(Frank Powell, US 1915, 78 min., 35mm)
New Restoration | Live Orchestra. Theda Bara is probably the most famous American silent film star whose reputation is based on films that are irretrievably lost. Of the forty films she made between 1914 and 1919, only three survive, and of those only one displays her as her celebrated persona of a vamp—a woman who preys upon men and exploits their emotional and sexual frailties. That film is A Fool There Was, based on Porter Emerson Browne’s 1909 hit play. It is Bara’s first starring role, and the film’s enormous success both built her fortune and secured the future for pioneer producer William Fox and the Fox Film Corporation.
A Fool There Was has had a mixed reputation over the years, criticized as overly melodramatic and sometimes crude; however, recent re-evaluations have recognized how powerfully its fatally flawed characters and intense despair emerge through the efforts of writer-director Frank Powell. Powell, who had previously worked with D. W. Griffith and cameraman George Schneiderman, integrated Rudyard Kipling’s poem “The Vampire” with Browne’s play to produce, as the opening credit states, “a psychological drama” of an amoral, powerful woman who is thoroughly in control of people and her circumstances. A Fool There Was is not a dated relic of its time, but ultimately a very human and disturbing film, a landmark in early American cinema. The Eastman Museum presents a recent restoration accompanied live by a new score for chamber ensemble by Philip C. Carli.
Tickets: $12 general, $10 Eastman Museum members and American Musicological Society members, $6 students. Please Note: No Take-10s or Admit-1s.
Doors will open at 6:30 p.m.
Print courtesy the Museum of Modern Art, New York.