Each month, the CMBA profiles a classic movie blog written by one of our members. This month, we’re featuring Daibhid James, who writes at The Silver Screen Surfer.
CMBA: Why do you blog?
Daibhid James: I started out as music writer for a number of underground music papers in the 1990s (Reargarde in Montreal, Exclaim & Inside Tracks in Toronto) and host of radio shows at Toronto stations CKLN and, currently, CIUT playing music ranging from rock and roll, rockabilly, surf, garage, blues, doo wop, honky tonk, gospel, and ska from the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, to punk and new wave of the 1980s to today. But besides music, I've always been a fan of black and white films, especially silents. I'm particularly interested in German Expressionist and related genres, horror films, Dadaist and other short art films from the 1920s to the 1960s, films of silent starlets such as Louise Brooks, Alla Nazimova, Brigette Helm, Clara Bow, Theda Bara, Colleen Moore, etc. I'm also interested in silent films from countries that are usually bypassed by usual film texts like China and Japan, Latin America, Eastern Europe, and Canada. Besides silents, I also like film noir, horror and sci-fi films, as well as cartoons from the Golden Era.
For most of my life I've been more focused on music, but in the past few years, for various reasons, I have frankly found myself taking less interest in the modern music scene and more interest in film and getting back into writing. Thus, my blog at The Silver Screen Surfer, the title obviously taken from the Silver Age Marvel Comics character.
Articles planned for the coming year include the life and career of Florence La Badie, more films of Brigitte Helm (I already did an article about her horror film Alraune last year), the life and career of Dorothy Davenport, the silent films based on the works of Jules Verne and possibly the sound ones too, the art films of Canadian filmmakers David Rimmer and Michael Snow, silent films from Latin America, Canada and China, and some Yiddish films I found on a Russian website that haven't been loaded on to YouTube yet.
CMBA: Besides classic movie blogging, what are some of your other passions?
Daibhid James: I have been combining my musical interest with film by adding electronic soundtracks to various silent films that I've been writing about (and posting them on YouTube). I also set up a public performance last Halloween with a showing of the silent version of H.P. Lovecraft's Call Of Cthulhu with live musical accompaniment, and I plan more showings in the future as an annual Halloween show. In addition, I'm planning a showing of some of the various Dada shorts and Warhol films with electronic music accompaniment. One of my COVID projects was designing a soundtrack for Warhol's 1965 eight-hour silent film Empire, so that should be interesting to stage. I'm also thinking of starting a YouTube show. I'm still involved with radio as well. I did once run for the Green Party and that was fun, but I'm not likely to do so again; politics isn't fun anymore. I'm a distance runner who needs to get back into shape. I should get on that.
CMBA: If you could program a perfect day of classic movies for TCM, what would be the seven films on your schedule?
Daibhid James: The classic 1950s and 1960s films based on the books of Jules Verne would be a great day: Around The Earth In 80 Days (1956), 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea (1954), Mysterious Island (1961), Journey to the Center of the Earth" (1959), From the Earth to the Moon (1958), Master Of The World (1961), Five Weeks in a Balloon (1962), plus the George Melies version of Journey To The Moon (1904). (That's actually eight films, but the last one is a short so I'm adding it.) They are slightly out of chronological order but Mysterious Island is effectively a sequel to 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea. I loved all these films as a kid and saw them several times as well as reading the books and they still have a charm in the CGI era. I think audiences would enjoy them.
CMBA: What is a classic movie that you love, but most people don't know about -- and what do you love about it??
Daibhid James: The three surviving films of Alla Namizova; Red Lantern (1919), Camille (1921) and Salome (1922) should be better known. In fact, Alla should be better known. She's a fascinating figure and a pioneer for women filmmakers. Although not actually a director, she was effectively her own producer and art director, and while not the first woman to do so, she was arguably the first with a real artistic vision. In fact, I did argue that in an article a few years back. I adore her.
After Metropolis, Brigitte Helm made several great films: At The End Of The World (1927), The Love Of Jeanne Ney (1927), Alraune (1928), and Abwege (1928). Metropolis was her first film; she was only 19, and while she had beauty and presence, the role was two-dimensional. However, she soon turned into an excellent actress with a slinky charisma in some complex roles. I have such a crush on her.
The 1934 Chinese silent film The Goddess, starring Ruan Lingyu, should be seen by every silent film fan. It's a gorgeous and tragic film and Lingyu has great depth and presence. They were making silents in Asia for a full decade after the West and some are excellent but little known in the West.
CMBA: What is something that most people don't know about you?
Daibhid James: On the advice of counsel, I take the Fifth.
We thank Daibhid for participating in our Q & A profile and encourage you to visit The Silver Screen Surfer!