Friday, November 19, 2010

Don't Be Shy of Girl Shy

So, continuing with Silent Awareness Month, I thought it would be appropriate to showcase one of my favorite silent films... Girl Shy (1924).

This is one of the first Romantic Comedies ever made and was quite a departure for the star of the film, Harold Lloyd. Unlike his "gag" or stunt films, this is more of a character role. There is a stunt-y sequence at the end of the film where Lloyd is rushing to town to stop a marriage, but the majority of his time on screen is less physical. Lloyd plays a tailor's apprentice who has a hard time talking to women. He stutters whenever he tries to talk to a girl, and the words only come out after his uncle blows a whistle.

Harold uses his spare time to write his book on women. It is a novel teaching young men how to woo different types of women, (flapper, vamps etc). While writing, Harold acts out his methods in fantasy. These are a great parody of the characters of popular silent film. I particularly like the Flapper fantasy. She is smacking her gum and dancing all around the room acting quite the child. Harold uses his "cave man" technique to win her over. He takes a train to the big city so that he can deliver his book to the publisher.

On the train, he meets the delightful Jobyna Ralston. Dogs aren't allowed on the train, but Harold helps Jobyna hide her cute little pooch from the train operators. After a whistle from the train, Harold begins telling Jobyna about his book. You can tell that she doesn't believe him, but she is charmed by him as well. Its easy to see why these two stars made more than one film together, they had great chemistry.

After the two part ways and Harold has dropped off his book, the movie picks up with the introduction of the villain. A very ugly guy trying to win Jobyna for a wife. They are driving when marriage proposal goes awry and their car breaks down. Carlton Griffin (the villain) walks to town to get help while Jobyna explores a lake... Guess who else is at the lake? Harold and Jobyna have a sweet time of getting to know each other until Griffin comes and breaks it up. Harold actually punches Griffin in the face showing that a boy who stutters can still throw a mean left hook!

Haorld then goes to town to introduce a new chapter for his book to the publisher only to find the publishers office laughing and making fun of his work. The look on his face while everyone laughs at him is heartbreaking and Harold's infectious optimistic spirit is broken. He won't be making the money to ask Jobyna to marry him. He instead tells her that it had all been an experiment, that he never felt anything for her. She in turn gets engaged to Griffin.

On the day of the marriage, Lloyd gets a note in the mail saying that the publisher has decided to publish the book after all as a gag story renaming it "The Boob's Diary". Harold is embarassed, but doesn't care once he realizes that the money they sent would be enough for him to propose. A girl walks into the tailor's shop and sees the engagement announcement of Griffin and Jobyna in the paper. She cries out that her and Griffin are already married and shows a locket with their marriage date to prove it. Lloyd is off like a bolt to stop the pending nuptials.

The ending sequence is fantastic. Lloyd uses nearly every mode of transportation available to get to Jobyna, cars, mono-rails even a horse and buggy. Its fantastic. My favorite is when he steals the car of a bootlegger... oh prohibition, you made for such great comedy! He gets to the wedding just in time, but his stutter prohibits him from making any declarations. Instead, he throws Jobyna over his shoulder and runs out of the mansion (Harold Lloyd's actual estate was used for the exterior shots for this sequence!) Jobyna is trying to get Harold to propose to her, but his stutter is preventing it. She takes matters into her own hand and grabs the whistle of a mail man. The two end in an embrace just like any good rom-com should!

I like this movie for two reasons: 1. Harold Lloyd's everyman character is exceedingly charming 2. and the story is too convoluded with heavy melodrama, instead its light and sweet.

Don't be shy! Give Girl Shy a try!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

She Had "IT"

I apologize for falling down on the job. Work had me so busy I couldn't hardly think last week. To make up for it, I decided to give you a real hum-dinger: Clara Bow.
Clara Bow was described as having "it" that undefinable flapper characteristic. Audiences flocked to see her films and I must admit... she drew me in as well. To this day, Clara has quite the following. If you look on (a phenomenal website for any classic film fan) Clara has pages of photos devoted to her.

I read Clara's biography before actually seeing one of her films. The book is called "Clara Bow: Runnin' Wild by David Stenn and it is quite a tragic read. Bow was born to a phsycotic
mother and a mostly absentee father. She grew up in the Brooklyn slums surrounded by poverty. Her parents and her often shared apartment buildings with other families. They would have one room to their name and share a communal bathroom down the hall. These apartments had no central heating or cooling, and Clara often had to deal with bitter cold winters and scorching summers.

Her child hood friend, a little boy, actually died in Clara's arms. He caught fire and Clara put it out, but the burns were too severe. She held him and cried as his life slipped away. Clara was only a child when it happened.

Clara's mother suffered from psychotic breaks. She also turned to prostitution in order to make ends meet when Clara's father wasn't making enough to provide for the family. She would hide Clara in the closet while she entertained clients. Clara awoke one night to find her mother standing over her with a knife. She was able to escape to the bathroom and hide until her father made it home. All the while, her mother beat on the bathroom door threatening to kill her.

How did a poor, sweet little girl survive and escape such hell? She did what so many of us do when the real world becomes unbearable. She went to the one place where all the rest of it disappeared...the movies.

Clara fell in love with moving pictures... little Mary Pickford running around with long flowing curls... images of families... of love. She would go home and practice making faces in the mirror, she could cry on command, and she used her spunk to entertain anybody and everybody. She convinced her dad to take her to a beauty contest... and she won. The rest of her career is history.

Clara was notorious for her promiscuity. Whether it was her
mother's attempted murder, or her father's lack of presence or her own horrifying experiences, Clara looked for comfort in the arms of men.... lots of men. I don't choose to judge her for this. I don't know who I would have become given those circumstances... Clara needed to be loved as an adult because she wasn't as a child.

Her most famous boyfriend was Gary Cooper. She helped him get his start in films, and I truly believed that they cared for each other. Their passion burned hot and short. I don't think Cooper was equipped to give Clara everything that she needed. She needed a man to devote himself to her and her well being. She always feared ending up like her mother, mentally unstable. She did do a stint in a mental hospital after a nervous breakdown from too much hard work, but she escaped her mother's fate.

I adore Clara because her presence on screen was so full of life. She had a pure heart and it shines through in her work. That infectious smile, her bubbly spirit. This girl didn't need words (although her talkies weren't bad) to make an audience fall head over heels for her adorable bobbed hair. She defined Flapper, she embraced the woman that she was, throwing off the shackles of Victorian convention and lived her life to the max.

Catch one of Clara's most iconic films "It" on TCM this week November 17 at 1:30 am ct.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Save the Sheik

I thought it was only appropriate that I start this month out by revisiting the first silent movie I ever watched... Beyond the Rocks.

My first silent film experience is one I won't soon forget. It was late at night in the dead of Winter. I couldn't sleep, so I was snuggled up on the couch flipping through TCM recordings on my Mom's DVR. I had recorded Beyond the Rocks because I figured it was about time I watched a Valentino film. Watching silent films and enjoying them really relies on adjusting your frame of mind and being open to a different movie watching experience. To this day, I normally watch silents late at night because I have less judgmental points of view when I am sleepy, and I am more susceptible to "being taken in" by a story. I turned on Beyond the Rocks and let all my walls down.... So glad that I did.

This film has two of the biggest silent film stars of the era, Gloria Swanson and Rudolph Valentino. In an earlier silent film post, I mentioned that starting with a Valentino silent is a good way to go. Who hasn't heard of Valentino? Even if you can't put the face to the name, you at least have an idea of who the guy was.

He was one of the first male sex symbols in cinema. D.W. Griffith said that American women wouldn't respond to Rudy's European looks.... Boy was he wrong on that one! When you watch Beyond the Rocks... study his features... this man was gorgeous! I think he was the inspiration for tall, dark and handsome. Valentino acted with his emotions on his sleeve. And like Garbo, he was known for showing a kaleidescope of feelings in his eyes alone. This is what stands him apart from other male silent stars. For example, Fairbanks relied on his physical strength to carry his performance and Lloyd used stunt comedy to help make a name for himself. All Valentino needed was one close up, and audiences were hooked.

Gloria Swanson plays Theodora in Rocks. A beautiful girl married to a nice enough (albeit boring) rich man. Her and Rudy's character meet long before she gets married, but don't fall in love until she is on her honeymoon with a sickly Mr. Boring.

Most know Gloria Swanson from Sunset Blvd. Its fun to watch her during her silent prime. She was gorgeous. She doesn't play a vamp, flapper or Pickford sweetheart. Her character is actually quite normal. Its a character that could have been very dull had not Gloria played her with such feeling. The girl who wants to do the right thing... how lame, right? But Gloria plays her so well rounded, that you can't help but root for her and Rudy!

Is it the best silent movie I have ever seen? No. Is the story predictable? Yes, very. But most of us classic film fans watch movies for the stars, right?! I like this film because it is an easy introduction to silents. Most viewers are already familiar with the two stars, the story is easy to follow, I love the sets and costumes, and the silent factor doesn't knock you over the head. This film also makes a case for silent film preservation. Part of the film has been severely damaged by age and lack of care. As you watch, the particular scenes show signs of burning and deterioration. Almost entire frames are completely eaten away.

I titled this post Save the Sheik because without people determined to preserve our cinema history, icons like Valentino and Swanson would be lost forever.

Beyond the Rocks is currently available for instant watch on Netflix. There are other films by these two stars available for instant watch too. It has never been easier to take the silent plunge! So bolster yourself up, stay up late and press play!

Parting shot of Valentino just for good measure!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Silent Awareness Month

I have decided that November is going to be Silent Awareness Month on Confessions!

Like many classic film fans, I came to appreciate silent films much later than any other genre. I think there are still so many folks out there that don't know much about silents and I thought a month long tribute would be informative and maybe flame some of those silent sparks out there!

Silent films are an endangered species... and an important way to protect and preserve their existence is to generate new fans...

I am by no stretch of the imagination a silent expert. I just find film history fascinating and lets face it... silent features started it all....

Every week this month, I am going to strive to highlight two actors from this period of film. Most of the actors will be ones you have heard of, but I hope these posts spur you on to the adventure of silent cinema!