Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Robber (2010)


(A talkie, courtesy of TIFF Bell Lightbox, in Toronto)

How maddening must it be to do time? How repetitive, how boring, even for a patient prisoner, dedicated to reform? Every day the same; every day passing in succession, while outside, things are moving on, and you know it. Would you fear the day you finally go free, dropped back into a world so far ahead of where you last remembered it?

The Robber (Der Räuber) is about a man who could handle this better than most. Johann Rettenberger is a convict at the end of a six-year prison term in an Austrian lockup. He has spent, you can bet, all 2,190 of those days running. He runs on a treadmill in his cell; in circle after circle around the prison yard—he’d probably jog on the spot if he had no other choice. His quarters are lined with white sneakers. “Training?” his parole officer asks. “I never stopped,” he replies.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Scenes from a Separated Life (2010)


Scenes from a Separated Life is an erotic film. Metaphorically, and nearly literally, its minute-worth of images imply sex—sex happening, or having happened, or possibly about to. Nothing is certain though, not even the relationship between the couple onscreen. They are together because the film puts them together, but if they’re lovers, or ever were, it’s because we’ve imagined them to be.

Imagination is a powerful thing.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Trees Underfoot


Good afternoon from the freezer that is Toronto. Yesterday I spent a few minutes taking pics in Oriole Park, one of the city's many green (and yesterday, white) spaces. This photo, depicting a pool of water in that park, seemed like it had enough crossover appeal for Silent Volume, so here it is. I was reminded of a Daguerreotype.

For more of my photos, please visit and bookmark my other blog, Balcony Shots.

~Chris

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Poor Little Rich Girl (1917)


The Poor Little Rich Girl is the last of four Mary Pickford films being screened as part of “Mary Pickford and the Invention of the Movie Star,” an exhibit dedicated to the silent icon (and Toronto native), currently running at Toronto’s TIFF Bell Lightbox. The exhibit is located on the fourth floor of the Lightbox, in the new Canadian Film Gallery, and features some 300 items, including photographs, posters, memorabilia, postcards, and products endorsed by Pickford, assembled over a 30-year period by private collector Rob Brooks. It’s curated by Sylvia Frank, Director of the Toronto International Film Festival’s Film Reference Library and Special Collections.

TIFF Bell Lightbox screens The Poor Little Rich Girl this Sunday, January 23rd, at Noon. The series also includes Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm; and Sparrows; screened January 15th and 16th respectively, and Daddy-Long-Legs, screening January 22nd.

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Though Mary Pickford’s career didn’t take off until her late-teens, she’d spend much of it playing children. Her fans accepted her in these roles because they didn’t need realism to suspend their disbelief—just a consistent, honest evocation of youth they could see through the guise—and Pickford usually delivered. In The Poor Little Rich Girl, she doesn’t, quite. Its heroine, Gwen, is a mystery not only to other characters in the film, but to Pickford herself. Her performance is uneven; oddly so from a pro like her. So odd that I think you should see it happening, and judge for yourself. You may end up siding with poor Mary against her own script, as I did; for I believe it did her no favours.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Daddy-Long-Legs (1919)


Daddy-Long-Legs is the third of four Mary Pickford films being screened as part of “Mary Pickford and the Invention of the Movie Star,” an exhibit dedicated to the silent icon (and Toronto native), currently running at Toronto’s TIFF Bell Lightbox. The exhibit is located on the fourth floor of the Lightbox, in the new Canadian Film Gallery, and features some 300 items, including photographs, posters, memorabilia, postcards, and products endorsed by Pickford, assembled over a 30-year period by private collector Rob Brooks. It’s curated by Sylvia Frank, Director of the Toronto International Film Festival’s Film Reference Library and Special Collections.

TIFF Bell Lightbox screens Daddy-Long-Legs this Saturday, January 22nd, at 11 am. It will be followed by The Poor Little Rich Girl (January 23rd). The series also included Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm and Sparrows, screened January 15th and 16th, respectively.

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An infant is found in an ash can, nameless, with no note attached to her blankets. Mrs. Lippett, matron of orphans, must give her a name. She takes ‘Abbott’ from the phone book and ‘Jerusha’ from a nearby gravestone. Jerusha Abbott, nicknamed ‘Judy,’ grows to be a bright, capable twelve-year old in the orphanage; and her past—no more than the name, a fiction borne of expediency and luck—will never really impact her. Daddy-Long-Legs isn’t about the past, or very much else, besides the furtive push through life of a very talented, determined young woman. This is one of Mary Pickford’s best films.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Sparrows (1926)


Sparrows is the second of four Mary Pickford films being screened as part of “Mary Pickford and the Invention of the Movie Star,” an exhibit dedicated to the silent icon (and Toronto native) beginning January 13th, 2011, at Toronto’s TIFF Bell Lightbox. The exhibit is located on the fourth floor of the Lightbox, in the new Canadian Film Gallery, and features some 300 items, including photographs, posters, memorabilia, postcards, and products endorsed by Pickford, assembled over a 30-year period by private collector Rob Brooks. It’s curated by Sylvia Frank, Director of the Toronto International Film Festival’s Film Reference Library and Special Collections.

TIFF Bell Lightbox screens Sparrows this Sunday, January 16th, at Noon. It will be preceded by Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (January 15th, 11 am); Daddy-Long-Legs (January 22nd); and The Poor Little Rich Girl (January 23rd).

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In the swamp are tall trees that make crooked, black outlines in the night. Amid the trees is Mr. Grimes, who looks the same. Dressed in dark and shabby clothes, old Mr. Grimes limps past pools of bubbling quick-mud and over rolling logs that span a creek before his home: the only patch of solid ground around. Grimes maintains a little farm, joined by his wife and son, Ambrose. The farm’s supported by the labour of about a dozen other children, treated like slaves.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1917)


Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm is the first of four Mary Pickford films being screened as part of “Mary Pickford and the Invention of the Movie Star,” an exhibit dedicated to the silent icon (and Toronto native) beginning January 13th, 2011, at Toronto’s TIFF Bell Lightbox. The exhibit is located on the fourth floor of the Lightbox, in the new Canadian Film Gallery, and features some 300 items, including photographs, posters, memorabilia, postcards, and products endorsed by Pickford, assembled over a 30-year period by private collector Rob Brooks. It’s curated by Sylvia Frank, Director of the Toronto International Film Festival’s Film Reference Library and Special Collections.

TIFF Bell Lightbox screens Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm this Saturday, January 15th, at 11:00 am. It will follow with Sparrows (January 16th); Daddy-Long-Legs (January 22nd); and The Poor Little Rich Girl (January 23rd).

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No one saw Mary Pickford quite like Marshall Neilan. He knew her as a friend, and understood her as her fans did. She took risks before his camera, and he directed her with the lightest touch; letting the artifice of his films ebb away until nothing remained but a veneer through which she shone. Though he didn’t make her greatest movies, I believe she was never greater than when she starred in his.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Two Cool Fests


2010 was a big year for silents--I think we're all in agreement about that, yes? Here's another reason to think so: Movie Maker magazine has announced its '20 Coolest Film Festivals: 2010,' and two of them are devoted to silent film.

Congratulations to the venerable San Francisco Silent Film Festival, still going strong 15 years into its mission. And equal congrats to the Toronto Urban Film Festival (TUFF); whose winners I've devoted considerable verbiage to in this space. These two organizations aren't much alike, except in their shared dedication to preserving and promoting great art, and that speaks to both the diversity and bright future of the silent medium.

2011's looking good too.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Balcony Shots

Did you know that I have a photography blog, too? It's a pet project and it's updated regularly. Visit and see cool shots like this one:

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Idiot With A Tripod (2010)



I have the bare bones of a new year’s post all ready to go. I’ve been composing it in my head for days, in bits and pieces, while I do boring things like brush my teeth or vacuum.

I wanted to write about what a great time it is to be a silent film fan. In 2010 we were blessed with a flourish of important restorations, from Metropolis to the Keystone Chaplins to The Battleship Potemkin; the re-discovery of American silents in vaults in New Zealand; the availability of services like Warner Brothers’ online store, allowing even more silents to reach eager viewers’ hands. And I wanted to write, again, about the feeling I get seeing brand-new silent films. It’s why I do this.

I could’ve rambled on about all that. But there’s a more fitting tribute to 2010, and that’s to write about a film that captured public attention just as the year closed out: Idiot With A Tripod. The silent film that has, to quote many sources—some quoting one another—“gone viral.”