Thursday, October 06, 2016

Kean ou désordre et génie / Edmund Kean, Prince Among Lovers (world premiere of 2016 digital restoration by La Cinémathèque française, tinted on 35 mm by the Jan Ledecký Laboratory)

Kean. Ivan Mosjoukine and Nicolas Koline, photo: La Cinémathèque française, Paris.
Kean, Ivan Mosjoukine, photo La Cinémathèque française, Paris.
Kean, Ivan Mosjoukine, photo: La Cinémathèque française, Paris.

FR 1924. PC: Films Albatros (Paris). D: Alexander Volkoff. Based on the play by Alexandre Dumas père (1836). C: Ivan Mosjoukine (Edmund Kean), Nathalie Lissenko (Countess Elena de Koefeld), Nicolas Koline (Salomon), Otto Detlefsen (Prince of Wales). 3061 m /18 fps/ 148 min
    35 mm print. Source: La Cinémathèque française, Paris. Restored 2016. Tinted.
    The restoration of this film has benefited from funding from the CNC for the digitization of heritage film works.
    The restored 35 mm copy was tinted directly by the Jan Ledecký Laboratory, thanks to collaboration between the Cinémathèque Française and the Národní filmový archiv (Czech National Film Archive) in Prague.
    The new restoration also entailed reinserting the intertitles which had been removed, perhaps in preparation for a sound version at the beginning of the 1930s. Intertitles with lines from Hamlet now complete some sequences where such title cards are absolutely essential for an understanding of Kean’s lurch into madness, as well as the dramatic impact of his death. The missing title cards have been recreated with the help of an intertitle continuity housed in the Albatros archive collection of the Cinémathèque Française. However, this paper version differs from the onscreen intertitles found in the fragmentary nitrate copy. The new ones have been added to those already reconstituted in 1964 during the f irst restoration of the film, and are differentiated by being marked with the abbreviation “CF”
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM): Riscoperte.
    Teatro Verdi, Pordenone, e-subtitles in English and Italian by Sub-Ti, grand piano: Neil Brand, 6 Oct 2016

Une vie d'artiste.

I am not very keen on Kean as a whole, but it is a film with many rewarding features.

Revisited a grand Albatros production now in a world premiere of a 2016 restoration with tinting. We last saw Kean at GCM in Sacile in the 2003 Mosjoukine retrospective.

This film has its links with other titles in this year's Giornate: like Monte-Cristo, it's based on a work by Dumas père, like also Nana, it's a big French production of the 1920s, and like Der Adjutant des Zaren it's a key Ivan Mosjoukine vehicle. I was also thinking about two big films seen two years ago at the Barrymore family retrospective: The Beloved Rogue and Beau Brummel with their "two kings" theme. Kean is not a story of two kings, but the central conflict is not far from that, either, since there is a rivalry for Countess Elena de Koefeld's attentions between Kean and the Prince of Wales.

Kean is madly in love with Elena, and when in the middle of a performance of Hamlet the Prince of Wales enters Elena's loge Kean cannot go on, and that is the beginning of the end of him.

Kean is a Shakespearean film, and two key plays performed are Romeo and Julia and Hamlet. Mosjoukine at 35 is not very young for Romeo which would not be a problem on the stage but in close-ups on the screen there is an alienating impact. I paused to reflect on the pancake makeup and liberally applied lipstick we have seen on display on the faces of the male leading players of Nana, Monte-Cristo, and Kean. But we accept this as an aspect of the world of artifice which is of the essence in theatre and which is underlined with the opening and closing shots of curtains and an opened volume of Shakespeare.

– Why disguise?
– To escape myself.

– Métier maudit! Toujours un masque, jamais un visage.
– Être ou ne pas être, voilà la question.

Much of the film takes place in studio interiors, in "a play within a play", but towards the end there is memorable lyrical nature imagery. Parts of the film in the middle seem prolonged, but in the finale there are strikingly brief vignettes.

Kean is a star vehicle for Ivan Mosjoukine. Nathalie Lissenko is not particularly magnetic as his love interest. Nor is the performance of Otto Detlefsen very memorable. Much more convincing is the genial rapport between Mosjoukine and Nicolas Koline as his assistant Solomon.

My favourite late silent Mosjoukine vehicles remain Michel Strogoff and Der weisse Teufel [Hadji Murat].

The restoration is of top quality. So was the presentation we saw 13 years ago, the beautiful La Cinémathèque française print supervised by Renée Lichtig in 1982 which looked like it was struck from the negative. It was also practically of the same duration (actual duration 142 min [136 min announced]). The new restoration is tinted, and as usual nowadays, the tinting seems heavy at times (see images above). It is difficult to replicate on polyester (or digital) the tinting effect on first generation nitrate. I preferred the brilliant black and white passages.

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