Saturday, June 29, 2013

Film concert Carmen (Cecil B. DeMille 1915) (restored in colour by George Eastman House), Hugo Riesenfeld / Georges Bizet score, Orchestra del Teatro Comunale di Bologna, conductor Timothy Brock

CARMEN / A BURLESQUE ON CARMEN. Serata promossa da GUCCI. Musiche eseguite dall'Orchestra del Teatro Comunale di Bologna, dirette da Timothy Brock - at a strength of 48 players. Piazza Maggiore (Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna)


CARMEN. US © 1915 Jesse L. Lasky Feature Play Co. D: Cecil B. DeMille. Dal racconto Carmen di Prosper Mérimée. SC: William C . DeMille. DP: Alvin Wyckoff, Charles Rosher. ED: Anne Bauchens, Cecil B. DeMille. AD: Wilfred Buckland. C: Geraldine Farrar (Carmen), Wallace Reid (Don Jose), Pedro de Cordoba (Escamillo), Horace B. Carpenter (Pastia), William Elmer (Morales), Jeanie Macpherson (ragazza gitana), Anita King (ragazza gitana), Milton Brown (Garcia). P: Cecil B. DeMille per Jesse L . Lasky Feature Play Company. Premiere: 31 ottobre 1915. 35 mm. 1325 m / 64' a 18 f/s. B&w. English intertitles. Da: George Eastman House. Piazza Maggiore (Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna), 29 June 2013

A restoration of the original 1915 compilation score by Hugo Riesenfeld from the opera Carmen by Georges Bizet

"No living woman has had greater stage triumphs than Geraldine Farrar; but whatever these triumphs have been her conquest in the picture Carmen will be infinitely greater. Miss Farrar has caused the New York Fire Commissioners to look anxiously at the Metropolitan Operahouse when she played the cigarette girl within its walls. But at most, only three or four thousand people heard and saw her. When the new and immortalized Carmen is released, tens, scores, even hundreds of thousands may see and acclaim her at one time. And in the immemorial springtimes of the future, when her lithe and passionate beauty is as much history as the wars of yesterday, all the glory and splendor and fire of her impersonation may be rekindled, studied, analyzed, thrilled over. In perpetuating the furnace-heat of this tropic, exotic characterization the Carmen film will, in its own way, stand alongside The Birth of a Nation as an epochmaker. [...] Cecil DeMille must have enthusiastic mention for his direction of this photoplay, and Alvin Wycoff for his photography. The artistry of both is beyond criticism." Julian Johnson, in "Photoplay", vol. 8, n. 6, November 1915

"Considerable publicity was thus generated when Geraldine Farrar, an internationally acclaimed soprano who had refused offers to sing in big-time vaudeville, signed a contract to star in DeMille's feature film. She became an asset to the Lasky Company equivalent to Famous Players' biggest marquee attraction, Mary Pickford. Grand opera, especially in an age when culture was sacrosanct, was the citadel of highbrow culture. Farrar, a American- born singer and Hohenzollern protégée, had made her debut in Berlin and was an accomplished diva who could sing in German, Italian, and French. She brought to film the aura of high culture patronized by European royalty. [...]"

"Significantly, William [DeMille]'s name as scriptwriter was billed over Cecil's in a strategy to dignify Farrar's first film release with emblems of respectable middle-class culture. Publicity accorded the soprano's screen debut in a silent version of a well- known opera was a bonus for the Lasky Company but, for the moment, obscured DeMille's effort to establish himself as an author in his own right. [...]"

"DeMille used art titles with drawings that prefigure the shot beginning the next sequence; low-key lighting in conjunction with color tinting in shades of red, pink, amber, and blue to produce shimmering textures; a high ratio of medium shots and medium close-ups, especially of the diva; a spectacular high angle shot of the bullfighter with Carmen, seated in the fore- ground of the ring, as she throws him a favor; and several deep focus shots of the gipsy campsite and tavern. [...] Carmen represents a milestone because DeMille's artistry, though overshadowed by Farrar's acting debut, equalled her international renown and charismatic screen presence." Sumiko Higashi, Cecil B. DeMille and American Culture: The Silent Era, University of California Press, Berkeley-Los Angeles 1994

"Hugo Riesenfeld, conductor of New York's Roxy Theatre Orchestra, was commissioned by American impresario Samuel 'Roxy' Rothapfel to adapt the Bizet for all screenings of Carmen nationally. This is a tremendous task as each theatre, large and small, has vastly varying degrees of sizes and utterly different instrumentation. Being the talented arranger that he was, however, he made it in such a way that an ensemble of any size or combination could perform it without the loss of a single voice or line. Which is why one could hear the same exact score in New York, symphonically, as they could in Omaha, Nebraska, with a piano, trumpet and a triangle. It was after Carmen that this technique became common practice among all silent film composers, and beyond." Timothy Brock

AA: I had not seen this adaptation of Carmen since the 1991 Cecil B. DeMille retrospective in Pordenone. It was one of more than 15 films that DeMille made during the year 1915. It is a solid work made in the theatrical mode of the period.

I enjoyed very much the Timothy Brock / Hugo Riesenfeld adaptation of the Georges Bizet music, played by the Orchestra del Teatro Comunale di Bologna. The overture was played before the film started. The interpretation was discreet, avoiding the most uninhibited display of passion and agony.

The George Eastman House restoration looks magnificent, and the toning and tinting are beautifully performed.

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