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The World and it’s Woman, USA 1919

Posted by keith1942 on April 22, 2018

Geraldine Farrar with Frank Lloyd

This was a title screened in the ‘Red Peril’ programme at the 2017 Le Giornate3 del Cinema Muto. It was an example of ‘anti-communism’ even more virulent than the companion The Right to Happiness [also USA 1919]. Wikipedia quotes Murray B Levin on the ‘red scare ‘ in the USA between 1917 and 1920;

“a nationwide anti-radical hysteria provoked by a mounting fear and anxiety that a Bolshevik revolution in America was imminent—a revolution that would change Church, home, marriage, civility, and the American way of life.”

The film was directed by Frank Lloyd for the Goldwyn Pictures Corporation. It starred Geraldine Farrar. She was an established opera diva who made her screen debut in Cecil B. De Mille’s Carmen (1915). The Festival Catalogue notes that

“By the time of The World and its Women, her fifth picture for the Goldwyn Pictures Corporation, Farrar’s salary was among the highest in the industry: according to Goldwyn papers at the Margaret Herrick Library, she received $150,000 for four months of shooting, while her co-star husband Lou Tellegen earned a modest $600 per week (reportedly the borzoi hound made $50 a day). “ (Antonia Guerrero and Jay Weisberg).

In fact the borzoi hound was likely the most over-paid merely lying gracefully on the floor and interjecting a yawn at one point and offering a dainty paw. The hound was accompanied among the supporting cast by a number of exiled Russian aristocrats presumably still seething from the loss of their ill-gotten wealth.

The film opens before World War I in Tsarist Russia where US engineer Robert Warren (Edward J. Connelly) is managing the oil fields of for Prince Michael Orbeliana (Alec B. Francis). Warren’s daughter Marcia (May Giraci) is friends with the prince’s son, Michael ((Francis Marion). Marcia reads to the young prince from Cinderella and he replies that one day

“I will marry you.”

We also see Mary playing and singing for her father. But he dies when his investments are lost.

As an adult Michael (Lou Tellegen) marries Baroness Olga Amilahvari (Naomi Childers) , an advantageous match. Olga is actually the object of love by another aristocrat Count Alix Vronassof (Arthur Carewe), but he is poor and not a suitable suitor. Marcia (Geraldine Farrar) herself is the object of passion by Peter Poroschine (W. Lawson Butt), not an aristocrat. Marcia debuts at the Imperial Opera to great acclaim. The Tsar is there, as is the Tsarina and a monk, not [I think] identified. Now a romance develops between Michael and Marcia.

The war arrives and Michael, among others, marches of to war to the tumult of cheering crowds. But among the troops are ‘sneaking elements’, including Peter. He is assisted by a erstwhile friend of Marcia, Erina..

We move onto 1917 and the increasing agitation and rebellion among working people and peasants. The developing revolution is represented negatively Among the titles we get are,

“reign of terror in Petrograd’

‘even the whip of the Cossacks was better’

And Red Guards are shown shooting civilians in the street: Eisenstein’s depiction in October (1928) of Czarist troops shooting civilians in the street is historically more accurate.

Prince Michael and Princess Olga

Alix and Olga perish in an attack on their estate by peasants. Michael leaves Petrograd is trying to protect his his estates in Galicia. Mary works in a centre for orphaned children. But Peter is is active at the ‘Red HQ,

‘a den of terrorists’.

Here we also see a poster advocating ‘the nationalisation of women’, one of the more scurrilous slanders in the US media at this time.

So Peter and Erina come to see Mary and he offers to spare Michael, now returned, for her ‘favours’. This leads into the most exciting sequences of the film. There is a violent ‘catfight’ between Marcia and Erina. Marcia escapes, first through a window and then across a roof. Michael and Serge fights, another brutal contest. Michael succeeds and as Red Guards batter down the door he and Marcia escape.

The film now cuts to Archangel where allied warships, [British, French and US] lie off-shore; part of the invasion of the Young Soviet Republic. One of the few historically accurate depictions in the film using inserted ‘actuality’ footage. Michael and Maria cross sand-dunes to a US soldier and safety. Aboard a ship they flee and Mary will

“become his wife”.

We saw the film in a Belgium print which was tinted and toned: the French and Dutch titles were translated. The character’s names were different in this print. Mary was Marcia, Michael was Boris and Peter was Serge. This print apparently also added to the titles. So Erina was Irina and

“[The Belgium print’s intertitles call her “the Théroigne of Bolshevism” in reference to the French Revolution’s Anne-Théroigne de Méricourt, a rabble rouser born on what is now Belgium territory.]” (Festival Catalogue: Anne-Théroigne more accurately was a victim of male violence in her working life and a powerful fighter for woman’s rights during the French Revolution].

This film’s original title was The Golden Voice. The changed title seems odd but the Catalogue suggests

The Woman has survived her World.”

A narrative that crosses over with Ayn Rand’s ‘We the Living’ (1936).

John Sweeney provided the piano accompaniment. The digital version was, according to the Catalogue, transferred at 18 fps. However, apparently the ‘New Verdi’ projectors only run at 24fps or above?

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Die schwarze Loo / The Black Dancer, Germany 1917.

Posted by keith1942 on April 10, 2018

This film was screened in the programme of ‘A Hundred Years Ago: 50 films of 1917 in 35mm’ at the 2017 Il Cinema Ritrovato. This was a vehicle for a major star of the period, Maria Orska. It was directed by Max Mack for the pioneer producer Jules Greenbaum at his Berlin studio.

The English title would seem to be misleading. Orska was not black in the contemporary sense and the word more likely refers to her social position and he outsider status. A German friend, Bodo Schönfelder, gave me some advice regarding the words and their usage in the period. This throws a light on the film title and its possible denotative and connotative meanings at the time.

“The name Loo could be an abbreviation, shortened or an invention to put the person in line with woman with names like Lou, Lulu, or Lola, to promise erotic adventures.: loo is a ‘dirty’ abbreviation of Louise. The most well-known example in German film history is Marlene Dietrich as Lola Lola. The Hitchcock film Stage Fright (1950) in Germany was titled Die Rote Lola (The Red Lola) for obvious reasons.

The attribute black could refer to several things: ‘deep black hair’, either for the person in the film. (here she is a Gypsy) or the actress/dancer. Maria Orska had real very dark hair and appeared in public or on stage in this way and was known for this.

A second line of possibilities for the meaning of black concerns specially designed or selected dresses for women, with an erotic component too. Both hair and dress, at least in German culture, can have a dangerous erotic aspect. There were a lot of cheaply made paintings of very dark haired gypsy women with burning eyes. Pola Negri is an example: ‘The Black Pola’. Pola is a real German name, but here it is alluding to her Polish origin.

There is also the possibility that the newspapers and magazines referred to Maria Orska as ‘the’ or ‘a black dancer’ for her stage performances. Valeska Gerd, a dancer, was the woman who ran the bordello in The Joyless Street (Die freudlose Gasse, 1925), and was labelled as ‘The Black Dancer’ for her stage performances. Since the name Loo makes no sense outside the German speaking culture, most likely the English version changed the name to the descriptive term.”

This certainly fits with the film as I experienced it. We first meet Loo (Orska) in a street as she enters a bar and offers to dance for money. She is clearly an object of erotic fascination for the predominately male audience here. And the bar itself, below street level, is cheap and tawdry. Later in the film a fight causes a police raid and Loo is is arrested, but later released. She dances with her dark hair flowing loose with suggestions of erotic promise, something reinforced by the style of her dancing.

The notes in the Festival catalogue by Karl Wratschko make this point.

“As anyone studying her work today will realise, Orska possessed a genuine erotic charisma which she used to great effect in her notoriously risqué performances.”

In fact the film offers both erotic and risqué pleasures whilst at the same time presented a moral fable. Loo is seen by a young, unknown composer. He is smitten with Loo and offers her food and shelter. She stays with him whilst he works at composing what should be his Opus Magnus. Her dancing inspires the music including that of a Hungarian theme. He dies just as he has completed this work: Loo is absent at this point whilst briefly arrested..

Loo returns to dancing and finds a new protector. However, the young composer has left Loo his possessions, including a trunk which contains his manuscript and a letter to Loo begging her to see his work and his name are published,. By the end of the film Loo is in a morally acceptable relationship and is following the final request of her dead lover.

The film style is typical for the period with the action and characters presented mainly in long shot. The print retained the tinting from the period,. Including a red tint for a moment of erotic drama. The film uses symbolism, so a superimposed skull foretells the death of the composer. And later in the film more superimposition is used as Loo dreams of her dead lover.

Orska’s character dominates the film. The Catalogue quotes a contemporary review:

“Maria Orska, the brilliant, spirited actress manages her role with such verve and, at times, diligence and power, that everything else around her fades.” (The ‘Neues Kino-Rundschau, May 1918).

The print, of four reels, from Deutsche Kinemathek was reasonably good quality. And the piano accompaniment was played by Daan van den Hurk.

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The Woman Disputed, United Artists 1928.

Posted by keith1942 on September 19, 2017

The film stars Norma Talmadge as Mary Ann Wagner, the prostitute with the conventional ‘heart of gold’. She is wooed by two army officers Gilbert Roland as an Austrian Lieutenant, Paul Hartman and Arnold Kent as a Russian Captain Nika Turgenov. The scenario was adapted from a story by Guy de Maupassant, ‘Boule de Suif’. This was possibly De Maupassant’s most famous story it has had numerous adaptation on film. The French title, one version of which is ‘Dumpling’, is the name in the short story of the French prostitute. This film has changed the setting from the Franco-Prussian war of 1870 to World War I and the Austrian / Russian front. Predictably it has also changed the ending of the story.

The film was directed by Henry King and Sam Taylor [according to King] directed three scenes that were reshot, including a new ending [though I doubt they ever considered using De Maupassant’s]. . The cinematography was by Oliver Marsh. And the key member of the production was William Cameron Menzies, credited with Set Design. The film, a 35mm silent print, was screened as part of the programme of his film work at Le Giornate del Cinema Muto 2017.

Paul meets Mary in the street at night as he runs from the police. James Curtis describes the moment in the Festival Catalogue.

“Momentarily stunned, he grimaces in pain, then notices a pair of legs in a darkened doorway. The camera tilts up to reveal Mary Ann Wagner, her makeup exaggerated after the manner of a cabaret dancer, her battered hat and polka-dot blouse advertising the fact that she is open for business.”

Mary assists Paul and later contacts his friend Nika who will establish his innocence. However. Mary is questions by the police and consequently loses her rooms. So she is accommodated by Paul at his apartment. This however is chastely done. Both Paul and Nika are smitten by Mary and we see their wooing over several weeks; the most delightful scenes feature the preparation and consumption of meals. However, Mary is most attracted to Paul and their planned union is cemented by Paul presenting Mary with his mother’s wedding ring. Nika is outraged by the preference for Paul.

War erupts. The battles we see are waged over the town, Lemberg [Lvov]. When the Russian army occupy Lemberg we come to the part of the plot taken from the DE Maupassant story. In this case the Russians are searching for a spy and seize several men and Mary on the road out of town. Nika is in charge of the investigation and Mary [as in the story] is pressurised by the men, including a priest, to grant Nika’s desires. She finally succumbs.

However, retribution is swift. As the Austrians retake the town Nika is fatally wounded by a shell. Paul finds both Nika and Mary in a partially ruined church. And Nika, with his dying words, exposes Mary’s fall from grace. Paul is now devastated. However, the Austrian spy, one of the trio of hostages, is able to reveal the nature of her sacrifice. James Curtis describes this dramatic tableaux, somewhat different from that of De Maupassant.

“the final shot presenting Talmadge’s magdalen from a balcony as a grateful army kneels at her feet, an absurdist conceit made credible by the star’s soulful performance – possibly the finest of her career – and the artful culmination of a near-perfect mise-en-scene.”

Paul, of course, is among the troops and as he too kneels the promise of a fulfilled union ends the film.

As Curtis notes, this is a fine performance by Talmadge, moving from the insouciant through romance to the sacrificial. Roland is convincing as the romantic hero whilst Arnold develops from romance to malevolence with aplomb. There is a good supporting cast and the priest [one of the trio of hostages- Michael Vavitch] is especially unctuous as he sermonises Mary. The film has some excellent cinematography with occasional expressionist touches.

What does stand out is the design of the production. Curtis notes in the Catalogue;

“The extant drawings for this sequence [the encounter between Paul and |Mary] show that Menzies effectively directed it; the set-ups are virtually identical to his visualisations. The Woman Disputed is a full of complex imagery – breakfast on a balcony with the city bustling below, the attack on Lemberg, a travelling shot past the massive columns of a church interior, the battlefield crossing of an Austrian spy through the great jumble of gnarled trees and barbed wire.”

Curtis also attributes the expressionist touches to Menzies and notes that this was when Hollywood was absorbing the impact of the great German films , in particular F. W. Murnau and Karl Freund’s The Last Laugh (1924). The latter two were among those actually recruited by Hollywood from the German film industry. The film was released in both silent and sound versions, apparently both running at 24 fps. The sound version offered a musical score including a song specially written for the film, ‘Woman Disputed I Love You’. However, at Pordenone we enjoyed a piano accompaniment by Gabriel Thibaudeau, which I reckon was most likely superior. The print was just over 200 feet shorter than the original and offered English title cards.

This was the happy final 35mm feature screening before the evening event with a live orchestra, The Thief of Bagdad (DCP – 1924).

 

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Blue Jeans, USA 1917

Posted by keith1942 on August 9, 2017

This was the fourth programme in the John H. Collins retrospective at Le Giornate del Cinema Muto in 2016. Rather like Henry King’s Tol’able David (1921) this is a melodrama in which the protagonist overcomes both villainy and an image of self in ‘small town America’. Like that film this is also a fine piece of ‘Americana’. What distinguishes it is that the protagonist is a young woman. David Mayer in the Festival Catalogue notes how the film has transformed the source material, a play from 1890 by Joseph Arthur., one of his popular works.

“Quite possibly at the instigation of writers June Mathis and Charles Taylor, the play’s rube comic roles and broad comic dialogue were stripped away, the comical interludes largely expunged, and the narrative reshaped and smoothed out to create a taut drama of love, ambition, family woe, and female heroism in the rural south-east corner of bucolic Indiana bordering the Ohio River, “the Blue Jeans District”, which gives the drama its title. Crucially, in an act destabilising the former dominance of the male lead, reshaping the narrative to focus on the bravery, self-abnegation, and resourcefulness of the heroine June, providing a major role for Collins’s wife, the actress Viola Dana.”

The plot remains melodramatic. The heroine, June (Dana) is an orphan and in the course of the film she discovers the truth about her lost mother and is reunited with her grandparents. She also has to battle with the varied blows that fall on her romantic hero Perry Bascom (Robert Walker). He has returned to his family town of Rising Sun. Over the course of the film he has to battle politically and literally with the film villain, Ben Boone (Clifford Bruce). He also has to clear his name of a slander, that he abandoned a wife and committed bigamy. And, to regain control of the family mill, he has to overcome the town prejudices that stem from the time of an earlier owner, his uncle.

Viola Dana is fine as the heroine, and she expresses suitable range of emotions a she moves, from love, through adversity and to discoveries from the past. Walker plays Perry as a fairly conventional hero as he encounters one setback after another.

Stylistically the great pleasure of the film is the manner in which it captures the flavour of a small rural town and the surrounding countryside. The opening, as Perry bowls downhill on a bicycle back to Rising Sun, encountering June on his way, sets the scene beautifully. And the are many scenes in the surrounding countryside, in nearby woods and on a nearby river. Perry and June marry in a ‘little chapel; by the river’. The film also makes effective use of cross-cutting between actions and events and draws parallels between these through the use of superimpositions. And there are a number of flashback that fill in the ‘back stories’ of the characters: as for example as Perry unravels the slander about his earlier marriage and claims of bigamy.

The small town of Rising Sun typifies some of the contradictions in ‘small town America’. Perry is not the only one to encounter ‘small town’ prejudice. After her marriage and the birth a of a child June goes to the local church to seek baptism for the infant. But the minister and congregation set their faces against her because they hold ‘uncertainties’ about her conception. This leads to a round denunciation of the church prejudices by one of her only friends, Cindy Tutwiler (Margaret McWade). The point is emphasised by a shot of the church’s stained glass window bearing the  legend ‘suffer little children’. This question of legitimacy is dramatised by a photograph of Cindy’s daughter Lucy [later revealed as June’s mother) which Cindy’s husband Jacob (Russell Simpson) has turned towards the wall.

There is also a sequence set on the night before a local election with candidates’ hustings and large crowds. This makes good use of numerous extras and chiaroscuro effect. It is also the point at which a melodramatic revelation takes place as Perry’s ‘ex-wife’ Dora denounces him.

The film does retain quite a lot of the melodramatic plotting. The climax of the film takes place at the saw mill where Perry confronts Ben. It is Ben who proves the stronger and he ties Perry onto the machine saw whilst locking June in the mill offices. June breaks out of the office and rushes to the saw, rescuing Perry from his mortal threat. David Mayer points out the generic implication of this scene.

“Joseph Arthur’s famous third-act sawmill “sensation scene” (a melodramatic episode so stirringly iconic that it’s reprised in the final-reel of numerous 007 films …”.

This title confirmed the claims made for the retrospective and for Collins as both a fine filmmaker and an important pioneer in the development of Hollywood. Like The Girl Without a Soul this film was made for the Metro Picture Corp. It was also supplied by the George Eastman Museum but in a 35mm print. Donald Sosin supplied the accompaniment on the piano and including a song from the original play.

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The Adjutant of the Czar / Der Adjutant des Zaren, Hungary 1919

Posted by keith1942 on July 31, 2017

This film appeared in a programme at Le Giornate del Cinema Muto for ‘The Danish Film Institute: A 75th Anniversary Tribute’. The film was actually a Hungarian Production, filmed in Berlin with the surviving print held in the Archive. These varied credits are appropriate as this was one of the titles made by the peripatetic ‘white Russian’ filmmakers after they chose exile over helping to build the new Soviet Union.

Whilst the film is set in pre-revolutionary Russia the anti-socialist values are clearly apparent. Casper Tybjerg [of the Danish Archive] writes in the Festival Catalogue:

“The figure of the Czar is treated with almost mystical reverence …; like Christ in Ben-Hur, the Czar is conspicuously placed just outside of the frame or with his back turned.”

The hero of the film, Prince Boris Kurbsky is played by the great Russian star Ivan Mozhukhin. Returning to Czarist Russia after a failed romance and engagement Boris meets and assist a mysterious lady at the border, Helena di Armore (Carmen Boni). She has lost her passport so Boris passes her off as his wife. This not only throws them together on the remaining train ride but sets up gossip amongst Boris’s fellow Officers. On his return Boris is assigned to the personal guard of the Czar: he also discover love and marries Helena.

However, Helena is not only mysterious but she has a secret. She has lost a family member to the Czarist secret police and has now joined band of secret revolutionaries. Boris is caught between his duty and his love for Helena. Helena, who now reciprocates, is caught between her love and her commitment. The film clearly comes down on the side of Boris and the aristocratic class. The revolutionary are stereotypical subversives and there is no attempt to define their politics apart from their hatred of the Czar whom they plan to assassinate. When we do meet them they are hidden in a cellar in a dark and disused buildings, full of shadows and far from the light.

If the film in anti-revolution it is critical of the now defunct Czarist regime. Helena and others are victims of the hated and brutal secret police. And whilst Boris is able to thwart the plot it is at the cost of his love.

“Even so, the politics of Czarist Russia are ultimately destructive of true love, and the loyalty of Mozhukhin’s character leaves him stranded on a darkened railway platform, staring tearfully after a disappearing train, billowing black smoke as it carries his wife away into the night.” (Casper Tybjerg in the Festival Catalogue).

The film is very much constructed around the persona of Mozhukhin. The early part of the film play like a romantic comedy as Boris begins his involvement with Helena. Casper Tybjerg describes one fine scene where romantic love is recognised:

“his boyish elation when Boni agrees to marry him is particularly endearing; he sweeps her up in his arms and whirls around like a dervish, ending up in a pratfall with her on his lap.”

As the plot darkens the mood shifts, the film turns to melodrama, and here Mozhukhin demonstrates his powerful expressive style;

“later, during the grand ball, he thwarts the assassination attempt through the power of his piercing stare alone: after a tight close-up of Muzhukhin’s eyes, Helena is unable to pull out the pistol in her handbag.”

This sequence is constructed around a number of close-ups, including the purse carried by Helena. Whilst the film moves between fairly conventional set-ups, as in the palace, at times it makes good use of camera and editing. A number of sequences enjoy rapid dolly shots, as at the Imperial Ball. There are short effective tracks when Boris investigates the next of revolutionaries, and at one point what seems to be a hand-held camera. And the sequences with chiaroscuro, such as the revolutionary hide-out or the final railway station, are well presented.

The director was Vladimir Strizhevsky and he also wrote the scenario. He carried on directing films in the bourgeois west until the 1940s. The excellent cinematography was by Nikolai Toporkov and the design by Hans Sohnle and Otto Erdmann. I did not find a credit for editing.

The film was screened from the Archive’s 35mm print, with Danish title cards and a translation provided. John Sweeney accompanied the film at the piano with a predominantly melodramatic score.

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The Girl Without a Soul, USA 1917

Posted by keith1942 on July 27, 2017

This was another film scripted and directed by John H. Collins presented at the 2016 Le Giornate del Cinema Muto. His star and wife, Viola Dana, had a double role in the film playing two identical sisters.

“…this enjoyable film fully justifies the casting of versatile Viola Dana in double roles, in which she achieves two distinct characterisations with a simple alteration of contrasting hair styles and nuanced changes of expression and body language: a steely-eyed concentration and selfishness as Priscilla and a warmth and, joy and trust as dog-loving Unity.” (Helen Day-Mayer and David Mayer in the Festival Catalogue).

These are the two daughters of violin maker Dominic Beaumont, Priscilla is a gifted violinist whilst Unity, ‘without a soul’ or ‘talent’ is confined to domestic labour. Priscilla’s lover is also a musician Ivor, whilst Unity’s beau is the village blacksmith, Hiram.

The plots develops around Hiram’s money box where he keeps the savings for his wedding to Unity, but also savings by the congregation for a new organ for the village chapel. Opportunistic Ivor inveigles Priscilla in helping him to steal the money. Suspicion falls on Hiram, in part because he has bought an expensive dress for the wedding for Unity. And it is Unity, as in other films starring Viola Dana, who must save Hiram from an unjust trial and punishment. However, Hiram is allowed his own action, chasing after the fleeing Ivor and apprehending him for justice.

Collins and his cinematographer John Arnold achieve some effective split screen shots to show Priscilla and Unity together in the frame. The Mayer’s also point out that the pair,

“collaborating on shots and sequences that define the rural environment in which the narrative unfolds: the romantic idyll Unity and Hiram share on a slow-moving river overhung with vegetation alongside a packed country courthouse evoked, not by those in attendance, but by the rows of buggies and spring wagons and their patient horses and mules, noses in feedbags parked under the leafy, sun-dappled sycamores – a tranquil scene sensationally disrupted by shady Ivor’s flight from justice.” (Festivals Catalogue).

So the country environment is evoked as successfully as in the other rural based drama Blue Jeans. And, as in that film, there is the evocative river journey. Blue Jeans also features the finely achieved hustings for the election: in this film  an equivalent sequence is the arrival of the new organ for the village chapel, with all the villagers in a attendance and celebrating this new acquisition.

Collins develops the plot by the use of well-placed flashbacks, which both fill out the action but also, as in the court hearing, add to the drama as we revisit a key scene. The sense of ‘Americana’ that we find in Collins work is here in the film’s reference to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow as Unity recites his poem ‘The Village Blacksmith’ at the local girl’s school Commencement Day. This poem also ties neatly into her relationship with Hiram. As well as fine technical work Collins film’s have carefully developed plotlines with little redundant action and carefully placed ‘plants’ and ‘pay-offs’.

This was the only title from Collins at Le Giornate screened from a DCP: transferred from a copy held by the George Eastman Archive. The accompanying music was provided by Phil Carli at the piano with Günter Buchwald on the violin, including ‘dubbing’ the playing of Priscilla.

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The Cossack Whip, USA 2016

Posted by keith1942 on July 16, 2017

This was John H. Collins final film for a combination of companies, Kleine – Edison – Selig – Essanay. He then moved on to Metro. Collins had married up and coming star Viola Dana in 1915 and she was the star of this film  and continued in that role for Collins until his demise in 1918.  Helen-Day Mayer and David Mayer in the Le Giornate del Cinema Muto Catalogue, characterise the plot of this film.

“Not high art, but a melodrama to be enjoyed – as melodrama. Although the collapse of the Russian Army, virtually helpless under German attack, was well known in America in 1916, writer James Oppenheim and scenarist Paul Sloane fell back on a misgoverned, cruel and autocratic representation of Russia that had been the subject of numerous late-Victorian stage melodrama.”

In the early reels we have the despotic Tsarist secret police, secret revolutionaries [though without defined political content] and the innocent villagers caught up in the conflict. In the film we first meet the revolutionary band [ The Brotherhood] including Sergius (Richard Tucker). An attack on a train to free imprisoned radicals leads to searches of villages on the orders of Cossack officer Ivan Turov. This leads to a raid on the village where Darya (Viola Dana) and her family live,

The raid is a bravura sequence. A lone horsemen is seen on a hilltop amongst a snow-covered but desolate landscape. He is joined by other horsemen, seen in silhouette. Intercut with this are scenes of a village celebration for the betrothal of Darya’s sister Katerina (Grace Williams) to Alexis (Robert Walker). Then the mounted Cossacks attack the village, shooting, cutting down with sabres and pillaging. Some villagers, including children, are left for dead; others are marched off to the secret Police HQ for interrogation. Darya had managed to hide in a water barrel and hs emerges to see the dead and the desolation.

At the Police HQ the interrogation is supervised by Turov. With Katerina Turov shows her the torture of Alexis through a stone trap door above the cell where he is being beaten with a whip. Turov offers her Alexis’s life in exchange for her favours. However, after he has satisfied his lust, Katerina discovers that Alexis is actually now dead. Katerina is also beaten, and in a terminal state, she returns to the village with the whip used in the torture. Finding her and hearing her story Darya swears revenge.

The plot moves on. Darya flees to Moscow and joins the ballet troupe of which Sergius is also a member. However, the secret police force her to flee again, to London. Darya’s ballet career is furthered there by Madame Pojeska ((Sally Crute). But even here she is the subject of surveillance by a Tsarist spy. She also meets Sergius again.

The pair return to Russia where Darya becomes a featured dancer in the prestigious Imperial Ballet. This brings her to the attention of Turov who visits her dressing room and flirts with her. Darya takes up his invitation and he shows her the secret police HQ. He shows her the actual cell where Alexis and Katerina were tortured and the stone trap-door above. Playfully and flirtatiously examining the wall manacles in the cell, Darya inveigles Turov into letting her lock him in them. She now produces the whilst and proceeds to beat the helpless Turov. Tension is increased when a cut show the audience a man In Tsarist uniform above the cell as well as Turov’s Chinese servant. The uniformed officer turns out to be a fellow revolutionary who ends Turov’s agony by shooting him. This sequence once again uses the effective and relatively fast editing seen earlier in the film. At the climactic moment the dead Katerina is superimposed on her living sister. And the underground cell is presented with a blue tint which emphasise its forbidding nature.

Her revenge completed Darya can flee Russia with Sergius. We last see the pair entering

‘the land of the free’

as the ship passes the Statue of Liberty in New York harbour.

The plot line was not always clear to me and the ‘long arm of co-incidence’ seemed to operate. The geography of the film seemed very convenient, especially the visit to the secret Police HQ in the final reel. And credits seem to suggest two Turov’s: if so I did not distinguish them. And synopsis referred to Paris rather than London. However, the 35mm print for the screening seemed complete. Whatever the possible confusions in the plot this was an exemplary use of film techniques and seemingly radical for the period.

Jay Weisberg and Paolo Cherchi Usai’s introduction in the Festival Catalogue comments;

“A fine example of this [the fruitful collaboration of Collins and Dana) is The Cossack Whip, which can still astonish the modern viewer for the unbridled modernity of its style. The film is edited with an elegance and rhythm that could have made Eisenstein envious, and there is reason to suspect that Collin’s grasp of the medium flourished quite independently from Griffith’s influence.”

We also enjoyed a suitably dramatic accompaniment from Neil Brand at the piano.

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The Nitrate Picture Show 2016

Posted by keith1942 on May 26, 2016

The Dryden Theatre, George Eastman House.

The Dryden Theatre, George Eastman House.

The was the second Festival of Nitrate film prints at the George Eastman House in New York State. Friends who went to the first had tantalised me with comments about the quality of the films on the now out-dated film stock. In particular they had referred to Ingrid Bergman’s tear in a scene from Casablanca, USA 1942. Nitrate films have a particular luminosity, especially noticeable when the lighting is accentuated. Nitrate film is rarely seen now as there are all sorts of safety precautions that have to be in place. The material is highly flammable and can even explode.

Seeing nitrate is an uncommon pleasure. In the UK only the National Film Theatre is equipped and licensed to project to nitrate films: and such screenings are increasingly rare. The George Eastman House in Rochester USA is a famed venue. So the three days of screenings in May was like the site of the Holy Grail for film lovers. About 500 people turned up, from all over the USA, Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, Europe and Latin America.

This would seem to have been a mammoth project. The assembled prints came from archives in many places. And the talented team at the George Eastman had to check, prepare and ensure that the films were ready for screenings. One particular problem is the rate of shrinkage. It seems that if it goes above 1% of the print it difficult or impossible to screen. The projection equipment includes two Century Model C projectors fitted with xenon lamps.

All the films were screened in the Dryden Theatre. This is well appointed, seating about 500. The sightlines all over the auditorium appear good, though the rear seats are some distance from the screen, making it difficult to fully appreciate the fine detail of films.

The programme commenced on Friday evening with Nitrate Shorts.

Object Lesson US 1941, Anthology Film Archive. This was a ten minute black and white ‘surrealist film ‘ with an environmental concern.

Cent Ans de Chemins de Fer Suisses Switzerland 1946, Cinémathèque suisse. The is an animated celebration of Swiss railways in glorious colour.

Jolly Little Elves USA 1934, Museum of Modern Art. Another animation in two-strip Technicolor. The Elves were altruistic and engaging.

Twenty Years of Academy Awards USA 1948, Academy Film Archive. This was a compilation of Award winning film’s extract, variable quality.

The Art Director US 1947, Academy Film Archive. This was an 8 minute Academy film on the title role. There was a variety of film extracts, an interesting selection.

The Golden State USA 1948, Academy Film Archive. A Technicolor paean to California, with the audience invited to join in “California Here I Come”.

Enamorada

Enamorada between María Félix and Pedro Armendáriz .

Then we moved on to the Festival features. I had seen all of these before so I was able to compare the quality of acetate 35mm and nitrate 35mm. The first feature was a Mexican film, Enamorada from 1946, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. The film was directed by Emilio Fernández and filmed by Gabriel Figueroa: the lighting one of the great cinematographers. This was a really good print which showed off to great effect the fine cinematography of Figueroa.

The final film of the evening was Otto Preminger’s Laura 1944, Academy Film Archive. The print screened was the pre-release version but I could not spot the additional footage. The nitrate print did not seem to look very different from the acetate 35mm prints that I have seen before.

Saturday kicked off with the Technicolor musical Annie Get Your Gun, USA 1950, Library of Congress. This was filmed by the veteran Charles Rusher and has really good Technicolor. But I did not think the nitrate print was superior to ordinary 35mm.

The we had the British Brighton Rock , UK 1947, British Film Institute. The film looks really good and makes excellent use of location filming. Harry Waxman’s cinematography is really fine and there are some great sequences in chiaroscuro. The nitrate print showed up these qualities really well and it was a pleasure to watch from start to finish.

Our next feature was Ladri di Biciclette, Italy 1948, George Eastman Museum. It was the US release version, but it did not look that good in a nitrate print. Possibly it was a dupe print, the definition and contrast were both limited.

Opening the evening session we had some more shorts. There was one minute of George Eastman in 1930, not exactly exhilarating. But then we had two animations in Technicolor by Oskar Fischinger., An Optical Poem, USA 1937 and Allegretto, USA 1943: both from the Library of Congress. In colour the animation was beautiful and this was  real treat.

Allegretto

The main evening feature was Powell and Pressburger’s The Tales of Hoffman, UK 1951, Library of Congress. This film was produced in that grey era just as nitrate was giving way to acetate. The print we viewed was mainly nitrate, but part of the penultimate reel and the final reel were on acetate. I did notice some difference but I could not have told you exactly where the changeover  occurred: it looked great on nitrate.

Saturday morning we kicked off with Road House , USA 1948, UCLA  Film and Television Archive. The film has quite an  amount of changes from high key to low key lighting and some location work late in the film. Both looked really fine in nitrate.

The afternoon bought another British classic in Technicolor, Blithe Spirit, UK 1945, Museum of Modern Art [from Martin Scorsese]. The Technicolor image looked really fine on nitrate.

The final film was a ‘surprise’, ‘Blind Date with Nitrate’. It was a silent, Ramona USA 1928. I had seen this film before, at the 2015 Giornate del Cinema Muto, so I could compare the acetate 35mm and nitrate. This screening was definitely an improvement. The interplay of light and shadow, the luminosity of certain shots and features, were all a real pleasure to see. The film had an odd history. it was a European release that ended up in Gosfilmofond archives. We also enjoyed a fine accompaniment by Phil Carli, a regular at Il Giornate del Cinema Muto.

Dolores del Rio as Ramona

Dolores del Rio as Ramona

The George Eastman House has already fixed the dates for 2017, May 5th, 6th, and 7th, The Saturday falls on the same date as the birthdays of Max Ophuls and Orson Welles. Maybe we could have a nitrate print of one or both of the films by the great filmmakers. The one disadvantage to the Eastman house approach is that they do not publish a programme of titles prior to the event. Paulo Cherchi Usai justified this in one of his addresses, remarking [among other points] that the Festival was about nitrate not particular films. But people are travelling from distant parts of the USA and farther afield. Moreover, they may well have seen quite a few of the titles previously on nitrate. So I am happy to have one or more surprises but I think they should reconsider their approach to publishing the programme.

A fuller report will appear in due course in Flickers Journal of the Vintage Film Circle.

Posted in Archival issues, British sound films, Festivals, Hollywood, Italian film, Silent Stars | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

The Hyde Park Picture House in 1915

Posted by keith1942 on March 20, 2016

The Hyde Park Picture House in the 1960s

The Hyde Park Picture House in the 1960s

Monday, 2nd November 1915 the Hyde Park Picture House in Leeds opened for its second year of business. Already in the first twelve months of film entertainment it had successfully established itself. The log books, donated to the West Yorkshire Archive Service in 2015, record the box office takings. Weekly attendances were now regularly over 2,000. At a Bank Holiday they could exceed 3,000. And the same happened when there was a really popular film. So the log books record key titles, and Charlie Chaplin had already registered with his amazingly fast rise to fame and stardom.

On the Thursday of that week in November 1915 another popular title opened at the cinema: The Exploits of Elaine (Pathé USA, 1915). The Exploits of Elaine was a serial, with fourteens separate episodes. The Hyde Park appears to have screened the separate episodes weekly, as part of the second programme of the week opening on Thursdays: presumably  as the box office increased towards the weekend.

Serials were immensely popular in this period and were produced by a number of different film industries. The French were leading exponents, most famously with Fantômas (Gaumont, 1913). This was so popular that it ran through five episodes, each over an hour in length. And the characters returned later in sound versions. Like many of the serials the original property was a comic book. Fantômas was a master criminal, hunted through the episodes by Inspector Juve. The staples of this and other serials were criminals, detectives, sometimes spies, disguises, adventures, chases, mysterious events, and cliff-hanging endings.  Over a hundred were produced in the USA alone in the silent era, and a number of the key characters also re-appeared in later sound versions. There was a serial produced in Mexico, The Grey Automobiles (El Automóvil Gris, 1919): based on actual criminals and police corruption. The entire serial was screened at this year’s Il Giornate del Cinema Muto.

Elaine poster

The Exploits of Elaine followed on from an earlier Pathé serial, The Perils of Pauline (1914) which enjoyed the billing –

“Thrilling, Terrifying, Titanic, Terrific, The Death Defying Sensation, Pearl White.”

The star, Pearl White, returned as Elaine. One description offers the ‘damsel in distress’ genre. However, this does not really do the films justice. Pauline, and then Elaine, were constantly in danger, usually from the cliff-hanging ending. And both heroines were assisted by an authoritative male who frequently rescued them. However, they performed many of the action and stunts and were quite capable of confronting their adversaries: in Elaine’s case a mysterious villain known as ‘the clutching hand’. The stunts were often ‘real’ and involved the heroines in fights, explosions, train and aeroplane acrobatics, and exposure on cliffs and over torrents. Like many other serials Elaine’s adventures were taken from a book, a scientific mystery series. Elaine proved as popular as her predecessor Pauline and there were two subsequent serials. A sense of the plotlines can be gained from some of the Chapter Titles:

“1. The Clutching Hand

2.The Twilight Sleep.

3.The Vanishing Jewels

4.The Frozen Safe.

5.The Poisoned room. and so on ….”

Again the French were also pioneers, Gaumont had Les Vampires (1915 – 16) with its black-clad heroine Musidora. The influence and popularity of these serials was widespread. Pauline was an influence on a famous and popular dare-do heroine in Hindi Cinema, Fearless Nadia. She wowed audiences from the 1930s to the 1950s and was the equal of her predecessors in taking on villains and coping adventurously with adversity.

Both Pauline and Elaine appeared in short episodes, usually one reel running for about fifteen minutes. Fans who saw A Night at the Cinema in 1914 will have seen an episode of The Perils of Pauline, with a climatic ending in a quarry. The popularity of this serial and other films demonstrates that in Leeds, as nationally, even at this period the burgeoning US industry was already developing the dominance.

Originally posted for the HPPH centenary. Note, the cinema’s anniversary was traditionally thought to be November 7th but the log books revealed it opened on November 2nd 1914.

Posted in Early cinemas, French film 1920s, Hollywood, Silent Stars | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

The First Born UK 1928

Posted by keith1942 on February 10, 2016

first-born

This British silent film from 1928 was re-discovered and restored by the British Film Institute. The film is a subtle and witty parable on married life and the bourgeois mores of the period. It adds to the re-evaluation of British silent film in recent years, joining a growing list of productions that are both intelligently scripted and made with a distinctive style and noticeable technical quality.

The film is also interesting because it benefits from the talents of a number of extremely able filmmakers. The film was produced for Gainsborough under the auspices of Michael Balcon. He is a producer whose impact over decades on British film is equal too or greater than many of the valued auteurs who usually garner the most attention. The film was designed by W. C. Arnold, whose distinctive sets gave such impact to an earlier Gainsborough film, The Rat (1925). And the film stars Miles Mander and Madeleine Carroll.

The film was directed also by Miles Mander, less well known for directing than for acting. He was a character actor whose typical role was as ‘a moustachioed cad’: he plays a bigamist in Hitchcock’s early silent The Pleasure Garden (1925). However, Mander had some experience in theatre, as an actor-director. He had also worked with the Swedish film director Gustaf Molander. Both The First Born and later directorial outings show a continental influence in the use of the camera and in editing practices.

Mander adapted the film from his own stage play ‘Those Common People’. In some ways his fellow-scenarist in the adaptation is the most interesting, Alma Reville, usually listed as the wife of Alfred Hitchcock. Hitchcock is generally regarded as the auteur par excellence. In fact, as with many other noted filmmakers, his work relies to a great degree on the talent of his collaborators. His British films benefited from the scriptwriting talent of Charles Bennett. He worked with notable cameramen, designers, editors and gifted actors like Peter Lorre, Robert Donat and indeed Madeleine Carroll. Michael Balcon was his mentor. Quite possibly though Alma was his most important muse. She was already established in the industry when Hitchcock entered it as young man. She worked for a time as a scriptwriter, but her career was subordinated to that of her husband: very much the norm in the industry of that time. Hitchcock always acknowledged that he discussed his films daily with his wife. So there is a tantalising question mark over the status of Alma Reville.

Intriguingly the film features a triangle, Miles Mander as Sir Hugo Boycott, Madeleine Carroll as Lady Madeleine Boycott and John Loder as Lord David Harborough. Sir Hugo is a philanderer and abuses his wife. This partly motivates the romantic but chase affair between Madeleine and David. At a crucial point in the film Hugo physically attacks his wife. But David is away in London, the ‘absent lover’. This is a not uncommon motif but one that appears regularly throughout the career of Hitchcock. Whose motif?

Some light was shed on this by the introductory talk before a screening of the film at the National Media Museum. The talk was by Nathalie Morris from the British Film Institute. She has written on ‘The Early Career of Alma Reville’ (in the Hitchcock Annuals, 1 to 15, 2009). This bought an added dimension to the film, as did the live music performed by Darius Battiwalla. He had already established a high standard of accompaniment at earlier Bradford screenings such as The Rat (1925) and Cottage on Dartmoor (1930). The film was screened as part of the Bradford International Film Festival.

Originally posted as a preview.

Posted in Britain in the 1920s, Silent Stars | Tagged: | 1 Comment »