Saturday, October 12, 2019

Blue Blazes Rawden (musical interpretation: Viktoras Orestas Vagusevičius, Lorena Ruiz Trejo)

William S. Hart, Maude George. Photo: Wikipedia.

Blue Blazes Rawden. From Ann Harding's Treasures: L'Homme aux yeux clairs.

Blue Blazes Rawden (US 1918) with William S. Hart and Maude George. Photo: Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences – Margaret Herrick Library, Los Angeles.

Blue Blazes Rawden. Saved by Joe La Barge (Jack Hoxie), Rawden narrowly escapes death at the hands of Babette (Maude George). Photo: Internet Movie Database.

Blue Blazes Rawden. Rawden carries Mother Hilgard (Gertrude Claire) across the river. Photo: Internet Movie Database.

Blue Blazes Rawden. Maude George, William S. Hart. Photo: Internet Movie Database.

Perä-Pohjolan urho / Blå Bäsen / L’uomo dagli occhi chiari.
US 1918.
regia/dir: William S. Hart.
sogg/story, scen: J. G. Hawks.
photog: Joe August.
scg/des: G. Harold Percival.
cast: William S. Hart (Jim “Blue Blazes” Rawden), Maude George (Babette DuFresne), Gertrude Claire (Mamma/Mother Hilgard), Robert McKim (“Ladyfingers” Hilgard), Robert Gordon (Eric Hilgard), Hart [Jack] Hoxie (Joe La Barge).
prod: William S. Hart Productions, supv: Thomas H. Ince.
dist: Paramount-Artcraft.
uscita/rel: 18.2.1918.
copia/copy: DCP, 61′; did./titles: ENG.
fonte/source: Library of Congress Packard Center for Audio-Visual Conservation, Culpeper, VA.
Preserved by the Library of Congress in cooperation with the UCLA Film and Television Archive.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM), Pordenone.
    William S. Hart.
    Musical interpretation: The 2019 Pordenone Masterclasses: Viktoras Orestas Vagusevičius (grand piano), Lorena Ruiz Trejo (alla batteria).
    Teatro Verdi, e-subtitles in Italian by Underlight, 12 Oct 2019.

Diane Koszarski (GCM): "Blue Blazes Rawden was Hawks’s second treatment of a story first produced with Hart as Keno Bates, Liar. It provides a useful study of the process by which the industry expanded two-reel dramas to five-reel features. Hart seized the opportunity to create adult drama faithful to his vision of Western values, taking full advantage of his new Artcraft contract and the lavish range of opportunities it provided."

"First, location work was far more expansive. The “forest frontier” was a popular variation on sagebrush hills for Hart’s scenarists. Blue Blazes Rawden is set in the Canadian Northwest of the 1880s, at a rough outpost teeming with Indians, émigrés, and local woodsmen. The lumber and limestone depot of Felton, California, situated in a large sequoia preserve south of San Francisco, stands in for the outskirts of Timber Cove. Elaborate Far North Saloon interiors, the work of Ince’s up-and-coming art director, G. Harold Percival, took up the whole of Hart’s production unit at the Lasky facilities. A rather florid opening title and the stunning cinematography of longtime collaborator Joe August sets an elegiac mood familiar in westerns since Owen Wister, with a nod to already existing Californian concerns about their redwoods. Rawden, drive crew boss, places his hand on a huge fallen tree like a big-game hunter claiming his prey."

"Secondly, features allowed more time for characterization and point of view. The NYMPC two-reelers depended on instantly recognizable, if colorful, stereotypes. Keno Bates is quickly established as a familiar Western type, the professional gambler. In Blue Blazes Rawden we meet Jim Rawden, a primal working man straight out of Jack London, a “jack” who belongs to “the forest and the white water,” supreme in his own world but challenged  by civilization. Rawden tromps into town on a payday spree, compelled like the pack leader he is to dominate a sneering English saloon owner, as well as his tempestuous half-breed mistress."

"In each of Hawks’s versions the protagonist has a dalliance with a saloon girl. In Rawden, Maude George plays the willful Babette DuFresne, half French-Canadian, half-Indian, with catlike, sinuous effect. She had been cast as morally suspect foreigners and vamps at Universal, Triangle, and Selig, and was a favorite of Lois Weber; later she became part of Erich von Stroheim’s stock company. Babette is a more sympathetic character than Anita in Keno Bates, Liar, but both half-breed women suffer the same flaw, the jealous pride and fiery temper that sets up mortal peril for the Anglo hero."

"In each film, when faced with a helpless “white” woman, the genteel bearer of civilization, the hero commits absolutely to protecting her from the shock of frontier life’s ugly truths. Hart feels no necessity to sketch in a picture of his character’s own relationship with a mother or sister; this is a cultural given, and such a constant theme in Hart’s work that one looks to the man himself for explanation. (In his autobiography, Hart expresses lifelong feelings of guilt at his failure to provide first for his mother, then for his sister.) In the two-reel drama, Bates’s decision to be a liar, to foster a kindly, necessary deception, is at first treated with notes of comedy. But in the feature version, once committed to such a lie, Rawden is deeply, seriously dislocated, and is constantly confronted with the irony of his position, to the point of refusing Babette’s attentions, selling out his stake in the saloon, and taking a bullet to maintain his benign fiction."

"Finally, the increased scope of a feature afforded adequate time and space for a more sophisticated mise-en-scène. Hart worked with Triangle alumnus Lambert Hillyer as director on all his Artcraft titles, though that credit was withheld due to legal disputes. Dramatic encounters in the Far North Saloon are textured through multiple camera set-ups, carefully grouped bystanders, telling glances, and pithy titling. As an actor Hart has clearly chosen gesture and facial expression over mere montage to convey the manic, almost animal energy of Jim Rawden, until the lumberjack is brought down by chivalry. In this the star trusts in proven theatrical tropes, delivered with such passion they burn on the screen. But after the gun duel crescendo, he and the other actors provide more normative, “natural” performances, as we see in the restrained death scene he and Robert McKim enact as “Ladyfingers” Hilgard delivers the fateful letter from Mother."

"Here is Bill Hart in his heyday, in spite of a souring business relationship with mentor Tom Ince. He was becoming wealthy, adored by millions around the world, working with familiar faces in a generous if hectic production deal, still able to project his values as Western parables for his fellow Americans. And those fans wanted happy endings. In the 16 titles done for his first Artcraft contract there are only a few exceptions. Hart’s character does part from his lady love in Wagon Tracks, but gets the girl (when one is involved) in all but two others. In Rawden and the subsequent Tiger Man he chooses likely death (off-screen) to resolve an impossible dilemma. The atmospheric snowstorm that envelops Rawden, this simple straightforward man, might be read as a harbinger of the sad frustrations, professional and personal, that lay ahead for Hart himself." Diane Koszarski (GCM)

AA: A William S. Hart masterpiece.

Diane Koszarski's program note is so comprehensive that there is little to add.

The double bill of Keno Bates, Liar and Blue Blazes Rawden is indeed illuminating. While Keno Bates, Liar is brilliant, Blue Blazes Rawden rises to another level.

The scope is bigger in epic, psychological and moral values.

Together with Wolf Lowry, Blue Blazes Rawden is among Hart's most shattering studies of the "alpha male". It is not a nice picture. The story is explicitly about a primal and brutal fight of leadership in a wolf pack. A fight about animal territory.

Babette is portrayed as following her animal instincts in becoming a submissive follower to the winning and dominating Rawden. This is not a story of sado-masochistic play, it is something more atavistic, about following the ancient, pre-human animal urge.

This film is one of those in which the good woman who transforms Hart's character is not a potential romantic partner. It is the mother of the man Hart killed in the fight for supremacy at the saloon.

And like in Keno Bates, Liar, Hart's character lies to the good woman, telling a white lie of how good her son was. And inevitably lying also about the fact that he killed him. As Diane Koszarski elaborates, this time the theme is developed into a full-scale tragedy.

The transformation is so extreme that it makes Rawden an outsider. In the stunning finale he leaves the place alone. "I belong with the forest and the white water". Badly wounded he vanishes on a mountain path into the snowstorm.


Made a year before The Song of the Scarlet Flower, it is interesting to register this powerful lumberjack movie from William S. Hart. The stories have nothing in common, but the pantheism of the forest landscape is similar. Mighty as the primeval forests (ikimetsä / urskog / Urwald) of the Nordic countries might be, they cannot begin to compete with North California's sequioa forests where this movie was shot (see the images above and compare them with the opening of The Song of the Scarlet Flower!).

William S. Hart was popular in Finland and Sweden, and this film was released in Finland under the title Perä-Pohjolan urho [The Brave from the Far North] and in Sweden as Blå Bäsen [The Blue Boss]. The Nordic lumberjack movies and the lumberjack figure have a lot in common with the Western and the Westerner. Blue Blazes Rawden is an explicit link between the genres.

Maude George is the most intriguing saloon girl performer in William S. Hart's films so far. As Diane Koszarski points out, she was an Erich von Stroheim regular (Foolish Wives, Merry-Go-Round, The Wedding March, etc.), and it is fascinating to meet this interpreter of aristocratic hauteur as a passionate she-wolf in a magisterial Northern.

According to the opening titles, this DCP is a transfer from a 16 mm print struck from an original nitrate negative. The visual quality is watchable, on the soft side.


AA Facebook capsule:

Blue Blazes Rawden, the last and most recent film in the William S. Hart retrospective, is an epic remake and a thorough reworking of the idea of Keno Bates, Liar. It's a Northern rather than a Western, among Hart's most shattering studies of the "alpha male", literally compared with a leader of a wolf pack. The she-wolf is played by Maude George in a surprising turn. We remember her aristocratic hauteur as an Erich von Stroheim regular. A masterpiece.

Blue Blazes Rawden tunnettiin Suomessa nimellä Perä-Pohjolan urho, joka onkin täysin osuva nimi. William S. Hart esittää raakaa tukkilaista, jota verrataan susilauman johtajasuteen. Kaikki alkaa ikimetsästä. Elokuva valmistui vuotta ennen kuin Mauritz Stillerin Laulu tulipunaisesta kukasta, josta käynnistyi tukkilaiselokuvan genre. Olipa Hart inspiroijana tai ei, Blue Blazes Rawden on lännenelokuvan ja tukkilaiselokuvan välinen puuttuva rengas.

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