For my first ever blog post(so excited), I would like to discuss this British Silent film from 1928. I saw this for the first time last year, and I have to say that I was only sorry that I had never seen it sooner! The film is funny, touching, dramatic, and it is also quite suspenseful.
This is one of the best films about making films that I’ve ever seen. There is a sense of realism about it and it has an almost documentary feel. You really feel like you are backstage with all of these people. I also find it fascinating watching how a Silent era film studio operated and seeing what went on behind and off the camera.
I also found the film to have a very modern feel. The performances were very natural, they certainly didn’t come across as being over the top and theatrical as can sometimes be the case with Silent film performances. I think this film would be good to use to introduce someone to Silent films.
I think that it must have been both interesting and even difficult viewing for Silent era audiences to watch this film. This film destroys the illusion of film. In this we are shown how the magic of film is achieved, and we see that co-stars may hate one another and yet seem the best of friends on screen.
This film also reveals to us that film is all about illusion. Despite us knowing it’s all illusion, we still believe and enjoy what they see up there on the big screen anyway. We get so caught up in the story and images up on the big screen and forget about our own lives for a few hours.
I would have loved to have been in the audience when this premiered. I really wonder how people reacted to this one. Did it make them more interested in how films were made? Did things shown in this film spoil some peoples enjoyment of watching films from this point on?
The opening scene of the film is the perfect example of how the film makes us realise that all is not as we are led to believe. The film begins with a romantic scene focusing on a woman in a blossom tree kissing a cowboy. What begins as a beautiful romantic scene quickly descends into chaos when a bird in the scene bites the woman. Below are a few screenshots by me to show this sequence.
The woman screams and the camera pulls back revealing to us that she is actually an actress, that the tree is part of a set, and that the scene we’ve just witnessed was for a film. We then pull back and are shown the soundstages of the studio, we see other actors and crewmembers walking around and we see other films being shot on adjacent stages.
The film starts off being very funny, and then it turns very dark and suspenseful. The ending is both realistic and depressing. The film shows us that fame is fleeting and that once great stars can easily become yesterdays news.
Mae Feather(Annette Benson)and Julian Gordon(Brian Aherne)are married, and they are two of the most famous British film stars. Mae is a beautiful and self centred woman. Julian loves her very much though despite her flaws.
Mae begins an affair with the adored comedy actor, Andy Wilkes(Donald Calthrop), a man whose comic film act is like a mix of Chaplin and Keaton. When Julian discovers their affair, Mae becomes so enraged that she decides to kill Julian, her plan ends up having unexpected and disastrous results.
Annette Benson is superb as the actress who destroys her only chance of happiness for a moment of passion. She is a very expressive actress and really lets us see how her character is feeling and thinking.
A before and after shot of Wilkes in and out of his makeup.
Screenshot by me.
Donald Calthrop is marvellous playing two very different characters, the comic character Wilkes is famous for, and as the elegant man ladies man who Wilkes is in reality when he is off the screen.
Brian Aherne has the hardest role I think, because he has to play Julian as being slightly dull, but also has to ensure he has our sympathy throughout the film I think he more than succeeds. An actress called Chili Bouchier (who I’m unfamiliar with) also makes quite an impression as a glamorous co-star of Wilkes’s.
I would also love to somehow be able to see all three of the films featured within this film. Wilkes’s comedy film in particular looks like it would be great fun. I love the intertitle cards used in the film where Julian’s character rescues Mae’s.
Altman’s bouncy music fits so well with the film, and I found it to also be very catchy. The film title is also later cleverly revealed to have two meanings.
My favourite scenes are the following. May and Julian walking onto Wilkes comedy film set and watching him perform. The beach sequence. The opening in the blossom tree. The ending. Julian watching the film at the cinema, and noticing the excited reaction of the boys behind him as they watch the film.
This has immense rewatch value, and it is a must see for Silent fans. This film has something in it for everyone to enjoy, and it does such a good job of showing us how the magic on the big screen is actually achieved.
If I were to pick one film to show to someone as an example of the power and magic of cinema, I think this would be it. The film makes us feel for the characters and get caught up in their lives and actions. The film also has something in it for every viewer to enjoy. It also reminds us what a strange and wonderful thing film can be.