Monday, October 08, 2012

"Oh! Mother-in-Law!"

Teatro Verdi, Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone (Charles Dickens), with e-subtitles in English and Italian, grand piano: Mauro Colombis, 8 Oct 2012.

Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi: "Mothers-in-law are the world’s oldest joke – albeit a wry one. “The awe and dread with which the untutored savage contemplates his mother-in-law,” wrote the great anthropologist Sir James Frazer, “are amongst the most familiar facts of anthropology.” A fellow anthropologist, Margaret Mead, concurred, ironically: “Of all the people I have studied, from city dwellers to cliff dwellers, I always find that at least 50 per cent would prefer to have at least one jungle between themselves and their mothers-in-law.” More tersely, two millennia ago Juvenal warned his readers to “give up all hope of peace as long as your mother-in-law is still alive”."

"The audiences of the Victorian music halls, coming from cramped urban housing where families often lived in uncomfortably close proximity, relished songs and jokes about overbearing, mean, bullying, possessive, ugly women who disapproved of their devoted daughters’ choice of mates and punished the unfortunate man accordingly. The joke was universal and translated into every language – not least the universal language of silent cinema. But if the joke and the theme were constant – the aggression of the mother-in-law driving the frustrated husband to extreme measures of resistance and revenge – early filmmakers discovered a range of variations on the theme. The dénouement may see the mother-in-law punished, reformed into docility, imprisoned, expelled, or sent sailing into the beyond in a hot-air balloon. And there are noteworthy exceptions to the rule: films with mothers-in-law who are amiable and good-looking, others with despotic fathers-in- law, and of course the ones where the mothers-in-law succeed in teaching a lesson to the less-than-well-behaved younger generation." ELIF RONGEN-KAYNAKÇI

LA COURSE DES BELLES-MÈRES (Pathé Frères, FR 1907). D: Louis Feuillade; orig. l: 95 m; 35 mm, 78 m, 4' (16 fps); print source: EYE Film Institute Netherlands, Amsterdam. Main title missing; German intertitles.

"Feuillade gives us mothers-in-law en masse. The Municipality of Fouilly-les-Oies decides to organize a sensational race as the highlight of the local festivities: a race of would-be mothers-in-law – as the prize, an admirable son in-law. The would-be mothers-in-law prepare to compete and turn up looking their best. At the Mayor’s signal the race is away; they trample, jump hurdles, take a train by storm, roll down the slopes... Finally, the lucky winner falls into the arms of the Mayor and claims her grand prize."

"The print at EYE seems to lack the first metres of the film announcing the race: the only two titles announce “the start” and “the finish” of the race: between is the absurd chase featuring ladies (and undoubtedly some men in drag) dressed up as if for a high tea, but ending up in athletic chaos. It is tempting to speculate that the 12-year-old Buster Keaton might have seen the film, and remembered it when he came to make Seven Chances, 18 years later." – ELIF RONGEN-KAYNAKÇI

AA: The movie also resembles Edison's The Personal Column and other similar primitive comedies where dozens of women chase a man. The mothers-in-law fall from tops of hills, run through a train, and finish the race by a target line. The definition of light is fine in this print.

LA GARÇONNIÈRE DE RIGADIN (De Jonggezellenwoning van Rigadin) (Pathé Frères, FR 1912). D: Georges Monca; SC: Chaptal; C: Charles Prince (Rigadin), Gabrielle Lange; orig. l: 170 m; 35 mm, 162 m, 8' (18 fps), col. (tinted, Desmet method); print source: EYE Film Institute Netherlands, Amsterdam (printed 2010). Dutch intertitles.

"Monca makes this mother-in-law the nemesis in a precociously sophisticated erotic intrigue revolving around Rigadin (Charles Prince, 1862-1933). About to get married, Rigadin hands the keys of his bachelor flat to his future father-in-law Joseph Durand. Monsieur Durand’s motives are not as disinterested as he asserts: his main interest is to receive his pretty petite-amie Anaïs in the flat. Rigadin, having a spare set of keys, goes back to the apartment, and on her arrival Anaïs mistakes him for the servant. Meanwhile Madame Durand finds the keys labelled “Garçonnière de Rigadin” in her husband’s papers, and along with her daughter goes to the apartment to investigate. Rigadin is discovered tête-à-tête with Anaïs – but then Monsieur Durand arrives…" – ELIF RONGEN KAYNAKÇI

AA: A funny sophisticated comedy, an early entry in the development of a theme most memorably expressed in The Apartment. The most funny element in this for me is the fact that everybody gets to realize what is going on except the bride. The visual quality is fair.

JOBARD A TUÉ SA BELLE-MÈRE (Jobard et sa belle-mère / Jobard en zijn schoonmama) (Pathé Frères, FR 1911). D: Émile Cohl; C: Lucien Cazalis; 35 mm, 116 m, 5'40" (18 fps); print source: EYE Film Institute Netherlands, Amsterdam. Dutch intertitles.

"Charles Pierre Lucien Cazalis (1878-1945) is seen in this programme in two of his different screen characters, “Jobard” and “Caza” – in both cases confronted with virago mothers-in-law. Both films adopt a similar plot-structure – the son-in-law believes that he has killed his wife’s mother, and experiences distinctly mixed emotions at the catastrophe, until the anticlimactic discovery that the old monster has survived."

"The “Jobard” series, numbering at least 10 films, were directed by Émile Cohl (1857-1938) in 1911, during his year at Pathé, between contracts with Gaumont and Eclipse. Here the hero suffers an unbearable mother-in-law who complains about everything, including his hard wooden chairs. He dresses up as a ghost to scare her – so successfully that she faints. Supposing he has killed her, grief rapidly gives way to relief, and he gaily goes off to buy a wreath for her grave. Encounters with a driver and the police result in his arriving home with a chair cushion instead of the wreath – which provokes uncharacteristic approval in the now recovered mother-in-law." ELIF RONGEN KAYNAKÇI

AA: A primitive farce: Jobard haunts his mother-in-law dressed as a ghost and believes she dies of fear. The wreath is switched with a car tire and a chair cushion.

LE CRIME DE CAZA (De Misdaad van Caza) (Pathé Frères, FR 1915). D: ?; SC: Louis Z. Rollini; C: Lucien Cazalis (Caza); orig. l: 225 m; 35 mm, 200m., 10' (18 fps), col. (tinted, Desmet method); print source: EYE Film Institute Netherlands, Amsterdam (printed 2003). Dutch intertitles.

"Caza is invited to a party by his friends. His mother-in-law makes it clear that he should not stay out late. When he finally arrives home in the small hours, she is waiting for him. In the fight that ensues, Caza believes he has murdered her. He goes to the police to turn himself in, and is asked to reconstruct the crime, aggravating his trauma even further."

"After appearing in Émile Cohl’s films as Jobard, Cazalis took on another character called Caza, and made about 25 films between 1913-1915 for Pathé, sporting intriguing titles like Caza, Love and Potatoes and Caza’s Steak (the latter also present in the EYE film collection). Apparently the Caza character had at least one more confrontation with his mother-in-law, in the film Caza dresse sa belle-mère, but sadly no print is known to survive." – ELIF RONGEN KAYNAKÇI

AA: The drunken Caza believes he has killed his mother-in-law, and he becomes the butt of a practical joke. A heavily tinted print.

FINALMENTE SOLI (Eindelijk alleen) (Itala Film, IT 1912). D?, SC.?: Ernesto Vaser; C: Ernesto Vaser; 35 mm, 158 m, 8'30" (18 fps); print source: EYE Film Institute Netherlands, Amsterdam. No intertitles.

"Finalmente soli (Alone at Last) is the extreme portrait of the possessive mother-in-law. Getting her way either by tears or foot-stamping, she even joins the newly-weds in the bridal bed."

"The bridegroom and presumed writer-director, Ernesto Vaser (1876-1934), came from a well-known Piedmontese acting family, but achieved fame as a singer in caffé-concerti. The short comedies he made for Ambrosio from 1905 make him, in the opinion of Riccardo Redi, the earliest Italian film comedian. At Ambrosio, both he and his brother Ercole were later to embody the character “Fricot”, in a comedy series generally directed by Marcel Fabre. Between 1912 and 1914, however, Vaser made a series of a dozen or so films for Itala, in the character of Fringuelli – the unfortunate son-in-law of this film. At Itala, Vaser seems generally to have directed his own films, and in terms of design, mise-en-shot, and mime (it dispenses entirely with intertitles), Finalmente soli is exceptional among comedies of this period. In the opening scene of the wedding, we are aware only of the mother-in-law from her rear view, lean but curvaceously corseted and standing a head higher than the bride and groom. The final scene – celebrating the ultimate solution for the intrusive mother-in-law – combines elegant symmetrical composition with faultless trick-work." DAVID ROBINSON

AA: The mother-in-law's interference is so extreme that she insists in sleeping in the middle of the honeymooners' bed. She is disposed of via a huge helium balloon.

I SUOCERI (La trovata di Kri Kri / Julius en zijn schoonpapa) (Cines, IT 1912). D, SC., DP., ED: ?; C: Lorenzo Soderini, Giuseppe Gambardella, Lea Giunchi (?); orig. l: 295 m; 35 mm, 185.5 m, 9' (18 fps); print source: EYE Film Institute Netherlands, Amsterdam. Dutch intertitles.
    Lucien Hardy 23 March 2016: "The son-in-law in I suoceri is certainly not Lorenzo Soderini who was tall and fairly gaunt and principally a female impersonator. He often appeared as Checco's wife or as Lea's mother (the part he no doubt plays here too). The son-in-law is Kri Kri."

"Here the tables are turned: this time it is the well-intentioned parents-in-law who are cheated and mocked by the younger generation. Julius is in love with the daughter of his employer, a rich jeweler. Having tricked the father into lending him money so that he can marry his un-named fiancée “whose father opposes our marriage”, the couple elope. When the daughter asks for more money, her father refuses to help her as long as her husband is alive, whereupon she reports that he has died of sorrow at her father’s treatment and she now needs money for the funeral. Improbably, the father-in-law pays up, forgives, and it all comes right in the end."

"The jeweler is played by the portly Neapolitan-born Giuseppe Gambardella, who enjoyed success in his own “Checco” series for Cines, between 1912 and 1915. The son-in-law, a very lively and amusing performance, is credited as Lorenzo Soderini. However, an alternative title for the film is La trovata di Kri Kri (Kri Kri’s Trick). Kri Kri so far as we know was played exclusively by the French actor Raymond Frau. This actor looks younger and shorter and performs less frenetically and more subtly than we are accustomed to seeing Frau, but there remains a certain facial resemblance. So we are left to speculate if the credit is incorrect and this actually is Frau, or the Kri Kri title is opportunist (Frau and Gambardella frequently appeared as a team)." – DAVID ROBINSON

AA: The father-in-law as a funeral guest at his son-in-law's burial... but everybody tries to hold back laughter.

POLIDOR CONTRO LA SUOCERA (Polidor contra zijne schoonmoeder) (Pasquali, IT 1912). D, SC., DP: ?; C: Ferdinand Guillaume (Polidor); 35 mm, 158 m, 8'30" (18 fps); print source: EYE Film Institute Netherlands, Amsterdam. Dutch intertitles.

"As the title suggests, Polidor sees the in-law situation as an all-out state of war. This stout and ferocious virago – watching over her son-in-law in the temporary absence of his wife – is the most aggressive of the mothers-in-law on display, beating him up, throwing things, and knocking him down at any excuse. Polidor’s revenge is to report to the police that he is being harassed by an army deserter disguised as a fat old woman. She is arrested and (we are clearly made to understand) has her gender definitively established. The use of gender confusion as a plot theme is a special curiosity among the mother-in-law films, since most of these furies are clearly played by men. Remarkably, however, Polidor’s mother-in-law, the most monstrous of all, is most likely played by a woman."

"Polidor – Ferdinand Guillaume (1887-1977) – belonged to the prolific fifth generation of a dynasty of circus artists, founded by a young couple, refugees from the French Revolution, who survived by turning their riding skills to profitable use in the Italian circus ring. Ferdinand and his brother Natale abandoned the circus for the music hall, and in turn were recruited by the Cines company in late 1909. Ferdinand assumed the screen name of Tontolini, but changed it to Polidor when he joined Pasquali. He was the most prolific and arguably the most gifted of the early Italian comedians, making more than 300 films between 1910 and 1918." – DAVID ROBINSON

AA: Polidor exposes to the police that his mother-in-law is a draft dodger in drag. As soon as she is caught a wild party is launched.

JERRY’S MOTHER-IN-LAW (Hoe Jerry zijn schoonmoeder temt) (Vitagraph, US 1913). D: L. Rogers Lytton, James Young; SC: D.B. Brown, H. Liddell; C: Sidney Drew, Clara Kimball Young, Kate Price, L. Rogers Lytton, Charles Eldridge; rel: 15.11.1913; 35 mm, 307 m, 15' (18 fps); print source: EYE Film Institute Netherlands, Amsterdam. Dutch intertitles.

"Mothers-in-law are not always insuperable; even the titanic Kate Price is finally put to flight by her son-in-law’s pretence of being a powerful hypnotist – but not before he has suffered the full scourge of her disapproval. In the 1910s, the witty and sophisticated shorts of Mr. and Mrs. Sidney Drew, revolving around a simple situation or misunderstanding taken to the nth degree, provided an alternative to raucous slapstick. A stage comedian and the uncle of John, Lionel, and Ethel Barrymore, Drew joined Vitagraph in 1913 with first wife Gladys Rankin. After her death Sidney married Lucille McVey (also known as Jane Morrow), a young actress at the studio, and launched their series that chronicled the misadventures of an average married couple. Immensely popular, they moved on to make series for Metro and Paramount, but Sidney Drew’s health declined after the death of his son in World War I, and he died at the height of his fame in 1919. Jerry’s Mother-in-law predates Drew’s teaming with his second wife, so his spouse here is played by Clara Kimball Young. A former child actress on the stage, she and husband James Young joined Vitagraph in 1909. Although a talented comedienne, also working with Drew in the hilarious Goodness Gracious (1914), she later became a dramatic diva in such melodramas as Eyes of Youth (1919). Bad management led to the decline of her career in the 1920s, which left her playing bit parts until her retirement in 1941. Kate Price, a member of the Vitagraph stock company from 1911 to 1916, established herself as filmdom’s tough Irish lady. A regular player in features such as Little Lord Fauntleroy (1921) and The Cohens and the Kellys (1926), Price worked into the 1930s." – STEVE MASSA

AA: Hypnosis is the trick to manage the mother-in-law.

THE MAKING OVER OF MOTHER (Een model schoonmoeder) (Christie Film Co., US 1916). D: Horace Davey; P, SC: Al Christie; C: Neal Burns, Betty Compson, Stella Adams, Ethel Lynne, David Morris, George B. French; rel: 16.10.1916; 35 mm, 260 m, 13' (18 fps); print source: EYE Film Institute Netherlands, Amsterdam. Dutch intertitles.

"This Christie Comedy overturns all the stereotypes of the motherin- law joke. This unusual mother-in-law is still youngish and charming, though beaten into shy diffidence by the cares of widowhood. When her son-in-law, expecting the conventional worst, flees from meeting her, daughter and friend submit her to a rigorous beauty treatment – so successful that the son-in-law falls for her when they meet by chance. Producer Al Christie was one of the biggest names in silent comedy, though today he is overshadowed by the legends of Mack Sennett and Hal Roach. Christie joined David Horsley’s Nestor Films in 1909 after experience as a theatrical stage manager, and handled most of their comedy output until he set up his own company in 1916. The Making Over of Mother was his fifth independent release. His peak years were the 1920s, when his stars included Bobby Vernon, Dorothy DeVore, and Jimmie Adams, and his shorts were distributed through Educational and Paramount. Although Christie jumped right into sound production, the new medium didn’t treat him very well. Bankruptcy and supervising cheapening Educational product followed, before he retired from films in 1941."

"Neal Burns, a light comedian from the stage, was one of Christie’s most popular stars. Making his debut for Nestor in 1915, he also appeared for L-KO, Sennett, and Century, and turned out topdrawer two-reelers through 1929. Betty Compson was discovered in vaudeville by Christie, who brought her to Nestor at age 18 in 1915. Shorts were her stepping-stone to being a well-known leading lady in features such as The Miracle Man (1919), Paths to Paradise (1925), and The Docks of New York (1928), before her career waned in the early 1930s. She was seen at last year’s Giornate in The Little Minister and The White Shadow. The mother of the title is the overlooked Stella Adams, support in untold comedy shorts, who had a rare leading role in Universal’s forgotten “Keeping Up with the Joneses” series." STEVE MASSA

AA: The dreary mother-in-law goes through such a total transformation that the son-in-law does not recognize her and starts to flirt with her. He even tells her about his horrible mother-in-law. Al Christie was one of the three kings of silent comedy in America, with Sennett and Roach, and I have seen too little of his work. This is a very funny comedy of manners. The visual quality of the print is uneven, often quite good.

It is difficult to mount a good comedy programme since short comedies were meant to be seen singly. This show has been very well compiled.

1 comment:

lucien hardy said...

The son-in-law in I suoceri is certainly not Lorenzo Soderini who was tall and fairly gaunt and principally a female impersonator. He often appeared as Checco's wife or as Lea's mother (the part he no doubt plays here too). The son-in-law is Kri Kri.