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We're in the Movies: Palace of Silents & Itinerant Filmmaking Blu-ray + DVD Review

We're in the Movies: Palace of Silents & Itinerant Filmmaking Blu-ray + DVD combo cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com We're in the Movies: Palace of Silents & Itinerant Filmmaking
Films, Blu-ray & DVD Details

When You Wore a Tulip and I Wore a Big Red Rose (1983)

Palace of Silents: The Silent Movie Theater in Los Angeles (2010)

Running Time: 141 Minutes (2 documentaries) + 66 Minutes (bonus shorts)

Rating: Not Rated

1.33:1 - 1.78:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic); Dolby Digital 2.0-5.1 (English)
Subtitles: None; Not Closed Captioned
Suggested Retail Price: $39.95 / Blu-ray & DVD Release Date: July 22, 2014
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (1 BD-50 & 1 DVD-9) / Clear Thick Keepcase

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With their latest release, We're in the Movies: Palace of Silents & Itinerant Filmmaking,
Flicker Alley continues to place historical value above entertainment value. This one Blu-ray, one DVD set tries to rescue two modern film-related feature documentaries and a host of ancient shorts from obscurity.

There is clear theming to this collection, as indicated by its title. One of the documentaries, 1983's When You Wore a Tulip and I Wore a Big Red Rose, looks at the practice of itinerant filmmaking -- productions making actors out of the citizens in the area filmed -- which is on display in those bonus shorts from the 1910s and 1930s. The other documentary, 2010's Palace of Silents: The Silent Movie Theater in Los Angeles celebrates a movie house that since 1942 has shown silent movies, celebrating the antiquated format in defiance of commercial wisdom.

In the 1983 documentary "When You Wore a Tulip and I Wore a Big Read Rose", Stephen Schaller interviews people involved in the 1914 Wausau, Wisconsin short "The Lumberjack." The Silent Movie Theatre of Los Angeles is the subject of the 2010 documentary "Palace of Silents."

Stephen Schaller's When You Wore a Tulip (1:04:24) talks to Wausau, Wisconsin residents involved in making the 1914 short The Lumberjack and their descendants. Recovering a well-preserved 35mm nitrous print, Schaller shows it to the people it means most to. They identify and revisit the filming locations, find newspaper stories corresponding to production, and discover that a crew member died during the filming of the granite plant scene. We also get a sense of how the river city stands in the early 1980s, with looks at a logger and that fateful quarry.

Palace of Silents (1:16:48) begins as a fairly dry celebration of the Fairfax Avenue theater opened in 1942 by John Hampton and his wife Dorothy. With clips from the silent movies that have played there, the theater is passionately discussed by the likes of film buffs, collectors, historians, projectionists, organists and L.A. Times critic Kevin Thomas.
They describe the simple theater long run by the hardworking Hampton, who went to jail for 5 years as a conscientious objector to World War II. For fifty weeks out of the year, Hampton projected movies to small groups, devoting himself to splicing and restoring these old films of his giant private library to the best possible state.

The documentary shifts gears to discuss Laurence Austin, the man who took over the theater after Hampton died of possibly work-related cancer. A far more complicated and interesting proprietor, showman Austin would proudly march in to "Pomp and Circumstance" to introduce the films. A partly closeted gay Mormon who invented a past that painted him as the child of early movie workers, Austin is believed to have swindled Hampton's widow in addition to bootlegging and reselling films he borrowed from studios. But the real story about him is the one that saw him murdered on the job during a 1997 screening of Sunrise. News reports, "America's Most Wanted" clips, and accounts from the case's LAPD homicide detectives provide the sordid details of the contract hit made by an ex-con, associate, and presumed lover.

The seats of LA's Silent Movie Theatre are said to be less than comfortable. "Palace of Silents" takes a dark turn during the theater's 1990s ownership by "con man" Laurence Austin.

It's tough to move on from that gripping true crime story, but director Iain Kennedy tries to, covering the theater's 1999 reopening by Charlie Lustman, a singer-songwriter with no knowledge or appreciation for silent film or the facility. Lustman succeeded most when renting the place out as a venue for private events. We're brought up to date with the current ownership of Cinefamily who have strayed from the silents-only design.

It's an occasionally fascinating portrait of a Los Angeles landmark that means a great deal to a small group of silent film lovers.

VIDEO and AUDIO

Nearly everything on the Blu-ray is encoded in high definition, but all of it's clearly limited by source. Ranging from 77 to 100 years old, the bonus shorts soon to be discussed exhibit some understandable age. Though inevitably being a bit choppy and rough, they also reflect restorative efforts. As for the two feature documentaries, 1.78:1 Palace of Silents does not look HD at all, save for the occasional still photo. The interviews that comprise the bulk of it are slightly grainy and lack the detail expected of 1080p. Appearing in rounded 1.33:1, When You Wore a Tulip has the look of an early 1980s documentary. It's clean but not terribly well defined.

Palace boasts a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack that doesn't seem to do a great deal with that sound field. When You Wore a Tulip is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 and that suits its material fine. Unfortunately, no subtitles whatsoever are included for anything on the set.

Mr. Norwood shows his love interest the binocular-ready sights of Wausau, Wisconsin in 1914's "The Lumberjack." An old married man's walk with a younger woman causes a minor scandal in "Huntingdon's Hero."

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Six short films are designated as bonus features.

First up is The Lumberjack (15:53), the 1914 color-tinted short at the center of When You Wore a Tulip. In this "photoplay romance", a Mr. Norwood gives a tour of the lumber mill where he works to a woman and her mother.
He soon falls for the young woman, showing her around Wausau, Wisconsin with binoculars, golfing with her at the country club, touring a granite plant, taking in activities at a park, and helping rescue her from a smoking building. Far from riveting, it ends with a wedding and the promise of a honeymoon.

Huntingdon's Hero (20:24), a 1934 production of a California newspaper whose wooden cast includes a mayor and a mystery woman. Half of an old married couple, Henry Henpecked, gets in trouble when he's spotted walking with a young woman. There's also a romance involving actors far too old to be high schoolers. The loopy narrative includes such gags as trick cigars, a car accident, and pointless side characters like a clumsy rollerskating girl. The amateur cast announces itself with many a look at the camera, but the short embraces that with a kind of behind-the-scenes shot taken at a theater and promising the moviegoers they'll soon see themselves.

Cracking a smile, young Betty Davidson doesn't seem too troubled in "The Kidnappers Foil." "Mountain Life" presents mountain folk in full color.

The 1937 talkie The Kidnappers Foil (17:16) is probably the most watchable of the shorts. Featuring a cast of local Texans, it tells the story of two creeps who kidnap young Betty Davidson for a big ransom. The girl's friends take it upon themselves to rescue her, the boys reluctantly letting girls join them. They dream of how they 'd spend that $1,000 reward offered and after Betty is found safe and sound, a party is held, an excuse for kids to sing songs. Subtitles would have been welcome company to the aged soundtrack.

The final three shorts are lumped together and presented in standard definition. The first two are Paramount-Bray productions from 1918.
Given one shared score, Our Southern Mountaineers (4:42) and In the Moonshine Country (2:43) offer portraits of the region's dwellers and moonshiners. They show us women workers: tanners, millers, soap makers, etc. Mountain Life (4:35) is pinned as a product of the late 1930s, but it seems ahead of its time with its full-color visuals.

Kindly and characteristically of the studio, the DVD gets everything the Blu-ray does.

The menu attaches some score to a slight variation on the textbook-like cover art. Images kindly accompany each listing. The Blu-ray doesn't support bookmarks but does resume playback of an unfinished feature just like a DVD.

Seemingly modeled after The Criterion Collection, Flicker Alley uses a similar Blu-ray height, DVD width clear keepcase to hold the two discs. Joining them is a booklet that includes two essays. David Shepard talks itinerant filmmaking and the examples of it included here, while former projectionist David John Slaughter discusses discovering and working in the Silent Movie Theatre in the mid-1990s under Laurence Austin.

A frame from the beginning of "The Lumberjack" is spliced and analyzed in "When You Wore a Tulip..." Silent movies are screened at the Silent Movie Theatre in Los Angeles in "Palace of Silents."

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Like a lot of Flicker Alley releases, We're in the Movies offers a little entertainment and a lot of historical value at a high price. The few out there for whom these contents are not entirely unknown should be quite delighted by what they get here. But much of it is pretty obscure and challenging for mass consumption.

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The Curtis Harrington Short Film Collection Nanook of the North, The Wedding of Palo and other Films of Arctic Life
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Reviewed July 21, 2014.



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