Remy Charlip, an acclaimed children’s book author and artist whose accomplishments spanned many fields, forms, audiences and years, passed away last week at the age of 83.

Charlip was best known as the author or illustrator of nearly 40 books, most for children. His most popular works, Fortunately (1964), which follows the alternating fortunes of a young boy, remains in print after more than 45 years. The book has been published around the world.

Along with his long career as a children’s book author — which dates to the mid-1950s, Charlip was also a noted dancer and choreographer and a founding member of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. He was with that distinguished group for 11 years, as both a dancer and as a set and costume designer. He was succeeded in the latter role by artist Robert Rauschenberg.

Charlip was also a member of the Living Theater and the Judson Dance Theater, and a co-founder of the Paper Bag Players, a children’s theater group. For this work, he won two Obie Awards, one in 1965 for his work with the Paper Bag Players and another in 1966 for directing “A Beautiful Day” at the Judson Poets Theater in Greenwich Village.

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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

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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

Normally, I’m not one to pay much attention to student films. They are what they are. Some are amusing, and some are interesting. And some are merely the work of beginners just learning their craft. But recently, I came across an 11 minute work which I think is so good it transcends the category of “student” work. Sure, it has flaws — but I find it so charming I want everyone to know about it.

It’s called Loving Louise Brooks, and it’s recently debuted on the internet. It’s the work of Sebastian Pesle, an 18 year old recently graduated French high school student. He has crafted a very true film well worth watching.

It’s a short work which speaks not only to the vagaries of young love, but also to cinematic obsession — and the times when those two forces collide. As a student effort, it is especially mature and rather impressive. It remands me of the work of Woody Allen.

Loving Louise Brooks was made in late 2009 and early 2010. It is a wordless sound film, in effect a “silent film,” and a homage to the filmmaker’s own infatuation with the movies. There is a musical soundtrack.

The film has popped up on Daily Motion, and a few other video sharing sights. There is a small French-language website for this student project at

Loving Louise Brooks features Pesle as a young cineaste obsessed with the silent film star. In a couple of scenes, he is shown sitting in a movie theater watching the 1929 Brooks film, Diary of a Lost Girl. And in another scene, he can be spotted reading a soft cover edition of Brooks’ memoir, Lulu in Hollywood.

His charming girl friend, longing for his affection, is played by Malvina Desmarest. In the end, she must effect Brooks’ appearance (a la the character she played in Diary of a Lost Girl) to get his attention. Whether this ploy works or not, I won’t tell. You will have to watch the film to find out. And by the way, the characters in this short work are themselves making a film. Also in the cast are Alexis Garin and Yannis Letournel. All are, or were, film students, I believe, at the Lycee Jean-Batiste Corot in France. The story is by Lauranne Launay. Click here for the video: Loving Louise Brooks




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.

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On Saturday July 14th, the San Francisco Silent Film Festival will show Pandora’s Box. Today, it is considered one of the great films of all time, largely in part because of the stunning performance given by Louise Brooks in the role of Lulu. Saturday’s event marks the second time in the Festival’s 17 year history that G.W. Pabst’s 1929 masterpiece has been shown. However, it is the first time that this very special version of the film has been seen anywhere in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Pandora's Box poster

Pandora’s Box screens Saturday

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Having just completed their annual Broncho Billy Silent Film Festival, things quiet down a little in July at the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum in Fremont. This month, Niles will screen two seldom seen features , The Whip (1917) and The Sea Hawk (1924), a documentary on Sutro’s – San Francisco’s privately owned swimming, ice-skating and museum complex, as well as their regular monthly Comedy Short Subject Night and Laurel & Hardy Talkie Matinee. Here is the line-up for the month.

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The San Francisco Silent Film Festival has more going for it than you might realize. Sure, they’re showing 15 features and a whole bunch of short films, but this festival is more than just celluloid. There are the special guests, and the attendees, and the musicians, and unusual programs. Where else, for instance, might you see a Russian silent, The Overcoat (1926), based on a story by Gogol, or for that matter a rare Chinese silent, Little Toys (1933), starring Ruan Lingyu, China’s Garbo.

This year, more than 10,000 people are expected to attend the Silent Film Festival, which is now in its 17th year. It’s grown to become the largest silent film festival in North America – and one of the largest in the world. Festival regular Leonard Maltin, who will be introducing a couple of programs, has said “The San Francisco Silent Film Festival is in a class by itself.” And it’s true. Here are ten things not to miss at this year’s event, which is set to start next week at the Castro Theater.

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The annual Broncho Billy Silent Film Festival, which runs June 29 through July 1, is a three day celebration of early film. Wide-ranging, it includes everything from locally made Westerns to an international tragedy, a historical epic, a documentary, an actuality, some comedies, and also comedy of manners.

This year, the Niles Essanany Silent Film Museum in Fremont is marking the Festival’s 15th anniversary with a veritable smorgasbord of cinema – including a not to be missed event with the last surviving silent film star, Diana Serra Cary (aka Baby Peggy). A new documentary about this 1920s pint-size child star, as well as a feature and two shorts featuring the will, also be screened.
Here is the line-up for the three day 15th annual Broncho Billy Silent Film Festival. More info

Atlantis, with Frederick Hodges at the piano
Friday June 29 at 8:00 pm


Atlantis (1913)

Atlantis (1913)

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Once a month, every month, the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum in Fremont screens an afternoon’s worth of Laurel and Hardy films. This month’s matinee, chosen from early in the comic duo’s long career, is something unusual.

After making names for themselves in the 1910s, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy teamed up in the mid-1920s and soon found a following; like other stars, they saw their silent movies translated into various languages for worldwide distribution.

Also around this time (the late 1920′s), movie studios began transitioning to sound. Once “the talkies” came in full force – and actors needed to speak, translating dialogue cards would no longer suffice as a means of reaching moviegoers in other countries.

During this transitional period, producer Hal Roach sought to retain Laurel and Hardy’s worldwide audience by shooting alternative language versions of their new English-language films. Laurel and Hardy had a huge following in South America, for example, and ten of their movies released between 1929 and 1931 were given the “multilingual treatment” and remade in other languages including Spanish, French, German and Italian.

Laurel and Hardy

Laurel and Hardy speak

Many early sound films were recorded on disc, and simply dubbing the voices of Laurel and Hardy or any other actor in other languages was impractical, if not then technically impossible. The solution at the Hal Roach Studios, where the comedy team made most of their early films, was to shoot each film over again in a different language.

The comedic duo spoke their lines phonetically, and things came off pretty well, in part because the stars were supported by a changing group of secondary cast members who spoke the given language of each remade film. As neither Stan nor Ollie spoke Spanish, their lines were written on a blackboard just out of camera range.


Stan Laurel on the set with his English-language, Spanish-language, and French-language wives. Polyglot polyamory or polyamory polyglot?

That’s the story behind the two Spanish-language Laurel and Hardy films set to play on Sunday, May 13 at Niles Essanay. The East Bay film museum will show the rarely screened La Vida Nocturna(a Spanish version of Blotto) and Noche De Nuedes (a Spanish version of two combined shorts,The Laurel and Hardy Murder Case and Berthmarks). Each date from 1930, and each feature English sub-titles.

Besides foreign markets, Spanish-language versions of Hollywood movies were also shown in theaters in the United States, especially those in areas with a large Spanish speaking population, such as New York City and the state of Texas. (Whether Spanish-language films were shown here in the Bay Area during the early sound era is unknown.) At the time, interestingly, there was a Spanish-language fan magazine published in the United States called Cinelandia.

If you are a Laurel and Hardy fan, the reason to view these films is more than just the novelty of hearing them in a foreign tongue. Along with cast changes, additional scenes not found in the English language versions were filmed in order to expand the original 20 minute shorts to near feature length. That’s the case with La Vida Nocturna, whose title was also changed from Blotto(a reference to the state The Boys got in after indulging in their bad habit) to what translates as “The Night Life.”

Those new scenes included comedy bits possibly intended for the English language version which ended up on the cutting room floor, or bits in which the two comedians improvise and added material as the film was being made. Other new material in these foreign-language versions meant to appeal to viewers in foreign countries might also include ethnic flourishes or characters or performances by ethnic musicians and stage talent. Additionally, in the case of La Vida Nocturna, the Spanish-version has an original 1930 underscoring which is no longer heard on American prints of Blotto, all of which now derive from a 1937 reissue which has a then updated score.

Detailing the differences in versions of these films might seem like a cinematic trainspotting exercise, but it also shines a spotlight on the film industry at a time of change – which makes for interesting film history.

Wordless beauty: this should make you smile.

The Laurel & Hardy Talkie Matinee, featuring two Spanish-language films, is set to play on Sunday, May 13 at 4:00 pm. Prior to the films, at 3:00 pm, the Midnight Patrol Tent of the “Sons of the Desert,” the local chapter of International Laurel & Hardy appreciation society, will meet at the Edison Theater. The public is welcome to attend their informal meeting.

For more info: The Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum is located at 37417 Niles Blvd. in Fremont, California. For further information, call (510) 494-1411 or visit the Museum’s website