THE STAIN (1914) [Feature]

USA (MIFF 1999 , International Panorama - Special Presentation)
Director: Frank E Powell

Believed lost for over 80 years, Theda Bara's debut, The Stain, has been lovingly and painstakingly restored by Australian writer, director, editor and film historian, Barrie Pattison. The Stain will come as a surprise even to buffs familiar with classic silent films. It is an example of the style of entertainment that greeted viewers in the early years of the very first features. Music to accompany The Stain screenings has been selected by Ross Campbell, drawing on compositions by noted Australian composer Margaret Sutherland. Campbell's previous accompani­ments for the Festival include Alias Jimmy Valentine and The Woman Thai Men Yearn For (MIFF 1996).

Director Frank Powell had been a production manager and actor for D. W. Griffith whose Birth of a Nation would revolutionise the movies in the same year that The Stain was released. Powell's A Fool There Was (1916) added the word 'vamp' to the language and launched the career of Theda Bara. Bara was the cinema superstar of the 20s, the talent upon which the Fox Film Company was built.

Bara has a small role in the film which chronicles a saga worthy of Thomas Hardy. A dissatisfied bank clerk is tempted by a large, unrecorded bank deposit which he pockets then flees the city, leaving a young wife and daughter. 20 years later his past returns to haunt him when his grown daughter re-enters his life in the courtroom where he now presides as a judge!

Powell demonstrates a state of the art grasp of cinema grammar and visual panache with his crowd and street scenes. The subject, then then topical notion of heredity dictating character traits, plays out as a family tendency towards bad blood, the 'stain' of theft. A veritably Joan Collins mini-series worth of scandal is packed into the film's 79 minutes with embezzlement, eviction, abduction, corruption and courtroom drama. The Stain was preserved by good fortune when a projectionist admirer of the film hoarded one of the 231 original copies before passing it onto a friend who would keep it under his bed for 40 years - truly an archival treasure.

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