12. A Fool There Was (1915)
Directed by Frank Powell
Written by Porter Emerson Browne
Starring Theda Bara, Mabel Frenyear, and Edward Jose
Theda Bara stars as THE VAMPIRE. Watch out boy, she’ll chew you up. With only her womanly wiles, Bara has driven men to penury, madness, and suicide. Strange how this seductress keeps covered throughout the movie with long sleeves and ankle-length skirts. In some of her best-known photos — promotional shots for 1917’s Cleopatra — Bara poses shirtless with weird snake pasties covering her nipples. On a docked ocean liner, the Vamp’s most recent victim excoriates her before shooting himself in the head. At sea, she and married diplomat John Schuyler, who wasn’t on board for the fatal confrontation, become an item. Discretion isn’t really their thing. Word gets back to Schuyler’s wife and the U.S. Government, which terminates Schuyler’s assignment. No one abroad wanted to hang out with a philanderer, anyway. I don’t know if I have the critical faculties to fully appreciate silent movies. Xtina and I saw Man with a Movie Camera with a live band; I watched Oscar Micheaux’s Within Our Gates for an African American film class during my second stint in college. The upside-down shot of an empty noose still haunts me. We may have watched Body and Soul, too. Beyond that: nothing. For unclear reasons, the version of A Fool on Amazon Prime tints the film various shades of yellow, purple, and green. While streaming a 102 year old movie on a MacBook Pro, I couldn’t stop thinking about what the original musical accompaniment must have sounded like. The disgraced diplomat makes his way back to the States and moves with the Vamp into a city row home. Schuyler’s best friend stages an intervention. But when the estranged husband and wife speak in person, the Vamp inserts herself between them and kisses Schuyler, who reciprocates. The move is chaotic evil AF. Schuyler descends into alcoholism. The movie ends with him prone on the floor, a broken man. Bara kneels over her quarry with a small bouquet of flowers. She tears off a single petal, drops it on Schuyler’s face, then leans down to blow it off. Over and over she repeats the act until an iris wipe leaves us in total darkness. Maybe it suggests a slow death, or a number of smaller ones, or just one big one.