Thursday, August 31, 2017

Mabel's Blunder (USA,1914)

Actress Mabel Normand not only starred this film, but she also wrote and directed it. The contributions of Mabel to the history if cinema are known, but her work behind the camera is not always properly mentioned. And she was in her early 20s and in cinema business for less than one decade when this film was made.
A typical slapstick comedy with frantic pacing and again a misunderstanding plays a role in a silent comedy. Mabel is an office worker (which provides to modern audiences a valuable opportunity to observe how an office looked like back to the 1910s) and secretly engaged to Harry, the boss` son. But, according to one of intertitles “Harry`s father likes her too”, which made Mabel uncomfortable. 
Another woman showed up at the office and Mabel caught Harry embracing her and she obviously felt heartbroken. While spying on them through the peephole, Mabel observed Harry talking happily with that woman. At this moment, Mabel`s brother (who worked as a driver) also arrived at the office to pick up both Harry and the woman and take them to a party. Mabel decided to exchange clothes with her brother, so she could further investigate the connection between her fiancé and that unknown woman. 
Mabel`s brother remained at the office wearing her clothes and then the boss returns. Mabel`s brother decided to cover his face with a veil. The boss started to flirt, thinking it was Mabel behind the veil and both of them went out by car and the boss tried to make advances over Mabel`s brother, who repelled him. Meanwhile, Mabel took both Harry and the woman to the party and she observed how warmly that woman was received by the other guests. Needless to say that it made Mabel extremely jealous. 
The boss and Mabel`s brother ended up at that same party with the boss still flirting endlessly. Meanwhile, Mabel tried to comfort another woman who was crying at the party, but the woman`s partner arrived and thought Mabel was flirting with her. We must bear in mind that Mabel was dressed as a man, after all.  
A fighting started when that guy tried to beat Mabel, which called the attention of the other guests. Then, the guy found out that he was actually trying to beat a woman and Mabel run away in fear. Chaos happened and it is also found out it was a man behind the veil, not Mabel. Mabel finally confronted Harry, who told her that the unknown woman was actually his sister. 
In this apparently simple film, Mabel shines at the height of her youth and vigor, being both funny, skilled in her stunts and extremely convincing, she makes people laugh and feel sympathetic for her without any effort. Her type of humor is easy to understand, regardless of culture and era, which makes her films being properly appreciated by modern audiences.  Unfortunately she died young, still in her 30s, and did not even have time to transition to talkies. Mabel`s brother is played by actor Al St. John, who was the nephew of Roscoe Fatty Arbuckle in real life and, opposite to the sad fate of Arbuckle, he managed to have a career that continued through talkie era, especially in western films, where he could show off his physical and acting skills. 

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The Primitive Lover (USA,1922)

Phyllis Tomley faces a dilemma between a marriage without excitement and attraction for another man. She often reads novels and considers her own life boring in comparison with thrills that the characters of those books live. She ended up having unrealistic expectations about her husband (Hector Tomley) and considered him careless and self-centered because her own romantic fantasies were not being fulfilled. The plot of this film is interesting because it takes into account the wishes and life goals of a woman are something important and worth pursuing. 
However, her former fiancé, a novelist who was presumed dead (Donald Wales), reappeared out of the blue claiming his death was merely a publicity stunt. Phyllis wanted to divorce Hector and Hector`s prompt agreement angers her. Things would not become any easier when Hector tried to prove to Phyllis that her love interest was not as good as she thought and it becomes clear to the audience that Hector actually still loved Phyllis and would fight for her.
Then, Phyllis realized that Hector was not as bad as she thought while Donald Wales was more awkward in the wilderness than Phyllis expected. Hector seemed to act more like a “primitive lover” than Donald, as Hector had the assistance of a local indian to handle life in a wild environment. Donald`s dullness deeply disappoints Phyllis because she expected a life of excitement and thrills with him.
The actors do have some funny overacting (especially in the beginning of the film, in a raft), which was no longer very common in Hollywood in the 1920s. The audiences are soon introduced to the dichotomy refined domestic tranquility X exciting rough instincts, which has been portrayed in novels and films of all eras. Not really an innovative plot (although it does not mean the film is bad, just that it is not extremely different from films of its own era) and Constance Talmadge is not in her best comedic shape here. The characterization of natives often look slightly fake, but it is a light-hearted, naïve film that still entertains the audiences.
Actor Joe Roberts is part of the cast. He made a name for himself due to his films with Buster Keaton, usually as a heavy or authority figure and it was a really fruitful partnership, which would surely last for many years were not for the death of Roberts in 1923. Actor Harrison Ford (no connection with his later namesake) was a high-profile name in Hollywood during the silent era, but unfortunately he was one of those artists who did not get to transition into talkies. He played the role of Hector Tomley. 

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The Love Expert (USA,1920)

This romantic comedy has an innocent plot about a wealthy young student (Babs) who was more interested in understanding love than in physical or intellectual activities, like most of girls of her age. As she was not properly focused on her lessons, she ended up being sent back home by the boarding school.
As a punishment, her father sent Babs to her aunt`s house in Boston. Upon her arrival, Babs realized her aunt had been engaged for six years with a guy called James Winthrop who worked as a manager of Bab`s father`s branch office in Boston, but there was no wedding in sight anyway. Even more, Babs observed that they were not really in love with each other and it was a relief to the girl because she had fallen in love with her aunt`s fiancé. Fortunately her aunt soon found out she was in love with another man, which prevented a family feud from taking place. 
However, there were other problems, as James Winthrop could only get married after his sisters and elderly aunt married too, as he had to take care of the three of them while they were still single. Babs made her best to assure that the three of them would get married with proper suitors, so she could also marry her sweetheart. Babs` innocent determination may seem outdated for modern audiences, but her pure heart and optimism remain captivating, as she never gave up to fight for her own happiness.
After having read that tropical climate could make people more “susceptible to the influence of love” (Yes, that was an extremely biased and stereotypical statement), Babs decided to take them all to Palm Beach. Therefore, she faked a telegram of her father, calling Mr. Winthrop to go there and bring Babs and his own family with him and many funny situations happen, including the expected happy end.
 This movie is remembered because in real life Constance Talmadge was the sister of famous silent actress Norma Talmadge and Nathalie Talmadge, who became best-known as the first wife of comedian Buster Keaton. Although it was not apparently easy being a member of such prominent family in show business, Constance had a talent of her own, being a natural and convincing actress, with good comedic timing. Prior to his film, she had been part of famous film Intolerance (USA, 1916) by the equally famous director D.W. Griffith. It was her first major role in cinema.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

What Happened to Rosa (USA,1920)

Mabel Normand made a name for herself for her slapstick comedies for Keystone studios in the 1910s, even though she had worked for other studios both before and after that.  And even had her own modelling career before becoming an actress. Normand was a real pioneer of early cinema because she was brave, did her own stunts with competence and got a really spontaneous and relaxed screen persona back to an era when the helpless damsels in distress were so popular. Furthermore, she also directed her own films already at the time when she worked at Keystone (consequently, before this film was shot).
At the time this film was made, Normand was inclined to make more situational-oriented romantic comedies, without the frantic rhythm, broad gestures and physical gags of slapstick comedies, similar to those by her real-life friend Mary Pickford. This shift in her career could show the audiences that Normand was also a very good, natural actress, who could be funny and emotional in all kinds of films.
Produced by Goldwyn studios, this film is not usually considered one of her best, it is entertaining and in touch with cinematic trends of its era, including those of exotic environments being portrayed in the most stereotypical way possible.
A hard-working saleswoman in a department store with a boring life, looking forward to some excitement, once met a clairvoyant woman while working. Although it was clear that the clairvoyant was a charlatan, Mabel ended up scheduling an appointment and ended up being told she was a Spanish dancer in a previous life. Mabel got carried away with this story and started acting like a Spanish dancer, which made those around her think she was losing her mind.
The appointment`s scenes are among the funniest of the film. The clairvoyant`s house was full of exotic objects from Egypt and at the same time that Mabel was scared, she was also fascinated for being there. The more exaggerated acting of the clairvoyant is also a good contrast to the more self-contained acting by Mabel, which highlights the awkwardness of the entire situation.
Although Normand`s acting is not as groundbreaking as it was back to 1910s, her talent was still there and she got to be entertaining and the audiences can even see pathos in the poor working girl who was stuck in a life of hard work and boredom and only wanted some excitement and distraction from routine. Things would be even more complicated to Normand after she fell in love, especially because she was often more awkward than seductive towards her love interest.
It is sad to think that Normand would pass away circa 10 years later, but her versatility could be seen in her 1920s output in films that could be modern fairy tales of the ordinary next-door girl with a heart of gold who only wanted to find some happiness in life. It is impossible not to see similarities with the role played by Clara Bow in It (USA, 1927), starting with the similar occupations of characters of both films. The difference was that Bow had a touch of innocent seduction in her character, was Normand was a romantic, optimistic girl.
It is also noteworthy that actor Adolphe Menjou can be spotted in some scenes. His career would still continue throughout the talkie era. 

Male and Female (USA, 1919)

Cecil B. de Mille being himself in a film that turns extravagant –and also with sceneries of great proportions at some moments - and a young Gloria Swanson. Although unknown for many people, Swanson started her career very young being an actress in slapstick comedies (she even worked for Keystone studios, which produced some of the most frantic comedies of silent era), but she had dramatic ambitions all along and by the time this film was made she started pursuing them.
An adaptation of the play “The Admirable Crichton” by J.M. Barrie, the film approaches differences of classes with subtle humor and sometimes audiences do not even feel time pass because the film has a very relaxed vibe. How a British aristocrat (Gloria Swanson) connected with her butler gives room to some original gags, especially after they both get involved in a shipwreck. Needless to say that none of those rich aristocrats have the required skills to survive in a stranded land, but it turned out that the butler could handle the situation. It also comes from this film the famous scene where Swanson is lying down with a real lion around her. 
In the beginning of the film lives of rich people are depicted as opulent and empty. The scenes are funny with the futility of people`s requests towards the servants and we can also see Gloria Swanson in beautiful clothes. The servants are shown as slightly more grounded people, as their lives are closer to realism. A maid is in love with the butler, who is in love with Swanson. On the other hand, Swanson has a friend who married her chauffeur and had to face lots of social difficulties because of that. Needless to say that Swanson disapproved the marriage, which made her butler heartbroken.
The scenes of those people mingling together while stranded in the islands are entertaining, even though they are far from realistic. Clothes were always in good conservation state, they never faced real famine and could even have access to some comforts, such as books. This gives a touch of involuntary humor to the film, which makes it even more enjoyable to modern audiences.  Although the plot is sometimes exaggerated, the acting of main actors remain relatively self-controlled and subtle and it reinforces the good portrait of lives of educated and refined characters.
There is also the interesting approach of not sugar coating the difference of classes and that love does not always overcome it. No, the plot is not about the so-called battle of the sexes. Intertitles can be witty but they are also sometimes a bit too long, even tiresome. If they were kept simpler, it would be perhaps easier for audiences to understand the subtle humor and it is also a factor that makes the film seem outdated nowadays.
The Babylonian sequence may be a feast for the eyes, but it is not really necessary to the development of the plot. By the way, a Babylonian king having a Christian slave? Perhaps it is a little historically inaccurate? We can see here the famous sequence of Swanson with a real lion (who was presumably dangerous) and legend has it that she insisted on doing that scene herself. This might be true, because if we analyze the comedy films Gloria Swanson made earlier in her career we can observe that she have already done a plenty of relatively dangerous stunts already in her teens. 

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.