For my first ever blog post(so excited), I’d like to discuss this British Silent. 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. Without a doubt, this is one of the best behind the scenes films ever made in my opinion. Funny, touching, dramatic, and 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 these people. I also find it fascinating watching how a silent film studio operated, and seeing what went on behind and off the camera.
It must have been interesting, and maybe even difficult viewing for Silent era audiences watching this one, as they were shown how the magic of film is achieved, and that co-stars may hate one another and yet seem the best of friends on screen. This film reveals to us that film is all about illusion and yet despite knowing it’s all illusion, audiences still believe and enjoy what they see up there on the big screen anyway. I would have loved to have been in the audience when this premiered.
The opening romantic scene focusing on a woman in a blossom tree kissing a cowboy, highlights perfectly films ability to make us believe what we see on screen. What begins as a beautiful romantic scene descends into chaos when a dove bites the woman, she screams and the camera pulls back revealing she is actually an actress, the tree is 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, crewmembers walking around and 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 realistic and depressing, it shows that fame is fleeting and that once great stars can become yesterdays news.
Mae Feather(Annette Benson)and Julian Gordon(Brian Aherne)are married, and are two of the most famous British stars. Mae is a beautiful and self centred woman. Julian loves her despite her flaws. Mae begins an affair with comedy actor Andy Wilkes(Donald Calthrop). When Julian discovers the affair Mae becomes so enraged that she decides to kill Julian, her plan has unexpected and disastrous results.
Benson is superb as the actress who destroys her only chance of happiness for a moment of passion. Calthrop is marvellous playing two different characters, the Chaplin like comic character Wilkes is famous for, and as the elegant man ladies man who Wilkes is off screen.
Brian Aherne has the hardest role I think, 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) makes quite an impression as a glamorous co-star of Wilkes.
I would love to see all three of the films featured within the film. Wilkes comedy film in particular looks like it would be great fun.
Altman’s bouncy music fits so well with the film, and it is also very catchy.
The film title is 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 seeing the reaction of the boys behind him.
This has immense rewatch value, and is a must see for Silent fans. If you have never seen a Silent flick before, I think this would be a good one to start with. This film has something for everyone, and does such a good job of showing us how the magic of the big screen is achieved.