Saturday, October 06, 2012

Selig Polyscope 1: Francis Boggs and California

Teatro Verdi, Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone, with e-subtitles in Italian, grand piano: Gabriel Thibaudeau, 6 Oct 2012.

TRACKED BY BLOODHOUNDS; OR, A LYNCHING IN CRIPPLE CREEK (Selig Polyscope Company, US 1904). D, P, SC: William N. Selig; P assoc.: Henry Hale Buckwalter; DP: Thomas Nash; C: Wash Edwards, Dick Carr; rel: 7.1904; orig. l: 450 ft.; 35 mm, 391 ft., 7' (16 fps); print source: Southern Methodist University, Central University Libraries, G. William Jones Film & Video Collection, Dallas, TX. No intertitles.

Andrew Erish: "The success of The Great Train Robbery (1903) inspired William Selig to improve on its New Jersey locations and fancifully costumed, inexperienced horsemen to craft a more realistic Western drama. The result was Tracked by Bloodhounds; or, A Lynching at Cripple Creek, the first Western narrative produced in the American West. Written and directed by Selig with assistance from Denver-based associate Henry Hale Buckwalter, and photographed by Thomas Nash, the film utilized a double title to capitalize on British filmmaker R.W. Paul’s crime drama Trailed by Bloodhounds (1903), while locating the action specifically in Colorado."

"Tracked by Bloodhounds was a contemporary Western, reflecting both current events and a form of vigilante justice that had long characterized the American frontier. It tells the story of a tramp who kills an impoverished housewife, and is chased, captured, and lynched by a posse. The tramp was played by a light-skinned African American, who was nearly lynched by other Cripple Creek blacks, fearing his participation in the film might influence similar acts of violence against their race. One shot of the posse was staged on a hilltop overlooking Cripple Creek, indicating for the first time what a real Western mining town and its inhabitants looked like in a dynamic blend of visual realism and narrative fiction."

"The popularity of Tracked by Bloodhounds inspired Selig to produce most of his subsequent Westerns amidst authentic settings. This proved so successful that a backlash developed against the “New Jersey” Westerns produced by Selig’s competitors, resulting in their eventually following him West." ANDREW ERISH

AA: This crude lynching story starts with murder and robbery and is mostly a chase story about the lynch posse tracking down the criminal. He is caught in a river and hung in a nearby tree. Primitive linear storytelling. There are company logos on the trees. The visual quality is bad.   

THE SERGEANT (Selig Polyscope Company, US 1910). D: Francis Boggs; SC: Hobart Bosworth; DP: John Dored; C: Hobart Bosworth, Iva Shepard, Tom Santschi, Frank Clark, Art Acord; rel: 22.9.1910; orig. l: 1 rl.; 35 mm, 980 ft., 16' (16 fps); print source: Academy Film Archive, Los Angeles. English intertitles.

Andrew Erish: "“No picture ever made abounds in such a gorgeous array of scenic backgrounds,” boasted a Selig advertisement for The Sergeant. For one of the few times in movie history, the hype seems justified. The Sergeant was directed by Francis Boggs in California’s Yosemite Valley in late May-early June 1910 and released that September. The script was written by Hobart Bosworth, who plays the title character. A former Broadway matinee idol, Bosworth became one of the first motion picture actors in America to receive billing in film advertisements. Iva Shepard co-stars as the Colonel’s daughter who is in love with the Sergeant. At the time of production the Army’s Fourth Cavalry served as Yosemite’s police force, though that wasn’t the case in the 1880s, the setting for the story."

"Intertitles identifying some of the actual locations have led some modern commentators to surmise that The Sergeant is part narrative and part travelogue. Actually, William Selig implemented such a strategy in 1904 to distinguish the authenticity of his productions from the disingenuous claims made by competitors such as Carl Laemmle, who advertised that his 1909 production of Hiawatha was “taken at the Falls of Minnehaha in the Land of the Dacotahs,” when in fact it was photographed in the Greater New York area. This was the Selig Company’s second foray into the Yosemite Valley, having originally produced films there in the summer of 1909 before establishing the first permanent motion picture studio in Los Angeles." ANDREW ERISH

AA: Blogathon funding announced as the source of financing the restoration. The distinction of this movie is its striking cinematography and impressive use of the Yosemite locations. This is a waterfalls-driven movie: the lovers meet by the falls, the renegade Indian steals their horses, and the movie becomes a search party and chase story. Illillouette Falls an Merced Rapids are singled out as the magnificent backgrounds which impress more than the clumsy standard of the acting and the storytelling. The sergeant is hit by a bullet, but after three months of convalescence he is promoted into first lieutenant and promised the hand of the colonel's daughter. The image is stable and I would guess that the print might be struck from a digital intermediate. 

CAPTAIN BRAND’S WIFE (Selig Polyscope Company, US 1911). D, SC: Francis Boggs; C: Sydney Ayres (the lover), Thomas Santschi (Captain Brand), Betty Harte (Mrs. Brand), “Baby” Lillian Wade; rel: 31.10.1911; orig. l: 1 rl.; 35 mm, 976 ft., 17' (16 fps); print source: Library of Congress Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation, Culpeper, VA. English intertitles.

Andrew Erish: "Long aware of the financial clout of female audiences, William Selig occasionally combined Westerns with melodramas in order to appeal to both men and women. Typical of this hybrid genre is Captain Brand’s Wife (1911), written and directed by Francis Boggs. At the heart of most Boggs narratives is a love triangle, here represented by Tom Santschi as Captain Brand, Betty Harte as his wife, and Sydney Ayres as her forlorn lover. The lush landscapes filled with willow and cypress trees prominent in the introductory scenes provide a striking contrast to panoramic views of barren desert hills and mountains that emphasize the isolation and vulnerability of travelers in the Old West."

"The variety of geography within this single-reel production provides a key reason why Selig established the first movie studio in Los Angeles. Francis Boggs’s shot compositions and emphasis on action reveal a sophisticated understanding of the medium. For example, a cavalry patrol is dwarfed by mountains looming behind them, stressing the size and danger of the terrain, followed by Apaches galloping down the steep hills toward a horse and buggy. Perhaps the most complex composition occurs when an Apache in the foreground shoots Captain Brand at mid-frame, as other Indians pull his wife and baby from the buggy in the background. Unfortunately, Captain Brand’s Wife was one of the last films directed by Boggs, released just four days after he was murdered by an employee at Selig’s Edendale studio on 27 October 1911." ANDREW ERISH

AA: The third chase story in this programme. Captain Brand is sent to Arizona, and the following year he sends for his wife. Apaches - the renegade and his murderous band - attack the wagon in Yucca, Arizona. The scouting party tracks them down, and the wife and the baby are rescued. Clumsy storytelling, impressive epic long shots. The visual quality is fair, sometimes with a heavily duped look.

THE COMING OF COLUMBUS: see separate entry.

IN THE MIDST OF THE JUNGLE (Selig Polyscope Company, US 1913). D: Henri McRea; C: Kathlyn Williams, Hobart Bosworth, Loraine Otto, Herbert Rawlinson, Al Garcia; rel: 20.10.1913; orig. l: 2900 ft. [3 rls.; international version 2495 ft.]; 35 mm, incomplete, 1670 ft. (mostly Rl. 2), 22' (20 fps); print source: Library of Congress Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation, Culpeper, VA. English intertitles.

Andrew Erish: "According to an article in the 13 November 1913 issue of the British trade magazine The Bioscope, “The popularity of … the ‘animal picture’ is greater, perhaps, than the popularity of any other class of picture … because the introduction of savage beasts into plays … is something which is absolutely unique to film drama.” It considered In the Midst of the Jungle (1913) “without much question the greatest animal drama ever produced,” and “the Selig company … specialists in the production of this type of film, … develop[ing] the animal drama to a point which has been reached by no one else.”"

"The story concerns a young woman, played by Kathlyn Williams, forced to survive dangers in the jungle after being separated from a hunting party. As with other Selig jungle-adventure productions the film enjoyed international success from Calcutta to Denmark. Although about half of the 3-reel production is missing, In the Midst of the Jungle is the most superbly crafted of the surviving Selig jungle adventure films. In addition to beautiful cinematography and impressive production design, the film seamlessly blends genuine actuality footage of the African veldt commissioned by Selig with scenenes directed by Henri McRea at the 33-acre Selig Zoo and backlot in Los Angeles." ANDREW ERISH

AA: The fragments from the incomplete jungle adventure movie include striking scenes such as a black boy drinking goat milk directly from the goat, lion cubs rescued after their mother has been shot, a male lion caught in the hunter's web and struggling his way to freedom, a woman rider falling from horseback, injured not far from the furious lion, and she crosses a river on a log. Even this movie inevitably becomes a chase story, about saving the woman stranded in the veldt from the lion. The acting is overdone, but the location shooting is the main asset of this movie. Crosscutting is adopted.

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