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The World and the Woman, the 1916 silent film starring Jeanne Eagels, will be screened today – preceded by a fragment from an early Louise Brooks comedy – at 4:30 pm in New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) as part of their ‘To Save and Project‘ series, curated by Dave Kehr and now in its fifteenth season, as Daniel Eagan reports for Film Journal. (And thanks to the Thanhouser Studio restoration project, you can also watch it here.)

Finally, author David Stenn introduces a fragment of Now We’re in the Air (Jan. 19), a 1927 service comedy starring future superstar Wallace Beery … Some 20 minutes of footage were recovered from a deteriorated nitrate print found in a Czech archive. It’s mostly excruciatingly broad comedy of the Dumb and Dumber school, but it does offer a few minutes of young circus performer Louise Brooks in a black tutu.

The fragment will be screened before The World and the Woman, the debut feature for Jeanne Eagels, one of the most significant stage performers of her time. A late feature from the Thanhouser studio, it was adapted in part from a play called Outcast. Eagels plays a New York City prostitute who by chance finds a position as maid on an estate in the Adirondacks. Rural life and the friendliness of the locals give her hope for a new life. Then the wealthy owner arrives for the summer, forcing her out once more.

The World and the Woman takes a turn into faith-healing, a trend at the time, but what’s distinctive about the film is the startlingly modern performance by Eagels. She grasped before many of her peers the power of silence, of reacting with just her eyes, of limiting movement to focus emotion. She understood how the camera worked, what it picked up and what it lost, and she used that knowledge to advance the craft of acting for everyone who followed. Eagels would later star in Rain … and in a sound version of The Letter before her sudden death. The World and the Woman ranks with her best filmed performances.

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