Sunday, May 06, 2007

UW Cinematheque screens restored film by megastar whose dollhouse may have been viewed by more people than her movies

When this movie was made in 1927, Colleen Moore was the top box office draw in Hollywood, taking home $12,500 a week when that was real money. She was a star who knew how to manage her money, invested in the stock market, and wrote a book called "How Women Can Make Money in the Stock Market." She invested some of that money in a magnificent dollhouse she designed and built with the help of studio craftspeople, at a cost of nearly $500,000 (again, when that was real money) -- which she sent on a national tour during the Great Depression to raise more than $650,000 for children's charities, and which she donated to Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry in 1949, where it is still displayed, now redubbed Colleen Moore's Fairy Castle. Colleen Moore made millions through her acting and investing, and her films had helped define the look of the flapper era. Yet by the time she died in 1988, nearly as old as the century, her dollhouse was remembered fondly but her films were almost entirely forgotten, especially as the best were hard-to-see silents.

So, what did audiences see when they watched Colleen Moore on the silver screen in 1927? Saturday night, the UW Cinematheque recreated the silent film experience with a newly restored print of "Her Wild Oat" and gave us a chance to see for ourselves. From the program guide:
Colleen Moore created the character of a vivacious flapper and went on to become one of the top-grossing stars of the 1920. One of the most talked about actresses of her day, she stars as Mary Brown, owner of a tiny lunch wagon. With savings from her operation, Mary attempts to enter an exclusive summer resort society. Snubbed by the other guests, she disguises herself as the Duchesse de Granville, staying at an elegant hotel, and accepting expensive gifts from traveling salesmen. The situation gets complicated when the son of the Duke of Granville shows up. Restored print! Live piano accompaniment by David Drazin!
We found out what the exclamation mark was about when clasically-trained jazz pianist David Drazin (shown at left before the show) began working the keyboard. Drazin, who came up from Evanston, has made a career over the last 25 years providing improvisatory scores for silent films all over the country and at film festivals abroad -- for films he often hasn't even seen before sitting down to play. The effect was delightful, as he provided a running musical commentary on the adventures of Moore's winsome gamine as she tried to pull of her masquerade among the rich folks. As if that wasn't enough, the show began with a locally made short film, "The Rent Party," shot in the style of an early, flickering silent, which at one point features a piano player entertaining the rent party (rather inadvertently). The pianist is played on screen by Drazin -- at the same time he is sitting at the piano in the theater, providing the accompaniment. A memorable, surprising film moment. Way to go, Cinematheque!

It was also miraculous that we were able to see "Her Wild Oat" at all. The film does not appear in most standard film histories, simply because no print was thought to have survived. The restoration is based on a print that was found in, of all places, a Czech film archive, complete with Czechoslovakian intertitles and inserts. Be sure to check out this Andre Soares post about the restoration in the Alternative Film Guide blog. It provides a wealth of information about the film, some terrific images of stills from the movie, and more about Moore's tempestuous career (she was not the first Hollywood leading lady to have bad luck in her choice of men).

Hollywood trivia buffs will also appreciate the still from "Her Wild Oat" that shows a 14-year-old Loretta Young in a bit part. Soares explains the role Moore played in helping to launch Young's career -- and stage name.

1 comment:

zp said...

This and the last are two very interesting pieces of cinema news . . .