Article 25

Down with the Old and the Lovely

In Uncategorized on 05/04/2012 at 1:26 pm

ImageOf breastplates and history

By Anne Skove

“The silent film is certainly understood, at least retrospectively and even (it is arguable) in its time, as incomplete, as lacking speech. … The uncanny effect of the silent film in the era of sound is in part linked to the separation, by means of intertitles, of an actor’s speech from the image of his/her body.” – Mary Ann Doane, “The Voice in the Cinema: The Articulation of Body and Space,” in Narrative, Apparatus, Ideology, edited by Philip Rosen.


“Don’t it always seem to go,/That you don’t know what you’ve got/’Til it’s gone?” – Joni Mitchell, “Big Yellow Taxi”

Before Madonna Vogued, over a century before the Gaga Era, there was Theda Bara. She was born Theodosia Goodman in Cincinnati. Like many people in this town, she graduated from Walnut Hills High School and wore too much eyeliner. Unlike anyone reading today, she went on to star in silent films.

How famous was Theda Bara? Matthew Rettenmund, the totally famous author of Encyclopedia Madonnica, Boy Culture (the novel and blog of the same name), told me that a single breastplate from her stint as “Cleopatra” was auctioned by Julien’s 2012 Hollywood Legends Auction. It sold for $22,500. Compare Wil Wheaton’s electronic cast, which went for a piddly $160 (sorry, Trekkies).

As Corey Creekmur, associate professor of English in the University of Iowa’s Cinema and Comparative Literature commented, “It should have been a pair.”

I was excited about Mr. Rettenmund’s find and told him so the way I tell most people things – via Facebook, the intertitles of today. He thought I should alert the local media, because this treasure has local ties in a way most snaky breastplates do not. I tried. Turns out, I AM the local media.

If a single breastplate from an iconic, mostly lost, movie sells for that much, just think what her entire house might be worth. D’oh! Xavier University razed her Cincinnati home last summer. According to news reports, historically significant portions now reside in storage. We can only assume that they, like the ark of the covenant, are being studied by “top men.” The missing breastplate is probably among these effects.

By razing our historic buildings, we separate ourselves from our past. Thus separated, we become less than we ought to be as a city and as a people. The Albee, the Emery House, Columbian school, Schiel, the houses on Euclid Avenue, the building with the stone faces next to the Walnut Hills branch library, houses and businesses on Jefferson – all gone. We erase theaters for parking lots, then complain that there’s nothing to do and too few visitors to our city.

Apparently, amazing buildings hinder business, promote crime, and cause high gas prices. Erect a plaque on the demolition site to comfort the old-timers.

What buildings sit rotting today, waiting for the moment when they are no longer salvageable and can be wrecking-ball ready? St. Andrew’s, St. George’s, etc. There are so many that the Building Cincinnati blog  has a special section: “Wrecking Cincinnati.”

Why does this town possess so much self-loathing? I have no words.


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