Monday, June 30, 2014

The Exploits of Elaine, Episode 6: The Vampyre and Episode 10: The Life Current

Les Mystères de New-York / De Geheimen von New York (serial title in the bilingual print)

Les Mystères de New-York (Ep. Sang pour Sang). US 1914. D: Louis Gasnier, George B. Seitz. SC: Charles L. Goddard, Bertram Milhauser. C: Pearl White (Elaine Dodge), Arnold Daly, William Riley. P: Wharton Studios, Eclectic Film Co. - Pathé. 35 mm. 617 m. 30' at 18 fps. B&w. French and Dutch intertitles. From: Cinémathèque Royale de Belgique
    Actual duration of this reel: 27 min

Les Mystères de New-York (Ep. Le Baiser mortel). US 1914. D: Louis Gasnier, George B. Seitz. SC: Charles L. Goddard, Bertram Milhauser. C: Pearl White, Arnold Daly, William Riley. P: Wharton Studios, Eclectic Film Co. - Pathé. 35 mm. 617 m. 30' at 18 fps. B&w. French and Dutch intertitles. From: Cinémathèque Royale de Belgique
    Actual duration of this reel: 19 min
    Grand piano and accordeon: Stephen Horne
    Viewed with e-subtitles in Italian by Sub-Ti at Cinema Lumière, Sala Mastroianni, Bologna (Il Cinema Ritrovato), 30 June 2014

Richard Abel (Il Cinema Ritrovato, 2014, catalogue and website): "So popular was The Perils of Pauline, released in a record number of prints in mid-March 1914 and serialized in scores of Hearst and other newspapers, that Pathé's American subsidiary had Louis Gasnier produce a second serial starring Pearl White, The Exploits of Elaine. Beginning in early January 1915, Pathé-Exchange released the fourteen episodes of Elaine every two weeks, after Arthur Reeves's serial installments had appeared in major newspapers: "Read it now, then see it all in motion pictures.""

"Elaine had White's character repeatedly threatened by the 'Clutching Hand' and rescued from thinly disguised sexual assault either by her quick thinking or by Craig Kennedy (Arnold Daly), a 'scientific detective'. Like other serial films, Elaine was promoted especially to young women: in the US exhibitors could use song slides and sheet music for audience sing-alongs of Elaine, My Moving Picture Queen; in England and Scotland, some theaters lured women workers with giveaways of thousands of "Elaine" hats. In France, Pathé combined The Exploits of Elaine, The New Exploits of Elaine, and The Romance of Elaine into a single serial titled Les Mystères de NewYork and coordinated its weekly release of twenty-two episodes (two reels each) with Pierre Decourcelle's daily serialization in "Le Matin", then collected into weekly booklets. Intriguingly, Les Mystères de New-York reworked the originals to fit the situation of France in the Great War, giving a strongly anti-German and pro-American slant to both the film and its novelization."
Richard Abel (Il Cinema Ritrovato, 2014, catalogue and website)

Mariann Lewinsky in her introduction explained that the truth about Les Mystères de New York is even more complicated than we have known. The material from Brussels contains six cans, three of which were labelled "The Exploits of Elaine", and further three "The New Exploits of Elaine". Yet it turns out that they all belong to the first serial, filmed from late 1914 till early 1915. They represent a condensed version. We are shown reel 4 which contains Episode 6: The Vampyre, and reel 6, which is basically Episode 10: The Life Current.

AA: Although The Perils of Pauline, The Exploits of Elaine, and Les Mystères de New York are legendary serials, they have been hard to get to see for generations. We the audience were grateful to receive these samples from Brussels.

Episode 6: Elaine receives a firearms license and a pistol. The able dog Rusty stops an intruder to Elaine's room at night, and Elaine fires three bullets, all hitting him. There is a serious loss of blood, and the bandits kidnap a doctor who states that a blood transfusion is needed. The bandits again intrude Elaine's house, stun Rusty and Elaine via chloroform, hide Elaine in a suit of armour and later, posing as delivery men, bring her inside the suit of armor to their lair, where the blood transfusion from Elaine to the bandit is immediately launched. "La mort de cette femme est certaine". There is a "Rescued by Rover" sequence where the ingenious Rusty helps the police track down Elaine at the very last moment. The bandits elope, but the doctor assures that Elaine can still be revived.

Episode 10: There are no main title frames in this reel. The detectives enter the house that used to be the criminal's lair. There is devastation there. They find the trapdoor via which the bandits had eloped. They hear steps approaching. There is a person in a diving suit (scaphandre). The police arrest him - c'est Sam Langdon, l'homme au mouchoir rouge. The stench is stunning, they almost faint. "Ces cheveux blonds de femme... " Clarel dons the diving suit now and descends into the dark abyss of the sewers. There he discovers Elaine, almost asphyxiated. They start immediately to revive her. (Stephen Horne accompanied this with the accordeon). The heart is hardly beating. La suprême tentative: electric shocks. "Elle est presque un cadavre". There are close-ups of the control panel of the electric device. The doctor is visibly upset. After a half an hour he is about to give up... but then Elaine's eyes open. "Mon cher Perry". Clarel now loses all hope of happiness, but he will forget by drowning himself into police work.

These serials belong to the early stages of the thriller genre, launched a few years ago forcefully by the great serials of the Éclair company, copied then by everybody, starting with Gaumont and Pathé.

Louis Gasnier and George B. Seitz may not be as famous as Victorin Jasset and Louis Feuillade, but they know what they are doing. The approach is vigorous, the action is well timed, the parallel action montage is assured, and here, too, there are many scenes that are intriguing from the surrealist angle: - the suit of armour - the macabre mask - the blood transfusion - the secret passage - the uncanny devastation of the deserted house - the scuba gear - the electric shocks.

In this silent serial Gasnier and Seitz know how to convey sound - and even smell.

One can appreciate the original quality of the cinematography in this print with some minor issues (framelines, a superimposition of a detached perforation for a moment). The print is in black and white. The night is shot at daytime and should be toned blue, but I suffer from Desmet fatigue and enjoyed this screening in glorious black and white.

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