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Shooting Stars (1928)


Main image of Shooting Stars (1928)
35mm, black and white, silent, 7080 feet
DirectorA.V. Bramble
 Anthony Asquith (uncredited)
Production CompanyBritish Instructional Films
ProducerH. Bruce Woolfe
ScenarioJohn Orton
 Anthony Asquith (uncredited)
PhotographyKarl Fischer

Cast: Annette Benson (Mae Feather), Brian Aherne (Julian Gordon), Donald Calthrop (Andy Wilks), Chili Bouchier (Winnie), Wally Patch (Property Man), David Brooks (Turner)

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A temperamental film star hatches a plan to kill her husband in order to elope to Hollywood with her lover.

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Respectfully acknowledged in academic studies, Shooting Stars has nevertheless suffered for being book-ended by Hitchcock classics and ignored during the resurrection of other treasures from the 'golden age' of late British silent cinema, belying its importance in terms of both technical and thematic innovation. It marked the fiction feature debut of British Instructional Films, whose change in direction fostered a remarkable sense of freedom. Now also recognised as Anthony Asquith's directorial debut, the film was credited to supervising veteran A.V. Bramble, though Asquith was given an authorial credit beneath the title for his script, a spiky satire of the domestic film industry.

In a virtuoso opening sequence, star couple Mae Feather and Julian Gordon enact a romantic scene for their latest 'epic,' but as the camera pans back the artifice of moviemaking is exposed, as is the fragile state of the couple's marriage, establishing the film's key theme of 'real life' versus 'the movies'. As Mae flounces off set, the sequence grows in ambition, demonstrating Asquith's technically intrepid style, with a camera high in the rafters tracking her through the cavernous studio.

Performance style is another distinctive feature: Mae's unhappiness and her love for comedy star Andy Wilks are conveyed through subtle body language, and Asquith's controlled direction of the three leads is further demonstrated in the scene in which Julian catches Mae and Andy kissing, the significance of the situation dawning on each of them in turn. Similar discipline is exhibited in the use of visual prompts in place of superfluous intertitles.

The art direction and photography lend a melancholic air to the studio scenes, not least in the poignant epilogue, in which a humbled Mae is faced with the consequences of her selfishness. Shooting Stars begins as a witty and affectionate look at the smoke-and-mirrors world of filmmaking, with many a wink to its audience, but as the paranoia associated with adultery takes its toll, the mood becomes somewhat darker.

Julian initially wishes that life were "more like the movies" and takes refuge in the cinema to watch himself and Mae perform a fantasy of virtue and heroism (the innovatory 'film-within-a-film' motif is inescapable). Yet Asquith's vision is far from idealistic, and the tawdry pretence of Mae and Julian's action-romances and Andy's sub-Chaplin slapstick routines serve as a reminder that real life contains far greater drama and pathos than anything churned out in a film studio.

Simon McCallum

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Video Clips
1. A night out (5:19)
2. Caught in the act (5:53)
3. Revenge (5:34)
Asquith, Anthony (1902-1968)
Bouchier, Chili (1909-1999)
Calthrop, Donald (1888-1940)
British Instructional Films (1919-1933)
Silent Lovers