"The silent stage is a thing as much apart from the so-called 'legitimate' stage as ice skating is from roller skating." Maurice Tourneur, 1915
It's interesting to read Tourneur's views on silent film as he talked of the need for the development of "a new sort of creative literary brain" for filmdom" an "author" who would work within the medium and not bring ideas from without: someone who could use the particular strengths of film to create disciplined art.
Such thinking aligns with that of Maurice Maeterlinck's view of acting: "the stage is a place where works of art are extinguished. ...Poems die when living people get into them." The Belgian writer enjoyed great success in the theatre but he obviously felt that the input of performers took his work off in unpredictable directions and even considered that puppets might be preferable...
What then did Monsieur Maeterlinck make of the other Maurice's production of his play The Blue Bird? Few directors of the silent period exerted such control over their work as Tourneur and as he changed the "skates" used by the Blue Bird did he move its symbolism closer to its author's original vision?
The film was released just over a year after the director's collaboration with Mary Pickford in The Poor Little Rich Girl and featured such regular collaborators as art director Ben Carré, cinematographer John van den Broke and Editor Clarence Brown. If that film was Revolver this was the full Sgt. Pepper - a flight of fantasy from start to finish: silent psychedelia in full bloom at a time when the World needed to believe in eternal truths and the truth of eternity.
|Bread, faithful Dog, Water, Sugar, a Fairy, Milk, selfish Cat and Fire...|
|Robin Macdougall and Tula Belle|
There seem to be few hard edges but when in the heart of their fantastic journey the two youngsters meet not only their dead grandparents but their dead brothers and sisters, there are at least ten of them... this was a time when infant mortality was high and life came with the flimsiest of "guarantees".
|The Fabric of Moonbeams...|
|Watching the party at the rich children's house|
|Lillian Cook and Tom Corless|
The Fairy says they must head off on a journey through mystical lands to find the Bluebird of Happiness, none of the animates will be able to return but they all agree to help the children. Off they fly, heading up to encounter all manner of wonders, with the imaginations of Tourneur and his crew barely limited by the restrictions of contemporary technology.
|In Night's castle...|
Did Tourneur succeed? The reviewer from the New York Times was in no doubt:
"M. Maeterlinck's poem has been transferred from a book to the screen, and it is a safe assertion to say that seldom, if ever, has the atmosphere and spirit of a written work been more faithfully reproduced in motion pictures."