The One about Paul Fejos’ “Lonesome”

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For many years, silent film fans have hoped to watch Paul Fejos’s “Lonesome”.

Most have heard comparisons of Fejos’s film to F.W. Murnau’s “Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans” and Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis”, but the fact was that for many years, “Lonesome” was a rare film to see at a silent film screening.

Due to the fact that the only surviving print was a the French version at the time, that is what many people saw. Regardless, despite no English intertitles, the film is simple and easy to follow. The storyline is about two lonely individuals who meet at the beach and discover love for each other, but due to circumstances, among the huge crowd in what I presume is Coney Island, they are separated from each other and both fear they have lost each other.

And as a romance film, the storyline is touching and entertaining. But what makes “Lonesome” so magnificent is its presentation for its time. Using an experimental style, the cinematography not only captures the fun of these two individuals spending time together, but there are cool transitions, good and not clumsy use of double and triple exposures, tight and efficient editing and the fact that it is a hybrid film that is primarily silent but has moments where the cast is talking and dialogue can be heard, there are noticeable influences.

For one, we see the use of Fritz Lang style structures. German Expressionism used in showcasing big structures and the feeling of a heavy storm in the city as dark thunder clouds move in and similar to F.W. Murnau’s “Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans” where a huge storm starts to disrupt the large attendance at Coney Island. Heavy showers hitting everyone and air of despair strikes our two main characters.

While “Metropolis” and “Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans” are much deeper films and with large production value, the fact is that filmmaker Paul Fejos was able to transform what could have been a banal film, to a film with an amazing visual style for its time.

Granted, early talkies were known for its cheesiness and some utilized sound well earlier on, other’s didn’t. While the acting was not the best during the dialogue portions, this was typical for films that utilized sound during that time.

Possibly the only scene that felt unusual is hearing the long pause as Jim tries to tell a police officer off. Corny in a Poverty Row type of way (for those familiar with those type of films) but as a person interested in early film and how technology or early sound was used in cinema, I found if fascinating and fun.

But both Glenn Tryon and Barbara Kent did a great job in their roles and making the audience feel these two are in love with each other, they belong with each other and you end up pulling for them to be together! It’s what I love about Paul Fejos’s “Lonesome”.


 

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Dennis A. Amith