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The Girl from the Marsh Croft / Tösen Frän Stormyrtorpet, Sweden 1917.

Posted by keith1942 on November 21, 2017

 

This film was screened in the ‘A Hundred Years Ago: fifty films of 1917 in 35mm’ at Il Cinema Ritrovato 2017. It demonstrates how Swedish cinema in the late teens was a trailblazer for artistic cinema and this was one of the most accomplished titles in the programme . It was directed by Victor Sjöström and it was in many ways typical of his work, with the redemption of a key character after a fall from  grace. There were some parallels with his later masterpiece Ingmarssönerna (1919). It was also typical of Swedish cinema of the period focussing on a romance that was inhibited by class and moral prejudices.

The film was the first adaptation in Swedish cinema of a story by Selma Lagerlöf [Ingmarssönerna was also adapted from one of her novels]. This famous and popular author won the Nobel prize for Literature in 1909  “in appreciation of the lofty idealism, vivid imagination and spiritual perception that characterize her writings”. Her works were a staple of Swedish filmmaking in the 1920s. This title was adapted from a tale in a collection of short stories. It seems that there are six other later film adaptations, including [intriguingly] a German production directed by Douglas Sirk. They would have to be very well done to surpass this version.

Lagerlof’s story is really a novella with six parts. The narrative opens in a court room where Helga, daughter of a poor family, is taking a paternity case against a wealthier famer in whose service she conceived. The case is never bought to a conclusion because, despite her determination to receive acknowledgment and support, she cannot stand by and watch the man who fathered her child commit perjury. Before the court case it appears that Helga has been the recipient of moral indignation but her unselfish act in the trial changes many attitudes among the village folk. Helga and her parents live in a croft on a hill above the village and close the forest. Here is she is visited by Gudmund, the son of a relatively affluent farmer, who was at the courthouse and was impressed with Helga’s virtuous conduct. She is offered service caring for his disabled mother.

Meanwhile Gudmund is courting Hildur, the daughter of the most affluent farmer in the village. They become engaged but Hildur, a relatively unsympathetic character, insists that Helga’s service is ended before she will marry Gudmund. Helga returns to the Marsh Croft, though she continues to work of Gudmund’s parents with washing and sewing.

Following a stag night in the city the drunken Gudmund is involved in a brawl. It appears that he may be responsible for the death of a participant. Thus Gudmund also falls from grace and is faced with a moral choice akin to that made earlier by Helga. It is the resolution of this trauma that also bring resolution to t the romantic drama.

Lagerlof’s novella is narrated in a third person, providing the dialogue of the characters but with their actions and inner thoughts described by the narrator. As the Nobel citation suggests there is a particular emphasis on the spiritual and moral aspects. But the story is also imaginative as the writer describes in detail the interior and exterior settings. The croft and it environs are especially well presented. And Lagerlöf spends time describing particular actions such as the wood chopping that both Helga and Gudmund perform.

The Swedish film version follows the plot fairly closely. However, since we watch the charterers they are far more personalised than in the written version . And the film uses only some of the narrative comments relying on performance to suggest the moods and feelings of the characters. The prejudices in the village community seem slightly starker in the film: only a select number of the inhabitants demonstrate a change of heart after Helga’s virtuous act.  The film presents particular actions as sequences in close detail as in the book: the sequences of chopping wood are important and the wedding preparations are also shown in full detail. The film does omit one interesting facet of the book: Lagerlof’s novella makes use of a traditional rural ritual involving ashes and a sense of home which is left out of the film. As with the novella the illegitimate child is rather conveniently left aside.

Sjöström with cinematographer Henrik Jaenzon makes a fine job of the filming. As is the case in Swedish cinema of the period the use of landscape is excellent, including both lakes, forests and mountains. The camera shows us both the village and its court house and the farm of the Hildur family which is effectively contrasted with that of Helga’s, high up and alongside the forest. The settings, both interior and exterior, are carefully crafted and the furnishings and objects delineate the characters. So the rich hustle and bustle of the wedding sets the scene for Gudmund’s confession. At another point a shot of Helga as she prepares the coffee for the visit by the Hildur family emphasises the social contrasts.

There is frequent deeps staging, well served by the deep focus available at the period. In one sequence Gudmund father, set back in the frame. watches his son, set forward, as he searches for an incriminating object. The Production Design by Axel Esbensen and Art Direction by Axel Esbensen enables the blending of locations and sets effectively.

Helga is played by Great Almrof, a popular and busy actress of the period. She is really convincing as the young woman with a strong moral sense and behaviour. Lars Hansen, in one of his early roles, is equally effective as Gudmund, a character who displays the impetuosity and fire that was the common characterisation played by Hanson. The pair were teamed together again in Maurice Stiller’s equally fine Song of the Scarlet Flower / Sången om den eldröda blomman (1919). The supporting cast are good as well. Karin Molander does well with the unsympathetic part of Hildur: we saw her again later in the week in Stiller’s Thomas Graals Best Film / Thomas Graals Bästa Film (1917).

The Catalogue entry, by Jon Wengström, noted that

‘The film was a critical and commercial success, not least in the US where more than forty prints were distributed. The “National Board of Motion Picture review” in January 1919 praised the film for its “excellent photography, unusual acting, exceptional technical handling” and its excellent moral effect”.

 

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Naming of parts

Posted by keith1942 on October 31, 2017

This is the title of a World War II poem by Henry Reed. A line from that poem ran through my head during the 2017 Le Giornate del Cinema Muto:

‘Which in our case we have not got’.

Reed was referring to parts of a World War II rifle: in my case it was both ‘reel’ films and Soviet films. To be fair I had a good week and enjoyed a lot of the films but I had also moments when I had a real sense of missing …..

To start with the Soviet. I was full of anticipation whilst I awaited the details of this year’s programme because the Festival fell only a few weeks before the anniversary of The Great October Socialist Revolution. This was an event that had more impact on cinema than any other I can think of – the development and realisation of Soviet Montage.

I was to be disappointed. The main programme of Soviet films was ‘Across the Sixth Part of the World: Soviet Travelogues of the 1920s’. In fact we did not get the Dziga Vertov film which clearly inspired the title, though we did get a film that utilised some of the footage shot for that productions. But there was not much montage, apart from some sharp editing by Yelizaveta Svilova in a couple of titles. But neither did we get the political content that was so powerful in the 1920s. The films were in the main interesting and several were extremely well made. But all of them could have been made in the same form if the 1917 Revolution had ended in February instead of October, i.e. with the assumption to power of the bourgeoisie. There were occasional pictures of Marx and Lenin; some political slogans; and in one film workers taking snapshots at dummies of the capitalist class; but no dramatisation of the revolution overthrowing an archaic society and starting the construction of a radically new one.

We did get a 35mm print of Aelita (1924) but this film is more-science fiction than revolution. There are interesting shots of urban life after the revolution but the workers’ rebellion in the film feels like an add-on. In ‘Rediscoveries and Restorations’ we also had An Unprecedented Campaign / Nebuvalyi Pokhid (1931), a film by Mikhail Kaufman dedicated to the Five-Year Plan and Collectivisation. However, it was transferred to digital and I thought not a particularly good transfer: and seemingly transferred at 25 fps [for video?]. Worse it had a musical accompaniment by Anton Baibakov Collective, which appears to be a Ukrainian group. They were clearly in a different world from that in which the film was conceived. The focus was the ‘Holodomor’ or Ukrainian famine of the 32 – 33. As artist they are entitled to present alternative stances. But I have to protest when they selected a film that was made before the event in question. A FIAF handbook opines that films should be screened as close as possible to their original release: that was hardly the case in this instance. Certainly i would have expected the Festival to offer a screening of the film as intended.

The cavalier treatment of the historical Soviet events and films was highlighted by another programme, ‘The Great War’. This imperialist conflict, rightly opposed by the Bolsheviks and other genuine socialists, enjoyed a varied programme, both features and documentaries; all the ones I viewed were presented as they might have been in the years of their release.

Regarding the Soviet issue I found in a comment by Jay Weisberg,

“I had some sly fun with Russia this year …”

He is in fact writing about the Soviet Union, a federation of Socialist Republics. He was introducing two filsm presented on the ‘Red Peril’, in other words, Hollywood dramas that vilify both the Revolution and the Bolsheviks. One, The World and its Woman (1919) recycled that ‘old chestnut’, ‘the nationalisation of women’. If that had existed it was probably preferable to the experience of Hollywood producers and their audition techniques.

Since the centenary can run for a year or more is it too much to hope that next year we could have a serious treatment of Socialist Construction. In which case a prime title would be the Old and New / Staroye i novoye (1929); the film about collectivisation directed by Sergei Eisenstein and one which I have not seen screened for ages. Also the British Film Institute’s National Film Archive has a number of 35mm prints of little seen Soviet titles from this period.

Perhaps in 2018?

Better was ‘Scandinavian Cinema’ which offered lesser known titles from the ‘golden age’. The titles were all very good and even those transferred to digital looked fine. The societies of the time were fairly repressive of women but the majority of these films had strong and independent minded women. I was especially taken with Gypsy Anne / Fante-Anne (Norway 1920). This was an adaptation of  a short story scripted and directed by Rasmus Breistein. Like several of the films  it treated the restrictions on cross-class romances. The turmoil this produced were symbolised in a act of arson. The unravelling of the crime and punishment reminded me of the treatment in Victor Sjöström masterwork Ingmarssönerna (1919).

A substantial programme was titled ‘Nasty Women’. There were five sections within this and I found the title puzzling. Many of the heroines in the films were closer to anarchy than nastiness.  A typical example is the earlier film was Tilly’s Party, a BFI print from 1911. Tilly (Alma Taylor) and her partner Sallie (Chrissie White) cause upsets to their bourgeois household,. There were a whole series of these films in the period and the recurring plots show the two girls repeatedly upsetting rules and decorum. However, the Catalogue, which only arrived on the Wednesday, shed some light on the programme.

“The term “Nasty Woman” has been a feminist rallying cry since October 2016, when Donald Trump interrupted Hilary Clinton by booming into his microphone “such a nasty woman”. ” (Festival Catalogue).

I think we often draw parallels between past and present but I also think this needs to be done with care and attention. Hardly any of the female protagonists in the film acted in any way ‘nasty’. Possibly the closest to the contemporary situation came in the sole feature length Hollywood film, The Deadlier Sex (1920), in which Mary Willard (Blanche Sweet) wreaks a well-deserved but possibly illegal lesson on her capitalist rival Harvey Judson (Marlon Hamilton). The film was very well produced and Blanche Sweet was a pleasure to watch. Unfortunately we did not see any female workers expropriating either of these bourgeois.

We had the third in the series of ‘Beginnings of the Western’ this year ‘early European westerns’. The first two programme featured a number of French films from Gaumont directed by Jean Durand and usually scripted by and starring Joë Hamman, who had direct experience of the US west and the Indian tribes. The film were shot in the Camargue and that lanscape gvae the films a distinctive feel. Several of the films had been transferred to DCP but Coeur Ardent / The Heart of the red Man (1912) was in a tinted 35mm print. The film traces the romance of Coeur Ardent (Joë Hamman) and Sun Ray (Berthe Dagmar). Her father Sitting Bear rejects his daughter’s suitor. In a bid to prove Coeur Ardent a brave and suitable warrior the pair steal cattle from a neighbouring tribe. This leads Coeur Ardent facing a ‘trial’ for his theft. These sequences make good use of the Camargue landscape, especially in the use of  lakes and marshland. Coeur Ardant’s survival in the test means the romance is fulfilled when Sitting Bear recognises the suitor’s bravery.

There were also Italian, Danish and a British westerns from the early period. The Scapegrace (1913) was filmed at the Crick Studio in Croydon. The ‘scapegrace’, Jack Marriott (Reginald Davis) is cut off by his father over gambling depts. He leaves London for Canada and the Yukon Gold Rush. He strikes gold on his claim, befriends bar girl Molly ((Una Tristan) and earns the enmity of  Mexican gunslinger Manoel (J. L. V. Leigh). So the film follows the US convention whereby villains are frequently from ‘south of the border’.  There is gunplay, arson, violence at the claim and a climatic rescue before the ‘scapegrace’ wins Molly and is reconciled with his father. There is some effective location settings,

“with local gravelly heath land standing in for the Yukon.” (Catalogue).

There is a US film with the same title from the same year from the Lubin Manufacturing Company.

‘The Japanese Silent Cinema Goes Electric’ offered to titles from “saundo-ban – films that were shot as silent films, but released with a post-synchronised soundtrack, usually consisting of music score, sound effects and the occasional popular song.” (Alexander Jacoby and Johan Nordström in the Festival Catalogue).

The curators explained how this format was a stage in the on-going struggle in the industry over the role and dominance of the Benshi. A friend noticed that the soundtrack appeared to have slight silent pauses around title cards: he and Johan discussed if this was a deliberate ploy to accommodate Benshi where cinemas retained them: the conclusion is unclear. We had a well-known film by Ozu Yasujiro Tokyo no yado / An Inn in Tokyo (Shochiku, 1935). The 35mm print seemed to have less of these ‘pauses’, perhaps aligning with Ozu’s well-known opposition to the Benshi.

The other title was a welcome discovery, Shima no Musume / The Island Girl (Shochiku, 1933), directed by Nomura Hotei. At the initial screening there was a technical glitch and there were no English sub-titles. we struggled through it and then the Festival organised a follow-up with the English sub-titles: so I got to see the film twice. It was an excellent and powerful melodrama. The main story concerns a romance frustrated by poverty: a situation that crossed over with the Ozu. The sub-plots concerned geisha’s, with the Island girls providing a source for the Tokyo pleasure quarters, The film used a popular song of the time by a popular female singer.

‘Pola Negri’ presented ‘The First Phase of Stardom’, films produced in Germany. Mania. Die Gechichte einer zigarettenarbeiterin / Mani. The Story of a Cigarette factory Girl was made at Ufa in 1918. We had a 35mm print reconstructed with tints from surviving nitrate material. Pola Negri looked a star, both in performance and in scenes of her dancing. She played a working class girl whose beauty and magnetism leads her into the world of publicity and entertainment. She was also potent in the 1918 version of Carmen / Carmen (Gypsy Blood) directed by Ernst Lubitsch. The film was closer to the original novella by Prosper Mérimée than the famous opera. The straight melodrama is less Lubitsch’s forte than his comedies, whilst the cast were never quite as compelling as Negri herself.

Another star was the canine performance of the Festival Toby, a poodle cross. This was an hybrid, part-western, part-thriller, Nel paese dell’oro (Italy, 1914). In the western section Toby is instrumental in rescuing the kidnapped Matilde. In the second half, set in Vera Cruz, Toby rescues the kidnapped son of the family. The conclusion has the bedraggled Toby and son triumphantly returning to the family apartment.

There was also a varied programme of films of ‘Early Cinema’, and the now -regular ‘Canon Revisited’. The latter shaded over into ‘Special Events’. Two of these were 35mm prints from Photoplay Productions: The Crowd , M-GM 1928 and The Student Prince of Old Heidelberg M-G-M 1927. Both enjoyed the scores composed by Carl Davis for the original series in Thames Silents. I was also pleased to catch L’Emigrante (Italy 1915). This was only a fragment, a third of the original release.  What we saw of the journeys in the film involved an elderly man migrating to South America and the exploitation that he encounters; a sort of subject suitable nowadays for Ken Loach.

Many of the films were in original release languages but the Festival has a well tried system with projected digital translations in English and Italian. And all the films had musical accompaniments, some solo or duo musicians, some with larger ensembles. In most cases these add to the screenings, heightening and dramatising aspects of character and plot. Some did tend to over-state the accompaniment which does get in the way of the film to an extent. But the Festival would not be the same without the music.

About nearly two thirds of the screenings were on 35mm, varying in quality but in most cases doing good or adequate justice to the titles. Just over a thirds was on digital formats. This was a variable experience. The International Federation of Film Archives has a number of documents on the Webpages regarding restoration and transfer of archive film, including the use of digital technologies. However, there does not seem to be a set of specifications that Archives should follow. The variation in quality of the Digital screenings at Le Giornate this year suggest that there is a disparate set of practices. Some were excellent,. especially those from the Scandinavian Archives. The best example was a DCP from Det Danske Filminstitut of Victoria Film’s Glomdalsbruden / The Bride of Glomdal ( Norway, Sweden 1926) scripted and directed by Carl Dreyer. The surviving version is incomplete but this copy preserved the distinctive qualities of the original.

However, there were other digital versions where the flat patina common in transfers was obvious. And in most cases the digital formats with tinting seemed over-saturated. I think there needs to be discussion about what exactly is the prime facture needed in transfers to digital. we had a short piece of early film shot on 65mm and transferred to digital. In the introduction we were promised that this would be the ‘cleanest’ version we would ever see. I think it was ‘clean’ but the ‘cleaning’ appears to have removed quite an amount of contrast and depth of field. I have seen early 65mm transferred to digital before and I am sure that it can look better than this.

There is a limitation in the current projection equipment in the new Verdi. Apparently the digital projectors only offer 2K quality and 24 fps. Tinting seems to need more than 2K to be effective and 24fps means step-printing. Several of the digital DCPs were marked in the Catalogue at slower rates of transfer, odd. However, there is real confusion of terms on this issue. FIAF have a glossary of terms on the Webpages but I could not find either ‘step-printing’ or ‘frame rates’.

What was more consistent about the festivals was the organisational and delivery, On the closing night the Festival Director read out a long list of people, staff and volunteers, who had worked before and during the festival. They duly received repeated rounds of applause from the audience – richly deserved.

One of their tasks is ‘policing’ the audience. Mobile misuse seemed down this year. However there is a growing tendency for late-comers to use their gadgets as torches: and many seem unaware that these can be used at knee height thus reducing the distraction. The most serious miscreants were people taking ‘pics’ during screenings. Some were caught by the theatre staff, but some were seated in the m idle of large blocks beyond reach. Perhaps the Festival could issue cattle prods in 2018?

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The Crowd, USA 1928

Posted by keith1942 on October 18, 2017

On set.

The film was screened from a Photoplay Productions 35mm print as the opening Gala at this year’s Le Giornate del Cinema Muto. The film looked pretty good though the print was more worn than when I first saw it as a Thames Silent. As then we had a score composed and conducted by Carl Davis and played in this occasion by  the Orchestra San Marco.

I have written about the film in ‘Early and Silent Cinema’ and reviewing it my thoughts were more or less unchanged. It is a fine piece of direction by King Vidor. The script is excellent, the combined work of John Weaver, Harry Behn and Vidor himself. Behn had worked on the M-G-M’s earlier success, The Big Parade (1925). The title cards were composed by Joseph Farnham.

Vidor and the writer of his big success, Harry Behn, penned the original story. Jon Waver produced a full screenplay which was considerably adapted by Vidor and Behn.

‘Vidor pitched Irving Thalberg a film about an average man walking through life, and the drama taking place around him.” (Jordan R. Young in the Festival Catalogue).

Both the producers at the time and some reviewers treated the film as presenting the ‘working man’ However, true to Hollywood values, the hero John Sims (James Murray) is not strictly a member of the working class. He works in an office and is imbued with petit-bourgeois values. The film does not depict his father’s occupation but he clearly buys into the ‘American dream’ and is at pains to distinguish himself from the proletarian masses. At key points in the film John consciously distances himself: the notable example when he laughs at a man earning his living as a juggler/advert in a New York street.

The irony is that, as predicted by Marx and Engels, John is hurtled down in the reserve army of labour. But even here, reduced himself to working as a juggler/advert, he remains committed to the same values. The key representation of these is a recurring plot trope, John’s successful; entry in a competition to provide an advertisement slogan for a popular commodity, ‘Sleight-o-Hand’ ‘The Magic Cleaner’.. The final shot of him and his family is as the advert of the product [with his jingle] provides added pleasure to a celebration, displayed in the programme of a theatre entertainment. At this point the camera tracks back and they gradually are lost in the large audience. This emphatically places John in ‘the crowd ‘of the title. But this is not a conscious working class grouping, but an anonymised mass dominated by the ideology of the free market and ‘a fair day’s pay’.

The Catalogue noted that the Coney island sequence in the film was actually shot at Abbot Kinney Pier in California. But the film does include actual footage shot in New York, the major setting for the film.

One scene that I noticed this time round was interesting. At a dramatic climax John Sims contemplates suicide. He actually stands ready to jump un der an approaching train but draws back. Following this his young son (Johnny Downs) helps to restore his self-esteem by stating his love and admiration for his father. They now wend their way home. Here they pass a cemetery with ranks of gravestones set out in neat rows: this looked like a back projection. It suggests a visual comment on the situation. Oddly John leaves his son on a bench in front of the cemetery and runs to where a job vacancy is publicised. This is the work as a Juggler/advert and we see him dressed in clown uniform, juggling balls, in the street. Following this he returns, collects his son and both go home. It must be an oversight because strictly speaking the son must have been left alone on the bench for hours.

The film remains a powerful and effective movie. it went down great at the festival as did Carl Davis and the orchestra. I think his scores at certain points do rather overpower the films. But the musical sweep in this case works very successfully with the emotional melodrama.

 

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Le Giornate del Cinema Muto 2017

Posted by keith1942 on September 26, 2017

Impressively this year the Silent Film Festival in Pordenone has the complete programme up on its Webpages over a week before the start, Saturday September 30th. On offer will be a varied and fascinating selection of early films. My friend Peter Rist, who is expert at these sort of things, has sent me the following calculation:

“I have just done a count and of 57 screenings at Pordenone this year, 22 are digital, more than usual; over 38%; still plenty of 35mm though,”

Some of the formats are yet to be identified. But this is creditable, especially in a period when one requires time, money and considerable investigation to see films [as opposed to files] in an appropriative format.

The programmes contain some exciting prospects on film. These is a series devoted to ‘The Beginnings of the Western’: now in its third year these have offered fascinating offerings from the early in a major genre. On the Saturday evening the opening event of the Festival, The Crowd will be the 35mm Photoplay print originally screened in the Thames Silents, and we will enjoy once more Carl Davis conducting his score performed by the San Marco Orchestra. The film is a classic [discussed in ‘Studying Early and Silent Cinema’] with fine direction by King Vidor and some excellent technical work in the Cinematography by Henry Sharp and the Film Editing by Hugh Wynn.  A great cast and some memorable dramatic moments.

Other classic revisited titles include Schatten: eine nächtliche halluzination (Warning Shadows, Artur Robison, Germany, 1923). In many ways this is the definitive expressionist film, intriguing and stylistic memorable.

There are several ‘diva’ titles. One pleasure with be Louise Brooks in Now We’re in the Air  (Frank R. Strayer, US 1927). Pola Negri stars in the 1918 Carmen and Mania. die geschichte einer zigarettenarbeiterin (Mania. The Story of a Cigarette Factory Worker, Germany 1918). And the rare A Fool There Was (1915) with Theda Bari is a happy opportunity. There are a series of programmes on ‘Nasty Women’. These appear to develop from the comic to the dramatic, so we await to see if they are ‘politically correct’.

‘The Swedish Challenge’ includes a title from a master of silent period, Vem Dömer? (Love’s Crucible, 1922) by Victor Sjöström. Ernst Lubitsch has several titles including The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg (1927), another screening with an accompanying orchestra.. And from Japan we have a late silent directed by Ozu Yasujirô, Tokyo no yado (An Inn in Tokyo, 1935). There a number of Italian silents which are new to me and which I look forward to seeing.

I shall wait and see what the DCPs are like in transfer quality. I am disappointed that the British Dawn (1928) is in a digital format since I saw it only last year in a good 35mm print.

The other set of DCPs are from the USSR. This is a disappointment less because of the format than because of the titles. Essentially the programmes offer a series of ‘Soviet Travelogues’. They are likely interesting and include some film work by members of the ‘Factory of Facts’. The only fictional feature is Aelita: this is on 35mm so it will be worth seeing again. But the Festival falls only a few weeks before the centenary of The Great October Revolution. I would have hoped that they could have fitted in at least one of the masterpieces celebrating this key event of the C20th. We are offered a couple of titles on ‘The Red Peril’ which sound politically dubious. A sadly missed opportunity.

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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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Riders of the Night, Metro Picture Corp. 1919

Posted by keith1942 on September 12, 2017

This was the final film in the John H. Collins programme at the 2016 Giornate del Cinema Muto and also the last film Collins wrote and directed for Metro. The film starred the actress [and his wife] Viola Dana. His regular cinematographer John Arnold filmed the title. The story was devised by Albert Shelby Le Vino, whose work we had seen earlier in the week in the serial Who’s Guilty? .

The 35mm print was tinted and had Dutch titles with a translation provided digitally. Unfortunately the first reel was missing. However, Jay Weissberg provided plot and character details in the Festival Catalogue. H also provided some background to the film which was set

“during Kentucky’s “Toll Gate Wars” of 1896 – 98, when angry locals violently destroyed the state’s ubiquitous tollgates erected by private companies to enrich their stockholders ….

The title’s “riders of the night” are the men who under the cover of darkness, destroyed the much-hated Kentucky tollgates. Whilst the elimination of these tolls was generally seen as a positive development, …[two historians] say this was a troubling fist instance in the state of violence leading to a seemingly progressive outcome.”

Viola Dana plays Sally, an orphan living with grandparents. Grandfather, a Confederate veteran, is kindly and supportive; her aunt is best described as a harridan who treats Sally brutally. Sally is the object of the affection of two cousins, Milt and John Derr, the latter owner of a local tollgate. Sally prefers Milt who himself has been cheated of an inheritance by John. Lots of tension and enmities here.

Reel 2 opens just before Sally’ birthday. Both Milt and John have bought her presents. The jealous John tries to smash the cake that Milt has bought. We then meet Jed, a local hunter, with whom Sally has trouble and Milt a fight, with Jed swearing vengeance. At home her aunt is in cahoots with John to make Sally marry him. When her grandfather defends her he is rounded on by the aunt. he has a stroke. The toll gate is the obstacle that prevents a doctor arriving in time and the grandfather dies.

Milt now joins the ‘riders of the night’ of which Jed is also a member. The riders wear white hoods and cloaks; immediately familiar to a modern audience. Meanwhile John offers Jed fifty dollars to remove his rival. He then double crosses Jed.

All four lead characters are now involved in a series of night-time confrontations in a mountain cabin. John is killed, shot by a 45 revolver. Sally believes Milt has killed John and when the Sherriff appears takes the blame. Sally is tried and found guilty and sentenced to hanging. As we approach the climax Sally is actually seen on the gibbet. But \Milt arrives with “The Killer”, Jed, who confesses. Sally and Milt are reunited.

The film has a number of recognisable tropes from Collins work. The ‘saved in a nick of time’ climax is presented in a series of cross-cuts that generate real drama. There are some very effective fades and dissolves between scenes. And the cinematography offers powerful close-ups, as with Sally’s hands clenching the bars of the cell as the execution nears. There is also excellent use of high and low key lighting, especially in the sequence in the cabin around the murder of John. The print had excellent tinting.

The ‘riders of the night’ are a problem aspect of this story. Presumably contemporary audiences must have seen a connection with the Ku Klux Klan. The original Klan had been suppressed in 1870 but it was set up once more in 1915. And the release of Birth of a Nation in that year, and responses to that film, made the organisation a controversial subject. Kentucky was not officially a secessionist state in the Civil War but it had a powerful slave and secessionist lobby. It does not seem to have been a notable base of the KKK. The film did not seem to address this issue directly. However, in Reel 2 there is a fairly stereotypical Black waiter. And  a black woman having problems with the toll gate opines ‘let the devil take him’ of John Derr.

The story is classic melodrama and uses the emotional tropes of the genre. There is the grandfather’s stroke and Sally’s several imperilments. Sally’s argument with Jed arises when he shoots some squirrels in the wood. Later Sally acquires a puppy, [from Milt perhaps]. Though in what became a Hollywood convention he disappears seemingly following Milt’s ride to find Jed and rescue Sally.

What did concern contemporary censors were the explicit scenes around the proposed hanging of Sally.

“the Chicago censors eliminated a number of shots, including testing the noose, along with scenes of her on the scaffold”

And some exhibitors and critics found the dramatic violence a little too much. One complained

“Too sensational for our patrons.”

Not so in Pordenone where the film made an entertaining rounding off to a fine and fascinating programme of films. Phil Carli rounded off the musical accompaniment with flair.

Collins is clearly a filmmaker worth seeing and his output will hopefully repay further exploration.

 

 

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Min Svigerinde Fra Amerika / My Sister-in-law from America, Denmark 1917.

Posted by keith1942 on September 9, 2017

This was one of the 1917 films at the 2016 Le Giornate del Cinema Muto from ‘The Danish Film Institute at 75’. It was a comedy short written Waldemar Hansen with cinematography by Hugo Fischer. The Catalogue notes by Thomas Christensen  gave more detail about the director:

“Lau Lauritzen Sr. was among the most productive film directors in Danish Cinema. While he is best known by many as the director and creator of “Pat & Patachon” comedy films, he started his career with Nordisk film, where he began directing in 1914 and throughout the 1910s made almost one short subject every week.”

Unfortunately this film is incomplete, missing up to a reel. Even so the surviving nine mines [172 metres at 16 fps] was a delight.

A husband is entertaining his mistress and is discovered by his returning wife. Taking advantage of a telegram announcing the visit of his brother from America he introduces her as ‘my sister-in-law from America’. Meanwhile we watch the travails of the brother and his wife as they land in Denmark and become separated. When the brother arrives he plays along with charade. But, predictably, the wife then also turns up. The film has a brilliant final one-liner.

The cast are excellent though I could not find a cast list to identify who played whom. Whatever, the characters deliver with real panache. Christensen has a droll comment, which refers to the final sequence:

“The double cover-up at the end, …, might interest viewers studying the representation of religious and cultural differences as humorous'”

Definitely a title to track down.

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Who’s Guilty?. A lost series rediscovered.

Posted by keith1942 on September 7, 2017

This was one of the most interesting programmes at the 2016 Le Giornate del Cinema Muto. Federico Striuli found a lost fourteen part serial from the teens of the C20th in the archives of Gosfilmofond. He provided extensive notes on the programme in the Festival Catalogue.

Serials were very popular in the USA, and in other territories, in the teens. One of the major players was Pathé Exchange [a subsidiary of the French Pathé]. In 1915 the company had a successful serial Who Pays?, a twelve part series, each episode offered a self-contained story, but featuring a regular cast and a ‘strong social critique’. Who’s Guilty was a follow-up, again with self-contained stories in each episode, a regular cast and an overt social agenda. However, in this series the lead characters were to be victims.

The new project had production problems and after shooting initial episodes, a change of cast and crew. It was completed in 1916 at the New York Studio of the Arrow Film Corporation. The scripts were written by a number of writers; however, there was a newspaper tie-in and these were all credited to a Mrs. Wilson Woodrow [a distant relative by marriage of the US president]. The directors were either Lawrence B. McGill or Howell Hansel and the cinematographer either Eugene J. Cugnet or Henry Cronjager, The two stars in every episode were Tom Moore and Anna Q. Nilsson [Swedish-born] supported by a regular company who varied depending on the episode and the size of the cast.

Ten of the 14 episodes survive, though not all are complete. Indeed nearly every episode has suffered at least minor cuts. Oddly the missing titles are all odd numbers? The films were all two reelers, standard for the time. We watched 35mm prints with Russian titles and a translation into English provided digitally. Quite often the names were different in the Russian versions from those recorded for the original US release. None of the prints had tinting but at this stage of the industry it is quite likely that the originals did.

The structure of the films is, as the title suggests, to raise questions regarding social issues. The key characters, almost uniformly victims in some sense, dramatise this in their personal lives. The films seem to have had a standard opening, [though not all the extant prints retain this], with a long shot of a lake and a title card which offered

“Life is like a lake, throw in a stone …’

No 1. Puppets of Fate. Only one Reel. 252 metres. 11 minutes.

The film was missing the original first reel and the Catalogue supplied the following:

“In the now-missing first reel, it was shown how the doctor had advanced his career thanks to his wife, up until he met the other woman.”

Tom Moore plays Doctor George Bullard, Anna Q. Nilsson his wife Esther and Olivia Handsworth the other woman, Sylvia Sands, a rich widow. Esther falls ill and. at her wish, Bullard carries out an operation. This is an infringement of medical ethics. Bullard sends Sands away at this point. Still Esther dies and the Doctor is left, as are the audience, with the regular last title card, ‘Who’s Guilty’.

Pianist, John Sweeney.

No. 2. The Tight Rain. 525 metres. 23 minutes.

This episode has three other writers credited besides Mrs Wilson; Edfrid A. Bingham, Albert Shelby LeVino and Hervey F. Thew. The Catalogue provided this backgrounds information.

“This episode deals with the disastrous consequences of a thwarted love. The episode contains some sexual implications that caused it to be banned or heavily cut in several states, resulting in many alternate versions, which seem to be confirmed by conflicting synopses in journals. However, this print does not seem to have significant cuts. “

Jack (Moore) the son of factory owner Jeremiah McCall (Arthur Donaldson) is attracted to one of the workers, Amy (Nilsson). McCall engineers her dismissal to end the romance. Amy moves to New York where she works in a fashion house. Jack, purloining $500 from the firm, follows her. Amy is the object of malicious intent by a patron at the fashion house. Inveigled to his apartment, Jack arrives and there is a fight followed by shots. The dying Amy crawls to the body of her dead Jack. The newspapers print a story of a ‘rich man’s son’s suicide’. The plot does suggest promiscuity of some sort. And, typical of the period, Amy has a black maid at her apartment.

The accompaniment was played by Stephen Horne.

No. 4. The Silent Shame. 565 metres. 25 m minutes.

One of several episodes dealing with divorce. The underlying problem was that the laws regarding marriage and divorce in different states varied and could cause problems across territories. Duncan Hilliard (Edward Davis) is married to Eunice (Nilsson) who is a lot younger.

“married at fifteen”.

The strains lead to her developing friendship with Bruce Kingston (Moore). They go away together but Duncan follows, mainly because he needs Eunice’s savings of $50,000. Thwarted he seeks revenge by pretending to arrange a divorce. Eunice and Bruce have a daughter who is thus illegitimate. When Eunice finds out about her situation she leaves Bruce and returns to Hilliard with her daughter.

In Reel 2 Bruce is a successful playwright. His new play will star a young actress Helen, Eunice’s daughter Ardath under a stage name (Nilsson again). Predictably romance develops. Meanwhile Bruce has bought a genuine antique ring as a stage prop, an antique which contains a secret phial of poison. In full melodramatic fashion, when Helen and Bruce realise their true relationships, she takes the real poison onstage, followed by Bruce who sucks the ring and both expire. A full blooded melodrama with a number of conventional plot points.

Pianist José Maria Serraldo Ruiz.

No. 6. Sowing the Wind. Only the second reel. 278 metres. 12 minutes.

In this episode Hugh Scott (Moore) has secretly married the daughter of his boss, Marjorie Turnbull., He loses some valuable bonds and so feigns suicide. In Reel 2 the missing bonds turn up. Hugh is now able to return, however, meanwhile [predictably] his brother Henry has romanced and married Marjorie under the misapprehension that she is a widow. Marital misadventures are a frequent theme in this serial.

Pianist Daan van den Hurk.

No. 8. Beyond Recall. 517 metres. 22 minutes.

This is an intriguing drama about the death penalty but also, as the Catalogue suggests,

‘an indictment against the whole legal system’.

Edwin Martel (Moore) and his friend Leonard (William B. Sherwood) are setting off on a business trip to South America. They leave behind [for the space of about two years] their girlfriends Margaret Graeme (Nilsson) and Elsie. Margaret breaks off her engagement with Leonard whilst Elsie becomes hysterical over Edwin’s departure.

In Reel 2 Elsie commits suicide. Edwin, who has forgotten his case, returns to find the dead body. And in a familiar trope the police find Edwin standing over the corpse. He is arrested and charged with murder. Margaret is the assistant to the New York District Attorney. She takes a particular interest in the case. Edwin is found guilty and sentenced to the electric chair. Now Leonard, who could provide an alibi for Edwin, returns. But it is the day of the execution. Margaret is distraught when Leonard explains.

The film is interesting also because of the detail of the court case. We see the jury verdict as well as the prosecution. And ‘going South’ to Latin America is a frequent and varied plot device in popular US film.

Pianist Daan van den Hurk.

No. 10. A Trial of Souls. 524 metres, 23 minutes.

This drama criticises fathers: Senator Mason, father of Rose (Nilsson) and a journalist Fletcher, father of Tom, an army Captain (Moore). The two men are political enemies: predictably the politician is the nastier of the two. In Reel 1 we see the romantic pair of Tom and Rose in adjoining gardens: he throws her a flower. Then there is a dispute at the nearby army base between the Senator and Fletcher. The Senator is fined $100 for his part in the fracas. Despite the feud Tom and Rose secretly marry, even though Rose is only 17 years.

In Reel 2 the Senator sues Tom for abduction as Rose is under age. A this point Rose’s mother becomes part of the plot, fainting when the Senator initiates the court proceedings. In court Tom’s lawyer elicits the information that Rose is adopted. A flashback reveals that she was placed in the orphanage by the Senator wife’s and another man. The mother faints once more. Tom is acquitted but the marriage declares void. We last see Rose entering a lake, [just like the one that appears after the credits).

The suggestion of extra-marital affair is a common device which at this period tends not to be completely explicit.

Pianist Donald Sosin.

No. 11. The Lost Paradise. 550 metres, 24 minutes. [No main title].

This is another tale of marriage and divorce. The Catalogue notes that the episode was written by two lawyers, William Hamilton Osborne of New York and Warren H. Small, a lawyer with the Arrow Film Corporation. Janet Gordon (Nilsson) marries Marc Lander. It is clear that she doe this under pressure from her father who is in debt to Lander. She finds that Lander is a bully and a louse. Her old friend Tom visits to support her. A fight with Lander ensues and Tom and Janet leave and she moves to Connecticut where Tom works.

In Reel 2 they marry. They have children but Tom’ sister (Mary Moore) is antagonistic. Jane has filed a divorce from Lander in Connecticut. However, this is not valid in New York. Lander sues for ‘illegal cohabitation’. The trial worsens Tom’s poor health and he dies of a heart attack. Worse follows. Jane’s marriage to Tom is not legal and the children are considered illegitimate. Tom’s sister takes his property. And, in one of the most downbeat scenes of this downbeat series, we see the lonely Jane and her tow children.

Pianist Mauro Columbis.

No. 12. Weighed in the Balance. 575 metres, 25 minutes.

This episode was written by the advertising manager of Pathé, P. A. Parsons. The story dramatises the frequently violent industrial disputes in this period. These presumably related to the more general gun problem in the USA: violence against pickets, both by the armed police and by armed vigilantes led to pitched battles outside factories. There are a number of independent and labour-funded dramas on the issue on the teens. And, as Barbara Kopple’s excellent Harlan County, USA (1976) shows,  the problem continued for decades.

Tom Olcott (Moore) at the death of his father has to get a job at the factory where his father was President. This is a drop in income and status, but Tom has to support his widowed mother and his sister {Mary Moore again). At the factory, where he is noted as a promising young workers, he strikes up a friendship with Edna Carr (Nilsson). But he is then victimised by a jealous manager and finally fired. This incident provokes the strike.

In Reel 1 we see the family crisis and then Tom’s job at the factory. He is not only a ‘good’ employee but is popular with his fellow workers. The conflict with the manager Graham takes place on one of those days of entertainment which were part of factory life in this period.

After Tom is sacked the other workers gather in support and the strike commences. The response of the management is that they need,

“100 workers and 25 guards”.

When the workers attempt to stop the scabs the police intervene and support the strike breakers. The workers respond by stoning the police. Now soldiers are called in. When the strikers will not disperse they open fire. There follows this dramatic shot with the bodies of strikers and other civilians lying in the street among the debris. In an ironic touch both Graham and Tom arte shot down: Tom

“a son of the people”.

The last shot shows Edna cradling the dead Tom in the form of a pieta.

This is a powerful and critical narrative. Whilst the film is played as melodrama the violence perpetrated on ordinary working people is clearly represented.

Pianist Daan van den Hurk.

No. 13. The Goad of Jealousy. 545 metres. 24 minutes.

This is a distintive treatment of a familiar and conventional subject. Tom Olcott {Moore] owns a gym and runs training classes. He is knocked out in an accident and at the hospital

meets Nurse Olive Hale (Nilsson). He is also visited by his married friend Minna (Margaret Prussing). Smitten with Olive Tom proposes and they are married. However, in a reverse of the most common plot it is Olive who is jealous and possessive. At one point she listens at a glass door whilst Tom takes a class for Ladies.

In Reel 2, Minna comes to stay because she is suffering abuse from her husband. This

inflames Olive’s jealousy: she has a bout of hysterics and is prescribed a strong medicine.. She sets up a reorder and microphone hidden in her husband’s office so that she can spy on him. She listens in to an innocent conversation between Tom and Minna. But, even more inflamed, she writes to Minna’s husband revealing where she is. The husband arrives and there is a fight between him and Tom. Olive now tells Minna to leave. However, Tom find the secreted recorder. Furious, he leaves the house and rides off: on what I think is an early Harley-Davidson. Whilst he is away Olive takes a large dose of the medicine and on his return Tom finds her body across her bed!

Pianist Neal Brand.

No. 14. The Irony of Justice. Reel 1, 273 metres. 12 minutes.

Only the opening Reel survives. Here we meet Tom Morrissey (Moore) and his sister Mabel (Nilsson). The problem they face are the neighbours, Hinkle Rokeson and his son Henry (Warner Richmond). Tom is tried for a misdemeanour, a prank that went wrong. Years later the family’s spaniel is attacked by the two dogs of the Rokesons’ and killed. This appears to be the only use of this emotional trope in the serial. After burying his dog Tom fights with Henry. Tom wins but father and son conspire

“to get rid of him for a long time.”

Tom is tried and sentenced on the false charge of attempted murder’. Found guilty he serves three years in prison and we see him working at one point on a chain gang. It’s brutal form is visualised when one of the guards knocks down Tom.

In the missing Reel 2 it appears that Henry has designs on Mabel. There is another fracas for which Tom takes the blame: his aim to protect the good name of his sister. Now he endures a twenty year jail sentence.

Pianists Jonathan Best and Meg Morley.

This was a fascinating set of films. As can be seen it addressed quite a range of issues, though certain situations appeared in several forms. In retrospect the series would appear to be fairly subversive, at least with some films. The story of the industrial dispute tends to support the workers, seen as victims. This does reflect a whole cycle of film s of the period that addressed these contradictions. The notably social issue missing is ‘”race’, either in terms of Afro-Americans or Native Americans. And the issue of gender tends to present women as victims rather than as subjects in stories.

The series was thought lost and then turns up in the Russian archive. Russian films of the pre-Revolution period were noted for being downbeat. There are examples of Russian films having ‘happy endings added for overseas releases, and in reverse, foreign films having ‘sadder’ ending sadder for release in Russia. So here we have what must be one of the most downbeat cycle of films from the US mainstream in the teens; and it survives only in Russia. I did wonder if the episodes that did not apparently survive were the less depressing ones?

They all appeared in 35mm prints and just about all the title cards were translated. The prints were worn but reasonably good. The projection rate was given as 20 fps, which seems quite fast for the period. The full two reeks would be 600 metres and 30 minutes of screen time, so it seems likely that none of these survive intact. There were indeed frequent ‘jump cuts’ and what appeared to be absent title cards.

Happily just about every musician at the Festival enjoyed the opportunity to accompany one of these titles including two of the student son the Giornate”s ‘masterclass’.

Note, ‘Working-Class Hollywood’, Silent Film and the Shaping of Class in America by Stephen J. Ross (1998) has a lot of discussion of films about and by Labour. There is a brief reference to Who Pays which also included an episode dramatising a strike, but there are no details,.

 

 

 

 

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Beginnings of the Western – Indian Pictures

Posted by keith1942 on August 17, 2017

 

Filmmaker James Young Deer onscreen.

One programme in the series of screenings of early westerns at Le Giornate del Cinema Muto in 2016 was devoted to the representation of Native-Americans. The Festival Catalogue noted:

“The third programme is devoted to Indian pictures, which continued to attract audiences. Pathé’s short film is a good example of the titles produced by James Young Deer, while the Vitagraph film is an anomaly from its western unit. The three longer films come from Thomas Ince and Francis Ford’s BISON 101 company and a later offshoot or rival, Broncho and Universal’s 101 Bison Films, all shot on location in California.” (Richard Abel).

The programmer also demonstrated the changing face of the Indian character in the western; the sort of sympathetic portrayal found in films by James Young Deer are replaced by the more stereotypical ‘other’ in films by producers like Thomas Ince. And Universal’s acquisition of the Bison 101 company points to a factor in this, the development of the large film combines, controlling production  through to exhibition.  These new companies also developed new strategies:

“When the feature-length westerns began to appear in 1914, they initially tended not to follow the “tradition of earlier one-and-two-reelers, which sometimes offered roles to native Americans, but instead turned to adapting famous stage plays with white heroes, such as Jesse Lasky’s The Squaw Man, directed by Cecil B. DeMille, and Selig’s The Spoilers.” (Richard Abel).

Rather like the heroines from Programme two, but in a far more savage depiction, the Native American was badly served by the mainstream western right up until collapse of the studio system.

 

‘The Arrow of Defiance’

The Arrow of Defiance Pathé 1912.

The director and star of this one reel film was James Young Deer. Born and bought up in Washington DC, Young’s parentage was of the Nanticoke people, based in the North East of the Americas and Canada, Young supposedly worked in the Wild West circus shows. He started as a actor in films in the East Coast productions. He was then hired to work as producer, writer, director and star at the Pathe’s Edendale studio in Los Angeles. With his wife Red Wing [of the Winnebago tribe] he worked on about 30 short films between 1909 and 1915, of which only a few survive. Later he worked for a period in Britain.

In this film Young plays Dark Buffalo, chief of a camp of Indians. Sergeant [or Captain] Stewart of the US army brings an order for the Indians to move their camp. After a pow-wow and pipe Dark Buffalo refuses to move: a response symbolised by the ‘arrow of defiance’. The Indians attack settlers, an army camp and a settler wagon. The latter escapes to the safety of the Fort and the Indian attack fails. The film ends with an unusual shot, an embrace between a young Indian boy and a young white girl. Abel notes that

“Missing footage may explain that he was adopted by the girl’s white family, and both have escaped their burning farm.

Another, rather unexpected, is the shot that aligns movie spectators with a few Indian women in the foreground, as they watch the warriors burning a settler farm on a distant hill – a shot that echoes the opening shot of Stewart in the foreground looking down on the small Indian encampment in a distant valley.”

These sort of shots are enabled because the film uses relatively deep space for the settings and the action. Another has the settler wagon in the foreground with the mounted warriors deep in the field of view.

Whilst the Indians suffer defeat the imperious nature of the army settlement and control is apparent. And the shared family of Indian and settlers is a relatively unusual and becomes even more so as the feature westerns become conventional.

When the West was Young, Vitagraph 1913.

This one-reel film [12 minutes at 18 fps] was incomplete, cutting off just before the final shots. It was directed by W. J,. Bauman, an actor and director with seemingly few credits. The scenario was by W. Hanson Durham, who had quite a few credits in the teens including A Bit of Blue Ribbon.  The common element is near death  as a character saves another. In this film this is Black Hawk who, faint from hunger, is fed by the daughter of a settler. He repays the favour by warning the father and daughter of a band of Sioux warriors. Even so the father is killed and Black Hawk leads the girl to the safety of an army fort. However, he is hit in the back by an arrow. We see the girl rescued by a Calvary unit but do not learn Black Hawk’s fate. it seems that

“(as the print breaks off [- the Calvary]) keeps the warriors from scalping Black Hawk and chase them off.” (Richard Abel).

The film’s plot is fairly conventional but the treatment is good. The detail in the cabin when we meet father and daughter with the latter preparing a rabbit at the stove is well done. And after feeding the Indian the father offers him his pipe, a nice inversion of a familiar trope.

 

The Lieutenant’s Last Fight, New York Motion Picture Co, BISON 101

This film was produced by Thomas Ince, one of the key pioneers in developing what became the Hollywood studio system. The director was Francis Ford, John Ford’s eldest brother. He had a long career in Hollywood as an actor but also had a large output as director and sometime writer in Hollywood’s silent era. This tale of another heroic Indian is somewhat conventional and in its ending seems symptomatic of the changes taking place in the genre.

Francis Ford plays Great Bear whose father, a Sioux chieftain (William Eagleshirt), allows him to be sent to Military school A brief scene shows Great Bear on the receiving end of prejudice and contempt from white cadets. However, he graduates as a Lieutenant and returns to his area for duty at Fort Reno.

When the admiring Chief visits his son at the Fort they are the object of ridicule by the white officers and their wives. The exception is Ethel (Ethel Grandin) daughter of the commander Colonel Garvin (Barney Sherry). Ethel’s admirer Captain Haines (William Clifford), antagonised,. insults Great Bear. In the ensuing fight Haines manages to pull out Great bear’s revolver. It is Great Bear who is accused and victimised. After a court martial he is dismissed and stripped of his epaulettes in front of the regiment. When Ethel comes to bid him farewell he sadly takes down and contemplates his officer sword.

The Sioux Chief is outraged by the treatment of his son. He threatens war and Garvin arranges for the women at the fort to be sent to safety on stagecoach. The Colonel’s letter is taken from a courier by braves and the Chief prepares a war party. Caught between his conflicting  loyalty and desire, Great Bear takes out  his uniform and army revolver from a trunk and sets off to save the white woman.

He arrives at a place overlooking the attack on the stagecoach. A trooper rides to the fort for help and to allow time for a rescue Great Bear blows the army bugle he possesses: another familiar trope. The braves withdraw as the Calvary arrive to rescue the women, but Great Bear is shot in the back and left

‘without honour, without a grave’.

 

The Struggle, Broncho 1913

This is not strictly an ‘Indian Picture’. Scott Simmon notes in the Festival Catalogue that the film

“moves closer to “classic” revenge plotting … The price paid for Ince’s move from tales of conflicts within tribes or against the Calvary is that the Indian “hostiles” now lack the slightest motivation or individuality'”

So Simmon points out to the developments in the genre that brings us to the Indian or Native American as ‘the other’. The plot of the film has Bob Worth (Elmer L. Morrow) vowing revenge when his father is shot and his mother dies of grief. Five years on Bob is an army scout. In a saloon he recognises his father’s murder by a scar. But the man flees, shooting a card player with Bob accused of the murder.

He flees. now we see his ‘gal’, daughter of an officer at the Fort. And the Indians, Apaches, appear on the scene. The Calvary ride up, but with the Sherriff who arrests Bob. The two are soon sieged in a cabin by the Indians, but also with the now-wounded murderer. He offers a death bed confession. The Calvary re-appear and drive off the Indians. bob is re-united with his love.

Not a lot for an Indian-friendly audience. In other ways the film is effective with some good staging and editing. It was directed by Thomas H. Ince. However, mis-staging or mising title cards do create a little confusion. Simmon notes

“The happy opening household appears to be a miner and his wife and their teenaged son, but the studio synopsis states that the woman is the miner’s “daughter, a girl of twenty.” The woman is never seen again so that the impression that she must be the hero’s mother in  reinforced by his later identification of the murderer:”

“he killed my father and my mother died of a broken heart.” “

Still, this would not be the first time that a studio synopsis was in error.

‘The Flaming Arrow’

The Flaming Arrow, 101 Bison Film/Universal

Happily for Native-Americans the final film was more positive. Scott Simmon writes,

The Flaming Arrow must be unique among surviving early Westerns for both beginning and ending with happy interracial love.”

The opening presents a prospector with an Indian wife and child. The prospector is killed aiding Black Eagle and his tribe against an attack by Apaches. His wife, Flying Bird, expires after chanting a death song at his grave. This leaves White Eagle as an orphan.

He is sent away to a school in the West and returns ten years later. He develops a friendship with the daughter of the commanding officer at the fort. However, a rival officer with a Mexican accomplice plot to steal a gold shipment. They sell firewater to the Indians resulting in a war party. During an attack on the fort White Eagle rescues the daughter. The y then are laid siege in a cabin [again] whilst the braves shout ‘burn the white girl.!

The Calvary arrive in ‘a nick of time’, the villainous Mexican is killed, leaving White Eagle with the girl he preferred over his own people.

Simmon comments on the overall film and generic examples,

“Moving Picture World couldn’t help but notice the racial revisionism with “the old perplexed question of blood not being raised” between the lovers. By early 1913 Indian subjects remained popular, but story innovations were evidently needed. The usual plot conventions were on display for instance, two months earlier in Ince’s The Burning Brand, a Calvary lieutenant, learning his mother was an Indian, must abandon the colonel’s daughter and die in an attempt to win her back through a tribal attack.”

Whereas in The Flaming Arrow

“In the film’s surprising closing shot, the now-heroic White Eagle and the daughter of the Calvary colonel walk arm in arm towards a tight close-up. It is implied that their marriage will follow.”

Closer to the previous film in other ways, the opening needs help to from the synopsis to be clear about relationships. But the film has definite pace and the editing between scenes as the drama increases is effective. This was another 35mm print, this time from the BFI.

And Gabriel Thibaudeau provided lyrical accompaniment on the piano.

 

 

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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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