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Category:    Home > Reviews > Documentary > Biography > Filmmaking > Show Business > Politics > Mary Pickford: The Muse Of The Movies (2012/Cinema Libre DVD)/To Whom It May Concern: Ku Shen’s Journey (Nancy Kwan biography/2010/Redwind DVD)

Mary Pickford: The Muse Of The Movies (2012/Cinema Libre DVD)/To Whom It May Concern: Ku Shen’s Journey (Nancy Kwan biography/2010/Redwind DVD)


Picture: C/C+     Sound: C+     Extras: C+/C-     Documentaries: B



We recently received to solid biography documentaries on two very key women in the history of cinema, known for their beauty, star power and whose work and look changed film forever.  International cinema icons to this day, it is surprising more is not known of them and that they are not discussed more often, but these documentaries prove and reinforce that their work is as vital and important as ever.


Nicholas Eliopoulos’ Mary Pickford: The Muse Of The Movies (2012) tells us about the woman who became known as “America’s Sweetheart”, a term still with us today and one that has been used for so many stars since (including music stars and for actresses as early as Shirley Temple) as this remarkable 101 minutes piece tells us her life biography and also how she quickly became involved with the growing, fledgling movie industry in its shorts, “flickers” and silent days.


We learn about her background which is sometimes sad, we learn about her energy and intent on being in the business, which was not so respected when it began.  We see how she came into contact with just about every major name and innovator in the beginning, then became one herself, including becoming one of the founders of United Artists.  She also becomes one of the biggest movie stars ever, the first actress to make a million dollars, one of the first female producers, directors and writers, plus how she shaped screen acting by talking a more naturalistic approach.


But it also turns out she was very clever and even ingenious in her ideas, choices and though instinct had something to do with it, it was more than that.  She was always a realist and also loved filmmaking, but we also see more about the men she loved, the family she tried to have and did not have.  Ultimately, we see that she is as important as any of the giants who made films possible and in an industry with many female executives, but not enough, her work and achievements are mostly unmatched and rarely surpassed.  She is a legend and for good reason.


Michael York narrates this very well and it is impressive throughout.  Mary Pickford: The Muse Of The Movies is a must-see for all serious movie fans and especially serious filmmakers.  Extras include text Cast Bios, Photo Gallery, an Audio Interview on NPR’s On Film and an on-camera Filmmaker Q&A at the Toronto Film Festival.



Brian Jamieson’s To Whom It May Concern: Ku Shen’s Journey (2010) is just as amazing, telling us the story of actress Nancy Kwan, whose groundbreaking starring roles in The World Of Suzie Wong (1960) and the musical Flower Drum Song (1961) made her an international star and helped break barriers of race, sexism and artifice in Hollywood filmmaking as she became a smash success as an Asian woman playing characters of the same ethnicity, whereas Caucasian women would often have those roles when it was lead acting work.


However, Miss Kwan is interviewed throughout, baring her life story and soul ion telling us about her family, her ever-changing life, how she came into being a star, the great people who helped her and how the later 1960s and Hollywood’s own temporary decline shook her career and life, stopping her from having more smash hits despite continuously working and doing interesting work.  Friends and family are interviewed as well; we see some great film clips, press & promo stills, rare film & video footage and new footage from various locations to tell us all about her life.


Saddest is the story of her only son and how he had great success, only to have it changed by twists and turns no one could have expected.  I have more than a few times been asked what happened to Nancy Kwan and explain that she did continue to make films and even TV (including one of Dean Martin’s four Matt Helm films which also happened to include Sharon Tate) so she continued in the business for awhile, but like Mary Pickford, the “Sweetheart” roles were even more quickly replaced by other kinds of roles.


Her acting work definitely brought a new breath of fresh air Hollywood needed at the time and was ahead of the game in where the industry needed to go to even survive, so like Pickford, we see her working with giants and innovators in top rate material, but also doing smaller projects since she did not become a producer, director, writer or studio owner.  She is an amazing woman, survivor and this documentary is a great testament to her life and legacy.  I also highly recommend To Whom It May Concern to anyone serious about filmmaking or film.


A trailer is the only extra.

The 1.33 X 1 on Pickford has some great clips and is nicely edited, but there are many incident of aliasing errors and detail issues outside of the old film clips that hold back the picture quality, while the anamorphically enhanced 1.78 X 1 image on Concern tends to have some fine film clips and look better overall despite also having some softness.  The lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo on both DVDs are simple at best, have their share of monophonic audio and distorted sound, but that is to be expected from documentaries of any kind.


The philosophies of both women tend to be one of the reasons they became great successes and by being so independent-minded, were both ahead of their time and of the feminist movement.  We do not see enough works on actors like this and I hope we see more and as many people as possible see both of these remarkable programs.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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