The Mother of Them All

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Our Indiegogo campaign is finished, and we scored 94% of our £5000 target, which is damned good. Anybody who still wants to donate and was waiting for payday can get in touch and contribute by Special Arrangement. The money raised will make our ambitious music score possible (Jane Gardner and her trio plus a roomful of early electronica) and cover the fact that our sound mix is going to cost twice what was initially budgeted, and reward our lowly effects artists, who are starving in their respective garrets and working longer on this thing than anybody else. We’ll also be assisted in publicising the film and getting it out to festivals. Anybody out there good at designing posters and postcards?

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Finished picture editing early enough yesterday to make it through to Bo’ness for the closing gala of STELLA DALLAS, the 1925 version directed by Henry King, not the better-known Stanwyck. Composer Stephen Horne is a great fan of this one and he fulfilled an ambition by scoring it — his multi-instrumental accompaniment supplemented ably by Elizabeth-Jane Baldry on harp, resulting in a sensitive and versatile score which enhanced the film’s humour as well as its obvious effectiveness as a weepie of “mother picture” as the contemporary press called it.

By crazy coincidence, in between edit and screening, my bathroom copy of Andrew Sarris’ The American Cinema fell open at Henry King, who made it into the chapter Subjects for Further Reasearch despite a write-up from the arch-auteurist that makes it sound like the world would be a better place had King been strangled in his cradle. It’s true that, side by side with vigorous stylists like Sun Yu (channeling/ripping-off Sternberg and Borzage) or E.A. Dupont, King’s coverage might seem prosaic at times, but he has his finger on the emotional pulse of the story and stages the climax in grand style. The true auteur is scenarist Frances Marion, and then we have Arthur Edeson as cinematographer and Stuart Heisler as editor to back King up.

Belle Bennett has the role of a lifetime as Stella, with Ronald Colman as her husband, and an embryonic Douglas Fairbanks Jnr pops up, looking very junior indeed. Jean Hersholt conceals his humanitarian tendencies as the unappealing Mr. Munn.

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Confession: I’ve never seen King Vidor’s remake. But I felt fine about that last night, as it meant I was experiencing the story fresh, and can now see how it was covered in the 1937 version.

Excellent intro and programme notes by Pamela Hutchinson, making the excellent point that Olivia Higgins Prouty’s source novel features characters whose perception has been influenced by cinema (“Laurel had seen too many closeups of faces not to recognize that look!”) The film’s climax (above and top) is all about the emotion of the act of looking, and the huge picture window through which Stella watches a wedding appears like nothing less than an illuminated motion picture screen.

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7 Responses to “The Mother of Them All”

  1. Catherine Grant just sent me a lovely video essay/comparison of the two versions’ endings.

    Henry King Vidor.
    Vidor may not be making the better film, but he does have the more expressive angles…

  2. True but Vidor has Barbara Stanwyck at her most overwhelming.

  3. It struck me watching the silent that the talkie would have one marked advantage: since Stanwyck’s dialogue can mark her out as plebeian, the talkie needn’t caricature her lousy dress sense as much as the silent has to. Belle Bennett gradually gets more and more frilly until she’s practically a tragic clown figure.

  4. Such a great film! It blew me away and knocked my socks off at the SFSFF with Stephen playing.

  5. sheila bryans Says:

    I greatly admire both films. Both Bennett and Stanwyck excel in the lead. Bennett pierces the heat, the birthday party scene where no one attends is unbearably heart rending. Would love to see this revival I so hope it is plays again.

  6. Sheila Bryans Says:

    I would love to contribute to your campaign. Do let me know how to proceed.

  7. Thanks, Sheila, I’ll put you in touch with our producer!

    I’m sure that Stephen, having composed this score, will be wanting to play it again, so watch out at silent film fests around the world — and follow him on Facebook.

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