Thursday, November 15, 2012

Coney Island, Cloche Hats, and Vintage Romance: Lonesome by Paul Fejos

Lonesome, a (mostly) silent film made in 1928 by Paul Fejos, was released in August by The Criterion Collection. I watched it last weekend, and I was delighted by its charmingly simple story, bustling action shots of 1920s New York, and Barbara Kent's adorably round face and sweetly sparkling eyes. Modern attention spans are shorter, acting styles have changed, and current standards of beauty are very different, but the sense of feeling lonely in a crowd is timeless.

Made at a time when colored film tinting and "talkies" were just coming in vogue, Lonesome occasionally employs these effects with varying degrees of success. The overwrought dialogue in the talking scenes is silly, but the dreamily tinted Coney Island scenes are beautiful. But I'm getting ahead of  myself! The movie begins with long introductions to the main characters, Mary and Jim. They each rise in the morning, get ready for the day, endure their commutes, and spend a day at work. We learn that they both live alone in New York City, and though city life is fast-paced, their routines are dull. They're both lonely and long to meet someone special.

Good Morning, Barbara Kent! WHAT third wall?! Things I want to know: 1. Where can I get that
dressing gown? 2. How does she style her her long hair into a flapper bob? I NEED TO KNOW! Source
First, I was struck by the era's different standard of beauty. Barbara Kent's thin lips, prominent nose, and adorably round face probably wouldn't land her many movie roles these days, but her expressiveness captivates me. You have to see her in motion to appreciate her sweetness and liveliness. That is so much more beautiful to me than the smises and smoldering pouts you usually see nowadays!

Next, I was surprised by the 40 minutes of exposition. I think my attention span is longer than average, but I was restless toward the end of the introduction. I CAN HAZ PLOT? But the 1920s fashion kept my attention. I love cloche hats, flapper hair, and men in suits!
Those hats! That corsage!  Her expressive eyes! His insouciance! Oh, vintage love. Source
Mary and Jim meet at Coney Island and fall in love in a single afternoon. These scenes are silly, and the silent acting is practically jazz hands over-the-top, but it's strangely touching. Because we know these characters are so eager to meet someone with whom they connect, their quick romance is sweet and believable, even though it's unrealistic. The tinted Coney Island landscape adds to the unreal romantic effect.
Source - CriterionCast
After Mary and Jim declare their love at the beach (check out those precious matching swimsuits!), they are separated by the crowd. With only a snapshot taken at a photo booth and each other's first names, will they ever find each other again, or was their idyllic chance meeting an accident that wasn't meant to happen? Watch Lonesome to find out!

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