Born out of an obsession with Great Depression–era slang, editor Daniel Riccuito describes The Chiseler as a newspaper that runs “breaking news from the past.” Most of its longer articles are about actors and directors who had their heyday in the wild and wonderful pre-Code era, but the site also touches on the worlds of literature (from J.G. Ballard to a novella about hobos by the writer of “Banana Boat Song”), oddball Seventies TV shows (e.g., Britain’s Sapphire and Steel), weird black-and-white photos (publicity stills, art photography, mug shots, pornography), and current events from an unapologetically left-wing perspective.
Riccuito’s stable of semi-regular contributors provide beautiful, in-depth considerations of their oft-forgotten televisual or textual subjects, teasing out the subtleties of facial expression and camera movement, while casually making reference to contemporary reviews and the relevant memoirs (ghostwritten and otherwise). The writers’ body of knowledge reflects their individual tastes and personalities, as in Imogen Smith’s survey of films about disfigured faces or Jim Knipfel’s comparison of Columbia and Fox’s competing dramatizations of New York City’s 1947 smallpox outbreak (The Killer That Stalked New York versus Panic in the Streets). Appraising the career of Ruth Chatterton, the critic Dan Callahan nimbly moves between discussion of what “technique” means and cannily taking apart the actress’s performances (“Chatterton is clearly doing [Clara] Bow in Anybody’s Woman”).
In our age’s glut of writing available for free but so often focused on the Now, it’s lovely to revisit the past with the clarity and passion of The Chiseler’s guides.