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Better with age

The annual Cinecon film festival showcases rare films with an accent on silents and pre-code talkies.

August 29, 2011|Susan King

The organizers of the annual Cinecon film festival in Los Angeles have a simple mantra.

"We have a saying among ourselves that if it's rare we'll show it," said film and TV archivist-historian Stan Taffel, the festival's vice president.

That's not to say every film featured at the five-day festival, which features silent movies and early talkies, is a gem -- to be honest, a few could even be described as turkeys. But that's not the point. "Because these films are so rare, no one has seen them," Taffel noted. "We are making these films available to be seen so they can be appreciated on their own merits."

Cinecon 47 opens Thursday at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood and continues through Sept. 5. Besides screening nearly 30 films, Cinecon also features memorabilia and collectibles show at the Renaissance Hollywood Hotel. The Sunday evening banquet at the hotel will honor veteran performers Julie Adams ("The Creature From the Black Lagoon"), Jimmy Lyndon ("Life With Father") and Fay McKenzie ("Down Mexico Way"). Cinecon is also honoring the work of the National Film Preservation Foundation, which funds the major U.S. archives' film preservation efforts and played a key role the past two years in repatriating silent U.S. films in the New Zealand Film Archive.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday, August 30, 2011 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 27 words Type of Material: Correction
Cinecon film festival: The Classic Hollywood column in the Aug. 29 Calendar section about the Cinecon film festival misidentified the Academy Film Archive as the Academy Archive.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday, August 31, 2011 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 28 words Type of Material: Correction
Cinecon film festival: The Classic Hollywood column in the Aug. 29 Calendar section about the Cinecon film festival misspelled the last name of actor Jimmy Lydon as Lyndon.

A majority of the films in this year's festival were funded or partly funded by the National Film Preservation Foundation. "Every year we preserve over 100 films from the archival community across America through our grants," explained NFPF chief Annette Melville. "Many of them find a local audience, but it's not often they can be shown to a national group of film fans, and Cinecon is just a perfect showcase."

When programming Cinecon, Taffel and Cinecon president Robert Birchard try to stick to the era before the production code was enforced in 1934, when Hollywood clamped down on the sexual content and violence that were allowed in early talkies. Cinecon also has strong connections with the studios and national film archives such as UCLA Film & Television Archive, the Academy Archive and the George Eastman House.

"But we do go past the code when it is something really rare and something the studios are letting us know they have been working on," Taffel said.

One such film is the 1944 Fred MacMurray and Claudette Colbert comedy, "Practically Yours." "We ran a few other pictures of Claudette Colbert and Fred MacMurray and they were such big hits, when we found out that 'Practically Yours' was available, our friends at Universal made a print for us," Taffel said.

Taffel is especially excited about the episodes from silent serials screening at the festival, including an episode from 1914's "The Active Life of Dolly of the Dailies," which was found last year in New Zealand and has been restored by the Academy Archive.

"The episode we are running is No. 63. It ran for a total of 119 episodes," Taffel said. "This serial went on for a couple of years and audiences were riveted, so to run a full episode is very exciting to me."

Cinecon audiences have been clamoring for films starring Jack Haley -- best known as the Tin Man in "The Wizard of Oz" -- so the festival is showing 1937's "She Had to Eat," an offbeat comedy road picture, which also features Rochelle Hudson and Arthur Treacher.

Taffel said he expects to "hoot and howl" at 1920's "Stronger Than Death," preserved by the George Eastman House from funding by NFPF. The film stars Russian actress Alla Nazimova, whose acting style was less than subtle. Metro Pictures proclaimed in their ads that the film showed "The Peerless Star in a Drama of Tremendous Strength."

"A lot of Nazimova fans will be showing up at Cinecon to see the film," said Taffel, who loves the plot of "Stronger Than Death."

"It's about a woman with a heart condition who is a dancer and told never to dance again, but when something happens she is forced to dance. Nazimova was a maverick. She was brazen. She was gutsy."

For more information and the schedule go to




Stars reappear on-screen

Cinecon in Los Angeles will feature movies with stars who haven't been shown on the big screen in years.

Laura La Plante

La Plante (1904-96) made more than 60 films during the 1920s, including the 1927 horror classic "The Cat and the Canary."

Raymond Griffith

The comedian (1895-1957) didn't make the transition to talkies because he lost his voice as a child and spoke in a hoarse whisper.

George O'Brien

The handsome actor (1899-1985) is best known today for his role opposite Janet Gaynor in F.W. Murnau's 1927 masterpiece, "Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans."

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