Saturday: Hili dialogue

by Grania

Good morning and Happy Weekend to you.

In some parts of the world today Canadian-American actress Mary Pickford (1892 – 1979) is being honored by Google Doodle. Jerry insisted on her inclusion here because of the cat 🙂

She was the darling of the silent movie era, but was reluctant (and too typecast) to make the transition to talkies and so retired from films in her late 30s.

Although he had died three days earlier, today in 1994 grunge rock artist Kurt Cobain was discovered dead in his home from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. He had battled depression and heroin addiction for some time. This track is from his band Nirvana’s best known album Nevermind, often dubbed the “anthem for apathetic kids”.

Over in Poland Hili is being an apathetic felid.

A: Are you pretending to be a statue?
Hili: No, I’m just standing here. I do not intend to compete with our late pope.

In Polish:

Ja: Udajesz pomnik?
Hili: Nie, tylko tu sobie stoję. Nie zamierzam robić konkurencji naszemu papieżowi.


  1. BJ
    Posted April 8, 2017 at 7:55 am | Permalink

    Unfortunately, many of the silent greats were typecast and never transitioned when talkies came about. It was such a physical form of acting. When you can only say something with extremely exaggerated facial expressions, it must be a hard habit to break once you can say it and, like the greats if the talkies, use language and a subtle facial expression.

    • mfdempsey1946
      Posted April 8, 2017 at 9:38 am | Permalink

      Not all silent film acting uses “extremely exaggerated facial expressions.” A great many magnificent silent film performance rival the finest of what is found in sound cinema for subtlety and variety.

      Also, many silent cinema stars could not make the transition to sound because of their real voices did not match the screen images that accounted for their popularity. For example, the hugely popular romantic star Vilma Banky lost her career in Hollywood once sound films revealed her heavy Hungarian accent, which audiences had never previously heard. It didn’t “go with” her status as a gorgeous love goddess.

      In this and less extreme examples, silent film audiences, having probably never heard their favorites speak, could fantasize about what these favorites “must have” sounded like in off-screen life. No two of these fantasies are likely to have been exactly the same. But once sound came in, everyone was hearing the same thing: an actor’s actual voice. So goodbye to this form of fantasizing.

      Not only that, even if the actor’s actual voice was not, for example, flat, unskilled, or difficult to decipher, it might not match the audience’s general idea of how that actor “should” sound according to his or her image.

      As, in our time, for example, the vocal tones that Daniel Day-Lewis used to play Abraham Lincoln in the Stephen Spielberg film did not match many people’s preconceived notions of how Lincoln “must have” sounded. Day-Lewis and Spielberg had to rely on contemporary written descriptions of Lincoln’s voice, which apparently was not as deep and “manly” as many of his modern-day admirers believe it was or want it to have been.

      The most famous “victim” of this shift from silent to sound cinema is probably the romantic lead John Gilbert, famed and adored as the very image of passionate masculinity in his roles opposite Greta Garbo. But his real voice had a tenor sound, which did not fit audience preconceptions of him. That, plus the inadequacies of early sound recording equipment, put an end to his stardom.

      Alexander Walker’s wonderful book, “The Shattered Silents: How The Talkies Came To Stay” tells the whole complicated story vividly.

      • Randy schenck
        Posted April 8, 2017 at 9:55 am | Permalink

        Excellent review. Transition through invention or technology is all around us and should not reduce the performances past. From vaudeville to radio to television to name a few. From the horse to the auto or tractor comes to mind.

      • BJ
        Posted April 8, 2017 at 11:13 am | Permalink

        Oh, you’re absolutely right! I was just explaining why some of them didn’t successfully make the transition, but a good amount did make it.

        By the way, that was an excellent post!

        • mfdempsey1946
          Posted April 8, 2017 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

          Thank you. I’m happy that you found the post useful.

          Let me add another factor that, along with bad sound recording, also helped derail the sound film careers of some prominent actors: clunky dialogue that came across as, in the words of one commentator, “silent film inter-titles verbalized.”

          In one early and perhaps lost sound picture, John Gilbert was obliged to intone “I love you, I love you” repeatedly while clutching a forgotten actress whose acting was compared to a block of wood.

          In another, Dolores Costello (touching in what remains of Orson Welles’ 1942 “The Magnificent Ambersons”), had a lisp in her younger days. Yet in one early talkie, her character, menaced by thugs, had to cry out a line that came across as “Merthy, merthy, have you no thithter of your own!” Audiences reportedly guffawed.

          Alexander Walker’s book reveals these and many other such tales about this period of movie history.

  2. E.A. Blair
    Posted April 8, 2017 at 8:20 am | Permalink

    This is also the day (in 1973) that Pablo Picasso (born 25 October 1881) died, aged 91.

  3. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted April 8, 2017 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    Weird Al Yankovic’s parody song and video of that Kurt Cobain/Nirvana song is also excellent.
    Smells Like Nirvana

  4. rickflick
    Posted April 8, 2017 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    Hili’s reference is to Pope John Paul II new statue in Czestochowa Poland, of course. Images of it being assembled reminded me of the opening scene of La Dolce Vita:

  5. Jenny Haniver
    Posted April 8, 2017 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    I think Hili is being quite disingenuous, and that look in her eyes attests to it — after all, she’s turned her tail into a crozier.

  6. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted April 8, 2017 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    Although sound was difficult for her, Pickford’s second Oscar was for a sound film.

    Here is the real Mary Pickford with a real cat

    • BJ
      Posted April 8, 2017 at 11:14 am | Permalink

      Awwwwwwwww now I love her! It’s the cat, really…

    • Posted April 8, 2017 at 11:23 am | Permalink

      Thanks for the photo!

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