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Posts Tagged ‘Le Giornate del Cinema Muto’

Suzanne Grandais with Léonce Perret

Posted by keith1942 on November 11, 2019

A typical Suzanne Grandais pose in ‘LES DEMOISELLES DES P.T.T.’

Suzanne Grandais, with Léonce Perret, featured in the ‘French Stars’ programmes at the 38th Le Giornate del Cinema Muto. I will discuss the other, Mistinguett, later.

Suzanne Grandais was born in Paris in 1893. She entered the theatre at the age of five and worked as both an actress and a dancer. She then had some small roles in short films and in 1910 signed with Gaumont, then one of the most important film studios not only in France but across the international film arena. In 1913 she moved to a German studio producing in France for a series, ‘Série artistique Suzanne Grandais’. She was an extremely popular film actress both in France and wider. She died young in a car accident in 1920. An obituary at the time described her as an

“exceptionally gifted and really beautiful young actress.” [Jay Weissberg in the Festival Catalogue].

As recently as 2009 a French novel still mourned her passing.

Léonce Perret was her frequent co-star at Gaumont and also the director of many of her films. On screen he often played a rather jovial character with a strong sense of mischief. As a director he worked on both comedies and melodramas. He was skilled with actors and was frequently innovative in his direction of cinematography and lighting.

The four films in the programme were a drama and three one reel comedies, a genre at which both Grandais and Perret were adept. They almost always played a couple, sometimes married sometimes prospective lovers. This was the time when European actors were starting to receive identified credits, leading to a star system that was also developing in the USA. Gaumont, with Grandais and Perret, was in the forefront of this development.

Le Chrysanthème rouge, 1912 with a English language title of Love’s Floral Tribute.

Suzanne plays a young woman of the same name, [common across these titles]. She has two suitors, one of whom is Léonce. To test them she gives them the task of bringing a bouquet of her favourite flowers; carefully not identifying the blossom. We see both suitors buying multiple bouquets at florist stalls; I think these were on the banks of the Seine. On their return Suzanne tells them,

“I only like Chrysanthemums.”

The two suitors rush off; return to be told,

“only red ones.”

Léonce now rushes off but this rival stays and whilst Suzanne is absent cuts his hand and stains the flower red. A shot dramatically rendered with stencil colouring. On his return Léonce find his rival with Suzanne bandaging his hand and smilingly shaking her head. The gentleman, Léonce shakes the hand of his rival and kisses the hand of Suzanne, then leaves.

The drama is shot with real economy and some interesting locations. Suzanne’s characterisation of the young woman is excellent and sympathetic. Jay Weissberg in the catalogue described her as

“simply a self-assured woman re-writing social norms on her own terms.”

The surviving 35mm print had been copied onto a DCP and including the coloured flower; it ran 13 minutes.

Le Homard / A Lucky Lobster, 1913

This title was

“the first in Beaumont new series “Léonce”, based on the director-actor’s cinema persona…” (Festival Catalogue).

The opening was a slit screen of two full-length shots of Léonce in oval frames. We then move to a seaside resort where Léonce and his wife, Suzanne, are on holiday. They visit the local quay where Suzanne sees fishermen selling lobsters. The price is eight francs which Léonce decides is too much. Suzanne is angry at this and complains bitterly when they return to their lodgings. To placate her Léonce offers to himself catch a lobster. In fact, whilst hiring the fishing utensils and waterproof clothing Léonce bribes a fisherman to let him have a lobster. In a wild night with winds and high seas Suzanne worries over her husband. He is actually at the local cinema watching a comedy.

“the latter action sees a clever triple-screen in which Suzanne, fearful for her husband’s safety, prays on the left-hand side while waves crash against rocks in the center and Léonce roars with laughter in the theatre on the right …” (Festival Catalogue).

At first Suzanne cares lovingly for her husband when he returns with the lobster. But the fishermen’s call for the gear reveals Léonce’s ruse. Interrupting Léonce as he shaves Suzanne daubs him with the shaving cream.

A triple-screen with Suzanne on the left and Léonce centre-frame on the right

The row revolves later on the beach. Suzanne is paddling and Léonce watches her  through his binoculars as she evinces distress. In a clever sequence of iris shots Léonce sees her distress, runs to assist and we see that the cause is a Lobster clinging to her backside.

Re-united, the couple enjoy the lobster in a meal at the lodgings,

“in the American way.”

This title shows off the talents of both Léonce and Suzanne. Her character

“embodying a loving but strong minded woman who won’t be made anyone’s fool, though in the end she is game for a joke even when it’s on her.” (Festival Catalogue).

On screen Léonce is typically playful and mischievous. Off-screen the story and characters are clearly presented and he uses innovatory techniques, such as the triple-screen with Suzanne, sea and rocks and Léonce and later the editing of the iris shots in the beach sequence.

We watched the longest surviving version on DCP, fourteen minutes. But then we also saw a three minutes extract on 35mm with the original stencil-colour of the beach sequence. A charming and impressive one-reel production.

Les Épingles / For Two Pins, France 1913.

This is a typical marital comedy with Perret and Grandais. Léonce has bought Suzanne a present, a shield for the hat pin she wears. However Suzanne is adamant that she will not us use it. As Suzanne prepares to go out Léonce points out to her the newspaper report of a new local ordinance requiring women to wear a shield over their hat pins. Suzanne firmly refuses, so as they bid goodbye with an embrace, Léonce pretends that the hat pin has pricked him in the eye. The servant is sent for the doctor. As he treats Léonce the latter lets him in on the trick. But Suzanne is listening at the door. So she now pretends to have fallen over and injured her ankle. The doctor, aware of both fake injuries, prescribes ‘joke’ remedies. As the injured parties lay on the bed Léonce strokes Suzanne ankle and she kisses his eye:

‘laughter,’ “The best remedy.”

The couple are reconciled as the servant returns with the bizarre remedies; her face when she sees them is a picture.. And Léonce shields the couple’s kiss from the camera: a typical trope. Screened on 35mm.

Les Nuage Passe / A Passing Cloud, France 1913.

Another marital tiff; this one over who can smoke at the breakfast table. Léonce does so but objects when Suzanne follows suit. They retire to their separate rooms. Suzanne attempts a reconciliation but the connecting room is locked; Léonce lies smoking on his bed. Then two mice invade Suzanne’s bedroom.;

“Léonce, Léonce. Help! Help!”

So the husband comes to the rescue and the couple once again lie together on the bed. In a n nice closing touch a statue of Cupid becomes animated and fires an arrow at the couple.

This used a 35mm print with tinting; and when Suzanne is threatened by the mice the tinting is green, changing to amber when we see Léonce respond. .

La demoiselle des P.T.T. / Shooing the Wooer, France 1913.

The English title refers to the plot; the original title refers to the offices of ‘Post, Telegraph and Telephones’ Here Suzanne appears without Léonce on screen , though he may have been behind the camera. Suzanne sets out to work at the P.T.T., using the tram, where an ‘old bourgeois gentleman’ is so smitten that he follows her to the office. Here he attempts to ‘woo’ Suzanne who smartly rebuffs his advances by bringing her window down on this hand. But unrepentant he then tries to chat to her by telephoning her office. Here the film uses a three-way split screen, with the gentleman, Oscar, on the left: the telegraph wires in the middle: and Suzanne on the right. His last resort is to send a letter, delivered to the office by his manservant. Suzanne sends him a tart reply.

“Although the film is missing a letter insert, ‘De Bioscop-Courant’ describes the letter as contain  the following lines from La Fontaine’s tale. “The Ass and the Lapdog!”: “We should never force the talent we receiv’d from nature, for then everything we do will be ungraceful. A lumpish creature, tho’ he take the utmost pains, will never catch a graceful air”.” (Annie Fee in the Festival Catalogue).

When Oscar calls with flowers he reads the letter, much to the amusement of Suzanne and her fellow workers.

Annie Fee points up an important contextual aspect to the film’s release in March 1913.

“Four years earlier, female telegraph and postal workers had gained the sympathy of the French public when the politician Julien Simyan called them saloperies and sales poupées (whores and filthy dolls), His sexist insults triggered the first general strike of postal and telegraph workers, ….” (Festival Catalogue).

The film was part of the “Oscar ” series which starred Leon Lorin. The director is unknown but could possibly have been Perret; the split-screen is similar to that in Le Homard. However, the film has a notable caustic toner and whilst Suzanne is, once more, a self-sufficiency young woman, here she is young working woman with a faintly anarchic touch. We also enjoyed a 35mm print for this film

This programme of five titles opened the 38th Giornate. It was a real pleasure to watch and set a delightful tone for the coming week. This was enhanced by the musical accompaniment by Gabriel Thibaudeau at the piano. This was at times chirpy, at times dramatic and at times lyrical.

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Le Giornate del Cinema Muto 2019

Posted by keith1942 on October 23, 2019

Catalogue cover – Marion Davies

Once again a international mix of committed cineastes gathered in Pordenone in north-west Italy for the 38th instance of this annual Festival. There were about a thousand here for a week of film from the first thirty five years of cinema. Within this crowd were a select group of ‘Donors’, who support the Festival by attending and contributing financially. Some have been returning year after year since its earliest days in the 1980s.

All guests receive a pass and a Catalogue; the Catalogue, with details of the titles, their provenance and some indication of the content. These came in the Festival bag graced by Marion Davies in Beverley of Graustark (1916), a Ruritanian story screened at the Festival; fans of William S. Hart were able to buy a festival T-shirt featuring this western hero. Donors also received a selection of new writings on the ‘silent era’. This year there were two books from Paulo Cherchi Usai, one of the founder of the Festival. He has also recently finished his work as Senior Curator of the Moving Image Department at the George Eastman Museum. His work and research there has fed in to the two books.

‘Silent Cinema A Guide to Study, Research and Curatorship’, BFI 2019.

This is a revised and much expanded version of his book and which has one of the most thorough accounts of the cinematic process in the founding and development of cinema and which also addresses the issues around the transition from photo-chemical film to digital.

‘The Art of Film Projection A Beginner’s Guide’. George Eastman Museum, 2019.

This promises to be a detailed study of projection of ‘reel’ film in all its aspects; a volume that should be extensively read in Britain.

‘Silver Screen to Digital A Brief History of Film Technology’ by Carlo Montanaro, Translated by Liam Mac Gabhann. John Libbey Publishing, 2019.

The book covers from the silent era up until the new computer based systems.

Paulo Cherchi Usai giving an interview

The volumes are pertinent. Peter Rist, who every year does his calculations, noted that there were 27 features on DCP at this year’s Festivals but only 17 on 35mm, i.e. titles running 50 minutes or longer. The short film programmes were better, about 50/50; 76 titles on 35mm and 78 on digital. The latter were interesting as digital versions and film versions were side by side and the characteristics of each could be both compared and contrasted. So far this has confirmed my preference for the traditional technology.

The opening and closing events of the Festival were digital projections. The opening night offered Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid with Chaplin’s own musical accompaniment performed by the Orchestra San Marco conducted by Timothy Brock; an expert in music for Chaplin’s films who arranged the score. The digital version was fine but this was the version re-edited by Chaplin and some of us would have preferred the original version from 1921.

The closing night offered Alfred Hitchcock The Lodger, A Story of London Fog (1927). On this occasion the Orchestra San Marco was conducted by Ben Palmer with a score composed for the title by Neil Brand. This was a digital rendering of a tinted copy and [as is frequently the case with the format] the tinting was over-saturated, reducing the definition within the image.

The audience included the citizens of Pordenone, who also enjoy the Festival. One of their favoured events is ‘Striking a New Note’, titles accompanied by the Orchestra dell’Instituto Comprensivo Rorai Cappuccini e della Scuola Secondaria di Primo Grado di P. P. Pasolini. [a school celebrating the great film maker; I somehow doubt we have a school in Britain cerebrating Derek Jarman]. The students play recorders with a piano alongside. This year they accompanied ‘Our Gang’ in Dogs of War (1923) and ‘Baby Peggy’ in Carmen, Jr. (1923).

There were also screenings specifically dedicated to the citizens. On the final Sunday the Verdi screened Chaplin’s The Kid this time with the orchestra under the baton of Maestro Gunter Buchwald. There was also an event for the citizens of Sacile where the Festival spent many years whilst the new Verdi was constructed. The Zancanaro Theatre hosted one of the films from the Reginald Denny programme of the Festival; What Happened to Jones (1926). This is an excellent combination of slapstick and farce and enjoyed a score written and composed by Juri Dai Dan with the Zerorchestra Partitura.

Both sets of audiences are fairly well behaved, but, even here at a specifically cinema event we have some ne’er-do-wells. The occasional mobile phone goes off: people actually text in the auditorium: actually light up tablets: and, whilst, one can understand using a phone as a torch in the darkness, some wave it about like a searchlight. The Festival would benefit from m ore frequent and more emphatic warnings; seen only occasionally before events.

A quiet moment for Reception staff

The staff and volunteers of the Festival are very good. One worker in the reception admitted to being worn out after registering all the guests and handling their queries. And, unfortunately, this year the staff at the Verdi had to assist when one unfortunate guest collapsed and had to be wheeled by out by medics: he has recovered. Most of the guests are in a good condition despite the demands of a fairly heavy programme of screenings. The staff receive a special thank you on the last night. Jay Weissberg [Festival Director] admitted it was not possible to list all the staff and volunteers who care for the festival-goers. I suggested perhaps we could have a ‘photo-montage’ of staff. There is already one for the recipients of the Jean Mitry Award, a prestigious honour given en annually. This photo-montage also means that every year we hear Aaron Copland’s beautiful ‘Fanfare for the Common Man. So perhaps readers could consider an equally appropriate piece of music for a ‘Fanfare’ for the hard-working staff.

The Jean Mitry Award is one of the special event s in the Festival. Past years have seen the honour awarded to some of the major luminaries of Silent Film study, preservation and presentation. This year the two recipients were Margaret Parsons who has for a long period organised the film programmes at the National Gallery in Washington DC; and Donald Crafton who wrote and taught key works on early animation.

Also this year one of the students from the David Selznick Film School presented the work for the Haghefilm Selznick Fellowship. This was a 1912 Russian Pathé film, the second part of 1812 (The Retreat From Moscow). This was a fine 18 minute 35mm print with excellent tinting. We watched Napoleon as he suffered the travails of the Russian winter and Russian resistance. Though the real suffering was reserved for the French soldiers, cut down by Cossacks, hacked down by serfs and savaged by wolves.

In between and alongside these events were a series of programmes which I shall return to discuss in greater detail. They included the early films of William S. Hart; the finest exponent of the western in early Hollywood. There was Hollywood star Reginald Denny, not that well-known these days but very popular in the 1920s. We had early stars of French cinema and a rang e of short films from Weimar Cinema. And we had a series of ‘flip-books’ painstakingly transferred to photographs and animated  for projections. All of these enjoyed musical accompaniments both from the orchestras and from a talented team of musicians, mainly on the piano, but supplemented by the violin, accordion, percussion and the human voice.

We also met and chatted to old friends and colleagues: wrapped up well for the start and enjoyed warmer sunshine for the end of the week; and, as space and time allowed, indulged in the excellent Italian cuisine. The whole week offered enough pleasure to return in 2020 when we are promised more Westerns.

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The Lincoln Cycle/ The Son of Democracy, USA 1918

Posted by keith1942 on September 28, 2019

This cycle of films was part of the programme at Le Giornate del Cinema Muto 2017 devoted to the silent films of John Stahl. In fact his name appeared nowhere in the credits which recorded one Benjamin Chapin as writer, director and star.

“at the time of its release it was completely identified with Benjamin Chapin, a noted theatrical impersonator of Abraham Lincoln. …” (Richard Koszarski in the Festival Catalogue).

Whilst Chapin was planning his cycle through his own Charter Features Corp. D. W. Griffin’s ‘The Birth of a Nation’ 1915 transformed the subject of the US Civil War and of Lincoln into major box office potential.

“Charter’s response was to advertise for additional technical staff, including “a Director of the most pronounced ability” to supplement Chapin’s existing unit. This seems to have been the moment Stahl came aboard, although Charter’s publicity arm, designed to focus all attention on Chapin, never admitted the fact.” (Festival Catalogue).

John Stahl, who entered the young film industry as an actor, had already directed one film, now lost, but uncredited. After this series he went on to direct nineteen features with credits as director.

Chapin had ambitious plans for the cycle.

“a sequential narrative whose structural complexity, he said, was modeled on Wagner’s ‘Ring Cycle’. The series of stand-alone subjects would not be linked chronologically like a serial, but thematically with all the episodes designed to address one central question: if Abraham Lincoln was America’s greatest president, what experiences acted to shape the development of his social, ethical, and political character.” (Festival Catalogue).

The cycle certainly did not match Wagner’s epic work. And Chapin did not emulate the long and arduous dedication to the work exhibited by Wagner, he was taken ill and died in 1918. But the cycle was already incomplete and unfinished and Chapin sold ten episodes to Paramount in 1917, who distributed them under the overall title The Son of Democracy. There was a reissue in the 1920s for the Education Market; apparently some packages had ten episodes, one eight and some titles were available individually. There are now two lost episodes with only eight surviving.

These were two reel films digitised and projected from a DCP, retaining the tinting of the originals. We watched them in the order that they had been distributed though they may have been filmed and completed in a different order in 1915 and 1916. The missing episodes were the eighth and ninth of the original ten part cycle.

We started with two episodes which are part of ‘My Boyhood’; both run running just on 25 minutes and accompanied by John Sweeney at the piano.

My Mother.

The title opens with Lincoln by a river notebook in hand.

A Flashback returns us to 1809. At this point the family, his mother Nancy, father Tom, young Abe and his sister Sarah, move from Kentucky to Indiana. In their rough cabin we see the mother reading from the New Testament in the family bible, ‘love one another’. Then a flashback within a flashback shows us the courtship of Tom and Nancy. Nancy make her husband promise to study and become literate. In the main flashback it is clear that Tom has not mastered literacy. So Nancy teaches young Abe. The family text for reading is Bunyan’s ‘Pilgrims Progress’. But Nancy is taken ill and she dies,

“Dear ones, goodbye.”

The film clearly intends to show Lincoln’s mother as the key influence on the young Abe and offers an emphasis on biblical morals. Starting with this episode sets down a particular marker for the cycle.

My Father

This title commences in 1861 with the President elect saying goodbye to ‘old friends’.

As so often he recalls a tale from his youth, ‘40 years ago’. At home Abe annoys his father with his constant reading.

Sent outside Abe becomes embroiled in a fight over a rabbit with his regular opponent, Hank Carter. In a nice background touch as Abe and Huck fight over the rabbit a young black boy makes off with the trophy. Abe receives a beating for the fight and his father takes the precious Bunyan and stashes it in a tree stump. But Abe’s literacy enable him to prevent his farther signing a fraudulent contract with Huck’s father. This and the memory of Nancy, [seen in a superimposition] makes the father relent and he fetches to book from the stump. A title informs us that Abe and his father

“reach an understanding.”

So this episode gives us the authoritarian father in contrast to the gentler and more educated mother. The Carters, junior and senior, are the regular villains of the piece. More affluent than the Lincoln’s, the son fights Abe whilst the father tries to exploit Tom and later a friend of Lincoln, Reverend Elkins.

The Call to Arms.

This episode ran 26 minutes and was accompanied at the piano by Gabriel Thibaudeau.

This episode opens in 1861 at the White House with his two sons, Willie and Ted who are scolded by their mother for being in wet clothes after bathing. Abe remarks,

“That reminds me.”

We see a brief flashback to one of Abe’s fights with another boy, Huck, He is reprimanded by his mother who raises the bible.

Lincoln now receives a delegation as the crisis with the Southern States mounts.

There is another brief flashback to Abe and his dying mother with his promise ‘never to fight’.

Back to 1861 and the South fires on fort Sumter.

“Union dissolved.” “Seven stars lost to the flag.”

A further flashback to Lincoln making an election address, holding up the Stars and Stripes and making a promise,

“Not one star shall be lost.”

Back in the present the President reads the ‘call to arms’ and cheering crowds respond.

There is now, [the only example in the whole cycle] a sequence from 1917. This is a newsreel of a ‘Wake Up America’ demonstration with Chapin dressed as Lincoln urging on the demonstrators.

This episode has more flashbacks than is the norm in the cycle, including the ones involving his now dead mother. These symbolise Lincoln’s struggle with the necessity of waging war.

The last sequence, effectively a flash-forward plays into the debate in the USA about involvement in the war taking place predominantly in Europe.

Then we had two episodes in a screening with Gunter Buchwald playing accompaniment at the piano.

My First Jury

It opens in the White House where Lincoln has to decide on an appointment in his Gentryville; the part of Illinois where the Lincoln’s lived for a time. The appointment is to the Post Office and the candidate is Billy Jinks. In Gentryville we see blacksmith Huck Carter [his childhood opponent as an adult] ‘cussing Lincoln’. Denver Hanks, who I think is from Lincoln’s mother’s family, writes to Lincoln recounting this. The letter motivates another flashback.

We now see a flashback to the young Abe. He and Huck regularly have fights.

On this occasion a young black boy, Jim, is chased accused of stealing a chicken belonging to the Carters. Abe proposes a trial; Huck is prosecutor and Abe defender. The jury consists of a cat, a donkey and a goat. Predictably Jim is found not guilty’. This provoke another fight between Abe and Huck whilst Jim escapes with the chicken, though he soon loses this.

In the present Abe writes back to Denver who reminds Huck of a piece of evidence, a sickle, still hanging in a tree from the earlier time.

Tender Memories

Running nearly 29 minutes.

The Civil War is under way and the White House is besieged with petitioners . Lincoln visits the front line. Here a skirmish occurs and two Union soldiers are shot. Lincoln comes on a soldier praying at a rough cross/grave. The scene is set at night-time and the fire and flares have red tints. Lincoln reassures a young soldier and tells him a tale.

A flashback takes us back to when Abe lost his mother. She is ‘laid to rest’ in the woods and Tom, Abe and Rash put up

“a rude cross”.

Then Abe writes to the Reverend Elkins to come and pray over his mother’s grave. This is delayed as the Reverend arrived during the fight between Abe and Huck and the minister left the scene. Later Abe is able to explain the fight and convince Elkins to pray at the grave.

At the end the soldier salutes Lincoln.

A further flashback expands on Abe’s letter. We see the family with the Reverend at the grave as all kneel and pray. Abe seems to see his mother, a superimposition..

She died in 1818 and the last shot is the grave

”grave as it is today”

with two children kneeling there.

Another double bill was accompanied at the piano by Donald Sosin.

A President’s Answer.

Running 24 minutes.

This opens with the White house which was the

‘same in Lincoln’s day” and filmed with “special permission.”

Now we encounter Huck again; now a Confederate agent recruiting for their army.

One of his targets is the son of Reverend Elkins and his wife David. Lincoln and an officer come across David, now a prisoner of the Union. In Gentryville Elkins reads of David’s capture as a ‘traitor’.

Selling his house he comes to plead his case in Washington. Edward Stanton, the secretary of war, argues against

“setting aside verdicts.”

Elkins visit his son and encounters Lincoln in the garden.

A flashback shows us Abe and ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’, a present from the Parson. And we see his prayer over the grave of Abe’s mother.

Despite the argument of Stanton Lincoln releases David into the custody of his parents.

Native State.

Running just on 30 minutes.

This title opens in 1863 and secretary Stanton has decreed the confiscation of enemy property: including the home of supporters of the Confederacy in Washington. One of these is the grandson of Daniel Boone who is to be evicted. Out in his carriage with his son Lincoln passes the house where the now blind old man is sitting as the house is emptied. Lincoln sits on the bench beside the old man who swears

“vengeance on Lincoln.”

Lincoln writes a note to Stanton and we enter a flashback.

Lincoln’s grandfather Abraham has joined Daniel Boone in Kentucky where fighting goes on with hostile Indians. His father, then a young Tom, finds his sister Dot is missing. He finds her in the woods but both are captured by an Indian, Crow Eye. At the Indian camp there is debate as to what to do with the c children. Sympathetic Indian squaw, Fawn, takes the children away. The trio are menaced by a wild cat. But Abraham, searching for the c children with Boone, shoots the animal. Fawn is allowed to leave.

When the flashback ends Lincoln orders the Officer to leave and countermands the order of eviction. Informing Boone of this they shake hands and Lincoln leaves.

So the final surviving episode of the cycle, accompanied at the piano by Daan van den Durk.

Under the Stars

Running 27 minutes.

The stars in the title refer to the flag; the issue, discussed at a White House cabinet meeting, is whether Kentucky, a slave state, will join the Confederacy. There are cuts between a series of scenes: the cabinet discussion: the meeting of the Kentucky State caucus: Lincoln playing with his son in the White House garden: and Lincoln with Colonel Homes, an emissary from Kentucky.

So that “Kentucky is saved for the flag” Lincoln sends a letter to the Kentucky leaders recounting another of his tales from the past.

In a flashback we again encounter the Lincoln family in the times of the grandfather Abraham. The family move from Virginia to Kentucky. They set up in a cabin near a fort where is seen Daniel Boone.

After a dispute over a dead deer ‘hostile ‘Indians’ attack the cabin. Then Abraham is killed by an arrow in the back. A rescue party from the fort, including Daniel Boone, find the young Tom by the body of Abraham.

In the present Lincoln concludes

“[He] gave his life to place the star of Kentucky in the flag.”

The title ends with the Kentucky State Assembly approving neutrality in the war.

Richard Koszarski, in his article in ‘The Call of the Heart – John M. Stahl and Hollywood Melodrama’ (2018) has brief plot outlines for the missing episodes.

‘Down the River’

The Mississippi in the olden days was infested by bands of slave-dealers who seized free negroes and sold them into slavery. While floating with the tide down the river on a long raft with a load of goods, young Lincoln becomes the central character in a contest of craftiness and violence with the worst of these gangs who have stolen a free negro from New Salem, a little black urchin, cause much excitement and furnish the side-splitting fun of this picturesque romance of the Mississippi.

“Ninth Chapter                                          ‘The Slave Auction’

This shows the slave center at its worst. Here young Abe is at close quarters with the band of slave-stealers. To save the free negroes, he again becomes the main figure of a drama of plot and counterplot, suspense, excitement and humor in their highest form. In the very shadow of the auction block a voodoo fortune-teller prophesies that he will become President, that he will be the leader in a great war and that through him will slaves be freed. Lincoln fails to save the free negroes and in righteous wrath he vows,

“I I ever get a chance to hit slavery, I’ll hit it hard.”

Both the voodoo woman’s vision, and young Abe’s pledge come true, for, in thirty-one years, Lincoln, as President, signs Emancipation Proclamation, abolishing slavery for ever.”

These synopsis are marketing material and do not really offer a sense of the treatment. Does either episode use flashbacks in the manner of other episodes? In fact they seem connected in a linear story that is different from the rest of the cycle. It is not clear if the mini-narrative consciously illustrates from Lincoln’s experience; is he recalling events in some situation. The resolution of ‘The Slave Auction’ does suggest the events recounted offer an explanation of a central part of Lincoln’s project. It is also intriguing; why are these two episodes missing? I have not seen any explanation of this. It seems that they were omitted in some releases of the Education version in the 1920s. If so it suggests a value-laden decision. The Hollywood studios were prone to omit material on the ‘Jim Crow’ culture of the South and its antecedents because of fears of effects on box office.

Noting that reservation the surviving overall cycle remains an impressive work. It would seem that Chapin is important in the development of the project. However, it is also clear that Chapin deny proper credits to his collaborators and critics have to surmise their input.

Richard Koszarski, in the Festival Catalogue, has provided some of the cast and craftspeople involved. Chapin played Lincoln, his father Tom and his grandfather Abraham. Lincoln as a boy – Charlie Jackson. Nancy Hanks, the mother, Madelyn Clare. Other cast members included Alice Inwood, Florence Short, Joseph Monahan and John Stafford. These names were revealed by Stahl when he publicised his own role as director.

There seem to have been a number of writers who contributed to the screenplays: Paul Bern, Monte Katterjohn, William B. Laub and Donald Buchanan. There were at least three cinematographers who worked on the cycle: J. Roy Hunt, Harry Fischbeck and Walter Blakely. The production was filmed in 19125 and 1916 on the East Coast Studio. Visually the film is conventional relying mainly on mid-shots and long shots. There are frequent use of the iris to focus on a character, prop or detail. The editing is excellent, though not credited. The entrance and exit to the flashbacks is well judged and produce a fairly complex narrative for the period.

It is difficult now to determine whose influence produced what in the cycle. Chapin clearly bought an overall vision to the series of films. Richard Koszarski makes some comments on the possible contributions of both Chapin and Stahl.

“Many events depicted do not recall any of Chapin’s theatrical productions, especially the emphasis on young Abe’s relationship with his mother in the first episode, or the continuing concern with slavery and racial injustice seen in My First Jury, Down the River and the Slave Auction … last two episodes unfortunately missing) … [it] focuses instead on his [Lincoln] sense of patriotism and justice and refers to the rebels as traitors, an unusually blunt position noted with surprise by reviewers.”

The synopses for the missing episodes suggest a different treatment in My First Jury from the two later films. And the emphasis on patriotism may well have been because of contemporary issues, including that of war, where Chapin takes a pro-entry position. And perhaps the blunt condemnation of the Confederacy, like the issue of slavery, was a factor in the missing episodes being excluded.

On the narratives Koszarski writes:

“Even more striking is the way in which the Cycle uses memory. The film incorporates flashbacks as a basic structuring device illustrating how formative experiences shape our entire character …..”

He notes how some instances, such as the fights with Huck Carter, are presented more than once and with different footage. And he also raises the way character is presented; the importance Nancy, Lincoln’s mother. He wonders regarding the issue of slavery, noting that this is an issue [like motherhood] which is not found in the theatrical productions by Chapin that proceeded the films.

One can also speculate about what was bought to the series by the team of writers used by Chapin. Paul Bern was a noted, writer, director and producer whose credit includes the memorable Grand Hotel (1932). Monte Katterjohn was an experienced film script writer hose most famous credit is the 1921 The Sheikh. William B. Laub was another writer, here at the start of his career. A number of his credit are period dramas. Donald Buchanan was similar, starting out writing stories for films and progressing to script writing.

Like the surviving reels the queries on authorship are more questions than answers. But the production teams produced a fascinating exploration of Lincoln and his position in US culture. This was the period that followed the elevation of Lincoln to his status as the greatest US President. Chapin’s career, on stage, on film and as a public figure testify to the centrality of the figure to the US history. Following the cycle through the week of Le Giornate was a rewarding experience.

Note, the version at Le Giornate was transferred from the prints held at the Packard Center of the Library of Congress. There were safety prints from the Education Version. Thank you to Zoran Sinobad for the information,.

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Fante-Anne / Gypsy Anne, Norway 1920

Posted by keith1942 on June 20, 2019

Jon with the adult Anne

This title was screened at the 2017 Giornate del Cinema Muto in the Scandinavian Cinema programme. The film stood up well in a strong collection. It was the earliest example of a feature length Norwegian production with an indigenous narrative and a strong rural focus. It was adapted from a short story by the writer Kristofer Janson. A C19th writer and minister who wrote popular rural dramas; he had worked in the USA amongst Norwegian-Americans. This added a US audience to that at home and the director, Rasmus Breistein accompanied a tour and the films with a fiddle.

Breistein was a pioneer in the Norwegian film industry which, up to this point, had not really produced films that reflected Norwegian life and culture. Breistein would go on to direct films in Norway right up until the 1950s. His more famous silent is The Bridal Party in Hardanger / Brudeferden i Hardanger (1926),

This film opens with two ‘foster siblings’; Anne who is ‘a wild one’ and Haldor who is ‘more tranquil’. We see several scenes where Anne leads Haldor into more adventurous escapades and for which he is punished. Spying on a romantic couple motivates Anne to take Haldor to a small waterfall and encourage him to act romantic with a kiss. And the final event is in the creek, off-limits to the children, and into which Haldor falls. When his mother sees his state she complains that Anne should

“’never allowed to stay here.”

The listening Anne runs to her adult friend, Jon, a labourer on the Storlien farm. He explains Anne’s history which we see in flashback. A wandering woman with child is refused help at the farm. But the next morning Jon finds the dead woman and her surviving child in the barn. Thus Anne came to stay on as an ‘adopted’ sister to Haldor. Anne cries as Jon comforts her. The sequence ends with an iris shot of Jon. A title follows with a comparison of the children to ‘the prince and Cinderella’ but notes the

‘she’ has to ‘stay in the cottage’.

An ellipsis of several years follows.

The ‘adult’ section of the film opens with an iris shot of a tolling bell and then a cut to Anne happily pulling on a bell rope. This has no plot significance but presumably establishes that Anne remains a ‘wild spirit’. There follows a long shot of two men in a field, the adult Haldor and Jon. They are identified by further shots, first of Haldor in a long shot and then of Jon. But Jon, it what is presumably a sign to the audience of later developments, is presented in the foreground with Haldor in the background. And this follows the privileging shot of Jon at the end of the childhood sequence.

A long section has sequence of Anne working up the hillside at the summer farm tending for goats and cows. Both Haldor and John visit Anne. Jon makes a rather shamefaced proposal which Anne deflects. She is really in love with Haldor which is apparent on his visits. And we also see her in the village and the couple attending an open-air dance. Here the character of the two suitors is emphasised. Haldor gets in to a fight with another young man who has the temerity to dance with Anne. This is intercut with a shot of Jon and home with his mother and reading

“his collection of sermons.”

Village gossip about the romance between Haldor and Anne comes to the ears of his mother. She retains her old disdain for Anne and questions Haldor whether he should

“marry a girl of unknown origin.”

She suggests a local girl Margit whose family is

“rich and respectable.”

In fact, Haldor has already proposed to Anne. But he backtracks and stats to woo Margit. We see her visit his mother and inspect a new house which Haldor, as the

“richest bachelor in the village”

is building for himself and now his new bride.

Matters now come to a head. Haldor and Jon drop in at the summer farm whilst on the hill gathering moss. They do not see Anne but she overhears their conversation as Jon upbraids Haldor for his cavalier treatment of Anne. This scene is cut relatively fast and combines mid-shots and iris shots of the trio, including Anne listening at a door. Later Haldor returns home whilst Jon stays on the hillside with a lame horse. Fired by what she has heard Anne slips down the hill and waits till late. Then she creeps in to Haldor’s unfinished new house and set fire to kindling. The fire of the house is hot in red tints. Then we see the fire from afar as viewed by Jon descending the hillside. He finds Anne who is creeping back to the summer arm. Panicking she tells him

”if you say a word …. in the waterfall.”

There is another ellipsis and we find ourselves outside the local Court house where the villagers gather for an investigation into the fire. After another witness Anne is questioned by the recorder [magistrate]. She is cheeky in her responses and denies nay knowledge of the fire. The Jon is called forth. Passing Anne who gives him a terrified look he stands and confesses that he started the fire, suggesting jealousy as a motive. He is bound over and sentenced to prison.

The following scene sees Jon come to say goodbye to his mother. But Anne is already at the hut, having confessed to his mother. When Jon sees Anne he tells her that he believes that he can cope with prison better then her and it would likely have an adverse effect on her. The accompanying policeman has not seen Anne and he takes Jon away to begin his prison sentence.

Anne runs across the hills and is seen standing outside the prison as Jon is led in. Anne stays in town and obtains a job as a nanny. When Jon is released he is met by Anne who take shim to his mother. He says that he will

“go to America … if you and mother join me.”

Anne;’s acceptance is signalled as she shakes Jon’s hand. We last see them in a reverse shot as they stand at the rail of the ship,

“three happy people.”

Off to the USA ..

“a place without prejudice.”

The cast of the film perform well. Anne Nielsen is convincing as the adult Anne. Eino Tveito’s Jon is a serious character and presents the restraints that follow from his working status. He does not age in the move from childhood to adult world, but in both he seems a paternal figure. It is noteworthy that at the film ‘s resolution we have a feel of comradeship between Anne and Jon with their handshake rather than a more conventional romantic tone.

It is this style of treatment that contributes to the film’s achievement of a realist feel.

“The film’s authenticity in its treatment of environment and character remains striking, as does its beautiful cinematography, and is all the more impressive considering that the vast majority of those involved in the production were making films for the first time. But the director, the cinematography, and the actors all had a solid base in Norwegian music, literature and peasant culture.” (Festival Catalogue).

Gunnar Nilsen-Vig is credited with design, cinematography and editing. So his input is an important aspect of the final film. Visually the film has an impressive look and contributes to the feel of authenticity. There is amount of iris shots, common in this period. This is particular so in the dramatic sequences. However, such shots also privilege certain characters like Anne and Jon who enjoy the majority of these.

This is an interesting and convincing drama. The catalogue notes the influence of Swedish films and I was struck by some crossovers between this film and Victor Sjöström’s Ingmarssönerna (Sons of Ingmar but Dawn of Love in Britain, 1919). However, in that film it is the women who goes to prison, making the latter a more subversive narrative. Still, Anne is a strong women who eventually finds her way in life.

Director and scriptwriter, Rasmus Breistein. Based on a short story by Kristofer Janson (1878). Cinematography, design and editing; Gunnar Nilsen-Vig.

Cast: Anne Nielsen – Anne. Einar Tveito – Jon. Lars Tvinde – Haldor. Johanne Bruhn – mother of Haldor. Henny Skjønberg – mother of Jon. Edvard Drabløs – magistrate. Dagmar Myhrvold – mother of Anne.

Kommunernes Filmscentral.

DCP from 35mm, 75 minutes transferred at 15 fps. Tinted. Titles, Norwegian, English sub-titles.

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The Parson’s Widow / Prästänkan, Sweden 1920

Posted by keith1942 on April 25, 2019

This title was part of the programme, Swedish Challenge: the quality of Scandinavian cinemas in this period meant there was never a challenge in enjoying the films. This is one of the earliest films of Carl Theodore Dreyer that I have seen. Here he is working for AB Svensk Filmindustri. Of his titles that I have seen it has the most light-hearted story. The film is set in C17th Norway and adapted by the director from a short story by Kristofer Janson. The basic plot follows the efforts of theologically trained Söfren (Einar Rød) to obtain a parish incumbency. He needs a stable income so that he can marry his sweetheart Mari (Greta Almroth). However, obtaining a benefice rendered vacant by the death of the incumbent he finds that the rules require him to marry his predecessor’s widow.

The film is divided into five acts. It opens with Söfren and Mari in a verdant setting, the young lovers. We then follow an extended sequence where Söfren must compete with two rivals for the vacancy. Söfren comes from a poor family and so the living is essential if he is to merry Mari. His rivals, Olev and Kurt, are both from more affluent families. We watch as in delightful comic modes the film shows us the travails and successes of the contest. Söfren is not above sabotaging his rivals. But they lack the dynamism that Söfren brings to the exemplar sermon which is judged by the congregation. All three have to preach to a congregation that fills the small church. In delightful scenes, that reminded me of Thomas Hardy’s ‘Life’s Little Ironies’, Olev and Kurt lull the audience to sleep. Söfren, with a brand of bravado, keeps them wide awakes. These scenes in the church are intercut with shots of Mari as she wait in trepidation for the outcome. All through the film Dreyer has nicely judged counterpoints between the dramatic and the comic. Once Söfren is successful and wins the vacancy he discovers the catch; having to marry the widow of the deceased parson. Uncertain, Söfren goes to the parsonage and succumbs to the pleasures of the food and wine that are his new lot. As Mari remarks later, he has ben ‘bewitched’ [through physical pleasures] by the widow. The rest of the film follows as Söfren adapts different stratagems to inveigle Mari into the household [as his sister] and in a more sardonic tone, to remove the widow he has married.

There are a couple of ‘accidents’ but, this being a comedy, no fatalities. And towards the end of the film we are shown a more sympathetic side of the widow. Her memories of her own romantic youth and the impediments that she encountered point the way to a solution of the predicament. This sets up a satisfying and happy resolution.

The film is beautifully handled with many of the stylistic characteristics of Dreyer on show.

Dreyer emphasises ethnographic realism throughout his film. He shot the whole film in real 17th-century houses at Maihagen, an open-air museum near Lillehammer, not just the exteriors but the interiors too, despite the considerable logistic al difficulties this entailed.” (Notes in Festival Catalogue).

Extras were played local people in the area.

Geroge Schnéevoigt

Visually the film is a real pleasure. The interiors are convincing and the exteriors have that sense of authentic nature that graced Scandinavian cinema in this period. The cinematography, by Geroge Schnéevoigt, is very fine. Dreyer himself both scripted and edited the film. The cast are equally good. Einar Rød’s Söfren offers a rather passive lover which assists in much of comic business: a man clearly out of his depth away from the pulpit. Greta Almroth is the somewhat long-suffering fiancée facing the travails with patience. I had previously seen her in Victor Sjöström’s The Girl from Marsh Cottage / Tösen frân Stormyrtorpet (1917) where, as Helga, moral issues stood between her and happiness. She has a delightful screen presence. The widow is played by Hildur Carlberg who give the change in character of the woman real conviction .

The film has been restored and transferred to a DCP with a frame rate of 18 fps. Not a fan of digital transfers this look really good, one could imagine one was watching a 35mm print, including the tin tin g and toning. The Scandinavian archive do seem to set the quality standard for working with digital. John Sweeney added to the pleasures with a fine accompaniment.

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Pordenone’ ‘Verdi’.

Posted by keith1942 on January 13, 2019

Le Giornate del Cinema Muto has offered an entrée into silent film since 1982. I was happy to go along for the first time in 1993 and[ fortunately] I have been able to attend every year since. In the early years we watched almost the entire programme in the old Cinema Verdi.

“From 1985 to 1998, the festival’s venue was the Cinema Verdi in Pordenone, a picture palace from the great post-war era of Italian cinema-going.”

The auditorium seated just over a 1,000 in a ground floor and a balcony. There was a proper projection booth with twin projectors and an ample and large screen. The downstairs seating was fine with good views of the screen from just about all the seats. The same was true of the balcony but the wooden seats could feel rather hard after several titles; cushions were advisable. On either side of the proscenium were two small balconies. It was from these that one of the great accompaniments was heard at the Festival. In the closing scene of Hell’s Heroes (1929) Charles Bickford staggers down the high street of a small western town. He is dying and clutching a small baby that he has saved and carried across the desert. The whole town is in the local church and as Bickford and the baby stagger through the porch, a choir, sited either side of the proscenium, burst into ‘Silent Night’ in the darkened auditorium. Was there a dry eye in the house.

“Following the local authorities’ decision to demolish the Verdi, in 1999 the Giornate moved to the Teatro Zancanaro in Sacile (15 km from Pordenone), a well-equipped modern auditorium behind the older facade of a theatre which has been presenting films since 1911.”

The Zancanaro was a fine venue but seated under 900. And in these years the Festival was expanding; as it had done continuously since its inception. There were additional screening of titles in the nearby Ridotto.; a hall rather than a cinema. The chairs were hard but the screenings were fine. It was there that I witnessed an impressive translation. We had a print on Stiller’s Gösta Berlings saga, 1924) but without English sub-titles. A member of the Festival audience [whose name alas I do not have] sat by the pianist and for over two hours translated the Swedish title cards.

“The Teatro Comunale “Giuseppe Verdi” of Pordenone rises on the ashes of the Cinema Teatro Verdi, closed on June 30, 1999 and subsequently demolished. In October 2007 the festival moved back to Pordenone and to the new Verdi theatre.”

The Festival has continued to have a screening at the Zancanaro on the Friday evening preceding the main programme. In Pordenone most of the screenings are in the new Verdi, with a few screening s[including Saturday morning when the orchestra rehearse for the final gala] in the Cinema Zero.

There were problems with the design of the new Verdi building, an opera and event venue rather than specifically for cinema. Apparently the sight lines were not good for all seats and the projection booth was inadequate. The move, planned for 2006, was delayed for a year. And the Festival has continued in this venue since 2007. The interior of the auditorium has steps by the side doors and there has been a few stumbles and an accident. So a dedicated band of ushers who assist people with torches to their seats. They are fine. Unfortunate some of the actual audience members also use their mobile phones as torches and quite a few of them do not realise that it is better to hold this at knee level rather than wave it about. There are three balconies. The first has some seats cordoned off because they are in front of the projection booth. The upper two are steep. There are quite a few seats on the ground floor and in the upper balconies where the sight lines are not good. I really did prefer the old Cinema Verdi.

ground floor and screen from balcony

The new Verdi seats just under 1,000 and that is the average number of registered guests in the last three years. And there are the local citizens who attend many of the screenings. So the last couple of years has seen queues forming, often 30 minutes or more before the next session stars. Fortunately rain is not frequent in Pordenone and even in October the temperature in the evening is mild. For many the queue if because they wish to sit in particular area. But for major titles it is just to ensure you can sit and watch the film.

There is a small Ridotto or rehearsal hall which is mainly used for the Master classes for aspiring silent film accompanists. But the hall was the venue for a striking commemoration. Celebrating the trail blazing FIAF event of 1981 which offered an in-depth study of early cinema. In this event we watched selection of some of the important material from that occasion, happily still on 35mm.

The Cinema Zero is fine but much smaller. It used to have a ground floor and balcony, the latter with the better sat. It was redesigned a year or so ago. And now there is one rake, with a separation aisle and standard comfortable seats throughout. However, it was just point this that the cinema went ‘all digital’. I remember passing a forlorn and abandoned 35mm projector outside the rear of the building.

Because of its design the Verdi has three floors of lobbies. One with a small coffee bar. It is here that the Festival places small exhibitions coinciding with a particular programme of films. And there are also a set of book and merchandise stalls. A good place for uncommon books and a wide variety of videos.

There is a large screen in the proscenium, 12 metres wide and 6 metres high. For screening sin the silent ratio of 1.33:1 this reduces to 8 by 5 metres. The projection booth in the Verdi is at the rear of the lower balcony and slightly off-centre. I had the chance to visit this and chat briefly to some of the projection team. The booth is fairly cramped. It should be noted that these days about half of the Festival programme is on 35mm prints, the rest on digital formats. So every day the team have a stack of 35mm reels to bring up, store, project and then move for the next batch.

There are two 35mm projectors, Cinemeccanica ZX8000H. Designed for a large screen the have a complete range of frame rates below 24 fps and the team also have a complete set of plates for the different aspect ratios. One year we had a film in academy ratio fired up in standard widescreen when the plates were confused. But this was a rare aberration. The team have a high standard of projection including getting the focal length right nearly always.

The digital projector is a 2k Christie DCP machines. These are fairly widely used projectors. However, 2K DCPs are not really equivalent to 35mm. There is a debate about just where the equivalence between digital and film falls. But all the sites I have visited reckon that 2K is not equivalent. Unfortunately despite the fact that 4K DCP is an available format; and that digital cameras are now available at 6K, most institutions including many archives still mainly use 2K. In addition the Christie only has standard frame rates, 24fps, 25fps and 48 fps. There are agreed specifications for lower frame rates but [like 4K]these have very little availability.

Fortunately the ratio of film to digital has settled over the last couple of years around 50/50, I hope this will continue, However, the omens are not propitious. At a conference in 2018 an archivist from the Austrian Film Archive explained that the master of a new restoration was on tape and the funds were not available for a film master. I wonder, just as we have lost the old Verdi, whether the current far too rapid changeover of formats may not lead to lost films. Thus repeating the sad loss when sound replaced silent.

 

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Early film screenings in 2018

Posted by keith1942 on January 3, 2019

Brüder, Deutschland 1929, Regie: Werner Hochbaum

The Sight & Sound new double issue has a lot of space devoted to the ‘top films of 2018’. Alongside this are lists of commendations of titles from particular territories or genres and one devoted to ‘five silent films to see’. This followed an article on the silent films that were accessible in 2018. There were some I saw and some I missed. But the article, like to list of titles, did not inform the reader of how and where the writer saw the titles. There were some comments on the non-silent Peter Jackson’s ‘rip-off’ from the Imperial War Museum materials. These were rather muted and those in the Silent Cinema London Blog were much more to the point.

In both cases there must be question regarding the format and the screening. In Britain most of the titles from the silent era come round on digital, and 2K DCP at that. No-one in Britain seems to have yet taken the trouble to follow the specifications for frame rates below 24 fps, most common in the silent era. So these titles must be step-printed to some degree.

And 35mm prints are not necessarily better. We had The End of St Petersburg / Konets Sankt-Peterburga (1927) in Leeds from a 35mm print and with a very good musical accompaniment. But the print was a sound version and the image was noticeably cropped because of the change in ratio. Some of the Yorkshire Silent Film Festival screenings were on 35mm but I only caught those in Leeds. Apparently part of the funding for this Festival comes for musical accompaniment. I assume this was the reason for experimentation. In this case the French film Ménilmontant 1926) on film but accompanied by Foley sound effects. This was not only bizarre but ruined the screening of the film. However, I am still able to travel and I was able to enjoy some fine quality films in good 35mm prints and screened and accompanied with due regard as the how films were presented in the earlier era.

The Berlinale had this very fine retrospective of Weimar Cinema. The whole programme was magnificent and even the digital transfers were well done. But the high point for me was:

Brüder / Brothers, Germany 1929 with a passionate accompaniment by Stephen Horne.

The Nitrate Weekend at the George Eastman Museum offered only sound features but included some pretty early prints. The Festival came to a fine climax with

Man of Aran, Britain 1934 with a well preserved print held by the Museum

Le Giornate del Cinema Muto offered what I thought was the strongest programme for several years. One of the real pleasures was series of film adaptation from the novels of Honoré de Balzac. One of the fine titles was;

Liebe, Germany, 1927. This was a well done adaptation of a fine novel with an impressive characterisation of the heroine by Elisabeth Bergner.

Le Giornate offers both 35mm and digital transfers, the latter of varying quality. But we had several of the latter that were very well done. Pride of place must go to;

Lasse Månsson fra skanne / Struggling Hearts, Denmark 1923. Set in the 17th war between Denmark and Sweden this transfer from 35mm looked excellent. The DCP was from the Danske Filminstitut. In other years there have been equivalent transfers from the Svenska Filminstitutet. The Scandinavian seem to have mastered this process.

The great beacon in Britain must be the Kennington Bioscope at the Cinema Museum. If I was richer I would move closer. Late in the year we had their fourth Silent Film Weekend. There was a rich variety of titles and music. My standout was;

Turksib, USSR 1929. The film alternates scenes of idyll with driving montage, well set up by the accompaniment by Costas Fotopoulis.

There were many other fine prints, screenings and accompaniments. So this remains a good time to enjoy early films. However, Britain is not the best place to do this.

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Honoré de Balzac’s ‘Madame de Langeais’

Posted by keith1942 on December 24, 2018

This is one of the most interesting and pleasurable of Balzac’s novels. Jay Weissberg in the Giornate Catalogue notes comments on the several film adaptations;

Antoinette, Duchesse de Langeais is one of Balzac’s most bewitching characters, the representative par excellence of a profligate nobility reasserting its power and privileges under Louis XVIII.”

Antoinette and he lover Armand are both distinctive characters and the story and its social milieu are fascinating. The novella, [it is barely a full-length novel] is part of a trilogy that the author grouped under ‘Histoire des treize’ [History of the Thirteen];

‘loosely connected by recurring characters.”

But they are also connected by the central theme of frustrated passion and by a vivid portrait of upper-class Parisian life in the 1830s. The novel has proved a popular source for film adaptations.

La Duchesse de Langeais, 1910 French film by André Calmettes: The Eternal Flame, 1922 American film by Frank Lloyd: Love (Liebe), 1927 German film by Paul Czinner: La Duchesse de Langeais, 1942 French film by Jacques de Baroncelli: Ne touchez pas la hache, 2007 French film by Jacques Rivette, [the last uses a line from the novel ‘Do not touch the axe’]. There was also a version by Rex, The Ultimate Sacrifice 1911 and a lost version by Carmine Gallone La storia dei tredici with Lyda Borelli and, noted by Jay Weissberg,

the most famous cinematic version … never got beyond the planning stage: Greta Garbo, directed by Max Ophuls.”

There are also two French television film adaptations. The roster of stars and directors speaks to the attraction of this novel. Jay also notes than several versions adhere to the tragic ending in the novel, but at least two change this for ‘happy endings’.

We were able to see two silent versions, the 1910 French version of about ten minutes and then the 1920s German version in a full-length feature.

The outline story involves the Antoinette, a Duchess through marriage, through the spouses live separately. She is a noted member of the aristocratic circle and a fashion leader. She practices coquetry but is careful not to step over the moral boundaries of married women. Armand is General in the French army. He led under Napoleon and after a period of adjournment is back in service. He is a rather taciturn character who has never had a serious romantic or sexual involvement. Antoinette practises her coquetry on Armand who succumbs. However, her refusal to consummate a relationship leads to estrangement. ‘Do not touch the axe’ is Armand’s warning to Antoinette when they meet at a ball. Soon the roles are reversed and Antoinette is the one seeking a serious relationship. When she fails she retreats to a convent. Now Armand’s passion is re-ignited and the finale occurs when he searches for his now lost love.

La Duchesse de Langeais was screened from a 35mm print. Only 171 metres survived of the original 215 metres. At 18 fps it ran eight minutes. Clearly this involved considerable compression of the source. Antoinette (Germaine Dermoz) meets the General de Meyran (The director, Andre Calmettes] at a ball where he spurns her initial advances. This leads to a breach and then her retreat to the convent. The finale, when the general breaks into the convent in an attempt to free and win Antoinette is close to the novel and the most dramatic sequence in the film. But, as with Balzac’s original, he is to late, and finds only Antoinette’s body awaiting a funeral. The leads are effective and the production is well presented; predominately in long shots with convincing sets. The final attempted rescue uses chiaroscuro and emphasises the sense of imprisonment and loss.

This early short version was followed by Liebe which Paul Czinner both scripted and directed. The plot is relatively faithful to the source novel and the changes are minor. Elizabeth Bergner plays Antoinette with, I thought, great skill and characterisation. The changes in the attitudes and behaviour of the Duchess as the story progresses are convincing psychologically and generate strong emotion late in the film. Hans Rehmann plays Armand, Marquis de Montriveau. I thought he was effective in portraying the taciturn and [to a degree] repressed character of the general. However, I did not feel that he was a successful when the character develops from a passion to genuine and powerful love.

Paul Czinner’s adaptation catches the novel with a fair degree of fidelity. It also achieves a sense of the psychology of Antoinette and Armand, which is important in the plot development convincing. The plotting has nice touches which bring out the characters. Thus on first meeting Antoinette a tile card informs us,

[she] ‘wears no gloves’. [so other women] remove theirs”.

When we watch the series of visits to Antoinette by Armand in pursuit of his initial passion there is a scene where she plays the piano. This is an important point as later in the convent it is when Armand hears an organ playing and recognises both the melody and the style that he realise he has finally stumbled on Antoinette’s hideaway.

In the later tragic sequence, when mischance leads to the lovers missing a tryst, Antoinette waits in the shadows and there is fine chiaroscuro as we watch the sad figure. This is where on of the minor changes from the novel occurs. In the source Armand fails to realise that a clock is running slow and arrives late. In the film a ‘friend’ of Armand deliberately changes the clock time when he realises Armand has an assignations. A nice touch bringing out the meanness of the social milieu. This is an aspect that is also pointed out in the balls that Antoinette and Armand attend.

The cinematography for the film by Arpad Viragh and Adolf Schlasy is excellent The interiors have atmosphere created by the lighting and the exteriors look naturalistic. The designers were Hermann Warm and Bellan with costumes by Ilse Fehling; this all appear realistic and add to the atmosphere in which the cast perform. This was a fine production to watch.

This screening was also from a 35mm print, which was about 200 metres shorter than the original. But I was not aware of gaps in the narrative. The print ran at 20fps for 106 minutes. And Günter Buchwald provided the accompaniment at the piano with an occasional flourish on the violin. There was an emotional point when Armand, punishing Antoinette’s coquetry, steps back from this for a moment. The violin points this up. And the piano was, clearly important in the moments in which Armand recognises the touch of Antoinette.
For me this was one of the high points of the Balzac programme. It was fine to watch and captured the ironic portrait from the pen of the author.

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Her Code of Honour, USA 1919

Posted by keith1942 on December 4, 2018

This was a film in the ‘John M. Stahl’ programme at the 2018 Giornate del Cinema Muto. It appears to be the earliest surviving feature directed by Stahl. It was produced by Tribune Productions, a Manhattan based studio in the late teens. The screenplay was by a woman writer Frances Irene Reels; she and Stahl were married. The Catalogue includes notes on the film by Charles Barr, partly taken from the chapter on the film in the book published to coincide with the retrospective, ‘The Call of the Heart’ (Edited by Bruce Babington and Charles Barr, John Libbey 2018). The book uses part of the opening title of this film,

“When the call of the heart is heard all else is forgotten.”

In the film that ‘call’ initially affects Helen (Florence Reed), an US art student living in Paris in 1895. The ‘call’ that affects her is her passion for Jacques (Irving Cummings). In fact she learns that Jacques is a married man with a young son. But the ‘call ‘ is felt for Helen herself by a fellow expatriate Tom (Alec B. Francis). When Helen dies in childbirth, apparently with child by Jacques, Tom takes the baby home to the USA and raises her as his daughter, Alice (also Florence Reed).

The film cuts to 1918 and the adult Alice now begins a relationship with a young man Eugene (William Desmond). A letter from a her dead mother and a pair of rings left separately to the young couple bring back 1895 and the ghosts of the fatal events that occurred then.

The film fits into conventional romantic dramas of the period and also offers relationships and occurrences that are common in Stahl’s later films. The film is plotted so that neither the characters nor the audience know all the aspects of the events in 1895. So there is a mystery whose gradual solving enables a happy ending. This includes flashback late in the film which fills out what actually occurred in 1895.

Charles Barr in his article discusses the plotting and the style of the film,. He makes much of the setting in 1895, the year of the advent of Lumière cinema. I was not completely convinced by this. But he also discusses some key scenes in the film which demonstrate both the intricacy of the scripting and the intelligent but subtle direction by Stahl.

He also notes that Florence Reed acted in three film for John Stahl. One is lost, the other was The Woman under Oath (1919), which was screened at Il Cinema Ritrovato earlier in the year. The two Festival s co-operated in this retrospective with Bologna screening sound films and Pordenone screening the silent films. What continues to puzzle me is why the silent The Woman Under Oath was only screened at Bologna and not as part of the silent film retrospective. If it had we could have compared both the films and the acting of Florence Reed.

John Stahl with Florence Reed and William Desmond on set

One character that Charles Barr does not mention is the dog, a collie cross. We meet him [male I think] early on in Tom’s household and he re-appears with Tom, Alice and with the young couple. A friend remarked that he was ‘a real family dog’. He is there at crucial moments in the plot: he is pawing at the door of Alice’s room as she opens her mother’s letter and also sees the ring. He is there barking at a wedding rehearsal and again as the couple are finally united, presumably signalling his approval.

The film is in many ways a conventional drama. Barr includes a comment by Bruce Babington, who

“refers to the elements of “coincidence, extreme narrative suppression, and revelations of buried family secrets” that are pervasive in early melodrama.”

But Barr also notes how the film fits into the film work of John Stahl. Helen meets the wife of Jacques,

“wife and mistress, their only meeting, one that is de-dramatised in content as in form: anticipating the “other woman” of later films like Back Street [1932]and Only Yesterday [1933].”

Her Code of Honour was scripted by Frances Irene Reels who was also Stahl’s partner; she died young in 1926. She is also credited as writer on four other films directed by Stahl: The Woman in His House (1920), The Song of Life (1922), The Dangerous Age (1923)and Husbands and Lovers (1924). The input by women writers is an important aspect of Stahl’s film output. Among these was Gladys Lehman who scripted Back Street and several other films: she worked in Hollywood from the late 1920s until the beginning of the 1950s. And Back Street was an adaptation of a novel by Fannie Hurst whose work was adapted for several of Stahl’s sound films. Whilst these films work within the limitations of the values of the time, Her Code of Honour being a good example, the focus on the position of women in both domestic and public life is one of the most interesting aspects of Stahl’s films.

The screening used a 35mm print from the BFI National Archive. It ran 65 minutes, apparently at 24fps. This seems rather fast for 1919 and it is a full-length print. I did not notice anything to suggest the film was running fast. The accompaniment was by Daan Van Hurk at the piano.

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Captain Salvation, USA 1927

Posted by keith1942 on November 3, 2018

This film was the opening ‘special event’ at Le Giornate del Cinema Muto this year.

The film was adapted from a novel by Frederick William Wallace. He was born in Glasgow, served in World War I and moved to Montreal in Canada. He became a published expert on the sailing ships which provide the setting for this novel published in 1925. The film was co-produced at M-G-M together with Cosmopolitan Productions, the latter was a foray into motion pictures by William Randolph Hearst.

The film opens in a small town of Maple Harbour, on the New England coastline. It is 1840 and the sailing ship ‘Lucy Foster’ returns. Practically all the inhabitants hurry to the harbour to welcome the ship and, at the tiller, Anson Campbell. Whilst Anson is clearly a skilled sailor he is actually returning from studies at a Theological College and is expected to become the pastor of the local church; a protestant or even Calvinist congregation. Among those greeting the ship are his uncle Peter Campbell, a worthy of the church, and his sweetheart, young Mary Phillips (Marceline Day).

After the reception at the harbour Anson and Mary slip away to a small wooden cabin along the seashore and under cliffs. Here they are greeted by Anson’s old friends and retired sailors led by Zeke Crosby (George Fawcett]. These opening scenes present the character of Anson, played with real charisma by Lars Hanson. There is also a sense of the demure Mary and of the religious tone of the village; exemplified by the conservative religious values of Uncle Peter.

The disruption to this almost idyllic situation comes during a great storm when a ship founders off the coast. The only survivor is Bess Morgan (Pauline Starke). She is immediately recognised as a ‘waterfront Jezebel’ by Peter. And the response of religious villagers is to shun her. Anson displays a different set of Christian values opining that

“you can’t judge this woman’.

He carries her to the cabin where he cares for her, with assistance from Zeke. Bess soon displays an attraction for Anson but their relationship is strictly platonic. However, Mary fails to recognise this and in a key scene returns her engagement ring to Anson. Anxious to avoid further complications to Anson’s life Bess decides to leave on a ship that calls in the harbour, ‘The Panther’. Anson goes on board to pay her passage and signs on as a crew member with the Captain (Ernest Torrance). Sure enough the Captain turns out to be the villain of the story. ‘The Panther’ is actually a convict ship carrying both male and female felons to salt mines on an Island in the South.

During the voyage the Captain attempts to molest Bess who makes the potent response,

“Ain’t I am right to my body.”

Anson vainly attempts to protect her and is chained below deck and brutally flogged. It also appears that the Captain intends to dump Bess and Anson on the island when the ship arrives. There is a dramatic fight between Anson and the Captain which ends up with them battling high in the rigging of the sailing ship. Anson wins but Bess dies.

The film then cuts to the return of the ship to Maple Harbour, renamed the ‘Bess Morgan’. This causes another contretemps with Peter. But Anson explains to him, Mary and the towns folk about |Bess death in a flashback. We see her ask Anson,

“ to pray for me …. [it is] brighter now you are praying.”

Standing over her body Anson prays, raising his eyes aloft,

“suffer her to come unto thee.”

and then closes her eyes. Predictably Anson and Mary are re-united and the ring is re-appears. More surprisingly Uncle Peter repents and confesses the error of his prejudices. The film ends with Anson and Mary at the tiller of the ‘Bess Morgan’ as it becomes the

‘first gospel ship’.

I have not been able to find anything on ‘gospel ships’, though there are several folk songs on this theme. I assume that they preach rather than trade. One hopes that the ‘Bess Morgan’ followed the theology of Anson rather than Uncle Peter.

This was a fine film to watch. The production is well done and the cast are fine, especially Lars Hanson and Pauline Starke. And the three ship-mates, led by Zeke, are entertaining. It was apparent from the use of the word ‘Jezebel’ that Bess would succumb at some point to moral closure. I thought this a particular shame because she was a much more interesting and vibrant character than Mary. But her death scene is especially well done.

One of the stand-out features of the film was the cinematography by William Daniels. The whole film looks good. Scenes set below deck have a a grim palette and there is excellent chiaroscuro. The final fight in the riggings between Anson and the Captain is exhilarating with splendid use of camera positions and shots. The editing by William Hamilton is also well done. The Catalogue notes that

“M-G-M clearly wanted this to be a prestige production. Assigning a crew of 75 and hiring the ‘Santa Clara’, an 1876 four-master ship, for the scenes at sea. Cedric Gibbons and Leo E. Kuter designed evocative sets for the seaside town of Maple Harbor, Massachusetts, and locations were filmed on Catalina Island.”

Jay Weisberg commented that

“[the film’s] relative obscurity [is] perplexing, especially given the praise heaped on it upon its release.”

He notes

“The Philadelphia Tribune’ was even more effusive:“one of the finest dramatic achievements of the year.””

This seems in part due to the influence of Scandinavian films and in particular one of the finest directors there:

“It was Phil Carli who first bought to my attention Stroström ‘s striking influence … Atmospheric coastal scenes boast meticulous attention to effects of light, and the sea’s presence is beautifully calibrated to elide with the emotional states of the characters.”

This may have been part of the inspiration for the fine score which Phil Carli composed to accompany the film: played under his direction by the San Marco Orchestra. It highlighted the dramatic scenes but never overpowered the film.

This was a screening worth waiting for. The film was original programmed for the 2017 Giornate but copyright issues [I think] led to the delay. The 35mm print sourced from Warner Bros. and the Packard Humanities Institute was worthy of the film and the music.

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