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EARLY WOMEN FILMMAKERS New Release Contest!

Early Women Filmmakers Cover

Flicker Alley, a boutique distributor of classic and rare films, contacted me about another great contest they’re running. Of course, I said yes to spread the word of their brand new release I thoroughly believe in, and I’m going to give you a chance to win a copy. It’s called EARLY WOMEN FILMMAKERS: AN INTERNATIONAL ANTHOLOGY.

Projects like #52FilmsByWomen and TCM‘s TRAILBLAZING WOMEN have drawn attention to the often forgotten, neglected, underpromoted, and underseen works of women directors. These are contemporary problems. Women were involved in every aspect of the nascent film industry. Early women filmmakers made product intended to be consumed by an audience comprised largely of female peers, and stars of their movies were usually women, who were paid higher salaries than their male acting counterparts.

Despite their achievements, many early women filmmakers have been written out of film history, and their contributions have been undervalued or misattributed. As in the case of Alice Guy-Blaché, their “firsts” may have been given away to now more famous males. Flicker Alley’s new release EARLY WOMEN FILMMAKERS: AN INTERNATIONAL ANTHOLOGY will be a resource for those wanting to learn more about the talented women of world cinema. New audiences, no matter where they live, will have a way to see and experience these movies, which is much better than possessing only academic knowledge of them. Restoring films to the canon requires accessibility.

On May 9, Flicker Alley releases EARLY WOMEN FILMMAKERS: AN INTERNATIONAL ANTHOLOGY on dual-Format edition Blu-ray/DVD. The set showcases fourteen of early cinema’s most innovative and influential women directors, rewriting and celebrating their rightful place in film history. The directors are Alice Guy-Blaché, Lois Weber, Mabel Normand, Madeline Brandeis, Germaine Dulac, Olga Preobrazhenskaia, Marie-Louise Iribe, Lotte Reiniger, Claire Parker, Mrs. Wallace Reid (Dorothy Davenport), Leni Riefenstahl, Mary Ellen Bute, Dorothy Arzner, and Maya Deren.

The directors are represented by ten hours of material restored to high definition. Their twenty-five films span four decades (1902-1943). Many are rare titles not widely available until now. Expect shorts to feature films, live-action to animation, and commercial narratives to experimental works. These women’s technical and stylistic innovations pushed boundaries of subject matter, narrative, aesthetics, and genre. For a complete list of films included on the set, please visit Flicker Alley here.

Bonus Materials include:

  1. New Scores by Sergei Dreznin, Frederick Hodges, Tamar Muskal, Judith Rosenberg, and Rodney Sauer and the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra.
  2. Booklet Essay by film scholar and Women Film Pioneers Project Manager Kate Saccone.
  3. Audio Commentary For Lois Weber’s THE BLOT (1921) by author, professor, and expert on women and early film culture Shelley Stamp, courtesy of Milestone Film and Video.

One lucky winner will receive a copy of EARLY WOMEN FILMMAKERS: AN INTERNATIONAL ANTHOLOGY from Flicker Alley! The giveaway is open to residents of US and Canada, and the contest ends on May 22, 2017. To enter, comment on this post and then fill-out the form below. Tell me which early woman filmmaker you admire or want to learn more about!

 

In case you don’t want to gamble on winning the set, note Flicker Alley is offering a prerelease discount. If you order now through May 16, you will receive $20 off the $69.95 set.

Good luck!

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Happy Easter!

As an Easter treat, here’s the delightfully magical silent short Les oeufs de Pâques. The film was written and directed by Segundo de Chomón for Pathé Frères. A contemporary of Georges Méliès, de Chomón was often compared to the other director due to their work in trick films, but the Spanish director would go on to work in other genres and for other directors, like Abel Gance. If you’ve seen other French silents from this era, then you might recognize this one’s lead actress Julienne Mathieu. She was de Chomón’s wife, and she started in films before he. She encouraged him to seek film work, so we have both to thank for the creation of this bit of whimsy in more than one way!

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World War One in Classic Film Blogathon: Dark Journey (1937)

Dark Journey Poster

Vivien Leigh viewed Dark Journey as a “personal failure.” It was her sixth film, but “her first true leading role,” and her lack of confidence during the production made her overly critical of her performance. She might not have counted it among her best, but she plays the part of Madeleine Goddard better than she thought. A double agent during World War One, her Madeleine is a mixture of surface, poise, nerves, and daring. Whether brought out intentionally or accidentally, all are qualities suitable to the role.

Dark Journey Meet the Baron

Her recollections likely were influenced by the movie’s complicated plot, which can be hard to follow. Technically neutral Stockholm, is swimming with spies for all sides. Keeping track of who is an agent and for what side is a task. Then romance is added via Conrad Veidt‘s Baron Karl Von Marwitz. He’s the German secret service leader sent to ferret out the the top spy of French counter-espionage in Stockholm–Madeleine. The theme of star-crossed lovers fighting for opposing sides becomes central to the film, but its most fascinating aspects are the dangers and mechanics of spying.

Dark Journey 1930s Coat & Hat

How accurate is the film at portraying World War One? In regard to portraying certain aspects of the times, you’ll have to suspend your disbelief intentionally. The film was released in 1937. It is set in 1918. Its fashions, make-up, and hairstyles are au courant to 1937. No attempt is made to dress characters in period clothing or stylings. Musically the movie is more faithful to its setting. Its main theme song is a romantic classical piece. Diegetic music in dancing, music hall, and concert scenes are period-appropriate. In street scenes, carriages and early model cars carry passengers to and fro.

Dark Journey Lupita

Any viewer will have to carefully watch performers and their costuming to track their characters’ nationalities. This is a London Films Production, and it’s a very obviously British-made film. The majority of cast actors are British, and only one British actress attempts her character’s accent. Joan Gardner‘s accent for Lupita may not sound quite Brazilian, but it helps keep her distinct, even before stealing scenes with her comedic chops. There’s a submarine scene in which actors speak German, which lends momentary authenticity, but the majority of the movie’s dialogue is in English. Conrad, as a German-born native in real life, sports his natural accent for his role. German, Swedish, French, and Belgian parts are portrayed with British accents.

Dark Journey Cherry Orchard

More care was taken in depicting the wartime activities that occurred in Sweden. The film’s director Victor Saville travelled there for research and met “a retired vice navy admiral who had run the Swedish counterintelligence bureau during the war.” The former officer acted as a technical adviser to the film. His help may be partially why the spy scenes are weightier than the romance. The film starts with Madeleine’s sea journey interrupted by a German submarine. Although the waters between Paris and Stockholm are neutral, her ship is stopped, boarded, and searched for a spy by the German soldiers. Each time she crosses a similar scene occurs, suspense builds as she wonders when they will be searching for her. At customs and immigration checkpoints, political activities are cautioned against, and potential agents are detained. There’s a club called the Cherry Orchard, full of spies partying and paying for information.

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The cleverest incident of espionage depicted involves the dresses Madeleine imports personally from Paris for her shop. Hidden among the normal frocks are ones with coded messages. The first shown is a sheer number with embroidery. She places it over a lampshade and lines up their markings. The lampshade’s once innocuous map design decodes secret troop movements when paired with the lamp. Coordinates were sewn onto the dress. A fellow spy rushes upstairs to unpack a near empty suitcase. Inside he pulls out a flat surface and what looks like a very basic, flat skeleton of a puppet. He’s setting up a shadow show in front of the window. He projects the image of  the apparatus’s moving arms. They act as and are interpreted like semaphores by another spy on a ship in nearby waters. That is how a message from France decoded in Stockholm gets passed on to Berlin.

Dark Journey Close-Up

Back to the romance, it is not fully believable for reasons outside of plot. Vivien Leigh is photographed beautifully, and she’s dressed and styled impeccably for most of the movie. Even without being investigated by multiple intelligence agencies, her Madeleine would be pursued by many men. Conrad Veidt looks handsome, and he adds class to some lines of dialogue that would have sounded smarmier coming out of another mouth. His Karl may be older than Madeleine, but neither that nor their spying is what makes them seem an unlikely match. They do not have chemistry even though both actors try very hard to create it. The ultimate example of this is a kiss that’s supposed to be their most romantic; it looks very awkward, and the moment falls flat for me. Their ardent fans watching this film will feel their charisma, and any attractions to the performers might be projected onto the lovers they portray. Their star power might make this a quibble to some.

Dark Journey

This is not a movie for history purists, who cannot enjoy one with anachronisms. If you want to experience World War One Stockholm exactly as it was, you will be disappointed with this film. Those wanting an entertaining film with moments of genuine suspense and intrigue will get what they seek. Vivien Leigh and Conrad Veidt fans should watch this, even if they are not completists. Vivien fans will get to see her two years before Gone With The Wind, and they’ll see how much she developed as a screen actress between both films. She, also, has relatively few films to see for a star of her magnitude. While he has many more credits due to starting in the silent film era, he would only live for six years more after making this film. He may be playing yet another German officer as he did during his talkie career, but he brings more to the role than is written, both in its dramatic and comedic scenes. This film captures the moment before one performer’s stardom, and another’s unexpected twilight.

 

WWI Blogathon Banner of the Big Parade

This post was part of the World War One in Classic Film Blogathon, hosted by  Fritzi from Movies Silently and Lea at Silent-Ology. Please click the banner above to be brought to a list of the blogathon’s other participants! They’re a great  group covering a wide range of silent and classic films, celebrated and obscure, about the first Great War.

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World War One in Classic Film Blogathon

Dark Journey

“Art is a wound turned into light,” said painter Georges Braque. It’s only fitting then that the place of light and shadows, the cinema, was where those early generations turned to make sense of The Great War. As soon as it was over, the first films featuring it as a subject came out. They still come out today. Current generations are far enough removed that even fictional films teach them the facts of World War One.  They think their films grittier, so they’d be shocked at what some silent and classic films show.

In honor of World War One’s centennial, Fritzi from Movies Silently and Lea at Silent-Ology are hosting a blogathon to shine light on this complicated piece of the past and the fine films of the classic and silent eras depicting it. Their blogathon called World War One in Classic Film runs September 6-7, 2014. Besides Fritzi and Lea, a number writers from the classic film blogosphere are participating. They include Danny from Pre-Code.Com, Aurora from Once upon a screen, Caftan Woman, Cliff from Immortal Ephemera, Janet from Sister Celluloid, and Ruth of Silver Screenings.

As you may have guessed, Spellbound by Movies is participating! The above still is from the movie I’ll be writing about–Dark Journey starring Vivien Leigh and Conrad Veidt. Set in neutral, but hardly inactive Sweden, they play two spies working for opposing sides. Their latest assignments require spying on each other, and they fall in love. Check back here next month to learn more about their tragic romance.

WWI Blogathon Banner of the Big Parade

 

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Le Schpountz (1938)

This weekend a cattle call was held for Steven Soderbergh’s new film Contagion. I thought about going and trying to be an extra. Then I read an article about Saturday’s casting session. Thousands of people showed up. All were hoping to be caught on camera a moment and thus be immortalized or at least earn some bragging rights and easy dough. When I saw a picture of the lines and read that non-union extras would make $64 a day plus meals, my own little fantasy went poof. Everyone who loves movies would love to be in one. I’m no exception, but I have a strong practical side, and it asked me, “Why lose hours waiting to audition for something that even if won would amount to so little?” Perhaps I was influenced by the latest movie I am watching, Le Schpountz.

Le Schpountz stars beloved French comedian Fernandel. He is the title character. Schpountz seems to be a hard word to translate. One source says it means simple-minded, while another describes it as a country bumpkin, while a third states it’s a person with an overblown sense of self-importance. Marseillais filmmaker Marcel Pagnol became familiar with a schpountz on the set of Angèle. Convinced he was an undiscovered star, a local man pestered Pagnol and his crew daily. They grew tired of his antics and gave him a fake contract which promised him not just any role, but one that was supposed to be Charles Boyer‘s.

Le Schpountz echoes Pagnol’s experience. Fernandel plays Irénée. He toils away in his uncle‘s shop daydreaming of a better life. When a film crew experiences car trouble and stops to buy a pan, Irénée is convinced a divine intervention has happened. Still in his pajamas he hops on the back of their car to follow them. Once he befriends them, he rushes back home and dresses in his best suit to present himself to them properly. He needs their validation, and he performs a number to show them his talent. He doesn’t realize they are mocking him, and he is taken when presented a contract offering fantastic terms that no diva or divo ever had the presumption to demand. He will go to Paris to his stardom.

Here is the majority of the scene where the concept of a schpountz is explained:

The filmmakers are presented as an arrogant sort. They know the excitement their presence generates, and they know that a good number of the people they meet will want something from them–affirmation, yet those people drawn to the crew can recognize their own fault in others, but not themselves. They are comedic, but ultimately more sympathetic.

And everything turns meta when Irénée auditions. After all he is Fernandel, and Fernandel has presence and he can entertain. We laugh at his antics not only because his character is silly, but also because such silliness is played with great skill and charisma.

I was too tired from my Utah trip to finish the film the other night, but I’m looking forward to watching the rest with my husband tonight. I’m eager to see what happens to Irénée when he reaches Paris. He can live the dream for all of us, wherever Pagnol decides it takes Irénée.

Amália Rodrigues & Fred Astaire

I’ve been enjoying NPR’s 50 Great Voices series, and the holiday break gave me a chance to catch up with some missed episodes, including their piece on Amália Rodrigues. Since I’m half Portuguese, I enjoy finding instances where Portuguese and American culture collide, mix, and transmute. Rodrigues embraced other cultures’ musical traditions in order to offer her unique spin on fado, and that combined with her voice and emotive range turned her into an icon celebrated long past her death. The NPR reporter brought up an anecdote involving Rodrigues and Fred Astaire that I hadn’t heard before.

Rodrigues went to New York for a risky throat operation. Doctors weren’t sure if her voice would recover from the procedure. Depressed, Rodrigues considered killing herself with sleeping pills. Instead she ended up watching Fred Astaire movies in her hotel room. The man that had gotten so many Americans through the Great Depression by offering some hope and cheer via the big screen worked his magic through the small screen.  He helped Rodrigues through her depression. She didn’t kill herself, and she underwent what turned out to be a successful surgery. Her voice fully recovered, and she returned to Portugal, and her subsequent concerts added to her legend.

A clip of the singer performing Barco Negro in the film Les Amants du Tage (1955) follows. While the film is French and in French, she keeps her lyrics in their original Portuguese. The camera breaks away from her to further the plot by having characters translate her song for the female lead, and once they’ve said enough for the song to resonate for both leads and the film’s audience, the cameraman wisely returns to Rodrigues for the song’s climax. Her charisma is palpable. For English subtitles, click the closed captioning box.