Beloved Bluebirds

Programme curated by Hiroshi Komatsu and Mariann Lewinsky


Tom: “Why a Livonian dog?”
Annette: “A desire from my earliest childhood…”
The Dream Lady (1918)

Why a programme dedicated to Bluebird Photoplays? A desire from when it was said that not one existed anymore. Or from 1991, when Shoes, the masterpiece by Lois Weber, the great woman director working in 1916 for Universal and the Universal subsidiary Bluebird Photoplays, was first screened in Pordenone.
At present, about thirty Bluebird Photoplay titles are known to exist in FIAF archives. Our programme presents four of the eight unique prints in the collection of the Archives Français du Film in Paris, all French-language release versions distributed in France after the war, in 1919-1920. “Bluebird stands for happiness”, said Bluebird General Manager M.H. Hoffman, and happiness was what European audiences needed most after years of war horror, devastation and death.
Bluebird Photoplays have many of the qualities that made Vitagraph films such a success in prewar Europe: lovely actresses with some glamour but too young to be great stars, independent heroines in good plots often based on novels by women writers, and, within a generic framework, a surprising variety and originality. A feel-good movie should never be undervalued.
Among the actresses, actors and directors who worked for this short-lived subsidiary of Universal, one finds a remarkable concentration of people soon to rise to fame and stardom, among them Carmel Myers, Mae Murray, Rodolpho Valentino, Tod Browning, Rex Ingram, Robert Z. Leonard and Rupert Julian. Julian was Elsie Jane Wilson’s husband, and while she gets sole credit for directing ten Bluebird films between 1917 and 1919, she probably participated very actively in the direction of many more, attributed to Rupert Julian alone. In 1914, the two joined Universal’s Rex Company and met with another film director couple, Lois Weber and Phillips Smalley. We have added Smalley in the credits of Dumb Girl of Portici, though his contribution is not clear, and we have included the film, a long awaited restoration of a great production, in this section, though it was produced by Universal Studios rather than Bluebird Photoplays.
My thanks for information and inspiration go to Eric Loné and Mark Garrett Cooper, to Robert Cotto, Eric Hoyt and the Alexander Turnbull Library for images, and of course to co-curator Hiroshi Komatsu for a long and beautiful friendship.

Mariann Lewinsky