Tuesday, September 13, 2016
Actress Helen Gardner started her career in the legitimate stage on early XX century and she had been making films for some years before being in Cleopatra (her career in cinema seems to have begun around 1910 in Vitagraph studios) and she was one of first American actresses to have her own production company. Although the studio did not last many years, it was a real pioneer landmark. Gardner also had the distinction of being one of very first “vamps” of Hollywood, even before Theda Bara (which would soon surface, after the hit in a Fool There Was, produced in 1915) and Louise Glaum. Although virtually forgotten, even compared with the other aforementioned vamps, Gardner has her own place in history of cinema.
One of first feature-length films of Hollywood, we can observe that this film had aged not too long after it was launched in 1912. The acting was mostly stagy (specially by actress Helen Gardner, in the main role of Cleopatra, who gestured wildly throughout the film), with broad gestures and exaggerated drama, typical of plays up to early XX century. The so-called naturalistic acting (embodied by actresses Mary Pickford, Lillian Gish, etc) would soon become the norm in cinema and the stage melodrama would soon become outdated. The use of camera was also rather static, which helps to give the audiences the feeling of a stage play.
The sceneries are also typical of the stage and the film had a plenty of intertitles. Although the ill-fated love story of Cleopatra and Marc Anthony was already known in literature and arts in general before the invention of the cinema, it is still not very clear how much known those characters were in popular culture. Historical accuracy fails in some points of the film, both in characterization of landscapes and in the reproduction of details of the story. For instance, the landscape represented in this film does not look very much like a sight we would expect to see in an Ancient semi-desertic place. And in a scene even a poodle (yes, a poodle dog) could be spotted for some seconds, although it does seem such dogs have ever been common either in Rome or Egypt. But the audience must not pay too much attention to those points. Sure, it does give some involuntary humor to a film that it is supposed to be dramatic, but epic films of this magnitude were not still a commonplace in early cinema, so there was not a standard of production values to be followed. That would soon come in Hollywood with D.W. Griffith, though.