Friday, April 25, 2014

Jason goes to the Niles Film Museum for our annual Earthquake Memorial Show

For some reason, I get busier and busier every year and don't make it to as many of the shows at Niles as I would like. Still, somehow I always have free time for their earthquake show in April, so I've seen at least the shorts many times over.

A TRIP DOWN MARKET STREET (1906): A favorite here, in no small part because our own historian researched the origins of this film and was featured on 60 Minutes (note: at the very end of the piece I appear on screen for a split second.) It's always fun to see, and play the game of how-many-times-does-that-one-driver-in-a-bowler-hat-cross-the-screen (answer: six.)

THE DESTRUCTION OF SAN FRANCISCO (1906): Also standard for the earthquake show, Blackhawk films compiled footage from Edison, Pathe, Biograph, and others showing not just the destruction of San Francisco, but some of the rebuilding. Very interesting.

THE PENALTY (1920): And then I thought I had seen this before, but it turns out I was mistaking it for another Lon Chaney film, THE SHOCK, which was a staple of the earthquake show because it actually featured the earthquake as a plot point. But this one is just set in San Francisco, and stars Lon Chaney as the legless criminal mastermind Blizzard. He famously tied his legs back in braces that could only be worn for a few minutes at a time before the pain was intolerable, and suffered permanent muscle damage as a result. But the end result is remarkable, so here's to suffering for your art! The story is about him plotting an audacious crime spree to loot San Francisco while getting revenge on the quack doctor who amputated his legs when he was a child. Meanwhile an undercover cop (a woman, even!) infiltrates his organization and finds...that he actually has a sensitive side. At least, he likes classical music, and they spend many a pleasant hour together with him playing the piano...and her working the pedals. Although the ending is a little too tidy, it's still a great story and a brilliant turn by Chaney.

Total Running Time: 114 minutes
My Total Minutes: 359,955

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