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SCREENING ROOM

'Joan of Arc' Tops Heavy Slate of Silent Movies

August 14, 1995|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

This week marks a bonanza for lovers of silent films, with three venues offering movies.

Carl Theodor Dreyer's 1928 masterpiece, "The Passion of Joan of Arc," with the Los Angeles Theater Orchestra performing Richard Einhorn's new score, will screen at the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre Friday through Sunday at 8:30 p.m.

A rare and distinctive Mary Pickford picture, "Dorothy Vernon of Haddon Hall" (1924), will play at the Silent Movie on Friday and Saturday. Bob Mitchell--who accompanied the film at its opening--will be back at the organ. And the delightful 1928 "The Garden of Eden," starring Corinne Griffith, screens Sunday at 7:30 p.m. at the Paramount Ranch in Agoura.

"The Passion of Joan of Arc" is one of the most profoundly spiritual films ever made--and one of the most celebrated of all silents. It is a triumph of an extremely austere style, yet everything about it serves to probe the eternal mystery of good and evil and the transcendent nature of faith.

Surely, only a true visionary could get away with the spareness and rigor of this film, composed mainly of close-ups of the beatific expressions of Renee Falconetti as she experiences the ordeal of the Maid of Orleans. Dreyer and his cameraman, Rudolph Mate, virtually turn film into sculpture with their indelible images.

Information: (213) 466-1767.

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America's Sweetheart: The sweeping historical romance "Dorothy Vernon of Haddon Hall" (Silent Movie, 611 N. Fairfax Ave., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m.) reveals a Mary Pickford rarely seen even at the height of her career.

Instead of her beloved child-woman character, America's Sweetheart emerges here as a beautiful, poised and desirable young woman, betrothed in childhood by her noble father to marry the son of the more powerful Earl of Rutland.

Unfortunately, their fathers fall out over allegiance to Mary, Queen of Scots and to Queen Elizabeth. By the time this rousing film, directed by Marshall Neilan and photographed by Charles Rosher in authentic English locales, is over, Dorothy and her true love (Allan Forrest, in real life Pickford's stepfather) have all but lost their own heads in the palace intrigue surrounding the rival queens. A radiant Pickford sustains this handsome, complicated film with remarkable concentration and vitality.

In place of the originally scheduled "Tess of the Storm Country" (1922), the Silent Movie will screen an even earlier Pickford film, Sidney Franklin's "The Hoodlum" (1919), an adventure in which a rich Manhattan girl discovers what life is like on the Lower East Side.

Information: (213) 652-2389.

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One Shiny Apple: Presented by the Silent Society/Hollywood Heritage, the frothy and sophisticated "The Garden of Eden," directed by Lewis Milestone, starts out like something from Erich von Stroheim. Those two all-time screen decadents, Lowell Sherman (as an aristocratic Budapest playboy) and Maude George (as a nightclub operator-procuress), menace the virtue of her new chorine Corinne Griffith, who escapes to Monte Carlo with the cabaret's seamstress, a once-rich baroness portrayed by Louise Dresser.

Ensconced in the luxe Hotel Eden--hence, the film's title--the lovely Griffith swiftly attracts a rich suitor (Charles Ray), but she's in dire danger of running out of money before he pops the question; to be sure, this Hans Kraly adaptation of Avery Hopwood's romantic stage farce has further complications in store for the couple. "The Garden of Eden" is far from flawless, but its pristine print shows off its superb black-and-white cinematography and gorgeous production design--George's nightclub, for example, is an Art Deco triumph.

Information: (818) 597-9192; (213) 937-0776.

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Marshaled Art: The Monica 4-Plex's summer Hong Kong series commences a one-week run Friday of Yuen Woo-Ping's engaging period martial arts comedy, "Wing Chun." Michelle Khan has the title role as a beautiful kung fu master who protects her village from bandits but has a tough time landing a man.

The regal, versatile Khan is exceptionally poignant in what is perhaps the best film so far in the festival.

Information: (310) 394-9741.

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