Apr. 30th, 2017

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 Rewatched Lady Killer (1933) and the extras included a short called The Camera Speaks (1934), in which an old studio cameraman, now a security guard, dreams about talking to his camera, played by a tripod camera with a distorted actor's face superimposed. Basically, it's 1934 going "1916 was so cheesy lol," but includes a number of silent movie clips, albeit with mocking voiceover commentary, and consequently I learned that Theda Bara was not the only screen vamp, but had a rival named Louise Glaum. Reviews on IMDb indicate that the clips of Glaum are from a picture called The Wolf Woman (1916), although the camera's narrative keeps dropping references to A Fool There Was (1915), which starred Bara and seems to have begun the trend.

Thoughts I'm still trying to process and string together -- most articles on Bara and the "vamp" fad claims that the era couldn't tolerate sexy women in media unless the story also made it clear that they were not just sinful but totally depraved creatures who deliberately enslaved and degraded men for their own amusement, and that's probably true so far as it goes, but -- it kind of feels as though the trend was also playing to somebody's kinks? The Vamp isn't just a "bad woman," she's a full-on dominatrix. The story always ends with Vice punished, but not until you've seen at least forty minutes of an exotically-presented woman saying things like "Kiss me, my fool," as a man happily "degrades" himself for her sake.

I mean, I doubt the filmmakers of 1915-16 were deliberately courting the BDSM market share; maybe there was just a general idea that you could placate the censors by punishing sex after the audience had had a good look, and someone in the scriptwriting department decided to sneak in a few of their own fantasies, and it took off because the general audiences got something sexy, the mysogynists and people who opposed women's sufferage could have their worst fears confirmed, and a number of viewers got to fantasize about being one of the Vamp's victims, or the Vamp herself?

Incidentally, a look at Glaum's Wikipedia entry suggests she was less typecast than Bara. She did a lot of Westerns as well, usually as the saloon gal but at least once as a tough-but-goodhearted saloon owner out to avenge the rape of her half-sister. She later went back to the stage and also became an acting coach.


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