By Susan King
9:00 AM EDT, August 26, 2013
The Cinecon Classic Film Festival, which kicks off Thursday at the Egyptian Theatre, offers hard-core film buffs a chance to see 35-mm prints of rare and obscure movies. In other words, this is not for the "Gone With the Wind" crowd.
Among the highlights of this year's 49th annual festival are the English and French-language versions of "A Tough Winter," a 1930 Our Gang comedy short; "The Return of Sherlock Holmes," a 1929 talkie with Clive Brook that was considered lost for many years; the 1930 musical comedy "Let's Go Native" with Jeanette MacDonald and Jack Oakie; and "Hi, Good Lookin'," a1944 "B" musical starring Ozzie Nelson and Harriet Hilliard.
Probably close to a third or half of the films in the festival, which continues through Labor Day, haven't been seen in years. "It's kind of exciting," said film historian Robert Birchard, president of Cinecon. "It's a sense of discovery and it gives you a much better sense of the moviegoing experience of the classic age."
These films, he added, also reflect the times in which they were produced, like 1935's Depression-era "Transient Lady" with Frances Drake and Gene Raymond and 1943's World War II drama, "China."
'"China' was sort of Paramount's answer to 'Casablanca,'" Birchard said. "It's rather a brutal film for its time and remains so because of the context."
There's very little overlap between Cinecon and the higher profile, larger TCM Classic Film Festival, which takes place in the spring. "I look at the TCM schedule and though it's always great to see any movie on the big screen where it belongs, most of what they run we have seen."
Still, a few of the titles in the festival are well-known including the 1940 Technicolor musical "Down Argentine Way" with Betty Grable, Don Ameche and Carmen Miranda.
Over the years, Cinecon has developed a strong relationship with the major archives and studios. "They tell us what they are working on," said Birchard. "We go through lists of titles and ask if prints are available. It's not a scientific process. The only thing we generally don't have is a theme. But this year we are running a fair number of silent comedy shorts that for the most part are coming from the Museum of Modern Art, Library of Congress and UCLA Film & Television Archive and give a flavor of lesser known comedians of the silent era."
Like Charles Puffy, who stars in the 1925 short "Kick Me Again. "He was a Hungarian who starred in a series of shorts at Universal," Birchard said.
Cinecon Vice President Stan Taffel is presenting a restored Charley Chase comedy short from his own private collection, 1927's "Fluttering Hearts." He was also instrumental in obtaining the comedy short "Don't Get Nervous" with Billy Gilbert, which was never released in theaters.
"The comedian made it strictly for himself and his family," said Taffel. "He was an avid home movie maker and I was privileged to go through the entire library of his home movies with Bryan Cooper, who is his great nephew. I asked him if we could run 'Don't Get Nervous,' which was a one-reeler that he made that includes many celebrities he worked with."
This year's festival also features a presentation Friday from John Bengtson, the San Francisco-based attorney whose "Silent Echoes" book series identifies locations used in films starring Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd.
"I'm going to be taking an audience on a visual tour of Hollywood — both the early studios and a trip along Hollywood Boulevard step by step from east to west," said Bengtson, including photos of a recent find — an unnamed alley near the Egyptian "running east and west between Cosmo and Cahuenga. Charlie Chaplin filmed 'The Kid' there, Buster Keaton filmed 'Cops' there and Harold Lloyd filmed 'Safety Last' there."
Cinecon, which attracts fans as far away as Australia, is more than just five days of nonstop screenings. There's a memorabilia show at the Lowes Hollywood Hotel, as well as a Career Achievement Awards dinner Sunday featuring Shirley Jones and Pat Boone at the hotel.
"I think it's addictive," said Birchard of the festival. "We have a member who has been coming since Cinecon 1 and we have new people as well. It's like family in some ways."
Cinecon Classic Film Festival
Where: Egyptian Theatre, 6712 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood
When: Thursday-Sept. 2
Admission: $25-$30 for day pass; $110 for full festival passage, go to http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/420241
Info: For complete lineup and more, go to http://www.cinecon.org.
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