The 2012 Cinefest auction, the annual Sunday-morning sale of movie-related artifacts, featured host Leonard Maltin in rare form. “Are you ready for excitement? Are you ready for fun?” the noted film historian asked the bidders. “Well, go to Mario’s House of Style just down the street,” Maltin unexpectedly said about the longtime Seventh North Street salon, as he drew the first of many laughs from the crowd.
Auctioneer Maltin hustled plenty of products, everything from an original Vitaphone soundtrack disc to a 16mm Technicolor print of the Debbie Reynolds musical I Love Melvin, usually with a one-liner to accompany each item. And the ones that he couldn’t unload provided the biggest guffaws. “You say you want to fill in your VHS library?” he asked. “Well, folks, here are 236 tapes in 13 boxes, all lovingly taped.” There were scant takers.
Cinefest, the social event of the season for film enthusiasts, marks its 33rd edition this weekend, running Thursday, March 14, through Sunday, March 17, at Liverpool’s Holiday Inn, 441 Electronics Parkway. The Syracuse Cinephile Society’s annual confab offers many 16mm film screenings of long-forgotten flicks at the hotel’s convention center, with a side trip to Eastwood’s Palace Theatre, 2384 James St., on Saturday, March 16, for an eight-hour block of 35mm lost treasures.
Dealer rooms are sprawled all around the hotel hallways, with four-color lobby cards and posters, magazines, books, DVDs and much more. Some dealers even bring their musical instruments and get together for nightly jam sessions.
A digital projector system will again be installed for some oldies, although Cinephile president Gerry Orlando assures that old-school celluloid is not in danger of being ousted. “Most of the archives’ new restorations are done digitally,” Orlando says. “And our attendees know that digital is not replacing film at Cinefest, it’s supplementing it. The digital that we show cannot be seen on film, so they know that what we’re giving them is the only way to see the material at this time.”
There is one sad note to pass along:
Behind-the-scenes Cinefest cohort John Weber died in 2012. Orlando says a Weber tribute will be part of this year’s fest, with a framed photo of Weber placed next to a shot of Cinefest founder Phil Serling at the registration table.
Weber was also a Sherlock Holmes fanatic, hence the screening of a 1932 version with Clive Brook.
Thursday, March 14, kicks off with the 1932 Paramount short subject Summer Daze (9 a.m.), a Catskills-based farce with the forgotten comic duo of George K. Arthur and Karl Dane. The latter’s career was cut short by his 1934 suicide; reportedly, his heavy Danish accent proved troublesome in his transition to talkies, while failed business ventures also took an emotional toll. From 1934 comes The Pursuit of Happiness (9:20 a.m.), a lavish romantic comedy
set during the Revolutionary War with Francis Lederer pitching woo to Joan Bennett, plus reliable Paramount contract players Charlie Ruggles and Mary Boland on the sidelines.
A quintet of shorts are grouped under the umbrella title “Lame Brains and Lunatics” (10:45 a.m.), to be hosted by Library of Congress film curator Rob Stone and historian Steve Massa. The program starts with the 1914 Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle chuckler An Incompetent Hero, then moves on to 1916’s A Busy Night with the obscure silent comic Marcel Perez. The 1917 comedy Dough Nuts features Chaplin copycat Billy West, 1916’s Outs and Ins is another rarity that stars the forgotten comic Harry Watson Jr., and the program ends with vaudeville veteran Alice Howell (acclaimed by Stan Laurel as one of his favorite physical comediennes) in 1925’s Universal laugher Under a Spell.
Following a lunch break will be the fifth annual batch of old coming attractions (1 p.m.) presented by host Ray Faiola, this year focusing on 20-odd years of 20th Century Fox trailers, home to Tyrone Power, Betty Grable, Alice Faye and many more. Galloping next onto the Cinefest screen is Rex the Wonder Horse for Universal’s 1927 racetrack silent Wild Beauty (2:05 p.m.), which features June Marlowe (pretty schoolmarm Miss Crabtree from several Our Gang comedies) as the leading lady. A race horse also figures prominently in the 1917 silent The Whip (3 p.m.), guided by pioneering cinema auteur Maurice Tourneur at the then-burgeoning film capital of Fort Lee, N.J.
Roscoe Arbuckle, under his directorial nom de plume William Goodrich, helms the 1931 comedy shorts Honeymoon Trio (4:30 p.m.) and Queenie of Hollywood (4:40 p.m.) from poverty-row studio Educational Pictures (always billed as “the spice of the program”). The afternoon concludes with First National’s 1921 silent comedy My Boy (5 p.m.), a breezy
knockoff of Chaplin’s The Kid, released 10 months earlier, with that film’s 7-yearold star Jackie Coogan (who had Salt City ties) stealing scenes galore.
The evening’s flicks commence with the return of a Cinefest tradition: a William J. Burns detective short, the so-bad-they’re-good mysteries from the early 1930s. This year’s entry, The Death House (8 p.m.), should feature the usual creaky plotting and hokey performances that are the cherished hallmarks of this sleuthing series. Stepping up in class is So Near, Yet So Far (8:10 p.m.), with curlyhaired cutie Mary Pickford in a 1912 silent short from classic director D.W. Griffith.
Next is the 1916 Mary Pickford silent drama The Foundling (8:20 p.m.), which was actually filmed twice: The original version was a casualty during a 1915 blaze at the Famous Players’ Manhattan studio, so Pickford had to redo the movie. The fourth annual installment of the “Song in the Dark” program (9:35 p.m.), hosted by Richard Barrios, offers another cornucopia of excerpts and deleted musical numbers from early sound musicals.
The night ends with Passport to Heaven (11 p.m.), a fact-based drama about ex-con Wilhelm Voight (played by Foreign Correspondent Oscar nominee Albert Basserman), who impersonated a Prussian officer in his attempt to return to Germany circa 1906. Filmed in 1941, the project could not find a U.S. distributor because of World War II fervor against the Nazis and did not receive bookings until 1945.
The opener for the morning slate on Friday, March 15, picks up on the similar theme of cinematic suppression that hindered Passport to Heaven. The lavish 1933 British comedy-fantasy The Merry Monarch (9 a.m.), starring The Blue Angel’s Emil Jannings as a King Solomon-esque hoarder of wives, endured scant distribution in England, while its high level of Jewish personnel involved with the film led to its no-show in Hitler-era Germany.
RKO’s 1934 The Fuller Gush Man (10:25 a.m.) headlines an exasperated Walter Catlett in a short directed by Marx Brothers collaborator Al Boasberg. And the 1926 Columbia silent Ladies of Leisure (10:45 a.m.) features Elaine Hammerstein and Gertrude Short in a complicated tale of secrets and romances.
Afternoon flicks begin with RKO’s 1936 short Camp Meetin’ (1 p.m.), with music from the acclaimed Hall Johnson Choir. Next is the fifth episode of the 1929 Mascot serial King of the Kongo (1:20 p.m.), a restoration that offers a pre-Frankenstein appearance by Boris Karloff. This chapter was originally slated for the 2012 Cinefest until technical difficulties squelched that plan. Cinefesters will be seeing Red, so to speak, with the 1919 silent antique Bolshevism on Trial (1:45 p.m.), a propaganda flick about the evils of socialism.
Louis Despres, who runs a website devoted to Swedish comedian El Brendel, hosts a 2:50 p.m. program of the comic’s home movies, with major stars from Hollywood’s Golden Age cavorting in behind-the-scenes footage. Universal’s 1926 silent action yarn The Ice Flood (3:05 p.m.) offers lumberjack thrills in the Northwest. And Two Hearts in 3/4 Waltz (4 p.m.) is an imported German musical from 1930 that actually did impressive business stateside in a subtitled version.
The nighttime lineup commences with a brief tribute to the passing of longtime Cinephile member John Weber (8 p.m.), followed by a second silent program of “Lame Brains and Lunatics” (8:15 p.m.) that includes 1916’s Ham and the Masked Marvel, Leon Errol in 1916’s Nearly Spliced, 1917’s Muggsy in Bad and the 1926 Louise Fazenda two-reeler Dizzy Daisy.
Clive Brook dons the deerstalker cap for 20th Century Fox’s 1932 version of Sherlock Holmes (9:25 p.m.), as the sleuth once more battles the deathless Professor Moriarty (Ernest Torrence). The evening’s nightcap offers Paramount’s 1932 domestic comedy This Reckless Age (10:45 p.m.), with Charles “Buddy” Rogers, Frances Dee and Charlie Ruggles.
On Saturday, March 16, Eastwood’s Palace Theatre welcomes Cinefesters for the 35mm screenings. The roster, which starts at 8:30 a.m. and has no set time schedule, includes a “Technicolor Fragments” program that offers blink-andyou’ll-miss-them snippets that showcase the color format in its infancy, as well as a “Best of Mostly Lost” cavalcade of restored reels from hard-to-document films from the silent era.
Complete features include Warner Brothers’ 1924 silent Three Women, a light charmer from director Ernst Lubitsch; Colleen Moore in the 1922 silent Come On Over; Norma Talmadge in the 1928 silent The Woman Disputed; and the 1929 Paramount comedy Why Bring That Up? with the vaudeville minstrel antics of Moran and Mack. There’s also the first public showing of a newbie titled It’s a Frame-Up, a labor of love from Sony Pictures archivist Mike Schlesinger that spoofs the comedy teams of yesteryear.
Back at the Holiday Inn, a digital projector will be employed for the evening’s restorations, starting with Alexander Korda’s lavish 1927 production The Private Life of Helen of Troy (8 p.m.), albeit only its final reel, since the rest of the movie has not survived. The 1928 Hal Roach short The Smile Wins (8:15 p.m.) was long considered a missing-in-action Our Gang short until a French print was discovered in 1991.
Silents include the 1926 ethnic comedy Partners Again (8:40 p.m.) and the 1919 Hobart Bosworth-Wallace Beery shocker Behind the Door (9:45 p.m.). The night’s final feature, the 1926 Paramount gridiron comedy The Quarterback (10:50 p.m.) with Richard Dix as the world’s oldest college student who gets one final shot at beating a rival football team.
Before the 10:30 a.m. auction commences on Sunday, March 18, Cinefest will unspool Fox’s 1937 musical comedy Wake Up and Live (9 a.m.), which gets laughs from its fictional feud between gossip gadfly Walter Winchell and band-leader Ben Bernie, plus musical numbers from Alice Faye and Jack Haley. After the auction will be the 1933 Paramount short Sailors Beware (noon), with Eugene Pallette and Walter Catlett, followed by the fifth annual salute to Justin Herman, the Peabody Award-winning writer-director behind three Florida-based comedy shorts from Paramount’s Pacemaker series: 1951’s I Cover the Everglades, 1953’s Hurricane Hunters and 1955’s Walk in the Deep (12:20 p.m.). Cinefesters will get to see the late Herman’s own prints of these rarities.
The 1916 silent costumer The Gilded Cage (12:55 p.m.) was one of eight films made that year to feature pretty actress Alice Brady. The 1931 RKO comedy-drama High Stakes (2:05 p.m.) features director-star Lowell Sherman as well as former silent great Mae Murray in her final screen role. Cinefest 33 unspools its last reels with the 1938 Alexander Korda production South Riding (3:25 p.m.), filmed in Britain with a cast that includes Edna Best, Ralph Richardson and Edmund Gwenn.
Three ivory-ticklers will be on hand with piano accompaniments on the silents: Dr. Jon Mirsalis, Dr. Andrew Simpson and Jeff Rapsis. Authors and film historians who will also be attending Cinefest include the aforementioned Richard Barrios (A Song in the Dark: The Birth of the Musical Film), as well as Martin Grams Jr. (the 816-page history of The Green Hornet) and Annette D’Agostino Lloyd, who has written extensively on movie legend Harold Lloyd, and is no relation to the bespectacled silent comic.
for all four days is $85, with daily ducats fetching $30. A $25 fee
will also be charged for the Palace’s Saturday screenings. The main
dealers’ room, crammed with all kinds of stills, posters, videos and
books, along with some satellite showrooms at the hotel, are available
to festival attendees and will also be open to the public on Saturday,
10 a.m. to 6 p.m., with a $5 admission. For Cinefest information, visit
syracusecinefest.com; for Holiday Inn details, call 457-1122.