Sunday, June 29, 2014

Silent Sundays: Poor Little Rich Girl (1917)

“ Empty hearts. Empty lives. Empty homes. Poor little rich girl.”

            Whenever I hear the phrase “money can’t buy happiness” I role my eyes and think whoever said that must have never had money issues. I believe money can buy a certain amount of happiness. If I had money of any kind besides the bare minimum wage I am making now I would be so stinking happy and have some of my bills paid off (college loans and credit cards are a nightmare). Then there are films with some kind of messages about how some people have all the money in the world and are not happy in the slightest. Those are depressing to some degree. The most depressing of its kind that I have seen so far has been the silent film Poor Little Rich Girl.
            A little girl named Gwen (Mary Pickford) lives in a luxurious house with her parents. She has been given everything a little girl could possibly want in life. Despite all she has been given Gwen is not happy. Her mother and father brush her off for money and social acceptance. The servants in the house push her around and make her feel ungrateful and insignificant. The one thing in the world Gwen longs for the most is friends. She is so lonesome in the big house by herself all day.
 At ten in the morning everyday she is brought into her own schoolroom in the house for private lessons. Gwen tells the teacher for her birthday she would like to go to public school. Right after lessons at four in the evening she goes for a car ride. Gwen does not like going for the ride she wants to walk to where they are going. The maid tries to scare her by saying if she does not go in the car she could be kidnapped or eaten by large dogs.
In her room, Gwen hears all the kids playing outside with an organ grinder. She has a boy and the organ grinder come into the house to play with her. A plumber is at the house. The plumber comes into the living room when he hears the music and he dances and plays along with everyone. Gwen’s fun is broken up when two servants hear the racket and her mother comes home with a friend. Gwen explains to her mother that she invited everyone in because she was lonely. The mother’s friend gets the idea to bring her daughter Susie-May over the following day. Gwen is beyond thrilled to have a friend come over but Susie-May turns out to be mean and no fun. Gwen pretends she is a bear and scares Susie-May. The other girl pinches her own arm and then runs to her mother crying that Gwen bit her. To get back at the lousy girl Gwen puts a plate of food under Susie-May making her sit on it. Gwen’s mother tells one of the servants to give Susie-May one of her daughter’s best dresses. Gwen does not want to give the nasty girl any of her best dresses so she throws some out the window and all over the floor of her room.
            As punishment for throwing her clothes away, Gwen’s father forces her to wear a boy’s outfit. Gwen takes a long look in the mirror. She likes the way she looks in a boy’s outfit and likes it even more when she tucks her hair under a hat. Some boys from the neighborhood come into the backyard to get their baseball. Gwen, still dressed as a boy, goes down into the garden where the real boys are looking for their baseball. She goes up to them and before anyone knows it a fight breaks out. Gwen starts throwing mud at the boys. The fight is unfortunately broken up. Gwen is upset because she was having such a good time.
            One night, Gwen hears a newspaper boy announce that the stock market has crashed. She knows her father deals with money and goes down to his office to talk to him. She sees him and asks him to just talk to her that is all she wants she is so lonely. Before her father can say anything a servant drags her out of the office and upstairs to bed. The father comes out of the office and watches his daughter being brought up the stairs. Gwen turns around and says she loves him.
            The parents hold a birthday party for Gwen. This party, unfortunately, is just a social gathering for the parents and their friends. Gwen is forced to go up to bed and be by herself with no friends. The maid and the butler want Gwen to go to sleep quickly they have plans to go to the theater so they give her some sleeping medicine. They wind up giving her too much. In a drowsy stupor Gwen leaves her bed and manages to get to the stairs only to fall. The plumber is back at the house and he hears Gwen fall. He carries Gwen to her bed.
            From the medicine Gwen dreams a world where she is able to be a child and have fun. She dreams she is being led to a place with other lonely children. Her parents are sitting with her in her bed as she dreams these heavy dreams. Gwen calls out for her father after someone tells her in the dream that she will never forgive her parents if they do not stop worrying about money and society.
            At one point in her dreams Gwen is lured by Death to an eternal sleep where she can always be happy and have children to play with. Gwen does not listen to Death’s call and in the morning she is fully recovered. Her parents finally learn and see that their daughter is the most important thing in their lives after almost losing her.
            I really enjoyed Poor Little Rich Girl. Mary Pickford was wonderful she was completely adorable and on top of her game with her acting. You can see why audiences enjoyed her so much she had and added so much energy and life to her characters. The story was cute and sad at the same time. I felt so bad for this girl who was given everything in life yet she was so lonely and only wanted some attention and love and someone to be her friend. It was depressing to a point because Gwen was a little girl who was left alone and unloved. Yet at the same time she was nice and friendly and innocent. Poor Little Rich Girl is now one of my favorite silent films I have watched. I highly suggest seeing it.
            I think I liked the film a lot more because it was filmed in Fort Lee, NJ. Mary Pickford made the film for Artcraft Pictures, one of several film studios in Fort Lee in the early nineteen-hundreds along with Universal, Fox, Metro, Biograph, IMP, and Solax. I am currently completing my college internship at the Fort Lee Museum. I am handling all of the objects pertaining to the film collection the museum owns. Not too long ago I held an actual autographed picture of Mary Pickford in my hands and it was awesome! Fort Lee has a great legacy and story with the film industry. If you are interested please visit the Fort Lee Film Commissionwebsite and come visit the Fort Lee Museum which is open on Saturdays and Sundays from 12 PM to 5 PM. Right now there is an exhibit on the Barrymore family who lived in the neighboring Fort Lee town of Coytesville. 

Monday, June 23, 2014

Holy Motors (2012)

“I am alone, and they are everybody.”

I do not even know where or how to begin discussing Holy Motors. I heard of it when it came out two years ago and I had wanted to see it since even though I had no idea what it was about. I think I wanted to see it mostly because Kylie Minogue got her name on the poster and I just wanted to see what her acting was like.
From what I understood of the story it is about a man, Monsieur Oscar, who works for some kind of agency. For this agency he dresses up and acts as several characters throughout the day. All the characters he is to play are set up through appointments at various places throughout Paris. He begins his day as a wealthy man who is picked up from his family’s home by a limousine that is driven by a woman named Celine. Oscar seems to be a business man. He sits in the back of the limo talking to an associate and making some kind of deal. Then all the sudden Oscar brings out a wig, starts brushing it, and brings out a mirror. Soon he is dressed as an old woman begging for money on a Bridge in Paris.
After this woman the costumes and the situations become more bizarre and more mind blowing. He dresses as weird homeless, not even man but gremlin, and kidnaps a model in the middle of her photo shoot in a cemetery. A father picking up his young daughter from a party; twice he becomes an assassin; an old man whose niece comes to visit him. The last he goes to a home where his wife and daughter are primates.
My interpretation in some of the vignettes is that the agency he works for makes him dress up and act as these people as part of some sort of act for cameras or people that could be watching from somewhere. There is a scene where someone is in the limo with Oscar apparently from the agency and he tells Oscar that his acting is not what it used to be and Oscar responds that the cameras are becoming smaller and no one really pays attention. Also in some vignettes I was reminded a little bit of Faust as if he was Mephisto putting things into motion to set young Faust’s life down a specific path. Maybe the agency is like Mephisto leading a Faust towards a certain destiny.
The scene that Kylie Minogue was in was actually pretty good and a little sad. Her character is tragic. She was someone that Oscar had once loved and she loved him. Of course since she is a singer normally Minogue does sing a song. And her hit “Can’t Get You Outta My Head” plays in the scene where Oscar is a father picking up his daughter from a party. I did not even recognize Minogue at first she was wearing a short blonde wig and she was speaking French (quite well I might say. She did date a Frenchmen years and years ago).

The concept and plot for Holy Motors is definitely wide open to interpretation. Besides my Faust connection I really do not have any other interpretation of my own. It reminded me of some of the films the Surrealists made in the 1930s and Jean Cocteau’s Orphic Trilogy. It has an artistic feel to it.  There is meaning to Holy Motors but I am guessing only Leos Carax, the writer and director of the movie, only really knows what it is. Maybe one day I will bump into someone who has seen the movie and maybe we can have a chat about it and I might understand it better. I am not going to say skip Holy Motors. This is one movie that is an experience and I believe one that if you are really interested in movies you should experience. 

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Silent Sundays: Downhill (1927)

“So the pact was kept- at a price.”

When we hear the name Alfred Hitchcock we automatically think of his films Psycho, Vertigo, and Rear Window. Those three are the director’s most popular and well known films. They are why he is known as “The Master of Suspense.” The stories are of the highest quality and depth. But before Hitchcock became one of the greatest directors of all time and known for his suspense films he was directed melodramas in England. While some of his suspense films are melodramas they were never really straightforward dramatic stories. One of his melodramas from England is called Downhill from 1927.
            Roddy Berwick (Ivor Novello) comes from a rich family. He goes to an all boys private school and is the hero of his rugby team. He has a friend named Tim Wakeley. Tim does not come from a very wealthy family. He has to obtain a scholarship in order for his father to be able to send him to Oxford.
            At the school the maid Mabel hits on Roddy and Tim. She gives Tim a note telling him to meet her at a shop she works and lives at. Tim brings Roddy along. Mabel tries to seduce Roddy. Before both boys leave she tells them to come when the store closes at one o’clock.
            One day both boys are summoned down to the headmaster’s office. Mabel is there and has brought serious charges against them. The headmaster asks her to point out which boy is the guilty boy. She takes her time walking over to Tim and Roddy deciding which one to blame. Mabel settles on Roddy mostly because his family is rich. Tim is actually the guilty one and feels terrible that Roddy has taken the blame. The two of them had taken a pact as friends so Roddy will take the fall.
            Roddy is home a week before the term ends. He tells his father that he has been expelled but it was not his fault. He does not even get a chance to explain himself when his father calls him a liar. Roddy would rather go out on his own than live with his father who calls him a liar.
            He gets a job working as an extra in a stage show. He likes Julia, the main actress in the show. He tries to get her to go out with him but she is seeing the main actor Archie. The day he is dejected by Julia, Roddy goes back to his flat to find a letter stating that his aunt has died and left him thirty thousand pounds. Roddy goes back to the theater to take Julia out. Eventually the two get married. Their marriage does not last too long. She is still going around with Archie. Roddy gets into a big fist fight with Archie in their apartment. He tells Julia and Archie to leave but she reminds him that he put her name on the apartment. He is the one that has to leave.
            Roddy winds up in Paris working in a dancehall where women pay him to dance with them. He sits down with someone he thought was a woman. The windows are open bringing light into the dancehall. When the reality of the lowlife patrons is exposed, Roddy is so disgusted that he leaves without taking his pay. From the dancehall he winds up at the docks. Roddy has been taken in by a woman and two men. He is suffering from a fever and lack of food. One of the men looks in Roddy’s pockets looking for some kind of identification. The man finds a letter Roddy had written to Tim, who is now a lawyer, that he has kept his promise and not said anything. The men decide to take Roddy back to England with them on a ship they will be working on. They think someone Roddy knows will pay them for bringing him back.
            All the way back to England Roddy suffers from feverish delusions. He thinks he sees his father, and Mabel, and Julia, and Archie and the patron from the dancehall taking his money. When the ship docks Roddy climbs off and wanders the streets still feverish and sick. He walks until he comes to the steps of his house. His father is not home at first. When the father comes home he is happy to see his son. He tells Roddy that he looked all over for him because he wanted to say how sorry he was and knows all that happened.
            Downhill does not have the greatest story but Hitchcock’s direction and the acting make up for it. You can see many of elements of Hitchcock’s direction that would make him so well known and famous years later. It was quick, sharp, sentimental, and untypical for the time. As with all Hitchcock films, even his not-so-great ones, Downhill is worth watching.