“I am not a man and I’m not allowed to be a woman! I am a toy that is not supposed to have a heart”
While there had been women portraying Hamlet on screen for years, this was certainly the first time a complete re-examination of the character had taken place. The Prince of Denmark becomes a Princess—one forced to conceal her sex in order to preserve the succession of her lineage to the throne.
Although inspired by the 1881 book The Mystery of Hamlet, which supposes that Hamlet was in fact a woman, Asta Nielsen was very much in control of the direction of the film-forming her own production company, hiring the directors, fronting the money, and overseeing production.
Hamlet is someone who has been forced into an unnatural role as a man in order to preserve the status quo for political and social reasons. Since her position and very life is purely dependent on her being perceived as a man, her lack of control over her own definition of self becomes unbearable in the end.
Her inability to exist as either gender begins to spiral out of control. The tension between the sexes is palpable as Horatio is attracted to his best friend without knowing why and Hamlet, though attracted to him is unable to act upon it. Gertrude, obsessed with keeping the secret secure at any cost even encourages Hamlet with Ophelia, but doomed again, Hamlet cannot accept Ophelia's advances. Hamlet cries out through the frustration and web of deception, thwarted by the great secret, and thus unable to act upon her desires. The pressures keep mounting inside Hamlet until it finally manifests itself in a crazed vengeance. Yet, Nielsen still is able to slyly insert some self-humour throughout.
Nielsen's austere male impersonation goes well beyond mere drag for sensationalism, foretelling such gender fluid films from Queen Christina to The Crying Game and Boys Don’t Cry. It’s a formidable performance from Nielsen; riveting and completely convincing from the instant she comes on screen. Like Maria Falconetti was in The Passion of Joan of Arc, this film is reliant on Asta Nielsen’s credibility in this role. This isn’t Shakespeare as written but, it’s fully Shakespearean in complexity. Completely contemporary and disconcerting, this Hamlet is ready for rediscovery.
While it’s fairly easy to find short films featuring male comedians, it’s still uncommon to see many in which women hold the comic banana peel of life (outside of Mabel Normand that is). This year’s programme aims to remedy that and show the comic range that the Silent Queens of Comedy had and the laughter that is still theirs.
Mabel Normand is the nickel-a-dance taxi dancer who “chases the bluebird of happiness without catching a feather”.
Gal pals Anita Garvin & pal Marion Byron go on a double date with two skinflints.
Wild and wonderful Louise Fazenda & Phyllis Haver (you saw her last year in Chicago) in Hearts and Flowers
Alice Howell, once as well known and loved as any male comedian, is Cinderella Cinders, complete with overly enthusiastic pancake flipping and identity switching. No wonder she was called the Female Charlie Chaplin.
Special guest appearance by Colleen Moore.
Accompaniment by Tania Gill
Recommended Reading: Slapstick Divas by Steve Massa
Canadian Restoration Premiere
The Sensation Seekers 1927 USA 71 min
Director: Lois Weber
Billie Dove, Raymond Bloomer, Huntley Gordon
“Egypt” Hagen is a hedonistic party girl in pursuit of her own agenda and making no apologies while doing it. Although engaged to Ray, the social leader of the fashionable Long Island jazz set, Egypt begins to be attracted to the Rev. Lodge and goes to great lengths to catch his eye. When she’s arrested in a roadhouse raid, she’s unrepentant even when her church going mother, trying to avoid scandal, arranges with the young Reverend Lodge for her release.
Her wild reputation sets off a vicious whisper campaign against the young Reverend by the church’s congregation whose hypocrisy doesn’t extend to their own twisted views. It all finishes with a terrific sea rescue.
The Sensation Seekers is one of the few surviving works of the innovative and visionary Lois Weber (1879-1939). In 1914 Weber became the first American woman to direct a feature-length film with The Merchant of Venice. In 1916 she became the highest paid director of either sex in Hollywood. Her moral outrage regarding the hypocrisy surrounding the changing social status of women is noted in numerous films. During her career, she pioneered the use of split-screen techniques in Suspense (1913), tackled abortion and birth control in Where Are My Children? (1916) and was provocative enough to provide Hollywood with its first instance of female full-frontal nudity in Hypocrites (1915). As a screenwriter, she penned the first big-screen version of Tarzan of the Apes (1918). She also discovered and served as mentor to several acclaimed actresses, including, Billie Dove.
Accompaniment by Fern Lindzon
This film presentation would not be possible without the generous support of NBC/Universal
Recommended Reading: Lois Weber in Early Hollywood by Shelley Stamp & The Women Film Pioneer Project Website
It’s been over a century since The Battle of the Somme, but the power of film is that it can bring the promise of seeing what we can no longer see or remember.
On July 1st 1916 at precisely 7:30am, tens of thousands of allied troops responded to the signal to go over the top. They faced one of the most fearsome bloodbaths ever recorded in war. The moment looms large in the collective British memory as nearly 20,000 British soldiers died on that day alone. The Somme also figures large in the Canadian collective memory for the assault by the Newfoundland Regiment at Beaumont-Hamel that resulted in an appalling 80% casualty rate. The battle would not end until well into November of that year.
The ferocious offensive drew on hundreds of thousands of men from both sides, and was the blood stained debut of thousands of volunteers who had flooded recruitment halls at the start of the war.
Two non-combatants were sent to do something unique: film the battle. Malins and Mcdowell’s footage was edited into a powerful film; one that ended up shaping the population’s vision of the conflict. Upon release in August, while the battle still raged, it became an instant sensation with 20 million tickets sold. The population of Great Britain was estimated to be 40 million at the time.
Audiences were stunned by the feeling that they had witnessed the battle for themselves. Yet, these very real scenes from the front needed the ultimate climactic images of men going over the top. For the cameramen that became an impossible and highly dangerous undertaking as they were loaded down with cumbersome equipment and would be out in the open exposed to deadly sniper fire. Ultimately the producers were forced to resort to staging after the fact. The few staged shots of men leaping over their parapet, stepping through the barbed wire before disappearing into the smoke had a tremendous impact. There were reports of audience members crying out “Oh God, they’re dead!” at the staged “deaths”. For most, it was their first exposure to wartime images.
Actual footage was equally disturbing: scenes of utter devastation of the countryside and villages; young soldiers looking at the camera, some waving, and some just smiling, none showing fear; unflinching views of the dead and wounded; the injured returned through the lines. Civilians began to sense what war looked like in the modern age and how it was like for their loved ones fighting.
The film now serves as a poignant and devastating reminder of how flesh and blood men lived and fought and died during one of the horrifying battles in history. Can we also ask the question: What does it mean to capture truth on film? Does the blurred line between authenticity and reconstruction matter if the overall genuineness is clear?
*Some images shown in this film may be disturbing for some people
A Page of Madness is a visually stunning masterpiece. It peels back its inner mysteries in both beautiful and disturbing ways. Made without intertitles, it is from the opening moment’s enigmatic impressions and scenes, a moving cacophony of which we’re not quite sure how it all fits together. We see a beautiful dancer in an elaborate headpiece dancing on a stylized stage. As the camera backs away, suddenly we are seeing her through bars, like those of a prison. When the scene cuts to a girl in a ragged dress, dancing feverishly in her cell as if compelled by an unseen force, it becomes clear that she is an asylum inmate, and the beautiful woman we first saw is her delusion.
Just like in Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, a film this is most often compared to, a plot eventually emerges. The old janitor works at the asylum to be near his wife, who is a patient there. When their daughter arrives with the news of her engagement, the family’s story, in the form of flashbacks, begins to piece together. The janitor attempts to free his wife from the asylum, but she seems unwilling to go—perhaps she knows it’s where she belongs, although there are signs that she may be afraid of her husband, who may be going mad himself.
Often called an “experimental” film, it can be interpreted in many different ways. The director himself, in his autobiography, said he decided to make it after seeing “the entourage of a certain noble gentleman, “one whom “secret whisperings” identified as Yoshihito (later Emperor Taisho). This film could therefore be also construed as a political allegory. The best films are always open for debate and however you may wish to interpret this film, it’s up to you.
Director Kinugasa went on to become a pillar of mainstream Japanese cinema (even bringing home the Palme d’Or from Cannes in 1954. His bizarre early masterpiece was thought lost for decades until the director himself uncovered a print in his storehouse.
Harry Langdon, Priscilla Bonner, Arthur Thalasso, Gertrude Astor
Harry Langdon had a comic method distinct from the other major comedians and it’s with this film that critics elevated him to the ranks of Chaplin, Lloyd and Keaton. His rise to the top was as swift as his fall from glory by the end of the 1920s. He’s an artist that is ripe for re-discovery with gems such as this.
Our hero is a gullible WWI soldier who is given a gun, but finds much more satisfaction winging the enemy with his trusty slingshot. Bolstered by the letters he receives from his American pen pal Mary, he falls head over heels in love even though he doesn’t even know what she looks like. Post war, he becomes strong man Zandow the Great’s go-fer and tags along with him to America, resolute in the conviction that he can easily find his sweetie. Harry steps out in New York and immediately starts asking every girl he meets if she is Mary. A mob gal, with a hot load of cash to conceal knows a sucker when she sees one. Harry gets his first big look at how the land of opportunity really works-and how!
Meanwhile the real Mary and her dad are up to their necks in bootleggers and gamblers taking over in their little town. The local mob boss hires Zandow to rid them of the do-gooders and well, the rest is up to Harry to save the day and win his newly found love.
Although this is clearly a Langdon film, there are definite touches from the future famous 1930s director Frank Capra (It’s a Wonderful Life).
Organ Accompaniment by Jelani Eddingtonon the 1929 Casavant-Frerse Pipe Organ