A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Sunday, April 8, 2018

The Sheik (George Melford, 1921)

Ahmed Ben Hassan: Rudolph Valentino
Lady Diana Mayo: Agnes Ayres
Dr. Raoul de St. Hubert: Adolphe Menjou
Omair: Walter Long
Gaston: Lucien Littlefield
Mustapha Ali: Charles Brinley
Sir Aubrey Mayo: Frank Butler
Zilah: Ruth Miller
Yousaef: George Waggner

Director: George Melford
Screenplay: Monte M. Katterjohn
Based on a novel by Edith Maude Hull
Cinematography: William Marshall

Today The Sheik looks more like a classic demonstration of the kind of colonialist condescension toward non-European cultures described in Edward W. Said's book Orientalism than like the campy bodice-ripping romance that both titillated audiences and inspired parodies. It's likely that nobody ever took it seriously until critics like Said made us realize how much its imperialist attitudes had infected our social and political discourse. The key moment comes when St. Hubert reveals to Lady Diana that the man who had abducted her was not an Arab but the son of an Englishman and a Frenchwoman -- thereby making his otherness safe. It provides a kind of wish-fulfillment: kicking off the traces of civilization (as defined by the West) and going "primitive." Setting all that aside (as if we could or should), The Sheik is a still-potent demonstration of the star appeal of Rudolph Valentino, whose eye-popping, teeth-baring, and nostril-flaring have gone out of style, but not his brand of boyish sex appeal. Agnes Ayres, on the other hand, is a rather dowdy heroine.

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