SOMETHING NEW (Neil & Bert Van Tuyle Shipman, 1920, USA, 57m, BW)
Cast: L.M. Wells, Bert Van Tuyle, Nell Shipman
Director: Bert Van Tuyle
Running Time: 56 min.
An American (Bert Van Tuyle) rescues a female writer (Nell Shipman) kidnapped by Mexican bandits.
If you thought, product placement in movies began only recently, Something New (1920) should change your mind. This feature film touting the abilities of Maxwell Motors' new passenger car and its uncanny abilities to cover rough terrain was made by a young woman filmmaker as a way of starting and paying for her own studio. Her story is another in the nearly lost story of women moviemakers at the beginning of the twentieth century.
Nell Shipman, born Helen Barham in 1892, was raised on the west coast of Canada in Victoria, British Columbia. Something about middle-class life there didn't appeal to her and so, despite the fears of her parents, Nell ran off to join a vaudeville troupe at the age of fourteen. Four years later she went to work for the George Baker stock company where she met her first husband Ernest Shipman, the company's thirty-nine year old manager. They married the next year and had a son the year after that.
Nell's pregnancy and the raising of her young son kept her off the stage, putting the family, recently moved to Southern California, in need of money. Ernest borrowed money from a friend and made a movie based on a script by his wife. Writing appealed to the young mother and soon she was peddling scripts around Hollywood. Success led to a deal with Universal for the 22-year old to write, direct and star in three-reelers. There she found a niche, the wilderness movie, where the plucky Canadian would be trapped in a remote location by some crude, threatening character, only to be rescued by a hero and make a harrowing escape.
Shipman's studio was closed down in the mid 1920's. Ultimately she was too independent for the times. The studios wanted more of their productions made in Los Angeles, not out in remote locations where studio heads could not keep an eye on budgets. Shipman continued writing for the studios into the 1930's, then retired to a ranch to care for the wild animals she had tamed for her films. She died in 1970 leaving behind an autobiography that, along with a growing interest in early women filmmakers, led to revivals of her surviving films. Something New, then just considered another western action movie, now stands as a testament to a woman who, like the Maxwell car in the film, climbed over every obstacle in her way.
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