Friday, October 10, 2008

Lady of the Pavements

Sydämen laulu. US (c) 1928 United Artists. Released in 1929. PC: Art Cinema Corp. P: Joseph M. Schenck. D: D.W. Griffith. SC: Gerrit J. Lloyd, Sam Taylor - based on the novel La Paiva by Karl Vollmöller. DP: Karl Struss, G.W. Bitzer. AD: William Cameron Menzies. Original song: "Where Is The Song Of Songs For Me?" (Irving Berlin). STARRING: Lupe Velez (Nanon del Rayon), William Boyd (Count Karl von Arnim), Jetta Goudal (Countess Diane des Granges), Henry Armetta (Papa Pierre), Albert Conti (Baron Finot), George Fawcett (Baron Haussmann), Franklin Pangborn (M’sieu Dubrey, dance master), William Bakewell (a pianist). 7697 ft. /22 fps/ 94 min. - Print: MoMA. Original in English with Italian e-subtitles, grand piano: Donald Sosin, the original Irving Berlin song performed by Joanna Seaton. Viewed at Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone, Cinema Verdi, 9 September 2008. - Steven Higgins: "Schenck announced that Griffith would begin production on The Love Song, working from a script by Sam Taylor that was, in turn, based on a story by German author Karl Vollmoeller. (...) His solidly crafted shooting script for what would become Lady of the Pavements offered Schenck the hope of a box-office success.
Griffith was given two rising stars as his romantic leads – Lupe Velez (...) and William Boyd, an actor who would later make his mark as Hopalong Cassidy. Jetta Goudal, a dark beauty who had gained some notoriety as an exotic vamp, was cast as the vindictive countess. Karl Struss, assisted by Griffith veteran G.W. Bitzer, beautifully photographed William Cameron Menzies’ evocative sets. Gerrit J. Lloyd’s titles were well-suited to the Ruritanian flavor of the story and avoided the Victorian prose so characteristic of Griffith’s more personal films.
The result of all this was a well-made film, one that paid tribute to the wonders of the Hollywood studio system. Like many American releases of the late silent period, Lady of the Pavements was a polished production that entertained its audiences through a deft combination of attractive onscreen talent, obvious high production values, and efficient behind-the-camera support. Without a doubt, Lady of the Pavements was a stylish entertainment, and with it Griffith revealed that he was able to suppress his natural inclination to dominate a project, disappearing into the spirit of the piece just like any other contract director. Unfortunately, Griffith also was utterly unsuited to the milieu of the Second Empire, a historical period for which he had little feel and even less interest; as a result, for all its stylishness, the film is curiously cold, without substance or wit.
What one admires about Lady of the Pavements is its surface, not its soul. For all of the flawed and unsuccessful films he had directed during his career, never before this could Griffith have been accused of making a film lacking conviction. Here, two of his three lead actors work as if he is barely even on the set. In the case of supporting players Henry Armetta, George Fawcett, and Franklin Pangborn, Griffith gives them a great amount of latitude, allowing them to experiment with their characterizations in such a way as to suggest that he understood they would infuse his film with what little vitality it might hope to have. Jetta Goudal and William Boyd sleepwalk through their parts. Only Lupe Velez gives any indication of having worked through her character with her director, searching for the connective tissue that would explain, however tenuously, Nanon’s growth from a heedless cabaret performer to an elegant, intelligent woman deserving of love and respect. Such a wide variety of performances can make for a light-headed experience, and without a director’s careful consideration of how all the many and varied pieces should fit together, one can have the uncanny experience of watching several films at once. As well considered and clearly drawn as it is in terms of its art direction and photography, Lady of the Pavements is unfocussed in its characterizations. (...) He did attempt one bit of old-fashioned camera trickery, as a way to put some sort of personal stamp on the project. At the film’s end, when Nanon returns to the cabaret from which she was plucked, she sings a mournful song, and, while looking out at the audience, sees her husband, von Arnim, in every man in the audience. This wonderful moment was accomplished by special-effects expert Ned Mann, who filled the Smoking Dog cabaret with 13 William Boyds by exposing the camera negative 36 times. (...) Ultimately, Lady of the Pavements had its true success as a vehicle for Lupe Velez. It was released with a synchronized orchestral score, into which was interpolated at several key moments her rendition of an Irving Berlin song composed specially for the film, “Where Is the Song of Songs for Me?”."
Steven Higgins [DWG Project # 621] - A good print with beautiful definition of light, but there are two major passages where the original material has been decomposing. - The film is smoothly made, and has impressive camera movement. - There is an affinity in the scorned woman's revenge plot with the Denis Diderot story which Bresson filmed as Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne. - It is a pleasure to see Lupe Velez and Jetta Goudal as completely atypical Griffith women. Both have passion. - Several other actors are good, but William Boyd is bland.

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