More Bad Lip Reading – This Time Featuring Katniss!

I can’t resist sharing one more clip from the hysterical folks at Bad Lip Reading. Here’s their take on The Hunger Games. The Lenny Kravitz bit is my favorite!

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Celebrate the Right to Read – Even if it’s Captain Underpants

A few years back, I read a YA novel called Crank by Ellen Hopkins. It’s the story of a teen who becomes addicted to crystal meth. There’s rape, unwanted pregnancy, all sorts of drug use, and you guessed it, it’s banned in many places. It’s also required reading in high schools across the country. When my kids are old enough, it will be required reading in the Christopher house, too. One of the most amazing aspects of reading – to me, at least – is the ability to wear someone else’s skin around for 300 pages or so. Living vicariously (good or bad) through the main character, we learn about choices and their aftermath. Controversial books spark conversations, and that’s never a bad thing, in my opinion.

Today, as I was reading about frequently banned books on the American Library Association’s site, my teeth about fell out of my head to learn that the Captain Underpants series by Dav Pilkey is on the list. My son adores these books. His fourth grade classroom has the whole series (you go, Aspen Creek Elementary!). Last week, Sam brought home the newest one, Captain Underpants and the Return of Tippy Tinkletrousers. He went straight up to his room and didn’t surface for two hours. When I called him down for dinner, he had the biggest smile on his face, and said, “I LOVE to read!” Just a few days earlier he’d said, “I HATE to read!” when forced to do his homework. We’re no strangers to drama around here.

Captain Underpants is all about potty humor. I’ve never found potty humor amusing, not even when I was a kid. But then again, I’ve never been a fourth grade boy. Honestly, I find the books a little on the crude side, but if you hang around a pack of fourth grade boys, crudeness is kind of their modus operandi. Sam thinks these books are hysterical. He shares his favorite parts with me, howling with laughter. The fact that he’s sharing what he reads makes me happy. The fact that he gets so much joy out of reading makes me unspeakably happy. So, while I may not necessarily enjoy you, Captain Underpants, I thank you and I even respect you, for making my son a better reader.

Check out this list of the top 100 banned books of the last decade. Guess what was at the top of the list? The Harry Potter series. Seriously, who are these people? So many life-changing books for me are on this list… A Prayer for Owen Meany, The Handmaid’s Tale, A Wrinkle in Time, Julie of the Wolves, Bridge to Terabithia. It makes me nauseous to think that some kids won’t ever experience these remarkable books because of censorship. I’m beyond grateful that my parents let me read whatever I wanted. I’m thankful for my school, where I read Catcher in the Rye, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Of Mice and Men, and Catch 22. And I’m especially thankful that my son’s elementary school allows Captain Underpants to grace their hallowed halls.

Are there any books on these lists that surprised you? 

Monday Medicine – Bad Lip Reading

I just discovered Bad Lip Reading. It’s a website that re-dubs scenes from movies, videos, and political speeches based on what the dialogue would sound like if someone was reading the speaker’s lips. It’s ridiculous and hysterical, and completely caters to my random sense of humor.

Here’s some silliness from Twilight.

Dude. . . you slapped a fiiiish!

Hung up on Harry

One of the most perfect perks of parenting is reading with my kids. Bedtime in our house takes way longer than it should, since I’m just as curious to see what happens in the next chapter as my kids are. We’re about to start on the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder, which were my favorite books on the planet when I was a kid. Considering the teensy rural Montana town I grew up in, Laura was pretty much a contemporary of mine. I have a hunch my seven-year old daughter will love them as much as me. BUT I’m dreading the inevitable questions like, “Mom, did you travel by horse and buggy when you were a kid?” I get those questions all the time. I’ve been asked if I was alive during the Revolutionary War. Or when Lincoln was president. And if coins existed when I was in school. Maybe I’m not so ready for the Little House books after all.

I’m getting off the point, here. As much fun as all those books are, the highlight of my reading-as-a-parent life has been sharing the world of Harry Potter with my wild children. I devoured those books when they first came out, back before Sam and Sophie were ever in the picture. I was in awe of J.K. Rowling’s world-building ability and the way her characters practically leaped off the page. And the over-arching message that love wins. I dreamed of the day when I could share them with kids of my own. That day seemed as far away as Hogwarts, but it came faster than a golden snitch.

We started the first of the seven books about three years ago. Sophie was a bit young, so we read them primarily to Sam. But Sophie’s never been one to miss out on anything, so she experienced the magical wizarding world, too. We read them at bedtime. We read them on road trips. We tried to imitate Hagrid’s loud, Scottish brogue, Voldemort’s high whisper, Professor Umbridge’s sinister giggle, dreamy Luna’s spacey voice. Our rule was that we had to finish the book before we watched the movie. And we watched those movies on lazy Saturday mornings in our pajamas, piled together on the couch. (It had to be mornings, so the images of dementors could burn off well before bedtime.)

Now, I’m snuffling in my butterbeer. After seven books, 4100 pages, and eight movies, we’ve reached those dreaded words . . . THE END. When we were almost finished with The Deathly Hallows – the last book in the series, I made a silent vow not to slip into hysterics when I read the closing lines. Well, that wasn’t my problem. SPOILER WARNING – Skip this paragraph if you haven’t read the last book. My problem came a few chapters prior to the end, when Harry accepts his fate and marches to what he believes is his final battle with Voldemort. Beloved spirits of those he had lost appear to him – including his parents. My attempts at reading the part where Harry and his mother are finally reunited crashed like a faulty Nimbus 2000. My voice resembled that of a choking kitten, and my throat felt like I’d swallowed a box of Weasley’s Wildfire Whizbangs. Darrick took over reading while tears ran down my face. Yes, I’m a ridiculous soft touch. But I love that books have the power to evoke our deepest emotions.

In an interview with Oprah, Rowling talked about how a young woman in her twenties came up to her on the street and said, “You are my childhood.” Rowling was blown away. I completely understand what that young woman meant. Sam and Sophie will play for hours, building entire Hogwarts villages and scenes and characters out of Legos. Great battles are waged in our living room, curses and magic spells zinging off the walls. When my kids are grown, there is no doubt that Harry will have his very own Room of Requirement in their heart’s memory of childhood.

Ultimate Battle for Hogwarts

A few years ago, Sam dressed up like Harry Potter for Halloween. He had the cute little glasses, the rumpled hair, the lightning-shaped scar on his forehead. Just as he was getting ready to catch the bus, I reminded him not to forget his wand. He rolled his eyes and with such an earnest voice said, “Mom. You can’t bring weapons to school.” Ah, good point.

Harry and Ron Jack o’ lanterns. That’s a spider on Ron’s cheek.

We’ve been full on Harry Potter for years now. I’m eternally grateful to Rowling for the joy she’s brought to the world and for the spark she lit in Sam’s and Sophie’s imagination. Seriously, I would willingly and with a glad heart clean Rowling’s oven for the rest of my life if she was my neighbor. But since she’s a bazillionaire, she’s probably got a self-cleaning oven that actually works.

Just the other day, Sophie, who is in second grade and just learning to read chapter books on her own, brought me the well-worn first book of the series, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.” It’s in rough shape. The spine is broken, the cover is ripped, and the first several pages have fallen out. When she asked if we could fix it, my heart skipped a beat. I told her we could, or if not, we would get another copy.

Sophie wants to try to read the books on her own, starting from the very beginning.

It looks like our adventures with Harry may not be over just yet.

What were your favorite childhood books? Any new loves you’ve discovered reading with your kids?

The Names

Billy Collins was appointed poet laureate of the United States between 2001-2003. He wrote The Names to honor the thousands of victims who died on 9/11, and their survivors.

The Names – Billy Collins

Yesterday, I lay awake in the palm of the night.
A soft rain stole in, unhelped by any breeze,
And when I saw the silver glaze on the windows,
I started with A, with Ackerman, as it happened,
Then Baxter and Calabro,
Davis and Eberling, names falling into place
As droplets fell through the dark.
Names printed on the ceiling of the night.
Names slipping around a watery bend.
Twenty-six willows on the banks of a stream.
In the morning, I walked out barefoot
Among thousands of flowers
Heavy with dew like the eyes of tears,
And each had a name —
Fiori inscribed on a yellow petal
Then Gonzalez and Han, Ishikawa and Jenkins.
Names written in the air
And stitched into the cloth of the day.
A name under a photograph taped to a mailbox.
Monogram on a torn shirt,
I see you spelled out on storefront windows
And on the bright unfurled awnings of this city.
I say the syllables as I turn a corner —
Kelly and Lee,
Medina, Nardella, and O’Connor.
When I peer into the woods,
I see a thick tangle where letters are hidden
As in a puzzle concocted for children.
Parker and Quigley in the twigs of an ash,
Rizzo, Schubert, Torres, and Upton,
Secrets in the boughs of an ancient maple.
Names written in the pale sky.
Names rising in the updraft amid buildings.
Names silent in stone
Or cried out behind a door.
Names blown over the earth and out to sea.
In the evening — weakening light, the last swallows.
A boy on a lake lifts his oars.
A woman by a window puts a match to a candle,
And the names are outlined on the rose clouds —
Vanacore and Wallace,
(let X stand, if it can, for the ones unfound)
Then Young and Ziminsky, the final jolt of Z.
Names etched on the head of a pin.
One name spanning a bridge, another undergoing a tunnel.
A blue name needled into the skin.
Names of citizens, workers, mothers and fathers,
The bright-eyed daughter, the quick son.
Alphabet of names in a green field.
Names in the small tracks of birds.
Names lifted from a hat
Or balanced on the tip of the tongue.
Names wheeled into the dim warehouse of memory.
So many names, there is barely room on the walls of the heart.

Writing Tips from Famous Authors

I’m in the midst of a revision, and this post from BuzzFeed came at the perfect time. Too juicy not to share!

30 Indispensable Writing Tips From Famous Authors

Writing is easy: All you have to do is start writing, finish writing, and make sure it’s good. But here’s some vastly more useful wisdom and advice from people who seriously know what the hell they’re talking about.

Jack ShepherdBuzzFeed Staff

1. Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway

2. Elmore Leonard

Elmore Leonard
Image by DERMOT CLEARY / AP

3. Anton Chekhov

Anton Chekhov

4. Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison
Image by Michael Lionstar / AP

5. George Orwell

George Orwell

6. E.L. Doctorow

E.L. Doctorow
Image by MARY ALTAFFER / AP

7. Henry Miller

Henry Miller

Library Of Congress

8. Elmore Leonard

Elmore Leonard
Image by Carlos Osorio / AP

9. John Steinbeck

John Steinbeck

10. Stephen King

Stephen King
Image by Mark Lennihan / AP

11. Ralph Waldo Emmerson

Ralph Waldo Emmerson

12. Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman

13. Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou
Image by Jemal Countess / Getty Images

14. James Patterson

James Patterson
Image by Deborah Feingold / Reuters

15. Stephen King

Stephen King
Image by MIKE SEGAR / Reuters

16. Mark Twain

Mark Twain

17. Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison
Image by Frank Polich / Getty Images

18. Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe

19. John Steinbeck

John Steinbeck

20. Annie Dillard

Annie Dillard

21. Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury
Image by STEVE CASTILLO / AP

22. Saul Bellow

Saul Bellow
Image by ELISE AMENDOLA / AP

23. Erica Jong

Erica Jong

24. Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut
Image by MARTY REICHENTHAL / AP

25. T.S. Eliot

T.S. Eliot

26. Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway

27. Gertrude Stein

Gertrude Stein
Image by Library of Congress / Getty Images

28. F. Scott Fitzgerald

F. Scott Fitzgerald

Library Of Congress

29. Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman

30. G.K. Chesterton

G.K. Chesterton

Design by Chris Ritter for BuzzFeed

 

I Kissed a Llama and I Liked It

I might be sailing my freak flag a bit too high with this post, but I can’t resist. We just got back from our annual trip to western New York to visit Darrick’s family, and one of our stops was the 4-H fair. After passing the skeezy carnival rides run by probable felons, I made a beeline straight for the llama barn. Let me tell you right now that I adore llamas. Why? Click here. Seriously — how can you not love creatures who look like they walked straight out of a Dr. Suess book?

This year, much to my extreme delight, there was a BABY LLAMA! It was the cutest thing I’d ever seen. I lingered so long at its pen trying to commune with the little fuzz ball, I worried the 4-H’ers might get a restraining order. 

The rest of my family hasn’t guzzled the llama Kool-Aid as much as I have, and eventually we wandered over to watch the dog agility show. While we waited for the show to start, they asked for volunteers to run the dog through the obstacle course. My nine-year old son Sam was picked, but unfortunately he didn’t realize he was supposed to run along side the dog as they did the course. Those border collies are quick little suckers and Sam did his best to keep up. When it leaped over the first set of hurdles, so did Sam. The audience laughed like it was part of the act. Luckily, the instructor called him off before the dog headed into the water hazard.

So back to the llamas. While other kids tried their luck with the dogs, I caught sight of a girl standing near the bleachers with her llama. It was practically begging me to come over and chat. I asked innocuous questions about the llama’s age, eating habits, etc. when what I really wanted to do was throw my arms around that llama’s goofy neck. I learned the llama’s name was Desi, and she’s a big diva from getting to ride in cars and stay in the house. By now my wild children had joined me, primarily to be sure I wasn’t about to make off with this girl’s pet. Kids come in very handy sometimes, and I was able to ask if they could pet Desi. Sam gave me the stink eye because he knew I was the one with the burning need to pet the llama. Then I asked if we could take a picture. I slowly put my arm around Desi, unsure if that was a wise move, but I couldn’t help myself.  Even though llamas like to bat their big wonky eyeballs at you, they can kick like a hopped up ninja.

To my great surprise, Desi the llama leaned into me. I checked in with her owner to make sure I wasn’t about to get a face full of llama spit. Her owner said that Desi is affectionate, and that’s her way of saying she liked me. *HEART MELT!* That sealed the deal. I just had to kiss her.

Ode to Summer Jobs

Thanks to our summer shenanigans, I’ve been kind of a slacker with the blog. One thing I’ve noticed in our gadding about is all the teenagers who have joined the workforce. It makes me remember my first summer job, waiting tables at Sylvia’s, a restaurant in Red Lodge, MT. I liked the work. Red Lodge is on the way to Yellowstone Park, and Sylvia’s was popular with both locals and tourists alike. Customers for the most part were in good spirits and eager to chat.

I was schooled in so many ways. Instead of a uniform, we wore a khaki apron with the restaurant’s logo over our clothes. One day, I wore a sleeveless dress, and my co-worker informed me to never do that again, as “no one wants to gaze into your armpits when you’re setting down their food.” Excellent point. I also learned to drink coffee that summer. It feels almost blasphemous to admit, but I hated the taste at first. My shifts started at dark-thirty in the morning, and the freshly ground beans did smell fantastic. If you add enough cream and sugar, even dirty dishwater tastes good, and soon I was on my way to a life long addiction. I mean love affair.

Sylvia’s was attached to a bar called the Carbon County Coal Company. At that time in Montana, you could serve alcohol even if you weren’t old enough to drink it. Since the bar was closed during weekdays, if a customer ordered a cocktail I’d have to whip that sucker up. It was a little eerie heading into the deserted bar, with its upturned chairs and stale cigarette smell. My imagination took over when I took hold of the bar gun that shoots different mixers, and I’d pretend I was in the movie “Cocktail.” That’s where the fantasy ended, though, because I was completely clueless when it came to mixing drinks. If someone ordered a Crown and coke, for example, I’d have to find Sylvia, who was also the cook. I’d ask, “Is Crown rum or vodka?” She’d roll her eyes and tell me it was whiskey.

I also knew nothing about wine, other than it came in red, white, and pink. So when a customer asked what kind of wine we had, I’d die a little inside. I was too embarrassed to admit I didn’t know how to pronounce the house wines, so I just gave it my best shot. I’d say, “We have merLOT, (yes, I actually said “lot”), charDONnay, and white zinFANdel.” I wasn’t about to tell them we had cabernet sauvingon. Lord only knew how I’d butcher that one. I’m sure the customers thought Sylvia found me in the bottom of a haystack somewhere.

After a month or so, I’d worked my way to the night shift, which was my favorite. The Coal Company had live music on weekends, often local favorite Billy Waldo and the Flying Grizzlies, and both the bar and restaurant would be hopping. It was all fun and games until someone ordered a bottle of wine. Sylvia tried to train me on the art of serving wine at a table. Using the tiny knife on the corkscrew, her hands deftly cut the foil off the top of the bottle. She made a little tent out of it and placed it on the table. Then she expertly removed the cork, placing it on the foil for the customer to examine. This took her all of five seconds. She’d done it a thousand times, and it must not have occurred to her that I might flop and flounder at the task that came so easily to her.

I was so very bad at opening wine bottles, that when I approached a table I offered to get them a beer or a cocktail, hoping the power of suggestion would lead them to not order wine. Of course this didn’t work. At least then I could just hand over a wine list, so I wouldn’t have to make a stab a pronouncing Châteauneuf du Pape. I’d do okay with making the little foil tent. It was the cork that did me in. Sometimes I’d drill too far in and break it, which meant I had to do the walk of shame to fetch another bottle. Even worse were the times I couldn’t get the blasted cork out. I’d wrestle with that bottle, longing to stick it between my knees so I’d have more leverage. Inevitably, the man at the table would go all macho and ask if I needed some help. I’d smile over gritted teeth, shake my head, and try to retain some shred of dignity.

Instrument of Instant Humiliation

I stayed in the restaurant biz throughout college. This included a VERY brief stint as a cocktail waitress, where I almost had my teeth rearranged because I used the single red tray from a pile of black trays. Apparently, this was a big no no. It was all about seniority, and the cocktail waitress who had earned the right to carry the red tray declared me her sworn enemy. It was a great reminder to stay the course and finish college.

I was not cut out to be a cocktail waitress. Drunk people always seemed to run into me when I was carrying a tray brimming with beverages. My roommates plugged their noses when I came home, as I reeked of cigarette smoke. So I finagled my way into a hostessing position at one of the schwankiest places in Missoula at the time, the restaurant at The Holiday Inn. You may laugh, but it really was fine dining. White linen tablecloths, candles, servers in black tie, and I had to wear a dress and heels every shift. During one of my shifts, an unknowing server even delivered room service to Robert Redford, who answered the door wearing only a towel.

My universe continued to expand. While I knew not to wear sleeveless tops anymore, I still had a ways to go. The tables were set with both water and wine glasses and I couldn’t tell the difference, so I watered the wrong ones. My boss lurked at the hostess station to thwart my backwater habits. As a customer approached, she’d hiss, “don’t fidget” or “stop leaning on the counter.”

As the rough edges were slowly pounded out of me, I learned about customer service. Like the time a very disgruntled customer approached the hostess station, banged both hands on the counter and yelled, “This is a G*# D*#* filthy establishment!” I probably would’ve shown him the door, but instead, I watched and learned as my boss expertly calmed him down. He actually came back the next night and had a lovely dinner.

I learned about tolerance, too. A cross-dressing older gentleman, rumored to be Ernest Hemingway’s grandson, moved into the hotel one summer. Dr. Meriweather would show up for dinner in a nice suite, and ask if we’d seen his wife. Playing along, I’d shake my head and say I hadn’t. He’d go look for her, and about thirty minutes later, Mrs. Meriweather would appear in a killer dress and heels, looking remarkably like her husband. Mrs. Meriweather always preferred the corner table by the window. While she waited for her husband, she liked to sip on a Chardonnay. Which I could now pronounce, thank you very much.

And I learned that just because someone is a Very Important Person, they can still have all the manners and finesse of a billy goat. A Montana senator who will remain nameless (but it rhymes with Bonrad Curns) came in for breakfast with several of his staff. When they finally left, no one had bothered to pay. On top of his dine and dash behavior, the senator had used his saucer as a spittoon. After recovering from the shock, I promptly called the front desk and charged his room for breakfast. And a generous tip, of course.

Thanks to my brief career in the food service industry, I have mad cloth napkin folding skills and a big time weakness for those little Andes mints in the green wrapper. I tip well. I think the world would be a better place if everyone worked in a restaurant, at least once in their lives. And I’m very thankful for screw-top wine bottles.

What was your first job, and what made it memorable? I’d love to hear from you!

Colorado is Burning

I’ve never been one to wish away a season, especially summer. I love farmer’s markets, outdoor concerts, and having the sunlight stretch into late evening. I love going barefoot and drinking iced tea and spending days on end with my wild children. I love listening to the show-offy trill of meadowlarks trying to out sing each other, and watching my dog disappear into tall grass as she chases a rabbit on the trail.

But this summer is different. This morning, the air was heavy with the acrid scent of smoke  from the High Park Fire, burning fifty miles north of us outside Fort Collins. More than 43,000 acres have burned so far, an area larger than Fort Collins itself. One hundred structures have been lost, as well as one human life and countless animals. The fire is only five percent contained. There’s no rain in the forecast.

High Park Fire, courtesy of Guardian LV

The West is one giant tinderbox, thanks to the mountain pine beetle who destroyed millions of trees these past several years. Last summer, I rode through a particularly devastating  section of beetle kill pine outside Grand Lake, and the feeling was akin to being in a graveyard. Perfectly quiet – no bird song, no usual sounds of the forest.

A forest fire will burn, even without the added kindling of beetle kill pine, but coupled with the abnormally dry season we’ve had, I’m afraid we’re in for a rough summer. The grasshoppers arrived in May this year, two months ahead of schedule. Mid-June is usually green and lush, but the landscape around here is a sun scorched yellow already.

My heart goes out to everyone who has lost forests and trails special to them, and especially to those who have lost loved ones, and their homes. Keep the brave firefighters in your thoughts and prayers. They have a long, hellish summer ahead of them.

Unless we stumble on a rain dance that actually works, the first frost can’t come soon enough.

Guest Post – A Silent Film Tutorial

Silent movie season has started at Chautauqua Auditorium, and there is only ONE Buster Keaton film this summer. On July 11 to be exact. Ever since I proclaimed my love for Buster Keaton via this post, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting like-minded folks throughout cyberspace who feel the same way. Like blogger Margaret Perry, who has agreed to share this great introduction to the art form of silent films. Check out her blog The Great Katharine Hepburn.

If you live in the Denver/Boulder area, the single-best way to time travel is to check out one of these films, shown in the same auditorium as it was the first time around in the 1920’s. And it’s perfectly wonderful for kids, too. Hope to see you there!

Now… here’s the post by Margaret Perry!

The Joys of Silent Film

According to The Telegraph, silent film rentals are up 40% since The Artist swept the board at the Oscars. I think we can safely say that this modern cinematic triumph has become the “gateway drug” of silent films. And about time, too!

Ever since I heard/saw professional silent film organist Clark Wilson accompany Buster Keaton in The General at my college’s auditorium I have been hooked on silent films. The organist would return every couple of years and I had the privilege of experiencing The Phantom of the Opera and The Hunchback of Notre Dame on the big screen with live music. Not everybody is blessed with these magical opportunities. But everybody can enjoy silent movies.

At first, I found it difficult to enjoy a full-length silent movie on my computer. In a large auditorium with live music, the people in the audience feed off of the energy in that atmosphere. But when watching a film alone, it can be difficult to keep the adrenaline pumping. I have a few suggestions that may help newcomers to this medium get the most out of their experience:

1.) Watch silent movies with other people, your friends and family. Because there’s no spoken dialogue, you can talk during the movie. You can laugh at the graphics and clarify parts that may be confusing without disrupting the film.

Charlie Chaplin as The Tramp

Charlie Chaplin as The Tramp

2.) Try watching the shorter films first. Back in the day, a twenty-minute Chaplin film might precede the feature presentation at the movie house. There are a lot of Chaplin and Buster Keaton short films on YouTube. They are a lot easier to sit through than a two-hour epic.

3.) Start with comedies. We’re not used to the extreme melodrama of the silent era, but most of the humor translates pretty easily to a modern audience.

3.) After comedies, try horror. This genre has always been literally ‘in-credible’ so it’s can be fun laughing at the techniques used back in the day. It can also be fun playing along with it – scream  and gasp all you want to, even if you’re not really scared. It’s especially fun at a sleep-over!

Lon Chaney as the Phantom of the Opera

Lon Chaney, Sr. as The Phantom of the Opera

If you saw Hugo, you will have some idea about how silent films used to be made. In the early years of Hollywood, movies were very low-budget. Film companies turned out dozens of films each week! Keep this in mind when you are watching these films. They were made with virtually no technology, at least not of the variety we think of today. Their “graphics” were minimal. But it is astonishing what they were able to do with no money, no time, and no technology. When I was a kid, my friend and I would set up a camcorder in her basement and we would act out Aesop’s Fables. We used her mother’s old clothes as costumes and we stole her little sister’s toys for props. Sometimes, watching the early silent movies is like watching our homemade attempts at theatre. If you think of it in these terms, they’re amazing! Also keep in mind that many of those actors did their own stunts. Buster Keaton is the master in this field. It’s hard to believe what he put his body through to get a laugh! Lon Chaney, who did The Phantom of the Opera and The Hunchback of Notre Dame is called the “man of a thousand faces” because he could so completely transform himself with makeup. A lot of silent movie performers injured themselves because of the physical exertion they experienced making these films. Chaney used wires to make his eyes bug out in The Phantom of the Opera and he forced himself into a very painful harness for The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Lillian Gish permanently damaged the nerves in her wrist because her hand was siting in freezing cold water for hours while she sat on an iceberg for the filming of Way Down East.

If you are a bit lost when it comes to selecting silent films, here are some classic full-length silent pictures (in order of major performer):

Charlie Chaplin:

The Great Dictator (1940)

Modern Times (1936) – YouTube the “eating machine” scene

The Circus (1928)

The Gold Rush (1925) – YouTube the “table ballet” scene

The Kid (1921) – my personal favorite, lots of laughs but a few tears too

Shoulder Arms (1918) – not many people can make WWI funny, but Chaplin succeeds

Buster Keaton:

Our Hospitality (1923)

Sherlock, Jr. (1924)

Seven Chances (1925)

Go West (1925)

The General (1926) – personal favorite

College (1927)

Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928) – the year Katharine Hepburn graduated Bryn Mawr college

The Cameraman (1928)

Lon Chaney:

Oliver Twist (1921)

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923)

The Phantom of the Opera (1925)

D.W. Griffith (director):

The Birth of a Nation (1915) – controversial epic about KKK

Intolerance: Love’s Struggle Throughout the Ages (1916) – trying to clean up controversy after The Birth of a Nation

Orphans of the Storm (1921) – personal favorite – stars sisters Dorothy and Lillian Gish

Mary Pickford – watch anything with a title that you’re familiar with. She did the first film versions of many classic stories. She and her husband Douglas Fairbanks were the first “Brangelina” of Hollywood.

I hope you enjoy your silent film experience! Please feel free to comment on your own favorite silent films and stars!

via The Great Katharine Hepburn: The Joys of Silent Film.