Oh, gay Paris… what would Hollywood do without you? Whenever there was trouble back home, you could always make a picture about that far away land where people are strange and have casual sex without guilt trips of religious zealots. What to say? We have come to know this far-away land as a Hollywood version of France. That’s the France where anything can happen, a place where young American people go on summer vacations forcing their faint hearted parents to grow old overnight worrying about all the weird shit that can happen in so liberal a place. Still, gay Paris (in an original sense of the ‘gay’ word… though, when one talks about Paris in this context, one must wonder…) didn’t always occupy the same spot in the cultural imaginary of US&A. Things changed after WWII, things changed after ’68., things changed in post-modernity and so on. This fluidity of different, always outlandish concepts, remains closely linked to Paris (almost exclusively within the framework of US cinema) up to this day.
The roaring twenties are coming to an end. Al Jolson is creeping around the corner. Only few people are aware of that and there’s no one who could really predict the impact of upcoming sound on the power of moving pictures. From today’s perspective, 7th Heaven is a late comer. The silent era is almost over, the greatest works of silent cinema have already been made, genre staples were invented and heavily overused, saturation (of public opinion) was a fact, another crisis was looming just over the horizon and so on. Frank Borzage can’t really tell any of this yet. He’s concerned with Paris (which wasn’t as gay at that time…without titles you could almost miss the fact…Eiffel Tower still wasn’t whoring around in an iconographic sense – it is visible in a dim light, almost as an afterthought, in just a couple of shots) and with difficulties of transposing of America to another (studio)land. Hey, there’s a French guy named Chico who lives in sewers, dreams big (wants to be a street-washer), and is always looking up which makes him a rather good looking guy. There’s a mousy little woman which spends her time avoiding her sister’s whip. This one will want nothing more than a good home and a husband to go with it. She’ll get it, of course, but not without some difficulties. Within this context, there’s an odd invocation of gay Paris moment. Early American cinema (come to think of it, the mid one as well) usually fussed over non-married m/f pair living together under any circumstance – well, this is Paris and certain transgression of boundaries is nothing short of expected.
Essentially, 7th Heaven is a melodrama (recently I found out that I don’t mind melodrama as much as I used to. Must be getting old or it’s just that I tend to “forgive” ridiculous, accentuated things which were made in certain time periods) which nevertheless managed to surprise me couple of times. Camera is rather conservative (even for 1927) though there are few bold camera movements, and some nicely constructed scenes. Camera work didn’t even come close to surprising, the “fuck-off” of wealthy relatives did. Early in the movie, two sisters find out that a rich uncle is coming back from South Seas and that he’s willing to take them under his own roof. Some plot time later, rich uncle essentially says “fuck off” and storms away. Our melodrama eye, attuned to the idea of redemption which has prominent role in these movies, expects him to eventually come back just so that he can see the error of his ways showering money around for the good measure. He never does. That was a nice point for Borzage.
Also, Janet Gaynor was unexpectedly good. She was no Reneé Jeanne Falconetti but there was some exceptional acting here, the type of which you could rarely see in silent cinema. Melodrama or not, Benjamin Glazer did a good job with the script. There were times where 7th Heaven looked like usual, chauvinistic crap of the silent era, but Glazer played nicely with his female character, essentially telling the tale of individual empowerment, outside the scope of “being saved by the man”. Few surprises like this used to make a movie, and I’ll agree that some of their effect still has some kicking power within. My mind is still a (comparatively) modern mind which means that it has difficulties with some of the underlying ideologies (especially the religious ones) about which I won’t go at length or at all. I should just finish this, already too long a text with a simple statement. 7th Heaven is a birth place of Oscar-movie paradigm and it should be viewed as such. It’s rather simple and shallow (majority of things are), though sometimes it’s oh-so-good. Borzage successfully managed to find a balance of those elements.
|Directed by||Frank Borzage|
|Produced by||William Fox|
|Written by||Benjamin Glazer|
Joseph A. Valentine
|Editing by||H.H. Caldwell
|Distributed by||Fox Film Corporation|
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