Thursday, January 5, 2017

Movie Review: A Fool There Was (1915)

I watch a lot of old movies just for the fashions, so why not review them?  I'm starting with A Fool There Was, a silent film from 1915 starring Theda Barr.  I'm going to rate the movie and the clothing separately-- if you're like me, how good or bad the film was isn't a huge factor in your decision about whether or not to watch it, but if you're having Movie Night with your significant other, they might not put up with a terrible plot and terrible acting.

Movie:  -5 (on a scale of -10 to +10)
A wealthy and accomplished family man is seduced and ruined by a sexy evil woman, the Vampire.  This being a film from 1915, they hadn't yet worked out all the details of acting, storytelling, and cinematography in this new medium, and it shows.  The first part of the movie drags, I kept wishing for more scenes with the Vampire, and in general I had trouble telling what was going on.  The film hinges on the Vampire being transgressive and seductive, and much of what would be transgressive and seductive to a 1915 audience doesn't register as anything unusual to a 2017 audience.  For example, the line "Kiss me, my fool" was considered scandalous at the time, and to us...it doesn't even rate.  One wonders what these people would make of Cards Against Humanity.

I also took issue with the film's approach to its subject matter.  I'm familiar with the way people like the Vampire operate-- they are skilled manipulators who cut their victims off from their family, friends, and normal life.  Eventually the vampire becomes the victim's entire life, to the point that the victim can't see a way out, if they were even capable of wanting out.  The film keeps emphasizing that the wealthy businessman so seduced was "a fool."  He wasn't a fool.  He found himself in a vulnerable position-- traveling abroad without his normal social network-- and was hopelessly outclassed by a predator who specialized in capitalizing on these situations.  This was a film from 1915, so we can't judge it by today's standards, but................the idea that men can't be victims of domestic abuse is still widespread.  For shame, people, for shame.

In short, the film is fascinating on a historical level but difficult to enjoy as a movie.  The only reason I'm not rating it lower for its takeaway message was that the poor quality of the movie obscured the relationship dynamics and made it challenging to understand the situation as presented.

Fashions:  7 (on a scale of 1 to 10)
The poor visual quality of the movie made it difficult to see much detail in the clothing, but there were some interesting evening dresses (thank you, scene where the Vampire throws what must have been a crazy wild party for 1915).  Given that there aren't many surviving films from this period, I'm giving this movie a 7 out of 10 for historical interest.  Also, props to the costume and makeup department, which did a good job giving the Vampire a different visual style from everyone else-- dark and slinky versus everyone else's light and structured clothes.

In short:  Worth watching if you care about Edwardian fashions or silent films, but probably not otherwise.  

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