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  Shooting Stars Greeted And Respectfully Seated
Year: 1928
Director: Anthony Asquith, A.V. Bramble
Stars: Annette Benson, Brian Aherne, Donald Calthrop, Wally Patch, David Brook, Ella Daincourt, Chili Bouchier, Tubby Phillips, Ian Wilson, Judd Green, Jack Rawl
Genre: DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Mae Feather (Annette Benson) and Julian Gordon (Brian Aherne) are a beloved celebrity couple who make movies together, and as far as their fans know they are blissfully in love and never happier than when working in conjunction with each other in romantic roles. Today they are filming a Western where Julian is the handsome hero riding the range and courting the demure Mae, but as they are creating one flower-garlanded shot as she waves him off on adventure, the dove she was supposed to kiss gives her a peck back, and she is furious, throwing the bird away and demanding the director rethink the entire set-up. This is what the crew know: Mae is no blushing sweetheart, not at all.

Usually when Shooting Stars gets mentioned (not to be confused with the celebrity comedy gameshow of decades later, that is) it would be to praise it as an excellent opportunity to see behind the scenes of the movie industry as it was in the late nineteen-twenties, and it was perfectly accurate to say you did get a strong sense of what a British studio would have been like in those days, even with, one assumes, the exaggerated events that took place in the story here. It was the directorial debut of Anthony Asquith, an impossibly posh filmmaker who enjoyed a long and distinguished career behind the cameras, the son of a Prime Minister and very well connected in society.

Asquith may have been one of the United Kingdom’s best known directors in his lifetime, but his style of prestige, often what would come to be called heritage cinema has not endured as far as some of his contemporaries have, very much relegated to rainy Sunday afternoon viewing by anyone who would care to have a look, but watching him here, when his approach was perhaps a little less stuffy, you could understand why both cinemagoers and tastemakers alike were excited by this new talent. Though the subject was purest melodrama – wife who has it all wants more, and plots to murder her husband to get it – the technique was lively and vibrant, patently steeped in the culture of which it spoke.

Asquith picked three interesting stars for his trio of leads, though Annette Benson went on to be intriguing for more than her acting roles, as after completing her final film a couple of years after Shooting Stars, she retired and was never heard from again. There are no records that anybody knows of which tell of her eventual fate, she must be long dead by now but many watching her vivid portrayal here, which runs the gamut from shrewish to poignant, will wonder how someone with at least a fair degree of fame could vanish so utterly. Aherne went on to be one of the industry’s most sought after character actors, well placed for roles of waspish wit, and the other side of the love triangle was played by Donald Calthrop as Andy Wilkes, a Chaplinesque comedian and the actual love of Mae’s life.

Not that what we see of Wilkes’ comedy is particularly funny, and Calthrop would not be best known for comedy in his career to follow, but before you write the film off it didn’t really need to be, especially in light of what happened in the latter stages. More fascinating was the film’s concoction of what it was like to make these productions, both in and out of the studio: Asquith and co-director A.V. Bramble liked to set the camera far back to take in the whole crew busying themselves about the set or location, as if keen to set the practices in stone for both their twenties audiences to understand and those who would take an interest ever after. Although the main plot events pivot on, the switching of a blank cartridge for a real one in a prop gun, was the stuff of sensationalist thrillers, the essential humanity of the participants was not allowed to lapse into caricature, just look at the ten minute coda to see what one very bad decision can do to a life, and you’ll appreciate a curious sympathy with show people, even show people driven mad towards murder, that shone through the otherwise contrived romantic follies.

[The BFI's Blu-ray has a bunch of vintage newsreel shorts and a gallery as extras on the disc, and a booklet full of information to accompany it. For a film of this vintage, this is a very nice restoration too, with an all new soundtrack.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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