Senior thesis gives new voice to silent film

Trevor Ivan

Senior history major Mandy Altimus knew she didn’t want to write a 90-page paper for her senior thesis because she thought it would be too boring. She opted for a more creative approach.

Altimus decided to recreate a lost silent film. After months of research, she decided to recreate the film Prodigal Daughters. Her finished product debuted Saturday evening at the Kent State Stark Campus Professional Education and Conference Center.

Leslie Heaphy, Altimus’ thesis adviser, said that the thesis is a creative project designed to bring together all the components of the learning process into one project. Students are able to explore a topic of interest to them.

Altimus said a teacher in high school showed her class the silent film Metropolis. From there, her love of silent film began.

“It was a great idea,” Heaphy said. “It would be fun and different. I knew this was something she was interested in. It would give her a chance to make a film.”

Altimus researched many possible films to recreate but settled on Prodigal Daughters because of the social implications of the film.

“This was a social film from the 1920s,” Altimus said. “Hollywood was responding to a change in women. Women were smoking, wearing shorter skirts and drinking during prohibition.”

The point of the film, Heaphy said, was to show women the evils of the world. The film intended to show women what would happen to them if they lived the lifestyle of a flapper.

The term “flapper” is most basically applied to the younger generation of women in the 1920s, Heaphy said. She said these women were seen as partiers and women that you “couldn’t take home to mom.” The film had the opposite effect from its intended purpose.

“This film made other flapper films more acceptable,” Heaphy said. “It showed that flappers weren’t outcasts of society.”

Once she decided on the project, she approached her friend Paul Petrovic about helping to write the script. He had mixed feelings at first, he said.

“When Mandy first told me about (the project), I was filled with two emotions: intrigue and fear,” Petrovic said. “I was intrigued by the challenge of the project, and I was fearful that we would mess it up.”

Production began last January. Altimus filmed the project at various locations throughout Stark County, including the Massillon Museum and the William McKinley Presidential Library and Museum.

Altimus filmed the entire project with a voluntary cast and crew. All costumes and props were donated. She said that everything started to come together once production began.

“The dynamics between everyone was fantastic,” Altimus said. “It was as if we were a bunch of friends who got together every week.”

Altimus said there were times when it was hard to get everything together each week and continue production. She said she wished she “could wave a magic wand or click my fingers and make it all go away.”

However, Heaphy said she knew Altimus would persist.

“Everything she wanted to do on this project, she did,” Heaphy said. “I knew I could let go of the reins and let her go to work.”

Mike Bardin, one of the actors in the film and the assistant curator of a local military museum, said that he is pleased with the final product.

“I’m absolutely speechless,” Bardin said. “(The film) is magnificent. To know that someone her age was able to do that gives us great hope for the next generation.”

Prodigal Daughters will be shown again on Oct. 1 at the Lion’s Lincoln Theater in Massillon. Representatives from the George Eastman House, the Henry Ford Museum and the Library of Congress will be present to view the film.

Altimus’ friends and family said they feel that this project will help her in future endeavors.

“I think she’s in for a brilliant, long and sometimes frustrating career,” said Bardin. “However, I wouldn’t be surprised if Paramount (Pictures) called tomorrow.”

Contact honors college and international affairs reporter Trevor Ivan at [email protected].