Sunday, 19 March 2017

The fault in our Tsars… Mother (1926), Barbican with Stephen Horne and Martin Pyne

“Pudovkin theorised that actors on screen do not really act; it's their context that moves us - something established, through montage, by their relationship to exterior objects.” Jonathan Jones, The Guardian

So, a method driven by process with the director controlling the cinematic context for human reaction by inserting his players into events? That said, this film is crammed full of expressive faces and would be nowhere near as good without the performances, especially the magnificent Vera Baranovskaya: Comrade Pudovkin knew that you can edit all you like but without emotion  it’s just pictures and pyrotechnics.

Vsevolod Pudovkin, as Sergei Eisentsein, looked back to the failed 1905 Revolution to find brutal injustice the helped inspire the change that was to come in 1917 and, by the mid-twenties, was being consolidated. As with any new regime, it was important to remind people how things came to be and, we must remember that this was the early days of the Soviet Union; a time of optimism for many and not the inevitable failure as viewed through the decedent lens of modern cheap-shot historical judgement.

Communication, travel, industry... all in one frame
This new order followed many decades of struggle against brutal Tsarist rule which had finally taken a Great War in which more Russians were deployed than weapons to force a revolution not just of communists but liberals too. After the February 1917 uprising there was a period of uneasy alliance between the various parties before the Bolsheviks assumed control. There then followed years of civil war and foreign interventions as the European order tried to re-assert itself, then final victory, the death of its inspiration and a power struggle won by a man who would grow into a tyrant…

In 1926, it was still the time to make sense of it all and to remember the way Russian lives had been valued by the old regime. Pudovkin’s Mother stands as one of the pre-eminent examples of contextualising propaganda of the time as well as being a superbly crafted piece of cinema in its own right.  

The story was based on Maxim Gorky’s 1906 novel The Mother and bears similarities to the Bloody Sunday attrocities in which the imperial guard were ordered to open fire on a demonstration in St Petersberg in January 1905. That event led to long-term consequences yet this film is is not a simplistic take on revolutionary innocence versus black-hearted oppression but a tragic story of a nation undermined by a careless, fatal, malaise.

Vera Baranovskaya plays the Mother and she is married to an abusive alcoholic husband Vlasov (Aleksandr Chistyakov), a man who would steal even the family iron if it would get him another vodka. He lashes out at his wife and slaps down their son, Pavel (Nikolai Batalov) as he comes to her aid.

Aleksandr Chistyakov
He is a sad sack of a man who has been defeated by life and in the local tavern he’s an easy mark for a group of men looking for a patsy to help them break an impending strike. The problem is that Pavel is one of the group organising the action. He meets a girl, Anna (Anna Zemtsova) who hands him a package, he goes home and hides it disturbing his sleeping mother just enough for her to see what he is doing.

Come the day of the strike, Pavel and his group are ambushed at the gates of the factory and badly beaten. Pavel and a pal are chased  into the tavern, yet whilst Pabvel makes good his escape his mate is grabbed by the inn-keeper. In the melee his gun is fired and Vlasov is shot dead.

Nikolai Batalov
Our sympathy shifts as the insurgent's mother becomes a widow, staring in vacant horror as her husband is carried lifeless into their rooms. Before long she has discovered what Pavel was hiding, a collection of firearms, and honest citizen that she is, believes the policeman when he promises that if her son only tells the truth he will be free.

The family are now involved in the legal machinery of the Tsarist state and all other considerations are discarded as punishment becomes more important than the crime…

A shock from under the floorboards
“Righteousness, justice, mercy… “ the tribunal sits lazily on the question of Pavel’s life, more concerned with fine horses than the three words they are supposedly guided by. There will be precious little of any today and Pavel is sentenced to hard labour. Incredulous, his mother begs forgiveness – she had no idea that her faith in authority would be so misguided. But she is not alone and soon there is a plan to free Pavel and other prisoners…

Now the film shifts tone and pace as the director drives on towards the family’s ultimate betrayal by their country in an ending possibly inspired by a smuggled copy of East is East. The use of montage is mesmeric, with repeated shots of partly melted ice on the river being juxtaposed with the movement of people towards the prison and then in aid of the rescue: it’s a relentless flow in both cases and very powerful.

“And don’t spare the guns…”
Pudovkiz is so good on the details as well as the scale. As Vlasov’s body lies in death, he focuses on mother, then a dripping tap, then her dead husband, the floorboards, her son and back again: the monotony of grief and despair. There is a rhythm and logical completeness in the way he goes about his story telling and it is perfect for the accompaniment of the Horne/Pyne collective….

The duo sounded more like a quintet with Martin on vibes as well as percussion and Stephen playing his usual array of piano, accordion, flute and sundries… at times their response to Pudovkin’s rapid cuts reminded me of hard-hitting modern jazzers The Bad Plus (known for their covers of The Pixies, Nirvana and Black Sabbath). The duo have developed their counter-play and this film with its revolutionary rhythms is an ideal movie metronome for them to progress their innovative collaboration.

I liked the way Martin’s vibraphone hung notes in the air as the imagery became more fluid only for the beat to strengthen and the music to develop­­­­­­­­­ firmer resolve as the narrative hardened towards the horrific conclusion.

A top notch 35mm print from the BFI was projected and the screen grabs here don’t really do the film justice. It’s available from the Internet Archive and also on cheap import DVD from Amazon or eBay but it surely deserves the same restoration care and attention as many lesser contemporaries.

A statue of Nikolai Aleksandrovich Romanov looks out over his people

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Way out West with Vilma… Kennington Bioscope, Silent Western Saturday

In his introduction to The Winning of Barbara Worth (1926), Kevin Brownlow revealed that Samuel Goldwyn’s wife had been the Imelda Marcos of silent film preservation… The great mogul had stored all of his films in her closet and, in order to make room for her shoes, she cleared them out except for the ones featuring Ronald Coleman and Gary Cooper.

Those men are two big reasons to celebrate this remarkable film but it also features some of the most stunning cinematography of the era and if you think Abel Gance was impressive in capturing equine movement on frame than check out Henry King and his cinematographers George Barnes, Thomas Branigan and Gregg Toland. In close quarters to the excellent restoration projected tonight you could almost be alongside Ronald and Gary as the sun-baked, sand-drenched, landscape swirls around you in a crystal clear golden-yellow.

Vilma Banky
And on top of all that you have Vilma Banky… but today was about more than just one film and one generation but a celebration of the vast breadth of silent westerns; a genre so broad it deserves sub categorisation.

I hadn’t seen a single film on the programme for the inaugural Bioscope Silent Western Saturday, but it featured familiar names, Bronco Billy, Tom Mix, Rex the Wonder Horse… Somehow these once hugely-popular stars persist in memory alongside the real characters they emulated. More than just history, Westerns are part of America’s mythology – in some cases the real cowboys and cowgirls became performers on stage, circus and in film and eventually, inevitably, a cowboy-actor became president followed, more recently, by a low-down, no good, dirty double-crossing gambler.

William S Hart resists!
Programme 1: Shoot 'em Up Starter Thundering Hoofs (1924)

Kevin Brownlow introduced this action-packed opener with a clip from his Hollywood series in which he’d interviewed Hoofs’ director, Albert S. Rogell. Rogell explained how his star, Fred Thomson, former athlete and Great War veteran, had fallen under a four horse stage coach during the film’s set piece chase in which he has to jump on and pull the vehicle to a halt. He ended up in hospital with leg injuries while his director figured out how to finish off the scene using a stunt double - the ground-breaking Yakima Canutt.

Fred Huntley, Willie Fung and Fred Thomson in Thundering Hooves (1924)
Again, those blurred lines between reality and fiction. Thomson’s a likeable hero with considerable energy and the twinkling smile of a genuine star. His honest cow-poke, Dave Marshall, is more than a match for the scheming Luke Severn (William Lowery) and succeeds in relieving him of both the girl, Carmelita Estrada (picture-perfect, Anna May) and the horse, Silver King the Horse - played by, of course, Silver King, a horse.

The story was written by one Marion Jackson, which may or may not have been a nom de plume for Frances Marion, Thomson’s wife.

Lilian Henley played along with a lightness of touch and a refusal to over-play the wild-west chord sequence on the piano: all in keeping with Thomson’s playfulness and Hoofs’ romantic heart.           

Programme 2: The Early Western

John Oliver talked us through the genesis of the Western with a mix of Eastern-Westerns and Western-Westerns… Initially the genre was mostly filmed out East with the very first western, Cripple Creek Bar-room (1899), being filmed on a New York City roof. As films drifted towards better lighting conditions in the actual west, the authenticity increased along with the scale of the scenery.

Mabel Normand and Dark Cloud in The Squaw's Love (1911)
The Squaw’s Love (1911) directed by Griffith for Biograph showed how the treatment of Native Americans also changed over this time. Here they were the centre of the story – albeit including Mabel Normand in make-up – in an adventure of their own.

By the time of The Indian Vestal (1911) Indians were seen massacring a group of settlers and making off with a blonde child who becomes their medicine woman (Viola Barry). After years of providing mystical services for the tribe she meets a white trapper (Hobart Bosworth) and one thing leads to several others.

Custer’s Last Fight (1912) was historically interesting for showing how Custer was viewed thirty years after his demise but it lacked the dynamism of the fictional films being too concerned with fact. It was still fascinating all the same: even defeats need to be explained away by the ultimate victors.

Broncho Billy’s Adventures (1911) ended the morning on a light-hearted high as Billy (Gilbert Anderson) intervenes to make sure true love runs smooth as he fends off would be suitors for a hotelier’s daughter (Edna Fisher). Not your typical Billy but he couldn’t get the girl all of the time.

Meg Morley accompanied for this section with the surity of a sharp-shooter waiting to pounce on the slightest shift in tone and narrative. She and used some intriguingly unresolved progressions for Broncho Billy that stuck in my head for hours.

Programme 3: A Cowboy's Best Friend

Lunch consumed, the pace picked up in two fast and furious action films featuring horses, or rather ponies and a wonder horse. The pace was breakneck and, in spite of three horses being top billed in Rex’s film, the stories were dramatically compelling.

"Thrills? Man, you never knew what the word meant before!"
Saved by the Pony Express (1914) saw Tom Mix jumping on an off a succession of ponys to illustrate the importance of this fast moving postal service in saving your pal from wrongful conviction. Whilst in The Devil Horse (1926), we got to see how a horse could fight, fall in love and “hate Indians”; truly Rex was a wonder as well as being a horse – if not a politically-correct one.

John Sweeney played along at full gallop crashing down hard on the deeper notes with all the force of Rex’s thundering hooves.

Programme 4: Women Out West

Michelle Facey presented a session on female western stars and went so deep into her subject she uncovered a film featuring a troop of – currently – unknown actors. Michelle had clearly been burning the midnight oil lamp, locked in her North London garret with stacks of primary sources and the ghost of Vilma Banky, she brought back to screen a series of wonderful western women.

Josie Sedgwick was a crosspatch Calamity Jane in The Sawdust Trail (1924) and I just wish we could have seen a bit more to see her land one on the sneaky “Hoot”(yeah, sure…) Gibson.

Texas Guinan
A Girl of the West (1911) featured Lillian Christy as the pugnacious Polly Dixon, a girl who can handle horse, fists and rifle as well as any man as she proves in foiling an audacious robbery. Apparently the decade featured over 60 serials featuring such women of independent thought and deed: that sounds like a trend to me.

The Substitute (1911) was the mystery film and the only named contributor is Lillian M Rubenstein which is a shame because the actress playing Jennie Rock a fearless telegraph operator and station agent, is superb, full of character and guile. Another case for The Silent Detective…

Two Little Rangers (1912) was directed by Alice Guy Blache and featured Vinnie Burns a stuntwoman turned actress as the eldest of two feisty sisters who put paid toe “Wild Bill” Gray’s nefarious plans. At one point Vinnie’s character fashions a bow and arrow out of sticks and – presumably – a garter strap: there’s resourceful!

Vinnie Burns at Cliffhanger Point in Fort Lee, NJ for Two Little Rangers (1912)
Last up was Texas Guinan, once described as “the female William S Hart”, in South O'Santa Fe (1919). Texas plays a tough girl throughout and you’re in no doubt that she as deadly as the males.

Lillian Henley and Meg Morley took turns on the old Joanna.

There was so much detail to savour; it would be good to learn more…

Programme 5: William S. Hart The Narrow Trail (1917)

Kevin Brownlow showed us his own 35mm print taken from the original camera negatives and reminded us that once upon a time “they all looked like this”. The print was indeed very sharp, with the odd century-old blemish but an authentic look, free of digital clean-up – an analogue experience created by light patterning photosensitive cells.

For me this was the film of the day, an almost flawless 75 minutes of pacing, performance and glorious scenery – including San Francisco Bay.

Sylvia Bremer and William S. Hart
Hart is mesmeric in this film and, in spite of his 53 years, his Ice Harding is a believable leading man effortlessly shifting from heartless highwayman to a lovelorn loser in search of a perfect second chance, he covers it all with actorly grace whilst sitting in the saddle with the true conviction of a western soul.

He’s saved by the love of a good woman Betty Werdin (Australian-born Sylvia Breamer – the spit of Helena Bonham-Carter!) who has more in common with him than he knows. There’s an excellent fight sequence in which Ice takes on half a dancehall in something approaching method-brawling; it’s people like William and Lillian that brought authenticity to the early screen.

Neil Brand accompanied in emphatic style throwing in some resounding themes and noir flavours reflecting the film’s cinematic prescience: Laura and lassoes… whose heart can you really trust when the lies run so deep?

Programme 6: Mrs Goldwyn’s favourite men

The day ends as it began with Mr Brownlow introducing the stunning Barbara Worth. The film starts like an outtake from Greed as a young woman (Vilma Banky) buries her husband in the sand and then battles to save her daughter from a sandstorm. It’s a brutal beginning and photographed so clearly it could have been made tomorrow.

Vilma Banky in The Winning of Barabara Worth (1926)
The woman perishes but her daughter, Barbara, is found alive by a Mr Worth (Charles Willis Lane) and grows up to be played by Vilma. This western is definitely in the Civil Engineering sub-category and tells the story of how Mr Worth and his business rival, McDonald (Ed Brady) try to dam the Colorado River and irrigate the Californian plains.

Ronald Coleman plays Willard Holmes who works with the rival whilst Gary Cooper plays Abe Lee the boy Barbara grew up with. Their romantic rivalry runs parallel to business as the mood gets mean as McDonald refuses to recognise the need for additional reinforcements on the dam… In a film like this that’s never a good sign. Sometimes the story doesn’t quite match the splendour of the scenery but it is a magnificent thing all in all and fitting end to a day of surprises and high quality.

Cyrus Gabrysch accompanied filling the huge spaces with Death Valley cool as humanity fights for life and love against overwhelming heat and the onrushing Colorado River.

Ronald, Vilma and Gary
All thanks to those who organised and volunteered – it was the warmest day of the year outside on the streets of Kennington but inside we drifted the high plains sipping a heady brew of past glories tasted amidst live light and music.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Gish of the day… Broken Blossoms (1919), Donald MacKenzie, Regent Street Cinema

My second Gish this week and I've seen two excellent performances from Dorothy and Lillian that could hardly be more different.

This was DW Griffith in his peak run, following up Intolerance with a tale of inter-racial love, brutish intolerance and steadfast faith in gods and each other. Apparently, it was Mary Pickford that recommended Eltham-born Thomas Burke’s book of short stories, Limehouse Nights (1916) to Griffith and Broken Blossoms was based on the story, The Chink and the Child… alliteration can get you many places but, this case, it can’t guarantee your title will stand the test of time.

Burke was not impressed with the end product but DW took his outline and delivered an intense, close-quarters song of love and hate that was probably the only way he could go after Babylon. The set is shrouded in pea-soup fog and maybe it pre-figures German films of the twenties and even Film Noir with its foreboding atmosphere and singular lack of a guaranteed happy ending.

Lillian Gish
Those Germans may have had Emil Jannings but America had perhaps the greatest physical actor of the generation in Lillian Gish, a woman who generates such frailty that you doubt she’ll make it through the film. From the outset, her character Lucy – supposedly a teenager – is so weak she cannot even raise a smile. She was delivered onto the doorstep of her father, boxer Battling Burrows (Donald Crisp with cauliflower ear painfully folded over like a pasty!) by one of his former lovers and has had to endure his disdain for all the intervening years.

Burrows isn’t a battler he’s just a brute and he treats his daughter like dirt. Lucy waits on him and has to stand by to see if there will be any food left over for her to eat. She is so beaten down she cannot stand straight and the only way she can force a smile is by using her fingers to push the edges of her mouth up…. imagine a life so full of unrelenting sadness that smiling is physically unlearned?

Donald Crisp
You can well understand why Griffith took a number of months to finish the film in post-production, he confessed that he couldn’t look at “…the damned thing; it depresses me so.” Yet finish it he did and it is one of his most complete and revered films.

That said, this is DW and so we must confront the anachronistic elephant in the screening room… but what’s it doing there I hear you cry, you only get elephants in India? Whilst there are actors of Chinese origin in the film, the lead role and other key parts are played by white actors with quite horrible make up. We are at a point here between Sessue Hayakawa and Anna May Wong and it was deemed that Richard Barthelmess would make for a more acceptable hero as Cheng Huan than an actor requiring less make up...

He does a decent job through the goop and it’s just one of those 100-year old things you have to try contextualise; a bit like the Elizabethan boys playing girls in Shakespeare, the British Empire and, in the far future, a multiple bankrupt, TV personality being US President… that sort of thing.

Richard Barthelmess
Cheng is shown at the film’s start preparing to take his faith to the West and encountering American sailors having a wild time in the Chinese port in which he lives. Griffith goes out of his way to set up Cheng’s Buddhist background with a frequently referenced shot of temple bells and is at pains to stress the sincerity of beliefs every bit as heartfelt as those in the West.

Cut forward a few years and Cheng is a weary walker in East London streets, leaning against the front of his shop as he relives how his attempt to bring a new faith to aggressive Anglo-Saxons has turned sour. He survives in London’s notorious Limehouse (before it was riddled with City financiers) and having chased one dragon too many lives a disappointed life as a gambling, self-medicating shopkeeper.

Living in terror
But Cheng hasn’t lost his good nature even if he has been worn down. He watches Lucy often in their street and loves her from a far, seeing the beauty that all of Limehouse ignores. After one particularly savage beating, she literally falls into his doorway and he helps her recover. There are some sweet scenes between the two as gifts are given and affection grows even though Lucy is alarmed by one close encounter as The Yellow Man (cringe) pulls out of an intended kiss.

This is too early for an interracial happy ending (see above) and sure enough, Lucy is spotted and her father told. He has a big boxing match across the river but once he’s done with his opponent he’ll be right over to meet out further punishment...

Barthelmess and Gish
Against this harsh, unrelenting force, the flowers that signify and surround Lucy and Cheng seem so hopelessly futile and, of course, blossoms are the most fleeting of all flowers. Cheng describes Lucy as his White Blossom and Gish acts as much like a spring bloom as any person could, her presence being even more insubstantial and fragile than usual – she is almost too painful to watch.

Lucy's interaction with her thuggish father has Gish conveying a hopeless mix of sadness and terror through her forced smiles: the actorly equivalent of rubbing your tummy, tapping your head and hopping on one leg… all submerged deeply in character. Barthelmess is unfortunately little more than a prop in their scenes together – well I wasn’t watching him - whilst Lillian exhibits her full range of tender intricacies. Victorian child-woman and all those things Griffith wanted her to be, Lillian Gish still dazzles with her virtuosity: her talent outshining her director.

An horrific moment as Lucy tries to avoid another beating
Donald MacKenzie accompanied on the Regent Street Cinema’s organ and showed just why he is one of the leading players in the UK. The organ is so evocative of the picture house past that it works in different – very specific - ways to piano which has a more timeless feel. To play beyond the audience’s tonal expectations requires narrative awareness as well as sensitive technique and Mr McKenzie has clearly mastered both. After a while you forget about the sound and just feel along to the music and the bells … and the whistles!

The print was not the best but there’s exciting news of a new restoration emerging from Paris – Silent London has an update on this and other treats in store in her latest podcast. Broken Blossoms is another tricksy Griffith film for us 21st Century folk but for Billy Bitzer’s camerawork, DW's cinematic vision and Lillian's guts this is one I would like to watch again and with the new Carl Davis score!

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Oranges to California… Nell Gwyn (1926) with Meg Morley, Kennington Bioscope

Nell Gwyn was probably the first major British feature film to succeed in America following almost two decades of under-achievement from one of the birthplaces of motion pictures.

It’s a very competent picture directed by Herbert Wilcox with strong performances especially from Randle Ayrton as King Charles II and Juliette Compton as Nell’s rival for royal affection, but it it’s chief appeal is in the performance of Dorothy Gish from Ohio. The younger Gish sister is unbound and gives one of the most joyful performances I’ve seen in a silent film with a Fairbanks-ian energy from start to finish complete with head thrown back laughing and almost perpetual motion (a high-risk strategy given the lowest of low-cut costumes).

Sister Lillian couldn’t get away with either the abandon or the dresses: Dorothy is far from home and playing away with confidence and her own voice. Maybe she felt she had more technical experience than the Brits or maybe it was just the perfect role for the “Black Sheep Gish”…

In an interview in Photoplay Magazine, Dorothy said that growing up with the Pickfords, she and Mary were the ones who always “started things” whilst Lillian was put on a pedestal by both her mother and Mrs Pickford who said, “too good for this world.” Dorothy was The Little Disturber… and here she set about disturbing the heck out of Wilcox’s film.

The result is simply magnetic and it’s hard to watch anyone else and impossible not to smile along as our inventive orange seller/sex-worker/actress grabs opportunity with both hands and romances the King, becomes an actress and a fixture of British royal life for the 16 years leading up to the King’s death.

You can only wonder at the force of personality required to make the break from her humble origins and to win her Monarch’s love and a place in society for herself and then their two sons. Her influence on social policy is open to debate but Nell certainly did charitable work, leaving a legacy to the inmates of Newgate Prison and being involved – to some extent – in the establishment of the Chelsea Pensioners… a group of whom are seen waving through grizzly grey beards at the film’s end.

The script was adapted from Marjorie Bowen’s novel, Mistress Nell Gwyn, which makes a little merry with the facts – some of which I touched on in my original post of theGrapevine DVD. For this film the rest, as they say, is pop-history… or at least a thin sliver of it running through an easy-going comedy that does portray a believable romance whilst attempting to explain the heroine’s place in history if not necessarily the actuality…

Samuel Pepys was indeed a regular admirer of Nell’s theatre and kept a risqué picture of her in his study whilst the poet John Dryden praises Nell’s greatest attribute as native wit, forcing me to contain my inner Syd James… There is no doubt her glass-ceiling shattering career was historically significant.

It's good to be the King
Meg Morley – who accompanied throughout the evening - excelled with the excesses of court life and clearly enjoyed the mix of theatrical comedy and Gish intimacy. Tonally this must be an interesting film to play for as Dorothy pulls you in as any Gish does but then there is more comedy and light than delivered sister Lil’s occasional method grimness.

Dorothy and Lillian debut in An Unseen Enemy (1912)
Five years younger than Lillian, Dorothy had made a name for herself in comedy after their joint debut in Griffith’s An Unseen Enemy (1912) and this excellent short featured in the first half of tonight’s programme. It’s a tense affair with both sisters locked in a room and terrorised by a drunken thief firing a revolver through a small hole in the wall. Both women are remarkable in this feature and their unconscious styles reveal themselves as different even at this stage: Dorothy does not have Lillian’s intricacy but is no less compellingly believable.

I had previously watched the Grapevine DVD, which is tinted and in decent quality but tonight the Bioscope projected the BFI’s 35mm film and this was a revelation in overall looks: a real treat. Nell deserves to be more widely available as a showcase for Dorothy Gish as well as being the film that may have launched a British Invasion had we the product and marketing reach to follow it up.

Earle Rodney and Dorothy Devore negotiate with the parents...
Before this was an interesting cross-dressing comedy called Know Thy Wife (1918) directed by Al Christie and featuring Dorothy Devore as the fiancé of Earle Rodney whose parents want him to marry the nice girl back home. But he has the perfect plan – nothing can go wrong, at all… dress Dot up as his best man and, er, somehow avoid getting hitched to his folks’ favoured fiancé. There are some interesting confusions – think Lubitsch I Don’t Want to be a Man – before Dorothy’s hair gives her away.

First up was a mystery… a Griffith’s short called Those Awful Hats (1909) a comedy of errors or more specifically over-large headgear that obstructs cinema audiences view of the films – even today, the main reason I refuse to wear a top hat. It’s all straightforward enough except for the fact that projected on the screen was Corner in Wheat, a film made *after* the one in which it features?! The story goes that film students may have inserted the second film years later using a matte projection technique unknown in 1912 – possibly Francis Ford Coppola after one too many in the UCLA Film Studies bar?

If anyone knows anymore, please make a comment: this is a job for The Silent Detective!

UPDATE: The film is definitely not Corner of Wheat and the most likely scenario seems to be that suggested on the Classic Movie Hub: "The film utilized the Dunning-Pomeroy Matte process (an early predecessor to blue-screening). When this film was originally being restored, the elements for the film that is projected in the picture were lost. As an inside joke, the restorers filled it in with a scene from At the Crossroads of Life, a picture that D.W. Griffith himself starred in"

Those Awful Hats with the time-travelling second film projected top left
I should also mention a fascinating short from the film artist known as Arepo entitled Romance and Rococo, which showed the love affair between two porcelain dolls… the characters were constrained by their glazing but what passed between them was very enlightening especially when a worm pushed its way among their rose petals… We’ve all had our hearts cracked by such moments.

Dorothy Gish and Juliette Compton advertise