Wednesday, March 3, 2010
A delightfully savage early satire of Hollywood from director King Vidor, 1928's Show People is funny, sharp and one of the most influential films of the silent era. Playing like an early version of both Alan Arkush's Hollywood Boulevard and Robert Altman's The Player, the subversive Show People is a self referential work filled with star cameos and controlled by an extraordinary lead turn from the brilliant and often underrated Marion Davies.
Davies had been stuck in unsuitable roles for much of her career when the chance to play small-town dreamer Peggy Pepper in Show People came her way and she makes the most of the role throughout the film. Smart, sexy and extremely funny, Davies is a real wonder to watch through Vidor's lens and Show People's take on early Hollywood stands the test of time over eighty years after its release.
Chronicling the rise of Georgia born Pepper as she goes from comedic shorts to more 'distinguished' work, Show People manages to capture everything that is right and wrong about Hollywood in its slim under ninety minute running time. Working as both sweet tribute and a vicious parody, Vidor's film is filled with terrific cameos from major stars of the day, ranging from Charlie Chaplin to Mae Murray, who are willing to momentarily step away from the pretense of what it is to be a celebrity and make fun of themselves. Vidor (who also makes a cameo) himself seems to be commenting on his place in Hollywood as well, as he had just shot the overwhelming and dark The Crowd earlier in 1928. Show People is a tribute to the idea that comedy in film can be just as serious and thought provoking as drama.
Show Peopleis sadly not available on DVD at the present time but used copies of the VHS version can still be located. It also occasionally pops up on Turner Classic Movies. A tribute to the wonderful talent of Marion Davies, and an early poke at Hollywood's love-affair with itself, Show People needs a DVD release and it would make an obvious choice for The Criterion Collection.