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Norma Besant, daughter of a Southern doctor, is an incorrigible flirt and has many boys on her string. She begins to favor Michael Jeffrey, who, shiftless and hot-tempered but fundamentally honorable, is warned off by her father. When Michael returns after a long absence, the pair are innocently compromised, and Dr. Besant's old-South paternal rage brings tragedy. Written by
Rod Crawford <firstname.lastname@example.org>
This film reflects its period but still fascinates.
Today any sound film made in 1929 will almost certainly be watched with considerable attention by all those interested in the history of the cinema. When it includes the performance by Mary Pickford which won her only Oscar award, it should be an irresistible attraction. But this does not necessarily mean that it will provide an experience which can be directly compared with what most viewers would expect from any modern film. Most importantly, in 1929 sound recording technology was still at a very primitive stage and in addition the technicians still had to learn how to use the equipment they had to create a sound recording that was even basically acceptable. Design engineers also had to do a great deal more work before this recording could be incorporated onto film as a sound track that could be reproduced electro-optically with reasonable quality. The large bulbous microphones of the period, designed to be held and perhaps even caressed lovingly by a singer, were not appropriate for the cast of a film; and there were no fully acceptable alternatives. The cast would generally have had silent movie experience which had suddenly been rendered obsolete and would therefore have been feeling very lost. The Director had no experience to call upon in helping them overcome their problems. The better known the stars might have been, the more serious this would be for them. Finally we need to remember that there are now very different expectations for movies themselves. Even if revivals of 50 year old films could be presented with all the sophistication modern equipment and technology allow; they would still have a limited appeal to most members of a contemporary cinema audience, the technological limitations reduce this dramatically. The film-scrip raises other problems. Apart from these technical considerations, the film will seem alien to many people's expectations because, as with so many very significant films from the silent era, it has more in common with a mediaeval morality plan than most modern dramatic works - something most of us find difficult to adjust to today. Both emotions and acting are laid on thick with a trowel, but the script will still be found to go back occasionally to underline the "truths" that it aims to depict, in case these are not being fully appreciated by the audience. It is therefore pointless to either view or review a film such as Coquette with expectations based on the types of film normally thought to be acceptable today. Despite this, I very strongly recommend those interested in the development of modern cinematographic entertainment to watch it for themselves when opportunity arises. As long as the above points are born in mind, it will prove a fascinating experience. But one cannot afterwards review or comment on the film in the same way that one would do for a more modern release.
What does a film-goers gain by watching such a rather turgid melodrama today? Apart from a greater understanding of the history of the cinema, one answer is a much better appreciation of the traumas associated with the transition from the silent film era to that of the talkies, and another is greater respect for the achievements of early stars who are recognised today more by their names than by their performances. If these are of no interest, modern viewers should not watch such films even when IMDb users give then a high rating. By today's standards Coquette would barely justify a five star rating, but recognising that everyone involved, cast, director, cameraman and the new and vital 'recording artist' (who I could not even find credited) were learning a new trade together, the original film was certainly worth an eight. If you doubt this, re-watch it and note how many of the sequences in films which were released during the following decade and are now regarded as classics, were closely based on some of those in Coquette. Trying to fairly bridge this difference, I am rating the viewability of Coquette today at 7 stars.
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