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November 29th, 2006 James Walling | Movie Reviews & Stories
 

Janet Gaynor: A centennial celebration

Northwest Film Center celebrates a silent angel.

     
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The Northwest Film Center's ineffably gratifying celebration of films starring great silent-film-era starlet Janet Gaynor begins with the luminous Seventh Heaven (1927). Director Frank Borzage—who also directed Street Angel (1928) and Lucky Star (1929)—displays strikingly sophisticated techniques for the period, employing dolly shots and long tracking sequences to great effect. A classic love story set in Paris during World War I, Seventh Heaven tells the tale of a lowly street urchin (Gaynor) who finds happiness in the arms of a working man (Charles Farrell). The film helped win Gaynor the first-ever Academy Award for Best Actress (along with Street Angel, and 1928's Sunrise). Screens 7 pm Friday, Dec. 1.

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans is arguably one of the best silent films ever made—though its subject matter, like much from the period, is somewhat maudlin. The story follows the struggle of a simple farmer (George O'Brien) to resist the murderous schemes of a vixen from the city (Margaret Livingston) as she attempts to steal him away from his innocent wife (Gaynor). Sunrise is remarkable for the empathy director F.W. Murnau engenders for his troubled characters, and for the absolutely captivating turn achieved by Gaynor in a role that might otherwise have been little more than an animated apron. Screens 7 pm Saturday, Dec. 2.

Street Angel again places Gaynor in the role of a poverty-stricken waif tempted by prostitution and accosted by police. After sounding the depths of human depravity in a desperate effort to survive the mean streets of Paris, she finds security in a love affair with a painter (Charles Farrell, in a reprise of his role in Seventh Heaven), only to see her happiness threatened by the authorities that haunt her like ghosts. The film transcends melodrama and would reduce even the most hardened of cynics to tears (yes, that's a confession!). Screens 7 pm Sunday, Dec. 3.


All screenings at the Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium, 1219 SW Park Ave., 221-1156. $4-$7.
 
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