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Norma Talmadge

She was arguably the leading female star of the 1920s, but Norma Talmadge is barely remembered today — partly because her films were kept out of circulation by the inscrutable Raymond Rohauer (who apparently acquired them along with the work of her brother-in-law, Buster Keaton), and partly because her genre, the unbridled melodrama of the woman betrayed, has seldom attracted the critical interest accorded silent comedies and action films. But her restrained, naturalistic performance style marked a significant step away from the pantomimic excess of early fiction filmmaking: just by turning her dark, depthless gaze toward the camera (nicely captured in the portrait above), she seemed to evoke centuries of female suffering and sacrifice.

A new set from Kino, “The Norma Talmadge Collection,” goes some way toward rectifying that situation, though neither of the two films in the box — Clarence Brown’s 1926 “Kiki” and Frank Lloyd’s 1923 “Within the Law” — are particularly representative of Talmadge’s skills: the former is a a broad comedy with Talmadge as a Parisian street urchin, the latter a crime drama with an action finale. But perhaps the disc will do well enough to encourage Kino to release a second volume with her two films for Frank Borzage, “Secrets” (1924) and “The Lady” (1925), which the Talmadge scholar Greta de Groat places among her best work.

My New York Times review is here.

257 comments to Norma Talmadge

  • Robert Chatain

    Nicolas, thanks for this, I’m interested in giallo (don’t know much yet beyond “Suspiria”) and agree with you about “Kiss Me Deadly” and “Kill Bill.”

  • pat graham

    BLAKE–nawwww, he’d never do that … does QT even know who lubitsch is? * (silly rhetorical question: of COURSE he does!)

    but maybe atom egoyan could do it …

  • Tom Brueggemann

    Re Tarantino’s influences

    Here’s an article from the LA Times last month in which he details many of them.

    Turns out that he only recently has become familiar with Von Sternbern (he previously wasn’t interested because of not liking Dietrich) – now has caught up with his films, and become a big fan (this is near the end of the article):

  • Let us not forget, Nicolas, that the co-scenarists of “Once Upon A Time In The West” were, as it happens, Dario Argento and Bernardo Bertolucci.

    Tarantino definitely walks the walk. I was chatting recently with an acquaintance who was doing a profile for QT for a big glossy men’s mag, and he had a limited amount of time with him. He made the mistake of just casually mentioning G.W. Pabst in his first question, prompting his subject to go into a 25-minute impromptu disquisition on the German. All of it, of course, un-usable for his piece, even its expanded web version.

  • Brian Dauth

    Brad: What I am ridiculing is Tarantino’s act of trying to satirize that which cannot be, since it is already a mockery unto itself. What Tarantino tries to do is disavow his anxiety and celebrate it too. At the end of the movie, Butch comes back to save Marsellus (who has been hunting him down the entire film) since no matter what Marsellus has done to him, solidarity must be maintained. Having taken care of the villainous fags, Butch then mounts a motorcycle called “Grace” and rides triumphantly off.

    Also, as Glenn noted, Tarantino invokes the “ick” factor of anal penetration in his audience. In 1993, AIDS is continuing to spread with the unabated scapegoating of gay men as carriers of disease, spread illness through the deviant practice of anal sex. The previous year, the International AIDS Conference has to be switched to Amsterdam from Boston due to travel restrictions imposed by the U.S. government.

    But if 1994 is the year of PULP FICTION, it is also the year that ANGELS IN AMERICA is seen in its complete version on Broadway, and PERESTROIKA wins the Tony Award for Best Play, so all is not lost.

  • Alex Hicks

    Could QT someday be to von Sternberg’s cabaret and party scenes (out of BLUE ANGEL, MOROCCO and BLONDE VENUS; SCARLET EMPRESS, DEVIL IS A WOMAN and SHANGHAI GESTURE) what DePalme has already become to HitchcoCk’s classic chase and obsession sequences out NxNW and VERTIGO, AND SO ON)?

  • DM494 wrote: Michael Worrall, my mistake: I should have written “when”, not “whenever”. What I’m talking about is how the music and Michael Myers’s sudden rise from the floor behind Jamie Lee Curtis happen so perfectly in synch–it seems like a dance in which the music compels the movements.

    If memory serves me right, there is no music when Myers sits up from behind Jamie Lee Curtis. The score starts when Curtis goes to tell the kids she has killed “The Bogeyman”. In any event, I do agree that Carpenter’s score are an essential component of his films, though I think it should be noted that Carpenter had no intention of having a score to HALLOWEEN; it was not until he showed the film to Debra Hill that she suggested that the film needed one.

    “And I didn’t mean that Burton and Carpenter both use Scope. It’s just that Carpenter is better at composing for 2:35 than Burton is for 1:85.”

    If you mean that Carpenter is better at composing the frame then Burton, then perhaps yes. I just think that composing for 1:85 or 2:35 entails different considerations and demands for a director.