Julian Gordon (Brian Aherne) and Mae Feather (Annette Benson) are beautiful and talented stars of the silver screen, a kind of 1927 Brad and Angelina (but only if you stand on your head and squint at their pictures very very hard, preferably through a blindfold.) At the moment they are co-starring in the romantic Western ‘Prairie Love’, until an errant dove has other ideas. Meanwhile, slapstick comic Andy Wilks (Donald Calthrop) is shooting his new comedy on a neighbouring stage. Andy, whose stage character is obviously based on Charlie Chaplin’s Little Tramp, might enjoy the adulation of his fans but unlike Julian and May, when he takes off his costume and make-up he is anonymous.
Events come to a head when Julian asks Andy to take his wife home, and Andy and Mae discover an unlikely attraction towards one another. Andy had planned to take Mae to the theatre, but when she tears up the tickets, it’s obvious she has other plans for their evening. But how long will their affair last, and what will happen when Julian finds out about it?
Shooting Stars is a wonderful film, and revolutionary in its attempt to show audiences what really happens behind the scenes of a film studio. For us, the mechanics of moviemaking are commonplace but, in 1927, there was still alchemy to the filmmaking process. Shooting Stars strips much of that alchemy away but holds enough back to dazzle us, including some fantastic editing and a long overhead tracking shot that’s as innovative as anything Orson Welles would do, fourteen years later, in Citizen Kane. Just as impressively, writer / director Anthony Asquith’s screenplay is a masterful blend of romantic drama, slapstick comedy and behind-the-scenes expose, which was also quite unique for its time. Asquith may have had to share directing credit with A.V. Bramble (because this was Asquith’s first time as a director, Bramble was brought in to supervise) but it’s obvious that Asquith knew what he was doing behind the camera – he went on to enjoy a long and hugely successful career and, in his importance to British cinema, many critics have placed him alongside Alfred Hitchcock. Looking at Shooting Stars, it is easy to see why.
The BFI’s Blu-ray release of Shooting Stars is absolutely superb and includes a terrific new musical score from John Altman, which compliments the chameleon-like moods of the on-screen action perfectly (yes, this is a silent film but don’t let that put you off). There is also a plethora of perfectly chosen special features, including a short documentary about British Instructional Film (the company that produced Shooting Stars) and a look into ‘The Making of Cinematograph Film’ from 1922. One of the best extras – ‘Starlings of the Screen’ – follows the entrants of a 1925 ‘search for a star’-style competition, as they are auditioned for a part in the movies. It is naïve and unintentionally hilarious and just goes to prove that some things never change…
All in all, this is a fabulous package showcasing a superb and incredibly important film that deserves to be much better known. Highly recommended.
SHOOTING STARS (1927) / CERT: PG / DIRECTORS: ANTHONY ASQUITH, A.V. BRAMBLE / SCREENPLAY: ANTHONY ASQUITH, JOHN ORTON / STARRING: ANNETTE BENSON, BRIAN AHERNE, DONALD CALTHROP, WALLY PATCH / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW