We saw The Artist and The Descendants, both of which are up for Best Picture, and both of which made me think of my great-grandparents G. Oliver and Islea Riggs, for much different reasons.
The Artist is a black and white, mostly silent movie, and it’s delightful (if you go, and you should, remember that word silent – the Lakeville 21 Theatre ticket booth had signs notifying potential viewers of this fact; I suppose people have complained after watching the first few minutes, thinking something was wrong with the sound system).
The movie takes place in Hollywood in the late 1920s and early 1930s, when talking movies began, and silent movies were abandoned (here’s a link to the New York Times review).
My great-grandmother Islea used to play the organ for silent movies at the Paramount Theatre in St. Cloud, and I thought of Islea as I watched a scene in The Artist where a live orchestra accompanies the premiere of a movie featuring George Valentin (played by the wonderfully expressive French actor Jean Dujardin) at the height of his popularity.
The Artist isn’t the first movie to chronicle this period, when many silent movie actors lost their jobs because they couldn’t make the transition to talkies – think Singing in the Rain, which The Artist evokes in some ways – but I imagine many people like Islea also were affected by this change, which eliminated the need for live musicians to accompany the movies.
The Paramount, formerly the Sherman Theatre, underwent renovations in 1930 to accommodate the new “talkies.” I don’t know when the theater showed its last silent movie, or when Islea stopped playing there. I wonder how she felt about it?
|Islea Graham Riggs|
Another part I loved about the movie was the dog, played by a Jack Russell named Uggie, who has his own IMDb page. The dog is Valentin’s faithful companion on and off-screen. And I couldn’t help but think of G. Oliver and Islea here, too, because they also were known for having faithful canine companions.
|G. Oliver with dog Toby; the woman might be Islea, but it could also be G. Oliver’s sister Daisy.|
The main plot of the story involves Clooney’s character discovering, after his wife has been seriously injured in a boating accident, that she’s been cheating on him. He tries to sort this out as he, the “back-up parent,” reconnects with his two daughters (here’s a link to the New York Times review).
A subplot of The Descendants concerns a large tract of pristine land on Kauai that King and his many cousins have inherited, and a decision they need to make regarding its sale. This part of the movie made me think of the Riggs family cabin on Grace Lake, near Bemidji. It was a sanctuary for G. Oliver for decades during his career as a band director, and my dad has memories of spending time there as a boy.
|The Riggs family cabin on Grace Lake, near Bemidji.|
When he died in January 1946, G. Oliver had been planning to sell the cabin to a neighbor who operated an adjoining resort. My grandfather Ronald and great uncle Percy (Pete) followed through with this plan.
Although it would might been nice if the property had stayed in the family – I know other families who own properties up north that have been in the family for generations – it’s also possible that it would have created family divisions, like in The Descendants – cousins arguing over its use, whether it should be sold, and if so, to whom.
|A postcard from the Dean Davis resort, sent to my grandparents in 1951.|
If nothing else, the adventure could be material for a Lawler/Riggs family home movie, which, given our cast of human and canine characters, is certain not to be silent.