Saturday, June 26, 2010

Silent Cottage Country Yarn

Back to God's Country (David Hartford, 1919)
**** (Masterpiece)

In David M. Hartford’s Back To God’s Country (1919), an adaptation of James Oliver Curwood’s short story “Wapi The Walrus”, Nell Shipman reprises her role of Dolores from the “girl from God’s country” series. God’s country, which I assume is a grandiose reference to the Canadian North, is portrayed as a colonial setting of forest cottages surrounded by rivers, mountains, and wildlife. While in the shadows there lurks dastardly villainy and ruder racism. Nell Shipman utilizes her animal training skill to full capacity as her father’s cottage is bustling with wildlife that includes dogs, wolfs, foxes, bears and turkeys. One of scenes that stick out is that of a pre-cursor Winnie the Pooh cub that constantly sneaks into a jug of food. Wether it is of these furry and cuddly creatures or the frozen landscapes surrounding a traveling ship off the Baffin Islands the mise-en-scène is bustling with a fervent vigour.

Nell Shipman is an important figure in Canadian cinema as an independent pioneering female silent film producer, director, writer and star alongside her husband Ernest Shipman. Nell Shipman looks beautiful in her toque and vintage Hudson Bay Company coat, I bet Lilian Gish or Louise Brooks never appeared in those garments. While the Canadian North of the silent era looks untamed and pure similar to Robert J. Flaherty’s Nannook of the North (1922). In regards to scholarship on the film, I much prefer Kay Armatage book “The Girl From God’s Country Nell Shipman and the Silent Cinema” (2003) erudite overview of the female star with an analysis of her films, compared to Christopher Gitting’s ideology dense – and impenetrable – “Canadian National Cinema” (2002) that unapologetically detracts and puts off the film instead of highlighting the pleasures and cultural importance of this rare gem. The Lost Dominion Screening Collective succeeds again. In a beautiful 35mm print that provides a crisp image and emphasis on the shifting color stock. With an accompanying original musical score by Mike Dubue primarily on the xylophone. The projection was a nostalgic and captivating pleasure.-David Davidson

(The Mayfair Theatre, 1074 Bank Street, 25/06)

No comments: