Thursday, October 09, 2014

Paul Nadar films from 1896–1898 (from la Cinémathèque française, including five films deposited in 2011, restored in 4K in 2013)

[Mademoiselle Zambelli de l'Opéra] (1898). Photo: La Cinémathèque française. Click to enlarge.

Cinema delle origini / Early Cinema
P a u l  N a d a r
Grand piano: John Sweeney at Teatro Verdi (Le Giornate del Cinema Muto), Pordenone, 9 Oct 2014
    The total duration of the 11 Paul Nadar films was 18 min.

Céline Ruivo, Laurent Mannoni (GCM Catalogue and website): "The reputation of Paul Nadar (18561939), as photographer and film-maker, is inevitably overshadowed by that of his legendary father, Félix Nadar (18201910). Born Gaspard Félix Tournachon, the elder Nadar evolved his pseudonym through the tortuous wordplay of “collegian gothic” student slang, and had already adopted it when he began his career as writer and caricaturist for freethinking journals. In 1853, faced with the repressive censorship of the Second Empire of Napoleon III, he abandoned journalism to join his brother Adrien in a photographic studio, where they used the revolutionary new collodion glass negative process. At the same time he allied himself to the “Bohemian” counter-culture, defined by Henri Murger’s Scènes de la vie de Bohème, much later the source of Puccini’s opera. Nadar’s portraits were innovative in expressing, in his own word, the “psychology” of his subjects, who included his Bohemian friends and many of the great French celebrities of the era, among them Baudelaire, Delacroix, Verne, Courbet, and Georges Sand. He also established the concept of the artist photographer, able to charge fees of 30 francs, when the price for a conventional studio sitting ranged from two to five francs. Having split with his brother in 1860, however, Nadar was bankrupted by the Franco-Prussian War and the Commune, but in 1873 set up a new studio in Rue d’Anjou."

"Here, in 1884, he was joined by his 28-year-old son Paul-Armand Tournachon, who now himself adopted the name Nadar. In 1886-87 Paul was appointed artistic director and manager, and began to experiment with new approaches to the styles and topics of the studio’s work. The work of the elder Nadar was marked by its rigueur inspirée, achieving intimacy with the subjects by using solid backgrounds and dramatic chiaroscuro lighting on the faces of the sitters, who wore their everyday clothes, even heavy coats draped over their bodies and masses of fabric falling over their hands. Though the elder Nadar had often adopted more conventional “commercial” styles to pay the rent, the young Paul now converted the studio’s style to a fantaisie démocratique (in the phrase of Michel Poivert), through the development of more theatrical mise-en-scène and settings. Celebrities of the Belle Époque, like Cléo de Mérode and Sarah Bernhardt, were photographed by Paul Nadar in their stage costumes. Portraits of opera stars also represented a very good source of income, and were published in Paul’s magazine Paris-Photographe. The pictures also focused on the ornamental costumes and the painted backgrounds which Paul used, along with a refined sense of how to use lighting and screens. He favoured three types of portrait shot: bust, mid-thigh, and full-length. He also adopted the techniques of “retouching” demonstrated by the German photographer Franz Hampfstängl at the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1855, involving the application of varnish to the glass plate in order to erase the imperfections, stains, and wrinkles, and to soften the skin tones."

"Paul Nadar was much more than an innovative commercial photographer, however. His career demonstrates his strong interest in the history and new technologies of photography and science. In 1886 the Nadars, father and son, set up the first photographic interview with the scientist Michel-Eugène Chevreul, for the Journal Illustré, attempting to synchronize photographs with a sound recording made with an Ader phonograph. Though the sound equipment did not work, Paul Nadar devised a special camera for the occasion, with a very fast Thury & Amey shutter set at 1/133 seconds, to capture instantaneous photographs."

"Paul Nadar’s growing interest in moving images was evident from his publication in Paris-Photographe, in 1891, of articles by Georges Demenÿ (“La Photographie de la parole”) and Étienne-Jules Marey (“L’Analyse des mouvements par la photographie”, which described the technique of chronophotography). As the Eastman representative in France and the French colonies, Nadar was evidently in close contact with these and the other pioneers of motion pictures. On 24 June 1896, together with the photographic chemist Eugène Defez, he registered an optimistic patent for a motion picture camera/projector that would use unperforated 35 mm film. The specifications suggest that maximum ingenuity was employed to avoid duplicating features of existing patents. The film movement was effected by small rollers around the edges of a large drum, while the shutter took the form of a ribbon revolving between two rollers, and pierced with two equidistant windows which admitted the projection beam when they coincided, twice in every complete revolution. Small teeth left indentations on the edge of the film after the photography or projection of the images. The apparatus was demonstrated to the management of the Musée Grévin on 12 May 1897, with the prospect that Nadar might succeed Émile Reynaud and his Théâtre Optique. The committee were unimpressed, however: “the noise of the mechanism makes the machine absolutely impracticable,” they reported."

"Even so, Nadar made a few films with this first camera: several unperforated 35 mm negatives with traces of points on the edge are preserved in the Cinémathèque française. The camera was evidently
dogged by instability and unreliable focus, while the images were of a different aspect ratio from those of Lumière or Edison. Nadar next built a camera/projector using 58 mm film. No films made with this have survived, though the camera itself is again preserved by the Cinémathèque française (both cameras were purchased from Nadar’s widow in 1950). Finally, however, Nadar settled for a commercial apparatus using standard Edison-format 35 mm film, and it was with this that most of the surviving films included in this programme were shot."

"The Cinémathèque française recently discovered several hitherto unknown and unique films by Paul Nadar, among the deposit of numerous early films by the collector Olivier Auboin-Vermorel. Two
of them are dedicated to dances with Les Soeurs Rappo, while another shows the actresses Mellot and Reyé in a scene from the play Les Deux Gosses, filmed in Paul Nadar’s studio, using a painted background probably inspired by the set of the original stage production at the Théâtre de l’Ambigu-Comique. Paul Nadar also made his own study of movement, using himself as the subject, practicing fencing. Finally, this montage of Nadar contains a sort of fictional film, where Paul pretends to be sitting on the terrace of a café reading a newspaper, though again the scene is shot entirely in his studio. A few other films, edited together by Henri Langlois, show different Parisian scenes, demonstrating that Paul Nadar could also be an outdoor film-maker. Another shows the great prima ballerina of the Opéra de Paris, Carlotta Zambelli." – Céline Ruivo, Laurent Mannoni

Sources: Anne Alligoridès, “Photographies d’artistes lyriques”, in Nadar l’oeil lyrique, exhibition catalogue, Paris, 1992; Michèle Auer, Paul Nadar: Le premier interview photographique: Chevreul – Félix Nadar – Paul Nadar, 1999; Anne-Marie Bernard, Le monde de Proust vu par Paul Nadar, 1999; Michel Poivert, Nadar, la norme et le caprice, exhibition organized by Le Jeu de Paume in Château de Tours, 2010; Elizabeth Anne McCauley, “Nadar and the Selling of Bohemia”, in Industrial Madness, Commercial Photography in Paris, 1848–1871, Yale University Press, 1994.

The films are in long shot, long take, and single shot – except where otherwise noted.

[DANSES SLAVES] (Nadar – FR, ca 1896) D, DP: Paul Nadar; C: Les Soeurs Rappo; 35 mm (Edison perforations), 25 m, 2' (14 fps); print source: La Cinémathèque française, Collection Auboin-Vermorel.
    AA: Non-fiction, a recorded performance. An ultra rapid dance scene photographed against a black background. Focus not perfect, visual quality fair.

[DANSES RUSSES] (Nadar – FR, ca 1896) D, DP: Paul Nadar; C: Les Soeurs Rappo; 35 mm (unperforated), 25 m, 2' (14 fps); print source: La Cinémathèque française, Collection Auboin-Vermorel. “Les Incomparable Soeurs Rappo”, as they proudly announce themselves with a banner, have left little traceable mark in the history of dance or music hall, though at the time the sisters were filmed by Nadar in his studio they were appearing at the Alhambra music hall in Paris.
    AA: Non-fiction, a recorded performance. Like the previous one, a dance scene against a black background. A Cossack dance with knives, simulating a fight. Visual quality fair.

LES DEUX GOSSES (Nadar – FR 1896) D, DP: Paul Nadar; 35 mm (unperforated), 25 m, 2' (14 fps); C: Marthe Mellot, Hélène Reyé; print source: La Cinémathèque française, Collection Auboin-Vermorel. Pierre de Courcelle’s adaptation of his own 1880 novel Les Deux Gosses, produced at the Ambigu-Comique, was a major theatrical success of 1896. In later years it was to become one of the most filmed of all French literary works, with screen adaptations in 1912, 1914 (Capellani), 1923 (Maurice Tourneur), 1924 (Louis Mercanton), 1936, and 1950.
    AA: A recorded performance. A glimpse of a theatre scene with Marthe Mellot and Hélène Reyé against a painted backdrop. Visual quality fair.

[PAUL NADAR PRATIQUANT L’ESCRIME] (Nadar – FR, ca 1896) D: Paul Nadar; DP: ?; 35 mm (Edison perforations), 8 m, 30'' (14 fps); print source: La Cinémathèque française, Collection
    AA: Self-portrait at the studio. Paul Nadar fencing against a black background. Visual quality fair.

[PAUL NADAR LISANT L’ÉCHO DE PARIS À LA TERRASSE D’UN CAFÉ] (Nadar – FR, 1896) D: Paul Nadar; DP: ?; 35 mm (Edison perforations), 8 m, 30'' (14 fps); print source: Cinémathèque française, Collection Auboin-Vermorel.
     AA: Self-portrait at the studio. Paul Nadar smokes, reads the newspaper and folds it into his pocket at the café set at his studio. Medium shot. Visual quality ok.

[MADEMOISELLE ZAMBELLI DE L’OPÉRA] (Nadar – FR ca 1898) D, DP: Paul Nadar; 35 mm (Edison perforations), 19 m, 1' (16 fps), col. (tinted orange); print source: La Cinémathèque française. The great prima ballerina of the Opéra de Paris, Carlotta Zambelli.
    AA: A recorded performance. A dance number by the prima ballerina Carlotta Zambelli. Against a black background, tinted orange. Visual quality fair.

[DANSE DU PAPILLON] (Nadar – FR ca 1896) D, DP: Paul Nadar; 35 mm (from safety dupe negative), 20 m., 1' (16 fps); print source: La Cinémathèque française. Henri Langlois labelled this film as “Bob Walter playing Loïe Fuller”.
    AA: A recorded performance. Another sample of the popular serpentine dance subgenre. This one is wonderful, truly great. In black and white, but the visual quality is ok.

[SCÈNE DE RÊVE] (Nadar – FR ca 1896) D, DP: Paul Nadar; 35 mm (from safety dupe negative), 20 m., 1' (16 fps); print source: La Cinémathèque française. Two unidentified actresses on stage; one of them plays a male character dressed in a 16th-century costume, who is delighted by the dance of a ballerina. This title was originally attributed to the film by Henri Langlois.
    AA: A recorded performance. A ballet for two women. Charming. Visual quality fair.

[Rue Royale] (1896). Photo: La Cinémathèque française. Click to enlarge.

[RUE ROYALE] (Nadar – FR, ca 1896) D, DP: Paul Nadar; 35 mm (Edison perforations), 18 m, 1' (16 fps); print source: Cinémathèque française, Collection Auboin-Vermorel. View of the Rue Royale.
    AA: Non-fiction, city view. Heavy traffic, screened too fast. Visual quality mediocre.

[Place de la Concorde] (1896). Photo: La Cinémathèque française. Click to enlarge.

[PLACE DE LA CONCORDE] (Nadar – FR, ca 1896) D, DP: Paul Nadar; 35 mm (Edison perforations), 17 m, 1' (16 fps); print source: La Cinémathèque française. View of the Place de la Concorde.
    AA: Non-fiction, city view. From a source quite worn with marks of imminent decay. Screened quite fast.

[FRAGMENTS DE FILMS SUR PAPIER] (Nadar – FR, ca 1896–1898) D, DP: Paul Nadar; DCP (from paper prints), ca 1' (transferred at 16 fps); print source: La Cinémathèque française.
    AA: Glimpses from paper prints of Paul Nadar films fascinating to compare with the ones we had just seen. Some are the same, some quite different versions of the same subjects.

AA: An invaluable treasure of early cinema. The more I see of these precious very first films, the more profound and fundamental they all seem. Like the Lumière brothers, Paul Nadar came from a family of the highest distinction and culture in the art of photography. He had an innate sense of composition but also of the value and the dignity of his subjects. He projects his kind of a joy of life via these semi-experimental films. The city views are vivid. He is confident in photographing stars of the performing arts.

The live pianist John Sweeney played really well, finding an individual approach for each film.

There were three units in this programme: 1) The five films newly restored on 4K, printed on 35 mm 2) The five films compiled by Henri Langlois on 35 mm, and 3) The DCP with fragments of paper prints.

Restored beautifully by La Cinémathèque française from very difficult sources – from non-standard aspect ratios, from sources without perforations, and from sources with Edison perforations.

No comments: