Latest posts by Alexander P. Garza (see all)
- Review: Little Rooster’s Egg-cellent Adventure (Un Gallo Con Muchos Huevos) - October 30, 2015
- Review: Behavior (Conducta) - June 17, 2015
- Lorís Simón Salum and the Literally Short Film Festival - June 12, 2015
I recently began a journey into film history, and enrolled in a free course through Coursera. The name of the course is The Language of Hollywood: Storytelling, Sound, and Color, and it’s taught by Professor Scott Higgins from Wesleyan University. The course is technically no longer in session, but fortunately, the professor and/or Coursera kept the class videos up. First up on the list of movies to watch was Street Angel (1928), directed by Frank Borzage and starring Janet Gaynor as Angela and Charles Farrell as Gino.
Although the film takes place in Italy, it seems to take place in a dreamlike space throughout the film. The film is beautiful. Each scene is so aesthetically pleasing, you could turn each still into a movie poster, like the still above. The genre of the film is considered melodrama and rightfully so. Some of the plot and character choices are a little strange, and don’t make sense at times.
Janet Gaynor does a marvelous acting job as Angela, the heroine of the film. She is the first person to win The Academy’s Best Actress award, and wins it for Street Angel (1928), Seventh Heaven (1927), and Sunrise(1927). In the film, Angela goes on an emotional journey with ups and downs and has multiple transformations.
We are first introduced to Angela as she is given news from a doctor that she must buy medicine for her dying mother as soon as possible. Without money or time she decides to become a prostitute, which is a failed attempt. Gaynor has an uncanny ability of conveying every important decision or thought through nuanced movements, glares, and expression. As she makes the decision to become a prostitute, we see this process as she looks at the prescription, her mother, then through the window, contemplating what she can do and should do. After being rejected by some men, she unsuccessfully steals cash from someone making a purchase at a shop. After spending an undetermined amount of time in jail, she escapes and returns home to find her mother has died.
The police follow Angela to her home, but the traveling circus performers, who were introduced at the film’s opening, give her refuge. She joins their traveling act where she meets Gino, an artist, and falls in love. At this point in the film, Gaynor shows us how Angela has hardened and it takes a persistent Gino to break her coldness. She breaks her leg during an act, and Gino takes her into the city to see a doctor, further solidifying his dedication to her. Angel’s leg heals, Gino lands a good gig painting, and Gino proposes to Angela. All seems to be going well until the officer finds Angela again.
There is unresolved tension as we hope to see the lovers kiss on multiple occasions. They begin to understand each other and work as a team when making financial decisions. There is a nice whistling motif between the two lovers, letting each other know the other is there. The officer reminds me of Sacha Baron Cohen’s character of the Station Inspector in Hugo (2011), although not nearly as comical. It did seem a little unnatural for him to ponder so long on remembering who Angela was. It was also peculiar how he succumbed to Angela’s wish that he stand outside for over an hour while Angel got drunk with Gino, although I think this helped establish a precedent that her good will shines through to her exterior, which comes to save her in the end.
My biggest qualm I have with the narrative is how Gino seems to turn into a monster while moping around Italy. Somehow, he has turned from a nice artist into a murderer while Angela is in jail. I just didn’t buy it. Granted, despite not buying it, I was still frightened for Angela as we were pushed toward the finish line.
The film is visually stunning and I felt as if I were there right alongside the characters at times. The wide shots of this imaginative Naples, and the close shots that pick up the actors’ nuances, along with the detail and use of light pulled me into their world.
Despite the Jekyll and Hyde type transformation of Gino, this was a marvelous classic, and should be given a chance.
Thanks for reading Mexican Film Reviews. Be sure to subscribe for the latest movie news and reviews!