Sunday, August 7, 2011

More Pictures Of People You've Never Heard Of

I took the time to expand my Silent Oscars backward in time to 1914. (No, don't bother trying to figure out what I'm talking about.)

winner: Cabiria (prod.Giovanni Pastrone)
nominees: Gertie The Dinosaur (prod. Winsor McCay); Judith of Bethulia (prod. D.W. Griffith); The Perils Of Pauline (prod. Pathé Frères); Tillie's Punctured Romance (prod. Mack Sennett)

winner: Henry B. Walthall (The Avenging Conscience: or "Thou Shalt Not Kill")
nominees: Charles Chaplin (The Keystone Comedies)

winner: Blanche Sweet (Judith Of Bethulia)
nominees: Marie Dressler (Tillie's Punctured Romance); Pearl White (The Perils Of Pauline and The Exploits Of Elaine)

winner: Giovanni Pastrone (Cabiria)
nominees: Cecil B. DeMille (The Squaw Man); D.W. Griffith (Judith Of Bethulia and The Avenging Conscience: or "Thou Shalt Not Kill"); Mack Sennett (Tillie's Punctured Romance)

winner: Bartolomeo Pagano (Cabiria)
nominees: Roscoe Arbuckle (The Rounders)

winner: Mabel Normand (Tillie's Punctured Romance)
nominees: Mae Marsh (Judith Of Bethulia)

winner: Cecil B. DeMille and Oscar Apfel, from a play by Edwin Milton Royle (The Squaw Man)
nominees: D.W. Griffith, Grace Pierce and Frank E. Woods, from a poem by Thomas Bailey Aldrich (Judith Of Bethulia); Hampton Del Ruth, Craig Hutchinson and Mack Sennett, from a play by A. Baldwin Sloane and Edgar Smith (Tillie's Punctured Romance)

Winsor McCay (Gertie The Dinosaur) (Animation); Segundo de Chomón, Eugenio Bava, Giovanni Tomatis, Augusto Battagliotti, Natale Chiusano and Carlo Franzeri (Cabiria) (Cinematography); Segundo de Chomón and Eugenio Bava (Cabiria) (Special Effects); Camillo Innocenti and Luigi Borgnono (Cabiria) (Set Design)

Actually, you may have heard of some of them. Mabel Normand is a good bet—she was the first great comic film actress, often credited with throwing the first pie in movie history (read about that debate here).

And I know all you silent film fanatics know who Giovanni Pastrone is—he directed one of the most influential films of the era, the epic Italian historical adventure, Cabiria, about a little girl who is rescued from the eruption of Mt. Etna only to grow up and find herself at the center of the war between Rome and Carthage. (Read more about it here.) Not only did it spawn fifty years worth of "Maciste" movies (Italian "strongman" movies released in the U.S. as Hercules movies), but it directed inspired D.W. Griffith to direct his own ancient history epic, Intolerance (which I wrote about here).

By the way, Bartolomeo Pagano, who played Maciste in Cabiria and in twenty-four more films, was working as a stevedore in Genoa when he was discovered and cast in the movie. Luckily for Pastrone, Pagano was a natural-born actor who quickly became Italy's biggest star.

As for Henry B. Walthall and Blanche Sweet, they were part of D.W. Griffith's stable of actors at Biograph Studios. Both are largely forgotten today, Walthall, I think, because he played the "Little Colonel" in The Birth of a Nation, a role that endears him to no one; Sweet ironically because she was one of the few stars of the silent era who typically "lost" herself in a part, performing the role of a chameleon so successfully, she has no single character or characteristic you can hang your mental hat on. But both were the finest dramatic actors of their day.

Cecil B. DeMille I dare say you've heard of if only because Norma Desmond has been ready now for her close-up going on sixty-one years. The Squaw Man was important in American movie history as the first feature filmed in a sleepy little hamlet named Hollywood. Its plot is one of those hardy perennials of the American movies (and psyche, too)—a man flees the corruption of so-called civilization to re-discovered himself in the wilderness. The basic idea crops up in movies as diverse as The Half-Breed (1916), Jeremiah Johnson (1972) and Dances With Wolves (1991), and is the unifying myth of those armed "militias" running around in various woods all over the United States.

Me, I've always been much too fond of flush toilets to buy into the basic concept, but DeMille liked the story so much, he filmed it three times, in 1914 with Dustin Farnum, in 1918 with Elliott Dexter and in 1931 with Warner Baxter.


Irene Palfy said...

I actually like Tillie's Punctured Romance..

Marie Dressler is hilarious in it! I could watch her forever..

There are really tons of films to explore for me..

Mythical Monkey said...

Marie Dressler is one of my favorite actresses of the silent and early sound eras.

This is a little bit of what I wrote about Tillie's Punctured Romance:

"Chaplin was one of the most charming actors of the silent era, and he turns what could have been a misogynistic creep into a naughty imp, driven as much by an impulse to mayhem as greed. And Dressler deftly keeps the action from drifting into the pathos of heartbreak and humilation. She's twice Chaplin's size and she yanks him around like a toddler with a rag doll. Despite the scam he's running, it's Chaplin who receives all the punishment, and after a while, the movie mostly began to remind me of that O. Henry story where the kidnappers pay the parents to take their son back. Dressler's Tillie is unflappable and clearly having fun despite her suspicion that Chaplin is just in it for the money. She's going to squeeze every bit of living—and life—out of him before the deal is done."

A great actress, terrific in Tillie, The Patsy, Anna Christie, Min and Bill and Dinner At Eight. Among other things ...

Mythical Monkey said...

By the way, I wrote about Marie Dressler at length a couple of years ago here.

Jeffinprov said...

Marie Dressler was a comic and dramatic talent whose work really bears close study. She knew exactly what she was doing, and did it with a level of nuance that put her in a very singular class.

Interesting to see mention of Henry Walthall. The profile was familiar from early talkies -- according to IMDB, he was Frank Capra's original choice for the High Poo-Bah in "Lost Horizon."

Re: Blanche, she is forever immortalized in the not-entirely-immortal song "The Moving Picture Ball" through the phrase, "Charlie Chaplin with his feet/Stepped all over poor Blanche Sweet/While dancing At The Moving Picture Ball." The same song, I think, also tags Olive Thomas, but I can't recall the line.

Irene Palfy said...

Thank you so much Mythical Monkey for all that info! You're great!

Beveridge D. Spenser said...

Netflix is relentlessly recommending Cabiria to me on streaming. I haven't bit yet, though. I have enough trouble with the Steve Reeves era Maciste.

Mythical Monkey said...

My high school Latin teacher was a huge fan of Steve Reeves, so I admit to a soft spot in my heart for Cabiria, Bartolomeo Pagano and the whole Maciste genre ...