"The Triumph of American Film"



 By incorporating in the title of the first episode the phrase, “The World Discovers a New Art Form,” Cousins had pointed to a stress on the emergence of narrative cinema globally but with no indication of one country becoming dominant in the field. The title of the second episode, however, is explicit about its emphasis on one national cinema during a particular era: “1918-1928: The Triumph of American Film and the First of Its Rebels.” Cousins begins by showing footage of World War I, then switches back to the Hollywood landscape and the lead it took in capturing a world audience in the aftermath of the devastating conflict. In his commentary, he returns to his theme of Hollywood as a shiny, perfect bauble, escapist and romantic, placing once again on the screen the red ornament. He shows vintage footage of the studios, discourses on the largely Jewish moguls who built the industry, talks about the “big, boring bunkers” where the sets were built on the studio lots, the assembly line methods by which films were now turned out. He says that, as a result of an international audience falling in love with Hollywood films, countries around the world set up their own studios to make “copycat,” formulaic productions in the American manner.   


 Hollywood’s technology, he points out, was brilliant. As an example of the expertise the studios achieved in lighting, he includes a clip from Citizen Kane (1941). He then shows footage from The Thief of Bagdad (1924), noting its “inhuman scale” and “elegance,” representing what designer William Cameron Menzies thought the ancient city looked like.

 He continues by showing Marilyn Monroe’s dresses and a strikingly lit scene from Desire (1936) with Marlene Dietrich as examples of the careful attention paid to the creation of stars. The elaborate dolly shot used in Gone With the Wind (1939) is then seen.  He displays the technology used in photographing Hollywood’s dreams—two cameras, one developed in World War II, the other coming into use in the 1960s--and the movie theatres acquired by the studios so that the films made in “boring buildings” could be seen by audiences in grand palaces. He quotes author Henry Miller as calling the Hollywood system “a dictatorship in which the artist is silenced.” Cousins then observes that others, however, found genius in it. He shows as an example Busby Berkeley’s remarkable choreography in the “Pettin’ in the Park” number from  Gold Diggers of 1933. This leads to a segment from his interview with director Stanley Donen commenting on his experiences at MGM in the 1940s and 1950s, followed by a clip from his Singin’ in the Rain (1952). This, says Cousins, exemplifies MGM’s “opulent” style, a contrast to the more “streetwise” Warner Bros., illustrated by a scene from The Maltese Falcon (1941), and the “sparkling, champagny” Paramount, represented once again by Marlene Dietrich, this time in Josef von Sternberg’s The Scarlet Empress (1934). The studio system, he declares, at its considerable best fostered “brilliance.”


  The problem with Cousins’ presentation is that, with the exception of The Thief of Bagdad, he has yet to show any example of actual Hollywood filmmaking in the 1920s, the decade with which this episode was supposed to be concerned. Instead of giving some illustration of what actually attracted a world-wide audience in the 1920s, footage he could easily have obtained from the vast number of extant films made in that era, he mostly pulls together material from later decades in an effort to express generalities which he evidently feels applies to Hollywood throughout its existence, irrespective of period. This kind of broad overview, however, alternately distracts from his ostensible objective, failing to place a proper context in which the resistance to the Hollywood “bauble” in the ‘20s will emerge. Once again, history has been sacrificed in the interest of theory.

 Perhaps sensing that he had strayed too far from the American cinema of the ‘20s, Cousins returns to The Thief of Bagdad, showing extended footage from a film he says could stand for many of the Hollywood silents. Indeed, he maintains that for many this kind of entertainment defines what a movie is. As he describes it, The Thief of Bagdad is romantic cinema with a likable hero with whom the audience can identify involved in exciting adventures. With its humor and adventure amidst the lavish settings, it is very American in its optimism.


  In suggesting, however, that the film was in any way typical of the Hollywood studio system, Cousins ignores the fact that it was not a product of the big studios at all. The Thief of Bagdad was an independent production made by its star-producer, Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., for his own company, part of the United Artists organization he had helped found to maintain his creative freedom. Very much an artistic experiment, its evolution and realization were hardly characteristic of the assembly line product Cousins ascribes to the major studios. Fairbanks’ immediate inspiration was the contemporary German cinema, in particular Fritz Lang’s Destiny (1921) which included an episode in medieval Baghdad, complete with elaborate sets.


 In content, too, The Thief of Bagdad was a trail blazer. Despite its fantastic narrative, it was unusual in its time in presenting the Islamic civilization of the Middle East with sympathy and respect, a decided departure from the many Hollywood and European films which have often denigrated or demonized the Muslim world. A few years ago, TCM presented a series on the Hollywood representation of Arabs, coordinated by Jack Shaheen, the author of the book and documentary Real Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People. Introducing The Thief of Bagdad, Shaheen praised Fairbanks’ film as one of the handful made in Hollywood which presented the religion and culture of Islam positively. Also, Robert Irwin, a distinguished British writer and scholar of Arabic Literature, has hailed The Thief of Bagdad as a true cinematic masterpiece. Fairbanks’ film was groundbreaking as well in its casting, featuring Chinese-American actress Anna May Wong in a prominent role which helped establish her as a star and giving another major part to Japanese actor Sojin Kamiyama. None of this, however, is acknowledged by Cousins who interprets the film simply as a lavish, well-crafted example of Hollywood’s escapist romantic fantasy.

 Cousins then asks the rhetorical question whether the Hollywood of the ‘20s could be called innovative. He answers by saying that the comedies, the works of its three great star-directors, were most certainly innovative. He introduces this section with a scene from an unnamed early comedy, accompanied by a regrettable dismissal of 1910s comedies as mostly slapstick that provided no more than “a good cheap laugh,” thereby apparently attempting to justify his ignoring the immense creative contributions of Mack Sennett, Mabel Normand and Roscoe Arbuckle. In other respects, however, this segment  is one of his best. Instead of veering off into tangents with only a tenuous connection to his subject, he remains on course by centering on the three great comic artists’ works and their subsequent influence.


  He begins by analyzing Buster Keaton in terms of his mastery of cinematic techniques. He demonstrates Keaton’s fascination with cinematography through a clip from The Cameraman (1928), his ability to think like an architect in devising a gag for One Week (1920), his editing technique with a repetition of the Sherlock, Jr. dream sequence previously featured in the first episode, his employment of the special properties of film to show his character leaping from one high building to another in The Three Ages (1923). He also includes from the 1965 documentary, Buster Keaton Rides Again, an example of Keaton’s continuing ingenuity toward the end of his life in conceiving gags. Scenes from his large-scale Civil War masterpiece, The General (1927), including the destruction of a real train, illustrate the extent to which he was able to film amazing and elaborate gags to express his comic vision. Using off-screen footage of the comedian in later years, Cousins notes that Keaton later lost this freedom when he was at MGM and for years was forgotten. As an example of Keaton’s continuing influence, he also includes a clip from Elie Sulieman’s Palestinian film, Divine Intervention (2002). He transitions to the next segment on Charlie Chaplin by excerpting the famous scene from Chaplin’s Limelight (1952) in which the two artists worked together.


  The section on Charlie Chaplin is the most fully developed with choice footage from three of his features. Cousins emphasizes Chaplin’s elaborate use of body language, showing his painstaking rehearsal of a scene in City Lights (1931), followed by an excerpt of its execution in the completed film. The Kid (1921), Cousins points out over scenes from the film, drew on the comedian’s memories of childhood poverty in England. He notes that Chaplin’s direction enabled child actor Jackie Coogan to give an outstanding performance and compares the comedian’s approach favorably to both Charles Dickens and D. W. Griffith. There is a clip of the building of Chaplin’s studio in 1918, filmed in time-lapse photography, and more of the comedian’s pantomime sequence in front of a store window in City Lights. Cousins also includes interviews with Chaplin’s friend, Norman Lloyd, and Stanley Donen. Lloyd talks about the effect of Chaplin’s impoverished youth on his art and Donen describes his ability to extract humor from such serious subjects as Hitler and fascism.  Demonstrating the centrality of Chaplin’s social and political views in shaping his work, Cousins excerpts from The Great Dictator (1940), observing in the celebrated scene of Chaplin as Hitler playing with a globe the unique combination by which the comedian used ballet to satirize fascism. In addition, Cousins illustrates how Chaplin inspired such comedians as France’s Jacques Tati [Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday; 1953], Italy’s Toto [Toto in Color; 1953) and India’s Raj Kapoor [Awaara; 1951) as well as influencing directors Billy Wilder [Some Like It Hot; 1959) and Nicolas Roeg [Bad Timing; 1980].


 While there is less time given to Harold Lloyd, reflective of the unfortunate dearth of critical attention paid to him over the years compared to the tremendous amount of writing on Chaplin and Keaton, Cousins is to be commended for including him in the pantheon alongside the other two where he certainly belongs. Utilizing an excerpt from Luke’s Movie Muddle (1916), he points out that Lloyd started out with a character influenced by Chaplin in the “Lonesome Luke” series before creating his own screen persona, a nerdy-looking young man in glasses who turns out to be, as Cousins puts it, “a ballsy dreamer.” He first shows this character in  footage from Haunted Spooks (1920) and then demonstrates Lloyd’s daring on a high building in Never Weaken (1921) despite suffering in real life from vertigo and the loss of several fingers on one hand. Next, he highlights the tremendous thrilling climax in the legendary feature, Safety Last (1923), in which Lloyd encounters every conceivable obstacle during his climb up a towering building, an ascent which finally brings him to the top where he is reunited with his girl. Lloyd’s influence on other filmmakers is then illustrated by a scene from Ozu’s silent comedy, I Flunked, But. . . (1930), in which college students act in a manner similar to that of the American comedian.


  Following this segment on the great comedians, Cousins returns to The Thief of Bagdad and its visual splendor which held so much appeal for a world audience. But then he makes a decidedly strained comparison in once again identifying the Fairbanks spectacle with the bauble, the symbol of which reappears on the screen after the clip from The Thief of Bagdad. He juxtaposes scenes of the Baghdad of today with the fantastic medieval city of Fairbanks’ film in an attempt to shatter the “bauble” of Hollywood romance with the unglamorous reality. Such a comparison, though, is of questionable value with its conflation of the nearly-century old imaginative conception of a powerful ancient city with the modern metropolis weakened by years of a devastating war launched by an invading military force. One wonders if Cousins is attempting to somehow analogize the work of an American filmmaker utilizing the Iraqi city of one thousand years ago for his creative vision with present-day American imperialists destroying its modern successor in order to realize their geopolitical goals. Is this perhaps  intended as a metaphor for what he sees as Hollywood’s cultural imperialism? In any case, as a truly meaningful analogy this juxtaposition ultimately fails.

  The reintroduction of The Thief of Bagdad is intended by Cousins for one clear purpose, namely, to serve as a transition to those filmmakers in America who rebelled against the Hollywood “bauble” in the ‘20s, a point he makes by depicting the red ornament shattering. He first deals with Robert J. Flaherty’s classic documentary about the Inuit people, Nanook of the North (1922). As Cousins presents it, this film showing real people in a real environment was the exact opposite of The Thief of Bagdad. He might have made a more effective point, however, if he had contrasted Nanook with a contemporary 1920s drama of high society or perhaps a melodramatic adventure story of the era set in more recent times to convey properly the “shock” produced by Flaherty’s landmark film. Quite apart from the fact that The Thief of Bagdad was made over two years after Nanook of the North, his attempt to cast Fairbanks’ film as a symbol of Hollywood romance against which realistic filmmakers were supposedly in revolt seems more than a trifle Gradgrindian. The Thief of Bagdad was very clearly a marvelous fairy tale taking place in a very remote time and place which no rational person then would have mistaken for a portrayal of real life. It would have been just as logical to have argued that Henrik Ibsen’s realistic dramas were a rebellion against Hans Christian Andersen’s romantic fairy tales.


  In other respects, Cousins, using clips from the film, effectively makes the point that Nanook had a major impact on audiences by showing real people apparently filmed in their daily lives, although he also acknowledges that Flaherty was willing to stage scenes to convey his vision. But after noting that Flaherty’s film established the documentary as a major force in cinema, he seems to go off course again. He follows the footage from Nanook with scenes from documentaries made decades later—Forough Farrokhzad’s The House of Black (1963), Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil (1983), Jorgen Leth’s The Perfect Human (1967) and its spin-off, Lars von Trier’s The Five Obstructions (2003), and Susan Dynner’s Punk’s Not Dead (2007). With the exception of Farrokhzad’s outstanding and poetic study of life in an Iranian leper colony, none of these films bear any similarity to Nanook nor does he say they were specifically influenced by Flaherty. In neither his book nor his series does he give examples of documentaries in the ‘20s and ‘30s directly inspired by Flaherty’s pioneering work, such as the celebrated films by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack, Grass (1925) and Chang (1927). By turning into a mini-history of documentaries, the end effect of this segment is to take away the viewer’s attention from the stated subject of this episode—1920s Hollywood and those who challenged its “romanticism.”

 Getting back on topic, Cousins discusses in turn Erich von Stroheim’s Greed (1924) and King Vidor’s The Crowd (1928). For the most part, his treatment of these two great films is excellent with intelligent commentary on their remarkable, pioneering realism. In this, he was aided by Kevin Brownlow’s skilled documentation of the films in his Hollywood: The Pioneers from which Cousins not only derived insights and factual data but also portions of interviews that Brownlow conducted for his celebrated series.


 Following the lead of Hollywood: The Pioneers, Cousins introduces the segment on von Stroheim with a striking and sinister close-up of him from his first film as a director, Blind Husbands (1919). He speculates that von Stroheim might have been influenced by Flaherty’s realism when he made Greed, although this is most unlikely as the director had already announced in early 1920 his intention of bringing Frank Norris’ McTeague to the screen, two years before the release of Nanook. In addition, von Stroheim's brilliant technique, with its painstaking exploration of psychology and dissection of society, was a vital part of all the films he directed prior to the appearance of Nanook.

 Cousins' speculation about the documentarian inspiring von Stroheim seems to stem in part from the very limited time that the episode allowed for a proper exposition. In his book, on the other hand, he was quite perceptive in writing that Flaherty, Lois Weber and von Stroheim developed their highly individual visions of reality independently. Particularly outstanding among films faithfully presenting the early 1920s were two masterpieces released in 1921, Weber's The Blot and William C. deMille's Miss Lulu Bett, both of which were intensely realistic depictions of American small-town life. Anticipating Greed in its use of natural interiors--scenes filmed inside actual houses rather than on studio sets--The Blot shows uncompromisingly the poverty that beset educators in an aggressively commercial society. Miss Lulu Bett, with simple eloquence, portrays the rigid conformity of a provincial community against which its long-repressed heroine finally rises in revolt. Despite the praise in his book of Weber's strong social consciousness, however, Cousins did not mention The Blot which she made for her own independent company and is considered by many her greatest work. As for Miss Lulu Bett, neither the film nor its director was acknowledged by Cousins, perhaps because its production by a major studio flies in the face of his assertion that the Hollywood dream factories in those days were devoted exclusively to manufacturing glamorous escapism. 


  With its epic scope, Greed was a true landmark, a culminating achievement in cinematic realism, and Cousins is right on target in comparing it to the works of Zola and Dostoyevsky. In his segment on the film, he includes the Brownlow interview with screenwriter Anita Loos in which she praises von Stroheim as a poet and an artist, one of the few true geniuses in Hollywood so that it was inevitable he would have nothing but trouble there. Footage of von Stroheim directing actor Jean Hersholt in Greed as he shows him how to comb his hair, a scene which appears in a 1923 film about Hollywood, Souls for Sale, is misidentified by a caption on the screen as being from The Lost Squadron, a 1932 feature in which von Stroheim was solely an actor playing the role of a director. In a further bit of confusion, Cousins’ commentary states that von Stroheim is directing an actress in this scene.


  Then Cousins shows haunting images from the director's masterpiece, powerful scenes in Greed of the growing estrangement between two former friends, Trina (ZaSu Pitts) with her gold coins, the harrowing disintegration of her marriage to McTeague, the final deadly confrontation in the desert wastes of Death Valley, filmed in blazing heat as von Stroheim, seeking the ultimate in realism, pushed his actors to the limit. He includes part of another interview from Hollywood: The Pioneers, this one with cinematographer Karl Brown who expresses the feeling that early in his life von Stroheim must have suffered such pain and humiliation that he decided to use film as a weapon. That weapon, as Cousins correctly points out in this instance, one of untrammeled realism, targeted the unreal romantic fantasy that appeared in many popular films. He mentions how Greed, which the MGM producers hated, originally ran many hours before it was drastically cut for release. Cousins also includes footage of von Stroheim’s return visit to Vienna in 1948 after the war in an unsuccessful attempt to direct another film. Following this are scenes from his appearance in Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard (1950) in which a clip from Queen Kelly (1929), his silent film starring Gloria Swanson, was used.


 Cousins then considers King Vidor’s The Crowd, accurately describing this uncompromising depiction of a New York office worker’s battles with unemployment and poverty as “the greatest social problem film prior to the Wall Street crash.”  His excerpts include the intensely dramatic scene when the young man, played by James Murray, vainly urges people in the neighborhood not to disturb his seriously injured daughter from her rest, and a moving example of Eleanor Boardman’s powerful performance as the wife.  Cousins illustrates how Vidor’s famous long-shot of an office interior inspired similar scenes in Wilder’s The Apartment (1960) and Orson Welles’ The Trial (1962). In an interview with Vidor from Hollywood: The Pioneers, the director observes that the film was very much a departure from the kind of glamour featured in many films of the time. Vidor relates that he shot a number of different endings, breaking from the conventional finish with the concluding scene of the couple in the theatre as the young male protagonist becomes in the final image one of the crowd. Utilizing dynamic footage of Vidor’s urban landscapes in the film, Cousins observes how The Crowd’s innovative realism, its kinetic energy, its portrayal of the common man, its depiction of the city paralleled a number of number of other films about modern life produced in the ‘20s and ‘30s in France, Germany and Russia, both dramatic films and documentaries.


 After these segments on the two monumental American films of the 1920s which challenged glamour and romantic escapism, Cousins then makes a sharp overseas detour. From the vistas of 1920s New York in The Crowd, he cuts to a glimpse of Moscow today as a lead-in to footage from Yakov Protazanov’s Aelita: Queen of Mars (1924) in which people on Mars, represented by fantastic Constructivist sets and costumes, are shown looking at earth through a powerful telescope. What they are revealed to be watching is the Moscow of the 1920s, filmed on location in a manner that Cousins says played with rebellious ideas of realism and the city.  He seems to be suggesting a kind of parallel between Vidor’s technique and that employed by Protazanov in Aelita. I find such a connection, however, a bit tenuous. The Crowd is a powerful masterpiece of realism in the classic sense, a cinematic equivalent of the works of Balzac, Flaubert, Tolstoy, and Ibsen. Aelita, while a remarkable achievement, too, with a narrative incorporating a vivid depiction of Moscow life in the early 1920s, blends reality with dreams in a manner differing from a more documentary-like approach. 


  A closer parallel to The Crowd can be found in another film from Soviet Russia—Abram Room’s Bed and Sofa (1927), a realist masterpiece made at exactly the same time as Vidor’s classic. Like The Crowd, Room’s film powerfully presents the pressures of daily life in a modern urban environment. The menage a trois that ensues when a man who has found work in Moscow is forced to share an apartment with an old army buddy and his wife due to the housing shortage, the unusual conclusion when the woman leaves both men to go on her own rather than abort the child resulting from the liaison—this was a portrayal of the life of ordinary people with a striking realism that directly opposed conventional ideas of domesticity. In a further counterpart to Vidor’s challenge to Hollywood’s romanticized values, Room’s film dispensed with the revolutionary heroism of many other Soviet films of the era. A recent poll of Russian critics voted Bed and Sofa one of the half dozen greatest films ever made in Russia. Yet although Room’s film is scarcely an obscure title among knowledgeable cinema historians, Cousins nowhere mentioned it in his book, let alone included it in the second episode where it could have provided a logical transition from The Crowd to films made in other countries that simultaneously presented analogous depictions of reality.


 Cousins observes that Protazanov’s film was very different from the Soviet works he will cover in a subsequent episode. Then he turns to a film by another great Russian director contemporary with Protazanov, Evgenii Bauer. He includes remarkable scenes from Bauer’s 1915 masterpiece, After Death, the story of a man who becomes obsessed with an actress he meets and whose spirit returns to haunt him after her untimely death. Cousins shows Bauer’s brilliance with composition and staging, his skillful use of tinting, his sensitive direction of players—all accompanied by insightful commentary. Unlike with many other directors, however, Cousins says nothing about Bauer’s life or his fate—his death in 1917 in his early fifties after four intensely creative years as Russia’s foremost director, a passing that preceded by just a few months the dramatic changes in Russian life, including its cinema, affected by the Russian Revolution. In and of itself, however, the segment on Bauer’s After Death is quite striking.


 The difficulty arises that, much more than the Aelita footage that preceded it, this sequence has no discernible connection to the rest of the episode concerned with 1920s Hollywood and those who rebelled against it. Bauer, after all, was not even alive in the ‘20s while his works, unknown outside Russia for many years, had no apparent influence whatever on filmmakers in silent era Hollywood. So little connection does this segment have to the other parts of the second program one is left with the impression that, after completing the first episode, Cousins suddenly realized he had unintentionally neglected Bauer. The director would certainly have fit into the opening chapter concerned with the evolution of narrative film in the 1910s had not Cousins been so intent on framing that period as a cosmic contrast between Scandinavia and Hollywood, leaving no room for the cinemas of other countries. Hence, Bauer was inserted into the second episode, regardless of whether or not it was really in accord with the chapter’s structure. Or so at least it seems from the arbitrary manner in which he has been included here.

 This kind of misplacement is especially regrettable as the pre-revolutionary Russian cinema, including Bauer, one of the true geniuses of early cinema, was largely unknown in the outside world for decades. Only with the end of the first Cold War and the opening of the Russian archives in the late 1980s did this major chapter of film history finally become accessible in the West. It was essential that a documentary series on film history help further the continuing recognition of early Russian cinema by placing it in its proper context, as Cousins had done in his book. But by dumping it in the midst of an episode on 1920s Hollywood, Cousins has tended to vitiate the effectiveness of this segment in relation to others in the chapter.


 In an effort to justify his inclusion here, Cousins aligns Bauer with realistic filmmakers who went on to challenge Hollywood’s romantic outlook, thereby further confusing the issue by locating the pre-revolutionary Russian cinema within his favored binary. But while Bauer did direct a number of realistic films, After Death is not at all an example of realism but is rather a cinematic masterpiece of the Symbolist movement that dominated Russian art in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, an era of creativity known as the Silver Age. Symbolism was a rebellion against the realism and naturalism that had been so prevalent in Russia and other countries for much of the 19th century. Bauer’s film, instead of recording the pattern of ordinary daily life, is a mystical one in which a dead woman literally returns to haunt the living, thus dissolving the difference between the material and the supernatural worlds. In a different way, Aelita also transcends mundane existence through the use of Symbolism mingling reality and dreams in a departure from normative perceptions of the world.

 Cousins has constructed his entire series around a theory pitting a Hollywood attempting to dominate the world with its escapist fantasies vs. a number of efforts, mainly in other countries, to challenge the particular vision of life fostered by the Pacific Coast colossus. This results in a reductionist interpretation in which seemingly every alternative vision of cinema is anti-Hollywood and committed to “realism,” even if the filmmakers’ well of inspiration had nothing to do with a particular repudiation of Tinseltown nor was motivated by an adherence to realism as an artistic movement.


  Cousins’ characterization of Bauer in After Death as a realist would also appear to be intended as a transition to the next segment on the great Danish director, Carl-Theodor Dreyer, and his silent film masterpiece, The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), made in France. Utilizing footage from the film, Cousins demonstrates its intense realism and its remarkable use of close-ups to tell the story of the trial and execution of the 15th century saint. He includes an interview he conducted with a leading contemporary Danish director, Lars von Trier, on Dreyer as well as part of an interview which Dreyer himself gave in his old age. In addition, there are clips from Dreyer’s first film, The President (1919), his 1932 German-made horror classic, Vampyr, and his last two films, Ordet (1955) and Gertrud (1964). There are also scenes from Jean-Luc Godard’s Vivre sa vie (1962), in which the protagonists watch The Passion of Joan of Arc, and von Trier’s Dogville (2003). Cousins describes Dogville as having been influenced by Dreyer and says that its spare design including an absence of sets is the exact opposite of The Thief of Bagdad with its splendid décor. Concerning Dreyer himself, Cousins credits him with having in The Passion of Joan of Arc purged silent cinema of elaborate sets and spectacle.

 Undeniably, there are definite parallels between Dreyer and the rebel American filmmakers who were highlighted earlier. This segment, therefore, does not seem as awkward an interjection as the one on Protazanov and Bauer that just precedes it. Dreyer’s silent film directorial career does belong to the postwar decade and his cinematic vision was incontrovertibly at odds with studio artifice. The refusal to use make-up on the actors in The Passion of Joan of Arc, the insistence on absolute realism to the point that the players seemed to be really living and suffering like the characters they were portraying—these all bore a similarity to methods employed by Flaherty, von Stroheim, and Vidor.

 Even so, there are specific historical aspects to the evolution of Dreyer’s art that Cousins does not address. The director’s fierce independence arose from his years of experience as a scriptwriter at Nordisk and his desire to make films that were very different not from Hollywood’s but from the more standardized Danish productions that the studio had made. In his battle to establish himself as a director in the late 1910s, he was inspired not only by the Scandinavian masters Christensen, Sjostrom and Stiller, but also by D. W. Griffith, the American filmmaker Cousins had labeled as “over-remembered.” Yet Griffith’s films, with their emphasis on naturalistic acting, were a revelation to Dreyer, inspiring him in his own quest to create films in which the gestures and the emotions on the actors’ faces were essential in conveying the narrative. That none of this was brought up in the segment is perhaps not surprising given Cousins’ determination to cast Hollywood as the prime progenitor of the factory system and the extent to which he had tended to minimize Griffith’s contributions in the first episode.


 From one perspective, it seems a bit odd that Dreyer, who never worked in Hollywood, was included in an episode on the American cinema of the ‘20s and those within it who rebelled against the system rather than in the next chapter dealing with the innovative silent filmmakers of Europe and Asia who developed alternative approaches. It was certainly not due to a dearth of independent-minded American directors in those years beyond the ones Cousins highlighted. For example, Rex Ingram, who had won great success with such celebrated films as The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921), came to view the Hollywood mode of production as so stifling to his vision that he set up his own studio in the south of France where he created a personal masterwork, Mare Nostrum (1926), a unique blend of psychology, adventure and mysticism in a manner that departed radically from mainstream productions. The Hungarian émigré Paul Fejos, after winning recognition for an experimental, independently-financed and now lost feature, was given carte blanche by Universal to make Lonesome (1928), an exploration of urban loneliness centered around two young people in the same apartment, previously unacquainted, who meet by chance. This remarkable film has long been recognized as a masterpiece and was another decided break from the Hollywood pattern. There was also the work of Nell Shipman, the Canadian-born producer-writer-actress-director of a series of amazing films using the natural locations of Canada, the Southern California desert, and the Idaho wilderness where she had her own studio in the early 1920s. Her work, reflecting an impassioned environmentalism and feminism establishing a bond between humans and animals, derived from a creative originality that could only flourish in independence of the Hollywood studios. Josef von Sternberg was yet another rebel against the 1920s Hollywood standard, legendary for employing light and shadow in dramatic, untraditional ways in his silents to develop narrative and characterization.


  While it would hardly have been possible for Cousins to have included all these examples in his series, it is telling to discover how much was missing in his book to begin with and how that would have necessarily influenced what he chose to emphasize in his documentary. In his book, he makes no mention at all of Fejos and Shipman although both have enjoyed a renaissance of interest in recent years. Ingram he merely refers to in passing in his book as an adherent of the kind of “closed romantic realism” characteristic of the Hollywood studio system with no recognition of the independent vision that brought about his self-exile to Nice. In his book, Cousins does praise von Sternberg’s “visual excess,” but in the documentary itself, the only clips from his works he includes (from Shanghai Express and The Scarlet Empress, both with Marlene Dietrich) are utilized to tie him to the Hollywood fantasy machine that he critiques. 


 There can be little doubt about the intensity with which Cousins goes about promulgating his theory. The earnest nature of his presentation about Hollywood's domination is far removed from the lighthearted satire of Sergei Komarov's A Kiss from Mary Pickford (1927), a very amusing Soviet film about the enormous popularity of Pickford and Fairbanks in the Russia of the 1920s. The story of a humble theatre usher who becomes a sudden celebrity after a chance meeting with Mary Pickford in which she kisses him, it was built around a scene Mary had filmed with leading actor Igor Ilyinsky at the Mezhrabpom Studio in Moscow during her 1926 visit with Fairbanks. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, this film, with its delightful mixture of irony and admiration for Hollywood and its star system, plays no role in Cousins' much more serious critique of the American cinema's effect on world filmmaking.


 In summary, Cousins’ second episode, intended to document the Hollywood studio system of the 1920s and the rebels who emerged within its ranks, begins by illustrating the system in that period with clips from sound films made years later along with one elaborate 1920s production that was made independently of the big studios. He then gets back on track by properly discussing the three great comedy stars and the three great maverick directors, marred only by a comparatively slight lapse into a history of documentaries. But next he takes the episode into another country in an earlier era that has nothing whatever to do with Hollywood in the ‘20s. Following this, he returns to the ‘20s and a great European director whose career does have parallels to the American rebels. Still, he overlooks an abundant opportunity to remain more clearly on target by including any of the other outstanding American filmmakers whose alternative visions of cinema were formed in active opposition to the Hollywood system with which they had been engaged. The reason for this seeming confusion, I believe, stems from an approach that privileges theory over history. Hence, he often dispensed with the kind of sustained research that documentation giving primacy to fact over opinion would have necessitated.  



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