Friday, October 08, 2010

Those Jersey Cowpunchers

(Nestor, US 1911) D: ?; cast: Violet Mersereau, Clara [Claire] Mersereau, Milton J. Fahrney (director); fragment, 35 mm, 107 m, 5'16" (18 fps); source: EYE Film Institute Netherlands, Amsterdam (Archive Film Agency Collection). Main title missing; English intertitles. Viewed at Teatro Verdi, Pordenone (GCM) with e-subtitles in Italian and Neil Brand on the grand piano, 8 Oct 2010

DAVID ROBINSON in the GCM Catalogue: "These 5 minutes of film represent no more than a fragment of a century-old joke, yet they afford a unique and precious first-hand impression of a revolution in the history of cinema – the foundation of Hollywood. With proper serendipity, the film surfaced in the Archive Film Agency’s collection just at the moment that Hollywood is bracing itself for its centennial celebrations, and has been restored by EYE Film Institute Netherlands.
The film tells how a unit of the Billiken Moving Picture Company entrains from New York, with its English-made Moy camera, to embark on production in California. They put up at the clapboard hotel, optimistically named “Palace”, and enquire where they can find the cowboys and Indians. “It’s no use, Mister,” says the proprietor of the trackside bar, “they’ve all joined the moving pictures.” Producer U.Know wires back to the New York Studio (itself a pretty rustic place; presumably the whole film was shot in Bayonne, New Jersey): “They herd cattle out here with automobiles. Send prop cowboys quick.” The Eastern cowboys arrive; production begins; the pale-skin “savage Indians” from the East are being made up … and the fragment ends – but not too soon to let us know that Hollywood habits of make-believe were established this early.
The film remained a mystery until 5 weeks before the Giornate screening, when David Kiehn of the Niles Essanay Museum identified it, with the confirmation of the review in Moving Picture World (14 October 1911): “This is a dandy burlesque on the moving picture cowboy situation. The Nestor people went out west to take a real ‘Western,’ but the producer found no cowboys. He had to telegraph home for the ‘prop’ cow punchers. The picture shows just how the picture was taken and Miss Violet is rescued. The producer is always present in the picture and we see him scolding the Indians. One Indian got hit too hard and the scene had to be taken over. At night the party washed up and went home. This picture is likely to be a thoroughgoing success. It is worthy of it.” Even this enthusiastic reviewer might not have predicted a revival after 99 years. – DAVID ROBINSON."
Good visual quality in the print, partially soft. A priceless comedy revelation from the time of the birth of Hollywood.

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