I love early cinema for a lot of reasons: you can see filmmakers
creating the language of film as time goes on, the movies themselves
can be magnificent, and the creativity is often astounding, just to
name a few. One of the main things that draws me to the early days of
film is that it's a window on the past. No only can you see monuments
places that no longer exist, but movies have often documented a way of
life that has largely disappeared. It's amazing to see just how people
lived a century ago: what they put in an ice box, how they dressed, and
what social customs they embraced. For others that enjoy the historical
aspect of movies Flicker Alley, in association with Blackhawk Films,
has just released a wonderful collection - We're in the Movies. This set
includes a pair of documentaries (When
You Wore a Tulip and I Wore a Big Red Rose about the creation of
an itinerant film, The Lumberjack,
and Palace of Silents a look
at the history of a silent movie theater that opened in Los Angeles in
1942) as well as five shorts. It's a great collection that's well worth
When You Wore a Tulip and I Wore a Big
Red Rose (1983):
In the early days of the movies, there were a group of filmmakers with
an entrepreneurial spirit who would travel the country and make movies
in small towns, for a fee. They would cast local members of society and
often include scenes where all of the children in the town paraded
past. They'd then partner with the local cinema to show the movie. Who
wouldn't come out to see their child, and town, on the big screen?
This first feature was made in 1983 by a young filmmaker named Stephen
Schaller. He managed to not only track down the only exist copy of an
itinerant film made in Wausau Wisconsin, but was able to find some
people who appeared in the film and several others who remember when it
was filmed and even seeing it on the screen. This movie was a little
different from the typical itinerant film. The Lumberjack, as the movie
was titled, was intended for wider distribution and its purpose was to
advertise the town.
The plot is simple, a girl meets the foreman of a lumber mill while on
a tour and the two start to date. They agree to meet on a couple of
afternoons and travel around to the city's main attractions: the
downtown area, a weekend festival complete with boat races, and the
granite quarry (he's obviously quite the lady's man!)
It was an interesting tour, especially for anyone who was at least a
casual viewer of 60 Minutes
in the 70s. At that time the Wausau Insurance Group advertised every
week and ended each ad with a shot of the Wausau train depo... the one
thing that's not featured in the film.
This documentary visits the places where the film was shot, talks to
the people who remember it, and discusses the impact (or lack thereof)
that it had on the town. Stephen Schaller finds out what happened to
the couple featured in the film (they were married in real life) and
their son remembers being ordered to attend a rare screening of the
film in the 30's and not liking it at all (he was more into westerns at
This documentary is filled with people who are no longer with us, and
it's great that Schaller had the drive to make it when he did. The only
real complaint I have is that The Lumberjack is tucked away in the
extras. I would have like to have seen that first, before the
documentary that chronicles its creation.
Palace of Silents: The Silent Movie
Theater in Los Angeles (2010):
This documentary traces the history of not a person or film, but of a
theater. It chronicles the inspiring, sad, and tragic story of the
theater through the eyes of fans and employees and turns out to be
stranger than any fiction.
In 1942, a man by the name of John Hampton and his new bride Dorothy
built The Silent Movie Theater on Fairfax Avenue in Los Angles. Devoted
to running only silent films, the small 150 seat theater screened some
of the best films from the early days of cinema, mostly from prints
from Hampton's own growing collection.
The theater became an institution and hangout for movie buffs, but as
the years progressed it struggled to keep its doors open. Finally in
1979 Hampton closed the theater due to his failing health.
What normally would have been the end of the story in only the halfway
point however. Enter Lawrence Austin, a friend of the Hamptons who
reopened the theater in 1991 after John passed away, and with Dorothy's
blessing. That's when the rumors started to fly. Was Austin a showman
or a con man? Was he cheating Dorothy out of her share of the profits?
The tale gets as tangled as an old film noir thriller and eventually
ends up in a real life murder.
This Blu-ray/DVD combo pack arrives in a single-width clear Blu-ray
case with double-sided cover art.
As with all of the Flicker Alley releases that I've seen, the image quality
is very good. The films are presented in anamorphic widescreen with the
1.33:1 When You Wore a Tulip and I Wore a Big Red Rose being
pillarboxed. This film, being created in 1983, isn't as sharp and crisp
as Palace of Silents, but it still looks nice. I can't really complain
about either movie, or the selection of vintage films that are included
The audio on both movies was clean. It was easy to hear the dialog and
audio defects weren't present.
This is where this collection really shines. A lot of extras are just
fluff or filler, but Flicker Alley (like Criterion) goes the extra mile
to track down quality bonus items. This set includes a wonderful
collection of six short films from the early days of cinema.
First up is The Lumberjack,
the film that is discussed in When
You Wore a Tulip and I Wore a Big Red Rose. It's a very nice,
simple look at Wausau WI from 1914. The image is good and it's a
wonderful look back in time.
The same can be said for Huntingdon's
Hero, another local film. This talkie has a bit more a plot than
The Lumberjack, including some
really bad jokes, and features some placement of a local car dealership
as well as the radio station.
There's a third movie made by itinerant filmmakers, The Kidnapper's Foil. This was
created by Melton Barker, who would travel from town to town filming
the same script again and again filling the roles with locals each
time. In the included booklet, film historian and preservationist David
Shepard says that Barker made the film between 150-200 times over a
nearly forty year period. The sound on this version, filmed in
Corsicana, Texas, is a bit muddled, but the charm of the film still
If that was all of the extras, I'd be happy. But there's more. Also
included on the disc is a trio of very short (3-5 minutes each) silent
films chronicling life in the rural Appalachian Mountains. The films, In the Moonshine Country, Mountain Life,
and Our Southern Mountaineers,
all show a way of life that largely doesn't exist now. From making soap
to tanning leather and making hooch, these shorts give a quick glimpse
into a forgotten part of America.
There is also a very interesting 12 page booklet with essays and images
about the movies included in this set.
The two main features were very good, but the five shorts are great
too. Taken together this is quite a package. It's aimed at a niche,
history buff audience, but those who enjoy these types of films will
really appreciate this enjoyable set. Recommended.