Diva December begins with a rainbow

It’s that time of year again! In Diva December, now in its fourth edition, I look at examples of the ‘diva film’, or the genre of decadent female-led melodramas that were a mainstay of Italian cinema of the 1910s. I’ve outlined the diva film genre here before—take a look, if you’d like the basics!

I’ll be covering two or three specific films, but first: some eye candy. A few months ago I posted some rainbow mosaic images I’d made, using a script I wrote that takes screencaps at regular intervals throughout a video file, arranges them in hue order, and then outputs a combinatory grid of the results. Well, I couldn’t resist to give diva films the same treatment – so here are a few of the best results.

The great Carnevalesca (Cines 1918), starring Lyda Borelli, makes a true rainbow:

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Reflections on writing and research: Fluffy Ruffles, women in silent cinema, and gaps in film history

Earlier this year, I posted about a film/media history article I’d published in the journal Feminist Media Histories, entitled “From the New York Herald to the Italian screen: Fluffy Ruffles, la donna americana”. The article traced the history of 1907-9 comic strip character Fluffy Ruffles, feminine type and pop culture phenomenon, and how she was the subject of two films in Italy in the 1910s. I also illustrated the article with hand-drawings and collages. It was a large piece of work, and an extremely rewarding project for me. Now that some time has passed, I thought I’d take the opportunity to reflect on the process of working on the article. Continue reading

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Even more question marks in Italian silent film advertising

Over the course of my research, I’ve noticed on a delightful quirk of Italian silent film advertising: a prominent and often repetitious use of question marks to build anticipation and enthusiasm for future film releases.

I’ve shared examples annually for the last couple of years, but the well is not yet dry, my friends. So, for the third excursion into this phenomenon, I’ve looked for examples that combine punti interrogativi with other punctuation. Andiamo!

Question marks and exclamation marks are a match made in heaven in this advert for Dollari e fraks, a four-part serial in Emilio Ghione’s long-running Za La Mort series.

La vita cinematografica no. 5-6 of 1919

What about Chaplin? Stefano Pittaluga has the goods, advertising Charlot falso Barone (Caught in a Cabaret, 1914), Charlot ortolano (The Tramp, 1915), and Il pianoforte di Charlot (His Musical Career, 1914).

La vita cinematografica (December 1918)

Tiber Film in Rome aren’t sure what to do with Maria Jacobini:

La vita cinematografica no. 31 of 1918

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A rainbow of silent film

Regular readers will have noticed that things have been pretty quiet around Silents, Please! for the last year or so. Partly, this was because I channelled a lot of energy into researching, writing and drawing my Feminist Media Histories article: a very absorbing process, about which I’ll write more soon. Another reason was because I was putting a lot of energy into writing code rather than writing about film.

On occasion, these hobbies have intersected. Some months ago, I wrote a Bash/Python script that generates a rainbow grid from a film: it takes regular frame grabs from a video file, determines the dominant colour per image, then outputs a mosaic of images ordered by hue. Of course, I had silent film on my mind as I wrote the script – what better way to showcase the vibrant colours of this era? I revisited my code recently; so, it seems like a good time to present a few of my favourite outputs from the program. Enjoy! (And you can click on each picture to view the full-size image).

The Blue Bird (US 1918) lives up to its picturesque reputation:

Der Student von Prag | The Student of Prague (DE 1913), with Paul Wegener in the title role, is an excellent film that also scores highly in the rainbow stakes.

A range of jewel tones from L’Homme du large | The Man of the Open Sea (FR 1920):

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Queer film history: Diana McLellan’s “The Girls: Sappho goes to Hollywood”

garbo-dietrich-photoshop-sml2

Photoshop by Edith Prestegaard; found on YouTube.

At this point in time, it’s by no means a revelation that a number of Hollywood actresses in the 1920s and 1930s loved women, including major stars like Alla Nazimova, Greta Garbo, and Marlene Dietrich. The private lives of these women take centre stage in Diana McLellan’s book The Girls: Sappho goes to Hollywood, in which the author promises “a rich stew of film, politics, sexuality, psychology, and stardom”.

A heady mix indeed. First things first: this book is tremendously entertaining. I’ve read it a couple of times before, and it’s fun and breezy, with McLellan generally doing a good job of weaving different characters in and out of her narrative, and animating various figures in an engaging manner. The major caveat is that The Girls is, at best, highly speculative. McLellan was a gossip columnist for many years, and it certainly shows in the resulting work. The reader is apprised of this from the very start, when in the foreword, McLellan states a principle that guided both her former work in newspapers and her research for The Girls: “One big, proven lie reveals far more than dozens or widely reported ‘truths’—once you understand why it was told”. Well, then. QED?
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London Symphony approaches

Almost three years ago, I posted about London Symphony, a contemporary silent film production by British filmmaker Alex Barrett. For this project, Barrett has revived the silent-era genre of the city symphony—a cinematic portrait of a city, more poetic evocation than documentary—to celebrate the spirit of London.

I had the pleasure of viewing the rough cut last year, and it’s a wonderful film. Stylistically it’s impressive, with beautiful cinematography and an excellent score; a great synthesis between image and sound. London Symphony is stylish, evocative of the original city symphonies without feeling in any way like a pastiche. But what makes it such a truly ambitious film, I think, is the scope that it covers: London Symphony was shot all over the English capital, with space given to people from all different walks of life, different cultural groups, and of course a huge number of locations. I may not know London well, having visited only briefly, but I experienced it as a nuanced view of the city.

And yes, I am quoted in the trailer. :)

The world premiere of London Symphony took place in May at the Edinburgh International Film Festival, but another big date is coming up: the film’s limited UK release in September. The tour kicks off with a live orchestra screening at the Barbican on September 3rd, followed by a collection of other venues across England. (Screening info here).

It will be a great one to see on the big screen, if you can get there! For the rest of us, stay tuned: London Symphony has been picked up by Flicker Alley for international distribution, and it will be released on MOD Blu-Ray and VOD later this year.

 

 

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Announcing a publication!

Not long ago, a major project of mine came to fruition. A chance infatuation with the adverts for a particular film grew into a fruitful research project which involved early newspaper comic strips, international media coverage, and two Italian silent films. Now, my article on this particular collison of comic strip history, pop culture, and silent cinema has been published in the journal Feminist Media Histories.

The article is called From the New York Herald to the Italian screen: Fluffy Ruffles, la donna americana, and you can find it here.

It’s a research article, but also has a visual component: I produced hand-drawn illustrations to accompany the text. They’re mostly in pen, with some ink, and some use of collage. The illustrations are all based on archival materials, primarily adverts, that I unearthed in the course of my research. (Originally the concept was to produce something more zine-like in nature, but for several reasons it worked out differently).

Here’s the abstract:

The popular 1907–9 American newspaper comic strip character Fluffy Ruffles was an iconic embodiment of contemporary American femininity between the eras of the Gibson Girl and the later flapper and “it” girl. This article discusses Fluffy Ruffles as a popular phenomenon and incarnation of anxieties about women in the workplace, and how she underwent a metamorphosis in the European press, as preexisting ideas of American youth, wealth, and liberty were grafted onto her character. A decade after her debut in the newspapers, two films—Augusto Genina’s partially extant Miss Cyclone (La signorina Ciclone, 1916), and Alfredo Robert’s lost Miss Fluffy Ruffles (1918)—brought her to the Italian screen. This article looks at how the character was interpreted by Suzanne Armelle and Fernanda Negri Pouget, respectively, drawing on advertisements and the other performances of Negri Pouget to reconstruct the latter. The article is illustrated with drawings and collages based on the author’s research.

The article is on freeview until the end of the week. (And if you come to this post later on and want to take a look, flick me an email!)

I’m thinking of following up with a ‘behind the scenes’ post about the project, if people are interested. Any takers?

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