Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Final Conclusions - Best Actress 1927/1928

It’s been 3 months and a half since announcing this Oscar line-up for the blog, and it never took me so long to finish a Best Actress year. Since then: I got an important bank loan, spent all my life savings, bought a studio apartment, went to Athens again for 2 weeks, had high-fever tonsillitis twice a month apart, renovated the apartment from grounds up and now I’ve started furnishing it myself, while holding a full-time job. And I also held the 3rd edition of the AIM Awards here. So, busy times that might excuse my delay. Also: who knew silent films are not that easy to watch (twice)? :) well, I suspected.

But in many ways, I’m happy I got to write about Oscar’s first Best Actress year. I couldn’t have done it without the help of Cal (who provided A Ship Comes In), so thank you again! None of the 5 performances was really bad, though no classic either – some might feel differently. In the end, no. 1 was easy to choose; 2nd, 3rd & 4th place are almost connected to eachother, and 5th was an easy call. Almost all performances suffered from either the misogynism of the screenplay or its lack of interest in character depth. It was a good opportunity to discover movies, but I’m so happy to get back to talkies.

Here is what I thought about them. If you want to go back and read more, just click on their names:

In an era when silent meant over-theatrical, Gloria delivered a surprisingly honest, charming, relatable performance. Sure, there are some minor slips, but it’s hard to match her bravery on screen: both handling the sneaky, a bit vulgar but always human side of the character and also the dramatic desperation when confronted with danger and imprisonment.

the highlight: Begging Davidson to give her another chance.

2. Janet Gaynor, 7th Heaven

She is the heart of the film, giving us more than the material asked for. Her shyness and quiet nature manage to create a connection with the audience, and I did have sympathy for her. While the screenplay stopped me from seeing it as heartbreaking or very moving, I cannot really blame Janet. Her eyes tell a story much more than the dialogue card, but there’s only so much she can do.

the highlight: Finding out the bad news and giving up on her faith.

3. Janet Gaynor, Street Angel
The big moment of the film is the dinner scene, that story-hour in which she awaits to be taken to prison. That’s the only favor the screenplay does for her: putting the camera on Janet and letting her incredibly expressive face tell us the battle inside this woman’s soul. The screenplay is just as dry and misogynistic as 7th Heaven, but count on Janet to make it watchable and emotional.

the highlight: Not knowing if she should say goodbye to her lover, in the dinner scene.

The character is more of a device, helping define the character arc of the male character. The good elements of Janet’s performance can be found in the quiet scenes of heartbreak or in her naïve hope at the beginning of the film that he might actually want to save their marriage. It’s a performance based mostly on reactions and Janet succeeds: she’s natural and believable.

the highlight: The church scene, remembering what love was all about.

With such a bad, sloppy film to carry, who could achieve greatness?! She is in a handful of scenes and only 2 offer some possibility to show more than simple physical presence. Her helplessness in the courtroom works, and she delivers a couple of good-acted moments in the scenes with her son, but that’s about it. It would’ve been a good performance, if the film itself had treated the character the way it deserved.

the highlight: Her resignation about sending her son to war.

It was Oscar’s first edition, so who knows how they did actually vote. But Janet Gaynor, with the 3 films on her side, had a clear advantage – and I’m sure it was an easy win given the situation. If there was anyone to bring a surprise, it would’ve been Gloria of course, who probably got a couple of votes. Louise Dresser, I suspect, based on the film & performance, had no chance.

To see other BEST ACTRESS years discussed so far, go to the column on the right.

What’s next: A year from the 1940s. It’s gonna be a filmed draw (from 7 possibilities; 1947 has already been discussed, and I don’t have complete 42 and 49).
Also, starting with this week you can find me on Twitter.


Fritz said...

Very intersting. I agree on your ranking of Janet Gaynor's work; haven't seen the other two yet.

Deiner said...

I'm glad you changed the grade of Janet's performance in Sunrise :)

Alex in Movieland said...

Yeah, now I got to change it there also. :) I thought about it as a 3, didn't remember I actually gave her a 2.

dinasztie said...

Gloria won. You gave her an award after all.

Alex in Movieland said...

Yes, Gloria won, and not for Sunset Blvd. :) who would've thought it.