Jane Gardner – Pianist
Jane has accompanied screenings of silent movies in London at the Barbican Centre and the National Film Theatre. This is her second appearance at The Station after accompanying a screening of The General (1926, Buster Keaton) in January.
Douglas Fairbanks (1883-1939)
There’s a great story about Douglas Fairbanks which emphasises the playfulness and remarkable agility of this legendary Hollywood star. While filming Robin Hood (1922, Allan Dwan) the producers forbade Fairbanks from performing an elaborate stunt. The sequence involved Robin riding towards a castle, then holding on to the drawbridge as it is raised, jumping on to a chain and climbing 50 feet up the front of the set. A stuntman was hired and seemingly performed the stunt with aplomb. Until it dawned on the production crew the stunt man was standing next to them watching the show. The figure waving to them from above was the real Doug Fairbanks.
Physically graceful with a gift for comedy Fairbanks quickly became a popular star in Hollywood. An early highlight is the short comedy The Mystery of the Leaping Fish (1916, Christy Cabanne, John Emerson) a Sherlock Holmes spoof with Fairbanks as a detective who uses cocaine for inspiration and solves a crime involving an inflatable beach toy.
In 1919 Fairbanks, his lover Mary Pickford, D.W. Griffiths, and Charlie Chaplin formed the studio United Artists to give themselves more artistic independence. Fairbanks took a huge risk by producing the swashbuckler The Mark of Zorro (1921, Fred Niblo). Nobody had tried anything like this before. In case it failed Fairbanks made a backup film, an ingenious slapstick comedy called The Nut (Theodore Reed 21) about an eccentric inventor.
Zorro was a huge success and turned Fairbanks into the most bankable star around. Fairbanks continued in this vein playing D’Artagnan in The Three Musketeers (21) with Niblo again directing. There quickly followed Robin Hood (22, Dwan), The Thief of Baghdad (24, Raoul Walsh), Don Q: Son of Zorro (25, Donald Crisp), The Black Pirate, and D’Artagnan again in The Iron Mask (29, Dwan).
Aware of cinema’s growing cultural importance. Fairbanks helped create the USCLA’S film programme. An innovator onscreen and off he was one of the first to experiment with sound though the technology wasn’t quite ready for The Iron Mask. Fairbanks first Talkie saw him delivering iambic pentameter in Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew (30, Sam Taylor). His career eventually tailed off and after his marriage to Pickford broke up Fairbanks moved to England. There was one last hurrah in The Private Life of Don Juan (34, Alexander Korda) with Fairbanks as the great lover realising his swashbuckling days are coming to an end.
Here’s my top ten list for 2011. As with all lists it is a matter of personal taste.
Its final descent into a hellish sexual underworld with sex-addict Brandon (Michael Fassbender) on an odyssey to penetrate anything with an orifice is ridiculous but for the most part Shame is a haunting study of urban loneliness. The heart of the film is the fractious relationship between Brandon and his equally damaged sister Irene (Carey Mulligan). Fassbender has been getting most of the acclaim but Mulligan matches him. There is clearly some traumatic incident in their past they can’t get over and though there are subtle hints screenwriter Abi Morgan and director Steve McQueen avoid offering any easy explanations. Shame is exactly how I like my movies, ambiguous, voyeuristic, and full of yearning. And when it comes to singing ‘New York New York’ Carey Mulligan kicks Frank Sinatra’s ass.
There has been a fair old backlash against Nicolas Winding Refn’s sleek and stylish existential crime thriller. The arthouse crowd resent an exploitative B-movie getting critical acclaim while curiously enough the artier aspects of Refn’s direction alienated those who like their action films to be a bit more fast and furious. Drive is derivative but genre films always are. Its influences are many; Melville, Michael Mann, Shane (George Stevens 1950), Kenneth Anger’s Scorpio Rising (1964), and pretty much the whole of the 1980’s. However Refn brings his own sensibility to the film. Refn’s devotion to violent protagonists has been in evidence since his debut film Pusher (1997) and once again he takes a morally non-committed approach to his storytelling. It is entirely up to the audience whether they see the Ryan Gosling’s Driver as a hero or a head-stomping psycho. The early scenes with Driver growing close to Carey Mulligan’s single mom have a tenderness rarely present in Refn’s work. Only the awkward courtship between social misfits Lenny and Lea in the otherwise macho Bleeder (1999) hinted Refn has a romantic side. One day Refn might actually get around to making a great drama about real human beings rather than films about movie archetypes but till then I’m happy to watch him move from genre to genre. Next up a martial arts film with Ryan Gosling. Looking forward to it already.