The Rear-View Mirror: The Mark of Zorro (1920)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

In our current times, Douglas Fairbanks is best known for his swashbuckling films. Chances are that one of your first silents was a film he made. But at the time, making The Mark of Zorro was quite the risk, for an actor best known for light comedy work and westerns. Especially since he was also co-founding United Artists, with such luminaries as Chaplin, Pickford and Griffith. If audiences wouldn’t accept Fairbanks’ re-branding, his career might very well fail. The decision for his first more meaty role to be Zorro, then, was an inspired one. He gets to show off his comedic chops, as well as his incredible athleticism.

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The Rear-View Mirror: The Lucky Dog (1921)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

Four and a half minutes into 1921’s “The Lucky Dog” comedy short, cinematic history is made. The film’s hero – a penniless young man with a surprisingly emo take on eye make-up – is chasing the eponymous lucky dog when he embroils himself in a mugging. As this is the knockabout world of early film comedy, the hold-up does not go according to plan, and the intended victim ends up racing off with more money than when he started, the oversized brute (do brutes come in any other size?) in hot pursuit.

What makes this particular moment historic is the identity of both mugger and muggee. The former is played by Oliver “Babe” Hardy, already a veteran with over a hundred comedy shorts under his belt. His intended victim, a relative newbie to Hollywood but already in leading roles, is Stan Laurel.

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The Rear-View Mirror: Safety Last! (1923)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

Everyone knows Charlie Chaplin. To a lesser extent perhaps, Buster Keaton too. But the third giant in this comedy trifecta, Harold Lloyd, is not as well known nowadays, although he made more films than the two of them combined. This may be because of distribution issues (Lloyd, in his later days, would only allow screenings of his films on special occasions). But perhaps even more so because the need-to-succeed everyman of his ’20s films was felt to be old-fashioned.

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The Rear-View Mirror: The Jazz Singer (1927)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

Despite its reputation as the first full length feature with synchronised sound, The Jazz Singer is a silent for most of its running time. When Sam Warner of Warner Brothers bought Vitaphone in 1925, despite the misgivings of his brother Harry, it was not because he thought that “Talkies” were the future: it was because they could record a film’s music, making a full orchestra unnecessary for showings. The process was complicated and ponderous. But the future did belong to the Talkies, and so The Jazz Singer is still famous today for being the first of its kind.

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The Rear-View Mirror: The Divorcee (1930)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

The Divorcee begins with a group of friends which make up the in-crowd of New York society. Jerry (Norma Shearer) and Ted (Chester Morris) are in love. They decide to get married. Paul (Conrad Nagel), who also loves Jerry, is firmly relegated to the friend zone. Gutted, he proceeds to get drunk and gets into a car accident that disfigures one of the other women of the group: Dot (Judith Wood). Ur-‘Nice Guy’ that he is, he marries her out of pity. Wedding bells and domesticity, sacrifice and unrequited love. So far, so Hollywood. Female facepalm. But then halfway Shearer delivers the following searing monologue:

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The Rear-View Mirror: Trouble in Paradise (1932)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

Trouble in Paradise might be, in the words of film historian and podcaster Karina Longworth, the “pre-codiest of pre-code movies”. Before the Hays code came in to effect, filmmakers took full advantage of the lack of regulation surrounding topics of sex and morality in American movies. In the case of Trouble in Paradise, a film by the much beloved Ernst Lubitsch, it results in a surprisingly adult movie about, well, sex. But not in the way we, modern audiences, are used to. No soft-focus from-the-hips-up shots of people doing the actual deed. But the implications? They’re spicier than that.

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The Rear-View Mirror: The Thin Man (1934)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

When MGM got William Powell on loan from Warner to make The Thin Man with Myrna Loy, the studio anticipated they had just green-lit a quick B-movie. Director W.S. Van Dyke was known to be able to keep to his deadlines and they managed, incredibly, to shoot the film in two weeks, with only a few days’ extension. Perhaps it was due to the spontaneity of Loy and Powell, the cinematography by James Wong Howe, perhaps is was partly because it was a passion project for Van Dyke. But far from being a throwaway comedy, it went on to secure four Oscar nominations and spawn five sequels, three of which were directed by Van Dyke himself. (MGM was never a studio to give up a lucrative formula).

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The Rear-View Mirror: Lincoln in the Bardo (2017)

In 2017, Eagles on Pogo Sticks ended its ten years of soaring and went into a steep yet controlled ascent. After a quick dip into one of the few remaining phone booths, a suspiciously familiar-looking blog emerged: A Damn Fine Cup of Culture. Now, almost a year after we reinvented ourselves (or, more accurately, revealed ourselves as the cuppaholics we are) we’re launching a weekly feature: The Rear-View Mirror, where each Friday we’ll look at the cultural goodies, whether grande, venti or trenta, that may appear closer than they really are. We’re starting in the year of our (re-)launch, 2017. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

Lincoln in the Bardo

Back when I was a student, I was pretty much subscribed to the Booker Prize winners. From Midnight’s Children (which, admittedly, I read more than 15 years after its release) via the likes of The Remains of the Day and The Famished Road, The English Patient and The God of Small Things to Amsterdam and Disgrace, I knew that the winning novels would be well worth reading. When I left university, though, I realised that life is very different when you’re not paid to read literature. After a day at the office doing things other than literary criticism, I found that my brain wasn’t necessarily in much of a state to plonk down with a book, and instead I’d watch an episode of something or play video games for an hour. The Booker Prize lost its appeal as any new books I ordered piled up on one of my Billy shelves. I still enjoy reading a lot, but it’s no longer the thing I do most of the time on most days, it’s something to do before going to bed (if I’m awake enough), over the weekend and especially on holidays.

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