We’ve all read about the challenges that child stars face as
they grow up, but Diana Serra Cary’s story is different for a number of
reasons. She was one of the first true child stars, pre-dating even Jackie
Coogan in the silent film era. She had a difficult childhood and a bumpy road
as a young adult, but she has survived—and prevailed. At the age of 95 she is a
model of grace and serenity, and extremely articulate about her experiences.
All of this is beautifully captured in Vera Irewerbor’s intimate and moving video
portrait Baby Peggy: The Elephant in the
This is no standard-issue documentary with testimony from
experts: the focus is strictly on Diana, who after many decades has finally made
peace with her younger self. We see her reading fan mail, which arrives at her
Northern California home from all over the world, and meeting a new generation
of admirers in London and Pordenone, Italy at the annual silent film festival.
She recounts her bittersweet family history, and tries to make her wide-eyed
young granddaughter understand why so many of the ordinary things she takes for
granted were robbed from her as a little girl.
If you missed the film when it aired on Turner Classic
Movies, I encourage you to check it out on DVD from Milestone Film and Video.
What’s more, the disc includes Baby Peggy’s entertaining 1924 feature film Captain January, with a piano score by
Donald Sosin (featuring vocals by Joanna Seaton), and three Baby Peggy comedy
shorts. For a woman whose career was forgotten and films scattered to the four
winds, this is a comeback of the highest order.
Speaking of silent films, one of the greatest of all time
has been reissued on Blu-ray by the Cohen Media Group, which is presenting
meticulous new digital transfers of silent and early-talkie classics, including
titles from the Raymond Rohauer collection. Presented in a sparkling transfer with
its original color tints, D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance
features Carl Davis conducting the Luxembourg Radio Symphony Orchestra. In
addition, the disc features the two feature films extracted from the quartet of
stories that comprise Griffith’s “cinematic fugue,” The Mother and the Law and The
Fall of Babylon, with newly recorded scores by the Mont Alto Motion Picture
Orchestra. An accompanying booklet includes newly-written essays about
Griffith’s work by William Drew and Richard Porton.
Best of all, there is a 20-minute interview with film
historian extraordinaire Kevin Brownlow, who sets the stage for Intolerance with fascinating background
information. H even disavows one long-standing “fact” about the way Griffith
and cameraman Billy Bitzer filmed the majestic Babylonian set. Like Martin
Scorsese, Brownlow has a way of conveying his knowledge and enthusiasm every
time he talks about a film, and this is no exception. It’s a privilege to
listen to him.