Sunday, May 23, 2010

Siegmund Lubin was Silent

The first "Movie Mogul" is generally accepted as being Siegmund Lubin.  He started out as an optical manufacturer and made early movie projectors.  His business was based in Philadelphia, and he eventually had studios around the country.  Oliver Hardy, a southern boy born in Georgia, worked for him in FL.

The annual Betzwood Silent Film Festival was held earlier this month at Montgomery County Community College in Bluebell, PA.  Since most of the early silent actors and actresses were little more than bit players, they certainly should be recognized here.  We saw a very good selection of silent films from 1904 to 1916.  The earlier films were little more than short visual jokes.

The first film was called A Dog Lost, Strayed or Stolen released in 1905 and made on the streets in Philadelphia.  A woman has placed an ad in the paper to find her lost dog.  About a hundred people show up at her listed meeting place to claim the reward...all with dogs!  The group of people with dogs chases the woman all around the streets, and that is basically the entire film.  It was about 5 minutes long, with no inter titles to explain what was happening.

At one point in the beginning of the film, a carriage drives in front of the camera.  The driver realizes what he did and amicably tips his hat to the camera!  Those were the days.  I don't remember the name of the lead actress, but I hope she went on to have a fulfilling movie career.

Another film was Thrilling Detective Story released in 1906.  The film starts as a woman is buying a book at Leary's Book Store.  Leary's is gone now, but it was next door to one of the Lubin buildings.  It was fun to see a book cart in the store go buy with the name prominently displayed to advertise his neighbor.  Of course it would be way to dark to actually film inside a book store, so the scene was shot on the roof of the Lubin building with a canvas backdrop painted to look like the store.

The woman starts reading what must have been a great book, and she also starts bumping into things.  She (although I suspect it as a cross dressing man who could handle all the prat falls) walks all around the city, bumping into things, getting hit by a car, and run over by a steamroller!  She eventually falls into the Schuylkill River near the Philadelphia Museum of Art and is rescued into a row boat...still reading of course!  The movie ends with her sitting in a chair with the book.  She looks into the camera and smiles.

I hope you can search out some of these early films.  They contain the seeds of what would become the films of the golden age of movies, and would evolve into today's blockbusters.  Plus, they are great fun!  You can find more about silent films at the Silent Movie Blog or tune onto Turner Classic Movies on Sunday nights at midnight when they screen silent films.

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