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!

No comments:

Post a Comment