By Friday night of Pordenone the cracks are usually beginning to show: sleep deprivation, caffeine addiction and FilmFair splurge-shopping. Are we holding up better or worse in this Limited Edition year? Hydrating, taking regular screen breaks and a minimum of 30 minutes of exercise a day? No, me neither. In fact I am just warming up, and I could handle a silent movie show every night please, for at least a month.
A showstopper of a masterclass today, as the multi-instrumentalists assembled: Gunther Buchwald, Stephen Horne and Frank Bockius. Another double book presentation too, and the announcement of the Jean Mitry prize, but all roads lead to Mary Pickford here on Silent London. And A Romance of the Redwoods, courtesy Cecil B DeMille and Jeanie MacPherson in 1917.
This proved to be a highly entertaining, if narratively unlikely western, with Pickford as a naïve but plucky orphaned easterner who travels west to live with her respectable Uncle John who has joined the Gold Rush. But poor John has been killed by the Natives and his identity has been stolen by an unscrupulous bandit “Black” Brown (Eliott Dexter).
There are some hairy moments here, with Pickford attempting to step into the role of homemaker for a villain… but somehow, the chemistry makes itself known enough for us to imagine them as a couple, and in the end, Pickford will pull off an audacious trick to keep her man safe from the hangman’s noose. This one really is an all’s well that ends well kind of deal. He doesn’t deserve her, and in another manner of words, she really doesn’t deserve him.
The point is that Pickford’s personality makes mincemeat of any plot qualms: all we can see is that she is good, and brave and suddenly in love, and with the requisite halo-esque backlighting, we’d follow her anywhere. it’s funny too, and DeMille makes a thrilling spectacle even of this largely predictable western drama.
A note too for the saloon sequences here. DeMille doesn’t neglect his extra players – and Pcikford’s introduction to the bar crowd was memorably, and wittily staged. As if DeMille knew he was following Pabst’s Abwege from last night!
Nice, light-touch restoration from the George Eastman House here, and great accompaniment. Piano from Donald Sosin and vocals from Joanna Seaton to enliven the bar scenes.
The cinematography though – lots of directional light and no filler. Visually this was an *intense* experience. I loved it, despite that, but wow.
• Intertitle of the day: “With the dawn came primitive hunger”. Pickford is nothing if not relatable. Admit it, you’re craving a Moderno breakfast right now aren’t you?
• Prop of the day: Pickford’s itsy-bitsy-teeny-weeny pearl-handled gun had me in stitches. Surely someone has giffed the adorable moment when she practises shooting this glorified popgun?
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This post is an extended version of the screening notes and on-screen introduction I contributed to the recent Hippodrome Silent Film Festival screening of Prix de beauté (Augusto Genina, 1930), with accompaniment by Stephen Horne. Every film fan knows the face of Louise Brooks. The jazz-age dancer from Kansas who shimmied her way from Broadway … Continue reading Prix de beauté (1930): Louise Brooks pays the price of beauty
“A friendly place to get some laughs and forget all the craziness”: A year of the Silent Comedy Watch Party
Time flies when you’re getting nothing done. So I will forgive you if you don’t believe me, but this weekend the Silent Comedy Watch Party will webcast its 50th edition, a year to the day since the first show, back at a time when we were just getting our heads around this new word “lockdown”. … Continue reading “A friendly place to get some laughs and forget all the craziness”: A year of the Silent Comedy Watch Party
The best thing I’ve seen so far at this year’s online Slapstick Festival is the French film Siren of the Tropics (Mario Nalpas & Henri Étiévant, 1927), starring one of the all-time greats of the dance world, Josephine Baker. With this movie, Baker became the first Black woman to star in a major studio picture. … Continue reading Siren of the Tropics (1927): Josephine Baker is reborn on screen