Sunday, July 15, 2007

Thieves Be Not Too Proud to Beg

I've long been a great fan of silent films, something that some folks consider insane. Why follow an obsolete, inferior medium when there are so many glossier, noisier options, some may ask. It's so melodramatic? As if opera isn't I reply? Don't you want to go to a movie to be entertained instead of being forced to read? You do more reading with subtitled films, I respond. Folks either get it or they don't.

I agree that there are some really bad, overblown silent films with too much make up, primitive camera angles and lame scripts. But when they work, they have the capacity to transport you into a time and place far, far away that are far more compelling than most high tech CGI adventure. So I always greet the San Francisco Silent Film Festival with great anticipation and usually see at lest two to three offerings. Last night Friendatella joined me for William Wellman's Beggars of Life, a not exactly great but compelling film that had the distinction of being Louise Brooks' last film before going of to Berlin to be turned into an art house icon by G.W. Pabst.

I've only seen her three European ventures, so I held out mixed hopes for seeing if her claim that she was a lousy actress was true. Would she prove to be just a pretty tool of the Weimar era puppet master in her Hollywood era phase? Fortunately she was anything but that, and she was just as captivating as "the girl" as she was as Lulu. Dressed in "boy's clothes" she could pass for boho chic in any urban environ in 2007. Her co-star Richard Arlen was equally fetching. A tidbit of trivia that Friendatella shared was that in the 1960s Arlen and Wings co-star Buddy Rogers were reunited on Petticoat Junction. The relationship between the two leads in Wings has often been characterized as having strong homoerotic overtones, plus it has a very young Gary Cooper, who in his youth managed to send the homoerotic score of any film a few notches up the scale.

According to Patrick Loughney of the George Eastman House. who introduced the film, there is a long lost sound and dialogue track for the film that may surface some day. Though not quite worthy of a Criterion treatment, I hope Beggars of Life makes it to DVD by itself or with a few other Brooks' Hollywood era films. In the meantime I've been toying with buying the VHS of Overland Stage Raiders (1938), Brooks' last film made with, oddly enough, John Wayne just months before he went huge with Stagecoach.

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At 3:59 PM, Blogger Salty Miss Jill said...

Louise Brooks is one of the most gorgeous women who ever lived...who gives a hoot if she could act? That coy smile of hers was all the talent she needed.

At 3:47 PM, Blogger WAT said...

Silent films are pretty cool, I've recently begun watching some of them. The German ones seem to be the most visually stunning.

At 2:30 PM, Blogger Eva the Deadbeat said...

Oooh, I wish I could go to this festival with yoU! i saw The General at the castro during Sf International one year and fell in love with it. So risque and funny! Who knew!? I wish i could have been a silent film star! i got he big googly eyes! ;)


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