It is known that over 90% of silent films created between the 1900′s through the 1920′s are lost.
From nitrate damage, decomposition and many being burned in fires caused by neglect, the fact is that back then, a lot of films were made and never preserved. But a few were, especially those that were blockbuster hits starring Chaplin, Keaton, Lloyd, Arbuckle, Fairbanks, Pickford, Bow, Talmadge, Barrymore, Laurel & Hardy and also films by directed by Griffith, Murnau, Borzage, Fox, Ford, Capra, Lubitch, Lang, DeMille, to name a few.
And while many of these films have made it onto home video, there have been titles that have been restored but yet have only been seen during screenings. And some that are looked at as rare gems that have yet to be released to the public after all these years.
One of those titles is "Lonesome", a 1928 film which is mostly silent but also a hybrid film with a few scenes with dialogue (an early experimentation of talkie utilization) by filmmaker Paul Fejos.
Fejos may not be a name as easily recognized like Murnau, Griffith or DeMille but that is because Fejos was a jack of all trades. Born in Hungary, while he has directed films and may documentaries in the United States and other countries, he has held many jobs and is best known for his highly respected work as an anthropologist. Teaching at Stanford, Yale and Columbia University.
But for a long time, many have wondered if "Lonesome" or Fejos's other films would be released on video. Problem at the time was that the only surviving print that many people saw back in the '90s was the surviving print from Cinematheque francaise with no English titles, although the dialogue that was seen was in English.
But after years of restoration, "Lonesome" finally receives its release on Blu-ray and DVD in August 2012 courtesy of the Criterion Collection. And in addition to "Lonesome", also included are the two films "The Last Performance" and "Broadway".
"Lonesome" is a 1928 film hybrid film that is primarily silent but with a few scenes with English dialogue. Possibly the most famous of Fejos's work in his entire oeuvre, the film takes place in New York and we are introduced to two people. Mary (portrayed by Barbara Kent) is a woman who works as a telephone operator. After a long day of work, all her female friends are going on dates with their boyfriends, while she has no one to love and is quite lonely.
We are then introduced to Jim (portrayed by Glenn Tryon), a man who works at a factory and after a hard day's work, his guy friends have dates with women and are having fun. He has no one to love and is quite lonely.
These two individuals live at home alone and realize their life is quite boring and both see an advertisement promoting fun at the beach. And sure enough, we see both of these individuals deciding to travel to the beach and from that moment, Jim is captivated by Mary. While Mary flirts a little and plays a little hard to get, the two eventually hang out the beach and talk about their work and lives of being lonely.
But as they spend time with each other, they realize how much they love being together and the two have fun throughout the day at the beach and later at the various attractions, games and rides.
Knowing each other by their first name and realizing that they are probably destined to be each other, both are separated during a rollercoaster ride. When Jim watches Mary from afar, he notices that her coaster ride's wheels start burning up and begin to catch on fire. Through the melee, she faints and as he tries to get close to her, he is arrested by police for getting in a way of officers. Jim tries to explain that he is there for Mary but the police will not listen. Meanwhile, Mary awakes but Jim is nowhere to be found.
Now Jim and Mary are desperate to find each other. Will these two lonesome individuals who have discovered their love for each other...lose it all that same day?
In the 1929 silent film, "The Last Performance", featuring the last American silent starring Conrad Veidt, the version presented is the silent version with music by Donald Sosin.
"Lonesome" is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:19:1 aspect ratio) and presented in black and white and color. It's important to note that "Lonesome" does exhibit scratches but no major nitrate damage. It's also important to note that as a silent film fan, when it comes to complete film releases of silent films, you're not going to get pristine copies of films that were made over 80-years-ago. Some may look impressive on Blu-ray through extensive restoration but for many silent films, you can only hope for a good print source and be hopeful for its restoration. With "Lonesome", the film looks very good considering its age and the fact that it's being release in HD is a major plus because it has been unavailable for along time and only a privileged few who have seen this film were fortunate to watch it at a screening.
A lot of work went to this restoration. According to Dan Wagner, Head of Preservation at the George Eastman House, "The restoration of "Lonesome" was made possible through a single nitrate print initially conserved by the Cinematheque francaise in Paris. Henry Langlois, the mythic head of the Cinematheque, gave this surviving print to the also legendary James Card at George Eastman House, in Rochester, New York in the mid-1960′s. Shortly after arriving there, "Lonesome" went through its first preservation, with the gorgeous tinted and hand-colored film being transferred to black and white. "
Wagner continued, "The titles also received a dramatic facelift. Extensive research was done on Universal titles of the period. And a bit of good fortune came with a single frame of an English intertitle left behind when the translation to French was done in the late twenties. Thus, the Silentina Film Font was chosen for the intertitles. The main titles are a combination of the fonts Broadway and Ultramodern Classic."
"The restoration lab Cinetech, in Valencia, California, brought together image, audio and intertitles, producing a new 35 mm preservation negative and prints - and a definitive restoration of Lonesome."
According to the Criterion Collection, "the new digital transfer was created in 2K resolution on a Spirit 4K Datacine from the 35 mm restoration black-and-white and color duplicate negatives, which were assembled digitally. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, jitter and flicker were manually removed using MTI's DRS and Pixel Farm's PFClean, while Image Systems' Phoenix was used for small, dirt, grain and noise reduction."
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
"Lonesome", "Broadway" and "The Last Performance" is presented in monaural (LPCM 2.0). As much work that has been put to restore the video, a lot of work went into cleaning up the audio for its restoration.
According to Dan Wagner, Head of Preservation at the George Eastman House, "In 2008, with the 1994 print long past its best days and the original nitrate print beginning to decompose, an effort was undertaken to finally complete the restoration of "Lonesome". The problem with the soundtrack had always been that modern playback equipment rendered it with brutal honesty. The hiss, pops, and crackles accrued over a long life blared with stunning clarity over these amplifiers and speakers. George Eastman House worked with the technicians at Chace Audio by Deluxe, in Burbank, California, to remove this white-noise wear and tear, while taking care to retain the quality of Hollywood's earliest experiment in sound. Now, instead of being ad in of often indistinguishable noise, the music and sound effects support the film with a cacophony of the clang and clatter of Coney Island's midway and dance halls."
The original monaural soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from an optical track print. Clicks, thumps, hiss, and hum were manually removed using Pro Tools HD. Crackle was attenuated using AudioCube's integrated workstation.
"Lonesome - The Criterion Collection #623" comes with the following special features:
Audio Commentary - Audio commentary by Richard Koszarski (Professor of English Film Studies at Rugers University) is included.
Fejos Memorial - (19:35) A 1963 visual essay produced by Paul Falkenberg in collaboration with Fejos's wife, Lita Binns Fejos, featuring the filmmaker narrating the story of his life and career
The Last Performance - (59:32) Director Paul Fejos's 1929 silent starring Conrad Veidt, with a new score by composer Donald Sosin. This is the Danish version of the film.
Broadway - (1:44:27) Reconstructed sound version of Broadway, Fejos's 1929 musical
Hal Mohr on Broadway - (6:52) Excerpt about the Broadway camera crane from a 1973 audio interview with film historian and cinematographer Hal Mohr.
"Lonesome - The Criterion Collection #623" comes with a 34-page booklet with the following essays: "Great City, Great Solitude" by Phillip Lopate, "The Travels of Paul Fejos" by Graham Petrie" and an excerpt of John T. Mason Jr.'s interview with Paul Fejos from 1962 as part of Columbia University's Oral History Research Program.
For many years, silent film fans have hoped to watch Paul Fejos's "Lonesome". Most have heard comparisons of Fejos's film to F.W. Murnau's "Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans" and Fritz Lang's "Metropolis", but the fact was that for many years, "Lonesome" was a rare film to see at a silent film screening.
Due to the fact that the only surviving print was a the French version at the time, that is what many people saw. Regardless, despite no English intertitles, the film is simple and easy to follow. The storyline is about two lonely individuals who meet at the beach and discover love for each other, but due to circumstances, among the huge crowd in what I presume is Coney Island, they are separated from each other and both fear they have lost each other.
And as a romance film, the storyline is touching and entertaining. But what makes "Lonesome" so magnificent is its presentation for its time. Using an experimental style, the cinematography not only captures the fun of these two individuals spending time together, but there are cool transitions, good and not clumsy use of double and triple exposures, tight and efficient editing and the fact that it is a hybrid film that is primarily silent but has moments where the cast is talking and dialogue can be heard, there are noticeable influences.
For one, we see the use of Fritz Lang style structures. German Expressionism used in showcasing big structures and the feeling of a heavy storm in the city as dark thunder clouds move in and similar to F.W. Murnau's "Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans" where a huge storm starts to disrupt the large attendance at Coney Island. Heavy showers hitting everyone and air of despair strikes our two main characters.
While "Metropolis" and "Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans" are much deeper films and with large production value, the fact is that filmmaker Paul Fejos was able to transform what could have been a banal film, to a film with an amazing visual style for its time.
Granted, early talkies were known for its cheesiness and some utilized sound well earlier on, other's didn't. While the acting was not the best during the dialogue portions, this was typical for films that utilized sound during that time. Possibly the only scene that felt unusual is hearing the long pause as Jim tries to tell a police officer off. Corny in a Poverty Row type of way (for those familiar with those type of films) but as a person interested in early film and how technology or early sound was used in cinema, I found if fascinating and fun.
But both Glenn Tryon and Barbara Kent did a great job in their roles and making the audience feel these two are in love with each other, they belong with each other and you end up pulling for them to be together! It's what I love about this early romantic film.
And with this Blu-ray release, while "Lonesome" is only 69-minutes long, the Criterion Collection demonstrates why fans love this company. And they deliver by adding two more of Paul Fejos's films, "The Last Performance" and "Broadway" to this Blu-ray release.
"The Last Performance" is a film about jealousy, while "Broadway" is an early talkie and gangster film. While not great films, "The Last Performance" will interested silent film fans who enjoy the work of actor Conrad Veidt, as the film was his final silent film before returning to Germany. And the film also starred actress Mary Philbin ("The Phantom of the Opera" and "The Man Who Laughs"). It's a good "Who done it?" type of film but just not great.
"Broadway" was interesting in the fact that it was Universal's first foray into Technicolor and also was the first film to utilize Tungsten lamps. While the film was OK, filmwise, I was more interested in Hal Mohr's cinematography and his use of the crane. There is a special feature included with this Blu-ray release in which Mohr goes into detail of how complex it was to utilize the crane for the film.
As for the Blu-ray release, video quality is subjective. As mentioned, when it comes to silent films, I am not going to criticize a silent film for its picture quality knowing that a lot of films I have watched have scratches, nitrate decomposition or major damage. Personally, whenever we are able to be given a complete silent film that is viewable and still looks good with no damage but scratches and occasional flickering, for me, that is a plus! "Lonesome" is a wonderful film that has been out of public release for so long but now people get to experience it on Blu-ray thanks to the hard work that came to its restoration.
You're not going to get pristine quality, nor are many companies able to afford the kind of restoration that went to Fritz Lang's "Metropolis" or even Buster Keaton's "The General", let alone finding negative sources that are not damaged, so people should not be too picky of silent films for its picture quality.
"Lonesome" looks very good, no major damage and is complete. That's the best that we can hope for and very appreciative that the Criterion Collection released this wonderful romantic film, along with two other Paul Fejos films.
You also get special features which include audio commentary and a virtual essay featuring Paul Fejos produced by Paul Falkenberg and Fejos's wife Lita Binns Fejos and learn more about Paul Fejos's life and career.
Overall, "Lonesome" is a fantastic Blu-ray release. If you are passionate about silent films, this Blu-ray release contains three rare films that were not accessible to many silent film fans for so long and now here we are with a Blu-ray and DVD release getting the Criterion Collection treatment.
Silent film and early Talkie fans are definitely in for a treat as "Lonesome" from the Criterion Collection is simply a must have and must own Blu-ray release!