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A photograph of an unknown woman who bore an uncanny resemblance to her mother was the starting point for Georgina Starr's THEDA. The woman, silent film actress Theda Bara (1885-1955), had made over 40 films in her brief career, now all but two are lost or destroyed. With her mother and the silent actress in mind Starr began a year of performing alone in her studio. THEDA reveals a disintegration of identity and “through her playful and tender homage the silent goddesses speak again”.(*)

(*) Jonathan Romney, Review

 

 

 

PERFORMANCE

 

 

INSTALLATION

 

 

 

          

 

SOUNDTRACKS

 

 

 

        

 

BOOK

 

 

 

 

 

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INTERVIEW

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 

 

 

Tracy Williams ltd presents THEDA at

Film Anthology Archives in NYC.

Georgina Starr , Theda

GEORGINA STARR

(37 mins) b/w silent

In 1918 the actress Theda Bara was one of the top 3 ranked film stars in the world. Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford were No 1 and 2.

Working almost non-stop between 1915 and 1920 Bara made over forty films, playing an eccentric array of characters from queens, princesses and heroines to villainesses, vampires and vagabonds. The plots were far-fetched and extreme. Even when based on historical events Theda’s films stretched the truth beyond all recognition. Theda was on screen in almost every single scene in every film. Thousands upon thousands of feet of film footage showed her face silently emoting to the cinema audience.

Away from the camera she also played a role. It was the beginning of the creation of the ‘star’ system and she had been elaborately mythologised by the William Fox film studio and transformed from an unremarkable thirty-something Jewish girl from Cincinnati into Theda Bara (an anagram of ‘Arab Death’) an exotic crystal gazing young artiste of Egyptian descent, who would entice and shock the public in equal measure both on and off screen, and assure that her face was always in the news and that her film screenings always well attended.

As the speed of film production intensified, Theda slipped between characters and roles during these five years. In 1915 a Theda Bara film was released almost every month, and in November that year two hit the box office. For the next four years the pace was unrelenting; roles overlapped and intermingled, and characters merged and repeated.

Imagine the scenes; she is scantily clad in an elaborate sequinned and jewelled costume sitting atop the paw of the Sphinx in Cleopatra; she is psychologically unhinged, going insane and destroying an artists sculpture of her figure as La Gioconda in The Devils Daughter; she dreams of possessing John the Baptist’s head and dances ‘the 7 veils’ in Salome; she poses as a woman under the spell of the Greek poet Sappho in The Eternal Sappho; she uses her special powers while wearing a strangely constructed beaded headdress as the mysterious Russian temptress Princess Petrovitch in The Tiger Woman; she’s haunted by the ghost of her dead husband in Lady Audley’s Secret; she becomes an overnight sensation at the theatre as Vania Lazar in The Serpent; she is confused and lonely as the woman with a glittering but shallow existence in Madame du Barry and is sculpted as both ‘beauty’ and ‘sin’ as she becomes a despairing alcoholic in The Forbidden Path.

You can picture the scenes, but to see Theda perform them is impossible. Of the forty films she made only two are still available, the others have been neglected and lost; allowed to decompose in storage vaults or self-combusting causing massive studio fires.

This special screening of Georgina Starr’s THEDA is a single screen live event.

Originally conceived as an installation with multiple screens, costumes, objects and sets, this version focuses almost exclusively on the imagined silent film performances in Bara’s lost films. The overriding themes here are less about ‘Theda Bara’ and instead focus on and revisit performances, plotlines and settings from her lost scenes to question ideas of loss and neglect within all art forms. Looking at deception and pretence within both art and acting; the mythologising of artworks, performers and stars; the lure of vanity and obsession with possessing artists and art; and finally confronting mortality, ownership and ultimately destruction and death.

THEDA is accompanied live this evening by humansacrifice quintet. Chosen by Starr for their unique approach to playing, the musicians will perform in a similar way to how musicians in the past played to silent films, they will respond and react to what they see on screen. This performance will be the only time this music will be played this way. Like Theda’s films, once their performance ends the music will vanish, never to be repeated again.

 

 

 THE REAL THEDA BARA

(as Cleopatra, Salome, Madame du Barry, The Vampire, The Eternal Sappho & Princess Petrovich)

 

 

The Amazons (1917) with  Marguerite Clark

Survival status : (Unknkown)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Georgina Starr , Theda