By John Bengston
There was hidden interplay between movies filmed in Hollywood and in San Francisco. Buster Keaton filmed scenes adjacent to several San Francisco landmarks, but in each case before they were actually built!
Hosted by the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, I will be presenting “Silent Footsteps — From San Francisco to Hollywood” on Sunday, June 6 at 12:00 noon PDT, as part of its ongoing “Amazing Tales Online” series. The webinar is free (register HERE), but SFSFF welcomes new members and support.
The recorded presentation will be uploaded later to the festival’s online screening room joining previous presentations about George Méliès, the 1915 Panama-Pacific World’s Fair, Flipbooks, surprises from Serge Bromberg, a stunning collection of Masterclasses with musicians on scoring for silent movies, plus films restored by the Festival.
For this all new program I worked with Biograph scholar Russell Merritt. We uncovered surprising vestiges of many important locations from D. W. Griffith’s epic masterpiece Intolerance (1916), hidden for over a century, that will be revealed for the first time during the show. Here is a teaser of what we’ve discovered.
I’ll also reveal how a film unseen for decades, restored by SFSFF, provided the Rosetta Stone interconnecting various films that led to identifying the most consequential silent film location in all of Hollywood.
Fun details hide in the background of so many vintage Hollywood photos – below, the far-away set for Douglas Fairbanks’ The Thief of Bagdad (1924).
I am especially pleased with how this program came together, and its many new surprises in store. I hope you can attend our Silent Footsteps Zoom webinar this Sunday, June 6 at 12:00 noon PST.
Read more about The Alley at Silent Locations.
John Bengston is a business lawyer, film historian, and lecturer, whose books Silent Echoes, Silent Traces, and Silent Visions explore the early Hollywood history hidden in the background of the films of Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, and Harold Lloyd and the changes wrought by the ensuing decades. John’s work has been hailed by The New York Times as a “Proustian collage of time and memory, biography and history, urban growth and artistic expression….the great detective of silent film locations.” Each book features a foreword by Academy Award winning film historian Kevin Brownlow. Bengtson has lectured at nearly sixty events hosted by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the Turner Classic Movie Channel Film Festival, Cineteca di Bologna, Film Forum and The Museum of the Moving Image in New York, USC, the American Cinematheque and Cinecon Classic Film Festival at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood, and the UCLA Film and Television Archive, and has provided commentary and bonus programs for over a dozen Keaton, Chaplin, and Lloyd DVD/Blu-ray releases. John serves on the Board of Directors of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. He has lectured at nearly sixty events and festivals across the country, while contributing visual essays to over a dozen DVD/Blu-ray bonus programs.
His blog, Silent Locations, supplements the books with tours, videos, and PowerPoint lectures that can’t be replicated in books, and new discoveries, and expanded coverage of the great silent clowns and their home turf, that would not otherwise be published. Look for discoveries concerning Harry Langdon, Charley Chase, and other silent stars as well. John welcomes your questions and suggestions, and invites you to step back in time with him to explore silent-era Hollywood as seen through the eyes of its greatest comedians.
John writes, “On the centenary of Buster Keaton’s birth Kino released Buster’s complete oeuvre on video for the first time, and later on, the Keaton appreciation society, the Damfinos, published an aerial photo of the Keaton Studio. Viewing that aerial photo was a thrill. It provided context and allowed me to “peek” over the studio fence for the first time.
For some reason, I began to notice certain bungalows and other landmarks from the aerial view began popping up in Buster’s films. I also noticed a chase sequence from Day Dreams (1922) was filmed in San Francisco, near where I once lived. Armed with photographs of the movie taken off of my television set, I visited San Francisco and identified every Day Dreams location filmed there in just a couple of hours. Encouraged, on my next visit to Los Angeles I spent an hour looking up business addresses at the public library, and found several more locations in an afternoon.
I never set out to be an author, but from that point on things began to snowball. Clues discerned from one film allowed me to solve locations from another film. I met people who were experts about vintage movie ranches or beach-side amusement parks. Image archives began posting searchable historic Los Angeles photos online. Increasing numbers of silent comedies were released on DVD. Like the tiles of a mosaic, with each individual discovery a broader and more detailed view of silent-era Los Angeles began to emerge.”
SFGate article John Bengtson, archeologist of early cinema.
Profile in Book Club of California Quarterly
As a bonus we present two fascinating maps by the all but forgotten artist Harrison Godwin.
Click on the map to enlarge here.
The first is a cartoon map of San Francisco, created in 1927 with tourists in mind, locals enjoyed finding spots known and unknown to them. Can you spot some San Francisco theaters? Read about it on the Richmond District Blog. Reprints can be purchased at David Rumsey Map Collection and other sites.
For a closer look to zoom in on details go to The Digital Gallery.
The 1928 Hollywood map is jam-packed with movie trivia. You can enlarge it and buy reproductions as posters, jigsaw puzzles and many other things from Fine Art America and possibly for less money from other sites including Ebay.