Friday, December 6, 2013
I found myself wondering just how much life Barbara Stanwyck lived up to 1940 to have the first volume of a biography encompass so many pages. In reading Victoria Wilson's first volume on the life of cinema great Barbara Stanwyck, I figured out why. You not only get Stanwyck's life, but the History of the World Part I as well. Lots of bang for your buck.
Let me say this, Ms. Wilson is an excellent writer. It is my understanding she is also an editor of some renown and this might be the crux of the problem with this book. It needed to be edited, it needed a machete. I found myself getting lost in the book, there is so much context placing, so much detail of people who touched Stanwyck's life that you lose the subject at hand. Then there are the plot rehashes of the films, hers, Frank Fay's and Robert Taylor's. All of this should have been cut to the bone. Unlike reading Gary Giddins' Bing Crosby: Pocketful of Dreams - The Early Years, reading True Steel I am *not* left wanting, panting, waiting for the second volume as I have been (and am) with the Crosby book. I'm afraid of reliving the History of the World Part II along with the remaining 42 years of Stawyck's life in the next volume.
Stanwyck was famously private and I think she really did succeed in keeping a good deal of her life private as she wished. Wilson's research is impeccable, her writing is mostly engaging. But I can't help feeling exhausted in reading it. I am sure this was a labor of love, a volume of this heft had to have been. But there is no warmth in it.
Stanwyck will always remain a bit of an enigma. I think the one tiny thing that shows me a lot of what I need to see or know about Stanwyck can be seen in this video clip here.
You can order the book here in kindle (which I did much easier to handle such a tome) as well as a true brick of a book.
Others might find this more engaging than I do, I adore Stanwyck and do not feel she was so much ill-served (she wasn't) but she was lost in the details. ymmv.
|Rudolph Valentino portrait by Nelson Evans as Julio|
Accepted cinema history tells us that Rudolph Valentino’s star-making film was the 1921 blockbuster The Sheik. While this is, in part, arguably true, the real landmark was a small film entitled The Eyes of Youth in which Valentino played a paid correspondent to help Milton Sills win a divorce from poor Clara Kimball Young. This small landmark performance put Rudolph Valentino under the gaze of the powerful scenarist June Mathis who was in the process of writing the gigantic film The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. It was Mathis who fought hard and pushed for Valentino to win the coveted part of Julio Desnoyers.My first exposure to Valentino was in another film, also based on a novel by Spanish author Vincente Blasco-Ibanez, Blood and Sand. It was, however, my first viewing of the 1921 epic that really exposed me to Valentino’s terrific talent and ability as an actor of range. A range far beyond the display of The Sheik which is commonly referred to as the star-making film.
Ibanez’ sprawling novel tells the tale of two branches of a family, split by cultural differences and values and, ultimately, by World War I. Mathis expertly culled the massive tale down to a tightly told story that is as gripping today as it had to have been in late 1920 when the film was first released.
Valentino’s appearance comes relatively early in the film, dressed in his gaucho attire and with his doting grandfather (played by Pomeroy Cameron) in the seedy Boca district where Julio revels and dances the tango. If ever there were a moment on screen that a star was truly born, the famed “Tango Sequence” is it for Valentino. Once he has eyeballed Beatrice Domiguez on the dance floor with her lesser partner, it’s easy to see he absolutely will take what he wants and what that is, is her. Once he has disposed of the pasty opponent, he slinks into the dance like a panther taking her with him. As they circle the floor, the various miscreants and patrons nod and applaud their approval. The dance progresses and ends with a slow, lingering kiss in profile. It is said the women in the audience grew faint, in 2013, you can still have a great understanding why. It is not only a star-making moment, it’s a terrific piece of filmmaking.
While I had an appreciation for Valentino long before I saw this film, I’d seen a few silent films (often on my bedroom wall in super 8 in the pre VHS and DVD days). But seeing this film spoke to me of the power of silent film. The epic story distilled down to the stories of the two families and, in particular, the story arc of Julio, was quite simply engrossing story telling. This film was made at the mid-point of the silent era. Itself only five years gone from D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation and technically a much more complex film. It could have been 20 years ahead with the progress made in the art of telling the story. Similarly, if you look at F.W. Murnau’s Sunrise of 1927, the leaps in technology and the changes in the visual story arc from Four Horsemen and Sunrise, they’re like night and day. Sadly, Sunrise was very nearly the mark of the end of the silent era with the synchronized soundtrack. What a film to exit on, however.For this viewer, however, even without Valentino, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse is a film that still stands the true test of time. It helped inspire a passion for early cinema and it is a film that still holds up with repeated viewings. To me that is the key point, if you find a silent film you love, it will inspire you to seek out more of them. Tragically, the Photoplay Productions restoration of Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse is not commercially available, at least not yet. It is shown in semi-regular rotation on Turner Classic Movies. Happily, if you have an interest in Valentino, loads of his films are available on DVD.
|Six-Sheet poster from the original release|
That said, lest you think I obsess too much over Valentino, here are ten silent films (most on DVD) that I think, in my humble opinion, will bring you pleasure and suck you into the vortex of early film. You won’t regret it.In no particular order:
Stella Maris; Tol’able David; Sunrise; The Thief of Bagdad; The Son of the Sheik (I HAD to put a Valentino in there), The Wind (run on TCM); The Patsy; The Student Price of Old Heidelberg (run on TCM); Our Hospitality; and Ben-Hur (available as an extra on the later DeMille Ten Commandments set).
This post of part of the Classic Movie Blog Association's Film Passion 101 Blogathon. Click here for the full blogathon schedule and for links to other members' posts.
Thursday, December 5, 2013
Just in time for the holidays!
Shamelessly promoting the annual Valentino Calendar here! 13 rare photos of Rudolph Valentino to brighten your 2014. 8x10 spiral bound a perfect gift for the Valentino fan in your life. A full preview of the calendar and available for sale at $13.99 by clicking the button below.
You can order a copy here.
Tuesday, September 3, 2013
One of my favorite blogs in the past was Luke McKernan's excellent Bioscope (now sadly retired but still out there and tres useful for research). Luke is back with another fascinating subject, it's called Picturegoing and it is a chronicle of recollections about going to see movies, the experience of movies. Check it out here!
My pick this week to go on the bedside table, virtually on ye olde iPad. I recommend it highly.
Friday, August 9, 2013
I love the theater, the neighborhood and the programming. This is a worthy and good cause and I call upon all San Francisco film buffs (even if you do not live in San Francisco) to pony up a few bucks for the campaign.
Most important link, the kickstarter crowdfunding site for the Balboa Theater. Donate a buck, two or fifty. It does not matter except we help keep another neighborhood theater alive and running movies.
Thanks for your help!
Saturday, August 3, 2013
Wednesday, July 24, 2013
|Castro Theater interior (Image courtesy sfhandyman's flickr stream|
If you are local, you know the drill, the Castro is the sole remaining single screen neighborhood movie palace left in our fair city. That this iconic theater is at risk to lose the Wurlitzer is a shame.
So? What can we do about it? Read the full details here about SFCODA and the fund raising campaign to save the organ. The fundraising goal is $700,000.00 and there is a paypal link. I do not have terribly deep pockets, but I am making a donation. If you are local, even if you do not, I hope you will consider helping to keep the music playing at the Castro.
Here's some video of founder David Hegarty playing in the Castro, search for Castro Theater Organ on youtube and you'll see plenty of videos.