Thursday, August 24, 2017

The Perils of Pauline (USA, 1914)

It was one of the first female series in Hollywood, although it was not the very first one. It is often mistaken as the very first serial because it was the first one to have had a huge popularity among audiences. Pauline was a rich heiress, who is pushed to marriage, but prefers to wait a little more and live more adventures in life, while she gets ready to become an author. Her refusal is understandable, as having a husband would make her leading a life totally focused on family affairs rather than exploring the outside world.
Furthermore, Pauline`s guardian wants to make sure that she will end up dying before getting married, so he can keep the money to himself. He interferes with Pauline`s adventures so that they are more dangerous than they were supposed to be.
Although the psychological profile of characters is somehow shallow, including in some rather simple matters like, for instance, who were Pauline`s parents? Which was her past? Was she a romantic lady or more modern-oriented? And so on. We can compare her with other 1910s characters, such as those made by Lillian Gish in Biograph studios and we can see how independent and less Victorian Pauline was compared with her contemporaries. This approaches Pauline to characters played by actress Mabel Normand in Keystone studios, all of them independent, bold, fierce, untamable women, ready for an adventure and strong in their own right.
Broad gestures and exaggerated facial expressions are still noticeable in acting by different actors and it is understandable, as the transition to a more natural acting style was still ongoing in American films in middle 1910s. However, a more natural style was starting to take root and it would not take a long time until the theater-based gestures and mannerisms was overcame.  For example, films by D.W. Griffith and Mary Pickford were already popular when this serial was launched and the subtle acting portrayed in them would soon become the norm in Hollywood.
Although associated with the stereotype of “damsel in distress” Pauline was less helpless than typical women of her era and despite all problems, she did get to have adventure moments. The plot has a plenty of adventure and exoticism, both of which were into fashion back to the 1910s. In this first chapter we can even see Pauline in a balloon. In an era when travelling was difficult and time-consuming, audiences could experience different things, even though those things were often portrayed in a stereotyped way.
It was originally filmed 20 chapters, but the only surviving version is from a French print edited into nine chapters, released in 1916. We can also observe that the villain had a German name (Koerner) due to animosity against Germany during World War I. There were also problems with the re-translation into English of intertitles which were previously translated into French in this nine-chapter version which gives modern audiences the impression of involuntary humor due to typos and weird structure of sentences.
Actress Pearl White made most of stunts of this serial and while filming it she suffered a spine injury which would bother her for the rest of her days. White was athletic in real life and her physical skills matched her role completely.
As it was previously said, many chapters were cut off this re-release, but the remaining ones give a good overall idea of how this serial was like. In an era when cartoons were not popular yet, it was real-life actors who had to make the dangerous stunts, so audiences would get their own thrill. Years later, it would become hard for actors to keep up with cartoon characters and the nearly infinite possibilities of what they could do to endanger their lives and remain alive anyway, but it was not yet a reality back to the 1910s. It must also be added that this series does not use the cliffhanger, but the episodes are self-contained instead. It was a popular hit and made Pearl White become a star. She remained in high demand in serials until the end of the decade and after this time she worked in Europe until her retirement some years later. 

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