Theatre at the Ace Hotel
On Opening Night of the Hollywood Women’s Film Festival, Why Not Choose Love? A Mary Pickford Manifesto (2019) had its world premiere at the Theatre at Ace Hotel. Entering the lobby, we were greeted by a vintage jazz combo playing Django Reinhardt classics. After an hour of cocktails, the official program began in the auditorium with an original song from an expressive female vocalist. After that, a meditation teacher who once got the coders at Google to calm down, led us through some breathing exercises that felt quite soothing. I began to wonder, though, if I’d stumbled into a seance.
However, that was the warmup for the main event, writer/director/producer Jennifer DeLia‘s latest film, based on Mary Pickford’s notebooks expressing her thoughts on spirituality. With Charlie Chaplin, D.W. Griffith and Douglas Fairbanks, Pickford formed United Artists. They all show up as characters in the film, a complex and compelling blend of live action shot by Dan Kneece and animation, that took more than eight years to complete. In the film, Mary Pickford (Sophie Kennedy Clark) overcomes casting couches and MeToo encounters of the silent film era to become one of the first of Hollywood’s female stars. Unfortunately, her producers and directors including D.W. Griffith (Cary Elwes) wanted to keep “America’s Sweetheart” in little girl curls well into adulthood. Even as styles have changed, type-casting remains a problem for actresses today. Clark conveys Pickford’s onscreen innocence that audiences fell in love with along with her shrewd business sense.
Pickford’s relationship with fellow silent star, the swashbuckling Douglas Fairbanks (Luke Arnold), is at the center of the film. Complicating matters, they were both married to other people. Knowledge of the extramarital affair would have clashed with her public image, perhaps less so with his. They eventually wed and and went on a splashy European honeymoon tour.
Today, both Pickford and Fairbanks, founders of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, are largely forgotten except by film scholars and aficionados of old Hollywood. What isn’t well known to even that select group is Pickford’s deep interest in spirituality which is at the heart of DeLia’s movie. That spiritual searching is brought to life in dream-like animation sequences.
Amit Gajwani created the period costumes. Art direction is by Evelyn Ellias. Production design is by Colleen O’Halloran and Michelle Patterson. Other cast members include Balthazar Getty, Josephine de La Baume, Jane Stiles, Summer Phoenix, Adam Fergus, Scott Haze and John Tague.
In a meta moment, the vintage jazz group who played in the lobby shows up at a party scene in the film. It was kismet that the Ace Hotel Theatre was once owned by Pickford’s United Artists. In another coincidence, associate producer John Vaughn who plays The Pianist in the movie, was a protege of film composer Buddy Rogers, Pickford’s third husband and the inheritor of her Pickfair estate in Beverly Hills.