Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Children at Work (curated by Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi, EYE Filmmuseum, Amsterdam)

[LE AVVENTURE DI UN MONELLO?] (IT 1912?). Photo: Collection EYE Filmmuseum
LILY MÉNAGÈRE (FR 1914). Photo: Collection EYE Filmmuseum
THE LITTLE MATCH GIRL (GB 1914). Photo: Collection EYE Filmmuseum
LE NAIN DÉTECTIVE (FR 1909? 1911?). Photo: Collection EYE Filmmuseum
WILLY ROI DES CONCIERGES (FR 1912). Photo: Collection EYE Filmmuseum
Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM), Pordenone.
Viewed at Teatro Verdi, with subtitles, grand piano: , 7 Oct 2015

Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi, David Robinson (GCM catalog and website): Children at Work

"The principal films in this year’s selection from EYE, many from its famous Desmet Collection, how working children – the young actors – playing the roles of other kinds of working children, sad or comic. Some of the actors were already stars, their names still remembered: others are not credited. We hope that guests may still identify some of them, so that we can retrieve these brave young artists from their hundred-year anonymity."

All prints are from EYE Filmmuseum, Amsterdam.
All film notes by Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi, David Robinson.

CONCORSO DI BELLEZZA FRA BAMBINI A TORINO (Kindertentoonstelling) (Aquila Films – IT 1909) D: ?; 35 mm, 67 m, 3'15" (18 fps); title: DUT; Desmet Collection.
    "There is undeniable mischievous intent in this little reportage of a children’s beauty contest in Turin. The first brief sequence shows the hapless and bewildered children arriving at the studio dressed in their finery; the second portrays them as they follow direction, with varied success – smiling seductively, flirting at the camera, and blowing kisses. The film ends with a series of shots exposing the victims of shyness and fear, shedding unfeigned tears. These last images are preceded by the film’s only intertitle, announcing them as “the opponents of cinematography”."
    AA: Non-fiction: children's beauty contest. Long takes, expressive faces, smiles on demand, and "opponents of cinematography" (= those who spoil their shots), those who cry and protest. A good to okay visual quality.

[LE AVVENTURE DI UN MONELLO?] (Zijn eerste baas) (Itala Film – IT 1912?) D: ?; 35 mm, 141 m, 6'57" (18 fps); no titles; Desmet Collection.
    "A boy is brought by his mother to work in a furniture factory, where he causes mischief. To escape punishment, he hides inside a mattress, which is soon hoisted onto a cart to be delivered. From this point on, he creates even greater chaos around him, going about as a walking mattress. His adventures also feature some trick photography. The film ends with the boy returned to his home, where he receives a hearty spanking from his mother. Bernardini and Martinelli’s Il cinema muto italiano 1912 lists an André Deed film, Le avventure di un monello, produced by Itala Film, with a very similar plot. However, despite the Itala Film credit logo at the end of the Desmet Collection’s film, its protagonist is clearly played by a child actor, so its correct identification is still a matter for research."
    AA: Fiction: comedy: "the adventures of a brat".  As stated by Elif and David above, the story resembles a Cretinetti farce; perhaps this is a remake of one with a child actor? It's quite a wild story of mayhem of the boy as "a living mattress". Good visual quality.

ANDY GOES ON THE STAGE (André op de planken) (Edison – US 1913) D: Charles H. France; scen: Mark Swan; C: Yale Boss, Andy Clark (Andy); 35 mm, 271 m, 14'10" (18 fps), col. (tinted); titles:  DUT; Desmet Collection.
    "As actors, our young heroes and heroines were already “children at work”. Recruited to the Edison company in 1912, as 9-year-old “Master Andrew J. Clark”, Andy Clark’s brief period of stardom lasted from December 1913 to November 1914, during which time 12 “Andy” pictures were released, all directed by Charles H. France. Andy Goes on the Stage was the third in the series. The film gives an idea of his vivacity and versatility, with its story of a little telegraph boy who delivers a telegram to a theatre, and is thrust, unrehearsed, into the role of Little Lord Fauntleroy when the girl playing the role is abruptly snatched away by her mother. In 1915 Andy left Edison for IMP, after which his career faded, though he later had bit parts in Wings, Beggars of Life, Rio Rita, and Hit the Deck, before vanishing from films with the coming of sound. He died in 1960."
    AA: Fiction: comedy: being a child actor. Having to play Little Lord Fauntleroy, Andy hates his wig and starts to act in a show of his own. When the first apple from the audience hits him he is immediately out for revenge ("Who did that?"). Andy Clark is a true talent. Good visual quality, a beautiful toning.

WILLY ROI DES CONCIERGES (Willy koning der huisbewaarders) (Eclair – FR 1912) D: Joseph Faivre; C: William Sanders (Willy); 35 mm, 113 m, 6'17" (16 fps); titles: DUT; Desmet Collection.
    "Born William Daniel Sanders in Liverpool on 22 January 1906, Willy Sanders made two films for Cecil Hepworth in 1910, winning instant celebrity with The Man to Beat Jack Johnson which cast him as challenger to the famous African-American pugilist of the day. The Eclair company of France, seeking to rival Pathé’s infant superstar Bébé Mary, swiftly snatched up Willy, and between 1911 and 1916 produced some 65 “Willy” films, mostly directed by Joseph Faivre and Victorin Jasset. Willy’s film career ended abruptly in mid-1916, presumably because of his wartime return to Britain. He died in Leeds on 10 January 1990. He was undoubtedly versatile and (if the date of his birth is accurate) precocious: he could box, skate, fence, wrestle, ride horse or bicycle, and play a violin. Apart from this, it is hard to see the charm his contemporaries found in this obstreperous mop-haired blond, though this film finds him ideally cast as an infant tyrant. Standing in for a concierge, he assumes all the officiousness of the métier, as well as the patronizing bossiness that grown-ups tend to inflict on children: here the tables are turned..."
    AA: Fiction: comedy: Willy (Éclair). "Willy the Menace" gets to be a concierge and immediately turns into an overbearing maniac, a tiny tyrant, first overdoing the order, then turning the order into chaos, dowsing everybody with a water hose. From a battered source in high contrast.

BÉBÉ APACHE (Fritsje op het oorlogspad) (Gaumont – FR 1910) D: Louis Feuillade; C: Renée Carl (mother), Clément Mary [René Dary] (Bébé [Fritsje]), Paul Manson (father), Jeanne Saint-Bonnet (maid), Alphonsine Mary (Fonfon, Bébé’s sister [Lili]), Eugene Breon; 35 mm, 129 m, 6'53" (18 fps), col. (tinted); titles: DUT; Desmet Collection.
    "This was one of the earliest films of the phenomenal Bébé, but shows him in full possession of his skills of mimicry and natural expressiveness. He is well-partnered by his sister Alphonsine, especially in their faultless Apache dance. Here the children take over from their elders: when their policeman father is beaten up by Apaches, the street gangs that terrorized Paris in the early years of the 20th century, the children take the law into their hands and set an effective trap for the villains. Desmet distributed numerous films from this series, and about a dozen films still exist within the collection. In the Dutch distribution prints, Bébé was often renamed “Fritsje”, and his sister “Lili”."
    AA: Fiction: comedy: Bébé (Clément Mary). The policeman dad has been beaten by the Apaches. The little Bébé and Lili dress as Apaches, visit their den, perform an incredible Apache dance, and set a trap for the crooks. Visual quality: beautiful, with refined toning (blue-green).

LE NAIN DÉTECTIVE (Bobby de kleinste detective der wereld) (Film des Auteurs – FR 1909? 1911?) D: ?; cast: ?; 35 mm, 159 m, 8'43" (16 fps); titles: DUT; Desmet Collection.
    "Bobby, “the youngest detective on earth”, takes it upon himself to investigate a robbery, hoping to cash in the generous reward. His small size appears to be a big advantage, as Bobby manages to investigate the case while hiding and peeping out of hat boxes and boudoirs. According to the Dutch newspaper ads appearing in 1911, the child actor in this film was 7 years old; but his identity remains a mystery. In fact, the identification of the film itself remains unconfirmed; there seems to be another French film, made in 1911 by Gaumont, known in English as Bobby Turns Detective, and yet another film bearing a similar title is mentioned within the Desmet Collection, Bobby, der kleinste Detektiv der Welt (1911, Germany, producer unknown)."
    AA: Fiction: adventure comedy. There is a crook in the safe. Bobby the child gentleman detective, hides in a hatbox and solves the mystery of the stolen necklace. Visual quality good, with a slightly duped look.

THE LITTLE MATCH GIRL (Het Luciferverkoopstertje. Een Kerstverhaal in 1 bedrijf) (Neptune Films – GB 1914) D: Percy Nash? Jack Denton?; based on “Den Lille Pige med Svovlstikkerne” [“The Little Match Girl”] (1845) by Hans Christian Andersen; C: ? (the girl), Brian Daly? (her father), ? (spirit of her mother), John M. East (innkeeper); 35 mm, 172 m, 9' (18 fps), col. (tinted); titles: DUT.
    "First published at Christmas 1845, Hans Christian Andersen’s very short story, “Den Lille Pige med Svovlstikkere” (literally, The Little Girl with Matchsticks), describing the visions of a dying child, has fascinated film-makers since James Williamson first adapted it in 1902: the most recent of numerous film versions is a 2006 Disney animated short. Andersen regarded his story as happy: as the passers-by pity the stiff, cold little corpse, “no one imagined what beautiful things she had seen, and how happily she had gone with her old grandmother into the bright New Year”. This very accomplished 1914 version substitutes the spirit of the match girl’s dead mother for her grandmother, and takes the opportunity to introduce a temperance moral with the character of the child’s drunkard father. The film was produced by Neptune films: Urban is credited on the Dutch title card (next to the Dutch distribution company P. R. van Duinen’s initials) most likely as distributor, and not in relation to the 1905 Urban version of the story, as it had long been assumed in the EYE catalogue."
    AA: Fiction: fairy-tale, tragedy. A powerful, studio-bound interpretation of Andersen's tale where we for once see the large matchsticks as they really were at the time. There is something of the impact of Broken Blossoms here. I was also thinking about the world today and the abandoned children on Europe's shores. A beautiful print, with a fine grayscale, a refined, unobtrusive colour. *

LILY MÉNAGÈRE (Lilly het kleine huishoudstertje)  (Eclair Coloris – FR 1914) D: ?; C: ?; 35 mm, 138 m, 6'46" (18 fps), col. (stencil-colour); titles: DUT.
    "In this delightful, delicately stencil-coloured Éclair Coloris film, Lily does all the household chores, as if she were a grown-up. We see her doing the laundry and ironing with a toy iron, even sewing and mending clothes. She also tends to the farm animals, mows the lawn, and waters the garden meticulously. Although this is clearly one of many episodes of a series featuring the character of Lily (which seems to have run from 1913 to 1916 and had world distribution), no information can be found on the true identity of this child actress."
    AA: Fiction: Lily: a humoristic idyll. Lily does all the household chores in her children's world. A beautiful composition. From a multi-coloured pochoir source.

JEUX D’ENFANTS (Kinderspelen) (Gaumont – FR 1913) D: Henri Fescourt; supvr: Louis Feuillade; C: Max Dhartigny, Suzanne Privat, Simone Vaudry, Géo [Georges] Flandre, Juliette Malherbe, Suzanne Arduini [Suzy Prim]; 35 mm, 263 m, 13'56" (18 fps), col. (tinted); titles: DUT; Desmet Collection.
    "This film provides an interesting footnote to Henri Fescourt’s epic Les Misérables, which provides one of the major events in this year’s Giornate. Jeux d’enfants is a work from the beginning of Fescourt’s career, one of some 25 films which he directed in his first year in films, under the supervision of Feuillade at Gaumont. It is a simple morality tale about class and snobbery. A spoiled little rich girl humiliates a factory boy when he picks up the ball she has thrown, and forces him to kneel before her. The following Sunday the girl and her siblings are left alone, and wander to play in the factory. There the girl is trapped in the bottom of a lift shaft, down which the lift slowly descends, threatening to crush her. It is of course the boy whom she humiliated who comes to the rescue... Already Fescourt’s skill with casting is evident: the unidentified boy leading actor is wholly believable; and there are precocious touches in the direction – the slow pan as the boy determines upon his plan, and the effective use of the slowly turning mechanism of the lift, even if its tardiness stretches belief."
    AA: Fiction: drama: children: the spoiled rich girl and the poor factory boy. An effective mise-en-scène and an exciting narrative drive in this Fescourt-Feuillade collaboration. There are the Sunday children and the dirty factory boy who gets punishment guard duty and saves the little girl from certain death in the factory lift. "A future engineer". In long shots. A beautiful lila and sepia toning. *

GLASINDUSTRIE IN LEERDAM (Nederlandsche Glasindustrie) (’s-Gravenhaagsche Filmfabriek – NL 1918) (excerpt) D: Willy Mullens; DCP, c.3' (orig. 18 fps; /transferred at 24 fps), col. (tinted); no intertitles.
    "As a documentary footnote to our fictional impressions of children at work, Willy Mullens’ picture of the Leerdam glass factory shows the everyday reality of children working side by side with adults, less than a century ago. These small labourers are recognizable kin to the young hero of Jeux d’enfants, though few of them could have hoped for his dénouement reclamation. Leerdam has been a centre of the Dutch glass industry since the 18th century, and is still known for its Royal Leerdam crystal. Mullens was commissioned to make the film by P.M. [Petrus Marinus] Cochius, who was the Leerdam glass factory’s innovative director from 1912 to 1934. Glasindustrie in Leerdam was released in 1918, and was one of the earliest Dutch commissioned business films. Mullens’ technique in this film set an example that would be followed by other Dutch film-makers for years thereafter; these films characteristically traced the industrial process step-by-step, from the transport of resources and the production process through to the distribution of the end product. The complete length of this film is almost 15 minutes, but for this programme only an excerpt has been selected."
    AA: Non-fiction: industrial film. Child labour at the glass factory next to burning heat in the ovens. Children help with chores and also blow glass. From a soft or duped source with sepia toning. *

AA: An excellent show displaying the range of the theme of children at work - playful and deadly earnest. Times have changed, but not for the majority of mankind.

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