Sunday, October 11, 2015

The 34th Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone, 3-11 October, 2015

Click to enlarge.
For the last time David Robinson, director of Le Giornate del Cinema Muto since 1997, uttered the words "welcome home" in his opening speech in Pordenone. He has steered the festival through stormy waters, including the biggest ordeal of having to move away from Pordenone to Sacile in 1999-2006. The financial situation has become more difficult, yet no compromises have taken place in the artistic approach of the ambitious festival whose mission is nothing less than rewriting film history. A new generation of silent film aficionados is now attending Le Giornate whose basis is sound from the viewpoint of audience commitment. The Pordenone audience gave a warm welcome to the new director, Jay Weissberg, who immediately started sharing responsibilities with David.

The festival was dedicated to Jean Darling (1922-2015) who until her death was Pordenone's resident star, the penultimate surviving member of Our Gang. In a recently taped performance we saw and heard her singing "Always".

The Jonathan Dennis Memorial Lecture was a tribute to Naum Kleiman from Moscow, one of the great personalities of film culture since the 1950s. One of Naum's mottoes: "the film begins when it ends". It then becomes a subject for further research, debate, analysis, contemplation, even a part of our life. For facilitating such a process Pordenone is fertile ground. The main content of the event was a screening of Cinema: A Public Affair (DE 2015), a portrait of Naum Kleiman by Tatiana Brandrup.

THE 120TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE CINEMA. In recent years in Pordenone we have seen marvellous programmes of restorations of difficult formats (Parnaland, Joly-Normandin) and reconstructed programmes of early cinema exhibitors, most prominently the multi-year Corrick Collection program from Australia. In the same highest level of identification, restoration and reconstruction we now saw two wonderful shows of the pioneer exhibitor Antonio Sagarmínaga in Coleccion Sagarmínaga from Filmoteca Española curated by Camille Blot-Wellens. It was a beautiful way to celebrate the 120th anniversary of the cinema with classic and less known samples from Lumière, Méliès, Warwick, Gaumont, Pathé, Chomón, and Parnaland. From Leopoldo Fregoli, the international superstar of quick transformations, was shown a new and complete digitally restored set (2015 AFF/CNC). Fregoli's remaining film heritage stems from 1897-1899 and he has been claimed to be the first film star (but my candidate would be Georges Méliès).

THE HIDDEN BIG CENTENARY. In previous times The Birth of a Nation would have been celebrated in a year like this; instead, there was a counter-celebration to the groundbreaking film whose racism we condemn, most importantly in the tribute to black artists under the title Bert Williams and Company. There was a special resurrection event of the first all-black American feature film Lime Kiln Club Field Day (US 1913). Uncle Tom's Cabin (US 1914) was the first mainstream American film with a black actor in a leading role (Sam Lucas), based on the most filmed novel during the silent era (there never was a sound version in Hollywood). Besides there was the most prominent film adaptation (US 1928) of the novel Ramona, "the second most important 19th century American social protest novel after Uncle Tom's Cabin", about Ramona's love story with a Native American in Southern California, starring Dolores Del Rio. D. W. Griffith had played the Native American in a stage production, and he had also directed a pro-Indian adaptation of the novel, starring Mary Pickford.

CHANGING THE WORLD was another hidden theme of the festival. Uncle Tom's Cabin belongs to the novels that have changed history. Another great tale which survived on Leo Tolstoy's shortlist after his fundamentalist "What Is Art" conversion was Les Misérables seen as the Pordenone centerpiece in its French 1926 film adaptation directed by Henri Fescourt in a majestic 6½ h version which I know well in glorious black and white and look forward to see another time in its newly restored colour edition. Revolutionary scenes were seen not only in it and in Sergei Eisenstein's October (SU 1928) but also in William Wauer's amazing Der Tunnel (DE 1915), one of the discoveries of the festival, and also in Douglas Fairbanks's first period feature film, The Mark of Zorro (US 1920), an incitement to revolt against tyranny. Social consciousness was also on display in Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi's special programme Children at Work where especially Jeux d'enfants (FR 1913, D: Henri Fescourt, supv: Louis Feuillade) resonated strongly, also with Les Misérables with its Cosette theme. Life has changed since in Europe and North America, but not for the majority of the people of the world.

THE GREATEST TALES OF MANKIND: to those quoted above let's also add the epic legends of the Troyan war revived in Manfred Noa's Helena - der Untergang Trojas I-II (DE 1924) with a panache comparable with Lang and Murnau and with a sense of gravity stemming from the unhealed pain from the recent WWI. And Sherlock Holmes (US 1916, starring William Gillette), an impressive record of a legendary interpretation which even influenced Arthur Conan Doyle himself.

IL CENTENARIO DELLA GRANDE GUERRA is a multi-year theme in Pordenone. This time I saw remarkable non-fiction films by Luca Comerio from 1916-1917, interesting for a Finnish viewer as records of winter war. Those films happened also to confirm that even in Maciste alpino (IT 1916) the Alpine war footage has a partly documentary quality. Year by year it gets clearer that WWI was the tragic turning-point in the silent era of the cinema, dividing it into la Belle Époque, the war years, and the post-traumatic shell shock period. (I would count even The Phantom of the Opera, US 1925, seen as a Photoplay film concert as the closing gala and starring Lon Chaney as the horribly disfigured Erik, as a shell shock film, using the term of Anton Kaes). Even Zane Grey was affected: The Call of the Canyon (US 1923, the remaining fragments of whose film adaptation were seen here) is the story of the rehabilitation in the West of a deeply disturbed war veteran.

THE CANON REVISITED 7 was again the backbone of the week. These are films that deserve to be revisited as often as possible. Det hemmelighedsfulde X (DK 1914) confirmed that Benjamin Christensen was a master of visual storytelling ahead of his time. Marcel L'Herbier's L'Inhumaine (FR 1924) in its new Lobster colour restoration made the best sense ever for me of this visionary constructivist Gesamtkunstwerk. The Mark of Zorro (US 1920, a Douglas Fairbanks vehicle directed by Fred Niblo) I had never seen before. Engrossing. (Also screened during the festival were Victor Fleming's brilliant Fairbanks vehicles When the Clouds Roll By and The Mollycoddle which I skipped this time. Still fresh in memory was also last year's restoration of the exhilarating The Good Bad Man, directed by Allan Dwan and shot by Victor Fleming). Sergei Eisenstein's October (SU 1928) can inspire many thoughts; about the tragedy of history, certainly, but also about the new concept of the time and space continuum in the centenary year of the general theory of relativity; Einstein and Eisenstein had something in common. Ernst Lubitsch's Die Puppe (DE 1919), a humoristic fantasy in the spirit of E. T. A. Hoffmann, I did not see this time. Graham Cutts's The Rat (GB 1925) was a new discovery for me, starring the androgynous Ivor Novello, and proving that Hitchcock still had a lot to learn from his mentor, including in the approach to a crucial rape / murder scene.

VICTOR FLEMING: I skipped familiar titles such as Mantrap and was grateful to see the tragic Zane Grey film adaptation To the Last Man (1923) starring Lois Wilson and Richard Dix and based on a true story of carnage in old Arizona, with James Wong Howe catching the sublime of the landscape. The passion between Gary Cooper and Lupe Velez in Wolf Song (1929), about the coming of age of a mountain man through love, is so convincing that it feels like a personal confession by the director.

RUSSIAN LAUGHTER: delightful discoveries were on display again in this series. The selections also made us rethink our received notions on Soviet culture. Can't You Just Leave Me Out? (1932, Viktor Shestakov) was amazingly revealing about the conditions of life in "real existing socialism". The State Official (1931) was an exercise in grotesque and eccentric satire on contemporary (not Czarist) bureaucracy by a future canonical Stalinian director, Ivan Pyriev. Aleksei Popov's Three Friends and an Invention (1928) is simply delightful in its sense of freedom (and was a favourite of Henry Miller's). As is the obscure A Bell-Ringer's Film Career (1927, Nikolai Verkhovskii), a meta-filmic student film parody which remains fresh and funny today.

BEGINNINGS OF THE WESTERN is a new series in which I was happy to see early films by G. M. Anderson, Allan Dwan, Thomas H. Ince, and Francis Ford. There was a focus on Indian pictures (remarkable: The Post Telegrapher, 1912, directed either by Thomas H. Ince or Francis Ford) and strong Western women (also a specialty of Zane Grey's). I do hope that this series will be continued. Since reading William K. Everson's book on the western a long time ago I have been looking forward to see as many of these early films as possible.

LIVE FILM MUSIC has never been better in Pordenone, thanks to Neil Brand, Frank Bockius, Günter A. Buchwald, Philip C. Carli, Mauro Colombis, Antonio Coppola, Mark Fitz-Gerald, Stephen Horne, Ian Mistrorigo, Maud Nelissen, José Maria Serralde Ruiz, Donald Sosin, John Sweeney, Roman Todesco, and Daan Van Den Hurk, as well as special orchestras. There was a new level of richness in the musical accomplishment - or this was the year when I realized it. Special musical delights included the charming Tonbilder show (DE 1907-1909), Antonio Coppola's original humoristic score to Ernst Lubitsch's Romeo und Julia im Schnee (DE 1920) played by Octuor de France, and a benshi performance of a new restoration of Daisuke Ito's Chuji tabinikki (JP 1927) by Ichiro Kataoka and the Otowaza ensemble.

Much I missed. Not to be forgotten: the continuing excellence of the program notes in the catalog and the high quality of the translations.

The theme song for me of this year's Le Giornate: Dolores Del Rio sings the original version of the theme song of the motion picture Ramona, destined to become an evergreen, recorded even in distant Finland by dozens of popular singers.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Colección Sagarminaga, Programme 2

Arrivée d'un train à wagons à étages (Auguste Baron, 1897-1901). Photo: Filmoteca Española
Sortie d'usine (Lumière 1896, second version).
Tor di Quinto (1905). The image is not from the Warwick Trading Co. film but gives an impression of the stunning steeplechase feats displayed.
La Poule merveilleuse (Pathé, 1902)
La Charité du prestidigitateur (Gaumont, 1905)
Filmoteca Española
Curated by Camille Blot-Wellens.
Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM), Pordenone.
Viewed at Teatro Verdi, with subtitles, grand piano: , 10 Oct 2015

Prog. 2 (Rl.“K” – Rl. V)

Rl. “K”

TOR DI QUINTO (Tor di Quinto [caballería])  (Warwick Trading Co. – GB 1905) D: ?; 35 mm, 213.7 m, 10'23", col. (partially tinted); main title in German.
    AA: Non-fiction. Amazing horsemanship. Cavalry steeplechase exercise of the most highly demanding kind. Difficult stone walls, steep hills, waterfalls, ruins, dangerous falls, bathing. Screening speed on the slow side. Yellow tint. Visual quality: from a duped source but watchable. *

Rl. L

ENCIERRO DE LOS TOROS (Encierro de toros) (Lumière – FR 1898) D: ?; 35 mm, 16.8 m, 49", col. (tinted). This is the second version of this title, shot in Seville.
    AA:  Non-fiction. Running of the bulls. An interesting composition with people, horses, and bulls. Yellow tint.

(CORRIDA DE FUENTES) (?, GB?, 1902-1906) D: ?; 35 mm, 63.9 m, 3'06", col. (tinted). Possibly images of the bullfight at the Real Plaza de Toros de Aranjuez during the celebrations for the Feast Day of San Fernando, on 30 May 1903.
    AA: Non-fiction. Bullfight footage. A horse falls. From a low contrast source that has suffered damages.

GARDE RÉPUBLICAINE À CHEVAL (Guardia republicana) (Pathé – FR, 1897-1899) D: ?; 35 mm, 19 m, 56”.
    AA: Non-fiction. A cavalry parade. Visual quality good.

ARRIVÉE D’UN TRAIN (Llegada del tren) (Pathé – FR, 1898-1899) D: ?; 35 mm, 20.5 m, 60”.
This is the second version of this title.
    AA: Non-fiction. The train arrives on the right side of the image, a passerby falls, passengers board the train. Visual quality mediocre.

SORTIE D’USINE (Salida de un taller) (Lumière – FR 1896) D: ?; 35 mm, 16.5 m, 48", col. (tinted). This is the second version of this title.
    AA: Non-fiction. The classic view, workers in their good clothes, even a carriage emerges from the factory gate. Tinted yellow. Visual quality good.

ÉVOLUTION D’ESCADRE À TOULON (Visita a la escuadra francesa) (Parnaland – FR 1901) D:
 ?; 35 mm, 16.3 m, 46”.
    AA: Non-fiction. A vessel glides away from the harbour.  From a low contrast source.

LE PRÉSIDENT FÉLIX FAURE AUX COURSES (Mr. Faure en las carreras) (Pathé – FR, 1898-1899) D: ?; 35 mm, 15.4 m, 45”.
     AA: Non-fiction. The President Félix Faure passes from right to left. Visual quality ok, from a damaged source.

Rl. M

POURSUITE ACCIDENTÉE (Persecusión accidentada)  (Pathé – FR 1903) D: ?; 35 mm, 21.3 m, 1'02", col. (tinted); main title in French
    AA:  Fiction: comedy: chase. A man is fishing, young boy rascals drive with their bicycles into the river, policemen splash into the water, they need help to be rescued. Visual quality: ok, watchable.
DÉMOLITION D’UN MUR (Muro derrumbado) (Lumière – FR 1896) D: Louis Lumière; 35 mm, 16.3 m, 47", col. (tinted). Another version was produced later.
    AA: Non-fiction. The familiar view. The wall is demolished, there is a cloud of dust. Visual quality: duped, ok, watchable.

PETITES CAUSES GRANDS EFFETS (La disputa) (Parnaland – FR, 1902-1904) D: ?; 35 mm, 28 m, 1'24"; main title in French.
    AA: Fiction: comedy: tit for tat. A little girl lands into a dispute which escalates in Laurel & Hardy fashion. The screening speed is on the fast side. Visual quality watchable.

PIERROT BUVEUR (Pierrot y el diablo) (Parnaland – FR, c.1900) D: ?; 35 mm, 16.1 m, 47", col. (tinted).
    AA: Fiction: féerie: metamorphoses. Pierrot drinks, the Devil appears, there are metamorphoses and visions including a woman with a cross. Tinted yellow. From a worn source.

CAMBRIOLEUR INSAISISSABLE (Ladrón que se escurre) (Parnaland – FR 1901) D: ?; 35 mm, 19 m, 55", col. (tinted).
    AA: Fiction: trick film. A magician thief escapes from the policeman with his disappearing tricks. Tinted yellow. From a worn source.

FÂCHEUSE DISTRACTION (Distracción seltz al sombrero) (Parnaland – FR 1901) D: ?; 35 mm, 19.1 m, 56", col. (tinted).
    AA: Fiction: comedy: delirium. A man drinks, sees amusing images, pours drink to the ground. Tinted yellow. From a worn source.

Rl. N

FEU D’HERBES (Quema de hierbas) (Parnaland – FR, c.1900) D: ?; 35 mm, 15.9 m, 46", col. (tinted).
    AA: Non-fiction. Burning grass. The whole family is at it, including a little girl. "Children at work" again. Tinted yellow. From a worn source.

BRÛLEUSES D’HERBES (Quema de hierbas) (Pathé – FR, 1896-1899) D: ?; 35 mm, 18.9 m, 55”.
    AA: Non-fiction. A bigger hay-burning job. Maidens.

COUR DE FERME (Corral de aves) (Parnaland – FR, c.1900) D: ?; 35 mm, 17.5 m, 51”. This film is also known as Intérieur de ferme.
    AA: Non-fiction. At the farm. Birds are fed. There are cows, too. From a worn, low-contrast source.

MOUTONS (El rebaño) (Parnaland – FR, c.1900) D: ?; 35 mm, 14.2 m, 41", col. (tinted). This film is also known as Sortie de moutons.
    AA: Non-fiction. Sheep are let loose from their corral. Dogs are guiding them. Tinted yellow. From a source tending to a low contrast.

THE KIDDIES AND THE RABBITS (Niños y conejos) (Warwick Trading Co. – GB 1904) D:  Archibald Brown; 35 mm, 28.7 m, 1'24”.
    AA: Non-fiction. Rabbits eat cabbage. Three babies observe them. Visual quality pretty good, with a slight tendency to high contrast.

LES DÉNICHEURS D’OISEAUX (Los nidos) (Pathé – FR 1904) D: Gaston Velle; story: Charles Pathé; 35 mm, 48 m, 2'20" , col. (tinted); main title in French.
    AA: Fiction. Three rascals steal a bird's nest. The forester chases them. They cross a river. Title tinted red. A beautiful print.

LES BÛCHERONS (Los leñadores) (Parnaland – FR, 1902-1903) D: ?; 35 mm, 33 m, 1'36", col. (tinted); main title in French.
    AA: Fiction: trick film. Lumberjacks. They settle scores with axes and sticks. An axe sticks on the head. Members are put back together in a changed order. Speed on a fast side. Visual quality watchable.

Rl. O

BAIGNEURS ET PLONGEURS (Baño de colegiales) (Pathé – FR, 1896-1899) D: ?; 35 mm, 19.6 m, 57”.
    AA: Non-fiction. Swimmers and divers. Dozens of them. Skilful diving jumps. Speed on a slow side. From a bad and worn source.

SAUTS DU TREMPLIN (Baños públicos) (Parnaland – FR, 1897-1898) D: ?; 35 mm, 17.9 m, 52", col. (tinted). This film is also known as Ecole de natation.
    AA: Non-fiction. Learning to jump and dive. Tinted yellow. Visual quality watchable.

AU RÉFECTOIRE (Comida de colegiales) (Pathé – FR, 1896-1899) D: ?; 35 mm, 15.8 m, 46”.
    AA: Fiction: farce. At the canteen. Slapstick with messing around with food. Gray. From a soft source, watchable.

BATAILLE DE NEIGE (Batalla en la nieve) (Pathé – FR, 1897-1899) D: ?; 35 mm, 15.5 m, 45”.
    AA: Fiction: farce. Rookies in uniforms start a snowball war. A cyclist falls. From a source tending towards high contrast, visual quality fair.

(TABERNA BRETONA) (Pathé? – FR?, 1896-1899?) D: ?; 35 mm, 14.5 m, 42”. Fiction subject set in a tavern, with people in French Breton costume.
    AA: Fiction: comedy. A lively scene at a dinner table with ten guests. There is enough to drink, and a rough-and-tumble ensues. From a source tending towards high contrast, visual quality fair.

CARAVANE DE CHAMEAUX (Caravana de camellos) (Lumière – FR 1897) D: Alexandre Promio; 16.9 m, 49", col. (tinted).
    AA: Non-fiction. A Lumière view of a caravan with camels. Tinted yellow. Tending towards high contrast, visual quality fair.

RESTITUTION FORCÉE (Restitución del vaso de vino) (Parnaland – FR, c.1900) D: ?; 35 mm, 14.7 m, 43", col. (tinted).
    AA: Fiction: farce: trick film. A forced restitution. The clown taps the gentleman's stomach to get the wine back. Tinted yellow. From a worn source, visual quality fair.

Rl. P

MARIE ANTOINETTE (Fiestas en Versalles) (Pathé – FR 1903) D: ?; 35 mm, 100.4 m, 4'53", col. (tinted); main title and intertitles in Spanish. This print does not include the last three episodes of the film.
    AA: Fiction: period views. A historical reconstruction. 1) A pleasure boat arrives. 2) A menuet outdoors. 3) Merienda campese = picnic on the grass. Deep focus with three layers of action in depth. A performance in the background. 4) Playing blindfolded. 5) A gallant rendez-vous. From a source tending to high contrast, visual quality quite good, with a lot of detail.

LA CHASSE À COURRE (Caza del ciervo en Inglaterra) (Parnaland – FR, c.1900) D: ?; 35 mm, 80.7 m, 3'43", col. (partially tinted); main title in French.
    AA: Non-fiction. Chasing with hounds in England. Ten hound dogs. Embarking on a hunting trip along the road. A deer swims. Surrounded by dogs. The deer is killed. Dogs get meat to eat. From a worn source, visual quality passable.

BOIS DE BOULOGNE (Avenida del Bois de Boulogne) (Pathé – FR, 1897-1899) D: ?; 35 mm, 19.1 m, 56”.
    AA: Non-fiction. Traffic: people and bicycles, horse-drawn carriages, the smart set, a steam tram. Visual quality passable.

Rl. R

LE PAPE AU VATICAN (León XIII en el Vaticano) (Pathé – FR 1903) D: Lucien Nonguet; 35 mm, 37.1 m, 1'48"; main title in French. Various versions of films bearing this title exist.
    AA: A reconstruction. The Pope enters in his carriage. There was laughter in the audience when it became obvious that this is a reconstruction. Tending towards a high contrast. Visual quality fair.

SORTIE D’ÉGLISE EN BOHÊME (Salida de iglesia en Bohemia) (Pathé – FR, 1897-1899) D: ?; 35 mm, 20.1 m, 60”.
    AA:  Non-fiction. Coming out of the church in Bohemia. A big crowd full of joy. A series of faces, many facing the camera. A sense of fun. Visual quality fair.

DANSE BOHÉMIENNE (Danza bohemia) (Pathé – FR, 1897-1899) D: ?; 35 mm, 19.9 m, 58”.
    AA: Non-fiction. A Bohemian ball. Musicians, beer, national dresses, a ring dance. Visual quality fair.

AVENUE DES CHAMPS-ELYSÉES (Avenida de los Campos Elíseos) (Parnaland – FR, 1897-1899) D: ?; 35 mm, 16 m, 47", col. (tinted).
    AA: Non-fiction. Vehicles, horse-drawn carriages, bicycles. Tinted yellow. Visual quality fair.

GÉNIE (Regimiento de ingenieros) (Parnaland – FR 1900) D: ?; 35 mm, 21.6 m, 1'03", col. (tinted). This film is also known as Défilé du régiment de Génie. Another version exists of this title, measuring 44 metres.
    AA: Non-fiction. A parade from right to left. Tinted yellow. Visual quality fair.

ARRIVÉE D’UN TRAIN À WAGONS À ÉTAGES (Tren con imperial) (Auguste Baron – FR, 1897-1901) D: ?; 35 mm, 17.6 m, 52", col. (tinted).
    AA: Non-fiction. The arrival of a train with double-decker carriages. See image above. A lively crowd of people. Tinted yellow. Visual quality pretty good.

ARROSAGE GÉNÉRAL (Riego general) (Parnaland – FR 1901) D: ?; 35 mm, 21.7 m, 1'03", col. (tinted).
    AA: Fiction: comedy: prank. A new kind of prank with the gardener's hose. The police is involved. The innocent are punished. A little rascal is behind the prank. Tinted yellow.

GENDARME ET VOLEUR DE CANARD (El gendarme atascado) (Parnaland – FR, 1900-1901) D: ?; 35 mm, 20.2 m, 59", col. (tinted).
    AA: Fiction: comedy. A boy steals a duck and makes a fool of the policeman. Tinted yellow. Visual quality fair.

Rl. S

BALLET SUR SCÈNE AVEC ORCHESTRE (Fiesta nocturna en Michelet) (Auguste Baron – FR, 1897-1901) D: ?; 35 mm, 17.3 m, 51", col. (tinted).
    AA: Non-fiction: a record of a ballet performance. A big ballet number on a stage in the middle of the auditorium. Tinted yellow. From a source tending to a high contrast.

UNE BONNE HISTOIRE (Pathé – FR, 1897-1899) D: ?; 35 mm, 20.3 m, 59”. Pathé produced another version of this title in 1903.
    AA: Fiction: comedy. Two clergymen at the table share a funny story that apparently involves a woman's breasts. Visual quality pretty good.

VOYAGE DANS UN TRAIN (Pathé – FR 1896) D: Charles Pathé?; 35 mm, 14.3 m, 42”.
    AA: Non-fiction: phantom ride. Shot from the back terrace of a train. From a source about to be destroyed, visual quality bad.

 (Pathé – FR, 1897-1899) D: ?; 35 mm, 16.6 m, 49”. The entire Spanish title was illegible in Sargarmínaga’s original notes.
    AA: Non-fiction. A lively view of horses being bathed. Visual quality fair.

SAUTS DE HAIES (Militar saltando cerco) (Parnaland – FR, c.1900) D: ?; 35 mm, 21.2 m, 1'02", col. (tinted).
    AA: Non-fiction. Cavalry. Jumping hurdles from left to right. Tinted yellow.  Visual quality stuffy.

SAUTS D’OBSTACLES PAR DES OFFICIERS (Militares a caballo) (Pathé – FR, 1898-1899) D: ?; 35 mm, 15.6 m, 46”. This film is also known as Sauts d’obstacles par les dragons.
    AA:  Non-fiction. Cavalry. Jumping hurdles from right to left. Visual quality fair.

LA POULE MERVEILLEUSE (La gallina misteriosa) (Pathé – FR 1902) D: Ferdinand Zecca; 35 mm, 37 m, 1'48”.
    AA: Fiction: féerie: A Miraculous Hen. A wizard conjures eggs, chicken are hatched from the eggs, and then it all happens backwards (the chicken return to the eggs). From a source tending to high contrast, visual quality pretty good.

Rl. V

LES PAYSANS À PARIS (Provincianos en París) (Pathé – FR, 1897-1899) D: ?; 35 mm, 18.9 m, 55”.
    AA: Fiction: comedy: Peasants in Paris. The country folks come with a rabbit and hens. They do enjoy to drink. Visual quality ok.

BONNE D’ENFANTS ET MILITAIRE (Galanteos militares) (Parnaland – FR, 1897-1899) D: ?; 35 mm, 19.8 m, 58", col. (tinted).
    AA: Fiction: a joke. The familiar early cinema joke again. The nanny flirts with a soldier, sitting on a plank, and when the soldier has to stand up to salute, the girl falls flat on her behind. Tinted yellow. Visual quality stuffy, passable.

LES BONS PAYENT POUR LES MAUVAIS (El fumador) (Parnaland – FR, 1900-1901) D: ?; 35 mm, 19.4 m, 57", col. (tinted).
    AA: Fiction: comedy. A bum chases a woman away from a bench in order to be able to lie down on it alone. The policeman stops this. Tinted green. Visual quality ok.

UNE PARTIE DE CANOT (Accidente naútico) (Pathé – FR 1903) D: ?; 35 mm, 24.4 m, 1'11", col. (tinted); main title in French.
    AA: Fiction: comedy: tricks. Landing into water on a canoe trip. A reversal of footage. Visual quality ok.

LA CHARITÉ DU PRESTIDIGITATEUR (Caridad sin recompensa) (Gaumont – FR 1905) D: Alice Guy; 35 mm, 62.5 m, 3'03", col. (tinted).
    AA: Fiction: trick film. See image above. A magician helps a tramp, but having turned into a tramp himself and asking for help, he does not get any help from the ex-tramp. The magician then reverses everything. From a low contrast source, with a dull visual look.


(Films once part of edited compilation reels, but received separately by the archive.)

LAVEUSES EN BOHÊME (Las lavanderas) (Pathé – FR, 1897-1899) D: ?; 35 mm, 62.5 m, 3'03”.
    AA: Non-fiction: washerwomen in Bohemia. A huge courtyard full of washerwomen. From a worn source. A lively visual quality.

(DESFILE DE BIENVENIDA) (?, ?, 1896?) D: ?; 35 mm, 18.7 m, 55”. Possibly shot during the Parisian visit of Tsar Nicholas II in October 1896.
    AA: Non-fiction: an endless cavalry parade. From a worn source, low-contrast, with rain.

AA: See my remarks on Colección Sagarminaga, Programme 1 a few days ago. A wonderful cross-section of early cinema as screened by an early major exhibitor. I cannot begin to imagine how difficult the restoration must have been. The result is very watchable, the image is stable, and with program notes like this it is possible to make sense of a rich and varied collection.

Wolf Song

Wolf Song: a bath before the dance for the mountain man Sam (Gary Cooper).

Wolf Song: at the baile at Taos Sam (Gary Cooper) dances a long, slow number with Lola (Lupe Velez).

Gary Cooper, Lupe Vélez

Wolf Song: after the marriage the wolf call gets stronger for Sam (Gary Cooper), but he reconsiders.

La canzone dei lupi / Suden laulu / Vargens sång.
    (Paramount Famous Lasky – US 1929) D, P: Victor Fleming; P: Adolph Zukor, Jesse L. Lasky; SC: John Farrow, Keene Thompson, based on the short story by Harvey Ferguson (1927); titles: Julian Johnson; DP: Allen Siegler; ED: Eda Warren;
    C: Gary Cooper (Sam Lash), Lupe Velez (Lola Salazar), Louis Wolheim (Gullion), Constantine Romanoff (Rube Thatcher), Michael Vavitch (Don Solomon Salazar), Ann Brody (Duenna), Russell [Russ] Columbo (Ambrosio Guttierez), George Rigas (Black Wolf);
    première: 23.2.1929, New York; rel: 30.3.1929; orig. l: 6769 ft. (8 rl.; 93'); 35 mm, 5889 ft, 65' (24 fps); titles: ENG; incomplete (mus. sequences missing); print source: Library of Congress Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation, Culpeper, VA.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM), Pordenone.
    Viewed at Teatro Verdi, with e-subtitles in Italian, grand piano: Donald Sosin, 10 Oct 2015

Kevin Brownlow (GCM catalog and website): "One of the last silent films, Wolf Song was released with an orchestral score, a few spoken words, and a couple of songs. The critics were not enthusiastic. However, it has not been seen on this side of the Atlantic since its original release, and quite often old films mature like wine. When David Chierichetti saw it in Los Angeles in 1978, he sent me this response: “Excellent. It exploits the highly charged sexual tension that existed between Gary Cooper and Lupe Velez in real life at the time. It is an intelligent story about trappers in the 1840s, beautifully photographed, with many original and expensive sets by Wiard Ihnen, and with clothes by Edith Head.”"

"The AFI Catalog of Feature Films 1921-1930 contains a succinct plot synopsis: “Lola Salazar, the daughter of a haughty Californian don, elopes with Sam Lash, an unkempt Kentucky trapper of no particular means. They live together in in a settlement in the mountains until Sam decides that he is sick of civilization and rejoins his former companions in the Canadian wilderness; Lola returns to her family. Sam soon finds the nights too long and lonely and heads home, only to be shot by a couple of braves. He drags himself to Lola’s hacienda, however, and they are reunited.”"

"Fleming had just made a picture for Sam Goldwyn called The Awakening (1928) with Vilma Banky and Ronald Colman, which no longer exists but which has acquired an almost mystical reputation. (It was also silent, with sound effects and an Irving Berlin song featured in the score.) Moving from the demure Vilma Banky to this tempestuous Mexican actress must have shaken Fleming to the core."

"Lupe Velez was, oddly enough, a discovery of Hal Roach, who cast her with Laurel and Hardy and then loaned her to Fairbanks for The Gaucho (1927). Newspaper reports about “Whoopie Lupe” tended to be headed “Hot tamale!” or “Senorita Cyclone”, for she behaved like a modern pop star. She became the lover of Fleming – “he’s on everybody’s love-list!,” she said – and the crooner Russ Columbo (whose film debut this was, but whose scenes are missing). Tension increased when she also fell for Gary Cooper. “The heat between them burned up the screen,” wrote her biographer, Michelle Vogel. Although she would stab him and try to shoot him (she missed), Gary Cooper remained the love of her life."

"Born on a ranch in Montana to English émigré parents – he was partly educated in England – Cooper played cowboy extras from 1925. He worked with Clara Bow, and was her lover for a while (blaming Fleming for the split), but he had his break when cast in Henry King’s western The Winning of Barbara Worth (1926). At first he was regarded as clumsy and difficult to direct – “He never knew what to do with his legs!” – but he soon got the hang of naturalistic acting and became one of the finest actors and best-loved stars in American films."

"Constantin Romanoff was the terrifying heavy in Harold Lloyd’s The Kid Brother (1927). Boris Karloff worked with him and said, “He was huge, but as gentle as a kitten.” The same could be said for Louis Wolheim, who played the good-hearted sergeant in All Quiet on the Western Front. He may have resembled Neanderthal man, but he had been a distinguished mathematics instructor with an engineering degree at Cornell."

"Russ Columbo, the singer, was beginning to make a name for himself in pictures around the time of Wolf Song, although he was already tremendously popular among women as a crooner. Romantically attached to Carole Lombard, he died in a freak shooting accident in 1934."

"The cameraman, Allen Siegler, had been a cowboy who demonstrated his skills with a lariat at the opening of Universal City in 1915. John Farrow would become a director and the father of Mia Farrow. The film’s editor, Eda Warren, also cut Hula and Abie’s Irish Rose.
" – Kevin Brownlow

AA: Wolf Song feels like a particularly personal film for Victor Fleming, even a kind of a fictional autobiography. The story of the wild man civilized by the love of the right woman.

The electricity between Gary Cooper and Lupe Vélez is so unmistakable that there is an almost documentary feel in their love scenes. Wolf Song belongs to the most sensual films of Victor Fleming. There is even a nude scene with Cooper but of course "nothing" is shown (see above). (To be compared with Frank Borzage's The River also made in 1929).

Sam Lash (Gary Cooper) has become a mountain man in the 1840s, and he feels a strong draw to return to the wilderness. He abuses women mercilessly during his visits to civilization. But Lola Salazar (Lupe Vélez) is different, the daughter of a distinguished family. Against her father's will Lola escapes with Sam to get married, only to have to return in a humiliating way because Sam has left her abruptly, with "fur country calling" - "the wolf song".

But "she had a brand on him and the burn still hurt". Sam's pain of separation grows intolerable. There is a memory montage that makes me think of L'Atalante.

On his way back to Lola Sam gets shot by the Indians, and, after a tortuous journey, badly wounded, he finally falls on Lola's feet. (A similar final image is also in To the Last Man).

Donald Sosin created a perfect live music world to this screening, excelling in the crucial dance scene with a fine slow tango, with a gentle sensual feeling.

The visual quality of the print is often good but variable.

The Way of All Flesh (1927) (fragment)

Kiusaus / Frestelse / Nel gorgo del peccato. (Paramount – US 1927) [fragment] Working title: The Man Who Forgot God. D: Victor Fleming; P: Adolph Zukor, Jesse L. Lasky; SC: Jules Furthman, ad: Lajos Biro, based on the story “The Man Who Forgot God” by Bruce Barton; titles: Julian Johnson; DP: Victor Milner; ED: Eda Warren; ass D: Henry Hathaway; C (fragment): Emil Jannings (August Schiller), Donald Keith (August Jr.); rel: 1.10.1927; orig. l: 8486 ft. (9 rl.; ca 90'); DCP (from 16 mm), 2'37"; no intertitles; print source: Kevin Brownlow Collection, London.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM), Pordenone.
    Viewed at Teatro Verdi, grand piano: Donald Sosin, 10 Oct 2015

Kevin Brownlow (GCM catalog and website): "Emil Jannings’ first Hollywood film, selected by D. W. Griffith as one of the 50 greatest ever made, was hailed by Photoplay as “a powerful psychological drama”, with Jannings’ acting described as “the most artistic performance ever”. Indeed, with The Last Command, it won him the first Academy Award for Best Actor."

"But Paramount allowed it to decompose, and this fragment (copied from the 1935 short Movie Milestones no. 1, released by Paramount Varieties) is all that is left."

"The AFI Catalog of Feature Films 1921-1930 provides the plotline of the final release; the action in the surviving fragment is in boldface:"

"“The world of bank cashier August Schiller centers chiefly around his patient wife [Belle Bennett] and six children, and he prides himself on being an ideal father, a faithful worker, and a loyal husband. For the first time since his honeymoon, August leaves Milwaukee to deliver thousand-dollar bonds in Chicago, and on the train he innocently becomes involved with Mayme [Phyllis Haver], an adventuress, who seduces him and during a drunken revel steals his bonds. Her lover, the Tough [Fred Kohler], and his gang beat him and attempt to take his watch, but August in his fury grapples with the Tough, who is killed by a passing train. August changes clothing with the Tough and is reported as having died a hero’s death defending his employer’s trust. Years later, a broken derelict, he learns that his oldest son has become a famous violinist, and he hoards to buy a gallery seat at a concert. He follows the boy home on Christmas Day, catching furtive glimpses of his happy family, who fail to recognize him.”"

"Screenwriter Frederica Sagor, who had written for Clara Bow, claimed that she and her husband wrote this story as Beefsteak Joe and that Paramount stole it. Whatever the truth of that allegation, Furthman’s script has helped itself to recognizable elements from The Whispering Chorus, Humoresque, and Stella Dallas (Belle Bennett, who played the title role in that picture, plays the wife in this)."

"Both scripts were set in the German-American community. Sagor’s anti-hero was a restaurateur, Furthman’s a bank teller. The Furthman script took weeks to get right – with Jannings earning around $1,000 a day. Meanwhile, the Paramount art department acquired old German furniture from Milwaukee, polished walnut with twisted legs and tassels, typical of neat middle-class homes in the Fatherland. And for the final scenes, the costume department obtained clothes for Jannings from the Los Angeles morgue."

"Jannings had been promised that despite working in Hollywood, he would have the finest talent from Europe, Mauritz Stiller as director and Erich Pommer as producer. But West Coast studio head B. P. Schulberg couldn’t get on with either of them, and replaced them with Fleming."

"British critics wondered why the title was taken from Samuel Butler’s book, while the plot was closer to East Lynne."

"“In the last scenes,” wrote Clive Brook, “Jannings had his face covered with fish skin and when I saw the rushes with him, the difference was amazing; there I was, sitting next to a healthy man of about forty, and on the screen was a worn-out, tottering figure. I was told that when he was playing this character, he had eight pounds of lead attached to the lumbar region of his back and four pounds of lead in each of his boots.” (Murnau used similar weights for George O’Brien’s boots for a scene in Sunrise.)"

"The same editor, Eda Warren, would work with Fleming on Wolf Song and Abie’s Irish Rose (both 1929)."

"Pare Lorentz found it depressing that Hollywood tried to please Europe “by apeing its tricks”. (People said the same about Sunrise.)"

"Luis Buñuel: “Although technically excellent, this film shares with many others the distinction of appealing more to our tear ducts than to our sensibilities.” Adolph Green probably came nearest the truth when he described it as “Stella Dallas with a man in it”.
" – Kevin Brownlow

AA: The only surviving fragment of a high melodrama, a real tearjerker. Like Orson Welles later, the forte of Emil Jannings was the story of the magnificent man who perishes utterly.

In this remaining fragment Jannings is already a shadow of his former self, a man from the gutter who sneaks into the humblest gallery seat of the biggest concert hall to hear his son, a violin virtuoso, play.

The tune the son selects for an encore is a song his father taught him as a child: "Wiegenlied" by Johannes Brahms (Brahms' Lullaby).

An invaluable sample from a horribly duped source.

Lily et Teddy aux bains de mer (Pathé 1917)

Lily et Teddy aux bains de mer (Pathé, FR 1917). Photo: Nasjonalbiblioteket, Mo i Rana, Norway

Lily et Teddy aux bains de mer (Pathé, FR 1917). Photo: Nasjonalbiblioteket, Mo i Rana, Norway

Lilly og Teddy / Lilly og Teddy paa sommerferie – uten slangen! / (La vacanza estiva di Lilly e Teddy).  (Pathé – FR 1917) D:  ?; DCP, 5'57", col. (pochoir); titles: NOR. Print: Nasjonalbiblioteket, Mo i Rana.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM), Pordenone.
    Viewed at Teatro Verdi, with e-subtitles in English and Italian, grand piano: Donald Sosin, 10 Oct 2015

Tina Anckarman (GCM catalog and website): "This Pathé production, depicting the activities of two toddlers at the beach, with the Norwegian title Lilly og Teddy – Et paradis paa Jorden – uten slangen! (Lily and Teddy – A paradise on earth – without the snake!), truly seems to be a gift from paradise to an archivist! Both the title card and the end card of the nitrate are intact, and the still-vibrant stencil-colours are exquisite. We know it was screened in Norwegian cinemas; it has a censorship stamp, and the newspaper ads in the Oslo area, which called it Lilly og Teddy paa sommerferie (Lilly and Teddy on Summer Vacation), tell us that it was shown as part of a children’s programme. The programme lasted approximately an hour, and contained 6 different titles with themes appropriate for kids, including comedies, shots of gardens, etc. The programme was accompanied by a full orchestra, the Kapelmester Flagstads Orkester, at the theatre Kinematografen Bøndernes Hus. Agnès Bertola at the Gaumont Pathé Archives confirmed the title in 2015."

AA: Two little children in their earthly paradise having fun at the beach, discovering the elementary joys of the water and the sand.

Serdtsa i dollary / [Hearts and Dollars] (incomplete)

Maria Babanova as Jane and Mark Dobrynin as John Stenway, king of fish oil in a scene inspired by Lubitsch. Photo: Gosfilmofond of Russia, Moscow

 Сердца и доллары / [Cuori e dollari / Hearts and Dollars]
    (Kino-Sever – SU 1924) D: Nikolai Petrov; SC: Dukh-Banko [“Spettro di Banco” / “Banquo’s Ghost”, pseud. of David Glikman], Vladimir Korolevich; DP: Nikolai Kozlovskii; AD: Vladimir Yegorov; ED., ass D: Anatoli [Anatole] Litvak;
    C: Dmitri Cherkasov (Ivanov, draftsman), Yekaterina Korchagina-Aleksandrovskaia (his mother), Sergei Shishko (Nikolai, his son), Ivan Lerskii (NEPman), Antonina Sadovskaya (his wife), Bella Chernova (Liza, their daughter), Mark Dobrynin (John Stenway, king of fish oil), Maria Babanova (Jane Stenway, his daughter), Nikolai Petrov (Harry Iven, engineer), Sofia Magarill (his bride), Konstantin Miklashevskii (Smithson, Stenway’s secretary), Aleksandr Zhukov (fashionable doctor), Aleksandr Shabelskii (gentleman), Anatoli [Anatole] Litvak, Yevgeni Mikhailov (clerks), Maria Dobrova (maid), Vladimir Braun (valet), Vera Streshneva (lady), Boris Zhukovskii (hooligan), Aleksandr Ivanov (militiaman), Fedor Kurikhin, students of the studio school of Kino-Sever;
    rel: 15.11.1924 (Leningrad), 3.3.1925 (Moscow); orig. l: 2400 m; incompleto (preserved without Reels 1  and  2), 35 mm, 1472 m, [announced: ca 64'] (20 fps); titles: RUS; print source: Gosfilmofond of Russia, Moscow.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM), Pordenone.
    The actual duration of the screening was 55'.
    Viewed at Teatro Verdi, with subtitles, grand piano: Maud Nelissen, Romano Todesco, 10 Oct 2015

Natalia Noussinova: "A novel subject for Soviet cinema at the start of the 1920s was “Americanism”. It was perceived as the slogan of the new life and as the symbol of the accelerated rhythms of the 20th century (that is, of the cinema), in FEKS’ manifesto Eccentricism, in the writings of Kuleshov, and elsewhere. America determined the spirit and even provided the basis for the subjects of plays and numerous films of the period. Around 1924 Soviet cinema experienced a veritable American invasion onscreen: citizens of the United States would cross the Atlantic and arrive en massein the land of the Bolsheviks, to survive alarming misadventures (The Adventures of Mr. West in the Land of the Bolsheviks/ Neobychaynie prikluchenia Mistera Vesta v strane bolshevikov, director Lev Kuleshov, 1924), or to desperately seek their fiancées (The Cigarette Girl of Mosseplrom / Papirosnitsa ot Mosselproma, director Yuri Zheliabuzhskii, 1924), or in search of a family, home, and work."

"This last scenario is the case of Hearts and Dollars. Two young Americans, Jane and Harry, arrive in Leningrad in search of their relatives. Jane is rich and pretty, but she is lonely. Her mother has died, her father is constitutionally somnolent, indifferent to everything around him. She craves affection, which she does not find in the Land of the Almighty Dollar. Harry is an engineer, sacked from his factory in New York because he protested against a boss who assaulted a woman worker. He goes to the land of free workers. The relatives whom Jane and Harry are seeking happen to have the same rather common name of Ivanov, and the person tracing them on Jane and Harry’s behalf confuses their addresses. Jane thus becomes the “niece” of the technical designer and Harry the “nephew” of the NEPman. The Soviet Union in the time of NEP (National Economic Policy) is in every respect alert to the dollar. Harry’s “uncle” exerts himself to profit from the nephew whom he takes for a rich capitalist, but throws him out when he realizes he doesn’t have a cent. Jane, on the contrary, is very happy in the family of her poor and honest alse relatives. Once the misunderstanding is explained and the embarrassment overcome, the lives of the young people sort themselves out: Jane finds love in the shape of her false cousin Nikolai Ivanov, while Harry is hired as a construction engineer at the Volkhovstroi electric station."

"Hearts and Dollars opened in the best cinemas in Leningrad – the Velikan, Splendid Palace, Kolizei – and was promoted with tremendous publicity, since it was the first fiction feature of the new studio Kino-Sever, established alongside the Sevzapkino Studios, which would itself give way some years later, after multiple transformations, to the great Leningrad studios, Lenfilm. The film was directed by the celebrated stage director Nikolai Petrov, who at that time was primarily working for the Alexandrinski Theatre, the stronghold of traditional art and a favourite target for the humour of the avant-garde, such as FEKS. However, the absence of sympathy was total and reciprocal. According to Grigori Kozintsev’s memoirs, Petrov and his actors came to disrupt FEKS’ production of The Marriage. The contemporary press reported the discussion of the aims of Soviet cinema which took place at the House of Arts in Leningrad, just before the release of Hearts and Dollars, in which Petrov howled with indignant rage about the fact that the production of films was entrusted to people without any merit and without any plan – even to people like FEKS (no doubt referring to The Adventures of Oktiabrina / Pokhozhdeniya Oktiabriny, directed by Grigori Kozintsev and Leonid Trauberg, 1924)."

"“I would prefer not to say that Petrov’s film would be the example of his own principles,” was the elegant opening of the sharp review by Piotr Vainshtein (Verkhovtsev) of Hearts and Dollars in the magazine Kino-nedelia. He praised the camerawork of Kozlovskii, the acting of Petrov, who surpassed all the others (even Babanova – and without even a mention of Korchagina-Aleksandrovskaia and Lerskii), and the original idea of including animation in a fiction film. This was a witty parody of the representation of the USSR in the American press, which comes to life in the hands of Charlie, Jane’s ex-fiancé, whom she leaves to go and seek her Soviet fortune. As for Maria Babanova, who was at that time a famous actress in Meyerhold’s theatre, at the summit of her glory, in Hearts and Dollars she is not very conspicuous, probably on account of a role that was too simple and gave her few possibilities to demonstrate her artistic talent."

"Petrov’s film is rather interesting for us from today’s vantage point, at least in terms of the people involved in it who would become better known later. (It is enough to mention Litvak, who had not yet adopted the French style of his Russian first name Anatoli, and who was a jack-of-all-trades on the film – editing, administration, and even a screen appearance as “second clerk on the right”). But at the time, the final verdict of Verkhovtsev’s review was pitiless: “here is another film that is useless to Soviet cinema”. To him the film appeared useless because it was traditional: “when the director tries to say something new, he starts to copy Lubitsch, Victor Janson and the other Western eccentrics”. This reproach is not altogether unjust: the scene with the valets who move in perfect unison is practically copied from Lubitsch’s Die Austernprinzessin (The Oyster Princess, 1919), with Victor Janson. But it is exactly the same kind of approach Petrov himself levelled against FEKS, his major opponents!"

"Yet was this traditionalist Petrov really so retrograde? It was he who in 1920 had co-created, with Nikolai Evreinov and Yuri Annenkov, the political satire theatre Volnaia Komediia; it was he who created the artistic cabaret Balaganchik, and who participated in its show every evening as emcee and actor under the pseudonym “Kolia Peter”, appearing on stage in a Chinese robe, joking with the audience, and directing the “noise orchestra”! After disrupting FEKS’ production of The Marriage, Petrov had immediately produced a parody of this parodic production in his own theatre."

"Could we draw a conclusion, or at least make a supposition from this? It seems that the traditionalists and the innovators at the start of the 1920s were not really so opposed to one another. They often had the same set of ideas, were obsessed by the same themes, and were inspired and dominated by the same artistic influences. Petrov’s comedy is the proof, and an interesting example.
" – Natalia Noussinova

AA: As Natalia Noussinova remarks above, Ernst Lubitsch's Die Austernprinzessin is an obvious model for Hearts and Dollars, and not only regarding the Victor Janson figure but also the female lead played by Ossi Oswalda for Lubitsch and by Maria Babanova for Nikolai Petrov. The comedy of hyperbole is quite funny with the giant gyms and mirrors.

This print is so fragmented that it is hard to make sense of it on a single viewing. The animation is included, and there are beautiful shots where the art of the cinematography of Nikolai Kozlovsky (Stenka Razin, Sumerki zhenskoi dushi, Sumka dipkuryera... ) can be appreciated.

Kinokariera zvonaria / [A Bell-Ringer's Film Career]

Kinokariera zvonaria. Photo: Gosfilmofond of Russia, Moscow
Кинокарьера звонария. Комедия в 2х частях / [La carriera cinematografica del campanaro] (Sovkino, Moscow – SU 1927) D, SC: Nikolai Verkhovskii; DP: Piotr Mosiagin, Aleksandr Kiuns; artistic supv., script editors: Valentin Turkin, Natan Zarkhi; C: V. Borisovich (campanaro/bell-ringer), Stanislav Novak (director), Ivan Kozlov (hero), Nina Savskaia (heroine), A. Razinov (asst. director), M. Lukin (cameraman), Piotr Savin (Petia), Lidia Klubkova (Lidochka), Mikhail Khabarin (head of the film factory), S. Smirnova (girl with flowers), Yuri Vinokurov, A. Vladislavov, Lev Zernov, Perfiliev (actors); orig. l: 629 m; 35 mm, 620.6 m., ca 29' (18 fps); titles: RUS; print source: Gosfilmofond of Russia, Moscow.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM), Pordenone. Risata russe.
    Viewed at Cinemazero, with subtitles, grand piano: Maud Nelissen, Romano Todesco, 10 Oct 2015

Peter Bagrov (GCM catalog and website): "A Bell-Ringer’s Film Career is a student work – one of many made in Soviet Russia in the 1920s, and one of the few that still survives. Boris Chaikovskii’s Film School was a private one – run by Olga Rakhmanova (Chaikovskii himself having died in 1924), a veteran stage actress who earned a film reputation playing noble mothers in Yevgeni Bauer’s melodramas. For a decade it was the main rival of the State Technical Film School (which still exists as VGIK), and a very successful one. The State Technical School was hovering between avant-garde and state ideology, whereas Chaikovskii’s School had a pragmatic task, to train professionals – and to get them trained by professionals of all sorts. Thus, at a certain point, among those teaching there were Vsevolod Pudovkin, Serafima Birman (one of Stanislavsky’s best pupils, known today for playing the villainous Princess Efrosinia in Eisenstein’s Ivan the Terrible), and Ivan Sarkizov-Serazini (the founder of Soviet sports medicine). The list of graduates contained no great names, but many of them enriched the Soviet film industry, becoming good actors, successful second-rate directors, and famous assistants – among them the legendary Valentina Kuznetsova, whose eye for talent inspired Eisenstein to christen her a one-woman “Scotland Yard for Moscow actors”."

"None of the cast and crew members of A Bell-Ringer’s Film Career reached the heights – only Piotr Savin became a major star: in the late 1920s and 1930s he was known for playing komsomol activists in Sergei Yutkevich’s “optimistic dramas” and Igor Savchenko’s poetic comedies. Everyone else went into complete obscurity, sooner or later."

"What makes this two-reeler unique is its topic – a much-loved and even abused one in the West, yet quite rare in Soviet Russia: it is a film about filmmaking. More than that: the butt of its humour is one of the most popular theories of the Soviet avant-garde. In the 1920s everyone was obsessed with typecasting non-professional actors; montage was supposed to substitute for acting. There was a real battle between supporters of classical “actors” cinema and those who believed in the omnipotence of the “typage-montage” school. Naturally, a group of young professionally-trained actors was happy to ridicule the new tendency. What’s more interesting is the fact that their screenplay and the production itself were polished and supervised by two leading scriptwriters of the 1920s: Natan Zarkhi, who wrote both Mother and The End of St. Petersburg for Pudovkin, and Valentin Turkin, who had just finished The Girl with the Hatbox for Boris Barnet and two years later would make The Ghost that Never Returns for Abram Room. Both experienced working for the typage-montage cinema, both taught at Chaikovskii’s Film School, and both set great hopes on their class. So, innocent as it may seem, this comedy could be considered an anti-manifesto of a sort. A statement – not against typage per se, but against obsessions of any kind."

"In fact everyone looks ridiculous in this film, not only the simple minded bell-ringer who is forced to act as a matinee idol. Equally stupid is the provincial amateur theatre star (the next step on the road to professionalism) who is jealous of the bell-ringer’s success and is willing to step in at every minute – and of course the “show people” themselves, including the hysterical director, a disgustingly handsome hero, and a very young but cynical heroine. The crew is outraged when the bell-ringer “saves” the girl from an approaching train, holding her upside-down. But that’s not less convincing than a group of well-trained “Indians” (they are shooting a Soviet Western!) who are capable of moving only synchronously... It’s a pity we never get to see the result of the crew’s hard work, for the bell-ringer accidentally exposes all the footage."

"Considered a witty and elegant parody, A Bell-Ringer’s Film Career got a theatrical release – a rare honour for a student work. Alas, for most of its stars it turned out to be their last screen performance. And typage is not to blame; there was simply not enough work in a state-run film industry.
" – Peter Bagrov

AA: Along with Nelzia li bez menia? / Can't You Just Leave Me Out? a rare discovery in the Risata russe retrospective, unmentioned in general film history books.

Understandably unknown since this is a student film made with irreverent abandon. A parody and a satire about film-making. The producer's sole directive: "don't waste film".

The protagonists in this provincial story include a bell-ringer who keeps ringing his bell with his foot tied to a rope. There is Lidochka who churns milk. The country landscape is ordinary. There is a swing for the girl. And an endless train. A cliff-hanging suspense sequence is set at the rails where a damsel in distress is tied. There is a real last minute rescue by the bell-ringer. "Tropical downpour" is created with a watering can on a tree branch.

Advice is given. "Typage!" "The mirror method" = actors imitating the director exactly. "Shoot real life like it is" = the passion in the kissing scene must be real, not simulated. And of course the bell-ringer wants to see the finished film immediately...

A little film made with a truly funny spirit.

Friday, October 09, 2015

To the Last Man (1923)

Richard Dix and Lois Wilson in To the Last Man
Victor Fleming directing Richard Dix and Lois Wilson in To the Last Man at Tonto Basin. James Wong Howe is the second from the left. Photo: Arizona's Little Hollywood.
Lois Wilson in To the Last Man. They have a date but she never shows up.
Viimeiseen mieheen. Famous Players-Lasky; dist: Paramount – US 1923. D: Victor Fleming; P: Jesse L. Lasky; supvr: Lucien Hubbard; SC: Doris Schroeder, based on the novel by Zane Grey (1922); translated into Finnish as Viimeiseen mieheen by Väinö Nyman / Kirja (1928), reprinted until 1959. DP: James [Wong] Howe; ass D: Henry Hathaway; Soviet re-editor: Sergei Vasiliev; C: Richard Dix (Jean Isbel), Lois Wilson (Ellen Jorth), Noah Beery (Colter), Robert Edeson (Gaston Isbel), Fred Huntley (Lee Jorth), Leonard Clapham (Guy), Frank Campeau (Blue), Eugene Pallette (Simm Bruce), Guy Oliver (Bill), Winifred Greenwood (Mrs. Guy), Edward Brady (Daggs); rel: 23.9.1923; orig. l: 6965 ft. (7 rl.; c.75'); 35 mm, 1798 m, c.71' (22 fps); titles: RUS; print source: Gosfilmofond of Russia, Moscow.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM), Pordenone.
    Viewed at Teatro Verdi, with e-subtitles in English and Italian, grand piano, harmonica, and flute: Stephen Horne, 9 Oct 2015

Kevin Brownlow (GCM catalog and website): "“If you like swift melodrama you are sure to like this one,” said Photoplay. And since the story was by Zane Grey, the locations had to be those specified in his novel. He even came out and camped with the company to make sure."

"The story is based on the Graham-Tewkesbury feud, also known as the Pleasant Valley War, “the bloodiest conflict between cattlemen and sheepmen in the history of the West”, according to historian Joe McNeill in his well-researched articles in the magazine Sedona Monthly. “The violence began in 1886 in central Arizona’s Tonto Basin region and reached a deadly climax when the last of the Graham family was murdered in Tempe in 1892. About 20 deaths can be directly linked to the vendetta.”"

"Having sold several of his novels in perpetuity to Fox in 1916, Zane Grey soon realized his mistake and in 1918 established his own independent film company. This allowed him to cut out the middleman and supervise production himself. He began research on the book that would become To the Last Man – initially entitled Tonto Basin – and made three trips to establish “the truth” about the feud, spending the astonishing sum of $30,000 on research. The first part of his story was fiction, involving the illegitimate birth of heroine Ellen Jorth. “In the reimagined version of history (so much for “the truth”) it is the lustful behaviour of her parents, members of opposing clans, who live together without ever marrying, that triggers the bad blood between the two families.” This was all eliminated in 1921, when Country Gentleman magazine published the story as a serial, and retitled it To The Last Man."

"Zane Grey had been stung by the industry’s corrupt accounting – most of the profits from the seven films made by his company had been pocketed by his partners, Benjamin B. Hampton and Eltinge F. Warner. He filed suit against them, charging fraud, declared bankruptcy, and sold what remained of the company to Famous Players-Lasky. “It was a good deal for both sides,” wrote McNeill. “Grey would be paid $25,000 upfront for a seven-year option on each title, with a share in the pictures’ profits; in return, the studio could prominently promote Grey’s name on its westerns, which would help ensure big box office returns.”"

"Jesse Lasky announced that Lois Wilson, co-star of The Covered Wagon (1923) would be teamed with Richard Dix for the first of these Zane Grey productions, and the location would be the Tonto Basin, “one of the most difficult spots of access in the entire United States.” The same team would star in The Call of the Canyon and The Vanishing American. Wrote Joe McNeill: “During Last Man filming, gossip columnists began to link Dix and Wilson romantically and for a few months they apparently did have an off-screen relationship.”"

"Chinese-American James Howe, later known as James Wong Howe, worked with Fleming on this and The Call of the Canyon (not to mention Mantrap and The Rough Riders). He was only 24. He would become one of the most respected of all American cinematographers, awarded ten Oscar nominations in his career, winning twice."

"“For two weeks,” wrote McNeill, “the company climbed each morning to locations as high as 2,500 feet above base camp. A number of important scenes were photographed at Sheep Basin mountain, a deeply isolated spot in the wilderness about 6 miles east of Payson, near the town of Young. Young had been the actual site of the Graham-Tewkesbury feud.”"

"Lois Wilson got a sense of the isolation when introduced to a local rancher’s wife, who said she was the first woman she had seen in two years."

"“The most Western ‘Western’ I’ve ever seen,” said the Los Angeles Times, “but the mortality is really shocking and those who are not shot or stabbed are ground to a pulp when a dynamited cliff topples over on them.”
" – Kevin Brownlow

Peter Bagrov: "The only material for To the Last Man was known to exist at Gosfilmofond as an incomplete and disordered print, which was therefore never shown to the public. However, the missing reel was found in the archive a year ago, after which the print was finally able to be put in order. So the screening at this year’s Giornate is a premiere of sorts."

"The film is still 13 minutes shorter than it should be; small fragments here and there remain lost. But one should keep in mind that, as a rule, foreign films were heavily re-edited in Soviet Russia."

"Edgar Arnoldi, one of the leading Soviet critics of the 1920s, recalled in his memoirs:"

"“Often the editors distorted and rehashed foreign films unmercifully and unconvincingly. They transposed beginnings and endings, interrupted the action in the middle, achieved the opposite sense through the intertitles. In such cases audiences were furious, and even the critics noted the plot as being disfigured to the point of nonsense – or they intellectualized on the crisis of content in bourgeois cinema. ‘There is no plot in the film,’ stated one of the reviewers. ‘The salad they are trying to pass as a plot is the last thing to be called a plot.’ It wouldn’t take much effort to guess who is the cook that made this salad...”"

"Occasionally such re-editing was done by talented people who used this opportunity to master the art of filmmaking – Sergei Eisenstein and Esfir Shub among them. Luckily for us, two Fleming titles – To the Last Man and The Call of the Canyon – were re-edited by Sergei Vasiliev. One of the future directors (with his namesake Georgi Vasiliev) of perhaps the most popular Soviet film of the 1930s, Chapayev (1934), he was famous for elegantly reshuffling “unsuitable” films beyond recognition. At the same time, whenever he ran into a masterpiece, he would do his best to keep as much as possible of the original (the existing Soviet print of A Woman of Paris is proof of that). “The Vasiliev brothers” valued Fleming immensely, and even wrote an article defending him from class-vigilant critics. They characterized To the Last Man as “a simple and dramatic story of murderous revenge”. So it is very likely that Sergei Vasiliev left the film as it was – a most difficult task for a re-editor.
" – Peter Bagrov

AA: I read many of Zane Grey's novels as a child. Some 30 of them were translated into Finnish, and I read most, perhaps all. To the Last Man may have been my favourite, and at least it was different from the others, but 50 years have passed since I read them.

Many of Zane Grey's novels were based on history, sometimes on family tradition, and also To the Last Man is based on fact, though not on family history this time. The sense of place, landscape, and geography is strong, as usual in Grey's novels.

To the Last Man stands out from the others in that it is a tragedy. Two families are wiped out, some 20 people die. The carnage can be compared with Shakespeare's tragedies or the story of the Troyan war which we saw dramatized on screen in Pordenone yesterday.

Grey invented a Romeo and Juliet story here. Jean Isbel (Richard Dix) would like to stop the war but is drawn into it anyway, and in the final embrace he is about to bleed to death. Ellen Jorth (Lois Wilson) hates her family when the truth is revealed to her.

Richard Dix and Lois Wilson co-starred also in Victor Fleming's next Zane Grey film The Call of the Canyon. They also played together in a third Zane Grey film, The Vanishing American, directed by George B. Seitz. Their chemistry is convincing.

Victor Fleming's sense of landscape is powerful. With great difficulty, under Zane Grey's guidance, the film was shot on the locations where the actual tragedy had taken place. In the first meeting of Jean and Ellen by the mountain sheep lodge the characters' attitude to the little lamb reveals something of their nature, following the Griffith lesson (good guy pets dog, bad guy kicks dog).

I like this film adaptation of To the Last Man. The details such as Jean waiting for Ellen and contemplating shooting a bear until he notices it has cubs. He leaves a package (much later we learn that there are a pair of shoes initially intended for Jean's sister). (In the novel we learn at once during their first meeting how embarrassed Ellen is for her raggedy clothes). Ellen never shows up but she is watching him from the forest. When he is gone she keeps kicking the package in front of her. She cannot make up her mind whether to open it or throw it away. She has denied Jean's accusations flatly, but confronting her family, when she realizes their wrongdoing, she turns against them.

There is insight in the psychology of Ellen Jorth, in her hesitations and her contradictions, and in her final resolve. The name of the novel and the film notwithstanding, this is Ellen's story.

When a widow enters the battleground to dig a grave to her husband it is a very moving turning-point. At the same time the Isbels realize that "we must destroy the whole clan or hold onto the last man". In the final chase the Jorths manage to kill all Isbels except Jean in an explosion in a mountain pass. The stone avalanche is terrifying.

A central role for a brave Western woman was a Zane Grey hallmark since his first novel Betty Zane (based on family history). Lois Wilson carries her part with the right spirit. In the finale Ellen is alone against the last villain, Jim, who is about to rape her. Ellen is even ready to sacrifice herself to save Jean who is bleeding to death in the attic when Jim notices the blood on Ellen's hand.

From a low contrast Soviet source with a fleetingly ok visual quality.
The Finnish edition of Zane Grey's novel To the Last Man.

The Call of the Canyon (1923), fragments

Victor Fleming: The Call of the Canyon (US 1923). Richard Dix (Glenn Kilbourne) and Lois Wilson (Carley Burch). 

Victor Fleming: The Call of the Canyon (US 1923). Lois Wilson (Carley Burch). Photo: Gosfilmofond of Russia, Moscow 

Kultainen nuoriso
(Famous Players-Lasky; dist: Paramount – US 1923) [fragments] D: Victor Fleming; P: Jesse L. Lasky; supv: Lucien Hubbard; SC: Doris Schroeder, Edfrid Bingham, based on the novel by Zane Grey (1924), translated into Finnish as Kanjonin kutsu by Väinö Nyman / Kirja (1926), several reprints until 1957; DP: James [Wong] Howe; ass D: Henry Hathaway; Soviet re-editor: Sergei Vasiliev; 
    cast: Richard Dix (Glenn Kilbourne), Lois Wilson (Carley Burch), Noah Beery (Haze Ruff), Marjorie Daw (Flo Hutter), Ricardo Cortez (Larry Morrison), Fred Huntley (Tom Hutter), Leonard Clapham (Lee Stanton), Lillian Leighton (Mrs. Hutter), Helen Dunbar (Aunt Mary), Eddie Clayton (Tenney Jones), Dorothy Seastrom (Eleanor Harmon), Laura Anson (Beatrice Lovell), Charles Richards (Roger Newton), Ralph Yearsley (Charlie Oatmeal), Arthur Rankin (Virgil Rust), Mervyn LeRoy (Jack Rawlins); 
    rel: 16.12.1923; orig. l: 6993 ft. (7 rl.; c.75'); 3 fragments (rl. 2), 35 mm, 109.3 m, 4'20" (22 fps); titles: RUS; print source: Gosfilmofond of Russia, Moscow.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM), Pordenone.
    Viewed at Teatro Verdi, with e-subtitles in English and Italian, grand piano: Stephen Horne, 9 Oct 2015

Kevin Brownlow (GCM 2015 catalog and website): "“You cannot afford to miss it,” said Photoplay."

"Although written by Zane Grey, this wasn’t a cowboy story, but a contemporary drama contrasting the values of the West (good) against those of the Big City (trivial and selfish)."

"Since the film survives only as fragments, a synopsis is crucial. "

"According to the AFI Catalog of Feature Films 1921-1930: “War veteran Glenn Kilbourne goes to Arizona to regain his health and is there nursed to recovery by local girl Flo Hutter. Kilbourne’s fiancée, Carley Burch, follows him, but soon becomes disillusioned with the West and returns to New York. Flo Hutter is seriously injured in an accident and Kilbourne, to repay her for restoring his health, proposes marriage. Carley returns to Arizona on the wedding day, seeking Kilbourne. Flo, seeing that the two are still in love, gives up Kilbourne and marries another admirer.”"

"Locations included the town of Flagstaff, where a decade before Cecil B. DeMille had stepped off the train, expecting to shoot The Squaw Man. Most of the film was shot at the Thomas Ranch and at the spectacular Oak Tree Canyon, south of Flagstaff."

"Fleming was faced with severe casting problems. Bebe Daniels, cast as Flo Hutter, failed to appear. According to Arizona historian Joe McNeill’s research, rumour had it that she was peeved she hadn’t gotten the lead role, and she stayed in New York. The studio ordered her to Arizona; she made the trip, but refused to get off at Flagstaff. Estelle Taylor was rushed from Hollywood – then she fell ill and had to be replaced by Marjorie Daw. An exceptionally attractive actress, who had been trained as an opera singer, Daw had entered movies through the early films of Cecil B. DeMille and had played opposite Fairbanks in seven pictures."

"Lois Wilson said of Richard Dix: “He was very sincere. If he hadn’t done a scene well, he was very unhappy because he was a hard-working man. I don’t think he was the best actor I ever worked with, but I think he was a very good one.”"

"Motion Picture News said of this picture: “There are some of the most beautiful exteriors we’ve ever seen in a screenplay.” Once again, the cameraman was James [Wong] Howe, and an anecdote from Howe, quoted by Frank Thompson in In Between Action and Cut sums up the ingenuity of the silent era: “Vic said one day, ‘Jimmy, we’re going to take our box lunches and climb up that hill over there. I want a silhouette of Richard Dix under the tree.’ In those days we didn’t have portable lights – we lit with reflectors. Vic said, ‘Don’t bring any reflectors because I’m not going to do any close-ups and I don’t want to take those big reflectors if I don’t have to.’ So we went up and had lunch and made the long shot and then he said, ‘Jimmy, I’ve got to have a close-up.’ And I said ‘Dammit, Vic, you told me you weren’t going to, so we didn’t bring any reflectors up here.’ Then I looked down at my tin coffee cup and at Vic Fleming’s large hands, and I said, ‘Vic, how many of these tin cups do you think you can hold in your hand?’ ‘Oh, I think I can hold about six,” he said. So I said, ‘Good, put two of them together.’ Then we got the grips together and I took the tin cups and reflected the light off them on to Richard Dix. And they shook a little so it looked just like the shadows of leaves on the guy’s face.”"

"The canyon was struck by a furious storm which flooded the location. Howe filmed the storm and had the footage shown to the townspeople."

"A small role was played by 23-year-old Mervyn LeRoy, who would, in 1939, produce one of Fleming’s most popular films, The Wizard of Oz." – Kevin Brownlow

Peter Bagrov: "Only three fragments, all from Reel 2 of the Soviet release version, are all that remain of this film today. The scenes are: (1) the doctor recommends that Kilbourne go to Arizona; (2) Carley reads letters from Kilbourne, who is happy with his life in the West and is ready to set Carley free; (3) Carley arrives in Arizona, anxious to see Kilbourne but somewhat horrified by the wilderness."

"The Soviet Repertory Committee was eager to ban the film. “The picture is soaked through with ‘healthy’ bourgeois nationalism and calls to ‘reasonable’ household prosperity and arrangement of one’s own ‘happiness’ opposed to social debauches,” wrote one of the censors. Another censor praised the film but suggested that the ending be changed so that Kilbourne marries Flo. Luckily none of the above was implemented, and the film was released successfully under a mysterious title, Da ili net? (Yes or No?)." – Peter Bagrov

AA: Based on a popular novel by Zane Grey, we saw three remaining fragments of the Soviet release version of The Call of the Canyon. The doctor's orders to Glenn Kilbourne (Richard Dix): the only remedy is the dry weather of the mountains. Carley Burch (Lois Wilson) reads Glenn's letters in bed. Finally reaching the oaks of River Valley. The covered wagon bound to the West. Magnificent mountains and valleys. "I hate city life, all those parties. I'm not going back to the city". The spoilt Carley arrives in Arizona.

At the start of the novel Glenn Kilbourne is a WWI veteran who has returned home deeply disturbed and alienated. The novel is the story of his rehabilitation in the West.

In high contrast from the battered fragments of the Soviet version.

Cover art for the Finnish edition of Zane Grey's novel The Call of the Canyon.

The Rat (1925)

Ivor Novello as The Rat. Photo: BFI National Archive, London

Ivor Novello as The Rat. Photo: BFI National Archive, London

Pariisin rotta / (Il sorcio di Parigi)
    (Gainsborough Pictures – GB 1925) D: Graham Cutts; P: Michael Balcon; SC: Graham Cutts, from the play by “David L’Estrange” [Ivor Novello, Constance Collier] (1924); DP: Hal Young; AD: C. Wilfred Arnold;
    C: Ivor Novello (Pierre Boucheron, The Rat), Mae Marsh (Odile), Isabel Jeans (Zélie de Chaumet), James Lindsay (Detective-Inspector Caillard), Marie Ault (Mère Colline), Julie Suedo (Mou-Mou), Robert Scholz (Hermann Stetz), Esme FitzGibbon (Madeline), Hugh Brooke (Paul), Lambart Glasby (America), Iris Grey (Rose), The Tiller Girls (Folies-Bergère dancers);
    filmed: 5-6.1925; trade show: 7.9.1925 (Alhambra Theatre, London); première: 6.12.1925 (New Gallery Kinema, London); orig. l: 7325 ft.; 35 mm, 5820 ft, 78' (20 fps), b&w + col.; titles: ENG; print source: BFI National Archive, London.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM), Pordenone.
    Viewed at Teatro Verdi, with e-subtitles in Italian, grand piano: John Sweeney, 9 Oct 2015

Geoff Brown (GCM catalog and website): "Though a British feature of modest ambition, securely based on a popular play, Graham Cutts’ production of The Rat has a lineage and resonance not always matched by the more obviously “significant” product of the 1920s. One of its godfathers, albeit an unwitting one, was D. W. Griffith: Ivor Novello, the film’s star and progenitor, partly developed its story on the rebound from playing the anguished, guilt-riddled clergyman in Griffith’s The White Rose (1923). B ac k in Britain, Novello was anxious to plunge into a role that allowed him to be devilishly dangerous and charming, and show off his magnetic allure: hence the Parisian “Apache” Pierre Boucheron, alias the Rat, a character first aired in public in 1924 in the theatrical version created by Novello and Constance Collier."

"Another figure lurking in the film’s background is Rudolph Valentino, who tussled hard for the play’s film rights just as Cutts’ production for Gainsborough got underway in the spring of 1925. Gainsborough stood its ground and Cutts forged ahead, importing Mae Marsh, Novello’s White Rose co-star, to portray the Rat’s worshipful young ward Odile, whose innocence falls nastily under threat from a lecherous German villain. Griffith’s former heroine plays the role with her usual impetuous naturalism, which even lends an endearing note to the scene where the Rat force-feeds her bacon. Trade reviews were universally positive when the film emerged: the Kinematograph Weekly said, “If any ingredient is lacking to make this a first-class popular picture, we cannot think what it can be.”"

"Given Cutts’ cramped pigeonhole in history as the Hitchcock mentor outclassed by his pupil, spectators might wonder where the Great Alfred is here. Physically Hitchcock is nowhere: during production Cutts’ former assistant was abroad, making his first feature, The Pleasure Garden, in Munich. On the evidence of the visual sweep and bustle of The Rat, Cutts got along easily without him. A visionary shot conjuring a guillotine aside, The Rat is not a drama of much psychological depth; yet as a display of surface attractions, confidently delivered, the film remains continuously plausible and engaging. Contemporary press reports made much of the serpentine travels of Hal Young’s camera, mounted on a platform, moving along rails – something hailed as a “new technical device”. It was hardly that in 1925; but the dollying camera certainly gives extra life and fluidity to the scenes in Montmartre’s “White Coffin”, a night-club locale instantly memorable with its coffin-shaped apertures, split-level floors, and riff-raff clientele."

"The cast play a major part in the film’s parade of pleasures. Profile to the fore, with generous make-up applied round lips and eyes, Novello exudes exceptional charisma in a role custom-made to showcase the thrills of knife fights, the warmth of his smile, and the wonder of his soulful eyes. Mae Marsh’s performance is winningly emotional, but brief compared to the space allotted the slumming aristocrat Zélie, so decoratively portrayed by Isabel Jeans. In British cinema of the time, none could beat Jeans at extending an elegant arm or lying suggestively on a sofa, cradled in cushions and pearls. At such moments, Cutts reveals a trait that he passed on to Hitchcock: making the camera and spectator voyeurs. Cutts’ fondness for suggestive spectacle also appears in the fascinating Folies-Bergère footage, shot on the spot, and the dazzling opening display of Montmartre’s electric lights. With images like that and the street locations it’s easy to feel that we’re in the authentic Paris, not locked in a London studio next to a canal. After The Rat, Cutts made two sequels, weaker and stiffer, though with points of interest; then producer Herbert Wilcox stepped in with a remake in 1937. He needn’t have bothered. This is the Rat to watch, to learn from, and above all enjoy.
" – Geoff Brown

AA: Ivor Novello was a unique songwriter, composer, and actor still known today for the Ivor Novello Award for songwriters. Novello features as a character in Robert Altman's Gosford Park on whose soundtrack many of his songs are heard. I know Novello's performances as an actor in Alfred Hitchcock's The Lodger and Downhill and in D. W. Griffith's The White Rose. From the Griffith production Novello brought with him Mae Marsh, a true Griffith veteran who had starred in The Birth of a Nation and Intolerance but had also already worked with Graham Cutts in Flames of Passion and Paddy the Next Best Thing. Isabel Jeans repeated her stage role as the woman who has seen it all; she was already an experienced actress of the stage but only at the beginning of a long film career including several roles for Alfred Hitchcock (starting with Downhill and Easy Virtue) and Vincente Minnelli's Gigi. The German veteran Robert Scholz had worked with Graham Cutts in his previous film, Die Prinzessin und der Geiger / The Blackguard. As Geoff Brown says above, it is good now to see a film of Cutts without Hitchcock with whom he had worked in his five previous films.

Let's state for the sake of fairness that Hitchcock has been obviously influenced by Graham Cutts's The Rat at least in The Lodger, Downhill, and Easy Virtue, but also still in Blackmail. It is interesting to compare the attempted rape sequences of The Rat and Blackmail and especially the performances of the characters played by Mae Marsh and Anny Ondra, both deeply shattered both by the rape attempt and the killing of the potential rapist with a knife. Here it is Pierre Boucheron "The Rat" (Ivor Novello) who saves Odile (Mae Marsh) by killing Hermann Stetz (Robert Scholz) but the police suspects Odile who is arrested and acquitted first in the conclusion.

The Rat is a Jazz Age drama incorporating aspects of Belle Époque fictions about the Parisian underworld. Spectacular centerpieces include a showy knife-fight and an electrifying Apache dance. Two days ago in Pordenone we saw similar scenes parodied in Louis Feuillade's comedy Bébé apache (1910) made 15 years earlier. Already then films were made of high society folks "slumming" in underworld hangouts, just like the decadent Hermann Stetz and Zélie de Chaumet do here. "The bored woman looked at her luxurious world and found it wanting". The account is impressive but perhaps just a little bit tired with dialogue such as "Absinthe at once". Settings include a dubious Montmartre hangout called The Coffin and the legendary Folies-Bergère with gorgeous spectacles of nude female flesh and bare breasts. The show culminates with a view of an almost naked woman climbing on top of the golden calf.

The film is star-driven, based on a legendary performance by Ivor Novello, himself a characteristic Twenties figure, to be compared with Rudolph Valentino, Ramon Novarro, Enrique Rivero, and, in Finland, Teuvo Tulio. The nickname "The Rat" is based on the fact that the master burglar Pierre Boucheron knows how to move in the sewers of Paris. (Not a cat burglar but a rat burglar. Hitchcock associations run also to To Catch a Thief, starring Cary Grant, also set in France). Novello is seductive and androgynous, powdered and lipsticked, irresistible to women. Together with Odile they are "driftwood on life's ocean". But they are not nearly as dangerous as Stetz, a ruthless and vampire-like sexual predator. Rather, they are characterized as "only a couple of kids".

As always, the performance of Mae Marsh is startlingly plain and anti-glamorous, here in contrast to the powdered male lead, the vampiric predator and the decadent Zélie.

The cinematography of Hal Young has obviously been influenced by the contemporary German revelations of Karl Freund in films such as Der letzte Mann. (Varieté was released in the same year as The Rat). His previous film Graham Cutts had made in Babelsberg with Theodor Sparkuhl, and he had first hand know-how of how Germans did it.

There is a beautiful toning (including blue) in this print which seems to be based on sometimes worn and battered sources but providing a very enjoyable general overall visual experience.