The Birds Eye View Sound and Silents Retrospective this year features three delightful blonde and boisterous stars. Kelly Robinson, BEV retrospective programmer, gives her insights into these actresses and the flaxen-haired characters they play. The Musicians: Patti Plinko, Gwyneth Herbert and Jane Gardner, who will be putting their own spin on the films with specially commissioned original scores, tell us how it’s going and what their personal take is.
The Patsy starring Marion Davies
+ specially commissioned live accompaniment from Gwyneth Herbert
Marion Davies is somewhat disparaging about her career as an actress. For instance, she remarks of her half a million dollar contract with MGM that: ‘It was too much money, because my ability was not equal to it.’ Davies was renowned for being down to earth and her hilarious clowning abilities. With masterpiece The Patsy to her credit, and praise from giants of film Charles Chaplin, Orson Welles and director of The Patsy King Vidor, it seems not unreasonable to suggest that she may have been the best female clown of the silent era.
Gwyneth Herbert has been hailed as ‘brilliantly original’ by Mojo and ‘super-talented’ by the Telegraph. The Jazz-Folk Diva is at the vanguard of a new generation of genre defying singer-songwriters.
Gwyneth on Marion Davies: “Sometimes blundering, eventually thriving, but always utterly captivating.”
Chicago starring Phyllis Haver
+ specially commissioned live accompaniment from Patti Plinko
Phyllis Haver‘s career in the film business started when she was a pianist in a picture house. She started her screen acting career at Keystone studios when she was just fifteen, under the tutorage of Mack Sennett. She quickly became renowned for her versatility and it was discovered that with a pair of trousers and a moustache, Phyllis could pass as a boy. Consequently she played love scenes with Mary Thurman and Gloria Swanson. In 1923 she made her first non-Sennett film The Christian in England. More than one million copies were made of a bathing beauty publicity shot of her. George Bernard Shaw, recalled Marion Davies, said ‘Blondes are always dumb.’ The vitality and comedic chops of these silent stars makes light of this claim.
Patti Plinko‘s mesmerizing, seductive throaty vocals flirt amongst a fusion of music and cinematic influences from twisted guitars, violins, beaten pots and whisky bottles to experiments in vinyl and sound.
‘She sings like a hell cat – all purrs, growls and deranged. A dreamy, dark, bourbon-soaked show – full of fire and attitude’ Time Out
Patti on Roxie Hart: “The character of Roxie Heart (played by Phyllis Haver) is a joy to work with. She is the ultimate cinematic archetype of the manipulative blonde with a string of foolish men clowning under her every whim. One can’t help look at the work today without drawing out the preposterous humor this male fantasy delivers.”
Her Sister from Paris starring Constance Talmadge
+ specially commissioned live accompaniment from Jane Gardner
Constance ‘Dutch’ Talmadge, star of the screwball Her Sister From Paris was a close friend of Marion Davies and had a similarly tomboyish personality. The Brooklyn-born Talmadge could count Irving Berlin amongst her many admirers and she excelled at comedy romances. Her Sister From Paris was remade with Great Garbo (Two-Faced Woman), but the original is much better!
Jane Gardner has been accompanying movies from the silent era since 2005 at many festivals and venues around the UK. Her music has been commissioned and played by groups as diverse as the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Piano Circus, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre Company and The Gogmagogs.
Jane Gardner on the film:
“The film really makes the male characters look like weak idiots, although it was based on a story by a man (Hans Kraly) and directed by a man (Sidney A. Franklin).”
Check out these Musicians (& stars!) in three weeks at the 2010 festival – find out more here