Women’s History Month: Frances Marion

In this day and age female screenwriters still face barriers within the film industry. In fact, a study conducted in 2017 found that women represented just 11 per cent of the writers on the United States’ top 250 films. They fared a little better in the world of Television, where they made up 33 per cent of television writers during the States’ 2016-17 season. One has to wonder what the great screenwriter Frances Marion would have to say about these figures. There's a high chance that you haven't heard of Marion, but her screenwriting attributes have had a long-lasting impact on cinema and helped shaped the language of storytelling on the big screen. She wrote the stories and scenarios for over three hundred films in a career that spans from early days of cinema and into the sound era. Her work earned her two Academy Awards for screenwriting.

Spotlights & Spirits – A retrospective on Joan Crawford

Lucille Fay LeSueur started as a dancer for a variety of travelling shows, elevating her way to chorus girl, and would go by LeSueur until her time with MGM, where Joan Crawford would emerge as a prominent force on the Hollywood scene. One of the ‘symbols’ of the studio gals, with the likes of Judy Garland or Claudette Colbert, Crawford would make her first ‘debut’ in ‘Lady of The Night’ (1925) as a body double, her breakout alongside Horror legend Lon Chaney in the 1927 horror film ‘The Unknown’ and her film final appearance in a British sci-fi film entitled ‘Trog’ (1970), a bizarre climax to a turbulent career. 

The Illustrious Life and Mysterious Death of Olive Thomas

Olive Thomas died at twenty-five years of age, thanks to the accidental ingestion of mercury bichloride. She had acted in approximately twenty films over four years, but sadly, her career ended as quickly as it had begun. While Thomas’ death essentially created the first Hollywood scandal ever, I feel that she should be remembered for her expressiveness and liveliness that she brought to her acting. Olive Thomas won the “Most Beautiful Girl in New York City” contest in 1914, launching her modelling career. She joined the Ziegfeld Follies shortly thereafter and remained with the Follies until 1916. That year, she signed with the International Film Company, and her acting debut was in an episode of “Beatrice Fairfax,” called “Playball.”

Women’s History Month: Marvelous Mabel Normand

There are many forgotten faces in Hollywood who once captivated audiences. Few were more groundbreaking than Mabel Normand who starred, directed and produced silent films when the medium was still experimenting with what it could do. So much of what she and her professional, sometime private, partner Mack Sennett accomplished has now become standard, even cliché in film comedy. That she did so much in so few years is as dizzying as the breakneck chase scenes they would become recognized for in one of their more successful film series.

Women’s History Month: Greta Garbo

Greta Garbo started her career in Swedish cinema (her first notable role being the 1924 film “The Saga of Gösta Berling”), which brought her to the attention of the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) studio, leading her to her first Hollywood role in “Torrent” (1926). From here on followed a suite of successful silent films and Garbo’s conquest of international acclaim began.  

Berlinale Exclusive Review: Minamata

Some shocking visuals and a few knuckle-biting moments bring this true story of the Minamata poisoning exposé to life. But despite best efforts the white saviour positioning undermines the power of the film. It's 1971 and once well-regarded photographer W. Eugene “Gene” Smith (Johnny Depp) is at the end of his useful career and drinking too much. Haunted from photographing the horrors of WWII, he has annoyed his publishers too many times to get consistent work and is reduced to endorsing products he doesn’t use for money. Late one night Aileen Mioko (Minami in her first English Language film) visits to beg him to come to Japan and cover the Minamata poisoning. A whole region is suffering from sickness and birth defects from the Chisso Corporation chemical factory pumping mercury into the water.

Mari Sandoz: Keeper of the Flame for Native American History

When an artist creates a body of work, they will sometimes look back to assess what they have done. John Ford was near the end of his career and apparently wasn’t completely proud of what his oeuvre consisted of. Most egregious was the way his Western films depicted Native Americans as villains who deserved to be killed and their lands confiscated. His shot at redemption came through a remarkable woman named Mari Sandoz who had written a strongly researched book titled, Cheyenne Autumn. Mari grew up hearing the stories of the suffering of the Native American people through friends, neighbors and visitors to her family farm in Nebraska in the early 1900’s. Her relationship with her father was difficult but she wrote a very well received biography about him after his death. Her research into his life brought back the memories of the members of the Cheyenne tribe who were his friends.

Women’s History Month: Louise Brooks

You may not know her name, but I am damn certain that you would recognise her face and more importantly her hairstyle. The 'Lulu' Bob haircut worn by Louise Brooks is a representation of the Jazz age in all of its glory and revolutionary awe. For a few brief years, Brooks was one of the most well known and one of the highest-paid actresses in the world. At the height of her career, she made a bold decision to leave La La Land, in order to star in two of the silent era's most famous films, "Pandora's Box" (1929) and "Diary of a Lost Girl" (1929). However, when she returned to America her career had virtually ended and by 1938 she had turned her back on Hollywood. Throughout the 1940s and 50s, Brooks lived in extreme economical hardship before being 'rediscovered' by James Card, who encouraged her to write down her memoirs as well as essays that reflected on the silent era.

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