Sunday, December 10, 2017

Pola Negri: Her films were silent. She wasn’t.

For me, my revelatory, door-opening, light switch-on, “you’ve got to check this out” Pola Negri moment came in 2016 when I saw the actress in A Woman of the World, a 1925 comedy screened at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival.

Of course, I had known of Negri beforehand. I had seen countless images of this Polish-born vamp who made a name for herself in Germany before coming to the United States. I had also seen a few of her movies, movies like The Spanish Dancer (1923), Hotel Imperial (1927), and A Woman Commands (1932). In those films, she played passionate characters who could slay you with just one look. She was gorgeous, exotic, stylish, and temperamental. She was a femme fatale.

But in A Woman of the World, playing opposite sad-sack funnyman Chester Conklin, she seemed something else. In A Woman of the World, Negri poked-fun of her image. And she succeeded brilliantly. She was light, funny, witty and charming. That film made me want to see as many of her other films as I could. And, to find out more.


To date, there have been a handful of books on this singular silent film star. In 1926, future director Robert Florey penned a small book for a French publisher; this hard-to-find title has yet to be translated into English. In 1970, Doubleday published the actress’ own Memoirs of a Star, an unreliable book in which the actress embellished certain aspects of her life. Some even called it “fiction” at the time of its release.

In 2014, the University Press of Kentucky published Mariusz Kotowski’s Pola Negri: Hollywood’s First Femme Fatale, a translation from the Polish of his 2011 book, Pola Negri: Legenda Hollywood. It broke new ground, but leaned in the direction of the actress’ European career. Kotowski’s book was followed by Sergio Delgado’s Pola Negri: Temptress of Silent Hollywood, from McFarland, in 2016. It too is worthwhile, but leaned in the direction of Negri’s Hollywood career.

Now comes Tony Villecco’s self-published Pola Negri: The Hollywood Years. As the author states, his book is “not intended to be a complete historical retrospective or analysis of Pola Negri’s films. Rather, it offers today’s readers and film fans an intriguing glimpse into the life, times, and persona of a ‘silent’ star who lived at full volume during the Golden Era of film.” In this regard, it succeeds. It is a good read, full of fascinating information.

Negri was born Apolonia Chalupec in Poland, then part of the Russian Empire, in 1897. She acted on the Polish stage, and quickly became a star. At the age of 17, she went to Berlin and was soon teamed with German director Ernst Lubitsch. Together, they made a number of popular films, including Madame DuBarry (1919); it was optioned for exhibition in the United States, and renamed Passion. The film was such a success (despite American misgivings for German films following WWI) that by 1922 she and Lubitsch were both offered contracts to work in America.

Negri was the first European film star to be invited to Hollywood, and in the early 1920s, she became one of the most popular actresses in America. A string of hits and near-hits followed, including A Woman of the World. And so did sensational headlines. [Louise Brooks was once compared to Negri, who was also working at Paramount. Negri was considered a "vamp," and Brooks a "junior vamp."]

There were love affairs with and reported engagements to Charlie Chaplin and Rudolph Valentino, as well as a marriage to a self-styled prince. (Negri herself claimed to be of minor Polish nobility.) Tempestuous relationships with colleagues—including Gloria Swanson, with whom she had a rivalry and reported feud—kept Negri’s name in the news. Both had a penchant for publicity.
However, Negri’s American film career began to fade with the coming of sound. There was the lingering perception, at least in some quarters, that her mourning for Rudolph Valentino was less than sincere—while others thought it over-the-top. And too, her thick Polish accent didn’t go over well in English-language sound films.

In Pola Negri: The Hollywood Years, Villecco (the author of an earlier collection of interviews, Silent Stars Speak), shares what has become lifelong fascination with the actress. Along with chapters on Negri’s time in the United States, there are also sections on her American films, including her final screen appearance, the 1964 Disney film, The Moon Spinners. All this is supplemented by accounts drawn from magazines and newspapers of the time, reminiscences by Negri’s colleagues and friends, and more than 100 photographs, several of which Villecco notes were never before available to the public.

Pola Negri: The Hollywood Years is a book anyone interested in the actress will want to own. It is, in the words of Valentino biographer Emily W. Leider, “An engaging, well researched biography of one of the silent screen’s most luminous stars.”

Here Pola Negri sing on the Louise Brooks Society streaming station, RadioLulu.



Here Pola Negri sing on the Louise Brooks Society streaming station, RadioLulu.



a variant of this article by Thomas Gladysz first appeared on Huffington Post

Friday, December 8, 2017

Help fund Documentary of a Lost Girl

Charlottle Siller, the brilliant young documentary filmmaker, has launched a Go Fund Me campaign  aimed at the completion of her Louise Brooks film, Documentary of a Lost Girl. Siller's Go Fund Me page contains more information, images, and a video excerpt. It is very promising. I encourage everyone to check it out HERE, and if possible, make a donation.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Rescuing the Past: The Fall and Rise of Silent Film

With the advent of the talkies, silent film took a hit. A big hit. The silent cinema was devalued. In fact, things got so bad that some studios melted down their old films, believing a print’s meager silver content more valuable than whatever artistry contained in the movie itself. In this way, hundreds if not thousands of titles were lost to posterity. Others were thrown away, or abandoned. Others simply disintegrated over time, and no one much cared.

There was also a perception problem. Aside from a few exceptions, like Charlie Chaplin or your grandparent’s favorites, silent movies were never thought to be all that good. They were herky-jerky, and overly melodramatic. If you are old enough, you might remember those ridiculous compilations they once showed on television where “humourous” dialogue was added over sped-up excerpts from the “flickers,” making everything seem rather corny.

These days, however, silent film is seemingly on the ascendancy.

Led by the pioneering Pordenone Silent Film Festival in Italy and the San Francisco Silent Film Festival in the United States, like-minded and rather well-attended festivals seem to be springing up just about everywhere. Among others, there is a silent film festival in Kansas, one in Toronto, Canada, and one in Manila, in the Philippines. And too, one-off screenings of movies by favorites like Buster Keaton and Louise Brooks are taking place at a frequency that is almost startling. One section on NitrateVille.com—an old-school bulletin board site devoted to talking about, collecting and preserving classic film—is devoted entirely to listing silent film screenings. They’re everywhere. In Cambridge, Massachusetts, in Chicago, Illinois, and in Fremont, California at the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum. Yes, there’s an entire museum devoted to silent film.

One way to mark this resurgence of interest is through the number of documentary films related to early film. It started back in the late 1960s and early 1970s with Kevin Brownlow, the English documentary film maker and author; in 2010, he became to the first film historian to become an Academy Award honoree. In his acceptance speech, he hit back at an industry that has all-too-often neglected it past.




This year has been an exceptional year for documentaries related to silent film. One promising example, Saving Brinton, premiered earlier this year at the AFI Docs Film Festival in Washington D.C. It unreels the story of an eccentric collector who found a cache of rare films in Iowa, including a once lost Georges Méliés short, while offering a glimpse into the worlds of early film exhibition and modern-day film preservation.

There are others, including three documentaries released on DVD / Blu-ray. The one receiving the biggest buzz—the one even non-film buffs might have heard of—is Dawson City: Frozen Time (Kino Lorber), by Decasia director Bill Morrison. Part film history, part Gold Rush history, part poetic meditation on the fragility of just about everything, Dawson City: Frozen Time obliquely tells the incredible but true story of hundreds of silent film reels, buried for nearly half-a-century, in a swimming pool located deep in the Yukon permafrost.
 
At the beginning of the 20th century, Dawson City was a Gold Rush boom town (located about 150 miles south of the Arctic Circle) largely gone bust but still in need of entertainment, and that included the movies. Among the cast of characters who passed through Dawson (and some who resided there) were actor Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, showman Sid Grauman, impresario Alexander Pantages, and future director William Desmond Taylor (each a key figure in early Hollywood history), as well as poet Robert Service, businessman Solomon R. Guggenheim, boxing promoter Tex Rickard, and even Donald Trumps’ grandfather, Frederick Trump, who made a fortune operating a brothel. Dawson City: Frozen Time is an impressionistic documentary of-a-kind, told mostly without dialogue (silent film style) using the fragments of film found abandoned in this last place on earth which also happened to be the end of the distribution line for the films shown there.

A more traditional documentary, The Champion: The Story of America’s First Film Town (Milestone), has also received a good deal of attention, and rightly so. It tells the fascinating story of a small New Jersey town, located just a ferry ride away from Manhattan, that gave birth to the American film industry. In other words, before there was Hollywood, there was Fort Lee.

Here, many of the major studios of the time—including the Goldwyn Picture Corporation, Fox, Metro, Paramount ArtCraft, and Selznick—established themselves alongside smaller outfits like Champion Studios. And with them came a score of the biggest names in early film, including Will Rogers and Alice Guy-Blaché, Lillian Gish, Douglas Fairbanks, Theda Bara, Mabel Normand, Mary Pickford, and Barrymore family, to name just a few. And then it ended, when the industry moved to sunnier California. However, for a few years in the 1910’s, Fort Lee was the place to be. A two disc set, The Champion includes five rare short films made at the Champion Studios, none of which have previously been released on DVD. Notably, these films mark the beginnings of today’s Universal, which purchased Champion and its building in 1912.

Another documentary, this one focusing on an early key figure, is John Bunny – Film’s First King of Comedy (Mind Pilots Media). Though little known today, Bunny was one of the biggest comedic stars of his time. His personality driven, situational comedy set the stage for later greats like W.C. Fields and Jackie Gleason.

Born during the Civil War, Bunny worked on the stage and only achieved modest success. He likely would have been forgotten had it not been for the advent of motion pictures. This new medium, which required a different kind of acting, brought Bunny stardom. In fact, during his brief four year career in front of the camera, from 1911 to 1915, Bunny was a sensation, hugely popular in the United States, but even more so in England and Russia. Film historian Steve Massa and legendary film archivist Sam Gill offer insightful commentary. John Bunny – Film’s First King of Comedy includes four short films showcasing Bunny’s talents.

Though not a documentary, also newly out and of related historical interest is Little Orphant Annie, a film restoration by Eric Grayson. Everybody knows of the character Little Orphan Annie, whether through James Whitcomb Riley’s original 1885 poem, the long-running comic strip which debuted in 1924, the radio and film adaptions of the 1930s, the smash-hit Broadway musical from 1977, or its three subsequent film adaptions, the most recent in 2014.

Grayson, a film historian and preservationist, has painstakingly restored Little Orphant Annie from five different prints, making this release the longest version of the 1918 film ever commercially available. It also recreates the tints that were seen in the now-lost 35mm nitrate print. It’s a beauty.
Notably, this silent film represents the character’s earliest cinematic incarnation. Full of vanished Americana as well as striking dreamlike imagery, this entertaining film features the earliest surviving appearance by actress Colleen Moore (one of the biggest stars of the 1920s) as Annie, as well as a rare screen appearance by the once popular poet who started it all (Riley died two years before the film was released).

This crowd-funded project includes a number of special documentary features, among them a valuable booklet essay and commentary track by Moore biographer Jeff Codori, notes on the restoration and a commentary by Grayson, a behind-the-scenes featurette from the restoration premiere, and more. This worthwhile disc is one that silent film buffs, Little Orphan Annie collectors, and those interested in children’s literature will want to get.

Next year looks to be as promising as this for silent film documentaries. Among the works set for completion in 2018 is Charlotte Siller’s Documentary of a Lost Girl, a film that uses newly uncovered archival materials, interviews with surviving friends, and location shoots to reveal the life—away from the camera—of film icon Louise Brooks. There is also a documentary about Alice Guy-Blaché, the first female film director, in the works. It is called Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blache. I am looking forward to both.

a variant of this article by Thomas Gladysz first appeared on Huffington Post

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Louise Brooks Day by Day 1906 - 1985

On and off over much of this year, I have been working on a certain web page on the Louise Brooks Society website. The page is titled Louise Brooks Day by Day 1906 - 1985. It is a timeline. And it is a work in progress.

Ever since I launched the Louise Brooks Society in 1995, I have wanted to create some sort of timeline page. There have been aborted attempts over the years -- but I was never satisfied with how the pages developed, until now. This timeline lacks the cultural and historical entries & context I had originally envisioned for a timeline page. Instead, it achieves something else. It tracks Louise Brooks day by day throughout her life. It is a crazy and ambitious project. And also a lot of fun.

This chronology contains entries both significant and mundane. It is based on multiple sources including dates and events found in the Barry Paris biography, as well as those recorded by Brooks in her notebooks (which she kept from the mid-1950s through her death); other dates were gathered from various magazines and newspapers (especially those located where Brooks was resident), along with other disparate sources, such as books, census records, and passenger manifests.

This timeline serves as only a partial record of Brooks’ life (both in and out of the spotlight), including her comings-and-goings and activities as a dancer, actress and writer. Brooks’ life ran over the course of 28,758 days, as best I can figure. She accomplished a great deal in her lifetime, appearing in 24 films, writing a book, appearing on radio, and performing hundreds of times on stage as a dancer. She even taught dancing, worked as a professional ballroom dancer, and had other jobs.

Relatively speaking, however, little is known about what Brooks was doing on any given day. From the mass of material the Louise Brooks Society has gathered, Brooks’ activities can be traced on nearly a thousand days throughout her lifetime. Best documented is the 18 year period – running from 1922 through 1940, a period of 6939 days – when Brooks worked as a dancer and actress and many of her activities were a matter of public record.

I invite everyone to check out what I have found so far at Louise Brooks Day by Day 1906 - 1985. If you know of a specific dated event which is not noted, please let me know. Otherwise, here are a few highlights from the early and the later years:

----------

Nov. 14, 1906
Born Mary Louise Brooks in the town of Cherryvale, Kansas to Leonard and Myra Brooks. A small article announcing the birth appears in the local newspapers, the Cherryvale Republican and Cherryvale Daily News.


Sept. 2, 1910
Performs in “Tom Thumb Wedding” at the Cherryvale Christian church. Admission is 15 and 25 cents. The following day, a newspaper article states there was “good attendance,” and that the “program pleased the audience, and netted the sum of $300 for the church.” (Do the math. That's a big crowd.)

Feb. 25, 1914
Helps serve refreshments at a party of a neighbor, who entertained the Good Fellowship class of the M.E. church.

June 2, 1916
Is a pupil of Miss Minerva Warner’s sewing class, and is named secretary of its West side sewing club.

Nov. 23, 1917
A Cherryvale newspaper reports that Brooks, who has been out of school for almost five weeks due to illness, is expected to return to classes in a few days.


Nov. 15, 1919
Hosts an outing for friends, who take in the Dorothy Gish comedy I’ll Get Him Yet at the Best Theatre, followed by lunch at the Sunflower Pharmacy.


July 24, 1922
Wichita Daily Eagle reports that Brooks has received an offer from the Shubert company, which she rejected; it is reported that she intends to continues her studies with Denishawn before returning home to finish high school (which she never did).



June 15, 1940
Los Angeles Times reports Brooks the victim of reputed swindler Benjamin F. Crandall; according to articles from the time, Brooks lost $2,000 in a Hollywood magazine stock promotion scheme.

June 29, 1943
Attends original Broadway production of Oklahoma! at the St. James Theatre in New York, with William S. Paley, Ben Gimbel and two others.

Dec. 24, 1944
Brooks and Lothar Wolff spend Christmas Eve with Blythe Daly and Jim Backus (the voice of nearsighted cartoon character Mr. Magoo, & Thurston Howell III on the 1960s sitcom Gilligan's Island).

Nov. 10, 1949
Brooks sees Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn perform “Creative Dances on Ethnic Themes” at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

Dec. 13, 1953
Receives confirmation in the Catholic Church at St. Patrick Cathedral in New York City. Bishop Flannelly presides. Before being confirmed, those seeking confirmation choose to take a saint’s name with whom they identify. After confirmation, the confirmed can pray to the saint for guidance and protection. Brooks chooses St. Therese, “the little flower.”

April 4, 1954
Attends reception at the guest house of John D. Rockefeller III in honor of Lillian Gish; others in attendance include Gloria Swanson, Josef von Sternberg, Neil Hamilton, Carmel Myers, Anita Loos, Ilka Chase, June Collyer, Aileen Pringle,  and others.

Jan. 23, 1957
Sees Gloria Swanson on the television show, This Is Your Life. (Also on the show are Lois Wilson, Raymond Hatton, Monte Blue, Francis X. Bushman, Mack Sennett, Alan Dwan and others). Shortly thereafter, completes unpublished essay “Gloria Swanson.”

March 9, 1958
Watches poet W. H. Auden on television.

June 15, 1959
Views Loulou (1918), starring Asta Nielsen, at Eastman House.

July 18, 1959
Brooks meets with film historian William K. Everson at Rochester’s Treadway Inn, where they screen a copy of the Hal Roach Western, The Devil Horse (1926), with Yakima Canutt.

March 27, 1960
Listens to radio program from 7:00 to 8:00 pm which features Mitch Miller, Bosley Crowther, and Archer Winston.

June 26, 1960
Watches Camera Three on television. This episode features Yuriko, a dancer best known for her work with the Martha Graham Dance Company.

April 16, 1961
Watches television program on the music of the civil war hosted by noted conductor Frederick Fennell (of the Eastman Wind Ensemble).

July 25, 1962
“Retired actress Louise Brooks” is guest on “Woman’s World” program at 1:15 pm on WHAM in Rochester, NY.

Dec. 12, 1962
Meets Buster Keaton and his wife at the Sheraton Hotel in Rochester, New York.

July 12, 1966
Views The Wedding March at Eastman House.

July 4, 1968
Visits composer David Diamond at his Rochester home.

March 25, 1977
Writes 7-page letter to Tom Dardis containing notes on Buster Keaton and Joe Schenck and commenting on various books and articles.

April 2, 1979
Watches Meet the Press on television, with guest William S. Paley.

Aug. 10, 1979
Channel 21 in Rochester, New York broadcasts Pandora’s Box.

April 14, 1980
Erte is quoted about Brooks (“She was very, very charming.”), and Brooks about Erte in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.

Aug. 8, 1985
Dies in Rochester, New York.


Monday, December 4, 2017

Some of my oddest Louise Brooks stuff - a brick, perfume, vintage fan art, a soup bowl

Over the years, I have accumulated and collected lots of Louise Brooks memorabilia and ephemera. Much of it, if not most of it, is paper - old magazines, books, postcards, sheet music with Brooks on the cover, etc....

But some of it isn't. Some of my oddest Louise Brooks stuff includes a brick, perfume, vintage fan art, a soup bowl, and more. And here they are, for your enjoyment and amusement. First up, is a brick from Cherryvale, Kansas - the small town where Brooks was born and spent the first few years of her life. Believe it or not, there are people who collect bricks, and that's how I acquired this piece. Shipping wasn't cheap! Who knows, perhaps little Louise walked on this very brick.



Next is a vintage soup bowl from the Hotel Martha Washington in New York City. Louise Brooks once resided in the hotel (check out the Barry Paris biography for what happened there). Who knows -- dare I say, she might have used this bowl during her brief tenure there. It has seen better days.... I think I bought this off eBay.



And here is a piece of vintage fan art. It is a charming pencil drawing from 1927, rendered by someone named L.F. Shotwell. I believe I purchased this off eBay.


Over the years, I have also been sent fan art by a handful of fans from around the world. Here are a few examples, which hang in my study / office / the headquarters of the Louise Brooks Society. A few of these pieces hang on a couple of bookcases which house my modest collection of Louise Brooks-related books, which include everything from editions of Lulu in Hollywood from around the world (one particular example is shown below), Brooks' high school yearbook, photoplay editions, books on the actress' various directors, and various books with Brooks on the cover which may or may not be related to the actress.




And finally, here is a Dutch edition of Lulu in Hollywood, next to a French perfume called LouLou which employs the same script-face. Coincidence. Perhaps.


Sunday, December 3, 2017

TODAY: Pandora's Box screens in London, England



Pandora's Box will be shown on December 3 in London, England at Phoenix Cinema (52 High Rd, East Finchley, London N2 9PJ). Time and ticket availability may be found HERE.  

The film will feature a live piano accompaniment by Stephen Horne, as well as an introduction by Pamela Hutchinson, author of a forthcoming BFI Film Classics book on Pandora’s Box.  

"A free-loving, status-climbing dancer takes up with a succession of lovers, gradually descending to the life of a streetwalker, and thus, her own doom. Lulu (Louise Brooks) lives beyond the constraints of time - she is a radiant, outrageous icon of modernity. In challenging moral conventions with depth and complexity, she has become a screen seductress like no other. Directed by G.W. Pabst in 1929, Pandora's Box is an acknowledged masterpiece of sensual imagery and remains an astonishingly modern work of art."

The Phoenix is very pleased to be welcoming film historian and author Pamela Hutchinson, who has recently written a book on Pandora’s Box for the BFI Film Classics series: Die Büchse der Pandora (Pandora’s Box, 1929), starring Hollywood icon Louise Brooks, is an established classic of the silent era. Pamela Hutchinson revisits and challenges many assumptions made about the film, its lead character and its star. Putting the film in historical and contemporary contexts, Hutchinson investigates how the film speaks to new audiences. She will be with us to introduce the film and will remain after the screening for an exclusive book signing. More about the book, which is pictured below.



Friday, December 1, 2017

The Case for Marion Davies

In the 1920s, Marion Davies was a superstar—applauded for her talent and celebrated for her celebrity. Davies, a genuinely gifted actress, appeared in nearly four dozen movies throughout her career, including 30 during the silent era. She also produced a handful of her own films, and authored the scenario to another. Notably, she starred in and produced two of what are now regarded as the finest comedies of her time.

At the height of the Jazz Age, Davies must have seemed everywhere. Her name and likeness were continuously splashed across newspapers and magazines around the country, largely in part because she was the live-in companion to one of the most powerful media moguls in America. [She was also something of a social butterfly, friends with just about everybody including Louise Brooks, and hostess at San Simeon, the "Hearst Castle."]


And therein lay the problem.

Today, too few remember Davies the actress; if she is remembered, it is usually for the wrong reasons. Chief among them was her longtime role as the mistress to a much older married man, William Randolph Hearst, the immensely rich businessman, politician, and newspaper publisher, and one of the more controversial figures of his time. (There was other gossip and scandal as well: was Davies having an affair with Charlie Chaplin? And what did she know about the mysterious death of Thomas Ince, a leading Hollywood producer. The circumstances surrounding Ince’s death are depicted in The Cat’s Meow, the 2001 Peter Bogdanovich film in which Davies is played by Kirsten Dunst.)

Davies’ long-time association with Hearst has contributed to the perception—then and in the decades that followed—that she was an actress of little talent only made popular by the Hearst media machine. In 1937, after 20 years in front of the camera, Davies retired. She was still popular, but her career and fame were beginning to fade. Four years later, the Orson Welles’ blockbuster Citizen Kane hit screens. Though only loosely based on Hearst, one of the film’s minor characters was widely thought to be based on Davies. That character, played effectively by Dorothy Comingore, is depicted as a shrieking, no-talent, has-been performer. What was the world to think?

Davies suffered the fate of many other early stars. With her films largely out of circulation—her reputation languished. And too, it was conflated with her apparent depiction in Citizen Kane.
Davies’ 1975 memoir, The Times We Had: Life with William Randolph Hearst, contained an apologetic foreword by Welles. “Marion Davies was one of the most delightfully accomplished comediennes in the whole history of the screen,” Welles proclaimed, adding she “would have been a star if Hearst had never happened.”

Davies’ reputation is now beginning to recover. Today, one of her leading champions is writer and film historian Edward Lorusso. He has just authored The Silent Films of Marion Davies, a 182-page illustrated work which surveys the 30 films the actress appeared in between 1917 and 1929. The plots of each movie—the costumes epics, romantic dramas, and madcap comedies—are summarized. There is background information, cast lists, trivia, and survival status along with a scrapbook-like assortment of both color and black and white images. The Silent Films of Marion Davies makes a good case for the actress.

“Silent films were right up my alley,” Davies once said. And it’s true. Compared to her talkies, Davies’ silent movies are on the whole more entertaining and enjoyable to watch. Among her last silents are two of the decade’s great comedies, The Patsy (1928), and Show People (1928).
Though both were directed by the legendary King Vidor, both starred and were produced by Davies. If you only see a few of the actress’ films, start with these.

Along with writing about Davies, Lorusso has, over the last few years, heroically launched a handful of successful crowd-funding projects to produce new DVDs of the actress’ silent-era work, much of which is preserved by the Library of Congress, and most of which has not been seen in nearly a century. They include limited edition DVDs of The Restless Sex (1920), April Folly (1920), and Enchantment (1921).

Two others, Beauty’s Worth (1922) and The Bride’s Play (1922), were recently released through Ben Model’s venerable Undercrank Productions. (Undercrank has also released another Davies costume drama, When Knighthood Was in Flower (1922), which at the time was considered the most expensive film then made. A huge success, it was the film that elevated Davies from stardom to super stardom.) Each contain a musical score by the likes of Donald Sosin, David Drazin, or Ben Model.


Enchantment is a stylish work whose sets alternate between moderne (almost art deco) and a fairy tale look. Davies is charming, and the film is fun to soak up visually. An earlier film, The Restless Sex, is also a stylish work filled with Jazz Age frivolity. In October, Lorusso successfully completed another Kickstarter project for Buried Treasure (1921). To date, two of the Davies films Lorusso has produced have aired on Turner Classic Movies (TCM).

Anyone wanting to learn more will want to check out Hugh Munro Neeley’s superb 2002 documentary, Captured on Film - The True Story of Marion Davies, narrated by actress Charlize Theron. There is an also an earlier biography by Fred Lawrence Guiles, published in 1972. It is well regarded.

What everyone in the early film community is waiting for is an up-to-date biography of the actress. It’s coming from film historian Lara Gabrielle Fowler, who wrote the booklet essay for When Knighthood Was in Flower. Fowler’s book is titled Captain of Her Soul: The Life of Marion Davies. Though a publisher hasn’t been set, Fowler expects to have this highly anticipated work ready for publication in 2019. Until then, keep an eye out for yet more Davies films on DVD, thanks, no doubt, to the efforts of Edward Lorusso.

a variant of this article by Thomas Gladysz first appeared on Huffington Post
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