Monday, July 2, 2012

Jason goes to the Broncho Billy Silent Film Festival--Day 3

Well, the big weekend at Niles is all over but the writing. I actually missed Saturday because I had a full day scheduled of drinking beer (and maybe a little tequila...and vodka infused gummi bears) and then watching my beloved Earthquakes pull out a thrilling 4-3 comeback victory over the hated L.A. Galaxy. Wow, what a game! Goonies never say die! But that's a story for a different time.

The important thing is I was back at Niles on Sunday for the last day of the weekend-long festival. And we started with an early afternoon Baby Peggy special. We love Baby Peggy at Niles, especially since we celebrated her 90th birthday here and she visits us pretty often. In fact, the museum actually makes a cameo appearance in the first movie of the day, the new documentary by Vera Iwerebor, BABY PEGGY, THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM. It's a nice overview of her career, but what makes it interesting is not the Baby Peggy part of her life but the Diana Serra Carey part of her life. See, far from a wonderful blessing, Baby Peggy for most of her life was something of a curse. This is very common for child stars (and Diana has chronicled this in her book Hollywood's Children--available here) She was very aware even at 18 months of age that she was working and the main breadwinner for her family. She lost her childhood (however much her parents insisted that she thought she was just playing make-believe) and her status as the breadwinner caused quite a lot of family tension. And it all became worse when her step-grandfather ran off with all the family's money.

You's actually kind of hard for me to review this. It is, after all, the often sad life story of a woman who is now 93 years old, who I met at her 90th birthday party, and who I now consider a friend. I'm just very happy that her life has turned out well and Baby Peggy is enjoying a rediscovery and revival now.

As for the revival, we had a couple of her short films afterwards:
BROWNIE'S LITTLE VENUS (1921): One of Baby Peggy's earliest co-stars was Brownie the dog, and with her rediscovery he's getting a renewed career, too (although he has to appreciate it from doggie heaven.) As adorable as Baby Peggy is, Brownie's really the star here, helping her get dressed (even tightening her corset) for a big day, then helping her foil a robbery.

LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD (1922): A take on the classic story starring Baby Peggy as Red and a doggie (not Brownie, but clearly not a real wolf) as the wolf. This two-reeler actually only has one surviving reel (the second reel) so the first half is pieced together from production stills and contemporary accounts of the story.

Then after a brief leg-stretching intermission, we were treated to an on-stage interview with Larry Telles interviewing Diana Serra Carey. She talked extensively about her co-stars--Hobart Bosworth (from CAPTAIN JANUARY, which can still bring tears to my eyes) to Edward Everett Horton to her oftentimes director Alf Goulding (also a child star in a travelling Australian circus.) Then there was a brief period of questions from the audience, ranging from mood music used on set to the portrayal of strong women in the early days of film.

Speaking of strong women, the final show of the night (and of the festival) was Helen Gardner's version of CLEOPATRA (1912): Actually, never mind the queen character, Helen Gardner--as the star and owner of the studio--was a plenty powerful woman in her own right. And like ATLANTIS on opening night, this is a feature film (nearly an hour and a half long) that is way before the time when features were popular (remember, BIRTH OF A NATION didn't come along and solidify the style of feature films for another three years.) Anyway, Helen Gardner of course stars as Cleopatra, the powerful queen and object of many men's desires. But the only one she reciprocates is Marc Antony (Charles Sindelar,) an affair that decimates the tenuous peace of the Roman Empire and Egypt, and ultimately destroys them both. A really great accomplishment, that's definitely ahead of its time.

And that was the end of this year's Broncho Billy Film Festival. Normal Saturday night programming is back next week, with THE WHIP (1917) and the shorts STEP LIVELY (1917) with Harold Lloyd and TEDDY AT THE THROTTLE (1917) with Bobby Vernon, Wallace Beery, and Gloria Swanson. Then next week Sunday is the monthly Laurel and Hardy talkie matinee featuring SAPS AT SEA (1940.) And then the following weekend (July 14-15) is the only weekend of the year when we don't do a Saturday night silent movie program. That's because the San Francisco Silent Film Festival is doing its thing up at the Castro Theatre, and we're there, too (however, the museum is still open noon-4:00 Saturday and Sunday.)

Total Running Time: 186 minutes
My Total Minutes: 289,010

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