I want to resurrect this blog with an apt entry on silent film femmes since I’ve been silent here for so long now. I’ve always wanted to watch the earliest movies created because – well – what if I die and never watched them? You know? So I went waaaaay back into the vaults and watched “The Arrival of a Train” (1895), “A Trip to the Moon” (1902) and “The Cheat” (1915), amongst other less notable films. (Don’t waste your time on a rarebit fiend – nuf said).
Two silent femmes command the era and I had hoped to compare Lillian Gish to Mary Pickford but I made the mistake of accidentally selecting “The Taming of the Shrew” (1929) to compare to “Birth of a Nation” (1915). Shrew is way out of Nation’s league and a real comparison is impossible for the following reasons:
1. Shrew is a talkie (oops – bad Pickford choice) and Birth is silent
2. Birth is an historical account of the KKK while Shrew is a Shakespearean comedy
3. “Birth of a Nation” is the grandfather of film. I literally set Shrew up to fail.
And so I can’t yet compare these two actresses. However, I can say that I think Shrew is an excellent example of the origins of slapstick and the extension of silent movement into the talkie era. Flamboyant gesticulation and overemphasized double takes actually did make me laugh. I still want to track down Pickford’s “Sparrows” to get a better sense of her talents.
Birth offers so many beautiful subtleties that it’s worth taking the time to watch it – over the course of a few days. One shot stays with me from the film – Elsie (Gish) hops onto a box lying in the yard before pursuing her brothers into the house. No reason. Just a little gesture. Lovely.