the life of me, I don’t see the hand of Murnau upon Ford in this film, neither in lighting or composition, except for that brief, operatic moment involving the flash bulbs which Tom mentioned, but the superimposition while calling on inspiration has more to do with traditional pictorial depictions of “Hamlet” than anything else. The musical accompaniment was fresh and very good and I could go for this score becoming permanently attached to the film.

    Barry Putterman, if only you had worn your neon-signed hat spelling out your name, I would have been glad to greet you at the screening.

  • Tom Brueggemann

    My morning-after thoughts on the film indeed more and more are of the characterizations of the theatre/vaudeville players, and how, both in a broad sense of colorful types and more specifically actors/players who often found a part of Ford’s, particularly in the 1930s, Upstream seems to foreground them to a greater extent than most of the other instances. He has real affection for them; one structural problem for me with the film is that the supporting characters actually are possibly more interesting than the lead ones.

  • Tom Brueggemann

    This may have been known before, but Sid Ganis (AMPAS exec, past president) said that the films will eventually be webstreamed (not sure if he meant all – Fox had their archivist present; at some level I’d prefer them to show enough interest to make this a DVD and try to make money on it.

    Did any of those attending stick around for the panel discussion on preservation? I had to leave right away.

  • Peter Henne

    Tom, The panel was relatively brief and went over the history of discovering the American films, the Ford in particular, in the New Zealand archive. Schawn Belston from Fox sounded confident that UPSTREAM and some other Fords that were not released in the box set would be released on DVD. But the same panel also talked about making the recovered films available online. Several of the films, I believe seven, were still under copyright protection.

  • Tom Brueggemann

    Thanks Peter

    For the non-LA or visiting folks, did they mention other upcoming screenings?
    (I wouldn’t be surprised if this is shown in Telluride, although they might have vetoed it without getting the first US showing).

    ADDED: Telluride schedule just announced, Upstream not included, although they mentioned there will be a couple of last minute additions (although the implication is that these would be new or work-in-progress films).

  • No, “Upstream” won’t be showing in Telluride: the retrospective titles — none too exciting — are “Brandy in the Wilderness” by Stanton Kaye, the 1927 “Chicago” (which Telluride is bluntly attributing to Cecil B. DeMille rather than Frank Urson), Valerio Zurlini’s wonderful but widely available “The Girl with the Suitcase,” Flahtery’s “Moana,” Peter Weir’s “The Plumber” and Mario Camerini’s “Rotaie,” a 1930 film that’s been touted as another precursor to Neo-Realism. The entire line-up has been posted on IndieWire.

  • Junko

    I would like to see someday.

  • Tom Brueggemann

    One anomaly in the film, hardly unknown in Ford’s work, but still unusual, is that it is set in a big city (or two actually). This was a period when Ford did use urban settings – Riley the Cop and Up the River for two (not sure if either was specifically set in NYC). But the film barely touches on exteriors or placing it in NY or London apart from those being the logical centers for actors.

    The ending does show the front of the boardinghouse for a significant plot element, there is a brief stock shot of Times Square and surrounding theatres, probably one or two others, but this is an unusually interior film by Ford for whatever reason(s).

  • Blake Lucas

    I enjoyed UPSTREAM tremendously. Some of my responses have already been said by others so won’t belabor the points too much about how affectionate Ford is in observing a community in general and how affectionate he also is about theatrical types, really not less than directors as different as Renoir or Cukor. I sometimes think that some of his characters in other films, even when they are not literally actors, are theatrical enough that maybe they missed their calling—like some of those politicians, cavalry sergeants and bartenders!

    I agree with what Tom said earlier (point 5) in his first post about how well-developed all these characters are for a film of this length. One really comes to feel one knows them and certainly enjoys them all. But I don’t agree the supporting characters are better. Nancy Nash is a captivating heroine, and I found Earle Foxe absolutely hilarious in the leading role–he was so enjoyable, and it was wonderfully unexpected to see him as the one person who stayed at the table eating dinner oblivious to the big theatrical producer, only to become an egomaniac later. The story was satisfying in terms of what happened to him and the others but I can’t say I ever came to dislike Brasingham. And yet, the most serious weight in the movie (and Ford, even then, could effortlessly shift tones from comedic and back again) came with the mentor (Emile Chautard), a moving character, beautifully played and it’s the largest part in which I’ve seen Chautard.

    Ford’s love and feeling for the communal is a wonderful thing, but this modest film reminded me of something I feel is important–because it’s emphasized so much here. Communities are made up of individuals, with their own intimate feelings, bravado, fears, personal journeys–he doesn’t neglect to observe this even when he is portraying the community in a tapestry like way, as in the early scenes and especially a wonderful camera movement along the dinner table where each of the characters is observed on his or her own for a moment. Walking out of the movie, I thought of “A Minute’s Wait” in THE RISING OF THE MOON, another comedy where there is a tapestry of a little community around that railway station and an even greater number of individualized characters. That too is a comedy like this, and one I really love–as late Ford in effortless command it’s more thoroughly orchestrated than this is I guess, but this already had a lot of that feeling.

    I agree that there is little that is expressionistic in the film, or anything that evokes Murnau except perhaps just fleetingly, and as my reaction shows this neither disappoints me, nor do I feel that those few more expressionistic and flamboyant moments are the standout things in the film. The characters and their interaction stand out most and this extends to Ford’s visual ideas too. It seemed to me he saved his most beautiful boarding house compositions for when the most people are together, as when they are singing “Auld Lang Syne” when Brasingham leaves for London.

    The effect of Murnau on Ford was important, but no more than Griffith, and I don’t see it as a major issue of how much it shows in any given film. Ford was evolving as his own artist from the beginning, but plainly would get some new inspiration he would integrate at times, and this happened with Murnau but goes deeper than some expressionistic devices and more into a profound sense of time and space that they share. I don’t attach any greater significance to FOUR SONS, MOTHER MACHREE, or HANGMAN’S HOUSE (even though I especially like the last of these) than other earlier Ford silents. As Ford’s career goes on, one might see a more “expressionistic” element coming along at any time, not just in obvious cases like THE INFORMER or THE LONG VOYAGE HOME, but in moments of any given Western or in key moments, especially in the last reel, of his final work 7 WOMEN. It’s certainly reasonable to think of Murnau in these moments, at least in terms of an aesthetic observation, but perhaps more in the context of something Ford had long ago absorbed into his own expressive arsenal, which has so many elements as well as the more evidently conscious artistic touches.

    So, for me, “something in between” maybe describes it best, but with Ford this describes so many films I love that I believe would be burdened by calling them masterpieces and yet they are so much better than most films. I don’t know what a “minor footnote” for Ford would be, except maybe something like doing a second unit shot or two for HONDO or the fact his production company made MIGHTY JOE YOUNG. Of his own films, even the relatively few negligible, failed or resolutely slight ones have something interesting about them and are worth seeing more than once. But I must say I loved this one and it will be a pleasure to see again.

    To conclude, for those who were not there (those who were have already read this in the program I’m sure), here’s the film’s great cinematographer Charles G. Clarke quoted from his memoir HIGHLIGHTS AND SHADOWS: THE MEMOIRS OF A HOLLYWOOD CAMERAMAN. I know stories like this have been told many a time about the making of Ford films but personally I have never tired of them and always enjoy them so assume others do too.

    “I could see no relationship between the different scenes we would be filming and often wondered when we would settle down and start making the picture. After about three weeks of this sort of casual filmmaking, the unit manager announced, ‘The picture if finished’…The shock of this floored me, for I could see no rhyme or reason in what we had been filming…To my amazement it all went together and was quite a good picture. What I did not realize then was that John Ford edited his picture as he directed it, and that his casual manner was only a cover for the actual planning and thought that lay behind his direction all along.”

  • Tom Brueggemann

    Blake -

    Thanks for your thorough and insightful analysis.

    Not sure if the comment was related to my own, but I don’t think Ford builds up the supporting characters at the expense of the three leads. As related to my other comments about the two male leads, I think that is where Ford wanted to place his major focus and, though just guess work on my part, is where his passion in making the film came from (Nash was decent, but I found her role a bit underwritten and of less interest to Ford than the two male leads, and even some of the supporting characters).

  • Saw UPSTREAM last night and am pleased to report it is a wonderful film. Let me just put it this way: I haven’t seen a packed audience react like that to any film this year – how an 83 year old film with no sound can surpass anything made today is just remarkable. I am a huge fan of silent films and this one was a sharp, witty, hilarious and occassionally touching surprise.

    As far as being influenced by Murnau specifically, no I don’t think so. There are a few double exposure effects and a handful of gorgeous tracking shots, but everyone was doing that by 1927. It’s possible but I just don’t think so. The most astonishing thing I’ve noticed, as an editor, is that the cutting of UPSTREAM is perfectly sound with modern film editing. By 1927 they had already figured it out, figured out a language of cutting images together on film.

  • Tom Brueggemann

    Sean is correct – the reaction was very enthusiastic, highly excited before hand. I could have done without the idiot taking flash shots of titles (there was a trailer for Strong Boy and a Vitagraph 1912 semi-western short shot in the Santa Monica Mountains before).

    Did anyone see any noteables there – Dan Ford, John’s grandson and biographer was introduced. I expected to hear Peter Bogdanovich speak, but he didn’t, nor any other Ford scholar. I was sitting toward the back and came through the will-call door, and most of the crowd was already seated. (Academy members of course had priority, and I assume there were quite a few there).

  • haice

    I’m curious if there seems to be little influence of Murnau on Ford circa 1926 with this and other films—does the fact he waited 16 years to duplicate a sequence from Murnau’s 1922 PHANTOM in THE INFORMER (where McLaughlin hallucinates two woman as one) seem more significant?

  • Peter Henne

    Sean, That’s a fascinating comment, because I was thinking about how intertitles were left out at times to let the audience imagine spoken dialogue; thus cuts were made as though sound were present. I wonder if that is what you mean where you write, “The most astonishing thing I’ve noticed, as an editor, is that the cutting of UPSTREAM is perfectly sound with modern film editing.” UPSTREAM is not the only silent-era film to encourage hearing noises in the minds of the viewers, nonetheless it does that very effectively. This is appropriate for an ensemble piece that portrays a group of chatty actors.

    Tom, I moved to the back myself, after the trailer, because the video camera for recording the panel stayed up during the screenings and was blocking my line of sight. So I probably didn’t see any more in the audience than you did.

    I had no idea so many people would turn up for a silent John Ford comedy. Thanks to Dave K. for posting the event information here.

  • I was at the screening as well, and am so glad I attended. I’m essentially in agreement with everyone’s feelings here about the film. One of the things that the panelists mentioned was the good condition the film was still in, with the notable exception of a wide shot of New York that had been badly damaged. But, as one of the panelists pointed out, the very noticeable decay in those frames did not really detract from the viewing experience of that scene, and many in the audience noted their agreement audibly. As was mentioned last night during the discussion, the damage on the frame actually helps one appreciate the film all the more, both as something that could be rescued and something that comes directly from a vital era in filmmaking. Until last night, I had no experience seeing films at the AMPAS theater, but even then I was impressed by the turn-out. It was a packed house, and there was a palpable buzz in the room.

  • Stephen Bowie

    Happy to see everyone else enthused about the Ford, but after reading about it in LA WEEKLY’s terrific Stanton Kaye profile a couple of years back, I hope that BRANDY IN THE WILDERNESS makes its way to NYC….

  • “Brandy in the Wilderness” has already played New York, Stephen, at “a nonprofit movie club open to the public and specializing in independent, non-theatrical fare” called Film Forum, according to its 1971 New York Times review.

  • Steve Elworth

    Dave K, is that the first year of Film Forum on the UWS? Wow and it was distributed by New Line??? I think Stephen meant shown in NYC 39 years later.

  • Jim Gerow

    Speaking of that “nonprofit movie club open to the public and specializing in independent, non-theatrical fare,” I saw William Castle’s delightful and very rare B noir WHEN STRANGERS MARRY, in a heavily spliced but serviceable print, last night at Film Forum. And I was impressed to spot Peter Bogdanovich at a recent Film Forum screening of Hitchcock’s 3D version of DIAL M FOR MURDER.

  • Michael, you bring up an important point about film damage and the way we perceive it. I’d much rather see decay or scratches on a film print than digital noise reduction or contrast boosting; film is a physical object, and I don’t find evidence of that very distracting. I recently went to a symposium on film restoration, and there is an obsession today for digital restorers to take out the “jitter” in films, making them strangely, perfectly still in a way that’s unnatural; it’s a lively, shuttered, 19th century medium with innate jitter! I know of one restorationist who actually put jitter back into the digitally-remade credit sequence so that it would look like film.

    Dave, I was amazed to hear from Annette Melville that the NFPF only has a staff of four people. It’s amazing the work they do with such meager resources.

  • Hey Peter, thanks, yes I meant that but also that each shot cut smoothly to the next – for example, when a character sitting down in close up begins to stand up, it cut beautifully and smoothly to a long shot of the character completing the movement of standing up, just as you would see in a film now or should see in a film now, but digital cutting has ruined the language of film, as sound did back in 27-29. I would like to believe that the industry will recover from the inconvenient convenience of digital editing and that films will be put together smoothly and creatively again.

    Also, re: language of film, I meant certain use of images as well, like the double exposed hands clapping, which itself conveys to the audience that the audience applause in the film is enthusiastic and loud. It is literally visible sound. I call this Visual Poetry. Another example, in Murnau’s CITY GIRL, we see a shot of the farmer cutting a loaf of homemade bread, bread made from the very wheat he is growing, that dissolves to a bread slicing machine in Chicago that is pumping out an entire loaf of surgically cut white bread – not only do these images illustrate the difference between city and country, but it transitions us from the country to the city, using an important visual element in the film. A little later, Kate, the waitress and heroine, sees a calendar with an impressionistic painting of sheep grazing in a meadow beneath a tree. The shot dissolves in closer, filling the entire frame with the painting so that we no longer see any of the calendar; this conveys to the audience, on a visual level, Kate’s overwhelming longing to live in the country.

    There are countless other examples of Visual Poetry, even in recent films. One that no one ever catches, and that I only caught after repeated viewings, is in James Ivory’s HOWARDS END. Margaret (Emma Thompson) walks up to Henry Wilcox (Anthony Hopkins) in a hospital ward, awaiting news on the condition of his wife, Ruth (Vanessa Redgrave). Margaret puts her hand on Henry’s shoulder, he starts and begins to get up, she insists that he remain in his chair, then reaches down and takes his hand… hold for a beat, then cut to a nurse taking Ruth’s weakened hand and placing it on a notepad where she begins to write the unofficial legacy leaving her childhood home, Howards End, to Margaret, her friend. This cut is astonishing in that the entirety of the film is encompassed within it – Margaret’s and Henry’s clasped hands cut to Ruth’s hand leaving her house to Margaret, who in time will also be Henry’s second wife after Ruth dies. It is prophetic and haunting. I know the editor of HOWARDS END and finally got round to asking him about that cut, if it was intentional. His reply, “Of course, that’s the oldest trick in the book!”

    Anyway, I could go on but must save some surprises for my book on Visual Poetry. :)

  • Doug, I fully agree. Even sitting there watching UPSTREAM I was thinking, please God, when this gets to blu-ray, don’t let them “repair” the damage in the film, let it run as is, warts and all. I hate grain scrubbing, and even worse, cut and paste damage repair. I’d rather see the print as it survived.

  • As we move into an increasingly digitized world, it’s nice to have reminders that film is indeed a physical object, and the screening of Upstream was one such reminder. Most of the print looked pretty good, although in addition to the damaged shot of New York, I can recall an interior shot (with a gold/yellow tint) that had, for lack of a better term, splotches on the left side of the frame. I personally don’t know enough about film restoration to know if that kind of damage can be eliminated altogether when the film is digitized for DVD/Blu-Ray, but like Sean and Doug I wouldn’t mind if they just left it in. This is one reason why I appreciated the panelists’ comment about how some of the damage increases our appreciation of the film itself — I think by implication there was a statement being made about the medium of film.

  • Tom Brueggemann

    Susan King of the LA Times had a prominent piece in today’s Calendar section -

    here’s the link, but I think they are subscriber restricted:

    http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/news/la-et-ford-film-20100903,0,6158253,print.story

    She writes both about the boistrous response to the film from the full house, and doesn’t do a bad job of capturing the essense of the film as a fun comedy not automatically associated with Ford’s work (she likely hasn’t seen the Will Rogers films or many of Ford’s many other comedic efforts). In any event, it was decent attention which hopefully inspires those with the power to promote future preservation or contribute to the cause to think it is a way to get media attention.

  • Given that the Times just ran an article twice as long comparing Antonioni’s LE AMICHE to SEX AND THE CITY, I’m surprised it deemed the event newsworthy at all.

  • Tom Brueggemann

    I thought the article was solid and a net plus.

    And it is hardly surprising that it ran – this was an Academy event, with an assist from the also local UCLA, so it had pretty substantial bona fides before even getting into it being a John Ford film, which does still mean something (even if they did nothing more than passing it by Kenny Turan for his reaction).

  • Barry Putterman

    Well, back in New York now. And after checking to find that Casey the cat remains in fine fettle, power has been restored in my building, and the Yankees are still in first place, I return here to provide the drizzle previously promised.

    Everybody here has pretty well covered the main points so I will only comment around the margins. Not only do we get the Hamlet joke at the Earl Foxe character’s expense as previously noted, but the last part of his name is “ham” as well. And seeing as how this character is described as the latest member of a distinguished acting dynasty, makes his mark in “Hamlet,” and mentions more than once that his public wants to see him photographed in profile, one wonders how the contemporary audience was meant to understand the character in relation to John Barrymore. Whatever his personal foibles, Barrymore was certainly not considered to a fraudulent or incompetent actor by the public or his peers at that time.

    UPSTREAM would also make an interesting compare/contrast with one of tis year’s Cinecon offerings, Wellman’s YOU NEVER KNOW WOMEN from 1926. This concerns doings within a touring Russian theatrical troupe in which knife thrower/illusionist Clive Brook loves colleague Florence Vidor from afar. The third leg of the triangle is not a member of the troupe, but since he is played by Lowell Sherman, he is actually the most theatrical character in the film.

    Speaking of Cinecon, I want to offer a shout out to Gregg Rickman since the most eye-opening film on the schedule was George Melford’s TENNESSEE’S PARDNER, which struck me as an extraordinarily advanced film for 1916. Melford seems to have already mastered the uncluttered expressive use of western landscape to create complex narrative momentum, including some shots of riders on a far mountain silhouetted on the horizon of the sort later embraced by our subject of the moment. I don’t know what else exists of his silent work, but Melford certainly appears to be somebody worth investigating.

    On a social note, I will say to Peter that it was all I could manage to actually figure out how to get to the Goldwyn Theater in time for the film. Luckily, I ran into a mutual friend of Dave and myself (I speak of Dennis Delrogh) and stuck pretty close to him, since he kindly offered me a ride back to my hotel However, Blake now knows what I look like, since we met up at Cinecon to see Hathaway’s FROM HELL TO TEXAS (with Don Murray doing a Q&A after the film). So maybe a physical description will now circulate and I will be recognizable in the future. Although, I should point out that, like Brasingham, my public prefers to see me in profile. Well, truth be told, they ever more prefer to see me from the rear.

  • Thanks, Barry! Interesting observation about Melford. I don’t know much of his work apart from the Valentino films, the Spanish “Dracula” and “East of Borneo” — the Universal B that Joseph Cornell turned into “Rose Hobart” — but would be curious to see more. One of the many frustrating facts about film history is how one of the most intensely creative periods — between 1915 and 1920 — is also one of the most poorly preserved.

  • Gregg Rickman

    Barry, just noticed your comment. Thanks! Would have loved to have seen TENNESSEE’S PARTNER (let alone UPSTREAM). Something tells me I’m more likely to get to see UPSTREAM
    than the Melford. Dave, I agree that the period 1915-20 is a very rich one, and hard to see films from.

    Barry, what else did you see at Cinecon of note? I’m sure some of the other posters here were able to catch a few rareties.

  • Barry Putterman

    Gregg, TENNESSEE’S PARDNER was from The Library of Congress. And, if the Silent Film Festival which you attend has dealings with them, I would urge them to program it next year. Failing that, one can always take a personal trip to the Library of Congress.

    Other silents which ran at Cinecon this year included:

    A PAIR OF SILK STOCKINGS (1918) – a comedy of manners starring Constance Talmadge and the other Harrison Ford which was very well played and had extremely witty intertitles.

    THE CASE OF BECKY (1915) – which had Blanche Sweet, Theodore Roberts, stage hypnotism, split personality and experimental medical research and still managed to be pretty bad. However, it was of some interest on the historical and sociological levels.

    DOWN ON THE FARM (1920) – early Sennett feature starring Louise Fazenda that had a lot of welcome hamming from Jimmy Finlayson.

    THE BREAKING POINT (1924) – the kind of ludicrous melodrama which needed a Minnelli or a Sirk or a Sternberg to tweak it towards farce or absurdist tragedy but recieved a stylish but straight faced presentation from Herbert Brenon. Blake also saw this one and might want to offer a counter argument. By the way, this film HASN’T cleared rights problems with the Hemingway estate and won’t be on DVD any time soon.

    There was also the early Wellman (YOU NEVER KNOW WOMEN) which I mentioned previously, an early Capra (THE WAY OF THE STRONG) and a William S. Hart (THE TESTING BLOCK). Oh, and some surviving footage from FLAMING YOUTH and a 1914 Keystone which had Chaplin in a supporting role (THE THIEF CATCHER).

    They showed some talkies as well.

  • Gregg Rickman

    Barry, one of the talkies they showed was Alfred Santell’s THE SEA WOLF (1930), which might interest Dave. (Dave wrote favorably on Santell and his INTERNES CAN’T TAKE MONEY a few months ago.) The good folk over at Nitrateville, in their Cinecon comments, felt it too dark and in need of comic relief, but it’s very good in my view, a compellingly grim handling of the material, very fluid for an early talkie, and “full of the bold, fluid camera movements that characterize INTERNES CAN’T TAKE MONEY,” as Dave wrote here in a post on SOB SISTER last May 4 (http://www.davekehr.com/?p=572#comments). I was impressed with the silent star Milton Sills (in his last film) and his bold, barking Wolf Larsen, and also with the young lovers (Raymond Hackett and Jane Keith), who step out of a Sternbergian waterfront in the film’s opening scenes. Keith’s Evelyn Brent-like fatalism was particularly appealing.

  • Barry Putterman

    Gregg, I’ll second all that you say about THE SEA WOLF. And you can tell the good folks over at Nitrateville that we can provide them with all of the comic relief they can handle right here on this site; some films not only can get along without it, but would have their tone drastically undermined by its inclusion. If the makers of THE SEA WOLF felt that they needed comic relief in the film, they would have just let Nat Pendleton do it.

    I will admit that I hope to have another opportunity to see THE SEA WOLF some time soon. It came in a spot on marathon Saturday (I saw EVERYTHING they showed that day) where my reflexes were a bit diminished. Nevertheless, I kept thinking that if Warners had gotten just a smidge of the atmosphere this film provided into their 1930 MOBY DICK, they might have had something approaching a movie.

  • Gregg Rickman

    That’s right, Nat Pendleton was in it, as a cruel sidekick to Wolf Larsen. I’d forgotten. And there was another “comedy relief” character, the old cook, whose feet get chewed off by a shark….