Still - Book Report

By Monica Sullivan
David Shields’ new book “Still” looks at the past as if it were a fresh, undiscovered country.  His viewpoint is that a pristine still is more evocative of its era than a scratchy dupey print of the same period.  By that logic, a remark I once heard about Theda Bara (“She works better in stills”) would eliminate most of her work from scholarly consideration.  So…the pictures in “Stills” are breathtakingly gorgeous but try to see the movies anyway, flawed though they may be. 

After seeing a still of Elsie Ferguson from her heyday, I finally was able to watch “Scarlet Pages” from 1930, which was not her heyday, but well worth a look.  For a very long time I waited for 1929’s Jeanne Eagles “The Letter” to crop up sometime, anytime, somewhere, anywhere.  When it finally did, it was worth waiting for.  The print quality was not the best, but to see and hear 1929’s best performance (sorry Miss Pickford, but “Coquette' wasn’t it) was unforgettable.  Eagles played a woman filled with passion & rage.  Miss Eagles looked old, young, wild, broken, duplicitous one moment and so brutally honest the next, it made me hurt to listen to her. 

So drown yourself in the 160 stills in Mr. Shields’ book but do try to find the treasures which have not yet disintegrated.  Movies like “A Fool There Was” or ‘Sunrise” made the audiences of their own time laugh, cry or sometimes they chilled them to the bone.  Let “Still” be your ticket to these treasures from long ago.

© 2013 - Monica Sullivan - Air Date: 08/07/14
Movie Magazine International