(a film review by Mark R. Leeper)

CAPSULE: At one time Mary Pickford was the most famous woman in the world. Even before the cinema was truly globalized Pickford was recognized all over the world for her films. Nicholas Eliopoulos's biographical documentary recounts the story of Mary Pickford from having to go on the stage at age five to support her family to her co-founding of United Artists when she was second only to Charlie Chaplin as the face most recognized all over the world. MARY PICKFORD: THE MUSE OF THE MOVIES tells the story of Pickford and of the fledgling film industry and how the two grew together. The story is told with interviews of the people involved in her life including Pickford herself, with stills, and with film clips from her movies. While the film is not groundbreaking in style, it is a history of the exploding film industry and of one of its most remarkable figures. The story is narrated by Michael York and by Pickford herself in recordings made before she died. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10

While the world saw Mary Pickford perpetually as a little girl she became in her time the most famous woman in the world and one of strongest forces in the early days of cinema. One woman was a film "actress, writer, director, producer, and studio boss" as we learn in Nicholas Eliopoulos's MARY PICKFORD: THE MUSE OF THE MOVIES. She was the driving force behind the founding and running of United Artists. Her story is quite literally rags to riches. Born in Toronto, her father died when she was five years old. Her family was so poor that to feed them she had to start earning money on the stage, billed as Baby Gladys--her real name was Gladys Smith. Actors at the time had no respect for the coming of the little one- reel films that were the output of the newly-born movie industry. Mary would later proudly tell people that she was born the year that Edison invented the movie camera.

Desperate to earn money she applied for acting work in film and was rejected, then only moments later discovered by D. W. Griffith, who convinced her to be a part of the new industry. The two of them with Charlie Chaplin and her later husband Douglas Fairbanks would found United Artists to give the actors and directors greater control over the films being made. Later she would be a major force in the founding of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. She won the first Best Actress Academy Award.

She had power never matched in the film industry. For most of her career Pickford could and did insist on veto power over her film roles, script choice, director choice, and co-star choice. This assured her of the quality of the films she made and no doubt added to the popularity of her films.

Her best-known roles were those where she played young girls with long hair and looks that earned her the title "America's Sweetheart." She was playing a child up until her early thirties. In 1928 with the dying of silent film, she decided that she had played her last little girl. She bobbed her hair and began speaking in film. But the public's affection was for that little girl whom she could no longer play, and she had lost her characteristic appeal. She retreated from acting, though she still had power at the studio.

Director Eliopoulos, who also produces and edits MARY PICKFORD: THE MUSE OF THE MOVIES, has presented the viewer with home movies, interviews with family, friends, and associates: people like Lillian Gish, Buddy Rogers (star of WINGS and Pickford's third husband), and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. While generally the film is very complimentary to Pickford, it does rather gloss over some of her problems like her alcoholism late in her life.

This is very much a "life and times" biography telling the story of Pickford's remarkable life and at the same time the story of the budding film industry. If you are interested in Pickford herself or just in the early history of the Hollywood film industry, this is an enthralling documentary. I rate it a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.

MARY PICKFORD: THE MUSE OF THE MOVIES was made in 2008 and has been playing at film festivals. On June 19 it was released by Cinema Libre on DVD with a photo gallery, a Q&A with the director, and an interview with the director.

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					Mark R. Leeper
					Copyright 2012 Mark R. Leeper