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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
A Woman of Substance
by Betty Jo Tucker

Many women have made important contributions to the history of motion pictures. However, after seeing Mary Pickford: The Muse of the Movies, I believe Mary Pickford may be at the top of that list. This wonderful documentary not only showcases the life of the legendary star but also intertwines her career with the birth of the cinema. Directed, edited and co-produced by veteran filmmaker Nicholas Eliopoulos, the film is a must-see for everyone who loves movies. It’s a treasure chest of information about the early days of filmmaking and how Pickford shaped the development of acting for the screen. Plus, along with Michael York’s expert narration, we actually hear “America’s Sweetheart” tell part of the story in her own words.       

Here are a few highlights to watch for:

■ Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks (Pickford’s hubby at the time) placing their hand and footprints in cement outside the Chinese Theater. They were the first stars immortalized in this way. It’s quite amusing how they came up with this idea!

■ Amelia Earhart and Mary Pickford, the most famous women of their time, talking and joking together.

■ Home movies featuring Mary Pickford, the dashing Douglas Fairbanks and their friend (?) Charlie Chaplin.  

■ Intriguing scenes from Mary Pickford’s classic silent films.

■ Revealing interviews with Lillian Gish, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Buddy Rogers (Pickford’s last husband), and Roxanne Rogers (Pickford’s daughter).

Before seeing this documentary, I didn’t realize how important Mary Pickford was to film history. For example, she co-created United Artists Studios (the first company owned and run by actors themselves) and spearheaded founding of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. She was also the first actor (male or female) to have her name on a marquee with the film’s title, and she was the first to win an Oscar for Best Actress in a sound movie (for Coquette in 1929).

“I feel like I really know Mary Pickford,” my husband declared when we finished watching Mary Pickford: The Muse of the Movies. And I feel the same way, probably because this splendid documentary spends so much time delving into Pickford’s personal and artistic opinions as well as lauding her accomplishments. Of course, she wasn’t perfect. Pickford definitely had her ups and downs, which are also dealt with here -- and help make her seem so real to us.

“When I discovered that Mary Pickford was born in the same year that Thomas Edison invented the movie camera, I knew these two stories were intertwined,” Eliopoulos says. Happily, he tells both stories with skill and heart in Mary Pickford: The Muse of the Movies. 

(Released by Cinema Libre; not rated by MPAA.)

For more information about this documentary, go to the film's official site, the Internet Movie Data Base or the Rotten Tomatoes website.

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