Mary Pickford is one of the most fascinating figures in Hollywood history. She was “America’s sweetheart” with long blonde curls and a fairytale marriage to handsome Douglas Fairbanks. But she was also the co-founder of United Artists and producer, star and director in all but name on some of her most successful pictures. More than just a pretty face indeed. Pickford knew exactly how the movies worked, and having grown up in terrible poverty as a child in Toronto, she knew what life was all about too, which you can see clearly in her finest screen performances.
Therefore, it’s a pleasure to learn that this year’s Birds Eye View Sound and Silents commissions will celebrate Mary Pickford with a triple-bill of her films at the Purcell Room in the Southbank Centre. The New York Hat (1912), The Female of the Species (1912) and Amarilly of Clothes-Line Alley (1918) will be screened, accompanied by new scores by three very different musical talents:
Bouncing off Pickford’s on-screen radiance are three contemporary female artists. Anna Meredith is an in-demand composer/performer of acoustic and electronia, Welsh-born Roshi absorbs Iranian influences in her experimental folk. And multi-instrumentalist Tanya Auclair merges British, Rwandan and Canadian roots.
The New York Hat and The Female of the Species are both short films directed by DW Griffith, featuring Pickford in wildly different roles; the first of them was written by a young Anita Loos. Another legendary Hollywood screenwriter, Frances Marion, wrote the scenario for Amarilly, which is closer to feature-length and features Pickford as a young woman from a poor family who meets an upper-class sculptor but falls foul of his snobbish and cruel aunt.
The Mary Pickford Revived event is part of the Women of the World Festival and takes place at 8pm on 9 March 2012 at the Purcell Room in the Southbank Centre. Tickets cost £15 and are available here.
Also as part of the Sound and Silents programme, the magnificently gothic and strangely comic Sparrows (1926), one of Pickford’s greatest films, will be shown at Hackney Picturehouse on 11 March, with a live score by Aristazabal Hawkes from the Guillemots. You may remember that the score was commissioned by BEV last year and was due to be performed at the BFI Southbank, but the performance was cancelled. Sounds like a must-see to me. You can buy tickets here.
To find out more about the Birds Eye View Film Festival, which returns next year, visit the website.