As I was opening up a new view screen on my laptop to look up some background on Georges Méliès' very short film "After the Ball," my home screen proclaimed "Co-star hated stint on '24.'" Ah, the Hollywood of today transposed with the Hollywood of yesterday.
So here's the burgeoning Hollywood right beside the trashiness of Hollywood
Yesterday's Hollywood was filled with innovation, emotion, envelope-pushing, lavish sets and faces. Today's Hollywood is filled with innovation, emotion (usually those off-camera), envelope-pushing (but in a really-did-they-have-to-do-it-that-way? way), lavish sets, faces ... and TMZ. In the early 1900's, people were place on pedestals because they were literally larger-than-life on huge movie screens. You couldn't watch them at home or online while drinking coffee at a cafe. You had to actually go to a magical world known as a theater, sit in the dark and be overwhelmed by the lights and sounds. The actors were big, and so were their faces!
That much hasn't changed today. But when you leave the theater, you are quickly surrounded by ads, TV commercials and Kardashians. Oh, the humanity.
So tonight's silent film was, as I said, Georges Méliès' "After the Ball," which is only 1 minute and 6 seconds long. It features a lady getting out of her party clothes after a ball, and she is assisted by her lady's maid. Layer after layer is removed until she is wearing what looks to be an early thong. She may be wearing a body suit underneath it. Her maid pours water over a few times, towels her off and sends her on her way.
IMDB says it was the "first film to ever show a nudity scene on screen." Was it titillating? Not really. Was it interesting? Yes! Five years later, Georges Méliès would bring us "A Trip to the Moon," a standard classic. It's a one-shot, and the quality is clear and clean. The film features only two actors: Jane Brady and Jeanne d'Alcy.
You can watch it here.
Have you watched some of the early "adult" or "risque" films? What did you think of them?
After discovering a wonderful site called Open Culture, I found that they have "101 Free Silent Films: The Great Classics" available on their site! I decided to challenge myself--if not every day then pretty close to it--to watch at least one silent film each day. After all, I'm working on a book about silent film stars and haven't watched many silents since I was in college. And even then not nearly enough.
My first selection was the 1910 version of "Frankenstein." While only just more than 12 minutes long, it kept a pleasant pace and stayed true to the original story (unlike the Karloff version that took a number of liberties).
"Frankenstein" stars (all uncredited) Augustus Phillips as Frankenstein, Charles Ogle as The Monster and Mary Fuller as Elizabeth. It was directed by J. Searle Dawley, who also wrote the script based on the Mary Shelley novel.
The condition of parts of the film are in very rough condition You can't see the gestures very well, and the facial expressions are just not visible. Both are critical to the silent world.
I found out that Mary Fuller ended up in movies kind of by accident. According ti IMDB.com, she was a stage actress who got stuck in New York and ended up working at a studio. She ended up working for studios such as Vitagraph.
According to FindaGrave.com, Mary Fuller spent the last years of her life in a mental institution in Washington, D.C. She died in obscurity and was buried in Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C. For an unknown amount of time, her grave went unmarked. Now it seems a very nice monument has been placed at her grave (see the photos at FindaGrave).
I'm the author of a number of cemetery books and am now writing one about the graves of silent film stars, starting with the ladies. Who would you like to see included?
More Silent Film Resources
• Silentology blog