Sunday, October 05, 2008

Max toréador

Max wird Torero / Max als Stierkämpfer. FR 1913. PC: Pathé. D+SC: Max Linder; cast: Max Linder, Stacia Napierkowska; orig. l: 580 m.; print: Österreichisches Filmmuseum, 509 m /16 fps/ 28 min, (Desmet colour, duplicating original tinting); deutsche Zwischentitel, with e-subtitles in English and Italian, grand piano: [Gabriel Thibaudeau?], viewed at Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone, Cinema Verdi, 5 October 2008.

David Robinson: "Linder’s punishing production schedule for Pathé seems never to have permitted any pause in his work. If he took a holiday or a trip, he regarded it primarily as an advantageous change of location for the current film. In the summer of 1913 he found himself in Barcelona, where the spectacle of bullfighting was irresistible. He filmed the parades and the crowds and the fights extravagantly (at least in terms of his usual economy with film), and, donning a beautifully fitting torero uniform, intrepidly entered the ring himself to perform adeptly with the bulls, and make a tour of honour around the ring. Some extra scenes to fill in the background story of Max’s dream of becoming a great torero appear to have been filmed on his return to Paris.

Previously the film has been known only in surviving copies of the French version, running a little over 12 minutes and giving the impression of being complete and integral. This restoration, done from an original tinted German nitrate print, however, even allowing for the many German intertitles, is at least twice that length, running a total of 28 minutes. Overall the editing is often different and much more expansive, making maximum use of the bullring footage: thus the opening sequence, with Max an excessively excited spectator at a fight, runs 3 minutes in the German version as against 95 seconds in the French. The scenes of parades before the arrival in the ring run 2 minutes 40 seconds in the German version, and 1 minute 50 seconds in the French. Most striking, however, is the climactic scene in the bullring. In the French version it runs a mere 1 minute 50 seconds, while in the German version the sequence lasts 7 minutes 50 seconds, with extensive coverage of engagements with the bulls, and evident delight in a pole-vaulting picador.

More significant however, are two scenes in the German version which totally change the narrative, and of which there is no trace in the French version. Following his adventures with the milk-cow which he has taken home for practice, Max, in pyjamas, gets into bed and (as a title explains) dreams the whole of the focal bullfighting sequence (introduced, on the contrary, in the French version by an unequivocal title, “At last the great day arrives”). At the end of the bullring sequence, at the point where the French version neatly concludes with the end-title, the German version has an extra scene of Max falling out of his bed. Getting to his feet, rubbing his head, he says (in an intertitle), “That is the best dream of my life …. And a great idea for a film.” He then retires again and pulls the sheets over his head as the film comes to its end.

One further sequence entirely absent from the French version may have been removed on account of censorship or more delicate Gallic sensibilities. Practising with the cow in his apartment, Max triumphantly aims the banderillas into its back. The startled animal wheels around, so that Max abruptly finds himself facing its rear end. There follows a scene of zooscatology which is even more insistently indecent than the earlier gag of the urinating cow whom Max is endeavouring to manoeuvre, along with her calf, into his apartment house.

This was the last of 13 films made between late 1910 and 1913 in which Linder’s leading lady was Stacia Napierkowska (1886-1945). Her later roles notably included a femme fatale in Les Vampires (1917); but already in Max toréador there are signs of the weight problem and ample appetite that so troubled Feyder when he cast her as Antinea in L’Atlantide (1921): “The dresser complained for having to enlarge the costumes almost every day.” Her career (and probably her figure) did not survive the coming of sound films." David Robinson.

AA: I agree with DR: this is a fascinating Max Linder discovery with Rabelaisian dimensions and Buñuelian currents. His impeccable elegance and the naturalistic realities of having a cow and a calf in a city apartment are in a strong comic contrast. - I also find the ample charms of Stacia Napierkowska easy on the eye.

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