Show People

Lecture by Marilyn Fabe
Bruce Loeb on Piano

Though satire is hardly a mode with which King Vidor is associated, he was, to judge from this backstage Hollywood silent, thoroughly adept with it. Show People was based on a play that Vidor couldn't stand to finish reading. Its true inspiration was the career of Gloria Swanson, who, like Show People's heroine, began as a slapstick comedienne and reached ludicrous extremes of “European” pretension. Marion Davies plays Peggy Pepper, Georgia belle and aspiring starlet who drives cross-country to "this glorious spot on the map called Hollywood." Vidor's satire is affectionate rather than vitriolic. In a sense, it's a defense of Hollywood-then under criticism as a hotbed of immorality-as a place of small-town values and hard work, where the simplest pratfall is earned by endless rehearsal. In cameos are Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, John Gilbert, William S. Hart, and Marion Davies–as–Marion Davies, with whom Marion Davies–as–Peggy Pepper is distinctly unimpressed. The puncturing of pretensions is so complete that MGM's always inappropriate motto encircling Leo's head,"Ars Gratia Artis" (Art for Art's Sake), comes across this time as some gremlin's smart-aleck irony.

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