Sunday, 25 October 2015

Silent film farmers: a postscript

I thoroughly enjoyed Wednesday evening at the Lansdown pub in Bristol showing a combined Georgian/Irish programme of films about subsistence farming (if you squint) at the very kind invitation of the wonderful Bristol Silents film club. The programme featured two of the 'O'Kalem' films shot in Ireland in the 1910s, and Mikhail Katatozov's Salt for Svanetia which I had seen last year at the seventyseven film club (Bristol is good at film clubs).

The Lad from Old Ireland can be seen here:

It has the distinction of being the first fiction film shot in Ireland, as well as the first American film shot abroad, and it was also a pioneer in location shooting (the Kalem company didn't have its own studio; in pioneering location shooting they were making a virtue of necessity).

A clip from Salt for Svanetia can be seen here

Its director was supposed to be making a piece of agitprop about the building of Soviet infrastructure but mostly forgets this (until the startling final few minutes of the film) in favour of watching the play of light and shade and texture.

A final snippet from this event: while I was watching the O'Kalems it was difficult not to be reminded of later films set in Ireland (like Song o' my Heart (Borzage, 1930), starring John McCormack), as well as of later emigrant narratives like Das Lockende Ziel (Reichmann, 1930). Links are made by some scholars between The Lad from Old Ireland and John Ford's 1952 classic The Quiet Man.

I was particularly struck by the shot in The Lad from Old Ireland where Terry, played by Sidney Olcott, is bidding farewell to his sweetheart Aileene, played by Gene Gauntier. The scene takes place against the backdrop of a cottage, a field, a drystone wall:

Compare this sequence from Song o' my Heart where Fergus, played by John Garrick, bids farewell to Eileen (coincidence?), played by Maureen O'Sullivan. The scene takes place against the backdrop of a cottage, a field, a drystone wall:

In fact they liked this so much they shot it twice! This is one of the films for which an International Sound version exists as well as the domestic release version - perhaps more on that in another post. 

Is this just a really well-worn shot setup? Comments welcome on any other emigrants-bidding-farewell-to-sweethearts-in-front-of-drystone-wall sequences out there...

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