Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Cento anni fa: 1912: Programma 4: "You Were Never Lovelier." Vitagraph 1912

Tuesday 26 July 2012, Cinema Lumière - Sala Mastroianni (Bologna, Il Cinema Ritrovato). Grand piano: Neil Brand. Earphone commentary in Italian and English.

Programme and notes by Mariann Lewinsky: "According to the IMDb filmography, the Vitagraph Company of America produced a total of 3,121 films between 1898 and 1925 – of which a third (1,073 titles) were in the three years from 1912 to 1914! Quantity is not everything, but I am fairly sure that most of those 1,073 would have been above average quality.

“In 1912 the general standard was high, but during my viewings in the archives of Europe it was the Vitagraph films that stood out from the rest, thanks to their consistent quality: all, even the slightest of them, were elegant, entertaining and engaging. And what is more enjoyable than a first-class piece of froth? A lost handbag, a lovers’ tiff – the plot takes its course, light-hearted and playful, and takes us along with it.

“I felt, in 2012, just as Victorin Jasset and the whole European public had done a hundred years before. Suddenly, these Vitagraph films emerged from the USA and were absolutely wonderful. But how, and why? Jasset, professional that he was, was not deceived by the appearance of naïve simplicity: “The system of the Vitagraph scenes [. ] represented, on the contrary, patient and methodical work in training the artists and lengthy observation on the part of the director. It was not achieved in a single throw. It was, on the contrary, a total submission to certain rules [. ]. This supposed simplicity was a fake. [. ] All that was, however, necessary to give the audience the total illusion of reality ”

“In his analysis, Jasset, singles out three aspects in which the Vitagraph productions differed from the rest: shot lenght (le champs de l’appareil), acting (le jeu des artistes) and plot structure (la construction des scénarios). After some explanation of these three, he unexpectedly added a fourth – which was perhaps the most decisive factor: “Their team [. ] included a few artists who were immediately noticed, became known and were demanded by the public. The periodic reappearance of these same artists was awaited and applauded.Audiences only wanted Vitagraph ” (Victorin Jasset, Étude sur la mise en scène en cinématographie, “Ciné-Journal” No. 170, 25 November 1911, p. 26).

“The Vitagraph producers made stars of their actors, and quantity did play a role in this – 250 Bunnyfinches in five years meant one film with John Bunny and Flora Finch in the cinema every week – but the quality even more so, both of directors (such as Larry Trimble and James Young) and stars.

“Their charm still works on us today: Maurice Costello, so likeable and handsome with dimples that easily match those of De Niro, Clara Kimball Young, utterly charming, and Norma Talmadge, funny and mischievous as a Belinda Longstockings (The Lady and Her Maid, 1913, not in this programme). They were never lovelier than in their first years, in the Vitagraph comedies. And American cinema has never enchanted us so intelligently. As well as all this, Vitagraph produced Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo (1911) and How a Mosquito Operates (1912). So either I am just in the first flush of love or else the Vitagraph Company of America (as it was in 1912-1914, at least) is badly underestimated.

WHEN PERSISTENCY AND OBSTINACY MEET. US 1912. C: Florence Turner (Dorothy Ellis), Maurice Costello (Henry Ford), Edith Halleran. PC: Vitagraph. 35 mm. 300 m 16’ at 17 fps. B&w. Didascalie inglesi / English intertitles. From: BFI National Archive. - AA: A comedy of exaggeration, a story bordering on harassment. Maurice Costello wants to apologize but is rejected by Florence Turner. He tries everything: he becomes an errand boy and a female impersonator and hides inside a blanket in a car. Finally they burst into laughter. Ok print.

HOW HE PAPERED THE ROOM. US 1912. C: John Bunny (Mr. Jolliwell), Flora Finch (Mrs. Jolliwell), Kate Price. PC: Vitagraph. 35 mm. 150 m 7’ at 18 fps. B&w. Didascalie inglesi / English intertitles. From: BFI National Archive. - AA: A farce in which John Bunny decides to put new wallpapers in the room himself. A large scale destruction ensues. "Send me an expert paper hanger". Ok print. - Reminds me of Oscar Wilde's final words: "Either these wallpapers or I must go".

THE HAND BAG. US 1912. Dutch title: De grote Vergissing. C: Flora Finch (Miss Amanda De Rosville), Frank Bennett (Tom), Rosemary Theby (la fidanzata di Tom). PC: Vitagraph. 35 mm. 164 m 8’ at 18 fps. B&w. Didascalie olandesi / Dutch intertitles. From: EYE Film Instituut Nederland. - AA: The story of a lost handbag. "May I bring it to you?" The woman's unrequited feeling of love.

HOW A MOSQUITO OPERATES. US 1912. D: Winsor McCay. SC: Winsor McCay. PC: Vitagraph. 35 mm. 128 m 6’ at 20 fps. B&w. From: Cinémathèque Québécoise. - AA: Winsor McCay's classic animation still makes the audience burst into laughter. This is in direct line of a development which includes Tex Avery (his "Raid Kills" commercials in the 1960s). Print ok, with scratches in the source.

THE ANARCHIST’S WIFE. US 1912. D: William V. Ranous. C: Florence Turner, Leo Delaney, Helene Costello, Mae Costello. PC: Vitagraph. 35 mm. 300 m 16’ at 17 fps. B&w. Didascalie francesi / French intertitles. From: EYE Film Instituut Nederland. - AA: A thriller. Children play and a princess saves the life of the child from a traffic calamity. A fine keyhole effect as the wife spies on the anarchists' meeting. An ingenious escape via a rope. Last minute rescue as the wife foils the plot to murder the princess via a bomb hidden inside a bouquet of flowers. Qf. Sabotage by Alfred Hitchcock (the child and the anarchist's terror plot). Print ok, duped look.

ROCK OF AGES. US 1912. C: Clara Kimball Young, Robert Gaillard, Julia Swayne Gordon, Harry T. Morey, Harry Northrup, Rosemary Theby. PC: Vitagraph. 35 mm. 320 m 16’ at 24 fps. B&w. Didascalie inglesi / English intertitles. From: BFI National Archive. - AA: A tragedy. The fisherman's daughter has talent in sculpture, and she carves a stone cross on the beach. Her talent is discovered and she receives education in the city, but her father receives a letter about "your daughter's affair with a married man". The father comes to the city and witnesses the sculptor making advances to the daughter. In fact she has resisted them. "The closed door". The lyrics to the hymn "Rock of Ages" are now seen. The daughter returns to the coast, seeking sanctuary, and walking in her sleep she wanders to the stone cross and embraces it. There are fine instances of deep focus in the movie. The print is somewhat dark. "Rock of Ages", Edison Blue Amberola, July 1913.

THE PICTURE IDOL. US 1912. D: James Young. SC: James Young. C: Clara Kimball Young (Beth Ward), Maurice Costello (Howard Hanson), Mary Maurice (Mrs Ward), Charles Eldridge (Mr. Ward), James Morrison (il fidanzato Beth), George Cooper (il compagno Howard). PC: Vitagraph. 35 mm. 291 m 15’ at 18 fps. B&w. English intertitles. From: BFI National Archive. - AA: A meta-film, a comedy, a satire. Clara Kimball Young is mesmerized by the silver screen and starts to gesticulate in exaggerated early silent cinema style. Even at school she is lost in her screen fantasies. The movie star gets fan mail from her. The headmaster reproaches her. Disillusionment follows: the movie star is a crude moron. There are gay and trans references. Ok print.

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