Tuesday, July 26, 2011

It Sounds So Sweet! The Wonderful World of Jug Band Music

The Dixieland Jug Blowers (source: The Red Hot Jazz Archive)

On Saturday, July 30, 2011 from 2:30 to 5:30 the Art, Music and Recreation Center and the California Jug Band Association will present "It Sounds So Sweet! The Wonderful World of Jug Band Music" in the Main Library's Koret Auditorium.

Paul Oliver in the New Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments writes that the jug band is "an instrumental ensemble developed among black Americans in the 1920s and 1930s." Oliver notes that although the standard jug was an "earthenware demi-john," some musicians also used items like kerosene cans and stovepipes to get the desired effect.

Jug band music was originally most popular in the Mississippi and Ohio River valley cities of Memphis, Louisville and Cincinnati. Its influences can readily be found in the Chicago blues tradition and rock & roll but has experienced a re-emergence of its own in recent years. Jug band songs touch on all aspects of life – from the sad to the joyful and silly, from personal experiences to larger socio-political issues.

Saturday's program will cover all aspects of the music – its history, its practice and the experience of a live concert from a working jug band. Film clips of original and contemporary jug bands and the world premiere of the documentary film "Music in a Jugular Vein" will fill out an entertaining and informative afternoon.

The program will also include jug playing lessons with Pete Devine and Waxwing John Cowan and a live concert by Waxwing John and guests. All programs at the Library are free and open to the public.

Recommended reading:

The Country Blues by Samuel B. Charters (Da Capo Press, 1975) has a chapter entitled "Memphis Jug Bands."

The History of the Blues by Francis Davis (Hyperion, 1995) has a chapter entitled "Blues vaudevillians, jug bands, and medicine show songsters."

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Traces of Mary Pickford's "The Library" Found in The Library

source: San Francisco History Room - San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection

While researching in the San Francisco History Room’s Historical Photo Collection for the current exhibition Shhhhh! Silents in the Library, I discovered this little gem.

Here we see two images of Mary Pickford, taken at least thirty years apart. On the left she is shown as at the height of her career, with her trademark curls and the angelic smile that contributed to her reputation as ‘America’s Sweetheart.’ On the right, she appears as she did in the year of this 1951 press release. The caption states, “Mary Pickford announced today that she’ll end her 19-year retirement from the movies to make a one-picture comeback in a film titled ‘The Library.’

Though the film was announced, it was apparently never shot. This made me curious for an explanation. In 1950, United Artists Corporation, the company Mary Pickford co-founded with Douglas Fairbanks and Charlie Chaplin in 1919, was in dire financial trouble. Perhaps the film was announced in an attempt to stimulate public interest in UA films, but the financing fell through? By early 1951, while the corporation’s finances remained poor, Mary Pickford brokered a deal and “signed over effective control of the company to Arthur Krim,” thus freeing herself from the financial burden. Perhaps this relief made room for acting again. Undoubtedly the success of Sunset Boulevard in 1950 factored. Gloria Swanson, also a silent film icon, made her comeback and met rave reviews in the role of Norma Desmond, a role Mary Pickford had also considered.

I had hoped to get a quick answer directly from the silent film expert, Kevin Brownlow, at a book signing last Sunday where he was speaking as part of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. Unfortunately, I was not the only person there wanting a bit of his experise. So, while I did not get a chance to get an answer, I did hear Kevin Brownlow's marvelous presentation about his monumental restoration project of Abel Gance’s Napoleon. For the first time in almost 30 years this restored, five and a half-hour Napoleon will be screened, with a new orchestral score, and for the first time with a three projector system to properly serve Gance's 'polyvision' Tricolore.

For those wanting to read more, the library owns numerous silent film histories by Brownlow, and many works on Pickford, including Brownlow’s gorgeous volume, Mary Pickford Rediscovered: Rare Pictures of a Hollywood Legend.

Behind the Mask of Innocence by Kevin Brownlow (University of California Press,1992).

David Lean: A Biography by Kevin Brownlow (St. Martin's Press, 1996).

Hollywood, The Pioneers by Kevin Brownlow (Knopf, 1979).

Mary Pickford, America's Sweetheart by Scott Eyman (D.I. Fine, 1990).

Mary Pickford, Comedienne by Kemp R. Niver (Locare Research Group, 1969).

Mary Pickford Rediscovered: Rare Pictures of a Hollywood Legend by Kevin Brownlow (Harry N. Abrams, Publishers, in association with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, 1999).

Napoleon, Abel Gance's Classic Film by Kevin Brownlow (Knopf, 1983).

Napoleon [videorecording] [Images Film Archive, Inc.] (MCA Home Video, 1989).

The Parade's Gone By by Kevin Brownlow (Knopf, 1968).

Pickford: The Woman Who Made Hollywood by Eileen Whitfield (University Press of Kentucky, 1997).

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Film Screening: Son of the Sheik

Sunday, July 10th 2:00 pm
Koret Auditorium
Main Library, Lower Level

image courtesy of Donna L. Hill

The 1926 film, Son of the Sheik, is based on a bestselling novel; it was the sequel to an even more popular film and book. Son of the Sheik was also the last film to star Rudolph Valentino - one of the great stars of the silent era.

Join us for a screening of this classic film! Donna Hill, author of Rudolph Valentino: The Silent Idol, will introduce the movie with a fifteen minute slideshow about the life of the actor. Following the film there will be a booksigning with Hill and event organizer Thomas Gladysz, author of the "Louise Brooks" edition of The Diary of a Lost Girl.

This event coincides with the 4th floor exhibition Reading the Stars: The Silent Era. Included among beautiful vintage books of the era, is a display case devoted to writings by and about Valentino. For loan, the library also has many circulating books (including Emily Leider's Dark Lover) and a DVD collection of two feature films and additional short films.

image courtesy of Donna L. Hill

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Shhhhh! Silents in the Library

An exhibition from June 25th - August 28th, 2011
Main Library, Fourth Floor & Sixth Floor History Center Exhibit Space

In our modern world, where moving images meet us in every size at every turn, from enormous billboards astride the freeway to the tiny screens on our handheld devices, it is perhaps difficult to imagine a time, a mere 130 years ago, in which the representation of objects in motion was nothing short of miraculous. From its earliest phases of development through its wild success as popular entertainment, cinema emerged from the shadows like a figure stepping forward from the fog, right here in the Bay Area.

In 1878, Eadweard Muybridge made a series of stop-motion photographs of a galloping racehorse in Palo Alto that led to the birth of the movies. Within two years, the world's first public moving picture exhibition took place at the San Francisco Art Association building on Pine Street. The Western genre and Charlie Chaplin's 'Tramp' character both have their roots in nearby Niles, CA. Through the 1920s, San Francisco served as set and setting for hundreds of silent pictures and was home to movie palaces that rivaled those of any city.

Shhhhh! Silents in the Library is a multi-display exhibition exploring silent film, both through its connections to the Bay Area and through the popular literature of the era. The most prominent part of the exhibition, Reading the Stars: The Silent Era, consists of books published about the movies, including vintage biographies, pictorials, how-to titles and even novels, poetry and self-help works written by some of the biggest names in Hollywood. Also included is a salute to The San Francisco Silent Film Festival (July 14-17, Castro Theatre) where scholars, preservationists and fans annually prove the festival's motto, 'True Art Transcends Time.'

This exhibition is made possible by The Friends of the Public Library and through the generous efforts of members of the city’s silent film community, especially Thomas Gladysz, Christy Pascoe, Donna Hill, Rory J. O’Connor, Brian Darr, David Kiehn, Stephen Salmons, Stacey Wisnia and the staff of SFSFF.

A Short List of Additional Reading

The Silent Film Era and the Bay Area:

Bell, Geoffrey. The Golden Gate and the Silver Screen. Rutherford: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press ; New York : Cornwall Books, c1984.

Kiehn, David. Broncho Billy and the Essanay Film Company. Berkeley, CA: Farwell Books, c2003.

Solnit, Rebecca. River of Shadows : Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West. New York: Viking, 2003.

Tillmany, Jack. Theatres of San Francisco. Charleston, SC: Arcadia, c2005.

General Reading:

Brownlow, Kevin. The Parade's Gone By. New York : Knopf, 1968.

Card, James. Seductive Cinema: the Art of Silent Film. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999.

Everson, William K. American Silent Film. New York : Da Capo Press, 1998.

Kobel, Peter. Silent Movies: the Birth of Film and the Triumph of Movie Culture. New York : Little, Brown and Co., 2007.