Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: Clara Kimball Young

Best Leading Actress 1915

Today, we are accustomed to thinking of the “leading role” for actresses of the classic era as being the chief romantic interest for the male star. Women, we are told, were consigned to simply being objects of men’s attentions, not agents of their own interests. Well, folks who think that way might be surprised by the strong, often dominating, women in the movies of the silent era. Men often seem to be the objects of their whims, weaknesses, designs, and errors.

I hope it will surprise no one that none of this year’s nominees gave their performances while tied to train tracks. Clara Kimball Young as “Trilby” is perhaps the most victimized of our women, but she is no simple damsel – at the beginning she displays a free, bohemian attitude to life, all the more strongly contrasted with her submissiveness once under the thrall of Svengali. Anna Q. Nelson is ultimately the love interest for Rockliffe Fellowes in “Regeneration,” but she is much more, being a society woman who also transforms from being flippant and irresponsible to devoted to improving her world, and as such becomes the inspiration for a “bad” man to find the good in himself. Vera Kholodnaia began her rise to fame portraying a good wife tempted into bad behavior by wealth and excitement in “Children of the Age,” whose eventual fall drags her hapless husband along helplessly. Fanny Ward is similarly tempted by greed in “The Cheat,” and while she may be the victim for Sessue Hayakawa, ultimately it is her actions that decide the fate of her own husband, accused of trying to kill the villain. In one of the classic roles for strong women, Geraldine Farrar brought life to “Carmen” for director Cecil B. DeMille after a famous run of stage performances, showing the free and open attitude to sex of that character as well as her duplicity and selfishness. Finally, the Italian diva Francesca Bertini takes on a tragic role as a woman caught between the violent man she truly loves and the official who uses his position to take her honor in “Assunta Spina.”

The nominees for Best Leading Actress of 1915 are…

  1. Clara Kimball Young for “Trilby
  2. Anna Q. Nilsson for “Regeneration
  3. Vera Kholodnaia for “Children of the Age
  4. Fanny Ward for “The Cheat
  5. Geraldine Farrar for “Carmen
  6. Francesca Bertini for “Assunta Spina

And the winner is…Clara Kimball Young for “Trilby!”

Some women look better in men's jackets

Some women look better in men’s jackets

I’ll be honest, this wasn’t what I expected. But, when I went back and looked at all of the performances, I realized how impressive what Young did here really is. Where most of our lead characters travel through an arc – often towards tragedy – Trilby actually has to show two separate transformations. First, she comes on strong, almost like Carmen, but with a bit more of an artistic flair, then she changes as she falls in love with Billie, becoming a softer, more controlled personality. And finally, she gives us the soulless robot of Svengali. Her development is fascinating, and more complex than the others, great though each of them was in her own way.

1915 Century Award Nominations

12068530171690234341director chair.svg.medThe nominations for the “real” Academy Awards were announced earlier today, and once again I’ve seen none of the movies up for consideration, and have only heard of about half of them. This is a recurring theme, and there’s no reason for me to be bitter about it. I just don’t go to the movies very much, and when I do, I usually don’t enjoy it much.

But…for those who are interested in my opinions of the movies of one hundred years ago, this is also the day that I announce my nominations for the Century Awards. I did a pretty good job of watching available movies from 1915 over the past year, although of course it’s not possible to see everything and I may have missed some obvious ones. I may be making some last minute additions in the next weeks, depending on how the Inter-Library Loan gods treat me.

This year, I’m sticking with the categories and rules I established last year with no significant changes. That means that “shorts” and “features” are competing in the same categories, as are “adapted” and “original” screenplays, and there are no special categories for “documentaries” or “animated” movies. In terms of movie length, I could have changed the rules this year, in light of the much higher rate of feature film production in 1915, but with Charlie Chaplin vaulting to super-stardom on the basis of two-reel releases this year, it only seemed right to let him compete with the longer movies. I think most of the “shorts” I nominated are his, though there’s probably an exception or two. I’ve never really understood the distinction between “original” (nothing is original in Hollywood) and “adapted” screenplays, and I’m too lazy to care, so there’s just one category there. As far as docs and animated, it comes down to the fact that I didn’t see enough of either to justify a separate category. The only 1915 animated movie I’ve seen is Ladislaw Starevich’s “Lily of Belgium,” so I guess it wins by default. I saw both “Over the Top” and “Mabel and Fatty Viewing the San Francisco Exposition,” both of which are sort of documentaries and sort of not, but that’s not enough to be called a representative sample of nonfiction film in 1915. (Between the two of them, “Over the Top” would win, if anyone’s interested). I still see no reason to separate “foreign language” from English-language silent films, and, yes, I’m keeping “Best Stunts.”

As I said last year, the rules to the Academy Awards say that there can be “up to five” nominees for each category except Best Picture, which gets “up to ten.” If you want to weigh in on the choices I’ve made, cast your “vote” by commenting, and explain why you think your chosen film should win. I’m still the final arbiter (it’s my blog), but I’ll certainly take well-thought-out arguments into account. If I sneak any new nominees in, it will mean exceeding the maximums, but I figure I can break my own rules when I need to.

Finally, before anyone asks, “where’s ‘The Birth of a Nation,’” the answer to that is here.

 

Best Makeup/Hairstyling

  1. The Deadly Ring
  2. A Woman
  3. A Fool There Was
  4. Trilby
  5. A Night in the Show

Best Costume Design

  1. Trilby
  2. The Deadly Ring
  3. A Fool There Was
  4. The Coward
  5. Hypocrites
  6. Alice in Wonderland

Best Production Design

  1. Young Romance
  2. Daydreams
  3. Evgeni Bauer for Children of the Age
  4. The Cheat
  5. Alias Jimmy Valentine

Best Stunts

  1. Charlie Chaplin for Work
  2. Douglas Fairbanks for The Lamb
  3. Charlie Chaplin for The Champion
  4. William Sheer for Regeneration
  5. Charlie Chaplin for By the Sea
  6. Luke the dog for Fatty’s Faithful Fido
  7. Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle for Fatty’s Tintype Tangle

Best Film Editing

  1. The Coward
  2. The Italian
  3. Hypocrites
  4. Cecil B. DeMille for Golden Chance
  5. Alias Jimmy Valentine

Best Cinematography

  1. Walter Stradling for Young Romance
  2. Joseph H. August for The Italian
  3. Boris Zavelev for Daydreams
  4. Alvin Wyckoff for The Cheat
  5. Alias Jimmy Valentine

Best Visual Effects (includes animation)

  1. Regeneration
  2. Ladislaw Starevich for Lily of Belgium
  3. Frank Ormston Hypocrites
  4. Children of Eve
  5. After Death

Best Screenplay

  1. Charlie Chaplin for The Bank
  2. Carl Harbaugh and Raoul Walsh for Regeneration
  3. C. Gardner Sullivan and Thomas Ince for The Italian
  4. M. Mikhailov for Children of the Age
  5. Hector Turnbull and Jeanie MacPherson for The Cheat

Best Supporting Actress

  1. Musidora for “The Red Cryptogram
  2. Kate Toncray for “The Lamb”
  3. Marta Golden for “Work”
  4. Gertrude Claire for “The Coward”
  5. Florense Simoni for “The Red Cryptogram”

Best Supporting Actor

  1. Wilton Lackaye for “Trilby”
  2. Marcel Levésque for “The Deadly Ring”
  3. William Sheer for “Regeneration”
  4. Roy Daugherty for “Passing of the Oklahoma Outlaw
  5. Sessue Hayakawa for “The Cheat”

Best Leading Actor

  1. Henry B. Walthall for “The Raven
  2. Charlie Chaplin for “The Bank”
  3. Rockliffe Fellowes for “Regeneration”
  4. George Beban for “The Italian”
  5. Vitold Polonsky for “After Death”

Best Leading Actress

  1. Clara Kimball Young for “Trilby”
  2. Anna Q. Nilsson for “Regeneration”
  3. Vera Kholodnaia for “Children of the Age”
  4. Fanny Ward for “The Cheat”
  5. Geraldine Farrar for “Carmen”
  6. Francesca Bertini for “Assunta Spina

Best Director

  1. Cecil B. DeMille for “The Cheat”
  2. Raoul Walsh for “Regeneration”
  3. Evgeni Bauer for “After Death”
  4. Maurice Tourneur for “Alias Jimmy Valentine”
  5. Charlie Chaplin for “The Bank”

Best Picture

  1. Regeneration
  2. Children of the Age
  3. After Death
  4. The Cheat
  5. Golden Chance
  6. Carmen
  7. The Bank
  8. The Deadly Ring
  9. Alias Jimmy Valentine
  10. The Italian

Trilby (1915)

Trilby2Director Maurice Tourneur, who charmed us in 1914 with “The Wishing Ring” and thrilled us in February with “Alias Jimmy Valentine” returns in September, 1915 with this very different movie. No doubt Tourneur, influenced by the success of “The Birth of a Nation” in attracting a higher class of filmgoer to theaters, was wanted to try more upscale source material in hope of the same result. For this, he chose George du Maurier’s most famous gothic novel, about a bohemian model under the spell of a diabolical hypnotist. Trilby3

The story begins with Trilby, played by Clara Kimball Young (who had been in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “Hearts in Exile”), who is young, carefree, and the center of the artist’s scene in Paris. She hangs out with a group of bachelor-artists and meets Svengali, a musician who plays weirdly entrancing music, played by Wilton Lackaye, who had played the role famously on stage. She sings an old folk tune for them and demonstrates her tone-deafness, but Svengali sees something in her, and all the boys are in love with her. Especially Billie, who now undertakes to paint her, and with time the two of them fall in love. Billie has a momentary fit when he sees her posing nude for an art class (we don’t see anything, but we get the idea), but then he comes back and begs forgiveness. Their wedding is on. But, the evil Svengali has already gotten his hooks into Trilby; one day when she was suffering from “neuralgia,” he hypnotized the pain away and now she is under his power. He makes her write a note breaking things off with Billie, but then lets her go to the wedding party anyway. He sneaks in to her room while Billie and the others are celebrating, and hypnotizes her into coming with him and leaving the note. Much later, Billie and his friends hear about a famous “Mrs. Svengali” who is coming to town to sing. Apparently she has taken the world by storm. They go to the theater, and of course it is Trilby! Billie swoons and stumbles out of the theater. Trilby’s singing is perfect, but her personality is suppressed. Then, Svengali has a heart attack while she is on stage and the spell is broken. Trilby is booed off the stage, having lost her voice, but rushes back to the arms of Billie.

Not a great-quality image.

Not a great-quality image.

The print I watched of this movie was not perfect, but it was still possible to make out some of Tourneur’s famous lighting effects, particularly in the love scenes with Trilby and Billie. The camera is static and the pacing is slower than a lot of the movies of this period, but there is still good use of editing within scenes and cross-cutting to build drama, as in the scene where the identity of Madame Svengali is exposed. We get a few close-ups, mostly of Trilby early in the film.

Some women look better in men's jackets

Some women look better in men’s jackets

Although Svengali is the character that gets talked about, I thought Clara Kimball Young’s depiction of Trilby was more critical to the picture. She starts out vivacious and seemingly blasé – when she comes into the room with the painters and Svengali, she declines a chair and climbs onto the piano, a close-up reveals that she is only wearing one shoe (horrors! a visible ankle!). In these scenes, she is often wearing a man’s jacket or other masculine clothing, suggesting that she just threw something on to cover up before going out. She’s not by any means a flapper, though, the style remains decidedly 19th-Century bohemian. Then, as she falls in love with Billie, we see a more tender, serious side of her come out. She isn’t playing all the time, although she sometimes still shows her wild side. Her clothing becomes more feminine. Finally, as Svengali’s slave, she seems to lose her personality altogether. She wears what he wants her to wear – generally flowy gowns like something from ancient Greece. Kimball Young handles all three roles excellently.

du Maurier's own depiction of Svengali. No anti-Semitism here at all, right?

du Maurier’s own depiction of Svengali. No anti-Semitism here at all, right?

As a final note, yes, the role of Svengali is inevitably linked with anti-Semitism. Lackaye plays him with an obviously fake crooked nose and an unruly black beard, evoking traditional Jewish caricatures. I won’t excuse this, but it appears to me that Tourneur’s interest here was not in perpetrating anti-Semitic propaganda. Svengali is presented here as an evil Jew, but not necessarily a representative of all Jews. Of course, an audience with a predisposition toward anti-Semitism might well take it that way, showing that what you bring with you to the movies always influences what you take away as well.

Director: Maurice Tourneur

Camera: Unknown

Cast: Clara Kimball Young, Wilton Lackaye, Chester Barnett

Run Time: 1 hr

I have been unable to find this for free on the Internet. If you know where it can be seen, please comment below.

July, 1914

Babe Ruth pitching. He began his career as a left-handed pitcher for the Boston Red Sox in July 1914.

Babe Ruth pitching. He began his career as a left-handed pitcher for the Boston Red Sox in July 1914.

It’s time again for one of my monthly news roundups, in which I discuss what was going on 100 years ago, when the movies I review were being produced. This is a special month: July 1914 is generally known as the “July Crisis” which led up to the declaration of World War One and the “Guns of August.” It would be possible to dedicate an entire blog just to these events. In fact, my friends over at “The July Crisis, 100 Years On, 1914-2014” are doing exactly that, with daily updates on the events of 100 years ago. They’re doing it so well, I don’t see any need to replicate their efforts.

That said, I’m just going to hit a couple of World War highlights, and focus mainly on other things in the news at the time:

Funeral: the funeral for Archduke Franz Ferdinand is held July 4. Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany does not attend.

Anarchism: On July 4, an explosion in Harlem kills several members of the Anarchist Black Cross and one of the IWW, along with one un-affiliated woman, and injures twenty others. The anarchists has been involved, along with Alexander Berkman and Louise Berger, in a plot to bomb John D. Rockefeller in retaliation for the Ludlow Massacre, but the dynamite went off unexpectedly in Berger’s home.

Sports: Babe Ruth debuts as a major league ball player with the Boston Red Sox, July 11.

Legal: Supreme Court Justice Horace H. Lurton dies on July 12, at the age of seventy. He had been appointed just four years earlier, as the oldest member of the Court, by then-President Taft. He would be succeeded by the conservative James Clark McReynolds, appointed by Woodrow Wilson.

Ireland: On July 14, the House of Lords passes a bill for Irish Home Rule, but the World War prevents its enactment. Ireland continues to struggle for independence throughout the War and until another Home Rule Act (the fourth) is finally passed in 1920.

Mexico: On July 15, President Huerta resigns from office, under pressure from the United States and rebels within Mexico, including Emiliano Zapata and Pancho Villa. Huerta will go into exile and attempt to raise a new army with German support, but winds up imprisoned in the US until his death.

Ultimatum: on July 23, Austria-Hungary presents its ultimatum to Serbia. It includes demands that Serbia remove from office anyone the Austro-Hungarian government requests and the censorship of the press and removal of school text books critical of Austria-Hungary. It is calculated to be nearly impossible to comply with, as Germany and Austria have now made their plans for war.

Mobilization: On July 28, Austria-Hungary orders mobilization and begins hostilities against Serbia. Russia orders partial mobilization in response that day, and full mobilization on the 31st. A state of war now exists among belligerents in Europe, and mobilization will continue through August.

Movies released in July, 1914: “My Official Wife” starring Clara Kimball Young, “The Man on the Box” co-directed by Cecil B. DeMille, “The Stain” with Theda Bara, and “By the Sun’s Rays” featuring Lon Chaney, Sr.

Births: July 29, Irwin Corey, American comedian and mentor to Lenny Bruce; July 31, Louis de Funès, French comedian of Spanish origin.

Deaths: on July 1, both actress Grace McHugh and cinematographer Owen Carter die in an on-set accident during the filming of “Across the Border.”