Monday, October 06, 2014

AIRSC 50 (Associazione Italiana per le Ricerche di Storia del Cinema)

Il cane di San Bernardo. Photo: Davide Turconi Collection, George Eastman House, Rochester, NY. Click to enlarge all the photos in this set.
With e-subtitles in English and Italian, grand piano: Philip C. Carli, Stephen Horne at Teatro Verdi (Le Giornate del Cinema Muto), Pordenone, 6 Oct 2014

Federico Striuli: "The Associazione Italiana per le Ricerche di Storia del Cinema (Italian Association for Research on Cinema History), known by its abbreviation AIRSC, was founded on 8 September 1964, reflecting the increasing interest in the history of cinema within the circle around the Venice International Film Festival, whose director at the time, Luigi Chiarini, became the Association’s godfather. Its members included an entire generation of scholars, some of whom pioneered the teaching of Film Studies in universities. Since its inception the Association has been supported by membership fees and government funding, and essentially based its work on the voluntary contributions of its members. Despite this, over the last 50 years it has made an invaluable contribution to the establishment of the methodology and contents of research into cinema history and the enhancement and promotion of film as cultural and historical heritage."

"As part of its promotion of studies on silent films, over the years the AIRSC has organized reviews, meetings, and conferences, contributing to the foundation in 1982 of the Pordenone Silent Film Festival, the first and most rigorous international event devoted to the beginnings of the cinema, which for many years was directed by Davide Turconi, the doyen of Italian cinema history. The Association has built up a significant body of studies and research materials, of which pride of place goes to the biannual journal Immagine: Note di storia del cinema. The AIRSC is supported by the Cinema Directorate of the Italian Ministry for Cultural Affairs and Tourism."

"The AIRSC film library was started in the early 1960s, when Davide Turconi had a chance to visit the collection of the Swiss Jesuit Josef Joye in Zurich. Some of the films in the collection, made between 1905 and 1915, were in an advanced state of decay, but most were salvaged by making duplicates. Of those in the worst condition only a few frames could be recovered. Most of the AIRSC copies consist of fiction films, while the whole of the Joye Collection was subsequently acquired by the British Film Institute. The films, to which other titles have since been added, are now kept in the Cineteca Nazionale in Rome, which has assisted in their identification and inventory listing."

"This celebration of 50 years of the AIRSC presents a programme of 12 films, of which 10 are from the Joye Collection and two (Firulì ha vinto alla lotteria and Kærlighedens Styrke) from different sources. Invaluable cooperation has been provided by the Cineteca Nazionale (where our heartfelt thanks go to film curator Emiliano Morreale and to Mario Musumeci, Franca Farina, and Irela Nuñez) in assisting us and in working on the films selected from those not kept in the Joye Collection at the British Film Institute." – Federico Striuli

All films are from the Collezione Cineteca AIRSC, Cineteca Nazionale, Roma.

The Joye film numbers and titles are from the 1942 catalogue of the Joye Collection.

THE VACUUM CLEANER NIGHTMARE (The Vacuum Cleaner) (Charles Urban Trading Company – GB 1906) Joye n. 830, Der Staubsauger [L’aspirapolvere / The Vacuum Cleaner]
D: Walter R. Booth; orig. l: 275 ft (84 m); DCP (from 35 mm, 68 m), 3'20" (transferred at 18 fps); no titles, missing main title.
    "By using clever and surprising special effects, Walter Robert Booth depicts all the power of a vacuum cleaner, which, between the reality and dreams of a lodger, is able to suck up people, who come out looking better. Although not every source attributes this title unequivocally to Booth, there are several clues suggesting it actually is a work by this too-often underestimated “English Méliès”. The first are the film’s production date and company. It was in 1906 that the director and magician from Worcester, who had entered the world of cinema in 1899 as one of Robert W. Paul’s associates, began to be employed by Charles Urban, and built his own outdoor studio in the back garden of Neville Lodge, Woodlands, Isleworth, London. Here, with his cameraman F. Harold Bastick, he made dozens of trick films. The Vacuum Cleaner Nightmare was thus in all likelihood one of the first films made by Booth for Urban, and also one of the most successful of his whole career." – Federico Striuli
    AA: This comedy brings to mind Frank Tashlin and Jerry Lewis in Who's Minding the Store. The world is being sucked into the vacuum cleaner. But here more than that: the bum emerges a gentleman having gone through the process. Low contrast.
Le Talisman de la concierge. Photo: Davide Turconi Collection, George Eastman House, Rochester, NY
LE TALISMAN DE LA CONCIERGE (Gaumont – FR 1908) (DE: Der Zauberwedel) Joye n. 886, Zauberwedel [Il piumino magico / The Magic Duster] D: ?; orig. l: 107 m.; DCP (from 35 mm, 89 m.), 4'13" (transferred at 18 fps); no titles, missing main title.
    "A concierge helps an old woman who is bothered and bullied by a group of street kids. When they get to her house, the poor woman turns out to be a good fairy, who gives the concierge a magic wand in the shape of a feather duster so she can do her housework more quickly. However, the concierge abuses the use of the instrument, and starts to lose sight of her tasks and to over-indulge in alcohol. The fairy returns and takes back her magic wand. A trick film made by Gaumont during what was quite a rich period for this genre of production, Le Talisman de la concierge is different, for its strong criticism, with a fantasy angle, of laziness and alcoholism." – Federico Striuli
    AA: This fairy-tale has affinities with The Sorcerer's Apprentice. The wonder broom changes the concierge's life, but wasting her life the concierge loses all. The storytelling is coarse. Low contrast, weak visual quality.

TOTO S’AMUSE (Pathé – FR 1907) (DE: Fritzchen amüsiert sich; US: Tommy at Play) Joye n. 840, Fritzchen amüsiert sich / Fritz amüsiert sich [Fritz si diverte / Fritz Has Fun] D: ?; rel: 15.2.1907; orig. l: 75 m.; DCP (from 35 mm, 67 m.), 3'20" (transferred at 18 fps); no titles, missing main title.
    "Toto s’amuse was the first of a relatively long-lasting series of films made by Pathé for four years, starting in early 1907, that featured the adventures of the mischievous Toto. As in many comedies of that period, the young protagonist is totally unresponsive to discipline, and his natural talent for cruel pranks prevails, with destructive consequences. The scene with the blind beggar is particularly funny. In German-speaking countries Toto was known as “Fritzchen” or “Fritz”." – Federico Striuli
    AA: A comedy. The destruction principle embodied in an early instance of a Dennis the Menace style enfant terrible. A comedy of cruelty. Low contrast, weak visual quality.

L’ENCRIER PERFECTIONNÉ (Pathé – FR 1910) (US: New-Style Inkwell) Joye n. 894, Das Patenttintenfass [Il calamaio brevettato / The Patented Inkwell] D, SC: Camille de Morlhon; orig. l: 95 m.; 35 mm, 85 m., 4'11" (18 fps); titles: GER, missing main title.
    "The pupil Holz (Dubois in the original French version) gives his teacher a new kind of inkwell as a present. The teacher ends up getting dirty while a student (perhaps the same Holz) watches everything from a half-open door. Shortly afterwards, the boy gets hold of the “dangerous”
object, which is used with such mercilessness and spontaneity that nobody is spared (starting with the caretaker of the building and two lovers, and ending with his friends and a professor, who finally punishes him). L’Encrier perfectionné is a comedy authored by Camille de Morlhon, who at that time had been a director for Pathé for over two years; he was an important name at the studio for historical films as well." – Federico Striuli
    AA: A comedy. "The wonderful patented inkwell" becomes a source of mayhem as another terrible kid gets hold of it. The innocent gets to suffer as revenge hits the wrong person. A love meeting is ruined. There are scenes of cruel bullying, chaos at the school classroom. Enjoyable visual quality.
Une maison en réparation. Photo: Davide Turconi Collection, George Eastman House, Rochester, NY
UNE MAISON EN RÉPARATIONS (Pathé – FR 1909) (US: Repairing the House) Joye n. 888, Das renovierte Haus [La casa ristrutturata / The Renovated House] D: Louis Z. Rollini?; rel: 26.11.1909; orig. l: 130 m.; 35 mm, 102 m., 4'56" (18 fps); titles: GER, missing main title.
    "The Wagners (called the Durands in the original French version), obliged to stay in their house in the country because of lengthy building works at their primary residence, write to the construction manager König to ask if their townhouse is ready yet. Based on his answer, they return, only to find themselves surrounded by painters and carpenters, with construction decidedly still very much in progress. Eventually (although the last shot is slightly incomplete in this copy) the Wagners confront König. Une maison en réparations is a comedy focused clearly on the theme of destruction. It also features a strong portrayal of the conflict between the middle class and the workers; the gags are supported by the humorous depiction of the Wagners, here mistreated and neglected symbols of the upper class. The entry in the AIRSC Catalogue suggests that the director may have been Louis Z. Rollini, Ferdinand Zecca’s brother, who at that time was also an associate of Lucien Nonguet, Roméo Bosetti, and Max Linder (particularly as a scriptwriter)." – Federico Striuli
    AA: A comedy. A funny sense of rhythm in a comedy of destruction. The film is about an ascent to the residence which decidedly is not yet ready to be moved in. There is a sense of magnificence in the demolition theme, like in the films of Laurel & Hardy. A memorable scene is the room full of planer splinters upon which the family stumbles. The sepia toning is pleasant.

TANDPINENS KVALER (Tandpine) [Un doloroso mal di denti / The Painful Toothache] (Nordisk – DK 1906) Joye n. 852 / X 124, Ohne Zahnarzt gehts auch [Si può fare a meno del dentista / Without a Dentist It Works Too] D: Viggo Larsen?; DP: Axel Graatkjær (Sørensen)?; rel: 31.10.1906; orig. l: 120 m.; 35 mm, 103 m., 5'10" (18 fps); no titles, missing main title.
    "In this amusing comedy a man is tormented by an irritating toothache which has caused his face to swell. Aggravated by his wife’s advice and her mere presence, he manages to sedate himself with alcohol. But this is only a stopgap measure, providing temporary relief before the final intervention. With a good pace and funny gags, Tandpinens Kvaler mixes the protagonist’s irritability with the actions of a sometimes unfairly mistreated wife. In addition to being one of the very first films by Nordisk (it was released one week before the official birth of the production company), it is possible that it was a collaboration by director Viggo Larsen and cinematographer Axel Graatkjær, both of whom were beginning their careers, and would be associates for the following four years." – Federico Striuli
    AA: A comedy. It is exciting to see such an early film by Nordisk. It is a brutal and violent farce. The story resembles the Finn Erkki Karu's much later Kun isällä on hammassärky / When Dad Has Toothache, especially in the role played by alcohol as the painkiller.

WILLIE WISE AND HIS MOTOR BOAT (Edison – US 1911) (DE: Der unerfahrener Motorbootführer) Joye n. 993, (Der) Unerfahrener Motorbootführer [Pilota di barca a motore inesperto / (The) Inexperienced Motor Boat Driver] D: Ashley Miller; C: William Wadsworth (Willie Wise), Darwin Karr (Willie’s rival), Ethel Browning (Willie’s girl); rel: 11.11.1911; orig. l: 198 m.; incomplete, 35 mm, 152 m., 7'10" (18 fps); titles and main title: GER.
    "Young Willie Wise must deal with a rival for the attentions of a beautiful girl. The turning point comes when Willie buys a motor boat, which, however, he doesn’t know how to run. Despite the instructions of the previous owner, which he doesn’t pay attention to, he invites the girl on board. With the help of a young boy, Willie manages to start the engine, but doesn’t know how to stop it. It is unclear whether in the final part, missing in this copy, Willie manages to defeat his rival or not. By using special effects (stop-motion, playing the film backwards, or speeding it up), the film’s director, Ashley Miller (who began working for Edison two years previously), presents a classic plot in an original way. However, the loss of at least one important scene and the film’s finale does not permit a total assessment of this comedy." Federico Striuli
    AA: A comedy. Willie Wise fails to impress his girlfriend with his motorboat which he does not know to operate. A little boy helps him, and in the final scene of this print the rival, who has a sailboat, comes to the rescue. Toned.

UN ATLETA DI NUOVO GENERE (Atleta di nuovo tipo) (Cines – IT 1909) (DE: Ein Athlet neuer Art / Ein neuer Athlet; US: A New Kind of Athlete; FR: Un athlète de nouveau genre) Joye n. 892, Athlet neuer Art [Atleta di nuovo tipo / Athlete of a New Kind] D: ?; C: Giuseppe Gambardella (the fat man); orig. l: 83 m.; 35 mm, 73 m., 3'32" (18 fps); no titles, missing main title.
    "A circus family tries to make ends meet by begging in a quite unconvincing way. They decide to steal some bread, but are caught. The stout head of the family escapes from the guards by hitting them with his belly, and during the chase the group of pursuers becomes increasingly numerous. Un atleta di nuovo genere (also known as Atleta di nuovo tipo) was one of the very first films of actor Giuseppe Gambardella (here uncredited), who joined Cines in 1909, and in the following years would play the character Checco (“Stout”) in the Tontolini, Lea, Cocò, and other series. The film also features a clever use of some simple special effects. Several years later, on 5 March 1915, the circulation authorization granted by public security authorities was revoked (possibly because of the scenes depicting the guards being hit). Thanks to Angelo Draicchio." – Federico Striuli
    AA: A comedy. The main comic concept here is the circus man's deft use of his belly as a weapon. Visual quality: a slightly duped look. Toned sepia.

FIRULÌ HA VINTO ALLA LOTTERIA (Firulì ha guadagnato la lotteria / Firulì ha vinto al lotto) (Ambrosio – IT 1911) (GB: Tiny Tom’s Lottery Prize; FR: Firoulot a gagné à la loterie; DE: Peppi hat in der Lotterie gewonen) D: ?; C: Maria Bay (Firulì), Filippo Costamagna?, Gigetta Morano?; orig. l: 120 m.; 35 mm, 70 m., 3'28" (18 fps); no titles, missing main title.
    "Rummaging through some rubbish, the young Firulì finds a winning lottery ticket. The boy loses no time and starts to behave like a true nobleman, ending up courting another man’s woman and challenging him to a duel. Created in 1911 and still active in 1914, the character of Firulì (performed by the young girl Maria Bay) was probably meant to be Ambrosio’s answer to the French Bebé series. This copy comes from a nitrate positive held by the AIRSC. It is missing some frames in the last shot (in which Firulì is not satisfied with defeating his opponent, but attacks the witnesses to the duel as well). French words can be glimpsed in this version (e.g., on the lottery ticket or in a newspaper)." – Federico Striuli
    AA:A child comedy in the style of the French child comedy series such as those with Willy Sanders for Éclair.
Il cane di San Bernardo. Photo: Davide Turconi Collection, George Eastman House, Rochester, NY
IL CANE DI SAN BERNARDO (I cani del San Bernardo) (Carlo Rossi & C. / Itala – IT 1907)
(DE, main title on print: Die bernhardiner Hunde) Joye n. 166, Bernardiners Hunde / Bernhardinerhunde / Saint Bernards Hunde [I cani del San Bernardo / St. Bernard Dogs] D: ?; orig. l: 240 m.; 35 mm, 189 m., 9'10" (18 fps); no titles (flash main title: GER).
    "A husband throws his wife out of the house, and she is forced to wander through snow-covered mountains. Exhausted, she collapses in the snow, but is luckily found by two St. Bernard dogs. The woman is brought to a monastery, and, with the help of a monk, her husband forgives her. Il cane di San Bernardo is a 19th-century style drama guilty of some florid acting, but, on the other hand, it has a particular visual quality, especially in its shots of the Alps and the attention given to the rescue dogs and the lifesavers. The film was made by Carlo Rossi & Co., but was quite soon reissued by Itala when it took over Rossi." – Federico Striuli
    AA: A drama of a marital inferno. Like Federico Striuli states above, there is a distinction in the visual quality.
Napo Torriano. Photo: Davide Turconi Collection, George Eastman House, Rochester, NY
Napo Torriano. Photo: Davide Turconi Collection, George Eastman House, Rochester, NY
NAPO TORRIANO (Napo Torriani) (Milano Films – IT 1910) (FR: Napo Torriano, le prisonnier du château Baradello) Joye n. 124, Napo Toriano / Napo Toriani D: Giuseppe De Liguoro; SC: conte Pier Gaetano Venino; C: Giuseppe De Liguoro (Napo Torriano), membri dell’aristocrazia milanese/members of the aristocracy of Milan; rel: 6.1911; orig. l: 250 m.; 35 mm, 186 m., 8'58" (18 fps); no titles, missing main title.
    "In 1277, Napoleone della Torre (Napo Torriano), a Guelph, dares to tear up a letter from the Ghibelline Ottone Visconti, a supporter of the opposing Rusconi family. The advancing troops are spied by a woman. A siege begins, and it ends with the imprisonment of Napo Torriano. He is kept in an iron cage outside the tower until his death. In the end, only two old men and two children tenderly lay flowers on his grave."
    "Napo Torriano started from an idea of Count Pier Gaetano Venino, the managing director of the new company Milano Films. A big production for Milano, Napo Torriano very soon stood out for the spectacular nature of its battle scenes (actually quite striking), for the resources made available for its making (400 extras and 50 horses), and for its historical accuracy (particularly the interiors, shot in real castles in the Lombardy region). The film was widely shown in Milan, and was an important example of the upper classes’ attention to the new cinematographic art. They also had a personal interest: in actual fact, apart from Napo Torriano (played by the director Giuseppe De Liguoro, himself of high birth), the other characters and the supporting roles were performed by members of the aristocracy of Milan." – Federico Striuli
    AA: Historical epic, tragedy. A striking and remarkable exercise in the historical epic. The siege of the castle is magnificent, the costumes and the paraphernalia feel real, there is tragic grandeur in the finale.

KÆRLIGHEDENS STYRKE (Kærlighedens Magt / Gennem de Mange til En) (Nordisk – DK 1911) (IT: La forza dell’amore; US: The Power of Love) D: August Blom; SC: Alfred Kjerulf; DP: Axel Graatkjær (Sørensen); C: Axel Strøm (director Saxild), Carlo Wieth (Gunnar, his son), Clara Wieth Pontoppidan (Tove, employee in Saxild’s office), Otto Lagoni, Ella La Cour, Zanny Petersen, Svend Bille, Frederik Buch, Julie Henriksen, Carl Lauritzen, Ella Sprange, Aage Lorentzen, Lauritz Olsen; rel: 13.11.1911; orig. l: 757 m; 35 mm, 633 m, 31' (18 fps), col. (tinted, toned, & stencil-colour); titles: ITA, missing main title.
    "Gunnar, son of the strict businessman Saxild, doesn’t like to study, preferring to spend his time with his friends in nightclubs. In order to put his son on the right track, Saxild hires him in his office, where young Gunnar meets the employee Tove. The two young people are attracted to each other, but this is spoiled one evening when Gunnar gets drunk on his way to meet her and ends up being fired by his father. Trying to redeem himself, the young man, temporarily given shelter by Tove, finds work with a rescue corps. There he receives news that a train on which Tove was travelling has been derailed. Fortunately Tove recovers, and there also is a general reconciliation with his own relatives."
    "Kærlighedens styrke was a notable production for Nordisk, made with a good cast and a first-rate director. Thanks to the film’s high production values, the story is believable and rich in nuances, marked by a realism that goes beyond the lyricism that might otherwise have been used to tell the story. In conclusion, this is an interesting production, considering its visual and narrative qualities.
The print: In 1986, in the book Schiave bianche allo specchio (published by the Giornate), in a chapter about August Blom, historian Ron Mottram wrote: “As for Kærlighedens styrke (The Power of Love) we have only the Library of Congress paper print.… It is hard to make an informed judgement … because the photographic quality of the 16 mm print made from the original paper print is very poor and the shots are not in the proper order.” Today the FIAF database reports the same paper print and its corresponding 16 mm copies (negative and positive) at the Library of Congress, as well as material with unspecified formats (possibly fragments) in the possession of the Academy Film Archive and the Danish Film Institute. It is thus with a justified pride that a totally different version is able to be shown at the Giornate this year. The AIRSC’s print, as a matter of fact, unlike the majority of the films it holds, actually comes from external acquisitions, in this case from two positive colored nitrate reels with Italian intertitles. As the film’s original printed programme testifies, this copy is pretty much complete, with only a few frames missing in the finale. The bright and wide-ranging colours are well-reproduced, and the overall quality of the image is very good. It should be noted that a single Italian intertitle comes almost certainly from another film." – Federico Striuli
    AA: See separate note.

AA: From difficult sources, a fascinating treasure collection presenting us a cross-section of early cinema.

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