Archive for May, 2009

Dancing Mothers (1926)

Posted in Dailies, Silent Film with tags , on May 23, 2009 by leclisse

Review from Variety, February 17, 1926

Dancing Mothers

Famous Players production of the stage play by Edgar Selwyn and Edmund Goulding. Directed by Herbert Brenon and the screen play written by Forrest Halsey. Conway Tearle, Alice Joyce and Clara Bow featured. Reviewed at the Rivoli, New York, Feb. 14. Running time, 71 minutes.

Ethel Westcourt Alice Joyce
Jerry Naughton Conway Tearle
“Kittens” Westcourt Clara Bow
Kenneth Cobb Donald Keith
Mrs. Massarena Dorothy Cumming
Irma Elsie Lawson
Hugh Westcourt Norman Trevor

F.P. isn’t quite sure whether the ending they’re using on Dancing Mothers, wherein the mother gets wise to herself and walks out on her selfish husband and daughter is the right one. So the Rivoli programs carry one of those coupons asking for an audience expression of opinion–the alternative ending probably being that the wife forgives them all and comes back to take up where she left off.

In plot this is the old one about the mother who put on her vamping clothes to get the man with whom her daughter was in love–to get him and throw him over, as a protective measure for the kid. But the mother, who had patiently sat by the fireside for years while her husband and daughter went the wild pace of the day, fell for the man who “threatened” her daughter and the ultimate view shows the mother preparing for an ocean voyage with him. As an excuse for her desertion of her rooster and chick, the plot harps heavily on the point that the father and daughter though only in terms of themselves and their reason for wanting her to stay was to make their own easy lives easier.

Dancing Mothers is a well produced, beautifully played and generally good picture which has one bad feature–and that almost ruinous. It has an anti-climax which makes the concluding episodes seem long and weary. The point of the story is whether the mother really falls for the man she hoped to trick–or whether she resists him. It is quite clear that she falls, and after she does there is a flock of pleading, of subtitles and other choice bits of whatnot to delay the action, which will bring the whole thing to a finish. So for the regular audiences outside the bigger towns, the alternate happy ending and some heavy cutting on the last two reels would seem the solution of the problem.

Alice Joyce runs away with the film. As the mother she is beautiful and attractively gowned in every scene, while her affair is handled nicely by the director. Conway Tearle is okeh as the handsome lover, the only trouble with him is that his makeup worked itself into some creases on the neck.

Clara Bow is the flapper daughter and she appears to greater advantage than at any time since Down to the Sea in Ships. Somebody has told her to quit trying to make everybody believe she’s a great actress and just be herself, for the dark makeup on the eyes is out–the artificial emoting stuff is canned and her performance generally is the excellent result of an excellent director. Norman Trevor is good as the perplexed father, while Dorothy Cumming, as a friend of the wife, gives what she gives to any picture–a good performance.

Dancing Mothers should get over because the scenery, up to that anti-climax, is tight and well knot, and with a possible alternate ending, it would seem that a recutting of the film might turn the trick.

Film Posters and Publicity Stills

Dancing Mothers (1926)Dancing Mothers (1926)Alice Joyce in Dancing Mothers (1926)Clara Bow in Dancing Mothers (1926)

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The Mafia Mystique – The Godfather (1972) and Goodfellas (1990)

Posted in Academic with tags , , on May 22, 2009 by leclisse

The course project for one of my classes this past semester was an examination of devices and themes used by Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese in their presentations of the Mafia as seen in The Godfather (1972) and Goodfellas (1990).  This project was not for a film class, but rather for Criminological Reasearch Methods – I felt that this sort of analysis would be a perfect fusion of the methdological research component with my love of classic film.  And it would also aid me in remaining at least somewhat interested in the class.

The document weighs in at 19 pages in Microsoft Word, so feel free to skim some of the more technical methodological terms if they become too insufferable.  All in all, I can say that I enjoyed working on this project because it allowed me to probe two of the greatest films ever made, as well as learn a little background information about the birth and evolution of the gangster film genre.  The infamous Hays Production Code, for instance, had a heavy hand to play in the ethnic (or lack thereof) portrayal of gangsters from the 1930’s onward, until the Code’s demise in the late 1960’s.  Even by 1972, when Coppola was preparing to film The Godfather, he was under substantial pressure from Mafia interests to tailor his depictions to their liking.

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Latino Images in Film – Yo, La Peor de Todas (1990)

Posted in Academic, Festivals with tags , on May 21, 2009 by leclisse

When TCM announced their upcoming series of Latino Images in Film, I didn’t pay much attention to the schedule because I knew I’d be busy with summer classes.  Little did I know that my Latin American History class would be based largely in film studies.  While these films will not be the same as those shown on TCM throughout the month, I thought it would still be a nice complement to the festival.  The first week has begun with the colonial period in Latin American history, and the film would chronicle the life of the revolutionary Mexican poetess, Sor Juana Inez de la Cruz (1651-1695).

Maria Luisa Bemberg ’s Yo, La Peor de Todas approaches the life of Sor Juana with both an eye for historical accuracy as well as a modern feminist interpretation of convent life in New Spain (Mexico).  Bemberg’s Juana operates within a world that does not greet female brilliance with kindness or toleration, but she moves beyond this handicap as well as she can within the confines of the convent.  She finds favor with the Viceroy and his wife, which shields her somewhat from political and religious persecution, but it cannot shield her indefinitely.  Sor Juana vacillates between impertinence and self-denying humility during the film, and at times it can be rather difficult to decifer whether or not she is truly dedicated to a life of religious devotion. 

The real Sor Juana was a prolific writer and one of the most brilliant minds of her time.  This did not bode well for her life in the church, however, and she came under increasing censorship and punishment from Church officials.  It is debateable whether the Church truly broke her spirit as is portrayed in the film, but there is evidence that she continued until the time of her death during a Plague epidemic.  One of her most well-known works, “Letter to Sor Filotea,” begins, continues, and ends on a note of supreme contrition.  Sor Juana pleads, “I want to trouble with the Holy Office, for I am but ignorant and tremble lest I utter some ill-sounding proposition or twist the true meaning of some passage” (209).  She makes plain her simple desire to “become less ignorant” and displays no pretensions about her intellectual abilities.  Bemberg’s Juana assumes this position of supplication when under threat of punishment from the Church, but once free of this looming persecution she returns to her life of study.  Juana privately rages against the patriarchal strictures of the Church, and finally lashes out against the Archbishop himself.

Bemberg’s decision to interweave undercurrents of lesbianism between Sor Juana and La Virreina seems to be an attempt to clarify the intent of some of Juana’s poetry that expresses love for another woman.  The film does not explicitly portray such a relationship, but several scenes can only leave little doubt of their mutual attraction, especially when La Virreina asks Juana to remove her layered veil.  The creation of such a relationship is not beyond the realm of possibility for such a woman as Juana, who puts pen to paper with her feminism in “On Men’s Hypocrisy.”  She makes no effort to conceal her disgust with sexual double–standards, and produces an irrefutable treatise with which to combat such inequality.

The principal performances are stellar, and Assumpta Serna ‘s Juana is an engaging mixture of spiritual confusion and proto-feminist indignation at the misogyny of the Church.  The production itself is incredibly dark – I imagine this was meant to recreate not only the filth of daily colonial life, but also to lend to the mood of spiritual ambiguity.  I was struck by how Godless the Church officials appear to be – embodied in the character of the Archbishop – when compared to the spiritual simplicity of those lower on the spiritual totem pole (nuns, confessors, etc.)

Limelight (1952)

Posted in Dailies with tags , , on May 12, 2009 by leclisse

Limelight (1952)I recently caught the middle 30 minutes or so of Limelight (1952) on TCM and was intrigued enough to track down a copy at the local library.

Limelight is one of those films that I can say I genuinely liked, but I wouldn’t necessarily call it great.  It seemed to me that Chaplin tends to become excessively verbose on more than one occasion, and tends to direct his speeches toward a melodramatic flourish, especially in the scenes where he is trying to lift the depondent Terry (Claire Bloom) out of her suicidal rut.  Despite this tendency, I thought that a good deal of the dialogue was some of the most beautiful that I have heard in any film.

The mood of Limelight unapologetically melancholic, but that’s the point of the story.  Chaplin’s Calvero, the once great comedian of the English stage, has become in life what he was in pantomime: a tramp, and a drunk one at that.  I don’t know much about Chaplin’s private life, but it’s my understanding that his career had never recovered since the switch from silent to sound cinema.  Indeed, Chaplin refused to incorporate sound into his films until 1936’s Modern Times, and then it was only the machine in the film which had a voice.  Calvero echoes this refusal to change with the times in his comedy routines.  The charm of his comedy act never leaves the late 1890’s and early 1900’s when it was in its prime, even though the audience has (literally) walked out on that sort of slapstick vaudeville.  By 1952, the age of silent film had been dead for some time (but would soon have a “resurrection”), but Chaplin still holds on through his frequent use of broad gestures, pantomime, and choreographed movements.

The highlight of the film comes in the final scene when Calvero teams up with Buster Keaton (who is, however, without a name and relegated to the role of Calvero’s partner).  I’m not usually a fan of slapstick comedy, but this scene really works.  The contrast between Keaton’s frazzled seriousness and Chaplin’s impish clumsiness plays out marvelously, and one can easily speculate how incredible a collaboration would have been during their heyday in the 1920’s.

Claire Bloom and Charles ChaplinClaire Bloom fell a little flat for me.  I know Limelight was one of her first major acting roles, but she lacks the charming immaturity of, say, Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday.  These are two very different roles, of course, but I couldn’t quite see any depth to her artistry.  She often struck me as a little whiny.  She certainly didn’t come across as a “true artist,” as Calvero claims she is with his dying breath.  What I felt for her character was very similar to how I reacted to Katharine Houghton’s Joey in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.  For the life of me, I could not see what Sidney Poitier, a brilliant doctor,  saw in her vapid girlishness.