Silent Film

Shooting Stars (1928)

For my first ever blog post(so excited to be joining the blogging community), I would like to discuss this British Silent film. 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! It has become my favourite Silent film.

The film is funny, touching, interesting and is also quite suspenseful.I also love how the title of the film is later cleverly revealed to have two meanings. I also love how this film plays with the audience and surprises us quite a bit. 

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Mae and Julian share a kiss. Screenshot by me.

Director Anthony Asquith perfectly captures and conveys the magic and power of film. Given how well the film is put together, it is quite remarkable that this was actually his directorial debut.

Asquith would go on to direct many British classics such as The Winslow Boy(1948) and The Browning Version(1951). 

This is one of the best films about making films that I’ve ever seen. It has a very realistic, almost documentary look about it. I also find it fascinating to be able to watch this and see how a Silent era film studio operated and to see what went on behind and off the camera.

 The performances are very natural, they certainly didn’t come across as being over the top and theatrical as can sometimes be the case with some Silent film performances. I think this film would be a good gateway film to use to introduce someone to Silent films. 

I think that it must have been interesting, and even a little difficult and uncomfortable, for Silent era audiences to have sat and watched this film back in 1928. I say that because this film completely destroys the illusion of film. Shooting Stars throws back the curtains and reveals the behind the scenes tricks used to achieve the magic of film. The film also shows us that actors may play friends and lovers on screen, but off screen and behind the scenes, co-stars may well hate one another, even if they convince us of the complete opposite on screen.

I also love how the film shows us that despite us knowing film is nothing but 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 that we can forget about our own lives for a few hours and focus on someone else’s experiences. We give ourselves over to film and get lost within it.

I would have loved to have been in the audience when this film premiered. I really do 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 the enjoyment of watching films from this point on for some people?

The opening scene of the film is the perfect example of how this film shows us the tricks of the trade, and how it makes us realise that all is not as we are always led to believe on screen. The film begins with a seemingly very romantic scene.  A woman is sitting in a blossom tree kissing a cowboy, who is sitting below her on horseback. What begins as a beautiful romantic scene, quickly descends into complete chaos when a bird in the tree bites the woman on the face.

                                Below are a few screenshots by me of the tree sequence.

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The director tries to persuade Mae to do another take of the tree sequence. Screenshot by me.

The woman screams, the camera pulls back, and we see that the woman is actually an actress, the tree is part of a film set, and the scene we’ve just witnessed was being shot as part of a film called Prairie Love.

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. This opening scene really stunned me the first time I saw it, I think it is such an ingenious way to open a film which looks behind the scenes of film making. 

The film starts off being very funny, but then it slowly turns very dark and suspenseful. The ending is very depressing and is there to show us that fame is fleeting, and that once great stars can very easily become yesterday’s news. I really wasn’t expecting the dark turn that this film makes when I first saw it. It is a very surprising film and that is part of the reason why I have come to love it so much.

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Mae and Julian off screen. Screenshot by me.

Mae Feather(Annette Benson)and Julian Gordon(Brian Aherne)are married. The couple 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 many personal flaws and how she can sometimes treat him badly.  

Mae begins an affair with the adored comedy actor, Andy Wilkes(Donald Calthrop). Wilkes is a man whose comic screen persona comes across to me as a mix of Chaplin and Keaton.  When Julian discovers their affair, Mae becomes so enraged that she decides to kill Julian. Mae’s plan ends up having some unexpected and disastrous results. 

Annette Benson is superb as the actress who destroys her only chance of happiness for a moment of passion. Annette is a very expressive actress and she really lets us see how her character is feeling and thinking through her expressions. 

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Donald Calthrop as Wilkes. Screenshot by me.

Donald Calthrop is marvellous playing two very different characters. His first performance is as the comic screen character Wilkes is famous for playing, the second is as the elegant ladies man who Wilkes is in reality when he is off the screen.

Brian Aherne has the hardest role in the whole film I think. Brian has to play Julian as being slightly dull, but also has to ensure that he has our sympathy throughout the film, and I think he more than succeeds in capturing and conveying both aspects of this character. 

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 also really love the beautiful intertitle cards used in the film where Julian’s character rescues Mae’s.

John Altman’s bouncy music fits so well with the film. I think the music is very catchy and I always have the main theme stuck in my head for a bit when I watch this. 

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Julian and an audience enjoy a film he stars in. Screenshot by me.

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 his new film at the cinema, and noticing the excited reaction of the boys behind him as they watch the film.

This film 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 film would be it. The film makes us feel for the characters, get caught up in their lives, desires and their actions. The film also has something in it for every viewer to enjoy. Most importantly this film reminds us all what a strange and wonderful thing film can be. 

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7 thoughts on “Shooting Stars (1928)”

  1. Hi Maddy. Well, I have finally seen Shooting Stars,(about a year after first discussing it with you on the old Classic forum) and I agree it was excellent.The scene with Aherne and the small boys in the cinema is charming, and the tragic ending is sublime.I really felt for Aherne’s ‘Julian’, and even had a twinge of sympathy for ‘Mae’, (the fickle nature of ‘stardom’ can be very cruel) although she brought about her own demise. As you say, it gave a great insight into flmmaking of the times, and I would wholeheartedly recommend it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Apparently,life was to imitate art for Annette Benson, as, after making 2 unsuccessful ‘talkies’, her career ended and she simply disappeared.

    Liked by 1 person

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