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Thursday, 11 March 2010

Pretty Patchy "Patsy"

We went to view the delightful Marion Davis silent "The Patsy" (1928), but nearly had the evening ruined by its terribly intrusive new score. It was being shown at the National Film Theatre as part of the 'Birds Eye View Film Festival' which celebrates female film-makers; fortunately none of the organisers in the self-congratulatory introduction started pontificating about Bigelow being the first female director to win an Oscar. What they did do however was to commission someone called Gwyneth Herbert to perform a musical accompaniment with her small band of guitars, kazoos, and various sound effects. Since they were physically on the stage and lit, just to the right of the screen, and occasionally throwing shadows onto the screen, this was in itself enough of a distraction.

Where to begin? Well, for a start I do not expect vocals during the screening of a silent movie, although obviously a well-conceived score and a minimal amount of 'sound effects' can enhance the visuals. Ms. Herbert (who had a pleasant enough voice let it be said) decided to sing occasionally during the action and even whispered some of the dialogue intertitles. Further, much of her orchestration was simply jejune. For example one of the rather clever intertitles mentioned lamb chops selling for an exorbitant price at the local yacht club, so she immediately went into a riff on 'Mary had a little lamb'! She also chose distracting sounds to underline the action, like using a bleating foghorn when the heroine's bullying mother was scolding her. It reminded me of being at the circus watching the clowns bleating their toy horns.

Fortunately, despite her best efforts, she did not manage to totally ruin the evening since the film is such a charmer that I was nearly able to ignore her auditory interference. Davis who also produced the film which was directed by King Vidor is best remembered today as Hearst's mistress at San Simeon, she of the infamous 'rosebud'. However she was an accomplished comedienne, particularly in her silent roles. Here she plays the put-upon younger daughter of a social-climbing mother (played by the inimitable Marie Dressler, who died far too soon into the talkie era), who favours her vamping elder daughter. Only her henpecked husband, a totally sympathetic turn from Dell Henderson, sticks up for young Pat. She is treated as the household skivvy and is discouraged from seeking romance, despite the fact that she madly fancies one of her sister's boyfriends. Only when she decides to develop a 'personality' and is considered to have gone bonkers by Ma and Sis, can she gain the attention she needs from her family and a man. It is a completely charming bit of action and Davies is thoroughly amusing throughout; indeed all of the small cast successfully add to the film's humour -- I just could have done without the unwanted noise from Ms. Herbert and crew.

What, by the way, did I think of "Avatar"? It was certainly an experience and one that I am glad I chose to view. One can't help but be impressed with James Cameron's vision and persistence to see this translated onto the big screen; his imagination is well thought-out and at times staggering. However had this movie been in regular 2-D, I very much doubt that I would have been able to stick over two and a half hours of this often turgid ecological tale, without the stunning visual distractions.
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