When Rokit Went to the Movies: Shooting Stars @ BFI Archive Gala
A tall dark handsome stranger starts necking his sweetheart perched in a blossom tree as the camera slowly pans out, all the while a live orchestra chimes away in a kind of Gershwin/Ellington mash-up (courtesy of John Altman and the Live Film Orchestra). It all starts with the perfect Hollywood kiss and descends into anarchy as a stray dove runs riot around the studio, the leading man falls off his makeshift cardboard horse and his co-star throws a paddy in a tree branch dodgily balanced on a wooden pallet.
The re-vamp of Shooting Stars has been a labour of love; some of the stills missing, others unusable; the team had to trek to France to source long lost scenes and often spent weeks removing blemishes by hand from single frames. Painstakingly patched up over 18 months, Anthony Asquith's 1928 directorial debut Shooting Stars is premiered at The Archive Gala for the BFI Film Festival (and no doubt is being kept under lock and key in the archives from now on)!!
The art deco-dence of the Odeon was the perfect setting for the film about a couple in the throes of a passionate love affair. What we didn't bank on was the husband on the side stirring the shit (apparently your SO more often than not gets in the way of an illegitimate love affair)!! Asquith's curiosity gets the better of him from the off; his first stint in the director's chair and he's already turning the camera around to reveal what happens the other side of the lens; this is what those in the know would call a 'mis en abyme' - that's a film within a film to you and me. The excitement of Mae's (Annette Benson) on screen romance isn't a patch on her boring real life marriage and she seeks her thrills elsewhere - slapstick gent Andy Wilkes (Calthrop) - who turns out to not be so much the gent in the end when we find out he's knocking off Mae behind her husband's back!!
'I wish life was more like the movies' the title card reads - don't we all?! But with this one it seems like it kind of is; the flick may have been made almost 90 years ago but the temptation of copping off with someone else when you're stuck in a dead relationship that has well and truly run its course feels all too familiar even by today's standards. In the end we get a sense that this is the movie's mantra; in more ways than not, real life is like the movies! ('Life imitates art far more than art imitates life' after all… ringing any bells?!) Shooting Stars feels like Asquith is simultaneously bigging up the industry whilst slagging off the superficiality of its 'stars'.
At the end of the movie we arrive at a bit of a sticky wicket as the apparently inoffensive title turns into a bloodthirsty double entendre; Mae transforms into (and this is putting it lightly) a total psychopath as she gets the hump about her husband wanting a divorce - after finding out she's been cheating on him with his mate, let's remember - and decides to swap the blanks in the prop gun with real bullets so that she can bump him off. (wtf?!)
Without trying to sound too blunt or detached from the movie (which I honestly loved and has since spurned a slight (majorly) unhealthy obsession with this whole silent cinema malarkey), the long and short of it is this; Mae is the narcissistic Prima donna, Julian (Brian Aherne), her husband, is the typical doting dandy and Andy is the slick charmer. The characters profiles are obviously made this rigid because there is no dialogue and if they weren't we wouldn't know what the flip was going on!! The picture was genuinely hilarious and surprisingly saucy in places - Asquith bunged a few innuendos in there didn't he, the old sort?!
In some strange and slightly irrelevant way the movie felt like the perfectly baked cake - the spongy outsides contained just the right amount of violence and drama, the romance was the irresistible jammy middle oozing out, the comedy was the icing sugar dusted on top. (Bet you've never been persuaded into seeing a film on the back of Victoria Sponge analogy!! Or maybe you're just really peckish now)! Either way, just as I'm a sucker for a well baked sponge, I was completely in awe of Shooting Stars and could hand on heart attest that the medium of silent cinema is as relevant today as it was a century ago.
'Film is Fragile' is the BFI's restoration foundation responsible for resurrecting the picture and it basically does what it says on the tin; they work round the clock to rescue and preserve old and knackered film reels and bring them back to their former glory. They're a charity run completely on the donations of minted beneficiaries and generous movie goers so whether you're loaded or not dig deep and part with your dosh here...