Saturday, October 06, 2012

The Coming of Columbus

(Christopher Columbus) (Selig Polyscope Company, US 1912). D: Otis Turner; SC: Charles E. Nixon; AD: Gabriel Pollock; C: Charles Clary (Christopher Columbus), Kathlyn Williams (Queen Isabella), Marshall Stedman; rel: 6.5.1912; orig. l: 3215 ft. [3 rl.]; HDCam [not 35 mm as announced], incomplete, 2370 ft., 40' (16 fps); print source: Library of Congress Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation, Culpeper, VA. English intertitles. Teatro Verdi, Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone, with e-subtitles in Italian, grand piano: Gabriel Thibaudeau, 6 Oct 2012.

Andrew Erish: "William Selig was repeatedly thwarted in his efforts to release multi-reel films by both nickelodeon operators and General Film, the distribution arm of the Motion Picture Patents Company, until he discovered full-scale replicas of the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria languishing in Chicago’s Lake Michigan and was inspired to make a 3-reel feature he called The Coming of Columbus. The ships had been gifts to America from the Spanish government in commemoration of the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s discovery of the New World and were displayed at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. The Coming of Columbus was in pre-production for nearly 2 years and in production for over a month and a half during the late summer of 1911, purportedly costing Selig over $50,000. Selig incurred the additional expense of having at least two prints of Columbus hand-colored for prestige screenings. Before the year was out a screening was arranged at the Vatican. Pope Pius X endorsed Selig’s efforts, overturning a ban on motion pictures that he had instituted two years earlier."

"Christopher Columbus – as the film was known outside the United States – broke box office records throughout Europe, especially in England and Austria. Equipped with a Vatican endorsement and success throughout Europe, Selig prevailed on General Film to distribute The Coming of Columbus to theaters for longer runs at higher prices, which helped bring about the demise of the storefront nickelodeon." ANDREW ERISH

AA: I had not seen this movie since Pordenone's 1988 On the Road to Hollywood screening. On display was a work-in-progress HDCam version of the current restoration. The movie was fittingly symbolic for the first screening of the Pordenone festival. An exception to the chase stories that otherwise filled the Selig Polyscope programme number 1, The Coming of Columbus reverts to an earlier form of the cinema: the tableau style with frontal presentation, painted backdrops, stylized gesticulation, static compositions, long shots, long takes, and a preference for ceremonies and arranged scenes. There is constant movement in the tableaux, but this is not an action-driven movie. The movie impresses with its structure and several striking scenes: the monastery, the confessor and Isabella, the meeting at the battlefield of Grenada during the surrender of the Moors, the wise men of Salamanca trying Columbus for his sanity, the tree branch lifted from the sea, "we come with the cross, not the sword", the people and products of the new world brought to Queen Isabella, the knighting of Columbus, "given the same opportunity, might not any man have discovered the new world?" and the egg of Columbus, Boabadilla the victorious conspirator ordering Columbus to Spain in irons, Columbus preventing his Indian friend from stabbing the conspirator, the proclamation: Columbus has not provided much gold, the shame of San Salvador, "sic transit gloria virum". This is a pro-Indian movie. The access to the existing replicas of Santa Maria, Pinta and Niña is a big bonus. The complex original colour of the prestige version of the movie represented here looks very ambitious and interesting. The image is clean, with a heavily duped look and a digital lifelessness in the HDCam presentation.  

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