Archive for Clara Bow

The Sunday Intertitle: Quaker Boats

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , on January 31, 2016 by dcairns

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I was reminded of 1922’s DOWN TO THE SEA IN SHIPS by a Guardian article about whaling in the movies, prompted by Opie’s recent HEART OF THE SEA. There is a great deal of whaling — actual whaling, with actual whale death, in DTTSIS, which is not surprising I guess since it’s produced by the Whaling Film Corporation. Not, I’m guessing, a hugely prolific outfit. Though the intertitles quote Moby Dick (accurately, unlike those of THE SEA BEAST, an official adaptation with John Barrymore s a sexy Ahab, later remade as an even more ludicrous talkie), the company never even got as far as doing Melville. Perhaps they could have tried adding a whaling component into popular stories of the day?

Mass cetacean snuff footage is not the only thing that makes this hard to watch in places. The movie has a part-Chinese villain, “Samuel Siggs” (Jack Baston), a yellowface stereotype who goes undercover in whiteface to seduce the heroine while defrauding her father. So it’s about the yellow peril and miscegenation nightmares in Massachusetts.

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The other reason I’d heard of it is the presence of the juvenile Clara Bow, and here at least the film isn’t appalling. Bow is a screen natural from the first, shown scrapping with a little boy, and though she doesn’t apparently know how to make a fist when fighting (that would be unfeminine), she throws herself into the action in a blur of flailing arms, porcelain features contorted in feline snarl. Hooray!

Also — Clara in drag!

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By the end she’s properly girl, in summer dress in a field of flowers, but still untamed — popping up from the petals to startle her beau and make him break all his eggs. New Bedford’s first flapper is about to be formed.

I provoked hilarity n Facebook by reproducing the credit “Personally directed by Elmer Clifton,” a branding which even seems comic when used by Griffith or Stroheim. On the forgotten Elmer it’s ludicrous. But in fact Clifton’s work is very able, setting up the life of the Quaker whalers with ethnographic precision, expressive detail shots and elegant wides. He can’t find a way to reconcile the vigorous naturalism of young Bow with the slinking melodramatics of Baston, but then the whole concept of Baston’s character is a ghastly mistake anyway.

And here’s Mr. Clifton’s name again ~

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Bound with Love

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on February 6, 2014 by dcairns

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A bonus intertitle –and you’ll find another over at The Forgotten, where I delve into what may be the gayest  Hollywood silent film I’ve seen. In WINGS, it sometimes seems as if Clara Bow’s role is not so much romantic interest as diverter of suspicion, as the two male leads are so closely bound up emotionally, even sharing an impassioned kiss, that someone may have felt wedging a pert flapper between them to be in order. Well, in PARISIAN LOVE poor Clara is almost left out in the cold altogether. Now read on.

And — as if that weren’t enough — Dave Scout Tafoya continues our exploration of the ’68 Cannes Film Festival fiasco with a movie by one of the greats — a European master who was still living until this last dreadful weekend. Miklos Jancso.

The Sunday Intertitle: Uncle Harry

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on March 3, 2013 by dcairns

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VIDEOBRARY? It is an ugly word.

HELEN’S BABIES stars a positively nubile Edward Everett Horton as a man who’s found fame as an author of a book on child-rearing, but who has no practical experience of the subject whatsoever. It’s a classic Hollywood situation, the man with book-learning but no life-skills — of course he gets landed with a couple of tiny terrors, one of whom is played by the marvelous Baby Peggy, an authentic prodigy. The movie’s situations may be somewhat hackneyed, but B.P.’s sparkle flashes through the decades and outshines even that of her co-star Clara Bow.

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B.P. or Peggy-Jean Montgomery to use her birth name, is the subject of a fascinating documentary, BABY PEGGY: THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM, by Vera Iwerebor. The child star fondly and not-so-fondly relates the story of her cinematic career, providing a unique and moving insight into the silent era. Regular readers may also be interested to spot a brief appearance by the late F. Gwynplaine MacIntrye…

Iwerebor’s doc is just one  of the attractions screening at this year’s Hippodrome Festival of Silent Film in Bo’ness, which in just three years has become one of the key events in Scotland’s movie calendar, along with Glasgow and Edinburgh’s varied programmes.

This year I’m writing a piece for Bo’ness on Lubitsch’s THE OYSTER PRINCESS — in fact, I better stop writing this and start writing that. But if you’re in Scotland this month, consider the short schlep to this fair town, to see silent classics starring the likes of Laurel & Hardy, Buster Keaton and Gloria Swanson, with live musical accompaniment, projected in Scotland’s oldest purpose-built cinema. Check out the programme here.

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