Saturday, October 16, 2004

Film concert The Cat and the Canary (1927) GCM Sacile 2004, restored by Photoplay, composed by Neil Brand

Paul Leni: The Cat and the Canary (1927).


THE CAT AND THE CANARY (Universal Pictures, US 1927)
    Dir: Paul Leni; pres: Carl Laemmle; sc: Robert F. Hill, Alfred A. Cohn; titles: Walter Anthony; ph: Gilbert Warrenton; sets: Charles D. Hall;
    cast: Laura La Plante (Annabelle West), Creighton Hale (Paul Jones), Tully Marshall (Roger Crosby), Forrest Stanley (Charlie Wilder), Gertrude Astor (Cecily), Flora Finch (Aunt Susan), Arthur Edmund Carewe (Harry Blythe), Martha Mattox (Mammy Pleasant), George Siegmann (The Guard), Billy Engle (Taxi Driver), Lucien Littlefield (Doctor), Joe Murphy (Milkman);
    35 mm, c. 6468 ft., 84’ (22 fps), imbibito/tinted, Photoplay Productions. Restored by Photoplay Productions, with the collaboration of the Danish Film Institute, The Museum of Modern Art, & Jan Zaalberg; lab work by Cinema Arts, Inc., & Haghefilm.
    Didascalie in inglese / English intertitles.
    Musica composta da / Music written & arranged by Neil Brand; dirige/conducted by Timothy Brock; eseguono/performed by I Solisti del Conservatorio Jacopo Tomadini di Udine con/with Celia Sheen (theremin).
    Per gentile concessione di / Musica performed by arrangement with Photoplay Productions Ltd.
    Viewed at Teatro Zancanaro, Sacile, Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM), 16 Oct 2020.

Kevin Brownlow (GCM): "I first saw The Cat and the Canary 40 years ago in a terrible 16 mm print from the Wallace Heaton Film Library, and was bitterly disappointed. I thought another German director had failed in Hollywood. When I finally saw a good print, albeit still on l6 mm, I realized it was an unusually brilliant work."

"Universal had made “old dark house” pictures before, but Paul Leni revolutionized the whole look. He established the style for Universal’s classic horror pictures and director James Whale acknowledged his debt. And not only that. The Cat and the Canary is one of the first films in which one can glimpse some of the revolutionary elements Orson Welles and Gregg Toland would use in Citizen Kane: bold low angles, depth of focus, subjective camera. Gilbert Warrenton, the superb cameraman who shot The Man Who Laughs and Lonesome, was known as the American Karl Freund.  One of his assistants was the young Stanley Cortez, who would photograph Welles’s The Magnificent Ambersons."

"On the first day, however, Warrenton was too experimental. The footage had to be reshot; while he had succeeded with the spooky lighting, no one could recognize the actors. Wells had to be cut in the floor of the stage, and men sat in them with spotlights focused on the faces of the players."

"A visitor to the set reported that Leni may have been an excitable director, but he managed to project that excitement into the scene: “I was amazed when he got the most excited, he didn’t relapse into German, which would be his most natural refuge. Instead of that, he takes it out on a Chinese gong, which he uses for several different things.” (Paul Gulick, Universal Weekly, 15 January 1927, p.11)  One of which was to frighten the actors!"

"Universal was anxious reviewers should not find the film too foreign. “It is an American picture through and through,” said Universal Weekly (28 May 1927), “with only artistic settings and photographic effects impinged upon it from Leni’s continental past.” They were delighted with the response. “A corking melodrama,” said Photoplay magazine (July 1927, p.55). “Leni is a director to be reckoned with.” The picture did tremendous business."

"Patrick Stanbury and I had hoped for a long time to restore the film onto 35 mm. As far back as 1985, Dutch private collector Jan Zaalberg had shown us a 35 mm nitrate from his personal collection. We realized that although it was of excellent quality, many scenes were missing. We were helped tremendously by the Danish Film Institute, who also had a copy of the European version, which was more complete and in better condition. The Museum of Modern Art provided sections from their print of the American version to enable us to produce the first restoration entirely on 35 mm. Neil Brand based his new score on the sound of Universal’s classic horror films." – Kevin Brownlow


Neil Brand: "I have wanted to score this film since 1986. It was the second film I ever accompanied as an improvising pianist, and its theatricality and intensity seduced me on my first viewing of the ropey 16 mm print then available. When Photoplay mooted (some years ago) the idea of writing a new score for the film, with the breathtaking newly available 35 mm material, I wanted that chance very badly. Why? Because I have realized that my love of cinema comes down primarily to a love of genre."

"Leaving the cinema as a child with film music echoing in my head prepared me for a career with silent cinema that I could never have predicted. When I watch films now, silent and sound, I love stumbling across the familiar in the narrative, the recognition of situations visited before which speak with a musical voice bringing instant recall and gratification. The comedy horror genre has given me tremendous pleasure and an equal amount of musical ammunition over the years. Whether in theatre, cinema, or fairground I would buy in wholeheartedly to the idea of scary fun. As a composer, to be a player in that game was a huge ambition. Now it has been realized in full, for although The Cat and the Canary may have been the first of its kind, the genre it spawned obviously sprang to life fully formed."

"Paul Leni gave us the Haunted House of childhood and populated it with the characters of Gothic horror filtered through a wit that was pure 1920s. I knew I wanted to create a musical world for these characters to inhabit which was redolent of the Agatha Christie mysteries, and spoofs like Sleuth, Murder by Death, and The Laurel-Hardy Murder Case (a direct descendant of The Cat and the Canary), but which also prefigured the glory days of Universal Horror to come, of The Bride of Frankenstein and The Old Dark House. I knew I wanted laughs and shivers in equal measure (Bob Hope in the remake), but also real warmth and genuine terror when necessary (Psycho and The Spiral Staircase). I wanted the audience to leap out of their seats in shock at the one moment brilliantly directed to make them do just that. Above all, I realized that in a sense the band had to be as eccentric and theatrical as the characters in the play. So out the window went the piano, a crutch I have used in my scoring for too many years. Instead I tried to trust to the colours of a real ensemble: flute cosying up to cathedral organ, vibraphone to harpsichord, string trio to blaring brass. And over them all, like the ghoulish portrait of Cyrus West himself, the glowering presence of the Theremin."

"Celia Sheen taught me all I know about the Theremin, and I am indebted to her for her demonstrations of its warmth as well as its Sci-Fi exoticism. I wanted the Theremin as an hommage to Waxman and Rózsa, but I knew it had to be used sparingly. Thankfully its use was already constrained by the plot. The Theremin is the sound of the Cat."

"Apart from underestimating the problems of a film in real time and consecutive narrative (oh, for the breather of a title announcing “Came the Dawn”!), and the challenge of scoring a film which had so many wonderful things about it that I could potentially ruin, I found The Cat and the Canary a joy to score. The orchestral colouring gave me the chance to “turn on a sixpence” from one emotion to the next, while the themes themselves seemed to grow out of the situations, rather than be imposed on them. My only regret was the lack of screen time to really develop a “Love Theme” (it’s in the Overture). Otherwise the musical opportunities came and went from minute to minute, the film’s dancing intelligence daring the music to share the joke, particularly the lunacies of plot and character, and giggle along with the experience. With the latitude given me by Kevin and Patrick and the enormous and masterly contribution of maestro Timothy Brock, I have been to musical places I never thought I would see as a composer, and I am enormously grateful for the experience."

"The Cat and the Canary is, to my mind, about nothing more than having a thoroughly entertaining time, and being dumped off at the end of the ride with a daft smile wrapped across one’s face. The process of scoring it did that for me. I hope very much the score helps to do that for you." – Neil Brand

AA: *  A highlight. A thrilling Evento Finale: The Cat and the Canary, Paul Leni's first Hollywood film, one of the foundation films of Universal Horror, the true breakthrough of the Haunted House subgenre, brilliant Photoplay restoration of a film that has circulated in substandard copies, and a perfect Neil Brand score, complete with theremin. The duration of this screening was 78 min (1:17'09").


Voyage à travers l'impossible

Georges Méliès: Voyage à travers l'impossible (1904). Photo: IMDb.

    Dir: Georges Méliès; cast: Georges Méliès, Fernande Albany, May de Lavergne, Jehanne d’Alcy; 35 mm, 1203 ft, 20’ (16 fps), color (from a hand-colored nitrate positive), George Eastman House.
    Didascalie in inglese / English intertitles.
    Grand piano: Antonio Coppola.
    Viewed at Teatro Zancanaro, Sacile, Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM): Fuori quadro – Accadde nel 1904, 16 Oct 2004

Paolo Cherchi Usai (GCM): "Exactly 100 years ago, in the autumn of 1904, Georges Méliès adapted for the screen a popular show premiered in 1882 at the Théâtre de la Gaîté. In the original version Jules Verne and Adolphe D’Ennery had thought of an imaginary trip to the center of the Earth; Méliès took it a step further and brought the mad scientists of the Institute of Incoherent Geography onto the surface of the Sun, after a roller-coaster ride from the Swiss landscape of the Jungfrau to Mount Righi. This dazzling sequel to Le Voyage dans la lune (1902) was the most expensive production ever for the Star-Film company (costing over 37,000 Francs of the time), surpassing its predecessor in ambition and detail if not in inspiration. An instant box-office hit worldwide, the adventures of Doctor Mabouloff gave the Magician of Montreuil the opportunity to display his flair for the mechanics of space travel, the personification of celestial bodies, and flamboyant hand-coloring. As James Frazer points out in Artificially Arranged Scenes (1979, p. 149), Voyage à travers l'impossible “is put together with the logic of a dream. Méliès ignores pragmatic considerations and matters of cause and effect. The film jolts from one moment of heightened activity to the next digesting events, ignoring rationality or probability with the uninhibited freedom of a child”." – Paolo Cherchi Usai (GCM)

AA: *  A highlight. A beautiful print and presentation of the fantastic masterpiece. Actual duration of the screening: 22'24".

Tri pesni o Lenine / Three Songs of Lenin

Dziga Vertov: Tri pesni o Lenine / Three Songs of Lenin (1935/1938). V Fi 337. Frame Enlargement. Trauerndes Mädchen. Photo: Österreichisches Filmmuseum, Collection Dziga Vertov.

Grand piano: Phil Carli
Cinema Ruffo, Sacile, Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM), 16 Oct 2004

Prog. 19

TRI PESNI O LENINE / [TRE CANTI SU LENIN / THREE SONGS OF LENIN] (Versione muta / Silent version; Mezhrabpomfilm, Moscow, USSR, 1935/1938)
Author-Leader: Dziga Vertov; ph: Dmitrii Surensky, Mark Magidson,
Bentsion Monastyrsky; asst. dir: Elizaveta Svilova; lunghezza originale / orig. length: 2100 m; 35 mm, 1474 m, 58’ (22 fps), RGAKFD.
Didascalie in russo / Russian intertitles.

Aleksandr Deriabin (GCM): "The two years given as the dates of this film reflect the history of the existing print. The sound version of Three Songs of Lenin was ready in 1934, the silent one in 1935. In 1938 Vertov was told to re-edit both versions: in the meantime, Stalin’s purges had reached their height, and "enemies of the people" who had been physically eliminated by the late 1930s now needed to be removed from the film, too. The original versions (1934 and 1935) do not exist, but we may surmise they did differ greatly from the versions now available."

"The sound version of Three Songs of Lenin premiered at the Venice film festival in the summer of 1934; that same summer it was shown to the delegates of the First All-Union Congress of Writers in Moscow. Released into general distribution that November (half a year after it was finished), the film enjoyed a considerable success at home and abroad. British writer H. G. Wells (who had met Lenin personally) said that even though he saw the film without any translation he understood every word of it. The silent — 1935 — version was made for provincial theatres not equipped for sound (in Russia, silent movies were still shown as late as the end of the 1940s). Silent versions were generally considered inferior; it was known that they were made by assistant directors, and so as a rule they remained unreviewed. In the case at hand, however, the silent version was not just a poor relative of the sound one: we know that Vertov and Svilova themselves worked on it, and the two versions differ considerably — not in quality, but in content and in the principle of montage."

"The sound version of Three Songs of Lenin consists of three parts, each based on folklore material that Vertov had collected. Part 1 portrays the Leader through folk songs and tales; Part 2 is a requiem mourning Lenin; Part 3 (the optimistic one) asserts Lenin’s immortality through the immortality of his ideas. For Vertov, Lenin was a new god, and this reflects Vertov’s new, Communist religiosity. The film evokes Lenin as one might a messiah, someone who not only showed Russia its new path, but who could also help it to keep going — from beyond the grave."

"It is propaganda, but not only that. Vertov called the kind of editing used in this film "spiral" — and even gave a spiral shape to its titles. Vertov’s dream (announced in his many manifestos) had always been to use the power of film to create the New Man (or, as Vertov used to call him, the New Adam) — in this film Lenin is Vertov’s Future Adam, and the spiral montage is his genome, discovered by Vertov before it was by geneticists. Vertov tried to do what the Internationale promised in words, and what Bolsheviks failed to do in practice: build the New World on the debris of the Old. The film was Vertov’s triumph, but not the kind of triumph that opens new ways for one’s career. Those in power made sure Vertov would never get another chance to make a messianic movie like this."

"The silent version of Three Songs of Lenin leaves out the synch-recorded interviews for which the sound version became famous. But the silent version is not the sound Songs minus sound. The titles are the same overall, but there are new scenes, while some of the known scenes use alternate takes of the shots used for the sound version. Vertov also makes use of his own previous work on the Lenin theme. Like his 1921 Lenin Kino-Pravda, the silent version begins with a (silent) address by a worker to the audience. The worker claims to be the person who captured Fanny Kaplan, the would-be assassin who shot Lenin in 1918 — a subject that became topical anew, given that one of the top men in the Soviet government, Sergei Kirov, was assassinated in December 1934. The silent version also boasts some impeccable shots we do not find in its sound prototype, and its editing is silent Vertov at his best. If the sound version was Vertov’s inspired hymn to the New Man, the silent one, much in the spirit of the Vertov of the 1920s, is a hymn to New Cinema.

AA: *  A highlight. Vertov's last great film revisited. A beautiful print, with a frameline issue, a Movietone print 1,2:1, screened with a single projector at Cinema Ruffo. The duration of the screening was longer than announced at 1:03' 31" = 64 min.

Triumph (1917) (incomplete)

Joseph De Grasse: Triumph (1917). Photo: IMDb.

TRIUMPH (Bluebird Photoplays, Inc., US 1917)
    Dir: Joseph De Grasse; sc: Fred Myton, based on the 1916 Collier’s Weekly short story by Samuel Hopkins Adams; cast: Dorothy Phillips, Lon Chaney, William Stowell, William J. Dyer, Claire DuBrey; 35 mm, 2558 ft, 30’ (20 fps), Academy Film Archive.
    English intertitles.
    Grand piano: Tama Karena.
    Viewed at Teatro Zancanaro, Sacile, Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM): Fuori quadro, 16 Oct 2004

Brandee Brannigan Cox (GCM): "Once considered a lost film, Triumph, with Lon Chaney as one of the principal cast members, makes its own grand re-entry back into the mainstream of sentimental tales about theatre and stardom for all silent fans to see.  To date, 3 out of the 5 reels of this feature have been recovered, and steps have been taken to preserve what has surfaced, as well as providing an ending using stills and text."

"The story focuses on a blossoming ingénue, Nell Baxter (Dorothy Phillips), who, through a friendship with an old character actor, Dudley Weyman (William Stowell), is advised to audition for a role in a new play, after the original actress drops out due to a recent marriage.  Nell impresses not only the director, but also the stage manager, David Montieth (William J. Dyer), who grows quite fond of her.  "

"Unfortunately Nell’s heart lies elsewhere, with dramatic critic and struggling playwright Paul Neihoff (Lon Chaney).  Nell’s affection for Neihoff prompts her to approach Montieth about producing one of his plays.  Montieth agrees, believing that his feelings for Nell will be reciprocated.  He is quick to discover, however, that it is all an illusion, and threatens to pull the plug on the opening night of Niehoff’s stage show.
" – Brandee Brannigan Cox (GCM)

Synopsis from AFI Catalog Online: "While awaiting the train to Broadway, Nell Baxter meets the leading man of a repertory company to whom she confides her ambitions. Upon arriving in the city, Nell attracts the lascivious eye of stage manager David Montieth, who eventually gives her the starring role in a play with the expectation that he will be favored with her affections."

"Nell, however, has fallen in love with playwright Paul Neihoff. On the afternoon that the show is to open, Montieth learns of Nell's romance and cancels the show. Nell goes to Montieth's apartment to plead with him to open the show, and he consents after setting Nell's virtue as the price of her ambition."

"When he attempts to collect, Nell stabs him and rushes to Neihoff's apartment. The playwright tells her to go to the theater as if nothing has happened, writes a letter confessing that he killed the manager, and then takes an overdose of a drug and dies."

"Word comes to Nell after the second act that Neihoff has sacrificed himself, and in the last act, she substitutes a real dagger for the fake one and stabs herself to death. It has all been a story, however, concocted by the leading man to cure Nell of her infatuation with the footlights, and no one has died.

AA: Restored by the Academy Film Archive, a lost film eagerly awaited even in fragmentary form because of the presence of Lon Chaney. But the film is not unforgettable, nor is Chaney electrifying at this stage.

My guess is that The Miracle Man (1919) was the film in which Chaney emerged with full electricity for the first time. I have seen the surviving fragment and will never forget it.

The duration of the screening was 34 minutes.

The Lily and the Rose (last reel missing)

Paul Powell: The Lily and the Rose (1915) starring Lillian Gish, Rozsika Dolly, Wilfred Lucas and Elmer Clifton.

THE LILY AND THE ROSE (Fine Arts Film Co., US 1915)
    Dir.: Paul Powell; cast: Lillian Gish, Wilfred Lucas, Rozsika Dolly, Elmer Clifton; 35 mm, 3032 ft (incomplete: last reel [rl. 5] missing), 44’ (18 fps), Library of Congress (AFI / Blackhawk Collection).
    English intertitles.
    Grand piano: John Sweeney.
    Viewed at Teatro Zancanaro, Sacile, Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM): The Griffith Project 8, 16 Oct 2004.

Russell Merritt [DWG Project # 521]: "Paul Powell, a contract director at Reliance and then Triangle, caught fire with The Lily and the Rose. Although the last reel is missing, and what survives comes from a trimmed and re-titled reissue print, enough remains to reveal a well-paced, handsomely produced vehicle for Lillian Gish that in its opening scenes anticipates the charms of True Heart Susie and A Romance of Happy Valley. Louis Delluc thought that Griffith himself had directed it, and in 1921 called it Griffith’s best film (but, then again, Delluc also rated Dream Street over Broken Blossoms)."

"Delluc particularly responded to Gish’s performance as the headstrong, vulnerable country mouse obliged to cope with her husband’s infidelity. He considered her scene at her faithless husband’s coffin (part of the reel missing from our print) as compelling as the baptismal scene in Way Down East, thanks to Gish’s ability to register unsorted, contradictory feelings. But the film boasted other qualities that made this one of Triangle’s best-reviewed films. The elegant camerawork in particular caught reviewers’ attention. When Gish stalks her husband in the park – he is in a touring car with his mistress; she is trailing them in a horse and carriage – Powell takes a page from an identical sequence in Griffith’s The Drive For Life (Biograph, 1909) by using tracking shots to create visual tension as the camera keeps the two moving vehicles in perilous, unstable alignment. The third and fourth reels are saturated with more deep-focus shots which cleverly draw us into exploring rooms by degrees, shifting light sources and opening doors and drapes mid-shot to reveal new significant spaces."

"The Lily and the Rose was plainly meant as a prestige Triangle. It marks Gish’s first appearance with the new company, and introduced the popular Ziegfeld attraction, Rozsika (Rosi) Dolly to feature films. Rozsika’s veil dance on the rocky shore doesn’t wear terribly well (though it compares favorably to Carole Dempster’s imitation in Griffith’s The Love Flower), and trade reviewers were curiously restrained in commenting on it – whether out of gallantry, or fear of alerting the censors. But the veil dance was new territory for Dolly. She had made her career as one of the Dolly Sisters, where her specialty was dancing a novelty Tandem Act, she and her twin sister Yancsi (Jenny) dancing with props and elaborate look-alike costumes. Triangle was able to sign Rosi because Jenny had recently broken up the act in order to dance with her new husband, Harry Fox. Together, Jenny and Harry introduced their latest invention, the Fox Trot, while Rosi, turning to ballroom dancing, found a new career performing Spanish tangos. The Lily and the Rose came just at the point she was finding that new direction for her career. As such, Rosi’s Triangle debut with the veil dance was also her Triangle farewell."

"Part of The Lily and the Rose’s appeal was its elaborate production values. The front office used the film to inaugurate the studio’s new elevated, open-air monster stage, measuring 70 ft. by 160 ft. The stage is introduced as the Winter Garden theatre where Wilfred Lucas first sees Dolly perform. A few months later it became the foundation floor for Griffith’s Hall of Babylon."

"Along with Fairbanks’ The Matrimaniac, The Lily and the Rose remains Paul Powell’s most notable Triangle (this may be because these are the only two films that are left of his work: his other thirteen Triangle features are lost). Powell stayed with the company until the bitter end, directing Bessie Love and Constance Talmadge through spring 1917; then he pursued a career as a freelancer. His single prestige post-Triangle assignment was as Mary Pickford’s director for her first United Artists feature, Pollyanna; he also had a brush with the still-unknown Rudolph Valentino in two early budget films (also lost). Otherwise he spent the 1920s directing Agnes Ayres and low-budget programmers for fly-by-night studios. He retired from directing with the advent of the talkie era.
" – Russell Merritt [DWG Project # 521]

AA: *  A highlight. Actual duration of the screening 49'34"89 = 50 min.

K schastlivoi gavani / [To the Happy Haven]

Grand piano: Antonio Coppola
Cinema Ruffo, Sacile, Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM), 15 Oct 2004

Prog. 18

Dir: Vladimir Erofeev; ph: Grigorii (Yuri) Stilianudis; 35 mm, 1971 m, 78’ (22 fps), RGAKFD.
Didascalie in russo / Russian intertitles.

Aleksandr Deriavin, Yuri Tsivian (GCM): "Looking at Soviet documentary filmmakers of the 1920s and 30s, perhaps only Vladimir Erofeev (1898–1940) can be said to have matched Vertov in talent and ideas. Erofeev’s career may look unusual, but it was not too unusual for that unusual time. Born into a well-to-do family of a Moscow doctor, he joined the Communist Party at the age of 20, worked as a journalist for the Russian Telegraph Agency (ROSTA), and in 1923 became a film critic, a quite influential one. Erofeev was one of the founders of the Association of Revolutionary Cinema (ARK), and a co-founder and one-time editor of the newspaper Kino. As a critic, Erofeev became an active and serious opponent of Vertov’s theory — serious in the sense that distinct from some other opponents he took Vertov’s work seriously. Erofeev’s position on Vertov can be summed up this way: as a practical filmmaker Vertov is often brilliant, but his extreme theories do damage to his own films. Grounds exist for us to believe that it was as a result of his polemics with Vertov that Erofeev decided to try his hand at filmmaking."

"Our book Lines of Resistance: Dziga Vertov and the Twenties presents examples of the Erofeev-Vertov debate, two points of which are worth quoting here as well. Erofeev’s 1924 review of Kino-Eye (published in Kino, of which Erofeev was editor-in-chief) ends with this verdict: "After watching this film it becomes absolutely clear that the sharp kino-eye of Vertov and his nimble hands lack a guiding Communist head." Vertov (who, unlike Erofeev, never joined the Party, but who nevertheless thought his head was Communist, all right) responded with an elaborate joke: "The struggle for the kino-eye has already been going on for several years, and has its own history. I won’t dwell on the various stages of this arduous struggle. For even now, chained hand and foot, taking an enforced rest after the first issue of Kino-Eye, I am fated to listen to the hypocritical remarks of that same Erofeev: ‘Your theory is at odds with your practice.’ I recall that once Comrade Erofeev assured me that he could jump over his editorial chair without difficulty. I tied his legs, took away the chair, and became convinced that his ‘theory was at odds with his practice’. This did not happen, but I can do this experiment with everyone who wants to get into my skin and jump with their legs tied. What is Kino-Pravda? It is strong jumps with your legs tied." The message of Vertov’s parable boils down to this: You think you know how to make films? Then try it yourself. Erofeev tried, and Vertov was forced to admit that his critic meant what he was saying."

"Erofeev’s method (exposed in his writings, and tested in documentary films, which he started to make in 1927) was like a negative image of Vertov’s: in contrast to the latter, Erofeev treats cinema not as the all-powerful tool of a better-than-human vision, but as a weak tool incapable of penetrating reality as fully and profoundly as the human eye can. He swore against using camera tricks and montage effects, and countered Vertov’s motto of "life off-guard" byprofessing non-intrusive attention to reality, untainted by the presence of the camera. This reality-fidelity program may not be immediately evident to us in Erofeev’s 1930 masterpiece To the Happy Haven (the fourth film he made), for the "montage effects" its director was against in theory are visibly present, but we need to remember two things. First, 1930 was still the high season of the montage era, and many things that we perceive as editing tricks in Erofeev’s film may not have been perceived as tricks in the epoch of Eisenstein’s October, Dovzhenko’s Earth, or Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera. Secondly, Erofeev’s idea of looking at reality with an unbiased eye was, as all such ideas, just an ideological construct. To use that phrase from his review of Vertov, Erofeev’s work on To the Happy Haven "was guided by a Communist head" — but who will blame him for this, knowing that this film is about Germany on the eve of its becoming fascist."

"To the Happy Haven is a report on German life based on Erofeev’s personal experience — before he started filming in 1929, he had already been there for two years. If one needed to define the genre of this film, it could be called something like a satirical small-town symphony — polemically opposed to the great-city symphonies of Ruttmann or Vertov. Its very title, K schastlivoi gavani (To the Happy Haven) — the kind of title that sounds optimistically Socialist-Realist today — is in fact a mock title, the Russian translation of Zum Gluecks-Hafen — the kitschy name given to a beer garden in a German provincial Luna-Park. The surprise idea behind the whole film was, instead of showing another metropolis-Germany, or another Germany torn by class struggle (there were enough films like that, most famously Pudovkin’s Deserter), to present Germany as a sleepy, happily numb country — numbed by the bourgeois paradise and social peace professed by the Social Democrats. This is the surface image, to be sure, as is the image of the ghostly, almost visionary ideal city which Erofeev’s camera captures reflected in shop windows and mirrors. Under this surface, the film goes on to show, are tensions and oppression. It all sounds very cliché — but only on paper. Even if you are immune to propaganda, or resent political documentaries, this one is worth seeing — if only for a "live" — that is, unstaged — report of a street clash between German police, Rot-Front activists, and the new, little-known third force, Nazi Sturm brigades."

"But all this was not yet enough for a Soviet documentary to qualify as politically correct. In the eye of the Soviet authorities, propaganda needed to be humdrum, not subtle. Erofeev’s film was criticized for "an insufficient showing of the plight of workers in the West, for not paying enough attention to the proletarian quarters of the Capitalist city population", and the lack of other things Marxist critics expected to find in a film about Capitalist Germany. In other words, Erofeev’s film was accused of the same sin he had earlier found in Vertov: the lack of a guiding Communist head. Erofeev tried to rectify matters by adding straightforward, unambiguous intertitles. To no avail: the film was declared politically "dated". Just as it often happened with Vertov’s films, To the Happy Haven was taken out of distribution after just a few showings.

AA: A rewarding documentary film about Weimar Germany around 1929. The duration of the screening was much longer than announced: 1:25'12" = 86 min.

+  Very likeable.

Double Trouble (Douglas Fairbanks, 1915)

W. Christy Cabanne: Double Trouble (1915). Newspaper ad from IMDb.

DOUBLE TROUBLE (Fine Arts Film Co., US 1915)
    Dir.: William Christy Cabanne; supv.: D. W. Griffith; cast: Douglas Fairbanks, Richard Cummings, Olga Gray, Margery Wilson, Tom Kennedy, Gladys Brockwell, Kate Toncray, Monroe Salisbury; 16 mm, 1400 ft, 55’ (17 fps), Library of Congress (AFI / Walker Collection), reissue Enterprise Distributing Corp.
    English intertitles.
    Grand piano: [Francesca {P...dalini / Ballini}?]
    Viewed at Cinema Ruffo, Sacile, Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM): The Griffith Project 8, 16 Oct 2004.

J. B. Kaufman [DWG Project # 522]: "Even if the Fine Arts policy of importing stage stars was an almost total failure, the one exception – the launching of Douglas Fairbanks’ screen career – was such a spectacular success that that policy seems justified in hindsight. Then again, even his earliest films suggest that the irrepressible Fairbanks would have found his way to the screen anyway, even without Fine Arts. Double Trouble continues the pattern established in The Lamb, contrasting Fairbanks the sissy with Fairbanks the robust young man. This prissiness vs. manliness idea appears, in fact, so persistently in Fairbanks’ films as to constitute one of his favorite themes. The Mark of Zorro, with its delightful distinction between foppish Don Diego and dashing Zorro, is probably the most famous example, but there are plenty of others."

"The difference in Double Trouble is that, like such recent dual-personality films as The Woman of Mystery and The Case of Becky, it gave the device a psychological premise. Fairbanks’ two “selves” (their personalities suggested by their very names, “Florian” and “Brassfield”) are two distinct beings, both inhabiting the same body but at war with each other. Not that Fairbanks takes any of this seriously; he’s clearly having the time of his life romping through a comic Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. As the prissy Florian, he’s forever cringing with upraised hands, nervously nipping at his pinky finger as he recoils in horror from some fresh outrage. He’s afflicted with a chronic sneeze which seems to intensify around women, as if he’s somehow allergic to them. (He stops short of out-and-out homosexuality, and in fact is as panic-stricken at the advances of a mincing bellboy as at the threat of any other kind of intimacy.) As Brassfield, on the other hand, he’s the cocky, grinning, self-confident Fairbanks we all know, and then some. With careless ease he takes on the world of local politics, cheerfully indulging in practices which, in today’s world, would destroy a political career in five minutes. (In one scene he hands a fat wad of bills to an associate, on a public sidewalk in broad daylight, and casually indicates distribution of them. In another scene, Fairbanks’ henchmen hustle a potential whistle-blower down a dark alley, and a shooting seems imminent. The actual ploy is more devious, and perhaps easily missed on first viewing: one of the henchmen simply fires the revolver at the ground, then places it in the victim’s pocket. The police, arriving moments later to break up the altercation, find the still-warm gun in the rival’s possession, and he’s promptly hauled off to jail!)"

"Fairbanks, in short, is the whole show. Bouncing from one extreme to the other, indulging in such set-pieces as a drunk scene that begins with the go-getter and ends with the timid character (who of course has never been intoxicated before), he easily dominates the proceedings. Louis Reeves Harrison, writing in Moving Picture World (13 November 1915, p. 1319), found this a shortcoming: “there is no other characterization from beginning to end calculated to provide an interest allied to his shifting personality and adventures.” Be that as it may, Double Trouble is clearly designed as a showcase for Fairbanks, and he makes the most of it."

"As with The Lamb, all of this has little if anything to do with Griffith. Director Christy Cabanne can be sensed looking over his shoulder at Griffith in some of his other films, but there’s no such sense in Double Trouble – until the last reel, when the jailed innocent’s wife decides to commit suicide. Then, suddenly, we’re watching a different movie, featuring a Griffithian race to the rescue by Fairbanks and company. It was reported at the time that the mayor of Santa Ana, California, had given Cabanne the key to the city, along with the services of the police and fire departments, resources well utilized during the scenes of the Election Day parade."

"A far more noticeable presence than Griffith’s is that of the uncredited Anita Loos, whose witty, conversational intertitles set the tone of the film perfectly, and forecast the delightful titles she would continue to provide for Fairbanks’ films over the next two years. Some viewers will note that Fairbanks’ mental condition is diagnosed as “aphasia” – a diagnosis no more accurate in this film than in several other films of the period – but Loos seems to acknowledge the inaccuracy in a sly intertitle: “Aphasia is a mental condition, vouched for by all our best novelists and dramatists.”"

"Although our print of Double Trouble is affected by nitrate decomposition, the continuity of the story is still clear, and we’re lucky to be able to see the film at all. Interestingly, this print seems to derive from a reissue. Most of the intertitles still bear the original Fine Arts logo, but the two newspaper inserts used to indicate Florian’s five-year blackout have been replaced with newspapers from 1915 (reporting a special meeting of Wilson’s cabinet) and from 1920 (reporting Warren Harding’s election as President)! By 1920, of course, Fairbanks had become a much bigger star for his own company, and it’s hardly surprising that his earlier films should be reissued. But after the events of the intervening years, Double Trouble must have appeared a different film to contemporary audiences. The scenes of Brassfield addressing crowds of voters on Election Day, for example, had been oddly prescient; in the interim they had been duplicated by real-life shots of Fairbanks addressing vast throngs of fans during the Liberty Loan rallies of World War I.
" – J. B. Kaufman [DWG Project # 522]

AA: Douglas Fairbanks's second starring role in a film.

Based on his favourite double role concept: slacker / daredevil, Jekyll / Hyde, here called Florian / Brassfield. I was thinking about The Nutty Professor (1963) with Jerry Lewis as Julius Kelp / Buddy Love. The shy boy theme also evokes Harold Lloyd in The Kid Brother.

Oil and politics. Clothes. "Aphasia", read: amnesia. A five year amnesia.

The visual quality is bad, even horribly disfigured. The screening ran too fast. The actual duration was as announced, 53'20".

+  Very likeable.

Opium (Vitaly Zhemchuzhny, 1929)

Виталий Жемчужны: Опиум (1930). Poster design by the Stenberg brothers (Vladimir Stenberg, Georgi Stenberg), signature "2 Stenberg 2". Photo from: The Red Avantgarde Collection / Soviet Political Poster / The Sergo Grigorian Collection.

AA: I missed this screening due to an overlap with the Griffith Project: Double Trouble, but I include Yuri Tsivian's "blind date" program note to keep a full record of Sacile's Vertov Project in this blog.

Grand piano: studente SMI
Cinema Ruffo, Sacile, Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM), 15 Oct 2004

Prog. 17

OPIUM (Sovkino, USSR 1929)
Dir: Vitaly Zhemchuzhny; sc: Osip Brik; ph: A. Galperin, K. Rodendorf; 35 mm, 1650 m, 65’ (22 fps), RGAKFD.
Didascalie in russo / Russian intertitles.

Yuri Tsivian (GCM): "Opium is a blind date. No one in the world has seen this film aside from Aleksandr Deriabin, who recommended it for this show. Aleksandr was also supposed to write this note, but he fell ill. I had to jump in, but please keep in mind that what you read is based on what I have read, and not on what I have seen."

"Like Stekliannyi Glaz [The Glass Eye], shown in the previous program, Opium was an attempt on the part of the LEF (Left Front of Arts) group to create their own school of documentary filmmaking. (The association fell apart in 1928, but some of its members continued on together.) Its scenario was written by writer and Formalist scholar Osip Brik, who had been the leader of the group, and the editor of the art journal Novyi LEF, which had recently ceased publication; the film’s director was also a LEF person."

"LEF documentaries had one trait in common: they were predominantly found-footage films edited to convey a clear ideological message. This film’s message could not be clearer: God does not exist. Its title is a one-word quotation from atheism’s favorite mantra: Religion is opium for the masses. The film realizes this metaphor visually, taking the viewer from poppy fields to the factories where opium balls are made, and then to opium dens where it is smoked. From there, it jumps to temples and minarets; religious rituals observed by Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Baptists, and pagan shamans are shown. (As I said, I have not yet seen this film, but I expect it to include footage of Lamaist rituals, used in Pudovkin’s 1929 Storm over Asia — a film also scripted by Osip Brik, the writer of Opium.) This is followed by shots showing fortune-tellers and their clients. Meanwhile, the police break up a protest demonstration, and send workers to jail. And so on."

"One of the reasons we wanted to include this film in our program is that it contains shots from The Unsealing of the Remains of Sergii of Radonezh (Vskrytie moschei Sergiia Radonezhskogo), presumably made by Vertov exactly ten years earlier.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Cecil B. DeMille – American Epic

CECIL B. DE MILLE – AMERICAN EPIC (Photoplay Productions, GB 2004)
Dir: Kevin Brownlow; prod: Patrick Stanbury; narr: Kenneth Branagh; ed: Christopher Bird; ph: Gerald Saldo; mus. comp./cond: Elmer Bernstein; mus. perf: City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra; orchestrations: Emilie A. Bernstein, Patrick Russ; mus. prod: Cynthia Millar; mus. rec. & mixing: Christopher Dibble; opening title des. XTV: Dal Bhatia, Andy Godden, Adam Sealey; interviewees: Elmer Bernstein, Bob Birchard, Diana Serra Cary, Frank Coghlan, James D’Arc, Agnes de Mille (1980/81), Cecilia de Mille Presley, Richard de Mille, Arnold Gillespie (1980), Henry Hathaway (1980), Charlton Heston, Angela Lansbury, Betty Lasky, Jesse Lasky, Jr. (1981), A. C. Lyles, Micky Moore, Pat Moore, Joseph Newman, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, Gloria Swanson (1980/81) [(1980) = Hollywood; (1981) = BBC Omnibus)]; Video, Beta, 116 mins. (ep. 1: 57’; ep. 2: 59’), bn e colore / b/w & color>, sonoro / sound, Photoplay Productions.
    Versione inglese / English narration & dialogue.
    GCM Sacile, Teatro Zancanaro, 15 Oct 2004

Kevin Brownlow (GCM): "Just 90 years ago, Cecil B. De Mille made The Squaw Man, the first feature to be produced in Hollywood. De Mille’s career spanned half a century and 70 films. He was, with Hitchcock, the only director the audience knew by sight. He was also the Voice of Hollywood on the radio in the 1930s and 40s. And his name is still the byword for the Hollywood spectacular. He tackled an incredibly wide range of subjects, pioneering colour processes and lighting techniques. He followed D.W. Griffith as the leading director of the epic spectacular. De Mille was years ahead of his time in making “psychological dramas”, but these were not the box-office hits Paramount demanded. He switched to sex comedies, and the theatres were packed once more. He made a star of Gloria Swanson, and transformed the humble bathtub into an object of beauty. De Mille was a deeply religious man, and yet his private life was somewhat unorthodox; he maintained a loyal staff of female collaborators, several of whom served as his mistresses. In 1922, in a newspaper contest, he asked his public for the subject of his next production; the Ten Commandments was chosen. De Mille planned a film which would, he hoped, eclipse any other. It was so spectacular that Adolph Zukor, head of Paramount, feared the runaway budget would ruin the company. Even though The Ten Commandments made more money for Paramount than any other film, Zukor made things so difficult for De Mille that he left the company. Instead of seeking work at another studio, he opened his own. His most important independent production was The King of Kings. This became one of the most popular films ever made, being in continuous distribution ever since the premiere in 1927. But the studio failed, and he had to find another job. He was rescued by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. He made one hit and two misses – and that was enough. His contract was not renewed, and the most successful director in the history of the business found himself out of work. None of the studios would offer De Mille a position. In desperation, he took a belated vacation, and he visited Russia in the hope of landing a job, but no agreement could be made. He returned to find America in the grip of the Depression. Zukor was reluctant to take back the man he had forced out of Paramount, but his old friend Jesse Lasky persuaded the studio to give him a one-picture deal. De Mille chose to make The Sign of the Cross. It was so censorable that it contributed to the formation of the Legion of Decency. Scenes like Claudette Colbert’s bath of asses’ milk and naked girls threatened by gorillas ensured the picture was a stunning box-office success. And it reunited him with Paramount for the rest of his life. In 1950, he embarked on his most controversial episode when he insisted that all members of the Directors Guild sign a loyalty oath guaranteeing that they were not Communists. This led to a dramatic clash between De Mille and DGA President Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Whatever his political troubles, De Mille was now more popular with his public than he had ever been. He had made Samson and Delilah with Victor Mature, and followed it with a story of circus life produced with documentary fidelity. One of the thousands who stood in line to see it was a four-year-old named Steven Spielberg, for whom it was an inspiration. De Mille won his first Academy Award for The Greatest Show on Earth, and he would use the same leading actor, Charlton Heston, for the role of Moses in a new version of The Ten Commandments.  It was a staggering undertaking to place on the shoulders of a man of 73. On location in Egypt,  De Mille had a heart attack. A mere week later, he was back behind the cameras. The picture was another stupendous success. It is still shown every Easter on American television, 50 years later. De Mille died in January 1959. “Motion pictures have been my life’s work,” he once said. “And every foot of it in film, and every minute of it in time, has been an adventure which I would not exchange for anything else in the world.”" – Kevin Brownlow

Patrick Stanbury (GCM): "THE PRODUCTION: Cecil B. De Mille retained an enormous archive documenting the whole of his career, and was himself frequently on the screen. Photoplay was given unparalleled access to the archive by the De Mille Estate, and the material provided the basis of their two-part documentary. De Mille’s collection of stills, designs, and documents is housed at the Harold B. Lee Library at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. Producer Patrick Stanbury made one preliminary research trip there before returning with director Kevin Brownlow to film much of the documentary and photographic material used in their film. They also interviewed the collection’s curator, James D’Arc.  De Mille’s extensive personal film collection is now preserved at two American archives: silent films at George Eastman House in Rochester, and production films at the UCLA Film and Television Archive. Much of the filmic material in Episode 1 came from these sources. Film material for Episode 2, mainly De Mille’s sound films, was accessed through the Hollywood studios Paramount, Universal, and MGM (now Warner Bros.). An  important discovery in this episode is production footage showing how De Mille recreated the parting of the Red Sea for The Ten Commandments (1956). Footage of this complex special effect  was found while researching at Paramount.Current interviews were filmed during four trips to Hollywood. They include those with surviving members of De Mille’s family, granddaughter Cecilia and adopted son Richard, and De Mille’s collaborators, including actors Angela Lansbury, Charlton Heston, and Pat Moore, composer Elmer Bernstein, assistant director Micky Moore, and Paramount executive A.C. Lyles. Interviews with Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg give a contemporary commentary by two of Hollywood’s most important directors. An asset to the production were interviews shot by Kevin Brownlow and David Gill in the 1970s for their documentary series Hollywood. These include Gloria Swanson, Agnes de Mille, Henry Hathaway, and Arnold Gillespie. Later interviews with Swanson, Agnes de Mille, and screenwriter Jesse Lasky, Jr. were filmed in 1981 by TV film critic Barry Norman for his BBC Omnibus production “Ready when you are, Mr. De Mille!”. For footage of De Mille himself, apart from the many prologues, production shots, and newsreels, the BBC Television archive had an interview with De Mille broadcast in 1957. It is used extensively throughout the film, providing us with De Mille’s own reflections on his career, and even giving him the last word, in a characteristic, straight-to-camera farewell.Interview and research trips were spread throughout the production period (mid-2002–2003). Editor Christopher Bird started to shape the film in 2003, adding new material as it arrived. Encapsulating a prolific career of 50 years, the rough cut was 3 hours long. Once the final length of 2 hours was achieved, the narration was written and recorded, the title sequence was completed, and in September 2003 the film was submitted to composer Elmer Bernstein for its final embellishment.At 82, Bernstein was a direct link to De Mille’s last film, The Ten Commandments (1956). As a young man, he wrote the score which became so much a part of that film’s success. Like De Mille, Bernstein went on to build a reputation working on a wide range of canvases. From jazz to the lush romanticism of The Ten Commandments, his work has made his name synonymous with film music. It was the ambition of producer Patrick Stanbury to bring De Mille and Bernstein together again on a film project. Having the greatest respect for the director who had launched his career, Bernstein agreed. Photoplay’s team had a production meeting with the composer in Santa Monica in September 2003, before he conducted the recording in Prague in November 2003. It is somehow fitting that this is Bernstein’s last film score, bringing his career full circle. Elmer Bernstein died in August 2004. We are honoured to have worked with him. The documentary was completed in December 2003, and first broadcast in the US on TCM in April 2004." – Patrick Stanbury (GCM)

AA: * One of my favourites at the Festival. A top documentary. A good Beta projection.

Film concert Vesnoi / In Spring, GCM Sacile 2004, live music by Ulrich Kodjo Wendt & Anne Wiemann

Mikhail Kaufman: Vesnoi / In the Spring (1929). Poster by Georgi Stenberg & Vladimir Stenberg.


VESNOI / NAVESNI / [A PRIMAVERA / IN SPRING] (VUFKU, Kievskaya Fabrika, Kiev, USSR 1929)
    Dir/ph: Mikhail Kaufman; asst: Suiko, Norochov, Nikolai Bykov; premiere: 25.10.1930 (Moscow? Kiev?), 4.1.1931 (Berlin-Halensee, Rote Mühle); 35 mm, 1527 m., 67’ (20 fps), Nederlands Filmmuseum. (1999 positive print, from a nitrate print distributed in the Netherlands in the 1930s by Film Liga. Recently completed with [previously censored?] outtakes found at the NFM.)
    Didascalie in olandese e danese / Dutch & Danish intertitles.
    Musica dal vivo di / Live music by Ulrich Kodjo Wendt & Anne Wiemann.
    Teatro Zancanaro, Sacile, Le Giornate Del Cinema Muto (GCM), 15 Oct 2004

Thomas Tode (GCM): "Mikhail Kaufman’s film-essay Vesnoi (In Spring, USSR 1929) is almost like a twin brother to Dziga Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera (USSR 1928/29), on which he worked as a cameraman. During the post-production of Man with a Movie Camera they became alienated over the issue of succumbing to pressure from the film administration. Mikhail reproached Vertov for compromising too easily by delivering the film to them before it was ready for screening. They never worked on a film together again. From now on, Mikhail would work only on his own films. The first one was Vesnoi, shot in the Ukraine in the spring of 1929."

"In Vesnoi Mikhail Kaufman pictures the struggle of people against the thawing of the snow, and takes the pulse of waking nature via images of daily life in the town and countryside. Experts have long rated the film a masterpiece. Joris Ivens attested that "he [Mikhail] combines the acid rigorousness of Vertov with the humanistic approach of Cavalcanti". Esfir Shub rejoiced that Kaufman’s camerawork captured "exceptionally beautiful nature, urban and industrial surroundings, the Kolkhozs and Sovkhozs, snow and rain, frost and wind: Unsurpassed, however, is the way in which he filmed the people." Even his brother Dziga praised him, in a letter to El Lissitzky: "He succeeded quite well with material from Spring, adapting Man with a Movie Camera as his model." Quite a (back-handed) compliment, after the alienation of the brothers."

"Kaufman wanted the struggle against the forces of nature to be viewed as a parable for the struggle of Communism, as Eric Barnouw tells us (in his book Documentary. A History of the Non-Fiction Film, Oxford, 1983, p.69): "Portraying the springtime devastation of rain and flood — preliminaries to rebirth — Kaufman makes spring a metaphor for revolution. Portions dealing with this theme, in which religion is seen as a distortion of the symbolism of spring, were generally excised abroad." Among these outtakes were the scenes of drunken women at the graveyard."

"Kaufman was less of a theorist than Vertov, which does not mean his films lack in conception. On the contrary — Kaufman’s approach was based on a rigorous method laid out in his (sole published) essay, "Film Analysis", with many examples from Vesnoi (see the translation of this essay in the chapter "The Last of the Kinocs", in Yuri Tsivian’s Lines of Resistance: Dziga Vertov and the Twenties).


Ulrich Kodjo Wendt (GCM): "At the beginning of the 2000s, film enthusiasts Rasmus Gerlach and Thomas Tode contacted me as a film composer, asking if I would be interested in creating a soundtrack for a poetic experimental film shot in 1929.  I found In Spring, by Mikhail Kaufman, the brother of Dziga Vertov, very inspiring.  So I started to work on it with Anne Wiemann, my collaborator on the score for Im Juli (In July), the 2000 film directed by Fatih Akin (winner of the Golden Bear at the 2004 Berlin Film Festival for her film Gegen die Wand / Head-On). We first performed the music for In Spring live, with saxophone, flute, loops, and diatonic accordion (organetto). We tried to establish a dialogue between the rhythm of the pictures and our music. Wondering, playful, and sometimes comical, film and music dance through natural catastrophes, Stalinism, corrupt clergy, animals behind bars, lovers on benches, children on tricycles, big-shot athletes, cakes that eat themselves, and accordion players bicycling in reverse..."

"It was fun, and a tour de force – an overwhelming adventure.  Even more so, as the version we got to work with was not the same as the one we accompanied shown on the screen that first evening. We noticed – and just continued playing, a blind flight across unknown and fascinating territory.  This version of In Spring turned out to be our favorite, more wild and satirical than the other.  And about a quarter of an hour longer.  Since this experience, we always try to get the long version of In Spring.

AA: * One of my favourites at the Festival. Revisited Mikhail Kaufman's wonderful Vesnoi which I had last seen during Moscow Film Festival in 1989 in Dom Kino programmes curated by Naum Kleiman. I don't remember what version that was, but today's version was a special one, with a wonderful and inspired musical interpretation. The duration of this screening was 71 min (1:10'26").

Ghost Town: The Story of Fort Lee

GHOST TOWN: THE STORY OF FORT LEE (Huff & Borgatta, US 1935)
    Presented by Theodore Huff & Mark A. Borgatta.
    16 mm, 446 ft /18 fps/ 17 min, George Eastman House.
    Silent. English intertitles.
    Grand piano: Donald Sosin.
    Viewed at Cinema Ruffo, Sacile, Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM): Fort Lee, 15 Oct 2004

Richard Koszarski (GCM): "Born in Englewood, New Jersey, in 1905, Theodore Huff grew up watching the making of movies in neighboring Fort Lee and become one of the first generation of American film historians. He dabbled in independent filmmaking as early as 1929 and was later involved (in one way or another) with the film programs of the Museum of Modern Art, the National Archives, and the Library of Congress. This was Huff’s only documentary, and was apparently influenced by a series of articles in the Bergen Record (reprinted in Fort Lee: The Film Town). Not content with glorifying a bygone age, Ghost Town reflects the social concerns of Huff’s previous film, Mr. Motorboat’s Last Stand: A Comedy of the Depression (1933). Huff seems to understand the rapid collapse of Fort Lee’s industrial base, where “brief prosperity” has been supplanted by “ruin and desolation”, as a metaphor for the larger national condition." – Richard Koszarski (GCM)

AA: Theodore Huff's Charles Chaplin (1951) was one of the first film books I read: it was published even in Finnish in 1959 with a postscript by Jörn Donner on Limelight and A King in New York. It was very moving to see this documentary by a nestor of American film historians, on a subject that is personal to him. Actual duration of the screening: 13 min.

By Man's Law

W. Christie Cabanne: By Man's Law (US 1913). "From The Progressive Silent Film List by Carl Bennett. Copyright © 1999-2023 by Carl Bennett and the Silent Era Company. Robert Harron (right, foreground). Frame enlargement: Silent Era image collection."

BY MAN’S LAW (Biograph, US 1913)
    Dir: W. Christie Cabanne; story: William Wing; cast: Charles Hill Mailes (the oil magnate), Alfred Paget (the oil magnate's son), Mildred Manning (the oil magnate's daughter), Alan Hale (brother Owner), Donald Crisp (Lee Calvert – brother Owner), Mae Marsh (Ann Calvert – sister Owner; rel. 17.11.1913.
    35 mm, 1600 ft, 642 ft /16 fps/ 11 min. 16 mm, Museum of Modern Art.
    And Robert Harron (young boy), Antonio Moreno (procurer / slaver), Dorothy Gish (at league meeting, n.c.).
    English intertitles.
    Grand piano: Donald Sosin.
    Viewed at Cinema Ruffo, Sacile, Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM): Fort Lee, 15 Oct 2004

Richard Koszarski (GCM): "Because recent editions of the Giornate have screened dozens of Fort Lee Biograph films directed by D. W. Griffith, we have selected a non-Griffith title for this series. But there is enough plot here for at least three Biographs, with The Mother and the Law thrown in (“When man turns God, conflict and sorrow follow,” warns the Biograph Bulletin). In addition to considerable footage of Griffith’s familiar Bigler Street locales, the film also provides a rare glimpse of the industrial zone underneath the Palisades in Edgewater, probably the Valvoline or Barret Mfg. Company tanks." – Richard Koszarski (GCM)

AA: The narrative is inflammatory, but the approach is that of a restrained piece of social realism. This film is an interesting piece of social cinema. Themes include: – strikes – police interference – starvation – Money God – white slavery (= prostitution). Strong stuff, but the angle is that of sobriety.

Having seen hundreds of Griffith Biographs, it is interesting to see the familiar cast in a film by another Biograph director.

A good 16 mm print. The actual duration of the screening was 21 min [there is a mix-up of 35 mm and 16 mm lengths in the calculation of the festival information].

IMDb synopsis: "An oil tycoon corners the market, then cuts jobs and causes much suffering. Because she's lost her job, a young girl almost falls into the hands of white slavers."

Motion Picture World synopsis: ""Are the days of despotism over, when one hypocritical Money God can so sway the wheels of destiny that thousands of helpless men, women and children may be thrown defenseless upon the world?" So the editorial questioned. It served only as an impetus for the magnate to turn public opinion by philanthropy, while he continued to satisfy his own lusts at the expense of other lives."

"A two-reel number, following in the wake of numerous theatrical productions dealing with the white slave traffic. The story is strong and well pictured; it shows how the oil trust grinds down a family of independent producers, so that the girl eventually is forced to look for work on the street. She is followed by white slavers and dies at the close of the picture. This is rather sordid and pessimistic in type and cannot be called a pleasant story. At the same time it is well constructed and powerful in the emotions it excites." – The Moving Picture World, December 6, 1913

Émile Cohl: Bewitched Matches

Émile Cohl: Bewitched Matches (1913). Photo: IMDb.

Émile Cohl: Bewitched Matches (1913): the windmill. Photo: Rate Your Music.

Émile Cohl: Bewitched Matches (1913). The Star Spangled Banner made of matchsticks. My screenshot from YouTube.

Émile Cohl: Bewitched Matches (1913). The man smokes a pipe, and the pipe smokes him. My screenshot from YouTube.

Émile Cohl: Bewitched Matches (1913). The skeleton dance. My screenshot from YouTube.

BEWITCHED MATCHES / Les Allumettes ensorcelées (Éclair-Universal, US 1913)
    Dir: Émile Cohl; rel. 4.5.1913.
    16 mm, 61 m /18 fps/ 7 min, Cineteca del Friuli.
    No intertitles.
    Grand piano: Donald Sosin.
    Viewed at Cinema Ruffo, Sacile, Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM): Fort Lee, 15 Oct 2004

Richard Koszarski (GCM): "Émile Cohl arrived in the United States in September 1912 and established what was probably the first animation department in the country at Éclair’s Linwood Avenue studio. Cohl produced the “cartoon” element of Universal’s Animated Weekly, and beginning in November 1912 “The Newlyweds”, cited by Donald Crafton as “the first modern animated cartoon series”. In addition to his drawn animation, Cohl was also a pioneer of stop-motion model animation. Unfortunately, Bewitched Matches is his only stop-motion film of this period known to survive." – Richard Koszarski (GCM)

AA: The great pioneer of animation Émile Cohl had been inspired by J. Stuart Blackton's stop motion trick film The Haunted Hotel (1907). Cohl focused on animation and mastered many approaches (drawing, puppets, folded paper, objects, engraving). Having been inspired by Americans he came to America and established the first American animation department and the first modern animated cartoon series.

It is a pity that Bewitched Matches is Cohl's only surviving stop-motion film of this period. It has flair, style and touch. The minimalist device of matches serves the fantasy well, and there is an engaging and irresistible drive of fantasy and imagination in this series of transformations. From the magic fountain of Méliès to Blackton to Cohl. It's a joy. ****

Print viewed: very soft, bad image.

Robin Hood (1912)

Étienne Arnaud: Robin Hood (Éclair-America 1912) with Robert Frazer (Robin Hood) and Arthur Hollingsworth (Richard the Lion-Hearted). Photo: IMDb.

ROBIN HOOD (Éclair-America, US 1912)
    Dir: Etienne Arnaud; cast: Robert Frazer, Barbara Tennant, Alec B. Francis, Muriel Ostriche, John Adolfi; rel. 22.8.1912.
    16 mm, 720 ft /18 fps/ 27 min, Fort Lee Film Commission, Al Dettlaff Collection.
    English intertitles.
    Grand piano: Donald Sosin.
    Viewed at Cinema Ruffo, Sacile, Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM): Fort Lee, 15 Oct 2004   

Richard Koszarski (GCM): "This work print represents a restoration in progress based on a now decomposed tinted nitrate original from the collection of Al Dettlaff. The Éclair studio, opened in 1911, was the first to be built in downtown Fort Lee, literally down the block from parts of Main Street frequently used by Biograph and other producers. The stated policy of Éclair’s president, Charles Jourjon, was to combine French dramatic and technical skills with American players, subjects, and scenery. To accomplish this Jourjon imported Étienne Arnaud, Ben Carré, Lucien Andriot, Émile Cohl, Maurice Tourneur, and many others, but Éclair suffered, especially in comparison with Pathé, from a lack of adequate distribution (at the time Arnaud filmed Robin Hood Éclair’s product was being distributed by Universal, but this relationship was never satisfactory). The slight lack of clarity in the narrative might have been less of a problem for audiences familiar with the apparent source, Reginald De Koven’s 1890 comic opera." – Richard Koszarski (GCM)

AA: Primitive gesticulation. Unintentionally comical. A good 16 mm print.

The Great Adventure (1918)

Alice Blaché: The Great Adventure (1918). Slide from IMDb.
Alice Blaché: The Great Adventure (1918). Magazine advertisement from Wikipedia.

Alice Blaché: The Great Adventure (1918). Bessie Love as Ragna Jansen, "Rags". Photo from Wikipedia.

Alice Blaché: The Great Adventure (1918). Bessie Love as Ragna Jansen, "Rags" and Flora Finch as her aunt. Photo from Wikipedia.

THE GREAT ADVENTURE (Pathé Exchange, US 1918)
    Dir: Alice Guy Blaché; ph: George K. Hollister, John G. Haas; adapted by Agnes C. Johnson from “The Painted Scene”, by Henry Kitchell Webster; cast: Bessie Love, Flora Finch, Donald Hall, Chester Barnett, Florence Short; rel. 10.3.1918.
    35 mm, 3032 ft /16 fps/ 51 min – 925 m /16 fps/ 51 min – BFI / NFTVA.
    English intertitles.
    Grand piano: Donald Sosin.
    Viewed at Cinema Ruffo, Sacile, Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM): Fort Lee, 15 Oct 2004

Richard Koszarski (GCM): "Alice Guy Blaché’s last surviving film (and last Fort Lee production) has recently been restored by the NFTVA from a somewhat abridged 28 mm copy. As noted by Alison McMahon, it demonstrates the director’s continuing interest in complex female characterizations even at the very end of her career, and features engaging performances from all the women in the cast, each of whom represents a different ideal of contemporary womanhood. The theatrical background also provides a rich opportunity for Blaché to explore her interest in role-playing, show business, and the need to balance romantic illusion with practical common sense."

"Alice and her husband Herbert had built a new Solax studio on Lemoine Avenue in Fort Lee in 1912. After the introduction of features the Blachés often directed films here for others, or even leased the facility outright (Goldwyn made its first films here early in 1917, before moving to the larger Universal studio). Pathé occupied the studio from the summer of 1917, and Alice Blaché appears to have directed this film for them at the instigation of her friend Albert Capellani, who was then its manager.
" – Richard Koszarski (GCM)

AA: A country girl (Bessie Love) becomes a star of the local theater in a patriotic success play called "The Spring of the Year". The theatre world is portrayed in caricature, but there are dreams about the "cinema, where talent is truly appreciated" (there was a good laugh from the audience here). New York provides "the great adventure" of the film's title on a date with the actor Mr. Sheen (Donald Hall) with a visit to the zoo and comic blunders on the beach.

The 28 mm source is poor, the faces burned white.

Bessie Love's (1898–1986) film career had started two years earlier, but she had at once had the tripple whammy of working with Griffith (Intolerance), William S. Hart (The Aryan) and Douglas Fairbanks (The Good Bad-Man). 65 years later her last appearances took place in films by Milos Forman (Ragtime), Warren Beatty (Reds) and Tony Scott (The Hunger).

Alice Guy (1873–1968) was a pioneer of the cinema. The Great Adventure was her penultimate film as a director, and the last one with her sole directorial credit. In 1896 (Anno Uno of the cinema) she had been one of the first film directors – before the job description existed. Often people wonder why she finished so early, and with justification.

On the other hand, Alice Guy was one of the last ones from Anno Uno to continue directing. Of the film directors of 1896 I can only think of Cecil M. Hepworth who continued longer (until 1927). The Skladanowskys withdrew in 1897, W. K. L. Dickson in 1899, the Lumières in 1905, R. W. Paul in 1910 and Méliès in 1912. Edwin S. Porter who started in 1898 withdrew in 1915.

Alice Guy: La Fée aux choux / The Cabbage Fairy (1900). Guy directed three films of this subject (1896, 1900, 1902). Her first La Fée aux choux (1896) was shot on 60 mm. In the 1900 version, the fairy is played by Yvonne Serand. There is an affinity with the appearance of Bessie Love in The Great Adventure.


Rags (Love), has found local success and acclaim in her small town as an actress, but dreams of stardom on Broadway. She and her aunt (Finch) go to New York, where she unsuccessfully looks for work in a Broadway chorus. On the advice of Billy Blake (Barnett), she holds up the producer of a Broadway show to get a job. The lead actor in the show, Sheen (Hall), likes Rags, but on a date together, he cannot ride a horse, paddle a canoe, or swim. Embarrassed, he leaves the Broadway show, allowing Billy to take over the male lead, and Rags to take over the female lead.


Ragna Jansen, affectionately called "Rags" by her high school chums in Middletown, is assured that she will win instant fame and fortune on Broadway, but when she and her aunt arrive in New York, they find that success does not come so easily. Billy Blake, who is an understudy for Sheen, the leading man in a Broadway show, takes an interest in Rags and helps her to secure a position in the chorus. When Sheen and his wife, the leading lady, quarrel, the wife quits the show and Rags is given the part. She captivates the audience and attracts the leading man, but Billy and actress Hazel Lee, aware of the shallowness of Sheen's character, conspire to prevent the romance. Rags, however, witnesses Sheen's foolishness herself. On a canoeing jaunt, Sheen's inability to swim leads to his public humiliation when Rags, in an impulsive publicity stunt, throws herself in the water, only to find herself forced to rescue the drowning actor. Sheen, disgusted, leaves the show, and Billy wins the leading role as well as Rags's heart.

Old Heidelberg (1915)

John Emerson: Old Heidelberg (1915). Digital ID: TH-41476. Source: Billy Rose Theatre Collection photograph file / Productions / Old Heidelberg (Cinema 1915) ( Repository: The New York Public Library. The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. Billy Rose Theatre Division. See more information about and others at Persistent URL: . Rights Info: No known copyright restrictions; may be subject to third party rights (for more information, Date 14 December 2008, 22:29:31. Source . Author: New York Public Library. Permission (Reusing this file): At the time of upload, the image license was automatically confirmed using the Flickr API. For more information see Flickr API detail. Flickr sets: Cinema 1915. Flickr tags: New York Public Library dc:identifier xmlns:dc silent film. There is a whole set of rare Old Heidelberg (1915) photos in Wikimedia Commons. Please click on the photo to enlarge it.

OLD HEIDELBERG (Fine Arts Film Co., US 1915)
    Dir.: John Emerson; supv.: D. W. Griffith; cast: Wallace Reid, Dorothy Gish, Erich von Stroheim; 35 mm, 4223 ft, 62’ (18 fps), BFI / National Film and Television Archive.
    English intertitles.
    Grand piano: Antonio Coppola.
    Viewed at Teatro Zancanaro, Sacile, Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM): The Griffith Project 8, 15 Oct 2004.

J. B. Kaufman [DWG Project # 519]: "Along with other cinematic milestones, the year 1915 was a major turning point in the career of Wallace Reid. Formerly one of the second string of actors in Griffith’s stock company at Majestic, Reid made a brief but memorable appearance as a blacksmith in The Birth of a Nation which proved to be his breakthrough. Although Griffith seemed to have little use for the young actor in his own films, Reid continued to prosper with the company, enjoying progressively larger roles until, by the end of the year, he stood on the brink of stardom. One of his featured roles, that of Philip Ray in Enoch Arden, can be seen elsewhere in this program; by the time of Old Heidelberg he was playing the leading role of Prince Karl, torn between the demands of love and duty and sadly bowing to the inevitable. By the end of 1915 Reid had been lured away from Griffith’s company by Cecil B. DeMille, and his all-too-short reign as a popular star lay directly ahead."

"For an actor who represented such an unknown quantity in Griffith’s eyes, Old Heidelberg was an ideal vehicle; the story was already so well known that it had a pre-sold popular appeal. This film version was, in fact, only one link in a long chain of adaptations. Wilhelm Meyer-Förster’s romance Karl Heinrich had first been published in 1902 as a novel, and at least three stage adaptations had quickly followed. The most successful of these was revived in New York in 1910, and this quite likely led to Majestic’s 1915 film version. In 1924 the story took a lighter turn when it was adapted as Sigmund Romberg’s operetta The Student Prince. This was followed in turn by another film version in 1927, directed by Ernst Lubitsch and starring Ramon Novarro and Norma Shearer, and the story continued to resurface on stage and screen in later years."

"The top screen billing in Old Heidelberg actually goes to Dorothy Gish, who was herself well on the way to screen stardom. Though she has little to do, her performance as Katie (Kathie in the original story) displays her natural charm, and was and is a delight to all except, apparently, the critic “Jolo.”, who complained in Variety (8 October 1915, p. 21) that she “doesn’t suggest anything Teutonic, thereby failing to preserve the otherwise strongly created atmosphere of German student life”. Other reviewers were far more complimentary. Another notable member of the cast is young Harold Goodwin, who plays the Prince at age 12. In later years Goodwin would virtually grow up onscreen, appearing in the silent films of Mary Pickford and Buster Keaton among many others, and continuing his acting career in dozens of sound films in succeeding decades."

"In retrospect, perhaps the most interesting casting choice in the film is that of Erich von Stroheim, who appears as valet and chief killjoy Lutz, and who also assisted director John Emerson behind the camera. Richard Koszarski has written on Stroheim’s connection with Old Heidelberg, providing valuable insights on his working relationship with Emerson, and speculating on the extent of his involvement in the finished film. (Koszarski’s comments are reprinted in Griffithiana 71, pp. 56 –60.) Traces of Old Heidelberg can be seen in several of Stroheim’s own later films, while, conversely, Koszarski makes a case for Stroheim’s creative contribution to this film. The royal edict “that each crippled soldier be given a hand-organ” is offered as one touch that suggests the Stroheim influence."

"Of course there are other influences at work here, not least that of Griffith himself. The title “Love’s marriage”, followed by an idyllic shot of the lovers by a stream, seems a striking example of Griffith’s hand at work. And, as the Variety reviewer commented, “No Griffith feature would be complete without a battle-scene” (reviewers frequently wrote about these Griffith-supervised program pictures as if Griffith himself had directed them). In the original version of Old Heidelberg, the end of Karl’s idyll was brought about by the simple necessity of royal obligation; here his return to Karlburg is prompted by an impending war, and the film suddenly takes off in a new direction as Reid finds himself in the midst of an anti-war lecture. The inclusion of a war was of course motivated by World War I, which was already raging in Europe when this film was produced. The anti-war stance may have reflected the United States’ current neutrality policy, but it seems to come directly from Griffith, who had presented glorious scenes of the Civil War in The Birth of a Nation but took pains to link them to a strong anti-war statement, and was preparing an even stronger one in his current production of Intolerance. (Interestingly, the passage in question in Old Heidelberg – in which Reid is conducted through scenes illustrating the horrors of war – suggests Thomas Ince’s Civilization, which would be released months later, far more strongly than any other Griffith film or Meyer-Förster’s original story.)"

"Continuing this thread, Kevin Brownlow pointed out in a personal conversation that some of the differences between the (vastly different) 1915 and 1927 film versions of Old Heidelberg are prompted by the intervening changes in world history. The Locarno Treaty of 1925 had admitted Germany to the League of Nations, and MGM’s 1927 film version, The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg, directed by Ernst Lubitsch, was designed to reflect a new and more positive attitude between nations. Wallace Reid’s 1915 duel was not repeated by Ramon Novarro in 1927, nor was there any mention of war, mythical or real."

"Released on the second Triangle program in November 1915, Old Heidelberg drew a generally favorable reaction from critics, but was overshadowed by Ince’s contribution to the program: the Civil War drama The Coward, with Frank Keenan and Charles Ray.
" – J. B. Kaufman [DWG Project # 519]

AA: + Very likeable. Revisited the first 20 minutes.