Sunday, January 29, 2012

Camera Obscura: A Real 'Artist" of Silent Film Era

Just as Hollywood is lining up to celebrate the movie romanticizing the silent film era, "The Artist", one of the era's very talented and outspoken screenwriters, Frederica Sagor Mass, passed away in early January at the age of 111.

Fortunately, she crafted a most memorable memoir of her days as a screenwriter published in 1999, "The Shocking Miss Pilgrim", where she revealed the greed, lechery and brutal nature of the early days of filmmaking. Her memoir reminded readers that Hollywood has always been first and foremost about one thing - business, not artists. Here she is from a 1999 interview:

"I know I’ve been hard on the motion picture industry [in the book],” she remarks. “The facts and the stories I tell — about the plagiarism and the way I was handled and the way other writers were handled — are true. If anybody wants to take offense at the fact that I tell the truth and I’m writing this book …” She pauses a moment, collects her thoughts, then — Whammo! “I can get my payback now. I’m alive and thriving and, well, you SOBs are all below, because I’ve lived to 99. And I quit the business at 50.”


"Maas doesn’t think much of current films. “There’s no lack of material, there’s just lack of incentive to make anything else but what they consider box office. And, hell, who can dispute them? Pictures are making money. And people are getting stupider and stupider. They’ll pay seven and a half dollars to see a motion picture and it’s all in the same vein: sex, sex, sex, sex, sex and violence, violence, violence, violence. You know what they’ve done? They’ve taken the vulgar, low part of old-fashioned vaudeville — all those terrible little acts — and they’ve put it on TV.”

"Both she and her husband, Ernest Maas, saw their ideas stolen and plagiarized, and they were blackballed by the industry after being wrongly accused of being communists, she wrote.

"Her book is perhaps the best muckraking memoir about early Hollywood," film historian Alan K. Rode said Friday. "She was one of the last living connections to silent film, and her autobiography is an irreplaceable record written from the rare perspective of a woman who lived through those times."

Her life and works deserve to be celebrated as much as or more than any box office hit of the moment. Here's to you, Frederica.

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