Home Video Hovel: Fanchon, the Cricket, by David Bax
From the moment she appears onscreen in James Kirkwood’s 1915 Fanchon, the Cricket, before we know anything about her, we know that Mary Pickford is playing our beloved hero and things goddamn better go well for her. That’s the power of Pickford’s face, even at 22 years old here. It only takes a few frames (in Flicker’s Alley’s beautiful Blu-ray presentation) to understand immediately why she was one of silent film’s great stars.
Here, Pickford plays Fanchon, a poor girl who lives in the woods with her eccentric grandmother. The stuck up local townspeople think the old lady’s a witch and shun the both of them. Eventually, though, one young man notices that she’s Mary freaking Pickford and falls in love with her. Thus begins a hesitant, rocky courtship.
Though I feel like I ought to be writing more about the film’s lush imagery—the parts that would have been enjoyed by audiences over 100 years ago—it would be criminal to review this Blu-ray release without discussing the incomparable new score written by Julian Ducatenzeiler and Andy Gladbach. Since silent film music was never locked to picture and never uniform, it would have varied, sometimes wildly, from theater to theater and even possibly from showing to showing. So why does it come as such a welcome surprise that a new release of an old film should be accompanied by more modern musical stylings and instrumentation? Ducatenzeiler and Gladbach embrace the rural setting by employing country and folk guitar sounds (with little bit of a European influence as a nod to George Sand’s source novel) with 4/4 tempos and occasional vocalizations, all of which together bring to mind 21st century coffee shop rock bands like The Decemberists.
But back to the story. Fanchon’s only fault seems to be that she wishes to be accepted by the other young folks in the area, if only to a very small degree; she’s not above giving them a good fright by making wild animal noises in the woods and then laughing at their panic. It’s not clear what’s so fun about a bunch of dandy fops who apparently have nothing better to do all day than dance around a maypole or whatever. But, hey, it was a long time ago. A sequence where Fanchon gets some nicer duds and hangs out with these snobs recalls Cinderella. But just like her, Fanchon is a far better person than those in whose company she finds herself. Come to think of it, that’s probably what it was like being Mary Pickford, too.
Flicker Alley’s Blu-ray comes from a 4K scan done at L’Immagine Ritrovata along with further restorations. The notes pointedly do not mention that the restorations were also done in 4K so they probably weren’t but the final result is nonetheless impressive, including tinting done based on the notes found with the nitrate print.
Special features include a booklet with essays by the wonderful Cari Beauchamp.