Something New was an independent production written by Nell Shipman and directed by Nell and Bert Van Tuyle, her costar. A screenwriter, played by Nell, is having writers’ block while working on a film scenario. She tries to think of ‘something new’ to punch up her script. She is frustrated until she sees a race between a cowboy on horseback and a man in a Maxwell automobile. When the Maxwell wins, she begins afresh on the scenario.
The film is rich with Nell’s presence. Her authorial voice seems to speak through the informal and sometimes slang-filled intertitles that signal her unspoken advice not to take the film too seriously. And the film is little more than a fun trifle, but one that we have found ourselves sitting down to watch numerous times over the years.
The Maxwell automobile is a costar along with Shipman and Van Tuyle in this film. After setting up the antagonists and the conflict (Mexican bandits and captured white woman), much of the latter half of the film is the rescue and escape of Nell and Bert in the 1920 version of an SUV, the Maxwell automobile. The auto does in fact astound in its performance over many shots of rocky mounds and gravel-strewn slopes. Nell’s autobiography reveals that the auto had to be repaired several times throughout the production. The feature film’s lean plot is padded for length with many shots of the Maxwell negotiating the rough desert terrain.
A number of Nell Shipman films have survived the years to speak of her love of wild animals and of the outdoors. Some of the films have survived in national archives; one was recovered from the back of an antique shop in the 1980s. — Carl Bennett
The Milestone Collection
2001 DVD edition
Back to God’s Country (1919), color-tinted and color-toned black & white, 74 minutes, not rated,
with Something New (1920), color-tinted and color-toned black & white, 57 minutes, not rated.
Milestone Film and Video, distributed by Image Entertainment, ID9796MLSDVD, UPC 0-14381-97962-6.
One single-sided, dual-layered, Region 1NTSC DVD disc, 1.33:1 aspect ratio image in full-frame 4:3 (720 x 480 pixels) interlaced scan MPEG-2 format, 5.5 Mbps average video bit rate, 224 kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, chapter stops; snapper DVD case, $29.99.
Release date: 24 April 2001.
Country of origin: USA
The opening reel of Something New has a considerable amount of decomposition damage in the first half on the right side of the frame. The image soon clears up to reveal a very good to excellent 35mm print. The print is compromised by light speckling and dust, some intermittant vertical scratches, and some sparce emulsion chipping. The source print for the video transfer was preserved by the National Archives of Canada in a new color-tinted and color-toned print that utilized an original 35mm nitrate print held by the UCLA Film and Television Archive.
Something New has been available on VHS videotape for quite a while from Boise State University’s Hemingway Western Studies department, Nell Shipman Archive. That edition was transferred from the same source material and is virtually identical in tonal range and framing as this Milestone DVD edition. Some color-tinting differences are seen in the latter part of the film. This video transfer is considerably more detailed than the older VHS edition.
Both films in the new Milestone edition are presented with well-recorded stereo piano scores performed by Philip Carli. As usual, Carli’s performances here are always entertaining, tasteful and appropriate to the action.
Overall, we are very pleased with this new edition of two of Nell Shipman’s best-known films. For those unfamiliar with Nell’s work, this DVD makes a nice introduction. For the initiated Shipman collector, the DVD represents an opportunity to upgrade their collection to this quality edition. While a new edition has been produced by Boise State University, noted below, this disc from Milestone remains our recommended edition of Something New.
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 1NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase helps support the Silent Era website.
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 1NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase helps support the Silent Era website.
The Nell Shipman Collection, Volume 2: The Short Films (1918-1920), black & white and color-tinted and color-toned black & white, ? minutes total, not rated,
including Something New (1920), color-tinted and color-toned black & white, 57 minutes, not rated.
Boise State University, no catalog number, UPC 9-780932-12944-4, ISBN 0-9321-2944-7.
One single-sided, dual-layered, Region 0NTSC DVD disc, 1.33:1 aspect ratio image in full-frame 4:3 (720 x 480 pixels) interlaced scan MPEG-2 format, 4.5 Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 1.0 mono sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, 11 chapter stops; standard DVD keepcase, unknown price.
Release date: 1 November 2006.
Country of origin: USA
This new edition of Something New, the second in a series of three Nell Shipman discs, updates Boise State University’s previous offerings that were available on VHS. On review, this edition comes up short when compared to the Milestone edition noted above. While it has been remastered for DVD release, this edition appears to utilize the same videotape masters prepared for the Boise State VHS release from 1992, as is evidenced by the right-hand ghosting of sharply constrasting picture elements such as intertitle letters, which is characteristic of analog videotape. The source print, which contains all of the print flaws noted in the Milestone edition, was likely the color-toned 35mm nitrate positive held by the UCLA Film and Television Archive.
The film is accompanied by a music score performed on piano by Craig Purdy.
This BSU edition adds supplementary items that are not part of the Milestone DVD edition noted above: an interview with Jack Benny’s daughter, Joan, and a one-reel advertising film, The Maxwell Yank in Hell’s Half-Acre (1918), that may well have been the inspiration for Something New (ironic, isn’t it?). In The Maxwell Yank, a filmmaker gears up a brand-new Maxwell automobile and takes it for an extended spin in the wilds of southern California. Viewers familiar with Something New will see several shots that are similar to those in the Shipman film: the Maxwell driving through the California desert and over large rocky formations. Jack Benny was, of course, associated for many years with the old Maxwell automobile, which was given its radio life by voice talent Mel Blanc. Also included is an introduction by Nell’s granddaughter Nina Shipman and Gary Lacher, the Oregon collector who recovered the only known nitrate print of A Bear, a Boy and a Dog, the 1921 rerelease version of Saturday Off (1920).
While this edition contains valuable supplemental materials, we still recommend the Milestone edition of Something New noted above.
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.