Monday, January 3, 2011

Olive and Octopuses!

Back in the first decades of film one of the earliest and most popular forms of movie watching was the serial. One might think that this is a form of entertainment, with its heroines in peril and its Mings being ever so merciless, that has so thoroughly fallen out of favor that not even a glimmer still exists. Of course, that would be total nonsense, as the form is alive and well in what we now refer to as "television shows". The venue has changed, but the form has not.

Our modern age has an awful lot to answer for, but truly, one of its greatest wonders is the internet, where everything imaginable is sure to exist someplace (Just like the world! But with a better search engine!). Recently, I came across the Serial Squadron (Academy of Cliffhanger Arts and Sciences), whose raison d'ĂȘtre is the movie serial. They restore and make available on DVD movie serials that have not been seen in decades. One of their projected titles is The Trail of the Octopus from 1919. Cephalopod fascination aside, I am dying to see this film. It's described as a "Serial Noir" in 15 parts and has a plot that concerns Ancient Egypt, explorers, a Devil cult, crime, and sorcery. Essentially, it's pulp nirvana. The only known copy is owned by the Library of Congress (unfortunately, the 9th chapter is missing and not even a summary exists), and it's from this that the Squad is making the transfer. It's been screened publicly exactly once in the past 90 years. This is very, very exciting stuff, they have a projected release date of Spring 2011 contingent on people pledging to buy. They have a teaser up on YouTube:

Of particular interest to me is their Beatrice Fairfax collection. One of the chapters of Volume 2 includes the film debut of Olive Thomas, legendary Ziegfield Girl, art model and starlet. The film was shot in Ithaca, NY and Olive was at the peak of her Follies derived fame. Wonderfully, the Serial Squad has posted her chapter (heavily edited) on YouTube, and it's something of a revelation. Until they did so, the only film of Olive available to the public was one of her last features, The Flapper. In 1920, Olive's Irish good looks were already fading: she drank, smoked, drugged and partied like a champ. And like certain modern starlets in their mid 20s, she looked pretty rough. In 1916, however, she was gorgeous.

It's also telling that in her very first film appearance, she debuted as a star. The role itself isn't hugely demanding, she mostly has to play the pretty girl everyone is in love with and the plot revolves around, but as in her subsequent film, she is very, very natural and easy in front of the camera. For those that are more interested in baseball than chorus girls, footage of the actual New York Giants and Yankees playing at the Polo Grounds is on the DVD (Olive's boyfriend in the story is a baseball player). William Randolph Hearst has a cameo in episode 1, but sadly, the footage has been lost.

See Olive below:

You can find a list of all Serial Squadron titles here. As they take some pains to explain on their website, they are a small concern who are clearly doing this out of love, and Bless them for it!

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