Thursday, December 26, 2013

V is for Valentino

I've discovered silent films this year.

It's no secret that I'm a fool for movies.  I particularly love old black-and-white movies.  My most recent break between quarters have been spent in front of a slew of old movies.

I had a Cary Grant/Irene Dunn movie marathon while I sorted through the mountains of paperwork that have built up in my bedroom and closet over the course of a year.

My favorites are The Awful Truth, My Favorite Wife, and Penny Serenade (makes me cry EVERY time!).

I had a Vincent Price marathon while sorting two HUGE boxes of pictures to get them ready for a trip to Target where they will be scanned and put on CDs for downloading.

Vincent Price is at his best when coupled with Edgar Allen Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne.  Spent a large portion of my childhood Saturdays with Vincent.  My brother and I would watch his movies whenever they came on.  That and Kung Fu theater.

With the exception of Chaplin movies and early Laurel and Hardy fare, I've never been into silent films.

TCM has been doing Silent Sunday Nights for a long time now.  They did a Buster Keaton marathon, so I DVR'ed them all.  He is amazing!!  I started watching them in the mornings as I ate my breakfast before commuting to school.  I would watch about 10 minutes a day.

Truthfully, 10 minutes at a time was about all I can handle of a silent film.  I usually multi-task while the TV is on.  I'm knitting or doing my academic homework, organizing something, folding laundry, blogging (Chopped All-Stars is on right now), etc.  With silent films, you have to actually pay attention as most of the action is conveyed through facial expression and sneaky script cards.

I had always heard about how great Intolerance was.  I recorded it and when I opened that recording to watch it, it's three hours long!!  I watched the whole thing.  Again, 10 - 20 minutes at a time.  It was all right.   It's not really linear in it's thought processes.

I watched the original Ben Hur for the same reason I watched Intolerance.  It's supposed to be so iconic and innovative for its time.

That one got me.  It was started out just OK.  Ramon Novarro is quite beautiful.  It's another long one - nearly 2 1/2 hours long!

If you don't know the story.  The IMDB synopsis is as follows:
A Jewish prince seeks to find his family and revenge himself upon his childhood friend who had him wrongly imprisoned.

Ben Hur and his family end up in a very bad way through a series of events beyond their control.  He ends up in slavery, and his mom and sister end up in prison where they become "unclean" - that means they contracted leprosy.

More series of events and Ben Hur regains some semblance of his former self/wealth/etc. and makes his way back to his former mansion, looking for his mom and sister.

Through their own series of events, they are released from prison and also go home.  They see Ben Hur sleeping on a stoop outside the home (he got there first, couldn't get in, fell asleep). 

This is where my heart broke. 

The sister starts to rush to her long-lost brother, but the mom holds her back saying they can't let Ben know they are there.  She explains that if he were associated with lepers, he would spend his life being shunned like they are.  They both walk up to the sleeping Ben and they want so very badly to hug him and show him how much they love him and have missed him so terribly.

They can't because they don't want to wake him or possibly infect him (back then, they still thought leprosy was contagious).

What they do instead is pretend to touch him.  The sister is at his feet and gently kisses the bottoms of his shoes since she can't kiss her brother as she would if things were right in the world.  The mom strokes the air above his sleeping head, just like I'm sure she did when he was a child.  That's where I lost it.  I was crying like a baby.

Ben Hur goes on to have a happy ending.  They are all reunited.  The mom and sister are healed by a chance meeting with a passing Christ.  They regain their previous station in life.  The bad guy gets what's coming to him.

My own son, T, is often up with me in the mornings before I leave.  I've gotten him pretty turned on to Buster Keaton.  He already likes Charlie Chaplin.

Funny thing that...

When T was first born, Dave made me a pretty sweet deal.  Dave had to get up at 4am to go to work at the golf course.  He told me that he was going to sleep in the spare room on the twin bed.   That way, he wouldn't be up every two hours with me and the baby for feedings.  He explained that once he got home from work, he would take baby duty and I could nap as long as I liked! 

It worked a charm! 

I always thought it was funny that he was on the twin bed and I got the queen-sized bed all to myself!  (Dave's a big guy - 6'1", 225-ish)  We did it again when D2 came along, but then it was a twin bed for him again and a king-sized bed for me!

With T and I in a room to ourselves, up every few hours for the first month or so, I would get sort of bored.  The star of the month on TCM that month was Charlie Chaplin!  I'd watch those while I breastfed the squirt.  It was quiet and didn't wake him up all the way.

Flash forward ten years....
T asked me if he could watch a Chaplin film.  It was sort of out of the blue, and I asked how he knew who Chaplin was?  He said he didn't know.  We watched a film or two together and he's been a fan ever since!  Weird, right?

Next to get him on to Laurel and Hardy...

For me, this year, I was watching these films as a way to pass the time before I faced my commute (as I said) and not wake anyone else in our house.  They weren't really hooking me like the Chaplin and Keaton films.  That was until the star of the month was Lon Chaney.

Are you kidding me??

This guy is absolutely astounding in his ability to convey an entire range of emotions with just a look or two.  His graceful hand movements tell the rest of the story. 

So far, my favorite movie with him is West of Zanzibar.  Not your typical American film as it is dark and unhappy and the ending?  Wow, what an ugly twist. 

Pretty early in the film, his character gets paralyzed from the waist down.  Later, his cohorts in crime call him Dead Legs.  It's true!  The way he drags himself around, gets in and out of chairs, etc....  If you didn't know it, you'd swear he did not have the use of his legs.  

There were a couple of documentaries about him that month that I also watched.  I don't think he ever did a talkie.  He was an advocate for keeping silent films going as long as possible.  His main reasoning wasn't anything like a lisp or accent or anything that might have held him back career-wise.  His motivation for silent films came from his love for his parents.  They were both deaf-mute, and he worried about their accessibility to films if the film industry went all sound.

By all accounts, he was a very good man.

I still DVR a silent film here and there.  I still watch them about 10 minutes at a time.   Strangely, I have yet to see a Valentino movie.  As far as I can tell, TCM never seems to play them.  Maybe they don't own any?  He's quite possibly the first person people think of when silent film is mentioned!

I've seen two Alfred Hitchcock silent films (he's my favorite director).  I've seen all of Chaplins that are available.  I'm working on all of Chaney's and Buster's.  I've got a few Greta Garbo's in the queue.

Silently waiting for a Valentino, Ruth!

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