Tuesday, November 19, 2013
THE REEL REALS: Allan Dwan
Allan Dwan was a director extraordinaire during the silent era. While the Canadian (born Joseph Aloysius Dwan) had mild plans to enter the world of film, it is more justified to say that the movies came looking for him. His expertise as a lighting technician got him unceremoniously poached by Essanay, and after he made the transition to story-editor/writer, another twist of fate would put him in the director's chair-- or so the story goes. (Allegedly, he had to take the reins on a shoot when the original director disappeared on a bender). Well, thank Heavens for booze, because without any of these serendipitous events, one of cinema's greatest innovators never would have been!
During his career, one of Allan's many accomplishments was leading the Flying A Film Corp, one of the earliest and most important California film studios. Throughout his career, he worked with everyone from soon-to-be wife/ex-wife Pauline Bush, Wallace Reid, John Wayne, Shirley Temple, and Gloria Swanson. He also made an impression on the powerhouse couple Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, the latter with whom he made the iconic Robin Hood and The Iron Mask. Through a career that spanned 50 years, Allan allegedly lost count of how many shorts and features he was responsible for, but we know his stamp is on at least 400. His ability to use the camera as an extension of himself, the storyteller-- capturing the greatest source of action, inspiration, and intrigue possible-- kept him at the top of his game for this unprecedented breadth of time. Indeed, he is even responsible for devising something that all directors and cinematographers take for granted today: the Dolly Shot.
Allan passed away a few years shy of his own centennial, leaving a profound level of accomplishment behind him. While less remembered than names like Griffith, Chaplin, or DeMille, he is an essential part of filmdom's backbone, his contributions laying the ground work for upon which all future directors would more easily tread.