I’m still drawn to these images that are hundred years old. Something in them still speaks and if you watch very carefully you might catch it. This is in no way an apology of hidden meanings or some radical interpreting practices; it’s more of an observation on the nature of things. Even if those things are pieces of digitalized celluloid that interest only scholars and lookalikes.
I remember a powerful image from Sunset Boulevard in which Gloria Swanson, representing both her character and herself, laments on days of glory gone by. I think that image was the first time I actually took note of this silent universe that is hidden from the eye of todays’ public. This era that spawned almost every genre that is out there, era that invented movie language and era that fumbled with heavy machinery and unstable prints just to produce some melodrama or slapstick or something that we’ll learn to hold in contempt over time. The world has changed since 1914., and these glimpses of old studio’s practices, shadows of forgotten actresses, heroines gone by and heroes forgotten somehow manage to evoke that era so that we don’t forget the intricacies, beauties and weird shit that make this world we live in.
Watching Maurice Tourneur’s The Wishing Ring: An Idyll of Old England shows us couple of things. First, it shows us that less than a year has passed from early experiments in narrative (like the one in Traffic in Souls, also featured here) to developed form of classical narration. The Wishing Ring has mastered its narration, its storytelling, structuring and cinematography (story wise, it’s as silly as it gets but rather few movies from silent era weren’t). Secondly, despite having conquered the difficulties of the structure it still doesn’t compare to the giants of the era (made during and after 1915.), whether in legacy, whether in todays’ effect. Part of the blame lies in the fact that The Wishing Ring was considered to be lost for a very long time and history is usually written from the available records (so Griffith took majority of the credit), and part of it comes from being it being rather simple in its idea and the scope of things that it deals with.
Essentially, The Wishing Ring is a romantic comedy (it has all the elements though I doubt than any romantic comedy of today would handle its women as Tourneur did) which, yet again, deals with the upper class society and finding of True Love, Meaning of Life and such simplistic nonsense. It’s interesting to note a certain lack of respect for private property and education (it is also interesting for remembering that trope of drunken college freshmen isn’t of recent origin, though anyone that read 19th century literature already knows that) as well as the total absence of the “outside world” (the first big war was brewing over Atlantic and no one in US batted an eye). Apart from that (and these things appeared randomly in the Old Hollywood, before the socialist scare and destruction of syndicates) The Wishing Ring played its cards evenly, delivering to its audience rather innocent daydream executed in simple narration and without extravagant flight of fancy. And the thing is, one can watch it today without much adjustment. It just goes to show the universal appeal of these stories (and universal idiocy of them as well) and a universal aspect of moving pictures which manage to span the 100 years wide gap like it was nothing. Anyhow, this is the stuff that fueled the dreams of our grandfathers. If you take a careful look, you’ll notice that those dreams aren’t as different as ours. Just a bit more sepia colored.
Directed by: Maurice Tourneur
Produced by: William A. Brady, Shubert family
Written by: Maurice Tourneur
Starring: Vivian Martin
Cinematography: John van den Broek
Studio: World Film Company