by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Innsmouth, MA – It’s taken an upcoming biopic and the shenanigans of a pop star to bring attention to a little-known star from the silent era: Filipa Darlo. Now nothing more than a footnote in the history of Hollywood, Filipa was once the darling of movie directors. Her striking looks and fiery temperament made her perfect for the meaty roles of temptresses and femme fatales that were being popularized during the Jazz Age.
For a brief time, Filipa’s face adorned movie posters and magazine covers before sinking back into oblivion with the coming of the Sound Age.
In the decades after her foray into the limelight, Filipa was better known around Innsmouth as the eccentric lady in black, a reclusive collector of antiques and curiosities.
And here is where an even more interesting thread weaves into Filipa’s life story: that of the metaphysical. In the 1920s when Filipa moved to Hollywood, she met a man who was the toast of Californian society, a man named Pierre Aiton.
Aiton had popularized his theory of aliquismorphia. Like frenology, this is one of those words few people recognize nowadays, but both frenology and aliquismorphia were all the rage many decades ago.
Aliquismorphia postulates that objects, say a mirror, have certain properties which, when combined with other objects, create a “resonance”. For example, keeping a silver mirror, an antique doll and a four-poster bed would create a specific type of “resonance” which would affect people near it.
Aiton mapped out hundreds of possible object combinations in his popular pamphlet, The Uses and Secrets of Aliquismorphia. He also consulted for several celebrities, telling them what objects to buy and keep together.
Filipa was devoted to aliquismorphia and continued to believe in it even after the fad had passed. She collected hundreds of strange and unusual objects for this very reason. Most of them were sold this year at an auction organized by her heirs. The eclectic collection included everything from a dozen voodoo dolls, a human skull from a 15th century catacomb, medieval tapestries, and Impressionist paintings.
Filipa credited Aiton and his theory of aliquismorphia with her success, selling herself short – for it was her beauty, talent and vivacity which attracted so many viewers and which continues to fascinate silent movie fans.
Many of Filipa’s films have disappeared, but her most famous picture, Wicked Woman, was recently restored by Arkham University’s School of Media and Film Studies using original footage, still photographs and a 16mm negative of the original cut. It will be available on DVD in 2010 to coincide with the release of her biopic, hopefully bringing attention to the star Innsmouth forgot.