Friday, July 27, 2018

The Merry Widow (USA, 1925)

Director Eric von Stroheim has a larger than life reputation to this day, due to his multiple clashes with studios about budget and artistic freedom and even his tense relationships with some actors in the set. But this film, being one of his biggest successes, both financially and among audiences, proved that Stroheim could also excel in more mainstream films with well-established actors.
This film is an entertaining musical, starring the heartthrob John Gilbert (at the height of his fame and delivering a fine, passionate performance) and Mae Murray (an actress with good comedy and dancing skills, who was formerly in the Ziegfeld Follies).


This film had a careful production by MGM, which was already one of most prestigious studios of the era. The scenery is grandiose and the pace is quite relaxed, almost a fairy tale. Erick von Stroheim took time to introduce the characters. There is clever use of visuals and images, as Stroheim was almost literary when it came to attention to details of the plot.
John Gilbert played Prince Danilo Petrovich, a womanizer. His cousin, Crown Prince Mirko is also a womanizer and they both often competed for affections of the same women, although Mirko lacked the charm and elegance of Danilo and deep inside he was envious of it. Mae Murray was Sally O'Hara, a dancer (a role that fit perfectly the dancing qualifications she had in real life). Both Danilo and Mirko got attracted to Sally, as well as wealthy Baron Sadoja (the Baron turned out to be a feet fetishist and that gave room to some quite funny scenes). Sally chose Danilo as her sweetheart and they both fell in love with each other and Danilo wanted to marry Sally.


However, king Nikita forbade Danilo to marry her because she was a plebeian and a dancer and a prince was supposed to have the duty of marrying a proper woman to his dignity due to loyalty to his kingdom. Therefore, Danilo ended up leaving Sally at the altar because he could not bear the pressure of his family.

After such disappointment, Sally accepted marrying older Baron Sadoja, who had conveniently passed away at the wedding night. Sally inherited Sadoja's estate as well as the title of Baroness.
One year later, both Danilo and Sally meet in Paris. They both started dancing in the ballroom and talked about the past. The point is that Crown Prince Mirko was also in Paris and it became clear to Sally that Mirko showed interest in her only because of her money and she suspected that Danilo's affection for her was not sincere either.


Danilo challenged Mirko for a duel, even though Sally begged him to give up this idea. It seemed Danilo had died in the duel, but he only got wounded. Meanwhile, King Nikita passed away and Mirko inherited the throne, but it would not last because he was assassinated right afterwards. The second in the succession line was Danilo, who became king and was finally free to marry Sally, which he did without hesitation. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Mary Pickford (1892 - 1979) - Vida e Obra

Nascida Gladys Smith em 08 de abril de 1892 no Canadá, ela tinha dois irmãos mais novos, Lotti e Jack. Seu pai morreu quando Mary tinha cerca de 05 anos de idade, deixando sua mãe, Charlotte, sozinha com três filhos para criar. 
A mãe tentou várias profissões para sustentar os filhos, até montar uma pensão em sua casa. Certo dia, Charlotte alugou um dos quartos para um senhor que se identificou como ator e ele disse que sua companhia de teatro estava precisando de crianças para atuar em suas peças. Ao ver que o ambiente da companhia de teatro era bom, Charlotte aceitou que seus filhos trabalhassem como atores. Afinal de contas, o dinheiro era altamente necessário. 
Nessa época, a família era tão pobre que Charlotte chegou a cogitar dar Mary para que uma família abastada a criasse. Porém, quando Mary descobriu, ela chorou muito e isso fez com que Charlotte desistisse.
Na virada do século XIX para o XX, Mary entra para a carreira teatral, a qual foi bem sucedida. Isso fez com que ela estreasse na Broadway por meio da companhia de David Belasco aos 15 anos de idade. Essa era uma das companhias de teatro mais famosas dos Estados Unidos na época. 
Mas, mesmo na Broadway e fazendo parte de um grupo tão famoso, o trabalho era sazonal. Em 1909, após Mary ficar meses sem trabalho, Charlotte mandou Mary buscar trabalho em estúdios de cinema. Nessa época, o teatro ainda era considerado socialmente mal visto, mas a reputação do cinema era ainda pior. Nos Estados Unidos do começo do século XX, os cinemas (também chamados Nickelodeons) eram uma diversão extremamente barata e frequentados em sua maioria por pessoas extremamente pobres e imigrantes. Mary, sendo uma atriz da Broadway, também considerava o cinema abaixo da sua dignidade de atriz, mas ela não podia contrariar as ordens da mãe. 
Assim, nesse mesmo ano de 1909, Mary conseguiu emprego nos estúdios Biograph, de Nova York, que era dirigido pelo famoso diretor D.W. Griffith. Mary fez sucesso com seus filmes em pouco tempo. Ela foi uma das primeiras atrizes do cinema americano a adotar um estilo mais naturalista de atuar, em oposição a linguagem teatral de gestos mais exagerados. Devido a divergências artísticas e criativas, ela frequentemente discutia com Griffith, apesar de ter feito muito sucesso em seus filmes. 
Foi também nos estúdios Biograph onde ela conheceu seu primeiro marido, o ator irlandês Owen Moore. Charlotte não aprovou esse casamento. O casal não teve filhos e o casamento fracassou devido ao alcoolismo de Moore e ao fato de Mary ser uma atriz muito mais bem sucedida do que ele. 
Depois de alguns anos, Mary se transferiu para o Famous Players, studio, de propriedade de Adolph Zukor. E nesse período, Mary fez um sucesso estrondoso e em meados da década de 1910, ela passou a ter sua própria unidade de produção dentro do estúdio, onde ela trabalhava com total liberdade artística e compartilhando os lucros dos filmes com o estúdio principal. O controle criativo desses filmes era compartilhado entre Mary e o próprio Zukor. 
Parte do sucesso de Mary se devia ao fato de que ela era a personificação da mulher ideal. Virtuosa, honesta, corajosa para lutar pelos seus ideais. Era a filha que todos os pais queriam ter e como todas as mulheres gostariam de ser. Mary trouxe respeitabilidade para o cinema. Ela nunca era vista fumando ou bebendo em público e fazia muitas campanhas publicitárias
Ainda na década de 1910, Mary conheceu o ator Douglas Fairbanks (que já tinha uma carreira bem estabelecida na Broadway) justamente quando seu casamento estava na pior fase. O problema é que tanto Mary quanto Douglas eram casados com outras pessoas e um divórcio poderia acabar com a carreira de ambos. Afinal de contas, atores dependiam de sua popularidade junto ao público. 
Durante a Primeira Guerra Mundial, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Charlie Chaplin e outras personalidades populares na época, viajaram pelos Estados Unidos vendendo bônus de guerra e seus discursos atraíam multidões, conforme pode ser confirmado por filmagens desses eventos que sobrevivem até hoje. Essa era também uma desculpa perfeita para que Mary e Douglas pudessem estar juntos em público. 
No começo de 1919, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Charlie Chaplin e D.W. Griffith fundaram a United Artists, uma companhia de distribuição de filmes a fim de lutar contra uma fusão dos grandes estúdios, destinada a baixar os salários dos atores e de todo o pessoal envolvido na produção cinematográfica Hollywoodiana. Esse era um negócio de alto risco, pois apesar de todos os quatro serem artistas com muito talento para os negócios, nenhum deles nunca havia administrado uma empresa de grande porte antes. Mas tudo deu certo. 
Em 1920 Mary e Douglas se divorciaram de seus antigos cônjuges e se casaram. A reação do público foi surpreendente porque, ao invés de o casamento deles ter causado um escândalo, isso na verdade aumentou a popularidade de ambos. Ainda sobrevivem as filmagens da lua de mel de Mary e Douglas na Europa, onde eles arrastaram multidões de fãs estrangeiros, a ponto de isso ter até atrapalhado a privacidade da viagem deles. 
Ambos permaneceram casados até 1936. A mansão do casal, apelidada de “Pickfair”, se tornou lendária por suas festas, frequentadas até por políticos e membros da realeza. 
Douglas Fairbanks atingiu o estrelato com seus filmes de capa e espada na década de 1920. Mas o começo da era do cinema falado representou o fim da popularidade dos dois atores, que se aposentaram do cinema no começo da década de 1930. Essa época foi ainda mais difícil para Mary, por conta do falecimento de sua mãe e dois irmãos mais novos em um espaço de poucos anos. O divórcio de Faibanks, por conta de uma traição dele, também foi um golpe duro. 
Mary continuou muito rica ao longo de toda a vida e se casou com seu terceiro e último marido (o ator Charles "Buddy" Rogers) em 1937. Além de ter criado sua sobrinha (filha de Lottie, a única família de sangue que lhe restou) ela sempre manteve uma ótima relação com o filho de Douglas Fairbanks, que mais tarde viria a se tornar ator sob o nome de Douglas Fairbanks Jr. Mais tarde, Mary também adotou mais duas crianças. 
Após sua aposentadoria do cinema, Mary levou uma vida discreta e longe dos holofotes. Sempre se mostrou educada e humilde em suas entrevistas, apoiando instituições de caridade e fazendo doações. Mary faleceu em 1979, aos 87 anos de idade. 

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

The Gusher (USA,1913)

Exaggerated gestures, fake mustaches, simple plots, one-reelers (films that lasted around 11 minutes), actors falling on their butts, scenes with lots of smoke, and actresses performing their own stunts were a commonplace in films produced in the first years of Keystone studios. 
The studio was founded the previous year and we can see a relatively small number of studio regulars in comparison with subsequent years. Mabel Normand and Ford Sterling (among others, like Fred Mace, Mack Sennett himself and Roscoe `Fatty` Arbuckle as of 1913) had worked in Keystone studios since the beginning and were quite popular among audiences.
The Gusher is a story about a young Mabel Normand who has two suitors (Ford Sterling and Charles Inslee) and has to choose one of them (Ford Sterling). As revenge, the rejected suitor made up a plan to sell bad land of an oil field to Mabel`s sweetheart. Sterling ended up actually buying the land, only to listen right afterwards that it was not a real oil well. He was devastated (which only increased his overacting) and, to make matters worse, Sterling even caught the rejected suitor (Charles Inslee) trying to seduce Normand. 
However, in the middle of all despair, the field started to actually produce oil and Sterling became wealthy enough to marry Mabel. The rejected suitor set fire to the field while the wedding was being held. A man told Sterling about it in the middle of the celebration and chaos ensued when everyone present at the wedding (including the bride and groom) went to the field on fire. The Keystone Cops were called to solve the situation, even though they were not very smart themselves, as we all know. We can see it by the fact that the cops kept repeatedly falling on the ground without any apparent reason. 
It turned out that Sterling himself got to find the rejected suitor and punish him. But the field was still on fire at the end of the film and no one had even attempted to control it, not even the firefighters were called. 
The end was weak and left audiences in the dark about some very crucial points. For instance: Did Sterling got to recover his oil field and keep on earning money with it? It is also not known if the rejected suitor was arrested and it seemed that he got to leave the scene of crime, despite being caught by Sterling. It is a one-reeler, but the plot could have been better developed without even adding extra time to the film or only adding a few minutes more. 
Something different added in this film was an oil field. It seems that the plot could have been merely an excuse to use the stock footage of an oil field on fire, but the different setting gives a touch of originality to the film anyway.
It is worth paying attention not only to the technology of the 1910ies, but also to the glimpse of both female and male fashion that this film provides. 

Monday, March 19, 2018

A Muddy Romance (USA, 1913)

In the first few years of Keystone studios (founded in 1912), many of their films were one-reelers with quite simple storylines. Other studios produced similar comedies, both in the USA and abroad. Short films were still the most common length of films, as feature-length films were still at the very beginning. Films like Cabiria (Italy, 1914) and The Birth of a Nation (USA, 1915) –some of the films that would help to consolidate feature length films as more popular – were yet to be produced. 
In a landscape that looked remarkably rural, Ford Sterling –with his typically exaggerated gestures and mannerisms - was by a window, flirting with Mabel Normand, who was in another window. However, there was another man interested in Mabel (“a persistent suitor”) and he came to her house to visit her. Sterling did not really seem pleased when he realized there was a competitor for Mabel`s affection. 
Sterling also came to visit Mabel, but the other suitor was still there and both men clashed. Sterling tried to attack the other guy, but ended up hitting Mabel with dirt instead. At this point, both men fought and Mabel tried to intervene and therefore she fell out of the window. The three of them threw things at each other. 
A clergyman arrived at Mabel`s house in the middle of all chaos. It seems to have come to marry Mabel and the other suitor. Then, Mabel, the other suitor and the clergyman leave in a boat while Sterling tries to shoot them as he saw the boat departing. 
The Keystone cops were called to try to settle the mess. The cops started shooting too and embarked on another boat and one of cops fell on the river and a short time later they got stuck in the mud. Sterling attempted to stop the boat from leaving by throwing mud on the river. 
More cops came to the scene with hoses and even a cannon. The hoses were useful to take their colleagues out of mud. Unfortunately Mabel fell in the mud right afterwards, but immediately the clergyman and her other suitor helped her out of the mud. And the three of them were eventually taken out of the muddy river. Meanwhile, Sterling was into trouble, as he was caught throwing dirt on the river. 
Such simple one-reelers were very popular in the era and working-class audiences could easily relate to situations being shown. Keystone films were a hit since the beginning and its actors became successful comedians. As time passed, the studio produced feature-length films (the first one being Tillie`s Punctured Romance in 1914, with Mabel Normand, Marie Dressler and newcomer Charlie Chaplin in the cast).  And Keystone studios became famous for discovering young comedians who would undeniably leave their mark in cinema history. For instance, young Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle and Charlie Chaplin worked there in the 1910s. The studio was closed in 1933, already at the era of talkies. 

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

His Wedding Night (USA,1917)

This film (together with Coney Island, released in that same year) can show to modern audiences how daily life was like back to the 1910s, which sort of items could be sold in a drugstore, for instance (Including beverages), purchasing habits of people, etc.
It has two stars, Keaton was in the beginning of his career at the time and had immediately shown his competence, but he was not yet a star on his own right. He had not yet consolidated his world-famous stone face character. However, it would not take long until Keaton achieved prominence. Roscoe `Fatty’ Arbuckle was a mega star at the time and his comedies were full of physical gags.
In this film, Arbuckle worked as a clerk in a drugstore. Both he and St. John loved the same girl (Alice). Alice`s father ended up giving her hand to Arbuckle. St John got angry and planned a revenge. Meanwhile, Keaton showed up to deliver a wedding dress to Alice and ended up dressing it to show her how it looked like. St John and his accomplices ended up kidnapping Keaton by mistake, there was a huge mess but the expected happy end came.
Although still playing the role of a grown up baby, sometimes with silly facial expressions, we can see the evolution of acting of Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle compared with his films at Keystone studios only some years before. His gestures were more self-contained, gags more elaborate and scenery was modern. Furthermore, there was a troupe of comedians who worked with him and they formed a rather uniform and experienced team.
Of course, that there was still lots of physical humor, especially when his real-life nephew, Al St. John, came to the scene. Nevertheless, it is actually an accomplishment, considering the good physical abilities, not only of Arbuckle himself (who was reportedly even very flexible and an excellent dancer in real life), but also of St. John and Buster Keaton. All those actors excelled in physical humor and that is one of things that made them so popular among audiences back then.
Some stereotypes of slapstick comedies are present here, like rather unromantic arguments among couples, ethnically insensitive jokes, food being thrown, people being thrown as well, etc. However, situations themselves were a bit closer to reality than typically slapstick comedies. 
In the end of film, the actors could show his skills to physically demanding scenes even better. Unfortunately Arbuckle`s career would be virtually over four years later due to a huge scandal. Buster Keaton would enjoy lots of fame in the 1920s and his output stands out to this day. Unfortunately Keaton`s career would fall into obscurity for some decades as of 1930s, but he lived long enough to regain his popularity and further recognition to his work. Al St John would find steady work in westerns for some decades and made a smooth transition to talkies. Even though he was not immensely popular, he got to reinvent himself and remained in films for a very long time. 

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Mabel's Dramatic Career (USA,1913)

Mack fell for the kitchen maid. They were a happy couple, but Mack’s mother (played by actress Alice Davenport in a rather stagy acting) was against the romance and her opposition caused lots of conflict between Mabel and her.
After a while, it came a woman from the city and Mack’s mother thought she was a better partner to her son. Understandably, Mabel got jealous of the newcomer. After a while, Mack started to get along very well with this new girl and Mabel became outraged. Therefore, a fight was inevitable, and Mabel was forced to leave the house, heartbroken.
Mack proposed to the other girl, but he ended up being rejected as the woman seemed to be tired of Mack after a short time and they both ended up fighting in the most typically slapstick way possible, including things being thrown against each other (an element that was relatively common when romantic arguments were portrayed in films by Keystone studios).
Mack regretted having let Mabel go. Meanwhile, she arrived at the city and looked for a job in a cinema studio full of actors with fake facial hair and portraying exaggerated characters (which turned out to be the own Keystone studios and actors in real life). Mabel showed the actors that she could act, was hired by the studio and had steady work there for the next few years.
One day, Mack saw Mabel’s picture in the publicity poster of a film and recognized her immediately. Mack entered the cinema and watched a film by Keystone studios (Yes, the studio was not really shy of doing some self-propaganda) and was really overexcited by seeing Mabel on screen. His excitement was so over the top that he disturbed other audience members to watch the film quietly. At this point, it must be highlighted that one of audience members is played by actor Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle, who had started working at Keystone studios in that same year.
Chaos broke out when Mack Started shooting at the screen and scared everyone around him, including the projectionist. Despite all problems he caused, Mack did not give up as he was determined to kill the onscreen villain (played by actor Ford Sterling, who was very popular at the time). Mack got to find the villain and soon discovered that the actor who played the villain was married to Mabel in real life and they had two children together.
As always, Mabel Normand acts in a very natural, vibrant way. There is a rumor that Mack Sennett was mocked by the own employees of Keystone studios for not exactly being the best actor in the world. That is an exaggeration, Sennett’s humor was simple but very much in line with the typical acting of 1910s comedians, especially when he played hobos and not particularly smart characters on screen. I personally think Mabel is even more beautiful than usual in this film and it is a joy merely to look at her facial expressions and the joy she conveyed on screen.
Mack Sennett was very active as an actor in the first years of Keystone studios, but after a while he left acting to focus on management and directorial tasks at the studio, until it closed its doors in 1933.
This simple one-reeler can still be very easily understood and the occasional overacting does not make it any less funny. It is a relaxing and entertaining slapstick comedy short up to this day. This film also has great historic value because it provides modern-day audiences with a rare glimpse of how it was like to go to the cinema back to the 1910s. 

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Tomboy Bessie (USA,1912)

Although Mabel Normand was really young when she made this film (circa 20 years old), we can observe that she played a character much younger than herself. This is particularly noticeable by the way she hopped, the big ribbon on her head and some slight overacting. But it does not compromise the quality of her performance anyway.
Mabel plays here a rather different role from the determined, strong-willed and independent women that she portrayed on screen so often in her films at Keystone studio. Still, the vibrant comedic style of Mabel was already visible. The characters of this film were also more human-like, realistic and without that frantic pace that would be so famous in films by Keystone studios, which would be open only some months after this film was released.
This film was made by Biograph studios, the same famous studio where D.W. Griffith started his career in films. As Griffith was more focused on dramas, Mack Sennett ended up being responsible for the comedies of the studio. Both men had started in Biograph as actors before 1910. That was something natural, as it was an era when film crew could have different roles in the studio, sometimes even in totally different areas, like direction, acting, wardrobe, etc. This multitasking gave a chance to actors be involved in all aspects of film production and realize what would be most comfortable for them to work with.
Mabel was a very mischievous and active kid, always full of energy to play. It was tiresome for adults around her to handle such energetic little one. She was also a headache to the love life of her aunt.
The suitor of Aunt Cissie (Andrew) was supposed to amuse the kid in order to be authorized to marry his sweetheart (he was “pleading for the hand of fair Cissie”, as it was said in one of intertitles). However, Mabel proved to be a hard task.
Another noteworthy thing is the nearly Victorian courtship shown in this film, where the man had to prove himself worthy of his sweetheart by doing something rather impressive. That was part of the plot of countless other silent films throughout the world. The simple outdoors landscape, with animals and without cars or crowded places shows to modern audiences a lifestyle that has been away for a very long time.