Saturday, October 04, 2008

Katie Melua: Mary Pickford

GB 2007. PC: Dramatico. Song written, produced, and arranged by Mike Batt; vocals, guitar: Katie Melua; music video, 3’08”, DVD 4x3 PAL, source: Edel Italia, Milano.
Russell Merritt: "The rhymes will have you jabbing a sharpened pencil in your ear, but how many 20-somethings hit the charts with a song about the formation of a silent film company? Katie Melua, Europe’s best-selling female pop artist, goes one better: she makes it light-hearted (some would say light-headed), good-natured, and wonderfully entertaining. “Mary Pickford”, about the creation of United Artists, is the breakout song from her latest album, Pictures. It is best enjoyed, as we’re showing it here, as a music video, where the bouncy jingle is enhanced by scenes from Pickford, Fairbanks, and Griffith movies, and the famous footage of the Big Four signing their contracts and cavorting for newsreel cameras. The song was written by Melua’s manager, Mike Batt. The trigger – like many of Batt’s songs – was evidently some Big Book of Fantastic Facts. In this case, the Fantastic Fact was that Mary Pickford ate roses as a beauty aid (you could check this yourself in Scott Eyman’s Pickford biography). But far from setting up satire, the rose-eating introduces the first of our four artist-heroes as pioneer independents, yesteryear superstars having a fine time creating a company that they will control. This is not the picture we might expect from someone growing up at a time when United Artists has become the depersonalized subsidiary of a multi-national consortium. But in this song United Artists stands for heroic, independent filmmakers going off on their own. The movie clips in the video capture the mood: Mary playing with Mack Sennett in An Arcadian Maid and posing in curls for Sparrows; Griffith fighting a stuffed bird in Rescued from an Eagle’s Nest, walking out of a split set in At the Crossroads of Life, rehearsing his actors in Way Down East, and playing war correspondent in Hearts of the World; Fairbanks strutting in The Thief of Bagdad, swirling his cape in Don Q, and sparring with Mary in Taming of the Shrew. Chaplin alone gets no film clips, but makes up for it by clowning in costume with Fairbanks at the UA signing." – Russell Merritt

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