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Barbara Kent: Last of the Silent Film Stars

21 11 2011

Barbara Kent (1907-2011)

With all the commotion in my personal life and relatively little amount of coverage it received, I just recently heard of the passing of Barbara Kent at the age of 103.  Her passing signifies the last living connection we had to the dawn of cinema, an era defined solely on the visual content of the medium.  There are a few child actors still alive as of this writing, as well as screenwriter Frederica Sagor Maas who turned 111 this year, but Kent was the last adult silent actor still living, at least in regards to American cinema.

Born Barbara Cloutman in Gadsby, Alberta, Canada, on Dec. 16, 1907, she graduated high school from Hollywood High School and, subsequently, got involved in motion pictures after winning the 1925 Miss Hollywood beauty pageant.  Under contract to Universal Pictures, she mad a few appearances in uncredited roles, before making a strong impression as the protagonist, Hertha, in the 1926 Garbo vehicle Flesh and the Devil.  No Man’s Law followed in 1927 and created a bit of an uproar with a scene that looked like she was swimming in the nude, though it was later revealed that she was wearing a flesh colored bathing suit.

Also in 1927, she was selected as one of the WAMPAS Baby Stars of that year and would eventually make a smooth transition into sound films with the 1929 Harold Lloyd comedy Welcome Danger.  She further appeared with Lloyd in Feet First in 1930 and would continue to appear in various films sporadically until 1935.  Never wanting to become an actor, her interests in the profession waned dramatically in the 1930s and she would make her final appearance on film in Guard That Girl in 1935.

Kent married Hollywood agent Harry Edington in 1932 and remained married until his death in 1949.  She met and married Lockheed engineer Jack Monroe in the mid-1950s and would remain with him until his death in 1998.  She became an avid golfer and even received her pilot’s license following her film career.  For the past decade, she made her home in an assisted living facility in Palm Desert, Calif., and was mentioned by many on various forums online to be in good mind and spirits even well into her 100s.

Never glamorizing her career or having much of an interest in the past, Kent rarely gave interviews or even acknowledged her time in motion pictures.  In the end, I guess it is ironic, yet fitting that one of the last remaining stars of that era remained, for lack of a better word, mostly silent of her time in the industry.

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R.I.P. Gunnar Fischer (1910 – 2011)

12 06 2011

Gunnar Fischer (1910 - 2011)

Legendary Swedish cinematographer Gunnar Fischer passed away yesterday at the age of 100.  Fischer’s lighting and camera techniques brought to life some of Ingmar Bergman’s most iconic films from the director’s early period.  Though not as well known as future collaborator Sven Nykvist, Fischer’s style and visual eye has dazzled cinema-goers for nearly 60 years, though his general recognition remains mostly silent.

Born in Ljungby Vasternorrlands Lan, Sweden, on November 18, 1910, Fischer originally studied painting at Otte Sköld.  Following his education, he enlisted as a chef with the Swedish Navy, before turning to a career in cinema at Svensk Filmindustri. His first film credit was as assistant camera on Smålänningar in 1935, and his first feature as a director of photography came in 1942.  He worked with several international directors including Danish master Carl Theodor Dreyer and British director Anthony Asquith.  However, his most endearing and remembered artistic partnership was with Bergman from 1948 to 1960.

The fruits of Bergman and Fischer’s collaborations include such films as Harbor City, Smiles of a Summer Night, The Seventh Seal, Wild Strawberries, The Magician and their final collaboration, The Devil’s Eye.  Like many fellow Swedish cinematographers of the era, Fischer was a master of practical lighting and operated his own camera on all his films.  Such classic images as Max von Sydow playing chess with Death or the wide dancing chain on the hill side from The Seventh Seal still move and touch viewers of all generations.

Bergman and Fischer went their separate ways after The Devil’s Eye in 1960.  Bergman went on to form another strong artistic partnership with cinematographer Sven Nykvist which lasted through almost the rest of the director’s professional career.  Fischer continued shooting feature films until 1979 when he retired.  In retirement, he continued to be close to his craft by serving as an instructor of cinematography at several prestigious Scandinavian universities.

An interesting article and interview regarding Fisher’s time working with Bergman from the Washington Post in 2008 can be found here:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/02/01/AR2008020100903.html








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