The Perils of Pauline

Another whimsical, semi-reflexive genre entry from Paramount, The Perils of Pauline (George Marshall) is neither a remake of the silent serials nor a biopic about the star Pearl White, but rather a backstage melodrama that purports to do both. As a historical film about silent moviemaking, it's not entirely accurate, but it does manage to recreate an older film style within. The effect is not entirely unlike the more rigorous project of Noel Burch's Correction Please:

Like Road to Rio, there are moments of putting movie artifice up to the light, in a more complicated way than one might expect. My favorite moment is a war scene that turns out to be a movie set that turns out to be a real moment of armistice:

The women's picture melodrama is stock to the point of being retrograde (Pearl/Betty Hudson's masochistic attraction to John Lund fails to have the complexity of, say, Stella Dallas's masochism). Still, the articulation of Pearl's desire is surprisingly forthright. I wouldn't necessarily hold to the Jackie Byars-esque assertion that visualization of women's desire obviates the asymmetry of male and female subjectivity in Hollywood, but I can't help but relish Pearl's outright cruising of Farrington/Lund in their first encounter:

Finally, on a more purely cinephilic note, I really like the jewelike tones of the Technicolor, even with the inexpensive DVD transfer. I've yet to figure out when and why the technology shines in some films and falls flat in others.


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