Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Corrick Collection 3: Programme 2

E-subtitles in Italian, grand piano: Gabriel Thibaudeau. Viewed at Teatro Verdi, Pordenone, 10 Oct 2009.

Niagara in Winter 1909
(Charles Urban Trading Co., GB 1909) D: ?; 329 ft, 5'29" (16 fps), (printed on colour stock, reproducing original tinting); from: National Film and Sound Archive, Australia (Corrick Collection #120). No intertitles.
From the GCM Catalogue: "From the earliest days of cinema, the spectacle of Niagara Falls has attracted filmmakers from around the world. Taken during the winter of 1909, this film is different from many others, notably because it captures the rare sight of the usually rushing waterfalls completely frozen over – an event that has occurred only 6 times since record-keeping began in the mid-19th century. The resulting images are surprising and breathtaking, recording views few had the opportunity to see in person. Urban’s film also includes images of the falls taken from the ice bridge, an icy formation that builds up each year as falling water and mist create a frozen sheet of varying depths that extends across the river. The opportunity to film the falls from this perspective was destined to be short-lived. Just 3 years later, officials banned walking and playing on the ice bridge after 3 tourists died when the ice shifted and stranded them on an ice floe, carrying them into the great whirlpool at the falls’ base. – Leslie Anne Lewis". - Non-fiction. In Bologna's Cento anni fa programme earlier this year Vitagraph's film of Niagara in Winter (1909) was screened. This is also excellent, with impressive compositions.

Les Débuts d'un chauffeur
(Pathé, FR 1906) D: Georges Hatot; SC: André Heuzé; DP: Segundo de Chomón, cast: André Deed; 138 ft, 2'18" (16 fps); from: National Film and Sound Archive, Australia (Corrick Collection #98) No intertitles.
An inexperienced – or as a Corrick reviewer in Madras put it, “grotesquely destructive” – driver prematurely decides to go for a drive on his own. Unsurprisingly this proves to be a poor decision, threatening not only his own well-being but also that of a worker on a ladder, a mother with a baby carriage, a fruit seller, a bicyclist, and so forth – in short, anyone unfortunate enough to find themselves in the reckless automobilist’s path. After years of use by the Corrick family this print is incomplete,and begins as the driver takes off in the car. This is one of 4 titles in the collection featuring actor André Deed: he also appears in Cretinetti lottatore (1909), Come Cretinetti paga i debiti (1909), and La Course à la perruque (1906). Les Débuts d’un chauffeur is one of Deed’s earliest films for Pathé, and also one of his first collaborations with director Georges Hatot and special-effects pioneer Segundo de Chomón. – Leslie Anne Lewis. - Comedy. - One of the most charming prints in this year's Corrick shows. - A simple story of a reckless driver. I would not have recognized André Deed.

A Baby's Shoe
(Edison, US 1912) D: Charles J. Brabin; SC: Robert E. Coffey; cast: Walter Edwin (Forest, a Coachman), Gertrude McCoy (His Wife), Helen Coughlin (Little Girl), Robert Brower (Dr. Wilson); 989 ft, 16'29" (16 fps); from: National Film and Sound Archive, Australia (Corrick Collection #5). English intertitles.
While the majority of films in the Corrick Collection date from 1905-1909, *A Baby’s Shoe is one of the few later films, acquired not long before family patriarch Albert Corrick’s death brought an end to the Corrick Family Entertainers’ touring career. Not to be confused with the 1909 Griffith film of the same title, Edison’s film depicts the unfortunate victims of technological progress. A coachman finds himself suddenly without a job when his employer, a successful doctor, replaces his cart and horse with a new automobile. Unable to secure another position in a world dominated by this new technology, the coachman and his family fall into debt. In desperation he hatches a plan which will not only solve his monetary problems, but also gain revenge on the doctor for dismissing him. Luckily, finding his little child’s shoe in his pocket prevents him from following through with his plans, and sets the stage for a happy ending. – Leslie Anne Lewis. - Drama. From a source with some scratches and low contrast. There is an affinity with Biograph not only in the name but also in the storyline and in the composition.

The Short Sighted Cyclist
(Eclipse, FR 1907) D: Marcel Fabre?; cast: Marcel Fabre; 334 ft, 5'34" (16 fps), (printed on colour stock, reproducing original tinting); from: National Film and Sound Archive, Australia (Corrick Collection #124). English intertitles.
Not surprisingly, Charles Urban’s own advertisements describe this film (produced by his French company Eclipse) in glowing terms: “For novelty of treatment, verisimilitude, and freedom from anything to offend the most fastidious, no subject hitherto published can approach ‘The Short-Sighted Cyclist.’ Misadventure after misadventure with great frequency and admirable realism. Fun, spontaneous and irresistible.” The Kinematograph and Lantern Weekly (May 1907) also noted the realism, but demonstrated a bit more concern for the safety of those involved: “‘Short Sighted Cyclist’ is presumably one of the ‘martyrs to kinematograph realism’ on whose behalf the Daily Chronicle was recently expending a great deal of tears and printer’s ink. The young gentleman taking the leading part was apparently imbued with an intense desire to make the subject realistic, and, at considerable personal inconvenience, he succeeds. … We are left wondering what premium an insurance company would require against the injury of an employee of this description.” As pondering such real-life consequences might put a damper on the entertainment value of the film – and potentially “offend the most fastidious” – perhaps it’s best to just sit back and appreciate the actor’s willingness to risk both life and limb in the service of comedy. As pondering such real-life consequences might put a damper on the entertainment value of the film – and potentially “offend the most fastidious” – perhaps it’s best to just sit back and appreciate Spanish actor Marcel Fabre’s willingness to risk both life and limb in the service of comedy. Thanks to Steve Massa for his timely identification of Fabre (well-known for his “Robinet” character in films produced by the Ambrosio company) as the heroic cyclist.– Leslie Anne Lewis. - Another simple comedy about a reckless driver, this time the short-sighted cyclist. A farce of mayhem. Print ok with a somewhat duped look.

Her First Cake
(Williamson Kinematograph Co., GB 1906) D: James Williamson; 309 ft, 5'09" (16 fps); from: National Film and Sound Archive, Australia (Corrick Collection #58). English intertitles.
Her First Cake is the last of the Corricks’ Williamson Kinematograph Co. films to be screened at the Giornate, following Fire! (1901), When the Wife’s Away (1906), and The Miner’s Daughter (1907). While When the Wife’s Away took its humor from the domestic ineptitude of the man of the house, Her First Cake shifts the focus to the wife – “Mrs. Newlywed” – whose first attempt at cooking is not an unqualified (or even a qualified) success. The inedible result of her day’s labors proves difficult to dispose of – a passerby objects to it being dropped on his head, and a tramp decides he’s not that hungry – but the cake finally finds a home at a building site when it is used in the construction of a new brick wall. – Leslie Anne Lewis. - Comedy: the cake is so hard that it can only be used in the construction of the stone wall. Ok, duped look.

Les petits Pifferari
(The Little Street Singers) (Pathé, FR 1909) D: ?; 405 ft, 6'45" (16 fps), (printed on colour stock, reproducing original stencil-colour); from: National Film and Sound Archive, Australia (Corrick Collection #71). English intertitles.
A charming story, precisely stenciled in full, detailed color, this film blends a variety of striking rural locations with obvious studio settings. Too poor to care for her children, a woman sends her son and daughter out into the world to make a living as musicians. They soon meet up with a travelling violin player, and with the blessing of a priest they begin their journey. The trio have great success performing in fashionable cafés along the Côte d’Azur, and the children are able to return home to their mother with enough money to take care of them all. – Leslie Anne Lewis. - A drama in which the colour is so impressive that it may be the film's main attraction. A fine quality of the image in the print.

Reception on, and Inspection of, H.M.S. "Dreadnought"
(Charles Urban Trading Co., GB 1907) D: Charles Urban; 275 ft, 4'35" (16 fps); from: National Film and Sound Archive, Australia (Corrick Collection #27). No intertitles.
First in the series of 3 films produced by Urban documenting the visit of the colonial premiers to Portsmouth in May 1907, Reception on, and Inspection of, H.M.S. “Dreadnought” offers views of the various invited dignitaries, including renowned British Navy Admiral Sir John Fisher. In both the Urban and Corrick advertisements much was made of the fact that the filmmaker secured the exclusive right to film the events from the ship, right alongside the guests of honor. The film begins with the arrival of a special train commissioned to transport the premiers and members of both Houses of Parliament to Portsmouth, then documents their inspection of “the redoubtable Dreadnought”. The Corricks received this set of films shortly before leaving on their international tour. Together with The Day-Postle Match (also being screened at this year’s festival), this was one of the most heavily promoted films in their program, mentioned by name in the majority of the 1907 and 1908 advertisements and advance articles. – Leslie Anne Lewis. - Non-fiction. Ok quality of the image.

Down on the Farm
(Edison, US 1905) D: ?, DP: Edwin S. Porter; 389 ft, 6'29" (16 fps); from: National Film and Sound Archive, Australia (Corrick Collection #33) No intertitles.
As in other chase films, such as Biograph’s Personal (1904) and Edison’s own How a French Nobleman Got a Wife through the New York Herald “Personal” Column (1904), much of Down on the Farm’s humor is derived from shots showing a group of women racing gleefully, if not gracefully, across the landscape. Here they run through the woods, down the road, over a fence, and slide effortlessly up the side of a haystack (thanks to a bit of camera trickery). But unlike those hapless suitor films where women are the pursuers, here they are the pursued, running from the farmers whose orchard they’ve raided. In this example of the classic chase narrative, progress is marked when at each obstacle another farmer falls by the wayside. In the end one unlucky man is left all alone to face the women, who pelt the farmer with his own apples and drive him into a lake. – Leslie Anne Lewis. - Comedy with running women. A fair pictorial quality in the image.

Le Tour du monde d'un policier
(A Detective’s Tour of the World) (Pathé, FR 1906) D: Charles Lucien Lépine; DP: Segundo de Chomón; cast: Georges Vinter; 35mm, 1029 ft, 17'09" (16 fps), col. (printed on colour stock, reproducing original stencil-colour and tinting); from: National Film and Sound Archive, Australia (Corrick Collection #38). English intertitles.
Beautifully shot and richly stencil-colored, Le Tour du monde d’un policier is a film packed with adventure, intrigue, and humor, punctuated by scenes of far-off lands and featuring a number of exotic characters. This early detective story creatively combines the “cinema of attractions” style of film-making with the full-blown narrative format that would soon come to dominate the screen. A round-the-world manhunt begins when a crooked banker flees after embezzling from his employer, only to find a decidedly single-minded detective close on his heels. But as one Corrick reviewer described it, “Not being of the Sherlock Holmes type, the Detective always contrived to be just too late to arrest the absconding Accountant, which gave the latter further opportunities in picturesque Eastern lands.” Actor Georges Vinter stars as the detective, 4 years before taking on the role of Nick Winter, hero of Pathé’s long-running, tongue-in-cheek detective series. After missing the thief at the train station by mere seconds, the dogged detective catches up to his prey on a ship passing through the Suez Canal, only to lose him once again. This pattern repeats itself over and over as the duo make their way through Asia and across the Pacific, until an unexpected turn of events prompts a surprising twist. After the narrative is resolved the film culminates in a brilliantly colored tableau, bringing together all of the exotic characters from throughout the film – the Indian dancers, Native Americans, etc., etc. – and parading them around a massive globe.
As it’s constructed, the 10 segments of the narrative – each given only a simple title: “Festival in Calcutta”, “Yokohama”, “Fraudulent Bankruptcy”, etc. – can be broken down into 2 categories: sections primarily driven by the detective story and episodes that focus chiefly on highlighting some sort of attraction – exotic dances, camera magic, famous monuments – which are tied to the larger narrative by occasional incursions of the detective story. These sights range from colorful stage-like performances and the characters’ opium-induced hallucinations created through double-exposure, to actuality footage of exotic locations cut into the scenes and nail-biting attempts to ride an elephant. The detective story, on the other hand, provides the major narrative framework of the film and supplies the drive that moves the plot forward. In the chase films made popular in the years prior to this film (one example of which, the 1905 Edison film Down on the Farm, is also part of this program), the beginning of a shot or scene is marked by the entrance of the pursued and the end is signaled by the exit of the last pursuer. In between, the focus is kept on the progress of the chase as the characters navigate some sort of obstacle – a high fence, a steep hill, a rushing stream. Le Tour du monde d’un policier uses a similar strategy to bookend each “attraction” segment, beginning each with the entrance of the crook and concluding with the exit of the detective in hot pursuit. However, in between the flurry of entrances and exits the “attractions” interrupt the flow of the chase and take center stage, the narrative action missing or shifted to the edges of the frame.
The construction of Le Tour du monde d’un policier allowed for a good deal of freedom on the part of exhibitors, providing the opportunity to re-order scenes or shorten the story to fit the needs of a program without significant disruption of the narrative. The discrete nature of several of the “attraction” scenes also allowed exhibitors to use these elements individually or in other programs; there is evidence that the Corricks took advantage of this, pulling individual scenes out of the film to feature in their constantly changing “Trip Round the World” program. Director Charles Lucien Lépine could have limited the film’s detective story to the bare bones, a mere sketch used as an excuse to showcase the flashy performances, camera tricks, and other onscreen sights. Likewise, the “attraction” sections could have been pared down considerably or left out altogether, and the detective story would be perfectly adequate. Instead, the film proves to be far more ambitious, balancing a fleshed-out narrative and detailed sights over which the camera is permitted to linger. As each type works to appeal to different cinematic sensibilities in the viewer, together they are woven into what becomes a rather sophisticated film for this relatively early date. – Leslie Anne Lewis. - Comedy, incomplete, but this is the kind of film that does not need to be complete. In many scenes the pictorial quality is fine.

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