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Silent Film Vault

During Mary Pickford's career, American films evolved from one-reel silent shorts, shown in impromptu nickelodeons, to big-budget features with sound.

Track the film industry's rapid change in three Mary Pickford films produced over a decade. All of these examples are accompanied by music, as was the norm for the time.

Screen an entire early Mary Pickford film, plus excerpts from two later films.

The Dream (1911)

The Dream (1911) (10:03)
Pickford plays the wife of a philandering man. After he comes home drunk, he has a bad dream -- that his wife has left the house for some fun of her own. When he wakes up, he realizes he should treat his wife better.



Rags (1915)

Rags (1915) (8:20)
Pickford portrays a feisty, independent woman. In this clip, she has just arrived at a refined Eastern home -- a world away from her origins in a rugged Western mining town. Women particularly identified with Pickford's spirited characters, and her fan base swelled.



Little Lord Fauntleroy (1921)

Little Lord Fauntleroy (1921) (9:48)
Pickford portrays Cedric, a rambunctious, impoverished American boy who discovers he's the heir to a British fortune. She also portrays Dearest, Cedric's mother.

The film includes a legendary special effect: the two characters portrayed by Pickford kiss. "This wasn't something that was sent off to the laboratories, as happens now, or to computer-generated imagery," says film historian Kevin Brownlow. "This was done in the camera. You wound the shot back and you re-exposed it, and you had to block out the previous figure. I still don't know how they did it." As feature films grew longer and more elaborately produced, audiences embraced colorful, escapist stories like this one, and Hollywood racheted up the complexity of movie sets, lighting, and camera techniques.



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