Wednesday, March 30, 2011

"A Statement of Purpose and Policy" (1920)

Digging once again through the prodigious holdings of the Internet Archive, I discovered this title explainin' and exploitin' the formation of "Associated Exhibitors Inc", a company consisting of almost 200 motion picture exhibitors. Formed in 1920 to look out for the interests of both movie house owners and their patrons, the main "statement and purpose" of the company was to discourage monopolies held by the movie production companies. "Vertical integration" is the micro economic term we were taught in film history class that pretty much meant any given movie company (say... MGM, for example) could (and sometimes did) own the means of production and exhibition right down the line... from the writing of the film and producing of the film to its premiere to its last screening, every aspect of production and exhibition would be owned by MGM. Which was a system that made those multi-year contracts, back in the day, so iron clad, and one in which anyone with aspirations towards working outside the studio was just soooo out of luck. But anyway.
I found two, same year clippings from the New York Times mentioning the corporation's inception, here and here-- one quote from the first article reads: "every exhibitor affiliated with the organization will be assured productions of the highest class and will not be left at the mercy of those who are endeavoring to obtain a monopoly on the production and distribution of motion pictures". Don't you love the high-falutin' oratory skills of whomsoever was the spokesperson for the company at the time? I'd like to be the man on the horn giving speeches about movie revenues that make me sound like a Tinseltown Abe Lincoln. The second one had to do with the comedian Harold Lloyd signing some kind of million dollar contract with them... it's pretty nuts-and-bolts, so I'm not exactly sure how it works. But I digress. The book.

The opening section of "A Statement of Purpose and Policy" is a ten page spread extolling the various merits of this "association for protection and profit, based on mutual confidence and justice for all". The illustrations heading sections with titles like "What it Means to Producers", "What it Means to Stars", and "What it Means to Exhibitors" are just gorgeous. The (unnamed) artist's choice of bold colors and dramatic compositions remind me a little of the illustrations of N.C. Wyeth or Howard Pyle. These alone were enough to draw me into the slim, e-volume.

But soft! What about after the "explanation of benefits"? The second half of the pamphlet is made up of advertisements for upcoming attractions. Oh, neat! Vintage 1920's movie promotional material, hurray!

Ummmm... did anyone catch this title? Louise Glaum in...."Sex"? Really, guys? Really? (as a side note, sneak a peek at the clothes in the righthand page...just my style. Oh, let me be mistaken for Norma Desmond at all turns, sir... there will be an unusual number of naked peacocks in the great Southeast due to my wardrobe choices.)

This piece of pre-Hays code marvelment and wonder is indeed the actual promotional advertisement for a 1920 melodrama entitled "Sex". I know. My ears are burning. Please, as always, click on any of the images for a supersized version. Why? Because you CAN'T resist ad copy like this:

S is for Sorrow and Suffering, that are the lot of all women. E is for Experience that refines the Soul of all women. X is the great unknown in the fascinating game of life.

SEX is not merely powerful and techincally fine-- it is commercially sure-fire and artistically amazing. And in treatment, it is as wholesome and genuine as a mother's embrace.

Good to know! Because, I guess I'm a little off base here, but you'd think with a title like "SEX" in all caps, there might...and I do say something slightly less wholesome than a mother's embrace there., how do you embrace YOUR mother?

The exotically coiffed, and unexotically named, Louise Glaum was an early "vamp", a contemporary of Theda Bara (Miss "Arab Death" herself!) who came from the stage and began in ingenue roles before graduating to "woman of the world" parts. Glaum played a number of femme fatales before leaving motion pictures in 1921 (only a year after this pamphlet describes her as "the screen's greatest and most successful emotional star"... go figure) to hit the vaudeville circuit. She opened her own theater in 1935 and continued to be active in the arts for the rest of her (total) 82 years.

Did I expect, after the shock of the full on 'SEX' of the first ad, to see another ad of similar, pre-code sentiment? I did not. Was I then surprised by a title called " Virgin of Stanboul"?

A little, yes. Look at Priscilla Dean's delciously piquant pose! Those eyes are like exclamation points.

I mean, really, what a great poster! See the tiny chameaux gallivanting around the title lettering in the sand dunes below her pretty face. Just great. And below, not only a two piece bikini slash harem outfit, not only a be-robed sultan giving the illustrated title character a smooch, but a little bit of typed information that would make me even more interested to see this picture!

Where the last production was helmed by Ben Hur (silent) director Fred Niblo, this one is directed by TOD BROWNING himself, director of Dracula, Freaks, and a number of Lon Chaney pictures. The imdb synopsis describes it so:

"Achmet Bey, a Turkish chieftain, catches one of his many wives in adultery and murders her lover. Throwing aside the cuckolding wife, he abducts an innocent girl into his harem. However, a brave American who loves her comes to her rescue."

Pretty basic melodrama material...but again, with Tod Browning in charge, and Wallace Beery playing a supporting role, it might be worth a shot if it comes up on TCM anytime soon. Besides the fact that the copy calls it a "gorgeous, glowing, mind-filling photodrama"... again, my new dream occupation is ad copywriter for the movies, circa 1920. Lemme just get my thesaurus out... annnd.....

Watch out, famous prize fighter Jack Dempsey! That guy on the cliff does not wish you any goodwill! Daredevil Jack was directed by W.S. "Woody" Van Dyke, the director behind the electric crackle of the Thin Man movies. I have no idea what's going on in the photo to the right, listed as a still from the movie on ebay, but as the UCLA film archives only has a partial, extant print of this flicker, I guess I never will. I thought... this looked like a Western? And yet their apparel just screams Beau Brummel? Who knows.

To the left, Who's Your Servant, to your right, with Lois Wilson, who in life had the enviable position of being one of my beloved Gloria Swanson's best friends. To the right, A Woman Who Understood with Bessie Barriscale, "a major star for Thomas Ince"... yes, the same Ince who was probably maybe kind of mostly you would be led to believe was shot aboard W.R. Hearst's yacht, the Oneida, over a weekend cruise. I know it's probably a just a persistent myth that covers up some other cover up, but the movie The Cat's Meow made such a compelling case of it (better than Anger's Hollywood Babylon entry, at any rate)....that I kind of want to believe. Fox Mulder style.

Sadly, I do not remember "the thrilling, breath-catching storm scenes in Should a Woman Tell". But I love the ad's affable assertion with regard to the picture they're hawking: "Well-- the ones in James A. Herne's immortal sea story Shore Acres, featuring Alice Lake, eclipse even those!" It seems that both films have storm scenes and Alice Lake, who models a fur-coat and sequins flapper ensemble very prettily in the picture to the right.

Lew Cody, star of The Butterfly Man, was married to Mack Sennett star Mabel Normand (badly portrayed by a usually wonderful Marisa Tomei in the Chaplin biopic Robert Downey Jr. did a while back) during the last four years of her life. I picked up Mabel by Betty Harper Fussell from the library in early high school, just liking the cover, and got pretty crazy into her life story, which would make a fantastic movie of its own. I don't know much about Lew Cody but that they spent a lot of time very, very drunk during the darker periods of her decline. The Bottom of the World is an early adaptation of the Ernest Shackleton story, which is anything but dull. If you'd like to see the whole pamphlet in living color, click here to visit the document on Internet Archive. I'm going to try some new search words and see what other kind of early movie ephemera I can track down!! Very exciting. Til next time.

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