Irish Film Studies: The Colleen Bawn

This semester, I’m attending a course on Irish cinema. Each week, we are expected to write a blog-like journal about the film we watched in class and/or our class discussion about the film. I’ve decided to include those entries to my blog, so it would be more agreeable to read than a Word document. This is the first journal entry I wrote, about our class discussion on The Colleen Bawn (week 1).

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For our first class of Irish Film Studies, we were introduced to the Irish world with the screening of three films by the O’Kalem Company. One of them, The Colleen Bawn, led us to a little and rather interesting class discussion where we had to answer the following question: “Imagine that you are screening The Colleen Bawn here in Montréal. What can you do at the level of exhibition to render your screening a rival to classic or contemporary cinema?”

I first have to say, it’s lucky our teacher explained the entire film before the screening, because this strange love triangle (was it a triangle? I’m not even sure anymore) based on a true story involves a complicated plot that can be pretty hard to follow. The screening itself was not the best experience (in a class not very well organized for screenings). So, the part I enjoyed the most was the class discussion after it. Indeed, how can we attract a contemporary public who is much more used to American blockbusters to see The Colleen Bawn? Well, the good and original ideas weren’t missing. What I’m the most thankful about this discussion is that it was a way for us to develop our creativity, which is something that can sometimes be lacking in Film Studies courses (if we compare to Film Production for example).

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There will be a lot to do to attract everyday people to see such a film. Because we, of course, have to make the distinction those who study films and those who don’t. What I first thought about is the fact that, here, in Quebec, about 1/4 of people have Irish blood. It’s somehow part of our culture, so why shouldn’t it be part of our cinematographic culture too? And as it is an “old movie”, it can become part of our historical culture as well.

The Colleen Bawn is a film that surely needs to be presented with a minimum of external entertainment to become something cool. Things such as special guesses or special settings are always welcomed. Among the ideas that were discussed, I think my favourite one was to transform the movie theater in one of the movie sets so it would really make us “feel” the film.

But overall, I think the priority to enjoy any cinematic experience would be to present the film in the best visual and sound conditions.

***

Words: 400

Images sources:

“Blazing the Trail to Ireland: The Kalem Film Company.” Irish America, Jan. 2012, http://irishamerica.com/2011/12/blazing-the-trail-to-ireland/

“The Colleen Bawn, Sidney Olcott.” Irish Film Institute, n.d, http://ifi.ie/film/the-colleen-bawn/.

Before Lassie there was Rover!

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Even if they are not human actors, animals sometimes have an important place to play in movies. They can represent friendship, danger or simple company. With her blogathon The Animal in Films Blogathon, Crystal from In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood allows us to celebrate our furry friends and what they brought to the art of films.

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For the occasion, I decided to focus on the British silent short Rescued by Rover directed by Lewin Fitzhamon in 1905.

The story is simple, a baby (Barbara Hepworth) is kidnapped by an alcoholic bigger (Mrs Sebastian Smith) during a ballad in a park with her nurse (May Clark). The family dog, Rover (Blair) will save her.

Of course, Rescued by Rover was made long before Lassie, but just like the famous dog, Rover is a Colley. The film is often considered to be the first fiction film made in the UK and the first fiction film to use a dog in its story. On its release, “Rover” became a popular dog name. The film was written by Margaret Hepworth and it’s her own dog, Blair, who was used for the role of Rover. Blair itself is considered to be the first canine film star. Blair was also seen in the 1903’s version of Alice in Wonderland, Rover Takes a Call (1905) and The Dog Outwits the Kidnapper (1908).

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The film is, of course, a family affair, not only because it stars Margaret Hepworth’s dog, but also because it stars the writer herself in the role of the mother, her husband Cecil Hepworth in the role of the father and their daughter, Barbara, in the role of the baby. Were the actors paid? Well, an article from the BFI informs us that Rescued by Rover was made on a seven pounds thirteen shillings and sixpence budget. So, probably not. 😉

Rover is, of course, a very brilliant dog. It has a perfect flair and it doesn’t take it long to find the baby. Rover can open doors (which turns out to be very useful in this situation), swim (well, like most dogs) and remembers its way.

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When we watch this film, we become quite fond of Rover (or Blair) as it seems to be the perfect dog. It doesn’t even bite the kidnapper! What a gentle dog. What an absolutely adorable pet! Of course, another thing I love about this film is the baby. Seriously, even if we don’t see her very often in the film, little Barbara Hepworth really is one of the cutest babies I’ve seen on screen. With her little white dress and her round cheeks, she is nothing but absolutely sweet. We are glad Rover is here to save her! The movies stars with a medium shot of her and Rover.

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Narratively, Rescued by Rover remains a very simple film. Where it becomes interesting, it’s on the technical aspects, particularly the editing. The film contains a total of 22 shots, which was rare at the time, especially for a five minutes feature. Movies were more often made in a more “theatrical” approach where the camera was static, filming the subject in a long shot or medium long shot. But here, the characters move out from the space where they initially were, and the story has a certain physical evolution. Also, we don’t need much information to understand what’s happening. When we see Rover running in the street, we immediately know it’s on its way to save the baby.

So, Rescued by Rover is a simple, but important film. The most interesting fact on how it influenced history is that, the film inspired D.W Griffith, who also used parallel cutting in his films. And that’s still often used today. Kidnapping also was the main subject of his first film, The Adventures of Dollie (1908)

If you haven’t seen Rescued by Rover yet, I highly recommend you to do so. It’s very short and worthy. You can watch it here:

Many thanks to Crystal from In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood for hosting this very original blogathon!

Of course, I invite you to read the other entries as well:

The Animals in Films Blogathon

See you!

Sources:

https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sauvée_par_Rover

http://www.screenonline.org.uk/film/id/514859/

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Rover (Blair) and Barbara Hepworth in The Dog Outwits the Kidnapper

Life According to Buster Keaton

Here is the fun we can make with some (ok, many) Buster Keaton’s gifs.

Learn how to be like Buster Keaton, for better or for worst!

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Build a house
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Be in love
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How to catch a bus
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Teen attitude
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Again
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Yesss sir!
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“You want my picture?”
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Bike- Old fashion style
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How to kiss a lady
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How to dance, with style
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How to eat spaghettis
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How to play music
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Try something else…
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How to drive a car
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How to smile (without motivation)
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How to smile (with motivation)
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Laugh (Yes he could!)
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Find a nice spot to sleep
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Scream
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Gone With the Wind (Buster before Scarlett)
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Wink (to a girl?)
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Be rejected
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Be Celebrated
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Be saved
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Be discouraged
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Read about politics…
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Find a solution to everything
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“What do you want?”
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Make an end to all this folly

Hope you enjoyed this little entertainment!

Silent Cinema Blogathon: The Farmer’s Wife

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This article is part of the Silent Cinema Blogathon hosted by In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood and Lauren Champkin.

Silent films tend to be forgotten nowadays, probably due to the fact that they were made a long time ago (with the exception of The Artist, which is a great film by the way). People will mostly remember Charlie Chaplin’s ones, but there’s much more to discover. There’s something magical about those. They were very inventive and actors had to express themselves only with their facial expressions and body language. Ok, I must admit, I prefer silent comedy, but there are some good silent dramas too. The thing with silent film is that something has to happen. It can’t be just people sitting at a table and talking, otherwise people will lose interest and get bored. Recently, I’ve seen a 2 hours Russian silent fiction film in class and well…slept over it. Same story with this silent documentary about the Russian revolution. These films have a certain potential, but many faults too, and they were NOT made for a large public. Anyway, I’m not here to talk about movies I don’t like, but about good silent films, those we have the pleasure to watch and that glorify the world of silent films. Just to continue with the Russian cinema, back in the 20s, it certainly was one of the most glorious cinematic industry, if we think of Sergei Einsenstein’s and Dziga Vertov’s films. My personal favourite is The Movie with a Movie Camera. In a way, this film, even if it’s just contemplative, makes me think of Buster Keaton’s The Cameraman. I also love the music. Well, the one in the version I’ve seen.

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My friends Crystal and Lauren Champkin today give the chance, to all those who want to participate to their new blogathon, to talk about something connected to the world of silent cinema: movies, movie stars, directors, etc. On my side, I’ve decided to go with The Farmer’s Wife, a 1928’s British film directed by the one and only Alfred Hitchcock . This is not my favourite silent film, I don’t LOVE it, I LIKE it, but there’s interesting stuff to talk about. I also wanted to go with something else than a Chaplin or Buster Keaton’s film, because I wanted people to discover a lesser known film. Indeed, The Farmer’s Wife is rarely the first film that comes to your mind when you think about Alfred Hitchcock. I own this movie, thanks to this nice dvd box set that my cousins (girls) gave to me for my birthday some years ago (three maybe). From The Lodger to Jamaica Inn, this box set contains  a great deal of early British Hitchcock’s films.

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What I first like about The Farmer’s Wife is the fact that the story is very simple so it will be easy for me to tell you, in two or three sentences, what it’s all about. You know, I’m not good at resuming films. So, the story is about Samuel Sweetland (Jameson Thomas) a farmer who, after his wife’s death, desperately wants to get remarried. With the help of his young housekeeper, Araminta, says “Minta” (Lillian Hall-Davis), he makes a list of potential future wives. When he goes visiting them, the result is not the one he would have hoped for, until he realizes that the wisest solution was much more simple.

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The Farmer’s Wife was based on a play (itself based on a novel) that was staged no less than 1 400 times in London! In its interview with Alfred Hitchcock, François Truffaut notices that, even if it was based on a play, it’s a very cinematic film. Hitchcock agrees with him. Like they say, this is due to the very active role of the camera. This one really participates to the story. Unfortunately, Hitchcock was not very pleased with this film. He thought that he’d DONE the job, but not necessarily done it well.

The cast and crew
The cast and crew

If we compare it to another of his silent films (The Lodger), The Farmer’s Wife is not Hitchcock’s most innovator film. It doesn’t have particular camera movements or things like that. However, in the same interview, Truffaut says to Hitchcock that the cinematography of this film makes him think of the one in F.W Murnau’s films and compares it to Sunrise’s cinematography. That’s a good observation from Mr. Truffaut. I had never thought about it, but I’ve re-watched Sunrise not a long time ago and then The Farmer’s Wife and I agree with him. I perfectly know what he means. The fact that it also takes place in the country can make us think of this Murnau’s film. However, the stories are completely different. There’s something very poetic about this cinematographic style. The use of the light adds a certain softness to the film.

Hitchcock's The Farmer's Wife
Hitchcock’s The Farmer’s Wife
Murnau's Sunrise
Murnau’s Sunrise

The main force of the film, and what makes it most appealing to me, is the cast. The two main actors are brilliant, just like the numerous supporting character actors. Lillian Hall Davis who plays Minta gives us what might be my favourite actress performance in a silent film. Her acting is very simple. She doesn’t exaggerate her emotions, but these are all perfectly transmitted to us. She gives a touching a sweet performance. If you’ve never seen this film, you’ll agree with me that she’s quite marvellous. Previously, Lillian Hall Davis had appeared in Hitchcock’s The Ring, which was a success on its release. Sadly, Davis’ career decreased with the coming of the talkies and, suffering of a depression, she killed herself in 1938 at the age of 35. When you’ll see her performance in The Farmer’s Wife you’ll feel very sad that such a lovely lady made an end to her life so abruptly.

Lilian Hall-Davis - The Farmer's Wife (1928) paper

Jameson Thomas, who plays the farmer, is very convincing too. What I especially liked about his acting were its several reactions. For example, when he’s upset, it’s quite funny. After all, this is a comedy. Lillian Hall Davis and Jameson Thomas’ chemistry in this film is a delight to watch. They make a real team a brilliantly complete each other.

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Finally, let’s take a look at the supporting cast. The first actor we’ll notice among it is Gordon Harker who is cast as Churdles Ash, the Handyman. Ok, for those who have an interest for character actor, this one certainly has to be discovered. The comic side of this film is mainly embodied by him. He plays a grumpy man who turned out to be very funny despite him. Just look at the moment when he wears classy clothes. A real hilarious disaster! The potential future wives are played by Maud Gill, Louis Pounds, Olga Slade and Ruth Maitland. They all did a great job, but the most memorable one certainly is Maud Gill who perfectly performed her role of a tin, shy and frigid woman. She’s very convincing and her reaction when Jameson Thomas asks her to marry her worth a million.

Gordon Harker
Gordon Harker
 Maud Gill
Maud Gill

As I’ve studied screen writing, this is always an aspect I pay attention to in a film. As I’ve said in the beginning, this one is well structured and there’s a good evolution. Some scene might be a little long, but I’ve seen worst, believe me. As strange as it may seems, this film also contains some of my favourite inter titles, so very amusing lines. Here are some examples:

  1. Minta and Samuel are making the future wives’ list. He asks her to add Mary Hearn (Olga Slade) on the list. Minta makes him notice that she’s a little fat. To what he answers:

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… And she answers back:Capture d’écran 2015-10-20 à 14.11.272. Having finishing the list, Samuel says:

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3. Thirza Tapper’s housekeeper, Susan (Antonia Brough) comes in the living room, crying like a baby. Like this (poor girl):

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Because the ices she was preparing has melt. Her only argument is this:

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4. During an argument with Mary Hearn, this one asks to Samuel:

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To what he answers:

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5. And later, being very mad at her, he tells her:

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So you can see, many humour in these dialogues.

I’ll finish this review by discussing the strangest element of this film: the music. Ok, the music itself is not strange, it’s a typical orchestral classical music, a style that was often used in silent films. However, it doesn’t fit the movie AT ALL. As a matter of fact, this music is kind of dramatic and doesn’t reflect well the comic ambiance of the film. So, it’s kind of weird and somehow a little annoying. It fits for certain scenes, but for the major film, it doesn’t. We expect a more happy music in a comedy.

Well, The Famer’s Wife is one of those underrated and un-well known Hitchcock’s films that certainly deserves to be discovered. It’s a movie with qualities and faults. It’s not a masterpiece, but it certainly is a nice entertainment. There’s nothing boring with this film and it’s a good one to watch when you’re not too much into deep psychological films. Anyway, if you haven’t seen it, I hope I convinced you to watch it.

I want to thank Crystal from In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood and Lauren Champkin for hosting this event. It certainly was a great idea and a real fun to participate to it. Of course, I invite you to take a look a the other entries! Just click on the link below:

Silent Cinema Blogathon

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