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On Sunday, July 15th the San Francisco Silent Film Festival will screen The Mark of Zorro (1920), starring Douglas Fairbanks, Sr.

As Zorro, a masked champion of the people, Fairbanks displays the athletic prowess, humor, and rakish charm that would propel him to super-stardom. The film is a classic, and in it Fairbanks set the bar high for subsequent action-adventure films in what was his first-ever swashbuckler.

Set to introduce The Mark of Zorro is Jeffrey Vance, Fairbanks scholar and author of Douglas Fairbanks, which was published by the University of California Press. Vance is a film historian, archivist, producer, lecturer and the author of a trilogy of earlier books, each highly regarded, on film greats Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Harold Lloyd. Vance will be signing copies of his books following the Sunday screening The Mark of Zorro.

Recently, I spoke with Vance about Fairbanks, silent film, his work as a film historian, and what he is looking forward to seeing at this year’s Festival.

Jeffrey Vance

Jeffrey Vance in Hollywood

 

Thomas Gladysz: How did you become interested in Douglas Fairbanks?

Jeffrey Vance: I became interested in Fairbanks as a result of my early interest in Charles Chaplin. Fairbanks was Chaplin’s great friend, and a partner in the United Artists Corporation. He was also a Hollywood superstar along with Chaplin and Mary Pickford. I wrote Mary Pickford a fan letter at the end of her life. She responded with an encouraging letter. Fairbanks’s namesake son also provided encouragement later on.

Thomas Gladysz: Fairbanks was more than a popular actor—he was an innovator and pioneer.

Jeffrey Vance: Yes. Douglas Fairbanks was one of the most creative producers in America and one of Hollywood’s great leaders. He came to films as a Broadway star, transitioned to films first as a screen satirist and then, of course, as the great screen swashbuckler. Beyond that, he was a civic leader, an independent producer, the first president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and a developer of America’s first film school, now called the USC School of Cinematic Arts. Fairbanks helped pioneer and popularize Technicolor cinematography and original film scores. And, his film collection was one of the first important film deposits at the Museum of Modern Art; Fairbanks was also a pioneer of film preservation. In short, Fairbanks was at the forefront of many important things.

Thomas Gladysz: At this year’s SFSFF, you’re introducing The Mark of Zorro. What should viewers expect?

Jeffrey Vance: The Mark of Zorro is a landmark not only in Fairbanks’ career but also in the development of the action adventure film. With The Mark of Zorro, Fairbanks was transitioning from comedies to the costume films for which he is best remembered. Instead of reflecting the times, The Mark of Zorro offers an infusion of the romantic past with a contemporary flair. Prior to Fairbanks, most costume films had been largely turgid affairs; Fairbanks’ contribution to the costume film was his winning charm, humor, and athleticism executed in a modern manner.

Beyond re-energizing his career and redefining a genre, The Mark of Zorro also helped popularize one of the enduring creations of twentieth century American fiction, a character that was the prototype for comic book heroes such as Batman. Bob Kane told me that Fairbanks’ Zorro costume, secret lair, and dual identity inspired Batman. And, of course, footage from the original The Mark of Zorro is cleverly interwoven into the Oscar-winning film, The Artist.

Douglas Fairbanks, by Jeffrey Vance

Douglas Fairbanks, by Jeffrey Vance

Thomas Gladysz: Speaking of The Artist, Fairbanks’ persona obviously influenced the film’s lead character, George Valentin. What did you think of the film?

Jeffrey Vance: I think The Artist is a miracle. The fact is it raised a “dead” art form—the silent cinema—like Lazarus. It’s no longer perceived as irrelevant; someone else could conceivably make another silent film and it too could garner critical and commercial success.

Thanks to the Weinstein Company, I was able to attend several screenings and events promoting the film. It was gratifying to hear writer/director Michel Hazanavicius tell me that the creative team behind The Artist had my Douglas Fairbanks book, and that it was the book and all the screenings and events around the book that helped shape the character of George Valentin, played by Jean Dujardin. They could have easily modeled the character on John Gilbert or Rudolph Valentino.

Thomas Gladysz: What draws you to silent film?

Jeffrey Vance: For me, a great draw is that the viewer is part of the creative process. The viewer is interpreting the images on the screen. Silent cinema is like opera and ballet; what’s not provided the viewer provides with their imagination. As a result, one is more involved with silent cinema than with other types of films. They mean more to the viewer.

Thomas Gladysz: As a film historian and author, what’s next?

Jeffrey Vance: I’ve done quite a few audio commentary tracks. Recently released, The Gold Rush for Criterion Collection is my best commentary work and my favorite. I’ve also recorded tracks for Fairbanks’s The Thief of Bagdad for the Cohen Collection, as well as the 1944 British comedy On Approval for Inception Media Group. I’m recording another for Warner Home Video at the end of the month.

I’ve also done quite a bit of work in the past year for Roy Export, the Chaplin family organization that controls the copyrighted Chaplin films as well as the Chaplin image. A Chaplin film deposit now joins the Chaplin photographic collection at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. I helped negotiate and arrange that collection. These two important collections will be celebrated by the Academy in the near future. Recently, I took the NBC Today Show on a Chaplin tour, it will air sometime after the Olympics.

I am also working on a book project about Mary Pickford. The late Robert Cushman, a leading Pickford expert and photo curator at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, wrote several chapters for a critical study of Pickford. Robert also conducted interviews with cinematographers Hal Mohr, director George Cukor, and others in the early 1970s. Manoah Bowman, the executor of Robert’s estate, has allowed me exclusive use of these materials to develop into a complete book. I intend to augment Robert’s materials with my own interview materials and research. I believe it will be an important Pickford book.

The Mark of Zorro

The Mark of Zorro (1920), stars the masked Douglas Fairbanks (left)

 

Thomas Gladysz: Besides The Mark of Zorro, which films at this year’s festival most intrigue you?

Jeffrey Vance: For me, there are three must-see films. Mantrap is a comedy gem. With a capacity Castro crowd, Mantrap may very well bring the house down. It’s Clara Bow’s best film. I find we’re still catching up with Clara Bow! She was very much of her time yet ahead of her time. Another is Pandora’s Box. Silent films are all about picture quality. In an inferior print, you’re taking away vital information. Louise Brooks really comes alive in the new restoration. To see additional detail in her performance is to see the film for the first time. And Louise Brooks in Pandora’s Box is a performance for the ages!

Finally, I’m keen to revisit The Wonderful Lies of Nina Petrovna. The film co-stars Francis Lederer, and I remember being seated next to him when the film was shown in his honor at Cinecon in Hollywood in the 1990s. It was an amazing film, and Mr. Lederer was flabbergasted at this silent picture he made early in his long career. At the film’s conclusion, he kept repeating, “I can’t believe how good this picture is. That man Schwarz [Hanns Schwarz, the film’s director] was a genius!”

These films are just shells of themselves on home video or screened in museums/archives. They were designed and timed for the big screen, large audiences, and live music. Anything else isn’t the authentic silent film experience. I’m very grateful to the San Francisco Silent Film Festival for the opportunities they provide to revisit and rediscover the very fragile art form that is the silent cinema.

*****

Further information about the San Francisco Silent Film Festival can be found on their website at www.silentfilm.org. The Festival takes place at the Castro Theater July 12 – 15th.

Thomas Gladysz is a Bay Area arts journalist and early film buff, and the Director of the Louise Brooks Society, an internet-based archive and international fan club devoted to the silent film star. Gladysz has contributed to books on the actress, organized exhibits, appeared on television and radio, and introduced Brooks’ films around the world. He will be signing copies of his “Louise Brooks edition” of Margarete Bohme’s classic novel, The Diary of a Lost Girl, following the screening of Pandora’s Box at this year’s San Francisco Silent Film Festival.

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Douglas Fairbanks Sr.'s personal copy of "The Mark of Zorro," to be auctioned in New York next week.

 

DOUGLAS FAIRBANKS JR. ESTATE AUCTION SEPT. 13th

Doyle New York will hold a major auction of items from the estate of the late Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. on September 13th at 10 a.m. Eastern time.

In addition to rare personal items of Doug Jr.’s, the auction catalog also contains several pieces that once belonged to his father, Douglas Fairbanks, Sr.

One interesting example is Doug Sr.’s own personal copy of the novel that inspired one of his most famous films: The Mark of Zorro (1920). This leather-bound volume was personally inscribed to Fairbanks by the author Johnston McCulley in 1925, at around the same time Fairbanks was producing the sequel Don Q. – Son of Zorro.

Doug Sr.'s copy of "The Mark of Zorro," with a heartfelt tribute by the author.

 

The book remained at Pickfair after Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford divorced in 1936. Fairbanks Sr. died on December 12, 1939. Many years later in 1951, Mary Pickford gave Doug Sr.’s copy of this book to his son, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.,  as a Christmas present. Her Christmas card and personal note to “Jayar” (Douglas Jr.’s nickname) are included as part of this auction lot.

Mary Pickford gave this book to Fairbanks Jr. at Christmas, 1951

 

This is just one of hundreds of must-see (and for many classic film collectors, must-HAVE) items from the Fairbanks Jr. estate that will be auctioned Sept. 13th. A pre-auction exhibit runs Sept. 9-12 for viewing and inspection of all items. Admission is free and open to the public.

For more information, visit the Estate of Douglas Fairbanks Jr. auction page at Doyle New York.

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Douglas Fairbanks in "The Mark of Zorro," coming to Austin's Long Center for the Performing Arts

ZORRO SLASHES INTO AUSTIN!

 

Rick Benjamin’s PARAGON ORCHESTRA

plays the original score to Douglas Fairbanks’

‘The Mark of Zorro’

January 30, 2011

4 PM

Long Center for the Performing Arts, Austin, TX

 

“Listening to a full band perform the complete scores, written and timed to the action, became a surprising delight…The audience chuckled along, as much to the music as the films.”

– The Washington Post

 

The MARK of ZORRO (1920) Together again at last – the swashbuckling silent classic with its original, Spanish-flavored score! Played by Rick Benjamin’s Paragon Orchestra.

Old Spanish California is the setting in which Douglas Fairbanks creates the prototype of the modern action-adventure hero, with surprising humor and athleticism, as “Senor Zorro.”

Slashing his trademark “Z” on the consciousness and sometimes the posteriors of the corrupt administration of Governor Alvarado, Zorro leads the way to “Justice for all!”

Rick Benjamin and his Paragon Orchestra reunite the zesty original score with the cinema classic as they have for 20 years with the films of Chaplin, Keaton and Harold Lloyd.

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For more information, visit TheLongCenter.org

Fairbanks and Marguerite DeLaMotte in "The Mark of Zorro." Photo from the collections of the Douglas Fairbanks Museum.

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Dominick Fairbanks, grandson of Douglas Fairbanks Jr., great-grandson of Fairbanks Sr.

LONDON — A £75 million ($120 million) movie based on Baroness Orczy’s classic “The Scarlet Pimpernel” is front and center of seriously ambitious production plans for Fairbanks Productions, the U.K.’s newest and big-talking filmmaking banner on the block.

Dominick Fairbanks, the great grandson and grandson of Hollywood legends Douglas Fairbanks and Douglas Fairbanks Jr., plans to bring his famous Hollywood family name into the 21st century with his production banner upstart.

His team for the launch includes cult British writer and director Michael Armstrong, who takes the role of head of creative development, and executive producer James Black.

On hand at an extravagant old school launch for the next generation of Fairbanks’ royalty at a private function held here in the famous Dorchester Grill in the central London hotel, the third generation Fairbanks unveiled his team and plans.

The company aims to launch a slate of productions in early 2011 but Black told The Hollywood Reporter a remake of “The Scarlet Pimpernel,” starring upcoming Brit actor Neil Jackson, whose big screen credits include a turn in “Quantum Of Solace,” is front and center.

“We want to try and do to the story of “The Scarlet Pimpernel” what Guy Ritchie did to ‘Sherlock Holmes’ [for Warner Bros],” said Black.

Plans are to shoot the picture sometime in the latter half of next year, “somewhere in Eastern Europe,” according to Black, with a host of “high profile cameos” in the movie.

But the production banner is not all about big-budget dreams.

Black, Fairbanks and Armstrong are all committed to the family dynasty’s commitment to nurturing and creating talent behind the camera for the future.

The upstart banner has already committed to make “Kill The Dead,” an original script from award-winning short filmmaker Shaune Harrison, its first fully-financed picture.

Harrison’s script, which he will direct, is set in the near future and details a reality TV show where contestants kill people recently brought back to life for that purpose.

With a budget of a moderate £5 million ($8 million), “Kill the Dead” will set out the company’s stall for supporting fresh talent and storytelling. Harrison said he has just delivered the second draft of “Dead” to Fairbanks and hopes to make it next year. Harrison’s day job is as a prosthetic make up artist of repute whose credits include “Captain America” and the “Harry Potter” movies.

The company has backing from a “tapestry of high-networth individuals,” according to Black and also has commercial relationships with U.S. bank Metro Bank, whose Anthony Thompson was on hand to talk up the proposed launch of the U.K.’s latest retail banking enterprise and HSBC.

Fairbanks Productions has also engaged U.K. legal eagles Harbottle and Lewis to add gravitas to the ambitions.

Douglas Fairbanks starred in a myriad Hollywood productions and was one of the founders of United Artists in 1919. His son, Fairbanks Jr., a decorated soldier on both sides of the Atlantic after serving in PT boats and gunboats in WW2 followed in his father’s footsteps carving out a successful career in movies also.

From The Hollywood Reporter

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We continue our month-long March donation drive and online film festival focusing on the life of Douglas Fairbanks with another episode from the 2005 documentary film, “The Great Swashbuckler,” produced by Delta Entertainment with the assistance of the Douglas Fairbanks Museum.

Pt. 5 explores Fairbanks’ transisition from comedic actor to action star. His reign as the movies’ great swashbuckler began with 1920’s “The Mark of Zorro” (the first Zorro film), and continued with his role as D’Artagnan in “The Three Musketeers” (1921) and “Robin Hood” (1922), which featured the largest sets Hollywood had ever seen. In this segment, film historians discuss Doug’s role as the father of action-adventure films and reveal behind-the-scenes secrets of how some of his greatest onscreen stunts were actually performed. Also provides information on the film debut of his son, 16 year-old Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., in 1923.

Featuring rare Fairbanks film clips, photographs and other materials from the museum’s archives. Also includes interviews with museum curator and Fairbanks biographer Keri Leigh, film historian Sparrow Morgan, and Annette Lloyd of Hollywood Forever.

90 minutes, available in 9 parts on YouTube or on DVD through the museum’s online gift shop at http://DouglasFairbanks.org

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more about “Douglas Fairbanks Documentary Pt. 5 -…“, posted with vodpod

 

 

Enjoy this episode? Please support the museum during our annual donation drive. We need your help this year!

You can make a donation quickly, easily, and safely through PayPal using a credit card, debit card or bank account below. Every donation, small or large – even just dropping $5.00 in our Virtual Donation Box – brings us one step closer to accomplishing our mission. That goal is establishing a permanent place in history for Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., to ensure that film historians and fans have his work, his extraordinary life and legacy to study and enjoy for many generations to come.

Make a financial gift through safe, secure Pay Pal International below:

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 "The Mark of Zorro" Dog T-Shirt

DOES YOUR DOG LOVE DOUG, TOO?

Everybody knows Douglas Fairbanks loved his dogs (all of `em!).  If you love your pooch, show him or her some “puppy love” this Valentine’s with some of the new, unique gifts for pets in the Douglas Fairbanks museum’s online store. We’re open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week,  and can get your order shipped to you in time for Valentine’s Day.

There’s the adorable Douglas Fairbanks “Mark of Zorro” doggie t-shirt, and a large food bowl suitable for dogs, cats, or whatever kind of pet you have (so long as they have a healthy appetite!).

Douglas Fairbanks Large Pet Bowl

Douglas Fairbanks Large Pet Bowl $20.99

These high-quality items feature images from the Douglas Fairbanks Museum’s collections, and each gift is made in the USA! (Also check out the very popular new Douglas Fairbanks All-American Teddy Bear for a furry friend who won’t eat you out of house and home.)

Douglas Fairbanks All-American Teddy Bear

Douglas Fairbanks All-American Teddy Bear $14.99

Visit the museum’s online gift shop today and order in time for Valentine’s day delivery!

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