Tuesday, May 02, 2006

In Which The Blogger Cops To Her Wrongheadedness (The Eagle)

Every generation makes the mistake of believing it has invented humor.

I was reminded of this on Day 3's screening of the silent film The Eagle, the story of a masked Russian avenger (Rudolph Valentino) in love with the daughter of his worst enemy. Because, well, here's the thing: It's really, really funny, and, in my Generation XY ignorance, I was surprised by that fact.

For despite the elegance of the Auster passage with which Ebert introduced the film, and despite that it was accompanied by Cambridge, Mass' able Alloy orchestra, I remained unconvinced as the lights dimmed in the Virginia theater. People watched silents merely out of a quirky perverse resistance to anything modern, I thought, or out of an attraction to its grainy aesthetic. Not for any of the reasons that a normal person would go to the movies.

Wrong, wrong, wrong. Not only is Valentino as hot (hotter) than any modern movie star, he's at least as charismatic, and enjoys a palpable chemistry with costar Vilma Bánky rather than the demographically tested fission that stands in for onscreen chemistry today. The film is almost dirty at times. The subtitles provide greatly droll contrapunto to the live action, and the actors' larger-than-life eye rolls, double takes and raised brows speak a million ships. As it were. The lack of spoken language inspires a much more physical level of acting — an art that has been eroded with each passing generation although great physical comedians (Jack Lemmon in the '50s; Steve Martin in the '80s; Jim Carrey today) continue to be highly lauded.

I get it now: Silents are ballets with pratfalls. Irresistible, in other words, although left to my own devices I still would never watch them on a small screen. That is, not unless the Alloy was willing to play in my living room.


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