I just learned how to take a screen shot so I can show you this. Check it:
MORE GODDAMNED SNOW! Now I like me some snow, and I am more than happy to stay home when Uncle Sam closes down but this year has been a little ridiculous. It’s March! The longer it takes to warm up, the shorter spring will be and I am not looking forward to hazy hot humidity. Snow and azaleas do not go together.
There. Complaint delivered. Let’s get on with the rest of the post.
The Docks of New York, silent, B&W, 75 minutes (1928). IMDB page. Wiki article. Added to the NFR in 1999. Available on DVD from The Criterion Collection. Have I mentioned Criterion before? I think not. Well, they are a company that makes and distributes high-quality DVDs of classics and foreign films tending toward the arty side. They have an offshoot called Eclipse that focuses on series of films by the same director. So there’s Late Ozu and The First Films of Kurosawa, etc. Some of the Criterion editions are licensed for online viewing at Hulu Plus, and Netflix and Greencine both have large but incomplete collections of the DVDs for rental. There are hundreds of Criterion discs, and new ones are issued regularly. Criterion wants to be your source for good versions of old movies, so they are careful with things like sound and restoration, giving you about the best that can be gotten from films that aren’t always in pristine condition, and they usually have good special features, if you’re into that sort of thing. And subtitles. ALWAYS. Which can’t necessarily be said about other DVD versions. Bless them. Anyhow: Criterion Collection. Highly Recommended.
Oh yeah, Docks of New York. So it’s a melodrama (code for sad movie with unhappy ending) about a very gritty and grimy stoker and the gritty grimy shabby tattered and alcohol-soaked neighborhood he occupies when he’s given leave from his ship. Stoker. Stands all day shoveling coal into the gaping maw of a furnace. A necessary job, I suppose, but one I am glad I do not have. So he’s brutal and rough and she’s a floozy. Can love survive? Answer: Not exactly. C’mon, you knew that already when I told you it was a melodrama. For me, Docks is notable because it stars one of my favorites, George “Just one bullet can’t stop Bancroft!” Bancroft.
I can feel my ass getting kicked just looking at him. Here’s a still from the film:
So our hero moves to the Big City where he hopes to become a Great Man. He starts out with a job like this:
It really doesn’t matter what he’s doing, does it? The nearly infinite grid of desks says it all. He meets and marries a nice girl with a wickedly disapproving mother and two contemptuous older brothers, and he tries to climb the corporate ladder. I don’t want to say anything more because there are times when my job feels like that and…..don’t get me started.
The Crowd was directed by King Vidor, who brought us one of my faves, The Big Parade. It is not an easy film to find. I don’t know if it hasn’t been issued on disc in the US or is out of print or what. Criterion has certainly not gotten around to it. I had to go out and buy an import:
Looks kinda Bolshevik, no? Inside, however, I got a lovely DVD compatible with my DVD player and with lovely English intertitles
Yep. He’s unforgivably hammy. It’s awful. So this is known as The First Talkie. It isn’t, really. It’s almost entirely silent, and then he says “You ain’t heard nothing” and then we have our first musical number, the revered (not) “Toot, Toot, Tootsie Goodbye” and a couple more musical numbers including the execrable “Mammy.” I am most familiar with the Warner Brothers cartoon parody version of Mammy but I have to tell you that the real one is probably cheesier and more painful to watch than the fake ones. Oh yeah. Blackface.
Yes, really. I know blackface was a common device in entertainment in that era and I’ve known forever that it’s creepy and offensive, but now I think I have the words to explain why. Blackface is essentially clown makeup in negative, and the clowniness is enhanced by the theatrics and mannerisms that go along with it. To wear blackface is to pretend to be a clown, and it implies that black folks are clowns and simple goofy folk rather than dignified humans. You can be a white clown, after all, if all you want to say is “Look at me! I’m a clown.”
So I was not impressed by The Jazz Singer. I much prefer the Krusty the clown version.
It, B&W, silent, 72 minutes (1927). IMDB page. Wiki article. Added to the NFR in 2001. Available on DVD. Clara Bow! What a cutie! So this is the one the phrase “It girl” comes from. They spend an awful lot of time trying to explain what “it” is when a contemporary audience knows almost instinctively. The deal is that she’s a shop girl and he’s the owner of the department store and they almost get together, then there’s a mistaken identity thing and he thinks she’s a slut so he proposes to set her up as his mistress. She’s a bit flirty, but she’s a nice girl. She wouldn’t be draping herself all over his desk like that if he weren’t a slut-shaming idiot who refuses to explain to her what has caused his attitude to change.
He has a creepy sidekick who is simultaneously extremely effeminate and extremely horny-toad all over her, so that’s disconcerting.
So’s her hat. Yes, those are grapes. Her shiny black dress doesn’t do much for her. Looks like cheap polyester. Did they have polyester in 1927? Um, apparently not. Back to the slut-shaming. So she does a good deed for a friend in need and gets mistaken for a slut on the basis that she is believed to be *gasp* a single mother, a *gasp* woman who has had sex outside of marriage. Fortunately, her sins resulted in a child, which makes for a pretty good substitute for the scarlet S that should no doubt be sewn to her dress so we can cross the street when we see her coming. Anyway, they think it’s her baby, which it isn’t, and the baby means she’s a slut, which it shouldn’t, so this makes her not marriage material. When she figures out what’s going on, she goes to their yacht party and pretends to be the slut they think she is.
And everything works out in the end, because movie women are much more forgiving than Dirtbunny is.
Interestingly, both The Crowd and It feature scenes with the couple on a date to the fun house at, I presume, Coney Island. I started a documentary about Coney Island once but they were about to discuss the execution of an elephant for entertainment purposes and I got upset and turned it off. Coney Island looks like it was a lot of fun, animal torture aside.