Not so silent films

I am thinking of changing my husband’s nickname from PA (Personal Assistant), to PP (Patient Partner). Recently he came to the Cinema Museum again with me to watch some Vitagraph silent films. They were from the 20s and actually very entertaining.

We were entertained, also, by three pianists who gallantly accompanied the galloping horses, Indian attacks , house fires, crashing waves, dying lovers, etc, in the good old single piano days before my father put orchestral music within the reach of small cinemas. What a nice change from one silent film I watched when they had a local band provide the background music. Only it wasn’t anything to do with the movie we were watching, just a performance, so by itself the music might have been ok, but it added nothing at all to the story we were watching. Didn’t anyone tell them what the accompaniment was for?

We were watching 91.5 notched films; I can’t remember if that’s correct but the notch is to stop the film for the dialog panel. If I remember the explanation – which probably made more sense to the technical film buffs there – this hesitation allows the dialog panel to be shown as a slide (one cell) and the projectionist then moves the film on. Otherwise it would have to be repeated on the film long enough for the words to be read. Not as fast as speech, you know. And a lot of film would be wasted. Very clever.

Well not only does this mean careful attention by the projectionist, but it wouldn’t work on a big screen such as we had last night. So it was being projected onto another screen and digitally enlarged and that’s what we saw! Too complicated for me to understand, let alone explain to you. But it worked.

We saw Indians attack covered wagons, ocean storms threatening to swamp the actors (very scary), saving a woman from a burning building (the ladders crashing down in flames), and heros getting their girls at last.

But even better was meeting a whole tribe of folk mad about sound; I have their cards and addresses to keep in touch and talk about my father. It’s all happening.

Daily Prompt: My Computer is Shivering

That’s just what it does when that annoying box comes on saying “connecting to the printer” and when the print information comes up and I click on it, it just shivers. Often I didn’t click on Crtl & P and I don’t want to print anything, but the same message comes up. And then the document showing on my computer screen shivers.

Honestly that’s exactly what happens, it shivers, and then doesn’t print. It doesn’t even put a note of what I want to print in the box, so somewhere it has gone missing.

At least I know now how to explain what I can see happening, so thank you whoever thought of a computer “shivering.”

Talking about Vitaphone

The Cinema Museum in SE London is a wonderful collection of memorabilia, located in the old workhouse where Charlie Chaplin’s mother lived. It’s also a great social gathering location. Screenings and events take place regularly, including a Comedy Weekend coming up in October.

The film ending Saturday’s selection is “A Better ‘Ole” (check out this link for the origin of this phrase: It’s a WWI comedy with British Tommies (soldiers), and I understand was the second film to have sound, after “Don Juan”. Wes Connors says:

The production levels offered by Warner Brothers are quite high; “The Better ‘Ole” was the second film to make use of the studio’s synchronized music and sound effects “Vitaphone” process. Vitaphone synchronized camera

This is a photo of the synchronized camera used for the first Vitaphone productions here being studied by Stanley Watkins, Hartley C Humphrey, “Chuck” R Sawyer and “Archie” C Millard. I’ve given the first names by which I knew these engineers. The documents only ever give their initials. (sorry about the large white spaces – I need help to get my photos in the right place).

Now, I know that my father, Stan Watkins, worked with Sam Warner on that first sound film “Don Juan” and then on “The Jazz Singer” with its accidentally added speech, but I have nothing in his memoirs about”A Better ‘Ole” so when the organizer asked me to introduce the film I regretfully said I could not help.

However, he then asked if I could, perhaps, speak briefly about the Vitaphone system, so that’s what I’m going to do. I’m looking out some anecdotes now; people always enjoy them, and these will be from the horse’s mouth, so to speak (no pun intended).

The sun is still shining and my PA comes home tomorrow. Yippee! As Robert Lewis Stevenson said in his “Child’s Garden of Verses” (did you grow up with that too?): The world is so full of a number of things, I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings.