Barely seen since its 1922 theatrical release, this silent epic is a major surprise: a charming, entertaining adventure that contradicts the long-held prejudices by film scholars against the costume dramas starring the much-maligned Marion Davies and produced by her lover, publishing mogul William Randolph Hearst.
Documentary filmmaker Thom Andersen (Los Angeles Plays Itself), began this nonfiction feature as his UCLA thesis project and finished it a decade later; it was rejected by the Los Angeles PBS station that helped finance the project, but later had a brief theatrical release before mostly vanishing from circulation until its 2013 restoration and 2015 inclusion on the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry.
BOOTLEG FILES 588: “The Gay Nighties” (1933 short starring the comedy team of Bobby Clark and Paul McCullough plus James Finlayson).
LAST SEEN: It is on YouTube.
AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: In a public domain label collection of the team’s films.
REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: A lapsed copyright.
CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE: No one is going to restore this orphaned gem.
Unless you are a near-rabid devotee to old-time comedy, you are probably unfamiliar with the team of Bobby Clark and Paul McCullough. They began their careers as circus acrobats before working their way through vaudeville and burlesque until they reached stardom on the New York and London stages during the 1920s. When sound came to movies, Clark and McCullough were recruited by Hollywood to star in a series of two-reelers, first under Fox and then under RKO.
Frank R. Strayer’s 1933 feature offered a bewildering mix of horror, mystery and low comedy. The setting is a small German village where a series of murders involves vampire-type punctures on the neck and the draining of the victims’ blood. The superstitious villagers suspect that a local half-wit with a fondness for bats is the culprit, but the real villain is not that difficult to unmask – after all, when you have Lionel Atwill playing a mad scientist, it is obvious his laboratory is not being used for therapeutic research.
This year marks the 90th anniversary of the release of “The Jazz Singer,” which forever changed the way audiences see and hear films. Today, it is difficult to imagine the chaos that sound recording brought to the film industry, but back in the day the introduction of the microphone and the sound engineer resulted in the destruction of some prominent careers.
The 1929 independent feature “The Talk of Hollywood” was the first film to detail the impact that the “talkies” had on the motion picture capital. The production also takes advantage of the lenient Pre-Code era by incorporating racy and politically incorrect humor into its often-savage satire of the business side of the movie world.
In concept, the 1970 endeavor to enable Japanese daredevil skier Yuchiro Miura to become the first athlete in his sport to descend Mount Everest seemed like an expensive folly: a $3 million budget that initially involved 850 men and 27 tons of equipment. And documentary footage covering this adventure seemed destined to become a standard-issue travelogue, at least in its initial journeys through too-picturesque stretches Nepal.
For consumers and collectors interested in erotica that’s both artistic and evocative, Cult Epics releases Nico B’s “Sin.” From the director of films like “Bettie Page: Dark Angel,” his short film “Sin” is a very unique and sophisticated anthology about sex, obsession and the idea of sin. Nico B’s artistic direction is quite fascinating even if “Sin” isn’t one hundred percent as engrossing as it should be. Nico B. explores these ideas through three stories set in various parts of time. There’s “Lady of the East” which involves an Egyptian Dancer who seduces an American traveler. This leads to a rather violent result when he brings the dancer across the world and reveals the bigger more heinous sum of the power of money.
The winner of the Best Picture Award at this year’s New England Underground Film Festival, this amusing 25-minute from filmmaker Jesse Berger slices and dices scenes and dialogue from four anti-classics from the notorious Edward D. Wood Jr. – “Glen or Glenda?”, “Bride of the Monster,” “Plan 9 from Outer Space” and “Night of the Ghouls” – into a wonderfully warped blend of lunacy that perfectly captures the inane spirit of Wood’s work in a fraction of their running time.