here are few pop culture icons like Louise Brooks . . . and Andy Warhol. Each is legendary. Each, in ways, symbolize their time.

The silent film star and the pop artist come together on November 2 when the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania screens the gender-bending 1928 Louise Brooks’ film, Beggars of Life. Live musical accompaniment will be provided by Pittsburgh’s Daryl Fleming and friends.

Brooks’ singular beauty, charisma and naturalness helped make her a popular star in the 1920s. The bobbed hair actress was best known for her roles in light romantic comedies like Love Em and Leave Em (1926) and A Girl in Every Port (1928). Her dramatic role in Beggars of Life proved to be something different.

Read the rest of this entry »


There may be no more bizarre and creepy horror film than The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920). It is a masterpiece of German Expressionism.

To celebrate Halloween, the San Francisco Symphony will screen the classic silent film with live improvised organ accompaniment by Cameron Carpenter.

This special concert screening will include the equally strange short, The Cameraman’s Revenge (1912), an early stop-motion film by Wladyslaw Starewicz about life and love among a group of beetles.

Read the rest of this entry »

In the 1920s and 1930s, Jim Tully was a celebrity.

He was a writer. And his writings — a singular brand of rough and tumble fiction and non-fiction — were both popular and critically acclaimed. In his day, Tully’s books appeared on bestseller lists, were adapted for the stage, made into movies, and got reviewed and discussed in major publications across the country. One of his most controversial books was even banned, and a large part of its first edition destroyed. The essayist and editor H.L. Mencken wrote, “If Tully were a Russian, read in translation, all the Professors would be hymning him.”


Despite his celebrity, few today have heard of Tully. In the years following WWII, his reputation waned — but not because he was considered out-of-date. If anything, Tully was years ahead of his time. Some consider Tully a precursor to the “hard-boiled” school. In the 1920s, Tully wasn’t writing about the glitz and glamor of the Jazz Age like F. Scott Fitzgerald. Rather, his sinuous and sometimes muscular prose concerned petty criminals, addicts, hobos and other misfits of society. Charles Willeford, one of the leading hard-boiled crime fiction writers of the post WWII era, has praised Tully and written of his influence.

Read the rest of this entry »

Few realize there was a time nearly a century ago when the San Francisco Bay Area almost become a second Hollywood. Then, the Bay Area’s best hope in rivaling the film colony only just developing in Southern California lay with the California Motion Picture Corporation (CMPC), which was based in San Rafael.

In the coming week, Bay Area movie goers will have the rare opportunity to see a film widely considered one of the most emblematic of the Bay Area’s long-forgotten movie making past.

On Saturday, September 22 the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum in Fremont will screen Salomy Jane (1914), the first, most acclaimed, and only surviving production of the California Motion Picture Corporation. Salomy Jane will also be shown on Sunday, September 30 at the Rafael Film Center in San Rafael. The two screenings mark only the second time the film has been shown in the Bay Area in the nearly 100 years since it was made.

Read the rest of this entry »

The fall promises to be a great season for books about the movies and movie stars. Three of the most insightful critics writing today — David Thomson, David Denby and Ty Burr — each have new books coming out, as does one of our most accomplished film historians, Anthony Slide.

The Fall 2012 Season will also see a handful of promising biographies and biographical studies on the likes of Henry Fonda, Lyle Talbot and Lew Ayres, along with more broadly themed works of film history. Women also come in for consideration, and reconsideration, with exceptional new books on two early film superstars, Mary Pickford — “America’s Sweetheart,” and Mae Murray — “the girl with the bee-stung lips.”

These days, university presses are publishing some of the best and most provocative books on film and film history. Don’t miss Go West, Young Women!: The Rise of Early Hollywood by Hilary Hallett, due out in December from the University of California Press.

Besides the ten recommended titles which follow, there are other new releases also worth checking out, like Variety: An Illustrated History of the World from the Most Important Magazine in Hollywood, by Tim Gray (Rizzoli), and John Wayne: The Legend and the Man: An Exclusive Look Inside the Duke’s Archives(powerHouse Books). Oh, and Uggie (the canine star of The Artist) also has a book due in October. It’s Uggie — My Story: A Memoir by Uggie (Gallery Books).

Seen the movies? Now read the books. Here’s a guide, ordered by date-of-release, to the big new releases and lesser-known titles which should pique the interest of film buffs and book lovers alike.

Read the rest of this entry »

In the early 1920s, Baby Peggy was the toast of New York. After having co-starred in numerous short comedies – including many with a canine star named Brownie the Wonder Dog, the diminutive actress was set to star in her first feature film, The Darling of New York (1923).

The Darling of New York (1923)

Read the rest of this entry »

The story of Baby Peggy is a Hollywood fairy tale gone wrong.

It’s a story of worldwide fame, a fortune stolen, a trust broken, and a childhood lost. It’s an epic story of a pint-sized movie star who conquered the world only to lose it all. It’s the story of Diana Serra Cary, survivor extraordinaire. In the 1920s, she was known as Baby Peggy. Today, she’s widely considered the last surviving silent film star.

If you don’t know her name, you’re not alone. Baby Peggy’s film career ended some 85 years ago. Today, the 93-year-old and still sprightly former actress is largely known only to devotees of film history and early Hollywood.

How famous was she? At the age of five Baby Peggy was signed to a million dollar contract by Universal. That was big money back in the 1920s, and still is today.

Read the rest of this entry »

If you love old film, Frank Thompson should be known to you. He is an acclaimed film historian and author with more than forty books and hundreds of articles, interviews and reviews to his credit. He has also worked as a writer for television, contributed commentary to various DVDs, and has produced, written and/or directed several documentaries. Most recently, he can be seen in the documentary Wings: Grandeur in the Skies, included on the Blu-Ray release of the 2012 restoration of Wings (1927), the first film to win the Best Picture Oscar.

A few months ago, Thompson started a new venture – “The Commentary Track,” a weekly podcast featuring conversations with leading film historians, archivists, actors and filmmakers. These audio recordings, more casual conversation than scholarly report, are a film buff’s delight.

Each of Thompson’s freely available podcasts run a little more than an hour, and each make for great listening. In them, Thompson and his guests swap Hollywood stories and celebrate the great movies and movie makers of the 20th Century.
Frank Thompson : photo credit Frank Thompson

Frank Thompson : photo credit Frank Thompson

Read the rest of this entry »

Things heats up in August at the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum in Fremont. Known among early film devotees around the world, the venerable museum and theater is set to once again screen rarely shown early feature films (some not available on DVD), along with animated shorts, their regular “Comedy Short Subject Night” and Laurel & Hardy Talkie Matinee. What’s causing the heat? How about sexy “It girl” Clara Bow and sultry Evelyn Brent. Here is the line-up for the month.

“Saturday Night at the Movies” with Judy Rosenberg at the piano
Saturday August 4 at 7:30 pm

View slideshow: Hot August Nights at Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum

In Dancing Mothers (1926, Paramount), energetic “It girl” Clara Bow steals the show in this jazz age melodrama about societal expectations with a surprise ending. Penned by Edmund Goulding, and directed by Herbert Brenon, Dancing Mothers also features Alice Joyce, Conway Tearle, Donald Keith and Leila Hyams. A tinted version will be shown. The feature will be preceded by two shorts films, the animated Automobile Ride (1921, Bray) with Koko the Clown, and Dad’s Choice (1928, Paramount) with Edward Everett Horton.

Clara Bow
Clara Bow stars at Niles
Photo credit: Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum

Is there any silent film star as popular as Louise Brooks? The actress, best known for her bangs and signature black bob, seems to be just about everywhere these days.

On July 14, Pandora’s Box (1929), the film for which Brooks is best remembered today, played twice in the United States. One screening took place at the 800 seat Music Box Theater in Chicago. The other before a crowd of 1,400 at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, where a gorgeous new restoration of the G.W. Pabst masterpiece was shown.

Before that, on June 23, another Brooks’ film — a restoration of the silent version of Prix de Beaute (1930), screened outdoors in front of a large crowd gathered in a plaza in Bologna, Italy. That screening was part of Il Cinema Ritrovato, a major European festival. Notably, the Prix de Beaute screening coincided with an exhibit at the Palazzo Incontro in Rome of the art of Guido Crepax, whose long-running Valentina comix were inspired by Brooks.

And before that, at the beginning of June, Riverhead released The Chaperone, a novel by Laura Moriarty that became a bestseller. It tells the story of the woman who chaperoned an irreverent, 15-year-old Brooks in New York City in 1922. Brooks, who appears on the cover of The Chaperone, drew a fair amount of attention to Moriarty’s splendid story, which was featured in O Magazine and named the USA Today‘s #1 Hot Fiction Pick for the summer.

Moriarty’s book spurred a handful of articles about Brooks, including a widely read piece by Susan King in the Los Angeles Times and an even more widely circulated piece by Janet Maslin in the New York Times. Maslin selected Brooks’ Lulu in Hollywood to this summer’s Hot List of must read books. That’s not bad for a 30-year old memoir.

The latest attention coming Brooks’ way takes place August 1st, when the Cinefamily theater in Los Angeles shows Beggars of Life (1928). Considered Brooks’ best American film, it is also her most atypical American effort; until then, the actress had usually portrayed flappers, gold diggers and the pretty girl next door.

Richard Arlen and Louise Brooks in Beggars of Life. Image courtesy of the Cinefamily theater.

Richard Arlen and Louise Brooks in Beggars of Life. Image courtesy of the Cinefamily theater.

Read the rest of this entry »