Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The Close Call (USA, 1914)

Until Our Gang series of comedy short films started being made by Hal Roach studios, in the 1920s, it was not a commonplace in Hollywood children being portrayed simply playing and with their own universe being shown in films, where children played themselves in main roles, rather than being portrayed by adult actors, without plots being grounded on fantasy.
Without doubt, the most famous 1910s adult actress who played such fantasy roles was Mary Pickford. Pickford’s superstardom and the undeniable commercial success of her films, did trigger the appearance of other petit actresses playing children roles on screen, like Marguerite Clark, who would star Snow White (USA, 1916), among others. But, although those films did portray the children’s universe on screen, the actors were still adults and situations were not often real life ones.
In the 1910s, children did take part in films, more often in supporting roles when the plot was not really related to them. They could even be shown in films revolving around their matters, but studio moguls have not yet found out the potential of showing children’s actors in naturalistic acting, simply being themselves. But this situation would slowly change with time.
In this film we can see some cute children, boys and girls together, walking outdoors in a beautiful and tranquil nature landscape. A pair of children is younger than the other one. All of them are portrayed unaccompanied by adults and even mischievous. After a while, the youngest girl started walking all by herself and ended up falling down a cliff in a deserted place. 
The older children realized something wrong had happened and cried for help. Meanwhile, the young boy tried to save the younger girl. The mother of the little girl was located and she gathered more adults to help saving her daugther. 
While the adults tried so hard to save the little girl, she was actually being saved by the little boy, who got to find his sweetheart before anyone else. As time passed and the adults could not find the girl on the cliff they got very nervous, but after a while the girl was found safe and sound in the company of the boy. Everyone was very happy and after the girl had told what happened and how she was rescued, both children embrace.
Something that may have helped giving a naturalistic touch to this film is that some of those children were too young to read, which made them not adhere to a script and it consequently gave more freedom to improvisation. The landscape, not much altered by the human hand and without cars and big cities around also give a good atmosphere. We can also observe that first love was shown subtly and innocently, which was also something uncommon in children’s films of the era. At this time, the border between films to adults and children was not still very clear, so this film was surely watched by both adults and children cinema audience members alike. All those elements reinforce the innocence of the playing. 

Sunday, May 7, 2017

True Heart Susie (USA,1919)

With a plot that was already outdated to its own era, reflecting the recurrent theme of D.W. Griffith of portraying Victorian, virginal young heroines, this film gets to touch the audience and make them nostalgic about an era gone a long time ago. An era of good country people, a more peaceful interaction with nature, and without all worries that come with a more urban environment.
In addition to it, the fate of two actors who played important roles in this film proved to be dramatic, as both actors Robert Harron and Clarine Seymour died young, not too long after this film was launched.
Actress Lillian Gish -in a surprisingly stiffy and exaggerated acting -is True Heart Susie, her love interest is her old childhood friend, William -played by her brother in law in real life - Robert Harron. Susie has always loved William since they both were very young, but William has never seen her in the same way. However, Susie was a completely innocent girl and kept her hopes high that someday William would correspond to her love. She lived with her elderly aunt, her mother having previously passed away and there was no mention to her father.
William has always dreamed about attending college, but his ambitions were not encouraged by his family, who thought he would do better if he focused on farming. His father even claimed: “A good farmer is better than a poor lawyer or preacher”, as it is written in one of intertitles.
Once, when both William and Susie made a trip to the village, it was evident how he enjoyed flirting with the more “modern”, “flirty”, “better-dressed”, “not too innocent” girls along the way. This fact per se must have alerted Susie that William was not really interested in her, but her love remained. Fortunately, Susie had a “sister” called Daisy who liked her much more. It was actually a cow she loved as her sister.
Touched with William’s dream to further his education and determined to help him, Susie decided to sell many of her belongings, including her beloved cow, to help sending William to the country college. Lillian got the money and made William believe that the money for his tuition plus a sum for extra expenses came from a philanthropist.
After a hard adaptation period at college, William graduated and returned home being a different man. This was inevitable, as time passed and he broadened his social and intellectual horizons. He eventually became the minister of the village and married Bettina, a gold digger and city girl. In addition to Bettina has never loved William she was too used with the bright lights of the big city and could never adapt to the life in a village. Their marriage, as expected, quickly deteriorated and both William and Bettina regretted their decision. Bettina felt trapped and bored and Willian did not have a domestic goddess at home, somebody who would take care of him as he liked.
Susie continued with her life and kept in touch with both William and Bettina, always being polite and self-contained, never disclosing her love to William to anyone although her sorrow hunted her mind all along.
After a while, Bettina could no longer avoid the parties she loved so much. One night, she told Willian she was indisposed and used it as an excuse to sleep in a spare room, but she actually left to go to a party with her friends behind William’s back. Bettina’s home key ended up being dropped at the party without her realizing it and after she left the party, she was caught in a rain storm. She only realized her key was gone after she was on her doorstep and she took shelter at Susie’s house. Susie took care of Bettina, but both the strain and the rain ended up making Bettina seriously sick.
Bettina had told William before dying that she had taken with a neighbor a reference book William needed and she had also seen Susie and they both got caught in the rain that night. Having believed that Bettina died while doing him a favor he vowed that no other love would ever come to his life. However, without knowing about it, Susie’s aunt inadvertently delivered to William the receipt of his college tuition, claiming Susie had sacrificed herself so much to get the money. William got very touched, but he still wanted to stick to his vow. However, things changed when one of Bettina’s friends visited William because she had a guilty conscience that Bettina had passed away because she had attended her little party and asked for William’s forgiveness. Thus, the truth was suddenly revealed to William.
Having realized he loved Susie all his life, William proposed to her and in the end the audience is led to believe that they both got to recover the bliss they both enjoyed back to the time when they were two country youths.
This film does not really solve the everlasting enigma if men marry plain, simple girls or those who put on paint and powder on their faces, but it definitely provides a beautiful witness of self-sacrifice and romantic love. Perhaps due to the fact we do not see such deep manifestations of love that often nowadays, it makes us miss that simple, past era, when material comfort was not abundant but it seems for some people it was easier to give themselves that much. It might be the biggest appeal of this film, even greater than the good production values.