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Theda Bara (1885 - 1955)
Lifespan: 1885 - 1955
Related: vamp - silent film - femme fatale - sex symbol - movie star - actress
Theda Bara in a publicity shot for A Fool There Was (1915) - Frank Powell
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[s]creen vamp Theda Bara explained, "The reason good women like me…is that there is a little bit of vampire instinct in every woman." Late twentieth-century feminists argued over whether the notion of the femme fatale was implicitly misogynist. Essayist Camille Paglia ventured: "The femme fatale …wields the sexual power that feminism cannot explain and has tried to destroy….Through stars like [Elizabeth] Taylor, we sense the world-disordering impact of legendary women like…Helen of Troy and Salome." --http://www.kewatt.com/Salome.html
Theda Bara was the stage name of Theodosia Burr Goodman (July 29, 1885 - 7 April 1955), a silent film actress. Her stage name is an anagram for "Arab Death". As for her real name, Theda is short for Theodosia, and Bara was the middle name of her maternal grandmother.
Bara was one of the most popular screen actresses of the time. She was nicknamed "The Vamp", short for vampire, slang for a sexy predatory woman at the time. [...[
Bara was a sex symbol of the [golden] era, and in a number of her films appeared in risqué transparent costumes that left little to the imagination. Such outfits were banned from Hollywood films after the Hays Code went into effect a few years later, which may have been a factor in declining interest in her films, which could no longer be commercially shown in the United States. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theda_Bara [Oct 2004]
A Fool There Was (1915) - Frank Powell
A Fool There Was (1915) - Frank Powell [Amazon.com]
It would be a major stretch to describe "A Fool There Was" as a good film, but for all sorts of reasons it remains full of interest. The plot is utter nonsense, some garbage about an evil woman who has nothing better to do than destroy the lives of wealthy men. Exactly how she achieves this is never made clear, but apparently arching the back and flaring the nostrils was carried some clout in 1915.
We shouldn't get too superior about it though. The public for whom this movie was made was by no means as naive as we might like to think. The film was camp then, just as it is now, though they probably had a different word for it. It was clearly a less permissive society. What passed for "sin" isn't at all recognisable as such today. And in fact as a primary source you couldn't find a better social commentary than "A Fool There Was". For instance it is interesting that a conspicuous display of feminine ambition and sexuality had automatically to be branded "evil" - it would take decades for this perception to be reversed.
Much of the focus will be on Theda Bara. With so little of her output available for viewing today its unfortunate to have to say that this is far from representative. What is clear is that she was a credible actor - not immediately apparent from her still photographs - capable of restraint as well as frenzy. Her fame is much easier to understand when she is actually seen in action. She has considerable poise and presence and when well lit and photographed is surprisingly beautiful.
The DVD issue is exceptionally well presented - the menus are imaginative and atmospheric, the extras well chosen and interesting. The print is variable; here and there it is mottled and jittery, but more often the image is crisp and sharp and revelatory for those of us who know the film solely from pirated VHS copies. An appropriate music score is also a huge advantage.
In all, an unexpectedly compelling and thought provoking film, if not always for the reasons that were intended. And if you are disposed towards silent movies, a compulsory addition to the collection. James Moffat, amazon.com
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