Turner Classic Movies is doing a series on disability on film this month. It’s really an interesting look at how its been portrayed and social feelings towards people with different abilities. Tonight they showed a rare find restored by the Netherlands Filmmuseum, “Lucky Star” (1929).
“Lucky Star” is a silent film directed by the prolific Frank Borzage, about what happens after a man who returns to his rural town after being injured while fighting in WWI. In this poor town, Tim (Charles Farrell) returns to his town in a wheel chair and befriends local girl Mary (Janet Gaynor), the one person who doesn’t seem to think twice about his new wheels. Their relationship starts as sort of mentor-student with Tim guiding Mary from dirty child to a young woman with increasing self-respect. As they grow closer their interactions slowly change, much to the chagrin of Mary’s mother who doesn’t want her “wasting her time on a cripple.”
For me the most engaging thing about the film is Farrell’s portrayal of Tim. He is fully self-sufficient with a drive and ambition, perhaps even more so than the other people you see in his rural town. The reactions of other people only bother him in their leading to his loneliness. Only after Tim’s feelings towards Mary change towards romantic interest do you see his pain, and Farrell really helps you understand the emotional and physical struggle. But Tim’s absolute determination and Mary’s love see the film through the end.
Farrell’s acting and Borzage’s direction make the film’s social commentary effective while keeping it a bit more on the subtle side. “Lucky Star” is an engaging and interesting melodrama that’s definitely worth a watch.
I’ve really gotten into BBC’s “Sherlock.” The way they’re adapted the Arthur Conan Doyle character of Sherlock Holmes for the modern age is completely engaging and entertaining. So I thought I might go back and see other inspirations from the past. But instead of critiquing the iconic Basil Rathbone encarnation, I took the way-back machine a little further.
Buster Keaton‘s 1924 film “Sherlock Jr.” (1924) is a wonderful example of how the character has influenced popular culture for a century. Keaton stars as our young hero who is trying to woo his love interest by day and works in a cinema at night. Fascinated by Sherlock Holmes, he dreams himself into a mystery. This movie completely tickles my film nerd bones, for as the character dreams, he imagines himself not only as Holmes, but as apart of the cinema world that, as a theater projectionist, he views everyday. Of course, reality always spills into a dream, and he finds his lady deep in a mysterious robbery and kidnapping, that only he can solve. The rest is less mystery and more silent comedy hijinks and fantastic stunts. In this Keaton is an absolute master, keeping you constantly engaged and oblivious to the skill involved in the flawless execution and timing.
I love this film. Its brisk 45 minutes goes by far too quickly and leaves me wanting to start it all over again.
I saw “The Artist” (2011) in early December, and as I didn’t start this blog until January, I wasn’t planning on writing about it until I saw it again. You see, I believe that its better to write a review after a fresh viewing rather than as a memory of what you once saw, because memories can be selective. After last night’s Academy Awards ended with “The Artist” picking up 5 Oscars, including Best Picture, I feel that I can relay some of my thoughts on the film.
“The Artist” is notable for a number of reasons: its a black and white silent film staring foreign actors and shown in a 1:37 aspect ratio. All of these things go against what Hollywood has been purporting for decades: that the public will only see a film that is in color, stereo, wide-screen, and staring a big named American actor. There’s a long history as to how and why these thoughts came to dominate, but I’ll just summarize it as being that people only want what is new and in drawing people away from their televisions and into the cinemas they need to be bombarded by as much technological advancement as we can stuff into it. The latest technological invasion in the movies is a re-hash of that 60s miracle – 3D.
“The Artist” defied the current Hollywood standard, proving that a good movie is not dependent on the latest and greatest. It just needs to have a good story that is told well. My greatest hope is that people who see this film with an open mind will become interested in seeing other silent films. There are so many great movies from the early days of cinema that should be watched and enjoyed.
Last night I had the good fortune to attend a screening of the newly restored 1927 silent film “Wings” at Paramount Studios. The event was second in conjunction with Paramount’s centennial celebration, kicked off by their float in the Tournament of Roses Parade on January 2.
“Wings” is notable for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that is was the first film ever to win an Oscar for Best Picture (the only silent film to ever do so). Director William Wellman used his experiences as a pilot in World War I to create a story that had great amount of truth about war while presenting a human story. Even though top billing goes to Clara Bow, the film is really about the friendship between two Army Air Corps. pilots during the Great War, played by Buddy Rogers and Richard Arlen. It’s a real guys movie full of battle scenes and daring airplane maneuvers. Of course there’s romance, but the film doesn’t get bogged down in it. It’s the cinematography that’s truly spectacular. Camera mounted on airplanes, in balloons, and on great towers captured images with great scope. Without the use of computer generated effects or rear projection, all the action was shot in the air, with the principal actors actually flying the airplanes.
It’s the restoration of this epic that really blew me away. The film had been in pretty bad shape, with high contrast from being duplicated untold amounts of time, nitrate deterioration, and other physical damage like dust and scratches. The team at Paramount put it though an extensive digital restoration, using the best elements available to start from, they stabilized the image and removed tears, dust, and scratches. Original tinting was recreated as were hand-painted special effects of gun-blasts and fire. They also took great care with the accompaniment. The original score by J.S. Zamecnik, which in 1927 was shipped as sheet music along with the print, was re-recorded with a full symphony orchestra. Zamecnik’s score included notes as to where sound effects should be placed, and these too were replicated in the track.
With the high quality of its direction, cinematography, and acting, and with a high level restoration to accompany it, “Wings” is a film that is definitely worth taking a second look at.