Monday, July 27, 2009

Buck Parvin and the Movies

Okay, this is kind of a complicated one.

The book I just finished reading is Buck Parvin and the Movies, published in 1916. It's a collection of short stories by Charles E. Van Loan about the world of movie-making. Naturally, that's silent movie-making, and early ones at that. Most of the stories are about making one-reelers, which they turned out at a pace of one per week. The director would get instructions from the home office to stop making jungle pictures but still keep using the lion and elephant, and hey presto! It's time to make a circus picture!

Buck Parvin is a stunt man cowboy who has a secondary role in the early stories but eventually works his way to center stage. He's full of old-timey wisdom, and the stories are a lot of fun. You can read a couple of them here, complete with annotations to tell you what real people and movies the characters and situations are based on.

And then it gets complicated, because these stories were promptly used as the basis for a series of Buck Parvin movies. They're listed on IMDB, but it's pretty hard to find obscure silent movies that were never on DVD and may not even have gotten a token VHS release. So I haven't seen them. And did I mention that Buck Parvin was played by Art Acord, who was one of the actors he was based on?

I realize this doesn't technically count as a "novelization", since it's simultaneously a behind-the-scenes fictionalization and the source material for movies. Also because it's not a novel anyway but a set of short stories. But it was pretty fun anyway. I recommend reading The Extra and the Milk-Fed Lion to get a feel for what it was like making movies back then. Always shoot your stunts first, because if those don't work out, the part of the movie that builds up to them will fail too.

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