Sunday, 12 July 2020

Dark Lady in love shock… Is Money Everything? (1923), Miriam Cooper

It was such a horror I’m glad I don’t remember anything more about it…

Four decades before Lennon and McCartney wrestled with the relationship between love and money, Miriam Cooper and Norman Kerry were involved in earnest consideration of the same issue under the guidance of Glen Lyons. The results are pretty conclusive and if the Scousers had been paying more attention they could have saved themselves hours of writing in Paul’s living room and the resultant two minutes and twelve seconds of pop glory but perhaps you can never have enough evidence?

I wasn’t really here for the answer just for the chance to see The Dark Lady of the Silents as Miss Cooper entitled herself in her autobiography, written “with” Bonnie Herndon and published in 1973 when she was – probably - 82. As I may have mentioned in the past, the star of Griffiths’ Intolerance and Birth of a Nation (not Oh, KKK…), has always stood out for me. There is indeed something about Miriam and if it’s not necessarily her acting, it’s certainly her look, at once striking and almost modern with big, soulful eyes that manage to be more knowing and yet less emotionally engaged than Lillian’s or Mae’s.

She is highly watchable and holds the attention on screen in spite of her honest assessment that she wasn’t a great actress and that her strong features and those dark eyes, described to her in the book as “sensual” and “liquescent” by two breathless academics after one screening of BoaN, touched many a watcher. She certainly did not lack the disciplined desperation of the poorer class nor the ability to transport herself into a role and suggested that an imagination born of necessity was key to her success.

Miriam Cooper
“… when Mr Griffith told me, ‘you’re a Southern girl watching your brother go off to war’, I didn’t have to act, I was that girl.”

She draws some fascinating parallels with her contemporaries – all of them young, pretty women, often without fathers and seizing the chance the pictures provided to support their families. These were also characteristics that appealed in inappropriate ways to DWG too and Mary Pickford wasn’t the only one who thumped the old racist. Cooper wonders how so many youngsters could write about the silent era and rightly points out that so much of the contemporary sources were PR guff: I’m not making anything up. I was there… Yet, she clearly is inventing some events and storylines throughout her story, not that this stops the book being entertaining. She tells all in a stylishly frank way, dishing dirt and opinion as freely as you’d expect from a grand dame but we’ll never really know if her first cinema make-up was applied by Mack Sennett or whether Lil and DW were closer than professionally required?

Only three of her forty shorts and five of her twenty one feature films survive, BoaN, Intolerance, The Woman and the Law – Griffiths’ director’s cut of her main story in Intolerance - husband Raoul Walsh’s Kindred of the Dust (1922) and Is Money Everything? So, unlike her hated love rival (?) Theda Bara, she at least has some major films extant and even this film allows us to see her in a run-of-the-mill feature in decent shape the Grapevine DVD being taken from a 35mm print.

Norman Kerry
Miriam took a pay cut down to $650 a week to make Is Money Everything? as times were still unsure for her and Walsh who was yet to breakthrough. She filmed in Detroit whilst he soon set off for Tahiti to make Lost and Found on a South Sea Island. They were also starting to drift in their marriage and she wonders whether she still loves him in her diary as quoted in the biography. Absence made the hearts fonder although they did eventually divorce in 1926.

Cooper describes the film as apt because of their money worries but it’s also about a couple faced with a choice of success in business or with their marriage which might explain why I find her portrayal convincing enough! She plays Marion Brand, wife of John Kerry’s ambitious grocer, John. John’s a god-fearing man at the start of the film and one who eschews violence, much to the pleasure of his father-in-law, Reverend John Brooks (John Sylvester).

After marriage he buys into the town’s grocery business and starts to make a real success… which increasingly is at the expense of other local businesses. His ruthlessness impresses a rich city woman, Mrs. Justine Pelham (Martha Mansfield) travelling through town, and it won’t be the last time the two cross paths as John transposes his grocery acumen to Wall Street.

The pressures of earthly success drive the Brands apart...
The family moves to high society in New York and whilst Marion begins to get isolated, the city slickers flock to John’s new success yet some, notably Justine’s husband, Roy (William Bailey) and leading financier Phil Graham (Lawrence Brooke), clearly do not like his impact on their capital nor his aggression. Pelham sends his wife to extract as many secrets as she can but Justine has her own more romantic agenda and sets about tying to woo John away from Marion.

The films only around the hour mark, yet it’s light on the detail of the money making and heavier on the social life of the Brand’s new society. There’s a long sequence on a hunt during which Justine pretend to have fallen from her horse in order to entrap John but, corporate killer he may be, he does not lack in love or loyalty to his wife.

But, as the money keeps pouring in, the pressures on the Brands’ marriage only increase as the temptations of unchristian power and desire beckon… Marion is there suffering in almost every scene and if there’s to be a way out, she will have to be the one to take drastic measures.

Martha Mansfield plays The (One Who Would Be) Other Woman
So… not a classic but Glen Lyons directs well and creates a watchable morality tale that was no doubt a crowd pleaser across the mid-West. Throughout it Miriam Cooper draws the eye and for the reasons she and Bonnie Herndon articulate in the biography, quoting film historian Walter Coppedge, “Of dark liquescent eyes and a strangely still but magnetizing beauty, Miriam Cooper’s looks were oddly provocative: she had sex and breeding, and she moved with an inviting grace… Griffith’s ‘Dark Lady’… struck a contrast with the two other types he developed…” these being the “vivacious freckle-faced hoyden” (Constance Talmadge) and the “ethereal innocent” (Lillian Gish).

Further viewing: One of Cooper’s best-looking survivors is the sixteen minute The Confederate Ironclad (1912), directed by Kenean Buel and available to view in stunning quality at the National Film Preservation Society website – which is full of wonders!

It is also well-worth watching The Woman and the Law (1915) on the Eureka Intolerance set, you see more of Miriam and the narrative is naturally far more focused than the strands we see in the main film. Plus, there is just more of the dark eyes and the timeless connectivity of Ms Cooper!

Further reading: If you can find a copy, don’t hesitate to pick up The Dark Lady of the Silents – as Miriam says, she was there and even at a distance of sixty years, her recollections are invaluable especially when place in the context of the more forensic studies of those academics who weren’t.

Lobby card bonus:

Sunday, 5 July 2020

The silent family… Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920), HippFest at Home with Neil Brand

Catherine: I’m sure we’ve seen this… (we had)
David: How long is it exactly?
Beth: I love it when the playing switches to diegetic.
Paul: Ohh, that’s good, er… what does it mean?

Welcome to another sitting room Saturday evening, as the four of us gather round the TV to watch “one of Dad’s” which is only fair seeing as last night I had to endure Will Ferrell’s The Story of Fire Saga. Lockdown has brought back family viewing for us as we convene following days distributed around the house, working, reading or fighting droids on the PS4. But this was a gathering of a different kind as cinemutophiles from the four corners came together to enjoy a live stream with improvised accompaniment.

One of my biggest disappointment this year was missing the Hippodrome Silent Film Festival which was cancelled just as the lockdown began. The Hipponauts have stayed connected via social media though and after an earlier shared watch-along of Clara Bow’s It, this was the full Monty: a learned introduction from Pamela Hutchinson and the wonderful – properly diegetic – scoring of Neil Brand for one of the classics of the silent era, courtesy of Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray of the 2011 restoration. But this was also another of those “appointments to view” with so many of the silent film community also watching and commenting as the film played; from London, Bristol, Scotland, Europe and the USA… we were all in the room sharing the film just as we do in Festival. Sure, we had to bring our own drinks but this was a night when social distancing became merely a physical construct.

Pam in our living rooms
Lesley O’Hare, Culture and Libraries Manager, Falkirk Communities Trust set things rolling before Pamela of Walthamstow entertained and enlightened on the subjects of the story and the film. She provided everything you want from an introduction, not only explaining how Robert Louis Stephenson came to write The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde but also highlighting the themes of duality in this “timeless tale of weird science and moral absolution.” We played theme spotting throughout the film after this, with Beth and Catherine putting me to shame, as Jekyll’s deal with himself, undermines his soul in ways he did not foresee. Whether you can deal with your inner conflicts by physically isolating them remains a moot point and the addiction to scientific advance, medicated freedom and unlicensed freedom will need to be controlled within the whole man: your desires can’t write cheques your conscience can’t cash.

Any-way… Pam did warn against pop-psychology and taking all this away, this is still one of the finest silent horrors and features an uncanny performance from The Great Profile himself – or, Drew’s Grandad as Beth sees him. John Barrymore had risen through the twin tracks of theatre and cinema and this was one of the roles that got him recognised as a performer in serious roles after being mostly a comic player in his films from 1913 to 1919. Film Daily was not alone in being impressed "… it is the star's picture from the very outset, and it is the star that makes it… “, his performance “… a thing of fine shadows and violent emotions…"

Brandon Hurst talks to John Barrymore about temptation
Directed by John S. Robertson from Clara Beranger’s script based on Thomas Russell Sullivan’s 1887 stage play, filming was on stages constructed in the Amsterdam Opera House on 44th St. Manhattan,  so that Barrymore could carry out his stage duties on Broadway in the evening – no rest for the wicked: that was at least three roles he was playing.

Barrymore’s Henry Jekyll is a visionary doctor who fixes the poor during the day in his “human repair shop” and researches the furthest possibilities of human biology in the evening – more duality. He is romancing Millicent Carew (Martha Mansfield) the daughter of Sir George Carew (Brandon Hurst) a man who has experienced most things in life and uses his wiles to shelter his daughter and to cynically forge his way in the world. He thinks that Jekyll is too good to be true and sets out to tempt him to taste the forbidden fruit of naughty Nita Naldi or Miss Gina, “Italian artist” as she is known here, an exotic dancer in a seedy club, “gentlemen” frequent. Faced with Miss Gina, Jekyll can well see Carew’s point – as could a number of those (men) watching - but he breaks away integrity intact. Sir George tells the Doctor that the easiest way to get rid of a temptation is to give into it and this is one of a number of Wildean moments – a direct quote - in a film that draws on Dorian Grey as well as The Strange Case.

Nita Naldi showing The Great Profile her own
Back in his lab Jekyll muses on the possibilities of having cake and eating it: what if you could isolate the bad from the good in a separate persona? Writing before Freud, Stevenson’s allegory is based on a physical case of split personality. Mr. Edward Hyde makes his initial appearance without the assistance of too much make-up as Barrymore contorts face and body to disturbing effect, quite the most effective physical transition. Hyde goes back to find and debase Miss Gina and his pure malevolence kicking over inconvenient children as well as being generally unpleasant in personal hygiene and deed.

Jekyll has him under control initially and proposes to Millicent in the optimistic assumption that civilised life carries on but the door has been opened and his alter ego keeps on coming back and every time he is worse… so much happens off screen and yet the disturbing truth of these events comes through in Barrymore’s eyes and his snarled distortions.

Those eyes and the story just keep on getting darker and the scene in which Jekyll has a waking nightmare about Hyde transformed into a huge spider sets the tone for an unrelenting conclusion.  The tale is well wrought and overcomes our familiarity whilst Roy F Overbaugh’s cinematography is also to be commended for turning those Manhattan street sets into London after midnight.

Neil Brand showing what music can do to body and mind
Neil Brand’s playing set the controls for the heart of this thriller and was packed with plaintive gothic chords that enriched the atmosphere and deepened the mood. Tonight he channelled classic cinema scoring as well as a thorough understanding of the emotional narrative leading one person, a Mr Jazzy Lemon, to comment that “it’s like Neil is transformed and becomes the music and the music is him…” which raises the question of which piano player actually inspired Stevenson’s story in the first place?! But Neil’s playing was transformative and gave us that extra gateway of human expression through which we all connected just that bit more to the film. Soul music.

In all, simply one of the best nights out/in and our thanks must go to the whole Hippfest team for organising this as well as Neil, Pam, John and Nita. Let’s do this again sometime and next year, I hope that we will all of us be in Scotland.

Friday, 26 June 2020

Appointment TV… Kidnapped (1917), MS and KBTV with John Sweeney

Back in the days when you couldn’t stream on demand and when even recording on VHS just wasn’t enough, the pull of certain television shows was such that you just had to watch them live. Who shot JR?, Ross and Rachel’s wedding, the fight between Ken Barlow and Mike Baldwin over Diedre in Coronation Street, certain things you were desperate to watch and to share in the knowledge that everyone else was as well.

Throughout lockdown the Kennington Bioscope have been broadcasting shorter films on their YouTube channel but tonight was something else as, in addition to a programme of shorts, there was a full feature film with live accompaniment from John Sweeney and an introduction from Fritzi Kramer, America’s premier silent-blogger with Movies Silently and the woman who crowdfunded the restoration and DVD release of the film in question. 

The face of KBTV
As usual KB MC, Michelle Facey, held the whole programme together, the Kennington Bomb-chelle, surrounded by a magnificent floral display and briefed to the hilt on the treasures we were about to watch. There were times when it was clearly live – the odd glitch that merely added to the collective buzz - yet it’s amazing how quickly the KB has evolved its offering over the five episodes – or webisodes if you will, although I know most of you won’t  - under Cyrus Gabrysch’s technical direction, Michelle’s presentation as well as Tod Higginson’s facilitation of the live chat – he also does the translations. The chatter was enlivened by Fritzi feeding us good-humoured background as the film progressed; if Swanson had access to a keyboard (and was alive), this is exactly her tone of voice.

The audience was again international, from the Wild West to Walthamstow (the Untamed East) via the Highlands of “Scotch” and the lowlands of Holland with a number spreading the word via social media snaps of Michelle on the big screen. In our world this was an event and we were re-connecting with a shared experience unlike almost any other since the middle of March. Marshall McLuhan may have declared TV, cool as opposed to “hot media” radio, but he reckoned without the “lean-forward” engagement of social media immediacy and, indeed, the Piano Cam showing us Cyrus, John and Costa’s accompaniment.

So, to the films…

All white mate?
For a man of so many names, it is surprising that Marcel Peréz is the most successful silent comedian most people have not heard of. Marcel, also known as Robinet, Tweedy, Tweedledum, and Twede-Dan was a very talented filmmaker who devised and directed as well as performed. I especially like his deranged serial The Extraordinary Adventures of Saturnino Farandola (1913) but his shorts are near always great value. Robinet’s White Suit (1911) is typical of his high-energy style, man wears impossibly clean suit which gradually gets filthy with the passing of unfortunate events until, ta-dah!, he bumps into a group of painters and their cans of matt white!

Not rocket but comedy “science” with every element mixed to perfection. Cyrus Gabrysch added to the alchemy hitting all the notes in exactly the right order.

Then off to the Turin for a gorgeous travelogue, The River Pescara (1912), watching boats head through the soothing waters to the coast. Costas Fotopoulos accompanied helping us keep a cool head on this hottest of June days.

As with other KB episodes, both shorts came courtesy of the EYE Filmmuseum and the Jean Desmet Collection.

When the river Pescara meets the sea...

"A film for all the family"… Kidnapped (1917), with John Sweeney

Fritzi’s aim in putting this film out on DVD was to recreate the typical programme of a night at the picture house in 1917 and along with the feature there are various short films including some of the same players all from the Edison Film Company and their series of Conquest programmes. Conquest was designed, as Fritzi quoted, to create “… the open road to entertainment and knowledge…” and to provide “… the first definitive contribution in the propaganda to popularise clean and wholesome films for all right-thinking Americans.”

Directed by Alan Crosland – who would make The Jazz Singer a decade later – this is the first feature-length adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped and as per the positive reviews of the time, is a very decent and highly watchable effort. I have my own special relationship to this story after having been given an illustrated copy of the book for Christmas aged two and, being told I couldn’t read it, them opening it up to discover that no, I couldn’t read. Things have changed on that front but I poured over the pictures as a toddler and was delighted to see how many of the scenes are replicated in this film.

David asks a friendly crone if she's seen a big castle...
Raymond McKee stars as a slightly too old David Balfour (17), who is robbed of his inheritance by his evil Uncle Ebenezer (Joseph Burke) who first tries to arrange his accidental death on a rickety staircase in the tower of his castle and then arranges for him to be abducted by the nefarious crew of the brig, Covenant. Captain Hoseason (Franklyn Hanna) who has plans to sell him into slavery in the Carolinas.

Kidnapped was set against the backdrop of the Jacobite Rebellion and some actual events, in particular the "Appin murder", which occurred in the aftermath and for which the chief suspect was one Alan Breck Stewart. In the film, the Covenant accidentally rams a boat carrying Breck (Robert Cain in fine swashbuckling form), killing all but him. The crew soon realise who their new companion is and attempt to kill him and take his money, together with young david, Breck proves more than a match for them and even outnumbered succeeds in fighting them off.

Robert Cain about to swash...
Beck and David escape to the Highlands trying to dodge the Sassenachs as they resolve their own political differences through honest dialogue (seriously, take a flipping note Trump and Johnson). They witness the killing of the King’s loathed agent, Colin Campbell (Horace Haine) at Appin and are assumed to be the assassins by the English soldiers. They escape to safety with rebel Cluny McPherson (Samuel N. Niblack) before planning how to recover David’s fortune from his Scrooge of an Uncle.

The famous dénouement is a classic case of entrapment and whilst I am fairly sure a smart modern lawyer could get the old man off, here at least, justice is done!

John Sweeney accompanied live with the piano cam allowing us to wonder even more about how he flexes the musical narrative and tone with such apparent ease; the sounds and the sights are bound together instantly in his hands.

David has troubled dreams
You can order copies of Fritzi’s Kidnapped DVD which comes with the main feature and the four shorts that accompanied the Conquest programme: Friends, Romans and Leo, Little Red Riding Hood (also based on a true story?), Quaint Provincetown and Microscopic Pond Life. Ben Model provides excellent accompaniment of his own and there’s a twelve-page booklet from Ms Kramer providing more details. It is an education and a joy! Links to retailers can be found on the Movies Silently site right here. 

Another superb live experience to lighten the locked-down load but if you missed it and or simply want to relive the show, it’s on the Bioscope’s YouTube channel.

Superb! Until the next time… PJ

Supplementary: The full title of the book is essentially a plot summary and a little like a pre-internet collection of key tags:  Kidnapped: Being Memoirs of the Adventures of David Balfour in the Year 1751: How he was Kidnapped and Cast away; his Sufferings in a Desert Isle; his Journey in the Wild Highlands; his acquaintance with Alan Breck Stewart and other notorious Highland Jacobites; with all that he Suffered at the hands of his Uncle, Ebenezer Balfour of Shaws, falsely so-called: Written by Himself and now set forth by Robert Louis Stevenson.

It’s well worth seeking out by boys and girls of all ages and there’s even a sequel, Catriona, published in 1893 and featuring, women, unlike the film which has just one “Old Crone” and, as Fritzi pointed out, was sold on the basis of the “all-male” cast. How times were to change…

All Kidnapped screenshots lifted from the Kidnapped DVD. Buy it, buy it now!

Tuesday, 23 June 2020

Yasujiro Ozu's timeless reflections… Tokyo Story (1953), BFI Blu-ray

After seeing so many of Ozu’s films, although their focus was family life in Japan, the characters in his films are very universal. … I can see my father, my mother, my brother and sister, and sometimes myself too. It’s like reflections in a mirror. Director, Stanley Kwan

One of the extras in this superb BFI issue, is the 1993 documentary, Talking with Ozu, a tribute to the legendary director featuring diverse filmmakers such as Lindsay Anderson, Claire Denis, Hou Hsiao-hsien, Aki Kaurismäki, Paul Schrader and Wim Wenders. Hong Kong based Stanley Kwan lost his father in his early teens and credits Ozu’s films as helping him grow up after watching them at film school. Kwan recognised his loss from the first time he saw Tokyo Story through to early silent films such as I Was Born, But… where the children only come to realise the reality of their father’s work pressures gradually; they thought he was a superman but now they appreciate his love for them in a new way.

Ozu cuts quietly and deeply across the ages of film and it doesn’t matter where you’re from, you will still be affected by his humanity.

Setsuko Hara
The BFI has been running an online season of Japanese films on the BFI Player and this release is part of that effort to celebrate the unique qualities of one of the country’s greatest directors. Amazingly, Tokyo Story was Ozu’s 48th film, give or take a few shorts, and whilst his early films showed some Hollywood and wider influences, by this stage his was taking longer to make his statements and he was continuing to get better. The script surprisingly drew from Leo McCarey’s Make Way for Tomorrow (1937) about grandparents being shuffled off between their offspring, Ozu had never seen the film but his co-writer, Kôgo Noda, had seen it though and relayed the theme.

Ozu had always dealt with family and with The Brothers and Sisters of the Toda Family (1941), had already created a similar multi-generational drama which hinged on the same motif of grown-up children not being respectful enough to their older parents. It’s included on this release so you can see the thematic similarities for yourself.

Chishū Ryū
But Tokyo Story stands alone and proved to be a gateway film for western audiences being both very emotional direct as well as dealing in a very didactive way with some of life’s great compromises, some of its greatest disappointments too. Claire Denis quotes from the ending of Late Spring as Setsuko Hara’s daughter tries to get her father, Chishū Ryū, to let her stay with him rather than get married. He can’t, reasoning that she has to live her own life and that he is nearing the end. Ozu himself, lived with his mother for almost all of his life, dying within two years of her in 1963.

Tokyo Story has been restored before but as the original negative was lost in a fire, until now prints have come from a duplicate negative, now this new 4k restoration, takes advantage of the latest technology and the film has never looked better or at least, not for some 67 years. In lieu of the NFT re-opening anytime soon, this is the best opportunity to watch this story in the best quality – it is jaw-droppingly clean!

Tokyo contrasts: old and new, clean and dirty
For those who don’t know, the story revolves around two elderly parents trying o find their place in their children’s’ evolving lives. They plan to visit their children in Tokyo, a rare excursion for them and the father, Shukishi Hirayama (played by Ozu stalwart, Chishû Ryû, who appeared in all but two of his films) and mother Tomi (Chieko Higashiyama) make their preparations, excitedly discussing the reception they will receive. They live a long way from the capitol and Ozu shows the slow and orderly existence of their provincial town. Their youngest daughter leaves for the school she teaches at, being greeted by her pupils as they tread the familiar paths to class. Ozu deftly shows us the culture and pace of life through sparse use of music and external shots bookending quiet, politely loaded conversations.

Eldest son Koichi (Sô Yamamura) is an over-worked general practitioner in one of Tokyo’s more hard-pressed suburbs. He is married to Fumiko (Kuniko Miyake) who struggles with their two wilful sons one of whom complains after his desk is moved to accommodate his grandparents’ stay… it’s a foretaste of what is to come. Shukishi and Tomi duly arrive and after their day out with Koichi is cancelled after a medical emergency for one of his clients, it’s clear that he will struggle to find time for them.

Shukishi and Tomi travel in hope.
They are greeted cordially by their daughter Shige (Haruko Sugimura) who runs a beauty parlour and lives with husband Kurazo (Nobuo Nakamura), an easy-going chap who she criticises for spending too much money on her parents. Shige’s apartment and her life are too crowded to easily accommodate her kin and you wonder how such polite old people have produced such a misery of a daughter.   

The warmest welcome comes from Noriko (the sublime Setsuko), the wife of their eldest son who died in the Second World War. Noriko still cherishes her dead husband and thinks nothing of putting herself before his parents. She takes a day off to look after them and willingly gives them her time. Yet, Shukishi and Tomi worry that Noriko has spent too long mourning and urge her to move on and re-marry even though she is seemingly content.

Parental planning: Kuniko Miyake and Sô Yamamura
Shige and Koichi send their parents off to a resort for a few days respite. It’s ostensibly a nice gesture but, whilst the beach is lovely and the food is good, the walls are thin and the couple can’t sleep for the sounds of young people enjoying themselves late into the night. They return to the city to find Shige and Koichi unprepared. Tomi stays in Noriko’s tiny apartment, whilst Shukishi goes off to catch up with some old friends and get very drunk. This sequence was another Ozu trademark and allows the older generation to let down their guard and say what they feel. Here they bemoan the shortcomings of their offspring. They are all disappointed with their children’s modest achievements but they are still proud… they could be worse.

It is revealed later that Shukishi’s job had been as head of education, he was a high-flyer and this could explain his drink problem and the distance of some of his children… as well as his view of their positions. Ozu was so aware of the pressures of work on quieter personalities and the toll it took and the props that were used.

Haruko Sugimura
Eventually the parents return home leaving relief behind. But here the story takes a gear shift as Tomi is taken seriously ill. After a series of steadily worsening telegrams Shige, Koichi, and Noriko head north. There they find Tomi near to death with Koichi quickly realising she is in her last hours. They are saddened, especially at the suddenness and after a trip that Shige at least, remembers as being far more convivial than it was. But maybe that’s the way of things: being taken for granted is a privilege of parenthood. Ozu doesn’t judge and he leaves it for the viewer to reach their own verdict.

Will grief melt the family squabble and who will put duty ahead of self-interest, as if things were that simple. The scenes of Noriko with Shukishi are the heart of the film’s closing sequence as she reveals her feelings of unworthiness but father-in-law wants only for her to move on; am echo of Late Spring… He gives her Tomi’s watch as a keepsake – a more meaningful memento than Shige asked for or was given.

You’d have to have a heart of stone not to be in tears by this stage and for all the right reasons, yet Tokyo Story is a film full of real characters who are all flawed and weighed down by life and responsibility. Ozu called it his most melodramatic film and this possibly appeals more to western audiences. It still operates around a relatively narrow emotional band and the depth of feeling is all the stronger for that. It is an ordinary story but those are, ultimately, the most resonant.

The performances are superb with Chishû Ryû being especially impressive – a 50-year old playing a man 20 years older. Setsuko Hara is, of course, a wonder, managing to convey so much with such calm economy and the subtlest changes of expression using what must undoubtedly be, the kindest face in all cinema.

The reward is enriching and haunting and, as is usual, I’m still on Ozu time days later. Mind you, it is a very hot day and the house feels like one of Ozu’s; the windows are all open and we sit in quiet contemplation, casually fanning ourselves as the children watch TV and play computer games.

In addition to Ozu’s Brothers and Sisters of the Toda Family (1941) and Talking with Ozu (1993), there’s a host of special features, including a surprising trip to Sheffield!

An Introduction to Tokyo Story (2020, 26 mins) from Asian-cinema expert Tony Rayns. Furnival and Son (1948, 19 mins): recounts the difficult choice a recently demobbed serviceman has to make between an unexpected job offer elsewhere, and resuming his pre-war position as his father's right-hand man in their small cutlery firm, Furnival and Son

There’s also an image gallery and a fullsome illustrated booklet, including an essay by Professor Joan Mellen, archival writing by John Gillett and Lindsay Anderson and a biography of Yasujirô Ozu by Tony Rayns. This is with the first pressing only, so get in quick!

It is absolutely essential, and this will be my third copy. You know it makes sense.

Buy one, get Toda free!

Sunday, 21 June 2020

The films of Julia Crawford Ivers… The Intrigue (1916)/A Son of Erin (1916), Kino Lorber Blu-ray

History is addictive and that’s not something my tutor would have expected me to say when I under-delivered on my essay tackling Stalin and the Nationalities… but one thing, literally, leads you to another and to make sense of things, to get the bigger picture, you always have to keep on digging. In the case of Julia Crawford Ivers, a woman who I knew nothing about pre-lockdown, I am now starting to understand just a little of her motivation as both a writer and director.

This handsome Blu-ray set from Kino Lorber, includes four films either written by or written and directed by Ivers and compliments her film, The Call of the Cumberlands (1916) included on the company’s exhaustive but not exhausted boxset of Women Film Pioneers. If she has been known at all, it has mainly been as the principal screenwriter for William Desmond Taylor – with whom she made some twenty films – and, naturally, as one of the suspects in his murder (for which my sources tell me, the main suspect is MMM, but keep that under your hats…).

This set majors on The Intrigue, a science fiction spy adventure from 1916, and whilst it’s very interesting it was A Son of Erin (November 1916) written and directed by Ivers that drew my eye the most as it had a number of thematic parallels with Cumberlands (January 1916); humble men making good, steadfast romance in a changing world and corruption in public office.

Where an honest man is needed most… in politics!

Both films star Dustin Farnum as likeable men from traditional backgrounds – the mid-west in Cumberlands and ol’ Ireland in Erin (aka Éire in old English money) – who are drawn away from their trueloves, Sally and Katie, both played by Londoner Winifred Kingston who later became Mrs Farnum (remaining so until his death in 1929). More connections and they’re also both in The Intrigue in un-credited roles. In both roles the women sacrifice a lot in order to support their man’s ambition and whilst they trust that this will be rewarded, there is no guarantee. Any echoes in Ivers’ support of Taylor are purely speculative but she was an all-rounder, who had fulfilled so many roles in cinema and who produced as well as directed and certainly let the likes of Taylor and Frank Lloyd take the full credit for some collaborations.

Winifred Kingston and Dustin Farnum
Farnum is a happy go lucky fella Dennis O'Hara, a “simple soul” who dreams of being a New York Cop, so many of whom were indeed Irish. Katie sells her best pig to the local landlord to fund his trip out to America leaving herself vulnerable to the Englishman’s unprincipled advances as well as the chance her man just will not make it. Dennis duly arrives in the city and fails to secure anything other than work as a navvy; another famously Irish occupation.

The City is corrupt though and we see the unofficial alliance between the councillor O'Keefe (Wallace Pyke) and city contractor, Hardy (Lee Willard), both of whom are paying of a police force that also collects protection money from local retailers, including one who appears to be a madam. Against all this is a civic reformer, John D. Haynes (Hugo B. Koch), a man clearly in need of allies.

Selling her best pig
Dennis’ popularity earns him the chance to join the force – they need the “dago vote” in the next election - and he progresses to sergeant – “the Big Brother of the tenement block”, a few decades before that phrase would change in meaning. Ivers spends good time on establishing her characters and there’s a nice scene with Sgt O’Hara sharing an apple with a street seller. Trusted by all sides, his crooked Captain finally tests him, by asking him to collect the protection money. He refuses and ends up in court as part of a newspaper investigation into corruption. Here he shows his honesty and loyalty and gets a job as a building inspector where he helps uncover a corrupt concrete racket. Finally, he is enlisted by Haynes to help in his campaigning and helps to persuade the East Side to vote for reform.

The honest man enters politics
Back in Ireland, the evil landlord tries to hide Dennis’ letter inviting Kitty to finally join him and assaults her instead only to be rebuffed by her greater intensity. This is exactly what happens to Kingston’s character in the Cumberlands, both physically best male aggressors; so much for damsels in distress, Ivers’ women are forces to be reckoned with! Having given everything she had to help Dennis succeed, Kitty heads off in the sure and certain knowledge that their partnership will be stronger than ever.

OK, it’s not a great film and Ivers’ is not a great director but she is a very competent film maker and creates entertaining stories with characters that ae recognisable and rewarding to watch; inspiring cinematic ideals for the largely working class, “simple souls” who watched in their millions.

As in Cumberlands, Ivers' uses natural light to create sentimental shots
The Intrigue has more dash and daring do yet is also interesting from a political perspective. The story concerns and American inventor Guy Longstreet (Cecil Van Auker), who comes up with a deadly X-Ray gun that could win either side the Great War currently being fought across the Atlantic. The US was not involved at this point and the film reflects this both in the American military’s lack of interest in the weapon and in the ultimate fate of the deadly ray-gun.

In the middle of all this is a competent caper directed by Scotland’s Frank Lloyd described in Anthony Slide's engrossing commentary as perhaps the consummate Hollywood director with over 125 feature films across a forty year career that included the singular feet of three Oscar nominations in one year (1929). Here he is certainly still learning his craft but there are some good cross-cuts linking characters and their thoughts, repeated use of “iris outs” when changing scene and some in-camera trickery enabling one character to consider his options in close up whilst his friend and collaborators appear in long shot/as small versions below, in his mind’s eye.

The weapon maker weighs up his options...
The cinematographer having to perform these feats was none other than Ivers’ son, James van Trees who enjoyed a long career himself, there on merit and not just family connections, not eventually anyway! Interesting how “small” a place Hollywood is at this stage and how interconnected so many are.

Having been rejected by his own war pigs, Longstreet takes his device to Europe and looks to sell to one side – un-named but in Germanic uniform – whilst the other sends it’s best spy to follow progress as the American returns home to finish construction of the mass destruction elements of his weapon. Rather than send A Man, who would be obvious, they decide to send Countess Sonia Varnli as played by stage star Lenore Ulrich who we have already seen working as a nurse in a field hospital. The Countess decides to send her assistant as played by Florence Vidor, as herself and to smuggle herself on board as a peasant girl. Florence’s husband was of course King, and he has an uncredited appearance as a chauffeur. I hadn’t realised that after divorcing King Vidor in 1924, Florence would go onto marry famed violinist Jascha Heifetz, one of the greats and a huge influence on my violinist Uncle.

Florence Vidor and Lenore Ulrich
But I digress, Anthony Slide is slightly disappointed in Lenore’s performance and I have to confess I’d hoped Florence would have been given more to do as her "understudy", but the latter is mostly impressive if patchy. A discovery of David Balasco – along with so many from Mary Pickford to Barbara Stanwyck – Ulrich had been in films sporadically since 1911 but seems a little ill at ease here, over emoting initially and, as Slide observes, seemingly happier to play the role of peasant girl than sophisticated Mata Hari. She does OK but there is the occasional hand to forehead moment and her huge expressive eyes are quite distracting in close up!

Lenore Ulrich's big eyes, spy...
The big baddy in all this is the Baron Rogniat as played by Liverpool’s own Howard Davies (by the way, coming in 2023, Silent Scousers: a study of the La’s who starred and the Maggie’s who made it (Faber)) who knows exactly how to wield and evil moustache. He aims to steal the weapon’s secrets and kill off the inventor… only the Countess/cleaning woman can save the situation! Yes, again we have yet another woman of agency from Ivers and one who will indeed dictate the outcome she thinks best.

On the right, Howard Davies from Liverpool
That I won’t spoil as these are all films that should be seen by anyone who wants to see that bigger picture of early Hollywood; the three dimensional jigsaw puzzle that has a smaller and smaller section devoted to DWG the further we move into the second century of cinema.

The Intrigue also comes with the surviving fourth reel of The Majesty of the Law (1915), written and directed by Ivers’ along with all of Ben Blair (1916) directed by William Desmond Taylor from Ivers’ script. There’s also an essay in the booklet from Ivers’ expert, film historian April Miller. It’s available direct from Kino Lorber in the US but you will need to order from to get delivery to Europe.

No sheep were harmed in the making of the film... probably.