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Archive for September, 2013

Lost Mary Pickford Film Found in Abandoned Barn

Sunday, September 22nd, 2013

As Evann Gastaldo reports in Newser, a lost Mary Pickford film has been found in a barn.

We really shouldn’t be too surprised by this; a whole batch of supposedly lost African-American films were found in the a warehouse in the 1985, and thus saved from destruction; lost segments from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927) were found recently; and not so long ago, the original negative for Carl Th. Dreyer’s masterpiece The Passion of Joan of Arc (1927) was found in the closet of a mental institution! So “lost” films keep turning up all the time, and I’m still holding out hope for the missing 45 minutes from Orson Welles’ The Magnificent Ambersons (1942); indeed, Welles’ “lost” film Too Much Johnson (1938), a mere trifle, but interesting nonetheless, surfaced only a few months ago.

So the news that a “lost” Mary Pickford film, and a key one in her career, at that, has been found in abandoned farm building slated for destruction is welcome news – and another reminder of how important artifacts of film history keep popping up in the most unlikely places. Actually, the film was found seven years ago, but it took this long to restore it, because, as you’ll read below, it wasn’t even stored in a film can!

As Gastaldo reports, “Just before tearing down an old barn in New Hampshire, a contractor did one last check and discovered a treasure: seven reels of film that he donated to the Keene State College Film Archives, reports the college. It has since determined that at least four of those films were ones thought to have been lost. One of those, Their First Misunderstanding, is the 1911 silent short film that features silent movie star Mary Pickford appearing in her first credited role. Prior to that, Pickford, then 18, had been known only as ‘Little Mary’ in films. The Library of Congress is funding the film’s restoration (it hadn’t even been stored in a can), and it will be screened at the New Hampshire college on Oct. 11.

‘It’s a big deal,’ says a Pickford scholar of the film’s discovery. Another expert says the movie ‘fills an important gap,’ because Pickford had a “short-lived association” with Carl Laemmle’s Independent Moving Picture Co. Their First Misunderstanding was the first movie she made for IMP. It’s about a newlywed couple’s first fight, and also stars Pickford’s then-husband Owen Moore, the Los Angeles Times reports. The nitrate reel was stuck to another, and had to be carefully separated. Though there are slight ‘jumps in action,’ the Pickford expert says ‘no significant amount of footage’ was lost.”

Click here to read more; let’s hope we have more such pleasant surprises in the future!

Greta Garbo’s Five Best Films, On Her Birthday

Wednesday, September 18th, 2013

Here’s a short but sweet appreciation of Greta Garbo, on her birthday, by Dina Gachman.

As she writes, “when Greta Garbo moved to the United States to become a contract player at MGM, the studio dubbed her “the Swedish Sphinx.” She was one of the few silent film stars to successfully transition to talkies. You saw The Artist, right? That wasn’t all make-believe.

Greta Lovisa Gustafsson was born on September 18, 1905, into abject poverty; she lost her father at a young age then quit school at fourteen to help support her family. Rising to fame as a silent film star in Europe, she went on to become one of the highest paid Hollywood actresses of her time, along the way garnering a reputation for being demanding and wary of the press; perhaps inevitably, given her ‘Swedish Sphinx’ moniker.

Known for playing ‘fallen women,’ she broke out of that mold in comedies like Ninotchka. After multiple critical and box office hits, and three Best Actress Oscar nominations, Garbo abruptly retired in 1941, remaining private and reclusive until her death in 1990. In honor of her birthday, we’ve chosen our five favorite Garbo films essential to every film buff’s arsenal.”

And what follows is a great list of Garbo classics – check it out by clicking here, or on the image above.

Gwendolyn Audrey Foster on Claire Denis’ Beau Travail

Wednesday, September 11th, 2013

Gwendolyn Audrey Foster has a new article out on Claire Denis’ classic film Beau Travail.

As she writes in her essay, “Reconsidering The Landscape of the Homoerotic Body in Claire Denis’s Beau Travail” in the September 10, 2013 issue of Film International, “I begin, as my title suggests, with a quote from Agnès Godard, the cinematographer of Beau Travail (1999): ‘The most inexhaustible landscapes for me remain faces and bodies.’

The inexhaustible possibilities for cinematically inhabiting the homoeroticized male body are remarkable in Beau Travail, a tale told largely in aestheticized shots of male bodies. As Claire Denis states, the abstract nature of the film relies on performativity; ‘the abstraction was in the meeting of the landscape and the rules, and all those bodies doing the same thing.’

Jim Hoberman argued that ‘in its hypnotic ritual, Beau Travail suggests a John Ford cavalry western interpreted by Marguerite Duras’, and the comparison seems extremely apt. It is a film that relies on memory editing techniques, memories of bodies sutured together by the voice-over of the central protagonist, Galoup. Denis also relies on performances rendered through the subjective re-membered gaze of a narrator whose mental landscape is rife with homoeroticized images of faces and bodies.”

You can read the entire article by clicking here, or on the image above.

Gwendolyn Audrey Foster on Alice Guy’s La Vie du Christ (1906)

Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013

Gwendolyn Audrey Foster has a new article in Film International on Alice Guy’s La Vie du Christ (1906).

As she notes, “Alice Guy is a filmmaker whose body of work is still a site of contestation for modern critics; after all these years, her name is nearly unknown. Yet her output was prodigious. Of the nearly four hundred films Guy directed between 1896 and 1920, Guy has two main periods of work as a director: for Leon Gaumont’s studios, where she began her career after breaking out of the secretarial pool in 1896 to become, within a short space of time, the principal director for the studio; and in the United States for her own company, Solax, which flourished for a few brief years after the turn of the century in Fort Lee, New Jersey. Yet much of her work is lost. For a long time, only a handful of Guy’s many films were thought to have survived, among them Les Cambrioleurs (1898), Surprise d’une maison au petit jour (Episode de la Guerre de 1870) (1898), Les Maçons (1905), Le Fils du garde-chasse (1906), Le Noël de monsieur le Curé (1906), and La Course à la saucisse (1907).

However, in 2009, Gaumont released a shockingly well-preserved DVD of more than sixty of Alice Guy’s films made between 1987 and 1913, including Baignade dans le torrent (1897), Chez le magnétiseur (1898), La bonne absinthe (1899), her remake of her 1896 hit La Fée aux choux, ou la naissance des enfants (1900), Faust and Mephistopheles (1903), The Consequences of Feminism (1906), On the Barricade (1907) and La Vie du Christ (1906), at 33 minutes one of the most ambitious films made up to that point in cinema history, long before D.W. Griffith even stepped behind the camera to direct his first one-reel film, The Adventures of Dollie (1908). But history has not treated Alice Guy kindly, or even fairly; even with the release of the 60 films on this disc, she is still marginalized from most conventional cinema histories, and new articles appear on an almost annual basis “discovering” her for the first time, even as her films go unscreened in film history classes.

Yet Alice Guy is in the forefront of cinema history by any measure, working in sync-sound, hand tinted color, and making films of relatively epic length when the medium was still in its infancy. Indeed, close readings of the films of Alice Guy place her work at the center of cinema history. For the most part, the films of Alice Guy have been overlooked by film historians who incorrectly assume that Guy’s films represent a footnote to film history, rather than being one of the first major bodies of work in narrative cinema. Indeed, as one of the first persons to direct a film with a narrative structure, and thus to direct actors to convey the essence of the narrative through gestures and actions, Alice Guy is one of the originators of filmic acting, both in theory and in practice. Indeed, she is the first real auteur of the cinema.”

Alice Guy is the foremother of the cinema; you can read the entire article by clicking here, or on the image above.

About the Author

Wheeler Winston Dixon

Wheeler Winston Dixon, Ryan Professor of Film Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is an internationally recognized scholar and writer of film history, theory and criticism. He is the author of thirty books and more than 100 articles on film, and appears regularly in national media outlets discussing film and culture trends. Frame by Frame is a collection of his thoughts on a number of those topics. To contact Prof. Dixon for an interview, reach him at 402.472.6064 or wdixon1@unl.edu. Visit him at his website wheelerwinstondixon.com.

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