Been appreciating all the Old Hollywood posts here lately, and I wanted to add some variety to the conversation!
Here are ten actresses I like from Asian, European, and North American silent film.
Danish actress with a strong-willed persona and naturalistic (for the time) style who was so popular in Germany she was called "The Asta." Possibly the first international female movie star, commanding $80,000 a year in the 1910's. However, she was never well-known in the United States due to censorship.
Nielsen in The Abyss (1910, Urban Gad). Gif by filmsploitation on Tumblr.
Through her own film distribution company, she was able to star as Hamlet in 1921, following a version in which Hamlet was actually a woman disguising herself as a man.
Hamlet 1921 gifs by shakespeareismyjam on Tumblr.
Conrad Veidt on working with Nielsen:
“I thoroughly enjoyed working in films with Asta Nielsen. Always while working in motion pictures, I missed that sense of ‘live’ reaction with an audience that I felt while acting on stage in a theater. That most stimulating factor of the theater is lacking, namely, the interaction and fluidity of a living audience. When I was in a play in a theater, and all was going well on stage, I felt that the audience and I were somehow joined into one. This is much different in a film studio, standing in front of a camera. But with Miss Nielsen, I could almost feel that I was on a real stage again. She was an actress whose strong fluidity as a female stage partner made up for the lack of a public audience. The right partner in a film is equal to half the audience!”
(source is Veidt Writes via this Conrad Veidt fanpage.)
Later on, as sound movies began, Nielsen retired to the stage. Eventually, Hitler and Goebbels tried to offer Nielsen her own studio, but she rejected their offer and moved back to Denmark. There, she provided money for Jewish food assistance in World War II.
She had four-long term relationships, two ending in divorce. Her final marriage occurred when she was 88, when she married her 77-year-old art dealer Christian Theede. They reportedly lived very happily until her death at age 90 in 1972.
She was very influential in the industry, and there are quite a few poems about her as well.
"Asta Nielsen" means the power to speak of pathos, to see pain, and to find the middle path between Baudelaire's flower of evil and the sick rose of which Blake sang.— M.S. Fonseca, The International Dictionary of Films And Filmmakers: Actors and Actresses
German actress most famous for her first role as both Maria and the machine woman in 1927's Metropolis.
I also rec the movie in this picture and in the picture before the cut, L'Argent, a 1928 movie directed by Marcel L'Herbier.
When her second marriage turned out to be to a man of Jewish descent, the Nazis criticized her, although her star wattage did also get her off automobile manslaughter charges. She retired from movies because she was "disgusted with the Nazi takeover of the film industry," (NY Times) and moved to Switzerland in 1935.
Dolores del Río
Extraordinary Mexican actress who is most known for her sound film work, but did get her start in silent film. So much happened in her career and her life that I really can't start to summarize it here.
So I'll just post this quote from George Bernard Shaw, though it does not even start to cover her talent and presence:
"The two most beautiful things in the world are the Taj Mahal and Dolores del Río."
Spotted this actress as one of the leads in the 1929 Hungarian film Rabmadár (Cage-Bird), a German co-production directed by Pál Sugár.
For this film, she is described as “an acrobat” or “Malayan dancer.” Another intertitle describes her as “mulatto.” Her performance is graceful, sympathetic and endearing.
Had to screencap her myself because this is a rare movie:
She was also known as Ell’ Düra.
There really isn't much known about her. IMDB says that she was also a revue dancer, and that she was "native Creole."
more from IMDB:
In Rabmadar (1929), footage of her brief nudity while bathing and subsequent scenes with a sexual predator (played by Hans Schlettow) were censored, but survive.
She made only one sound film, the short movie "Eine Dirne ist ermordet worden" (1930).
On stage, she played the role Nscho-tschi in the play "Winnetou" from 1929.
What else I found about her from this Hungarian film site, quotes Zsigmon Lenkei about producer Geza Szekeres Steinhardt: “The Schlettows, Charlotta Susa, El Dura and other foreigners lived a good life for a while owing to our friend, Géza.“ The named foreigners were active in the German film industry.
Known as "Lulu," Louise Brooks was an American actress who only became well-known through her European work Her signature bob haircut also became a worldwide sensation.
Gif made by dialhfornoir on Tumblr.
Her performances were filled with vibrant intelligence and sensitivity. Her wit and world-wise temperament carried over into her later career as a writer.
para1 offered this quote from her writings:
I have been taking stock of my 50 years since I left Wichita in 1922 at the age of 15 to become a dancer with Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn. How I have existed fills me with horror. For I have failed in everything -- spelling, arithmetic, riding, tennis, golf; dancing, singing, acting; wife, mistress, whore, friend. Even cooking.
And I do not excuse myself with the usual escape of 'not trying.' I tried with all my heart.
other selected quotes:
"I have a gift for enraging people, but if I ever bore you it will be with a knife."
"I knew i was lost, and i was! And i’ve always have been. We are all lost, we are all chip cracked, but the most intelligent of us learn. In other words we are not masters of our fate, everything happens by chance, and it’s the very people who think they have everything in control and they are running everything who get into the most trouble."
and on film "cult" trends:
“That’s the whole terrible thing about this movie cult, these movie curators, these film archives … they go from cult to cult. This year they’re mad about Japanese films and everything else stinks, and next year it’s Ingmar Bergman and everything else stinks; and it’s an idiotic, childish way to view … The films aren’t art; it’s like the public library, it’s full of books from the beginning of printing, and it doesn’t make any difference whether they’re old or new. Some are good, some are bad, and to be a cult in reading is as idiotic as—well, to be a cult with film, I think, is equally idiotic.”
from People Will Talk, edited by John Kobal
Born Jeanne Roques but renaming herself Musidora for the Greek "gift of the muses," this multi-disciplinary bohemian French artist is one of the pioneers (others include Theda Bara) of the "vamp" look and persona.
Gif via viewdojour on Tumblr.
She is most famous for playing Irma Vep in the Louis Feuillade serial Les vampires.
You should check out some of her other work too if you can find it, such as her role as adventuress Diana Monti/Marie Verdier in the Judex serial.
Born Germaine Marie Josèphe Lebas, this French actress is most well known for her sensitive performance in the short film Ménilmontant.
Please try to check out more of her work, including the 1929 short Brumes d'automne (pictured above, cap by caitsifthfa) and the 1934 feature The Kidnapping (Rapt).
Sibirskaïa in The Kidnapping.
I even spent 2+hours just to cap her five minutes in Jean Renoir's La marseillaise. Both caps above are by me.
My favorite out of the "divas" of the Italian silent era.(the most famous being Lyda Borelli).
They were passion incarnate, flirting and fainting and fighting in extragavant fashion.
Gifs by lovethosedeadmen and Silents Please.
The latter film, La moglie di Claudio, is preserved for public viewing on Vimeo.
Chinese actress so legendary that the equally iconic Maggie Cheung played her in a classic biopic.
Tragically died by her own hand at the age of 25.
Takako Irie had a long career in Japanese film, starting in the silent era.
One of her most famous roles was in Kenji Mizoguchi's The Water Magician, which was produced by her own production company in 1933.
Only a tiny percentage of silent films produced still exist in any viewable form. A lot of our perspective of silent film comes from what was promoted and what remains. Amidst certain terrible attitudes that are either dated or unfortunately still present today, there are a lot of fantastic moments as well.
The work and history of other film professionals like Toshia Mori, Tsuru Aoki, Grace Chiang (linking to my tumblr for her cus there's really very little info collected in English), Wu Suxin (also linking to my tumblr because Chinese Mirror doesn't host the original article anymore), Marion E. Wong (who, in 1917 Oakland, directed the first Chinese-American independent film), and Adela Sequeyro (who is the only name here whose work I haven't seen, but her work was only recently rediscovered) need to be appreciated and preserved for future generations.
I hope you can find some entryway here into the world of silent cinema!
Images found via general image search and Tumblr
Content: Wikipedia and my own knowledge over the years