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One Child Star’s Amazing Journey

Reviews
by Leonard Maltin
November 21, 2013 12:03 PM
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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 Room.

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.

 

 






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