Wednesday, October 06, 2021

Miss Lulu Bett (GCM 2021)

William C. de Mille: Miss Lulu Bett (US 1921) with Milton Sills (Neil Cornish, the school teacher) and Lois Wilson (Miss Lulu Bett). Photo: Museum of Modern Art (New York).

regia/dir: William C. de Mille.
scen, adapt: Clara S. Beranger, dal romanzo e dalla pièce di/from the novel and play by Zona Gale (New York, D. Appleton & Co., 1920; 27.12.1920, Belmont Theatre, New York).
photog: L. Guy Wilky.
cast: Lois Wilson (Miss Lulu Bett, sorella di Ina/Ina’s sister), Milton Sills (Neil Cornish, l’insegnante/the school teacher), Theodore Roberts (Dwight Deacon), Helen Ferguson (Diana Deacon, la figlia maggiore/the elder daughter), Mabel Van Buren (Ina, moglie di Dwight/Dwight’s wife), May Giraci (Monona Deacon), Clarence Burton (Ninian Deacon, fratello di Dwight/Dwight’s brother), Ethel Wales (”Ma” Bett, la suocera/the mother-in-law), Taylor Graves (Bobby Larkin), Charles Ogle (station agent).
prod: Adolph Zukor, Famous Players-Lasky Corp. dist: Paramount Pictures.
première: 14.11.1921 (Grauman’s Theatre, Los Angeles), 18.12.1921 (Rivoli, New York).
uscita/rel: 1.1.22.
copia/copy: 35 mm, 1761 m/5778 ft (orig. 5904 ft), 77 min (20 fps); did./titles: ENG.
fonte/source: Library of Congress National Center for Audio-Visual Conservation, Packard Campus, Culpeper, VA.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM), Pordenone. Corona emergency security: half programming, half capacity, COVID certificate required, temperature measured, hand hygiene, face masks, distancing.
    Pianoforte: Maud Nelissen.
    Teatro Verdi, e-subtitles in English and Italian, 7 Oct 2021.

Donna R. Casella (GCM 2021): “In a 1918 issue of Moving Picture World, Clara Beranger noted that the “heart throb, the human interest note, child life, domestic scenes and even the eternal triangle is more ably handled by women than men.” Hollywood obviously agreed. By the 1920s there were more women than men writing for the screen. Beranger was one of the most prominent. In a career that spanned both the silent and early sound eras, she contributed to over 80 films, forged a creative partnership with director William de Mille, and was present at each important shift in the evolving art of screenwriting.“

“A native of Baltimore, she moved to New York City in 1907, where she married, worked as a journalist, and studied writing plays. Like many writers on the East Coast, she was intrigued by the growing film industry, and began writing stories (one-page summaries and/or scene sketches) for weekly one-reelers at Edison, Vitagraph, and Kalem. By 1913 Beranger was freelancing on longer features, which now demanded not just a film story, but also a detailed scenario (visualized film story) and a revised continuity script (with production and distribution details).“

“Beranger was in high demand throughout the 1910s, because she was skilled in multiple aspects of screenwriting: original stories, adaptations, scenarios, and continuities. She became a staff writer first at Fox (1915) and then at World Film Corporation (1918), while freelancing for a number of studios, including Balboa (on the hugely popular Baby Marie Osborne films), Realart Pictures, Diando Film Corporation, and Famous Players-Lasky. Beranger wrote domestic subjects that focused on love, family, and motherhood, putting women front and center of their own stories. And they appealed to women, the studios’ coveted audience demographic. Among Beranger’s early works were an adaptation of Anna Karenina (1915), the story for Kitty Gordon’s character in The Interloper/Her Great Moment (1918), and scenarios for Osborne’s Dolly Does Her Bit and Winning Grandma (1918). She also put in her hand as co-writer of World Film’s Phil-for-Short (1919), screening in this year’s Nasty Women program.“

“By 1920 Beranger had over 30 films to her credit, was a single mother, and had co-authored a play that opened on Broadway, His Chinese Wife. Hollywood took notice. Adolph Zukor’s Famous Players-Lasky lured Beranger to the West Coast with a lucrative contract. She became the studio’s top continuity writer, and began her long partnership with William de Mille.“

“Partnerships were important in early Hollywood, as story departments grew and writers struggled with authorship in the assembly line of story production. Successful writing partnerships, like those of Anita Loos/John Emerson and Grace Cunard/Francis Ford, yielded more creative control. Writer/director collaborations allowed writers to shepherd their work from scenario to screen. Writers Jeanie Macpherson, Beulah Marie Dix, and Sada Cowan worked closely with director Cecil B. DeMille, William’s brother. Beranger identified the value of such partnerships in a 1922 interview with Louella Parsons in the New York Telegraph, explaining how she would review the script “scene by scene” with de Mille so he could make “the picture with almost no changes.” In his 1939 autobiography Hollywood Saga, de Mille also sees the writer and director as a unit, “both “creating the picture, and I, for one, cannot lay down an exact line of demarcation.”

Miss Lulu Bett (1922) is an early example of that partnership. Beranger wrote the scenario based on the popular Zona Gale novel and Pulitzer Prize-winning play. She always found adaptations difficult, noting in a 1929 lecture at the University of Southern California that it takes a special “imagination” to visualize “something that is meant to be read or something that is meant to be spoken.” That imagination is evident in the scenario held at the Margaret Herrick Library. Beranger’s character blocking, action scenes, use of props, and technical language make the literary cinematic. The film explores a typical theme in Beranger/de Mille films: prescriptive gender roles. Lulu lives with her sister’s family, cooking and cleaning as her brother-in-law, Dwight Deacon, barks out orders. An opportunity to escape this servitude arises when she and Deacon’s brother, Ninian, are married after jokingly exchanging vows in the presence of Deacon, a magistrate.“

“The many versions of Miss Lulu Bett chronicle a woman’s growing awareness of social and economic limitations – with different conclusions. At the end of the novel, play, and film, Lulu assesses her options when she learns that her marriage to Ninian is not legal. In the novel, she seeks work in a neighboring town and decides to marry Cornish, another suitor. In the original play, Lulu leaves both Ninian and Cornish, preferring an “unscripted” future. Theatrical audiences opposed this ending, and Gale revised it, reuniting Lulu and Ninian. The Beranger/de Mille film offers yet another version, of a defiant Lulu (played by Lois Wilson, in a role first offered to Mildred Harris). Marketed as an Adolph Zukor, Clara Beranger, and William de Mille production, the film enjoyed wide success in the U.S. and abroad.“

“Four years later Beranger left Famous Players. She went on to write for M-G-M, Pathé, and (Cecil B.) DeMille Pictures, and continued to make films with William, whom she married in 1928. However, with the coming of sound the studio system became big business, pushing out many women pioneers. Beranger made peace with that system – for a while. In 1934 she wrote the adaptation for The Social Register, and walked away from the business of making films. However, she continued to advocate for a writer’s right to screen credit and final control of script content. She served on the board of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and helped shape the University of Southern California’s growing film program. Clara Beranger was a pioneer cinematic storyteller, instrumental in shaping the form and content of her emerging craft. And she fiercely believed in cinematic partnerships, once noting that “the minute a director thinks he can do it all, he is beginning to write his own death sentence.”
“ – Donna R. Casella (GCM 2021)

AA: I did not visit this lovely film this time, but at Pordenone's L'Eredità DeMille retrospective in 1991, Miss Lulu Bett was my favourite in the William C. deMille section. (Another favourite, Jack Straw, I had seen before, in 1988).

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