Friday, February 1, 2013

Dorothy Vernon Of Haddon Hall (1924)

WHO: Mary Pickford, one of the first and greatest stars Hollywood has ever known, but one that has become a rather unfashionable figure until very recently. She is currently enjoying a renaissance of attention from Frisco Bay cinema programmers, thanks to a new book by Christel Schmidt, who is brining rare film prints on a national tour.

WHAT: In 1922, Pickford's husband Douglas Fairbanks had successfully retooled his screen image from performances mostly in modern-day comedies and Westerns, to swashbuckling period adventures such as The Mark of Zorro and Robin Hood. "America's Sweetheart" was probably even more popular than her husband at the time, but she saw good reasons to expand her repertoire from the "little girl" roles she continued to play at age thirty, to more adult roles in films with more European flavor. She brought Ernst Lubitsch from Germany to direct her next film; at one point this was to have been Dorothy Vernon of Haddon Hall, based on a 1902 novel set in Elizabethan England. Although Lubitsch balked and ultimately directed Pickford in Rosita instead, Dorothy Vernon of Haddon Hall became her follow-up, with Lubitsch out of the picture and frequent collaborator Marshall Neilan in the director's chair for most of the shoot, until his alcoholism became too much to bear. Pickford herself ended up directing at least one of the film's Golden Gate Park scenes. 

WHERE/WHEN: 7:15 PM tonight only at the Roxie Theater.

WHY: You may have noticed that there are a lot of silent film screenings here on Frisco Bay this month. G. Allen Johnson wrote about a number (to be specific, 40) of them for sfgate this week, although he's incorrect in saying they'll all be projected in 35mm as the Silent Film Festival's Silent Winter includes one DCP presentation (Fairbanks in The Thief of Bagdad) among its otherwise all-35mm lineup, and quite a few films in the Niles Film Museum February schedule will show in 16mm prints. If you want to look ahead to March, Cinequest will present 35mm screenings of Safety Last! and Cops at San Jose's California Theater during that festival. I'm not sure how the Balboa's March 3 screening of the silent Peter Pan will be sourced.

But Pickford is definitely the queen for the month of February. Tonight's screening is joined by a focus on her early work tomorrow in Niles and a showing of My Best Girl at the Castro February 16th. If you consider Pickford's filmography as something of a personal blind spot (it is for me, certainly) there's no reason to delay trying to get up to speed on this star whose celebrity status was truly made by, and not forced upon, audiences. Just to make the deal more of a "sweetheart": tonight's film is extremely rarely screened, not on DVD, and shot partially in San Francisco.

HOW: A 35mm print imported from Belgium for the occasion. There will be live musical accompaniment as well; Daniel Redfeld will be performing his own piano score for the film.

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