In the early days of Hollywood, silent films were a boon for a generation of anonymous lettering artists. Hand drawn, black-and-white title and intertitle cards with scene-setting descriptions and character dialogue punctuated most movies. They were “Speedball”-style letters, named for the Speedball pen, a popular round-nibbed lettering tool that produced soft, round, fluid lines.
Easy to read on screen, these cards were mostly taken for granted. In fact, letterers rarely received credit in the original films. Recently, though, the Minneapolis-based type designer Chank Diesel (a.k.a. Charles Anderson, founder of Chank Fonts) was approached by the San Francisco Silent Film Festival about re-creating the typeface used in a silent film they were restoring and wanted to premiere at the event. The result is an exceptional homage that may pique interest in the forgotten title card genre—a font that speaks for a silent film.
The film Diesel worked on, The Good Bad Man starring Douglas Fairbanks, was initially released in the United States on May 7, 1916, produced by the Fine Arts Company and distributed by the Triangle Film Corporation. This restoration premiered at the Castro Theater in San Francisco during the SF Silent Film Festival on May 31, 2014. It is being screened at the Library of Congress in Culpeper, Virginia on July 18 and again in Paris at the Cinémathèque Française in February 2015.