Friday, June 29, 2012

A Hundred Years Ago: 1912: Programme 7: Current Affairs and Fashion

Cento anni fa: 1912: Programma 7: attualità e moda
Friday 29 July 2012, Cinema Lumière - Sala Mastroianni (Bologna, Il Cinema Ritrovato). Earphone commentary in Italian and English. Grand piano: Gabriel Thibaudeau.
Programme and notes by Mariann Lewinsky

“A tour in fog – we all know the experience. It goes like this: we are on a coach trip through a famous beauty spot, in fog; and the guide tells us what we could see if there were no fog. Or, the lecture begins and on the screen we see no signal and, after some fruitless to-ing and fro-ing, we hear a series of explanations of what we would have seen, had there been something to see. Recognising ‘fog tours’ for what they are is a good thing. “Ah, more fog.” and our irritation dissolves into a relaxed giggle.

“Earlier, at the time of the Scènes d’actualités reconstitués, the death of Pope Leo XIII (1903), an attempt on the life of minister Plèhve (1904) and the battle of Tsushima (1905) could be put into pictures beautifully, but around 1910, with the advent of the newsreel, ‘fog tours’ became a routine procedure for cinema reportage. What is announced in the film’s title is not seen in the film: no “Peace Negotiations at Ouchy” but a shot of the Turkish and Italian delegates in front of a building; no “Sinking of the Titanic” but Jack Binns, radio operator of the passenger steamer Republic, which had been rammed in 1909 by another ship (in thick fog) just outside New York.

“Audiences are far better served by fiction films. For fiction show disasters – shipwrecks, battles, fires –in detail and great splendour, and manages even to make visible something invisible: the mental state of people in extreme situations. It is striking how quickly – in comparison with today – current affairs of 1912 became the subjects of fiction films, probably thanks to the short production schedules. Within a year of the Titanic disaster (it sank at the end of April 1912) some longish features had appeared, La Hantise by Feuillade and In Nacht und Eis by Mime Misu among them. The Mona Lisa disappeared from the Louvre on 21 August 1911, and by the time the painting turned up again at the end of 1913 the robbery had provided the basis for several films, both thrillers and comedies. And there was one item of current affairs that was always in comedy’s firing line: fashion. Fashion today is, unfortunately, a deadly serious matter and its intrinsically comic and grotesque aspects are almost taboo, so much so that it has only occurred to a single comedian, fearless to operate beyond the pale, to expose them – he is Sacha Baron Cohen (in Brüno, 2009).

“In 1912 Georges Méliès shot his last film and Joris Ivens his first, Wigwam, a home movie western, inspired by the Wild West novels of Karl May (1842-1912). May is probably the most-read of all German authors, with 200 million copies in 40 languages sold around the world, and Ivens was not the only one to be nudged into creativity by his influence: the 11 year-old Othmar Schoeck would base his first opera on May’s most successful novel for young people, Der Schatz im Silbersee.

(I did not see the beginning of the show but only the following:)

MOTTRAM SHOW. GB 1912. 35 mm. 100 m 5’ at 17 fps. B&w. From: BFI National Archive. - AA: Amateur footage.

DE WIGWAM. NL 1912. D: Joris Ivens. DP: Kees Ivens. C: Dorothea Ivens, Hans Ivens,Jacoba Ivens, Joris Ivens (Flaming Arrow), Peter Ivens (Black Eagle), Theodora Ivens,Willem Ivens. 35 mm. 150 m 10’ at 16 fps. B&w. From: EYE – Film Institute Netherlands per concessione di Capi Film. Un ringraziamento a André Stufkens e European Foundation Joris Ivens. - AA: A home movie Western made by the 12 year old Joris Ivens with his family, about a white child kidnapped by an Indian. A duped quality in this print.

ORPHANS OF THE PLAIN / ORPHELINS DE LA PLAINE. US 1912. C: George Gebhardt, Baby Violet. PC: Amerikan Kinema / Pathé. 35 mm. 225 m. 12’ at 18 fps. B&w. French and English intertitles. From: La Cinémathèque française, printed in 1999 from a nitrate negative. - AA: Indians attack a covered wagon and kill everybody but a girl child. She is taken to the Indian camp where she befriends an Indian boy, whose parents have been killed by cowboys. Impressive long shots with the Indians riding down the hill. A fine print.

LA HANTISE [The Haunting / The Obsession]. FR 1912. D: Louis Feuillade. C: Renée Carl (Mme Trévoux), René Navarre (Jean Trévoux), Miss Édith (la chiromante), Henri Jullien (il padrino di Mme Trévoux), Le Petit Mathier (Trévoux figlio). PC: Gaumont. 35 mm. 510 m (incompleto). 26’ at 18 fps. Col. Didascalie francesi / French intertitles. From: CNC – Archives Françaises du Film. - AA: A clairvoyant's prophecy to the woman is that one of her loved ones will cause the death of the other one. Her husband boards the Titanic, and her son falls fatally ill when they hear of the catastrophe. But the husband is saved... The audience laughed at the miniature effects of the Titanic shipwreck. Otherwise, there is a cool, clean, effective sense of composition in the movie. Struck from a colour print, there is a charming original colour world in the print.

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