Sunday, October 09, 2016

Rudolf Kurtz: Expressionismus und Film (a book)

Paul Leni: cover design for Rudolf Kurtz: Expressionismus und Film (1926)

An illustration in Rudolf Kurtz's book.

Rudolf Kurtz: Expressionism und Film. An art book by Verlag der Lichtbühne, Berlin 1926. With 73 reproductions, 5 colour plates and a cover illustration by Paul Leni.
    Nachdruck Zürich 2007 (Chronos), Herausgegeben und mit einem Nachwort versehen von Christian Kiening und Ulrich Johannes Beil.
    Read in the English edition:
    Rudolf Kurtz: Expressionism and Film. Edited with an afterword by Christian Kiening and Ulrich Johannes Beil. Translated by: Brenda Benthien. Printed and bound in China. Distributed by: Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Published by: Herts: John Libbey Publishing Ltd., 2016.
In Pordenone at Le Giornate del Cinema Muto I spent a lot of time reading and re-reading the excellent programme catalogue, but there was also another splendid book in the guest package – a copy of Expressionism and Film by Rudolf Kurtz.

I have known since my school days the classic books on Weimar cinema by Lotte H. Eisner (L'Ecran démoniaque) and Siegfried Kracauer (From Caligari to Hitler). I think they were available at the Tampere city library, and I soon acquired copies of my own.

Eisner and Kracauer both relied on the first classic book on the topic – Rudolf Kurtz's Expressionism and Film – but I had never come to read it before now.

This book is very well written. Rudolf Kurtz was himself an insider in the German expressionist movement. We get a unique and privileged look into the birth of expressionism and the artistic atmosphere surrounding it, including trends in Picasso (Horta de Ebro, 1909) and Chagall (Naissance II, 1918) and the discovery of African art and the art of the insane. There are passages on sculpture, architecture, music, theatre, pantomime (Valeska Gert), and typography.

"Of all art forms, film seems to be the least like art and the most like nature". This condition of naturalism was challenged by the expressionists, most famously in Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari, approaching the condition of painting. Kurtz studies aspects of art direction, technology, and cinematography in making this happen. "Light breathed soul into expressionistic films".

Kurtz focuses on the few key films: Caligari (the beginning which "has never been surpassed"), Von Morgens bis Mitternacht, Genuine, Das Haus zum Mond, Raskolnikow, and Das Wachsfigurenkabinett, and also gives comments on expressionist elements in film in general, including works such as Die Bergkatze, Nosferatu, Die Nibelungen, Hintertreppe, and Die Strasse.

But even more generally: "Expressionism lent a hand whenever there was a need to express a particular kind of muted energy that was poised to spring, or whenever one strove to depict the sense of a situation beyond its outward appearance. Whether the liveliness of a cosmopolitan street or the oddness of a setting was to be rendered on a deeper level of consciousness, expressionist form was called on to provide the effect". These remarks seem valid even for film, television, and cyber games today.

There is an excellent chapter on abstract art. Kurtz on Malevich: "Light and dark, direction and expansion organize the visual space into a battlefield of motion". Film-relevant names include Man Ray, Hans Richter, Viking Eggeling, Fernand Léger, Walther Ruttmann, and Francis Picabia.

Kurtz analyzes the contributions of the director, the screenwriter, the actor, and the art director. He is frank about the limitations of the expressionist film, a topic to which is devoted a chapter of its own. In 1926 Kurtz saw expressionism already as a phenomenon of the past. "Expressionism as a strict art form is no longer current". "Wherever there is movement, there is change in the world; uniformity is paralysis of the soul. All paths lead toward the goal, but only a bolt of lightning can spark a flame".

The editors, Christian Kiening and Ulrich Johannes Beil provide an extensive and useful apparatus of notation and a highly rewarding sixty-page afterword which helps us understand the context and impact of Rudolf Kurtz's work. They also expand the list of relevant films with titles such as Verlogene Moral, Erdgeist, and Algol, and later related works like Shinel, Geheimnisse einer Seele, and Metropolis which had not been released by the time of the publication of Kurtz's book.

Kiening and Beil document the reception history of the book. It is also fascinating to learn about Kurtz's reaction to Eisner's work: "You are missing the central premise of my book. For me, Expressionism is not an artistic genre, but the expression of a world crisis".

Read today, Kurtz's work turns out to be one of the foundation works of studying film from the perspective of art history. It is based on first-hand observations and written in a style ranging from sober commentary to inspired generalizations. With its excellent illustrations it is also itself a work of art within the expressionist movement.

Saturday, October 08, 2016

Film concert The Thief of Bagdad (1924), score: Mortimer Wilson, conductor: Mark Fitz-Gerald, performed by: Orchestra San Marco di Pordenone

Serata finale / Closing Night

THE THIEF OF BAGDAD (Il ladro di Bagdad) (US 1924). D: Raoul Walsh. AD: William Cameron Menzies. C: Douglas Fairbanks, Julanne Johnston, Anna May Wong. PC: Douglas Fairbanks Pictures. DCP, 154', col. (tinted); titles: ENG. Source: Photoplay Productions / Patrick Stanbury Collection, London.
    Score by Mortimer Wilson (1924), courtesy of Photoplay Productions / Patrick Stanbury Collection.
    Score arranged and synchronized by Mark Fitz-Gerald.
    Performed live by: Orchestra San Marco, Pordenone; conductor: Mark Fitz-Gerald.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto: Eventi Speciali.
    Teatro Verdi, Pordenone, e-subtitles in Italian by Sub-Ti, 8 Oct 2016.

Le Giornate del Cinema Muto 2016 poster, Douglas Fairbanks in The Thief of Bagdad (Il ladro di Bagdad) Elaborazione grafica, Giulio Calderini, Carmen Marchese, photo Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and Le Giornate del Cinema Muto.

The Music

Mark Fitz-Gerald (GCM Catalog and website): "Douglas Fairbanks’s commission to Mortimer Wilson (1876–1932) to create the orchestral score for The Thief of Bagdad was revolutionary – a revolution not altogether welcomed by Hollywood producers and musicians content with the industrial status quo of music for film performance. For the first time, Fairbanks recognized the composer as a creative collaborator, from the start, in the overall composition of his film – a situation paralleled to some degree by Shostakovich’s work on New Babylon, four years later."

"Wilson, a serious classical composer, proved an inspired choice. Born in rural Iowa, he studied organ, violin, and composition with Frederick Grant Gleason at the Chicago Music College, and at 25 was appointed head of the Department of Theory and Composition at the University of Nebraska. He moved on to Leipzig to study composition with the noted German composer Max Reger."

"Returning to the States, from 1911 to 1916 he conducted the Atlanta Philharmonic Orchestra and taught at the Atlanta Conservatory, and thereafter until his early death was consulting editor for the National Academy of Music in New York. At the same time he was clearly already fascinated by motion pictures: in 1919 he published Silhouettes from the Screen, op. 55, whose five “Scriabinesque” movements were dedicated to William S. Hart, Charles Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Theda Bara, and Douglas Fairbanks (“Tempo di valse”)."

"Fairbanks, it was widely reported, instructed Wilson, “Make your score as artistic as you can and don’t feel that you have to jump like a banderlog from one mood to another at the expense of the development of your musical ideas.” In the New York Morning Telegraph, the composer and critic Theodore Stearns celebrated: “A big motion picture producer who is artist enough to say that to a composer has made musical history.” The Literary Digest observed that “Mr. Wilson has worked in the same spirit as the composer of a symphony employs in pursuing his ends. He is permitted to see his ideas develop with a regard to their own integrity and not become merely a running comment on the text of the picture.”"

"Uniquely, Wilson was present throughout the rehearsals and shooting of the film, constantly jotting down notes and ideas for the characters and moods. Subsequently he spent many hours in the projection room working out precise timings for every scene."

"Fairbanks’s revolution and Wilson’s finished score were however to meet fierce opposition as the premiere – at the Liberty Theatre, New York, on 18 March 1924 – drew near. Fairbanks had engaged the prominent Lithuanian-born impresario Morris Gest (Moishe Gershnowitz, 1875–1942), at a fee of $3,000 a week, to promote the film. One of Gest’s first contributions was to exhort Fairbanks to drop Mortimer Wilson’s score in favour of a composer “with a big name”. "

"Gillian Anderson (without citing the source) has given us Wilson’s personal account of what followed. With only two weeks to go and the parts already printed, Wilson was permitted to conduct his own score for the premiere and the first two weeks of the run. Gest’s only interference at this stage was to insist on the interpolation of a few (Wilson remembered ten) compilation extracts by other composers. Wilson managed imperceptibly to “lose” these in the first few days, though some were still with the score as we received it, and have been faithfully “unpinned” for our current restoration."

"A fortnight after the opening, however, the relentless Gest announced that a new compilation score – apparently the work of James C. Bradford (1885–1941) – was now ready and would be tried out. The unfortunate orchestra was consequently obliged to rehearse this for five hours each morning before going on to perform the matinee and evening performances with Wilson’s score. The new score (alleged to have cost $7,000) was finally tried for a single day; Wilson ironically comments that it “proved to be as good as any assembled score can be”. Bradford’s score was quietly forgotten, and Wilson’s was resumed for the rest of the run and went on to be performed in ten other cities."

"Wilson recalled that while Fairbanks had expressed his enthusiasm in a number of interviews, Gest instructed his New York press staff to “lay off the music”; and music critics were only invited after the abortive compilation try-out. “When the music critics did come, they made our score famous all over the United States in a few short weeks. The Literary Digest gave two pages to a review of the outstanding critiques... and a committee from the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, after a visit to The Thief of Bagdad, performed a suite from our score at the Stadium concerts.” The veteran music critic and great Wagnerian Henry T. Finck declared in the New York Evening Post, “Yesterday he conducted the score as only the creator of the work [could] – he happened to be a born leader.”"

"Wilson was understandably unmoved by Gest’s first-night telegram, “I know you have the goods”: “It only goes to show that the serious American composer and conductor will be discriminated against just so long as certain European managers who are un-Americanized are active in catering to the American public.”"

"Wilson’s work with Reger had evidently endowed him with an enormous palette of harmonic skills as well as particular ingenuity with orchestration and counterpoint – exemplif ied in the miniature fugue which introduces the three eunuchs in Part One of The Thief. Like Shostakovich, Wilson did not propose precise metronome speeds, but only added vague traditional indications like allegro and largo. The only precise indication in Wilson’s Thief score is the note “Film speed: 85’”, which evidently indicates feet per minute, and is equivalent to 22.6 frames per second – guidance more helpful to the projectionist than to the conductor. (Patrick Stanbury has chosen to run the film slightly slower than this indicated speed.)"

"The restoration of the score has inevitably been a challenge. In late 2015, in advance of receiving a working copy of this new restoration of the film, Patrick Stanbury introduced me to his collection of material for Wilson’s score. This was without a full score, but a “piano conductor” score with many instrumental cues. This contains very few errors, and must have been well supervised by the composer himself. However, the original orchestral parts, which were also present, were riddled with errors and problems. A basic diff iculty was that on each page the clef and key signature appear only once, on the top line – a fairly standard practice at that time, buthazardously confusing for a complex composition with endless concealed new key signature and clef changes."

"There were innumerable errors to be spotted and corrected, not only involving incorrect notes. For example, we discovered that some of the trumpet part (in B flat) had been copied in error into the horn part – in F. A compensation was that the instrumental parts had been printed on stiff paper in folding concertina form, precluding awkward page turns and cascading scores. The parts had evidently been cheerfully used without correction."

"Wilson organizes his score in 82 titled sections, with only half a dozen specific cues. During many weeks of measuring and constantly re-checking the 82 sections with a stop-watch and metronome, it became clear that only about 80% of the music could be fitted with the film. Of the other 20%, there were some passages where there was music but no film, and even more passages where there was film but no corresponding music. Many of the problems came in Part Two. In total there were 2 sections of music and no film; 7 sections where there was either no – or in a couple of cases not enough – music, adding up to over 15 minutes. Some of these lacunae could be filled by careful addition. A couple of sections for which the score provided no music could only be sorted by constructing them from other parts of the film."

"A total of 11 repeats had to be removed, and 3 new repeats added. In this work, the collaboration of our small team of expert computer copyists – Stephen Anthony Brown, Christopher Taylor, and Ray Lee – was indispensable."

"The explanation of these gaps and inconsistencies was given by Wilson himself, in an unsourced letter of 1927, again cited by Gillian Anderson: “I have seen the film grow daily, from one hundred feet to fifteen or twenty thousand feet, in four months, and subsequently viewed the cutting process back to ten thousand feet, as ready for the market. During this time I have written the music for every foot of the film, finally, cutting to match the footage. Now here is where the main difficulty lies. The producer never knows what the sequence of the footage will be until after the first public performances. It is a case, you see, of trying it on the dog, so to speak. Now the original score must keep pace with all the various changes in footage and sequence which are made from time to time. That would be simple enough, of course, if the tempos of various operators in the booth were somewhat similar, but you will readily understand that the interest of the average operator is not with the music in such a case, but with his own comfort.” As it survives, the score shows that the composer was not always able to keep abreast of the cuts and insertions after the premiere."

"Wilson chose to work with an orchestra of moderate size, presumably in the hope that this would make the project available to smaller outlying cinemas. It is written for 1 flute (= piccolo), 1 oboe, 2 clarinets, 1 bassoon, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, 2 trombones, harp, percussion, and a flexible string section. The work is sometimes referred to as “a screen symphony”. Despite being complex structurally and harmonically, it has a great musical unity. To respect this symphonic continuity, Wilson resists slavishly following every small action of the film. He delights in allusions to the styles of other composers. The film opens and closes with the priest (imam) revealing the moral of the tale, written in the stars: “Happiness must be earned.” The music here seems to allude to Puccini’s aria “Vissi d’arte” from Tosca, while in the second part, the music for the flying horse is not without hints of Wagner’s Valkyrie steeds."

"Do not be deceived by the music in Part One, with its exotic mood to suit pickpockets and prayers, as well as moments of fabulous verismo-erotic love music. In Part Two, as the Thief undertakes the trial of the six moons, the music develops a grotesque and terrifying character, not unrelated to some of the more extreme moments of Alban Berg. The six moon sections are skilfully shaped in the form of a stylized rondo; and as the Thief triumphs over each ordeal there is a frisky scherzo coda, in which we recognize a distinctly Regeresque allusion to the second movement of Tchaikovsky’s Manfred Symphony."

"With the ending, the “magic carpet” music takes on a character of beautiful simplicity, with gentle woodwind trills as the opening motto, “Happiness must be earned”, is again written in the stars as the Thief and his Princess fly serenely past the Moon on their magic carpet.

– Mark Fitz-Gerald

"Wilson went on to compose scores for Fairbanks’s Don Q, Son of Zorro (1925) and The Black Pirate (1926). A Wikipedia reference to a score for The Mark of Zorro (1920) cannot be substantiated by reference to the Mortimer Wilson archive, now at UCLA."

The Thief of Bagdad, Aerial view of the set construction, photo: Photoplay Productions.

The Thief of Bagdad, photo: Menzies Family Collection, Barry Lauesen.

The Thief of Bagdad, photo: Photoplay Productions.

The Thief of Bagdad. Anna May Wong, Douglas Fairbanks.

Arthur F. Kales: Anna May Wong in Thief of Bagdad, 1924.

AA: We saw in Helsinki on 26 March 2004 Carl Davis at the Finlandia Hall conducting his magnificent score for The Thief of Bagdad, performed by the Radio Symphony Orchestra. We were delighted to hear the inspired interpretation and arrangement based on Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade. Played by a Finnish orchestra it was impossible to ignore the association that Sibelius must have heard it before composing his Violin Concerto. That gave us a sweet and thrilling bonus. The cultural context was perfect since Douglas Fairbanks was inspired by Ballets Russes, Nijinsky, Bakst – and Diaghilev's Scheherazade.

But I have been aware for a long time that according to Gillian Anderson Mortimer Wilson's original music for The Thief of Bagdad is the finest of all American silent film scores. I had been looking forward to hear it at last.

But it was late, and the main film started 50 minutes after the start of the closing gala with an overture of seven minutes. I watched some 40 minutes with a growing awareness of a wake-up call five hours later to an early morning flight before which I had my packing to do. I could not focus anymore and left my back row seat on the second balcony. (I usually sit in the very first row but I had failed to queue on time this year).

What I heard was very good, but I was aware from Mark Fitz-Gerald's program note that the most rewarding passages of the music would be forthcoming in Part Two. I am now looking forward even more determinedly to finally to hear the entire Mortimer Wilson score at last!

Scheherazade. Set and costume design for Sergei Diaghilev: Léon Bakst.

The Little Rascal

Little Rascal, starring Baby Peggy, photo: Gosfilmofond of Russia, Moscow.

THE LITTLE RASCAL (Чертёнок Пегги / Chertionok Peggy / [Peggy, the Little Devil]) (US 1922). D+SC: Arvid E. Gillstrom. C: Baby Peggy, Dick Smith, Fred Spencer, Blanche Payson, Max Mogi, Louise Montgomery. PC: Century Comedies. Dist: Universal. 35 mm, 1306 ft, 16' (22 fps); no titles; credits missing. Source: Gosfilmofond of Russia, Moscow.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto: Serata finale. Riscoperte.
    Teatro Verdi, Pordenone, no titles, grand piano: Donald Sosin, 8 Oct 2016.

Steve Massa (GCM catalog and website): "The rediscovery of a Baby Peggy comedy is always a cause for celebration, and we have Moscow’s Gosfilmofond archive to thank for turning up The Little Rascal. Peggy Jean Montgomery made her film debut in 1920 at the age of 19 months, appearing in Century Comedies produced by Abe and Julius Stern, brothers-in-law of Universal head Carl Laemmle, who distributed their shorts."

"Starting out as an unbilled sidekick to Brownie the Wonder Dog, Peggy also worked with Lee Moran and Teddy the Keystone dog before becoming known as Baby Peggy and starring in her own series. The Sterns put together a unit that turned out her shorts through 1924, which was made up of talented comedy creators such as Arvid E. Gillstrom, Fred Hibbard, and Alf Goulding, and surrounded her with regular supporting players like Blanche Payson, Dick Smith, Max Asher, James T. Kelly, William Irving, and giant Jack Earle. Tiny and cute, but in a character sort of way with a pug nose, big eyes, and bowl haircut, Montgomery became a miniature working girl in shorts such as The Kid Reporter (1923) or spoofed rival movie stars in Peg O’ the Movies and Carmen Jr. (both 1923)."

"Part of the fun of her series is seeing the pint-sized Montgomery enact routines that were part of the standard repertoire of seasoned professionals such as Roscoe Arbuckle or Lloyd Hamilton. For instance, in Peggy Behave! (1922) the tot has broken a window and in order to escape the wrath of her large stepmother Blanche Payson she makes a big show of “polishing” the imaginary glass, even making extra effort to get rid of an obstinate flyspeck. Peggy was also headlined in a series of loose fairy-tale adaptations like Hansel and Gretel (1923) and Jack and the Beanstalk (1924), and moved into features such as The Darling of New York (1923) and Captain January (1924). Her immense popularity led to all kinds of Baby Peggy merchandise – dolls, cut-outs, books, etc . – but by age 6 she was out of films due to a disagreement with her father and producer Sol Lesser. Her Hollywood fame secured her appearances in vaudeville for a time, but she was never able to get a foothold in pictures again. Today as author Diana Serra Cary she remains a feisty presence, preserving film history and presiding over screenings of her films.
" – Steve Massa

AA: The serata finale of Le Giornate del Cinema Muto started with celebrating the last living star of the silent age – Diana Serra Cary also known as Baby Peggy – by showing a film of hers which had been believed lost but has now been found at the Gosfilmofond at Belye Stolby.

The child stars of the silent age were amazing. Would Willy (William Sanders, with a success comedy series at Éclair in 1910–1916) have been the first of them? The Kid by Charles Chaplin with Jackie Coogan perhaps gave a boost for an unprecedented enthusiasm for child comedians, and Baby Peggy became one of the greatest of them. She made more than 150 films, most of them before she turned six.

The Little Rascal is a delightful comedy. The routines involve a seesaw nutcracker, shoe polish, shaving, dogs, and a talking tube which can also be used for transporting liquids... soot... flour...

Visual quality: excellent.

Mocny człowiek / [A Strong Man]

Agnes Kuck as Łucja who condemns her boyfriend Henryk when he publishes his dead friend's novel under his own name in Mocny człowiek (PL 1929), photo: Filmoteka Narodowa, Warszawa. Please do click on the images to enlarge them!
In the editing room of Mocny człowiek (PL 1929), photo: Filmoteka Narodowa, Warszawa.

MOCNY CZŁOWIEK [L’uomo forte / A Strong Man] (PL 1929). D: Henryk Szaro. SC: Jerzy Braun, Henryk Szaro, based on the novel by Stanisław Przybyszewski. Cin: Giovanni Vitrotti. AD: Hans Rouc. Ass D: Jan Belina. C: Grigorij [Grzegorz] Chmara (Henryk Bielecki, writer), Agnes Kuck (Łucja, Bielecki’s lover), Julian Krzewiński (Ligęza, landowner), Maria Majdrowicz (Nina, Ligęza’s wife), Artur Socha (Jerzy Górski, writer), Stanisława Wysocka (Bielecki’s grandmother), Bolesław Mierzejewski (theatre director), Janina Romanówna (Nastka Żegota, actress), Aleksander Zelwerowicz (publisher), Jan Kurnakowicz (secretary), Ludwik Fritsche (usurer), Jerzy Dworski (Karewicz), Lech Owron (actor), Władysław Walter (janitor). PC: Gloria. Rel: 10.2.1929. 35 mm, 2146 m, 81' (24 fps); titles: POL. Source: Filmoteka Narodowa, Warszawa (preserved 1998)
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto: Polonia.
    Teatro Verdi, Pordenone, e-subtitles in English and Italian, grand piano: Günter Buchwald, 8 Oct 2016.

Michał Pabiś-Orzeszyna: "Long before its premiere in the autumn of 1929, when Warsaw audiences first saw Henryk Szaro’s A Strong Man (Mocny człowiek), a film with the same title was released in St Petersburg. Vsevolod Meyerhold’s A Strong Man (Sil’nyi chelovek) came out in 1917, also in the autumn, and was the second film, after The Picture of Dorian Gray (Portet Doriana Greya, 1915), directed by the noted theatrical innovator."

"Like Szaro’s film, Meyerhold’s Strong Man was based on the novel by Polish modernist, bon vivant, and philosopher Stanisław Przybyszewski. The Polish writer had frequently been approached to adapt his story, but he held out until an offer came from the cosmopolitan community of Russian theatrical experimenters. Przybyszewski was well-acquainted with their work, specifically with Meyerhold, as ten years earlier the Russian had staged one of his dramas in St. Petersburg. While Meyerhold’s film unfortunately doesn’t survive, it still constitutes an important milestone for understanding the later Polish feature film."

"A Strong Man is the story of Henryk Bielecki, lacking in literary talent, who treacherously murders his friend in order to appropriate the authorship of an unpublished type-script. The only person who knows his secret is his partner Łucja. The book that he’s stolen, entitled A Strong Man, becomes a bestseller, thus bringing the false author fame and for tune. Bielecki acquires high social status, receives of fers to adap this book for the stage, and has an af fair with a married woman, Nina Ligęza. As his situation becomes increasingly complicated, Bielecki is forced to commit more and more crimes, which awakens his conscience, leading to a dramatic ending."

"The films by Meyerhold and Szaro are similar not only in title and plot, but also because of the transnational interplay of styles and production crews, so emblematic of Polish cinema as a whole during the interwar period. This allows us to interpret Szaro’s version as an effort to more accurately realize a cosmopolitan aesthetic within Polish cinema."

"Szaro himself used to be Meyerhold’s student, and was therefore very familiar not only with the creative world of the theatrical fringe in St. Petersburg, but with recent avant-garde artistic developments in both Germany and Russia. Moreover, some of the production team behind his Strong Man were also closely involved in this new school of thought. These include director of photography Giovanni Vitrotti (1874–1966), who began with Ambrosio and had already shothundreds of movies in Italy and Germany; art director Hans Rouc (1893-1963), who worked with Robert Wiene; and leading actor Gregori Chmara (1878–1970), veteran of Wiene’s I.N.R.I. and Raskolnikow, among other Weimar titles, and a follower of both Konstantin Stanislavski and Meyerhold (Chmara was also Asta Nielsen’s lover). Several of these figures made further films in Poland, attesting to a certain international characteristic of Polish cinema, which frequently imported not just personnel but stylistic developments."

"The engagement of such a cosmopolitan creative team brought a distinctive international flavour to the film, which Szaro clearly fostered. Through numerous expressionistic techniques such as double exposure and a pronounced use of cross-cutting, one can recognize the aesthetics of the city symphony films, exemplified in the sequence showing a theatre premiere. Foreign influences can be seen not only in the visuals, sets, and editing, but also the staging itself. Szaro was notably inspired by Meyerhold’s aesthetics, visible in the measured movement of actors across the sets. At the same time, these unusual means of expression don’t interfere with the film’s quite traditional genre classif ication, and in Polish cinemas it was screened as a melodrama."

"A number of critics thought the movie had the potential to go beyond the Polish film market . Stefania Heymanowa, one of the more powerful critics, wrote in Bluszcz, “it could easily reach any European big screen and should find admirers everywhere.” Such a judgment was due not only to the “international” visual layer of the movie, but also its “non-national” script. The adaptation of Przybyszewski’s book – completed by another Polish modernist, Andrzej Strug – included updating the story and removing parts that strongly related to Polish national culture. On this basis it was decided to distribute the film abroad; however, its reach has yet to be established."

"For many years the film was considered lost. A print was discovered in 1997 at the Cinémathèque Royale in Belgium, but it remains incomplete.
" – Michał Pabiś-Orzeszyna

AA: There is an affinity in the storyline with one of the stories in Woody Allen's multi-character study You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (2010) and with Georg af Klercker's Nattliga toner [Nocturnal Tones] (1918) which was one of Ingmar Bergman's favourite films.

Henryk steals his dying friend's novel manuscript, publishes it in his own name, and it becomes a bestseller. However, when it is being dramatized for the theatre people get increasingly aware of the fraud ("Why is his talent so unexpectedly developed?"), and the tension gets too much to bear. "Author! Author!" is heard at the premiere. Henryk steps forward, confesses the truth and commits suicide with a bullet in his brain.

A film with interesting lyrical passages, hallucinations, bold trick effects, and montages of superimpositions. The culminating "play within the play" with Expressionist emphases is the strongest sequence. At about 22 minutes reels were switched and screened in the wrong order with the result that also the subtitling was off for a while, hampering a full reception of this film somewhat, while the film also remains incomplete.

A valuable restoration / reconstruction from challenging sources often in high contrast and with a duped look. Worthwhile all the same.

Zza kulis dźwiękowców polskich / [Polish Sound Editors Behind the Scenes]

Zza kulis dźwiękowców polskich. Photo: Filmoteka Narodowa website.

ZZA KULIS DŹWIĘKOWCÓW POLSKICH [Ingegneri del suono polacchi dietro le quinte / Polish Sound Editors Behind the Scenes] (PL 1930). D: ?. PC: Towarzystwo Filmowe “Wytwórnia Doświadczalna”. 35 mm, 30 m, 1'05" (24 fps); titles: POL. Source: Filmoteka Narodowa, Warszawa.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto: Polonia.
    Teatro Verdi, Pordenone, e-subtitles in English and Italian, grand piano: Günter Buchwald, 8 Oct 2016.

Katarzyna Koła-Bielawska: "Newsreel item. The inside story of making a movie with the Polish stars Mieczysław Cybulski and Jerzy Marr, and new starlet Ola Obarska. The film is not identified, but it is probably the now-lost short Tajemniczy gentleman (The Mysterious Gentleman, 1930), directed by Janusz Star. The newsreel material was silent, but The Mysterious Gentleman was sound, using the Breusing sound system." – Katarzyna Koła-Bielawska

AA: An elegant glimpse of making an early Polish sound film on a soundstage. Stylish. Visual quality: good.

Karykatury Jotesa. Serja VIII: Świat filmowy / [The Caricatures of Jotes. Series VIII. Film Stars]

Karykatury Jotesa. PL 1930. [Not  Świat filmowy]. Source: Filmoteka Narodowa, Warszawa website.

KARYKATURY JOTESA. SERJA VIII: ŚWIAT FILMOWY [Le caricature di Jotes. VIII serie: Stelle del cinema / The Caricatures of Jotes. Series VIII. Film Stars] (PL 1930). D: ?. PC: Towarzystwo Filmowe “Wytwórnia Doświadczalna”. 35 mm, 54 m, 1'59" (24 fps); titles: POL. Source: Filmoteka Narodowa, Warszawa.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto: Polonia.
    Teatro Verdi, Pordenone, e-subtitles in English and Italian, grand piano: Günter Buchwald, 8 Oct 2016.

Katarzyna Koła-Bielawska: "Newsreel item. “Jotes” (also known as “J. S.”) was the pseudonym of the Polish caricaturist and journalist Jerzy Szwajcer (1892–1967). Szwajcer studied art in Brussels, where he made his debut in 1912 in the Belgian magazine Pourquoi Pas? He specialized in caricature portraits. The film shows the artist at work, and his caricatures of current Polish movie stars: Adam Brodzisz, Jadwiga Smosarska, Nora Ney. In the final sequence we watch him draw Zofia Batycka – actress, Miss Poland 1930, runner-up for Miss Europe 1930 and then Miss Paramount 1931. He presents the drawing to her and kisses her hand." – Katarzyna Koła-Bielawska

AA: Jotes (Jerzy Szwajcer) at work, drawing and inking lightning sketches of Polish film people. In the last segment Zofia Batycka poses for him and laughs amusedly at the caricature. Visual quality: ok.

Al Christie – Christie Men

No Sparking (US 1927), D: Robert Kerr, C: Ann Christy, Jimmie Adams, William Irving, photo: Robert Arkus.

Gli attori di Christie / Christie Men

    A cura di Steve Massa.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto: Al Christie.
    Cinemazero, Pordenone, e-subtitles in English and Italian by Sub-Ti, grand piano by masterclass students, 8 Oct 2016.

Eddie Lyons, Lee Moran. Photo: Collezzione Steve Massa.

Eddie Lyons & Lee Moran

BEHIND THE SCREEN (US 1915). D: Al Christie. SC: Al Christie. C: Eddie Lyons, Lee Moran, Victoria Forde, Stella Adams, Harry Rattenberry, George French, Anton Nagy. PC: Nestor Films. Rel: 23.7.1915. Dist: Universal. DCP, 12'26" (transferred at 18 fps); titles: ENG. Incomp. (orig. 2 rl.; only rl. 1). Source: Library of Congress Packard Center for Audio Visual Conservation, Culpeper, VA.

Steve Massa: "While the “Christie Girls” were a ready subject for studio publicity, there were also plenty of male comics on the Christie roster. This program is a cross-section of some of their most popular – as well as the most neglected."

"The first of Al Christie’s regular performers to become stars were Eddie Lyons and Lee Moran. Under Christie’s guidance they became the most popular team in silent comedy before Laurel & Hardy. They both came from stage backgrounds of vaudeville and musical comedy. Lyons hit movies first in 1911 at the Biograph Studio in New York and he soon joined Imp, which led to David Horsley’s Nestor Films. Lee Moran debuted at Nestor in 1912, and the pair first worked together as part of the ensemble with Victoria Forde, Billie Rhodes, Harry Rattenberry, Stella Adams, Neal Burns, Jane Waller, Betty Compson, Ray Gallagher, George French, and little Gus Alexander. After countless comedy one-reelers they came to be naturally working opposite each other all the time, and were made an official team by Christie in 1915. Behind the Screen comes from this year and is a unique look at how Nestor comedies were made, with the technicians as well as actors playing themselves, including Al Christie directing and putting everyone through their respective duties."

"When Christie left Nestor and Universal in 1916 for his own company, the Nestor players, including Eddie and Lee, all came with him, but not for long. Universal quickly made the boys a counter-offer to direct and star for their own unit. Returning to Universal, they continued under the Nestor brand and in 1918 their releases became Star Comedies . Their shorts were more situational, with them frequently playing buddies who were in hot water with their wives. Eddie Lyons looked like the boy next door, while Lee Moran was goofier – tall and gangly. Often Lyons would play the straight man with Moran supplying the character comedy, as in House Cleaning Horrors (1918), where newlyweds Eddie and Dorothy Devore hire inepthandyman Lee to repaper and paint their love nest, with, of course, disastrous results."

"In 1920 they began making popular five-reel features, such as Everything But the Truth and La La Lucille, but in early 1921 they dissolved their partnership. No reason has been quoted for the split, so it may have just been time for a change. Eddie Lyons moved over to the Arrow Film Corp. and produced a series of shorts for himself, and another for Bobby Dunn. These lasted to 1924, and from there Eddie took supporting roles in dramatic features like Déclassé (1925) and The Lodge in the Wilderness (1926), before his sudden death (which has variously been reported as due to appendicitis, a nervous breakdown, and a brain tumor) in August of 1926. Lee Moran remained at Universal after the split, and for a while headlined in their Century Comedies before going on to shorts for Educational, Standard, and Fox. He also made the leap to supporting roles in mid-1920s features, but his career petered out with the coming of sound. It ended in 1935, and he died at the Motion Picture Country Home in 1961.
" – Steve Massa

AA: Non-fiction, a film about film-making, a highly valuable account on professional film production a hundred years ago. The scenario department, the property room, a carpenter's workshop, a dressing room. "The largest stage in the world". How a scene is shot, and another. The swift switches of cardboard backdrops and carpets. Shooting in sunlight. Transportation: slow but sure. "Otis Turner's company making a feature play". A big scene. Handcranked cameras. Lunch time at the cantina. Visual quality: a good definition of light. *

Beans for Two. Photo: EYE on YouTube.

Harry Depp

BEANS FOR TWO (US 1918). D: ?. C: Harry Depp (Jimmy), Elinor Field (Betty), George B. French. PC: Strand Comedies / Caulfield Photoplay Co. Rel: 22.12.1919 (1 rl.). Dist: Mutual. 35 mm, 770 ft, 11' (18 fps); titles: ENG. Source: EYE Filmmuseum, Amsterdam.

Steve Massa: "The now-forgotten Harry Depp was a comic lead for Christie in the late 1910s, and was very busy supporting Fay Tincher in shorts like Rowdy Ann (1919) or being teamed with Elinor Field in Strand Comedies like this and Easy Payments (1919)."

"Depp came from the stage, where he had a varied background in stock companies, as support for star comedienne Else Janis, and spending eight years working for producers Klaw & Erlanger in shows such as The Pink Lady and The Little Café. He entered films in 1916 at Universal, appearing in some features and shorts for their Nestor and Victor brands. 1917 saw him shift to Triangle Comedies, where he headlined in numerous one-reelers alongside Reggie Morris, Claire Anderson, Lillian Biron, and Raymond Griffith. Short and slight, with very refined features, Depp made a convincing “other woman” in drag – a handy skill for two-reel farces. With Christie from 1918 through 1920, his resemblance to Christie star Bobby Vernon led him to move on to Fox Sunshine Comedies for a number of comedy shorts, as well as supporting roles in features on the order of Quincy Adams Sawyer (1922) and Inez from Hollywood (1924). After leaving films in 1926, he returned in the early 1930s, regularly playing uncredited bit parts until 1947.
" – Steve Massa

AA: Husband and wife unknown to each other start to finance the purchase of a gramophone via stamps from buying beans. They purchase enormous amount of beans until they have an incredible stock of them – and two gramophones. The beans go to the Belgian Relief Fund. Visual quality: high contrast, a duped look.

Monkey Shines (US 1920), D: Frederic Sullivan, photo: Library of Congress Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation, Culpeper, VA.

Eddie Barry & Neal Burns

MONKEY SHINES (US 1920). D: Frederic Sullivan. SC: Scott Darling. C: Eddie Barry, Earle Rodney, Helen Darling. PC: Christie Film Co. Copy: 35 mm, 965 ft, 13' (20 fps); titles: ENG. Source: Library of Congress Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation, Culpeper, VA (printed 1994).

Steve Massa: "Almost as neglected as Harry Depp is Eddie Barry, who spent 14 years on and off working for Christie, not only as a star comic but also as a versatile character man. Born George Joseph Burns in 1887, he was the older brother of comedian Neal Burns (more on him in a moment), and had extensive theatrical experience which included playing comedy with the Madame Sherry touring company, stock for the Keith and Proctor theatres, and vaudeville as part of Lasky’s Hoboes. Christie brought him to films in 1916, and until 1930 he took on all kinds of roles with Betty Compson, his brother Neal , Fay Tincher, Billie Rhodes, Jack Duffy, Billy Dooley, and Frances Lee. Tall and gangly, he wasn’t a leading man and was best used as character support, although in the early 1920 s Christie headlined him in his own starring vehicles, such as Monkey Shines, Home, James, and Mr. Fatima (all 1920)."

"Although the Christie lot was his homebase, he also worked in L-K-O and Century Comedies, was teamed with Vera Reynolds in a series of two-reelers for Arrow, and in the mid-1920s was a sidekick in action and Western features on the order of Red Blood, Sagebrush Lady (both 1925), and That Girl from Oklahoma (1926). After a few sound appearances he left movies in 1930, and died in 1966."

"As mentioned above, Barry was the brother of Neal Burns (see No Parking and A Pair of Sexes, in other Christie programs at this year’s Giornate), who along with Bobby Vernon was one of the Christie’s biggest stars of the 1920 s. Born in 1892 , he made his stage debut in 1907 and spent the next few years specializing in light comedy roles, which he continued on film. "

"He began working with the Nestor Company with Nellie the Pride of the Firehouse (1915), and stayed with them until Christie set up his own shop in 1916. Like his brother he began freelancing in 1918, with appearances at L-KO, Nestor (appearing in Stan Laurel’s first films), Sennett, and Century, but by 1921 he was exclusively with Christie. Handsome and charming, Neal always got the girl by the end of a picture, but in 1924 he and Christie took a more character approach to his screen persona by adding a pair of horn-rimmed glasses. This gave Neal a bookish, persnickety personality that sethim apart from the crowd of good-looking but bland leading men. Through 1929 Neal turned out top-notch two-reelers, and even found time to direct his Christie contemporaries Jack Duffy and Frances Lee. The arrival of sound was not kind to Burns, as he lost his star status, and the stock market crash wiped out the fortune he had amassed in the 1920s. Relegated to uncredited extra work, he kept busy in films until 1946 , and passed away in Los Angeles in 1969.
" – Steve Massa

AA: This film has the same concept as Howard Hawks's Monkey Business (1952), written by Ben Hecht, Charles Lederer, and I. A. L. Diamond, based on a story by Harry Segall. Monkey glands turn a tired old man, Uncle Ebenezer, into a virile party-goer who heads into the company of dancing girls at a cabaret and learns all the new steps. But his wife, Aunt Sally, has an operation, as well, and soon they are dancing together on their second honeymoon. *

Bobby Vernon publicity shot. Collezione Steve Massa.

Bobby Vernon

SECOND CHILDHOOD (US 1923). D: Harold Beaudine. SC: Frank Roland Conklin. C: Bobby Vernon, Babe London, Earle Rodney, Charlotte Stevens, Lincoln Plumer. PC: Christie Film Co. Dist: Educational Pictures (orig. 2 rl.). DCP, 20' (transferred at 24 fps); titles: ENG. Source: Lobster Films, Paris.

Steve Massa: "Al Christie’s biggest star, male or female, was Bobby Vernon, who with his diminutive size and eager-to-please personality was the “little boy” of slapstick comedy. Although practically all of his films centered around romance and the pursuit of the leading lady, he sometimes seemed too young to know why he was pursuing her or what he should finally do if he caught her."

"Born Sylvion de Jardin, his career began on stage with Kolb & Dill (the West Coast version of Weber & Fields). While still a teenager he entered films at Universal, and became part of the ensemble in their Joker Comedies. After a couple of years he switched to Mack Sennett, where he made a miniature comedy team with the petite Gloria Swanson in shorts such as The Danger Girl (1916), Teddy at the Throttle, and The Sultan’s Wife both 1917). "

"In 1918 he joined the Christie organization, and began an 11-year association with the producer. The 1920s were the peak of his career, as he headlined in tailor-made comedies on the order of A Barnyard Cavalier (1922), Ride ’Em Cowboy (1924), and Why Gorillas Leave Home (1929). Although his voice was fine in talkie appearances like Sheer Luck (1931), Vernon didn’t go over in sound. Getting too old to play his regular youthful character – his hairline was visibly receding and he was getting stocky – he opted to move behind the camera, and as Robert Vernon worked for Educational and Paramount as a writer and comedy supervisor, before his early death in 1939.
" – Steve Massa

AA: Waiting for "the usual birthday check" from the rich uncle Oscar the couple, haunted by debt collectors, is surprised to learn that the uncle is going to bring it in person to the non-existent son. Bobby Vernon now needs to dress as "little Oscar". But Oscar also brings with him his daughter Violet (Babe London) who is superior in boxing. A comedy of anxiety and embarrassment. Visual quality: low contrast, duped.

Grandpa's Girl (US 1924), D: Gilbert Pratt, C: Jack Duffy, Kathleen Clifford. Photo: Cineteca Nazionale, Roma.

Jack Duffy

GRANDPA’S GIRL (US 1924). D: Gilbert Pratt. Titles (orig.): Norman Z. McLeod (title-card artwork). C: Kathleen Clifford, Jack Duffy, Eddie Barry, Margaret Cullington, Jimmie Harrison, Lila Leslie, Babe London, Eddie Baker, Budd Fine, George B. French. PC: Christie Film Co. Rel: 15.6.1924 (2 rl.). Dist: Educational Pictures. DCP (from 35 mm, orig. 376 m), 23'40" (transferred at 20 fps), b&w + col. (tinted); Titles: ITA (in rima). Missing main title. Source: Fondazione CSC - Cineteca Nazionale, Roma (Digitized and restored in 4K, 2016; with thanks to Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa).

Steve Massa: "Known as the “foxy grandpa” of silent comedy, Jack Duffy was actually some 30 years younger than his popular screen persona. Born in 1882, he was the younger brother of Irish character actress Kate Price, and spent years in stock companies, musical comedy, and vaudeville. His first documented movie work is for Universal in 1916, and he can be spotted in bit parts in shorts such as Chaplin’s A Dog’s Life (1918), and Misfits and Matrimony (also 1918) with Earl Montgomery and Joe Rock. Around 1920, with the use of make-up and the discarding of his dentures, he hit upon his senio-citizen character and found his niche. Overnight he was everywhere, working as a regular player at Fox and Speed Comedies, plus supporting Larry Semon, Louise Fazenda, and Monty Banks in titles like The Hick, A Rural Cinderella (both 1921), The Fast Male, The Counter Jumper (both 1922), and Jungle Pals (1923)."

"In 1924 he became part of the stock company in Christie Comedies and two years later became one of their stars. Through comedy misadventures such as Hold Still (1926), Chicken Feathers, Hot Papa, and Queer Ducks (all 1927), Duffy gummed his way with relish. The peak of his career was the late 1920s, when his shorts were built around the character of “Sandy McDuff,” a cranky Scottish skinflint, plus he had juicy supporting roles in features like Ella Cinders (1926) and Harold Teen (1928). He began the sound era in shorts, and had a hilarious bit in the Marilyn Miller feature Sally (1929), buthis appearances soon dwindled, and he embarked on a second career as a studio make-up man. Sadly, Duffy never reached the age of his movie alter ego, as he passed away at 57 in 1939.
" – Steve Massa

AA: I read my handwritten notes seven weeks afterwards and find remarks such as: - college - moving a huge load of furniture - bees in ancient Egypt - an alarm bell - petrified - bees attack - an entrance hall full of grandsons - the girl in drag - a boxing hall - the girl beats an overpowering adversary. I confess I have forgotten this film. A digital transfer in 4K from a 16 mm, high contrast, and duped source.

No Sparking (US 1927), D: Robert Kerr, C: Jimmie Adams, Ann Christy, photo: Robert Arkus.

NO SPARKING (US 1927). D: Robert Kerr. SC: Frank Roland Conklin. C: Jimmie Adams, Ann Christy, William Irving, Billy Engle, Cliff Lancaster, Stella Adams. PC: Christie Film Co. Rel: 22.05.1927 (2 rl.). Dist: Educational Pictures. Incomp., DCP, 12'26" (transferred at 24 fps); no titles. Source: Lobster Films, Paris.

Steve Massa: "In addition to being one of Al Christie’s stars, Jimmie Adams was a popular screen clown for more than a decade. Born in 1888 in Paterson, New Jersey, he spent time on the stage and entered films in 1917. His early work was in Fox Sunshine Comedies, where he was part of the ensemble with Lloyd Hamilton, Billie Ritchie, and Hugh Fay, and then he moved to Century, where he played second fiddle to animal actors such as Joe Martin the orangutan and the Century Lions. During this time he even wrote World War I songs with Charles Parrott (Charley Chase). Jimmie’s big break came in 1920, when producer Jack White headlined him in a series of wild and crazy shorts like A Fresh Start, Nonsense, and Bang! (1921), in which he was teamed with Lige Conley or Sid Smith."

"From there he moved over to Hallroom Boys Comedies and briefly back to Jack White before signing with Christie in 1923. The next few years saw his best films, and although not a particularly inventive comic Jimmie did everything with a breezy nonchalance, and shorts such as Safe and Sane (1924), Be Careful (1925), Whoa, Emma (1926), and Oh, Mummy (1927) were fast and funny. In addition to his busy schedule for Christie, he found time to appear as comic relief in the features Triumph (1924) and Her Man O’War (1926). His starring career came to an abrupt end in 1928, due to illness that may have been caused by drinking bad bootleg booze. A year or so later he returned to the screen in small bits, mostly in his old pal Charley Chase’s talkies, like Arabian Tights and Luncheon at Twelve (both 1933), where he was part of the singing group The Ranch Boys. He died in 1933 at age 45."

"More Christie Men: In addition to the above players, other regular Christie men included the leads Jimmie Harrison, Earle Rodney, and Jay Belasco, ubiquitous supporting characters George B . French and Harry Rattenberry, and headliner Billy Dooley.
" – Steve Massa

AA: Our protagonist learns to defend himself and he beats the villain dressed as a donkey. The climax takes place in a burning house. The protagonist is taken for a superhero. I write these remarks seven weeks afterwards and do not remember this film well anymore.

German Chromolithographic Loops 19 [Pferdekutsche und Auto / Horse-Carriage and Automobile]

DIF_50_437, 35 mm, monochrome photolithographic loop, 50 frames (incomplete?).
Tentative ID:
Plank 1914 (GER): E. P.-Noris-Films photographisches Druckverfahren (Printing Process), ca 100 cm. Serie 48/5. Straßenszene[Street Scene]
    DCP of a photolithographic loop, 50 frames, from Deutsches Filminstitut DIF.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto: Cinema delle origini.
    Cinemazero, Pordenone, no text, grand piano: masterclass students, 8 Oct 2016.

AA: Not animation but a photographic loop juxtaposing horsepower and automobile power.

Friday, October 07, 2016

City Symphonies II Prog. 3: Experiences in the Modern City: Abstraction, Speed, and Periphery

Bezúčelná procházka [Aimless Walk] (CS 1930), D: Alexander Hackenschmied, photo: Národní filmový archiv, Praha. Please do click to enlarge the images.

Sinfonie delle città II Prog. 3: L’esperienza della città moderna: astrazione, velocità, periferia
City Symphonies II Prog. 3: Experiences in the Modern City: Abstraction, Speed, and Periphery

    Curated by Eva Hielscher.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto: Altre sinfonie della città.
    Teatro Verdi, Pordenone, e-subtitles in English and Italian by Sub-Ti, grand piano: Mauro Colombis, contrabbasso: Romano Todesco, 7 Oct 2016.

Bezúčelná procházka [Aimless Walk] (CS 1930), D: Alexander Hackenschmied, photo: Národní filmový archiv, Praha.

BEZÚČELNÁ PROCHÁZKA [Passeggiata senza meta / Aimless Walk] (CS 1930). D+P: Alexander Hackenschmied. C: Bedřich Votýpka (man with hat). 35 mm, 219 m, 7'40" (24 fps); no titles. Source: Národni filmový archiv, Praha.

Eva Hielscher: "In 1930, Czech avant-garde photographer and critic Alexander Hackenschmied, who later, after his emigration to the U.S., would change his name to Hammid, borrowed a Kinamo camera and made a truly independent film. Aimless Walk can be considered a city symphony about Prague with a centrifugal effect. Whereas other films, such as Walther Ruttmann’s Berlin, start with the arrival in the city by train, boat, or other modern means of transportation, Hackenschmied’s film takes us in the opposite direction, showing a tram ride that starts in the city center and leads us to the periphery and outskirts of Prague, to the half-industrial, half-rural landscape of Libeň, with its factory chimneys, fallow fields, trees, and reflecting water surfaces. In fact, the film’s working title was Na okraji (On the Outskirts). Stylistically, the tram ride recalls the train sequence of Ruttmann’s Berlin, as Hackenschmied combines shots of, on, and from the tram in a rapid and rhythmic montage, displaying and merging multiple perspectives into a kaleidoscopic whole which stands for the experience of new and fast ways of travelling in the modern city. This experience becomes personal and personified, since, unusually for city symphony films, this one has a protagonist – a man with a hat, played by Hackenschmied’s friend, non-professional actor Bedřich Votýpka, who takes the tram, goes for a walk on the Libeň peninsula along the shores of the Vltava river, sits smoking in the grass, and finally returns to the city."

"Even better: one half of him returns to the city center of Prague, while his doppelgänger stays on the outskirts. He is an urban wanderer, though not quite a flâneur, as he does not observe and dive into the crowds in the city, but goes for a walk to explore the city’s semi-industrial suburbs."

"The film premiered in a programme Hackenschmied himself organized in the Kotva cinema in Prague between November 1930 and February 1931, which focused on international avant-garde films. This included other city symphonies and urban-related films, such as Jean Vigo’s À propos de Nice, Alber to Cavalcanti’s Rien que les heures, Henri Chomette’s Cinq minutes de cinéma pur, and Mikhail Kaufman’s Vesnoi (Springtime). Aimless Walk was Hackenschmied’s first film, followed in 1932 by another city symphony, Na Pražském hradě (Prague Castle). Later he made documentary and advertising films, and shot experimental films, such as Meshes of the Afternoon (1943), made with his then-wife Maya Deren."

"I would like to acknowledge Natascha Drubek, for her wonderful article and research on Aimless Walk in the journal Bohemia 52 (2012).
" – Eva Hielscher

AA: The city symphony concept reversed and mutated into a Doppelgänger story. The movement is from urban velocity to the peace of the outskirts. "The man of the crowd" becomes a solitary wanderer. Expressive imagery, striking montages. There were shades of jazz in the musical interpretation of Mauro Colombis and Romano Todesco. Visual quality of the print: good.

Jeux des reflets et de la vitesse

JEUX DES REFLETS ET DE LA VITESSE (FR 1925). D, PC: Henri Chomette. DCP (from 16 mm), 8' (transferred at 18 fps); no titles. Source: Light Cone, Paris.

Eva Hielscher: "In the 1920s, the young filmmakers of the French avant-garde experimented with abstraction, as they also became interested in documentary material, urban imagery, and the city. Henri Chomette’s Jeux des reflets et de la vitesse is a city symphony variation from the period before Ruttmann’s Berlin gave the phenomenon its name. Similarly to his Cinq minutes de cinéma pur (1926), the short starts out as a purely abstract film with kaleidoscopic shots, optically distorted forms, spinning objects, and the play of forms, movement, light, and shadow. In fact, it also ends in an abstract manner. By this, Chomette, who was René Clair’s brother, frames and sets the tone for his exploration of and visual play with the urban structures and cityscape of Paris in the main portion of the film."

"Indeed, in his cinéma pur, Chomette treats the urban material of the French capital according to the rules of the abstract film as well. The viewer becomes immersed in a fast, rollercoaster-like métro ride through tunnels and across viaducts, constantly alternating bet ween darkness and light, abstraction and the concrete and material, between electric lights dancing on the walls in the dark tunnels and architectural structures, telephone poles, and trees along the rails in daylight. The trip continues by boat on the river, unfolding and opening up to city symphony views of Paris and the Seine, including famous sights such as Notre-Dame as well as industrial landmarks and factory chimneys. Chomette makes extensive use of experimental techniques such as acceleration and multiple exposures. Finally, métro trains, the Seine, and the Eiffel Tower begin to rotate, recalling the dizzying effect of a fast merry-go-round ride and exemplifying the experience of the overwhelming multiplicity of sensations in the modern city. This reference to the urban experience merges with Chomette’s abstract approach. Reality becomes absorbed in the play of light and movement, forms and speed, as he sets and locates his abstract study in the urban environment of Paris.
" – Eva Hielscher

AA: This films starts as an abstract study in reflections and velocity. This is kinetic art. Then we get into moving vehicles, speeding through the city at night. The image is accelerated, rails appear in superimpositions, there are Olympic angles. An interesting musical interpretation by the duo Colombis & Todesco. Visual quality: bad, from very duped sources.

Les Nuits électriques

LES NUITS ÉLECTRIQUES (FR 1929). D+P: Eugène Deslaw. 35 mm, 265 m, 13' (24 fps); no titles (opening credits: RUS). Source: Les Archives françaises du film du CNC, Bois d’Arcy.

Eva Hielscher: "Eugène Deslaw’s Les Nuits électriques is an abstract film that shares some features with the city symphony concept. In this instance, the filmmaker evokes the nocturnal city via its streetlights, electric signs, and illuminated façades. Whereas films such as Ruttmann’s Berlin, Cavalcanti’s Rien que les heures, or Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera take the city at night as only one element among many of urban life, Les Nuits électriques focuses exclusively on this aspect of urban modernity. The Ukrainian-born Deslaw [Yevhen Slavchenko], who moved to France in 1922, combines images of Paris and Berlin, and composes a little symphony of city lights and illuminated signs at night – creating a “light dream” of evenings in big cities, with mysterious movements, invisible forces, machines, and various visual effects. By the sharp contrast of dark , often completely black surroundings and moving lights, the filmic image often takes on an almost completely flat surface; the city becomes an abstract background for the filmmaker’s play with light, geometric forms, lines, dots, and movement."

"But Les Nuits électriques is also a film about the literary, textual city – the signs and characters, words and slogans visible in the city at night. It is also a film about cinema itself, the light in the dark that creates a visual impression – indeed, we see the signs of an Ufa cinema in passing. Even further, it is a work about the manipulating forces and potentialities of cinema. The façade of a building appears illuminated with lines of lights, which transform the house into a negative of itself, a sort of skeleton or X-ray version. In fact, Deslaw also intercuts negative shots of telephone poles and a factory chimney with the nocturnal images, transforming with cinematic and photochemical means actual daytime images into night as well. In the end, the dance of lights and filmic fireworks converts into an actual filmed firework, which is itself manipulated and reinforced by experimental film techniques."

"Georges Sadoul called Les Nuits électriques, together with Deslaw’s Montparnasse (1930), Parisian reportage. After Les Nuits électriques, in 1929 Deslaw made his famous La Marche des machines, which also displays some parallels with the city symphony approach.
" – Eva Hielscher

AA: Like Henri Chomette's Jeux des reflets et de la vitesse which we just saw this is an abstract film with openings towards the city symphony concept. The cities displayed are Berlin and Paris. At the Berlin cinema Der Gentleman von Paris is playing: today we have seen works by Reinhardt and Stiller, both were early inspirers of the 1920s trend of sophisticated comedy to which Harry d'Abbadie d'Arrast's films belongs. Out of the night lights abstract visions emerge. Out of the fairground attractions, optic and kinetic phenomena. There is a sense of wonder in the multiple superimpositions. Impressive like La Marche des machines. Visual quality: from worn sources.

La Zone. Au pays des chiffonniers

LA ZONE. AU PAYS DES CHIFFONNIERS (FR 1928). D: Georges Lacombe. Cin: Georges Périnal. PC: Films Charles Dullin. Dist: Productions R. J. de Venloo. 35 mm, 818 m, 30' (24 fps); titles: FRA. Source: Les Archives françaises du film du CNC, Bois d’Arcy.

Eva Hielscher: "In 1928, Georges Lacombe, René Clair’s former assistant, made a film about the outskirts of Paris and its inhabitants. More precisely, he portrays the daily life of ragpickers living on the periphery of Paris. Lacombe follows the dawn-to-dusk structure that became so typical for city symphonies. Early in the morning at 5 a.m. the ragpickers leave their homes with carts to collect anything useful and reusable thrown away in the city center and more wealthy districts of Paris in order to resell it. Back in the “Zone”, their work continues as they sort the collected goods according to their further ways of reuse and recycling: paper is stamped and bundled, scrap iron is pressed and sent to the factory for further metal processing, and recovered items are sold at the flea market at Porte de Clignancourt. The film also includes the typical city-symphony lunch break. After dinner at 7 p.m., the day in the Zone has already ended, so that the ragpickers can resume their daily activities at the break of dawn the next morning."

"Lacombe’s debut work as a director focuses on the poor and miserable living conditions in the Zone, where we see children play in the dirt and dance to music a man makes with half-filled water glasses. A number of personages or types are highlighted, such as this musician, a photographer, a gypsy, and the aged La Goulue, long ago the high-kicking can-can dancing star of the Moulin Rouge. La Zone is a socio-critical avant-garde documentary about the Parisian periphery, the shadowy existence of ragpickers, and suburban poverty. It displays the downside of modern urban life. However, it can also be read as a document dealing with the modern problem of garbage in the great cities and the progressive and environmentally friendly idea of waste separation and recycling. In the Zone, though, this developed purely out of the inhabitants’ necessity for survival."

"Film historian and documentary filmmaker Lewis Jacobs recognized in Lacombe’s film the influence of Paul Strand and Charles Sheeler’s 1921 city symphony Manhatta, which made a great impression on European and French avant-garde documentary filmmakers of the 1920s.
" – Eva Hielscher

AA: This year I finally saw Agnès Varda's masterpiece Les Glaneurs et la glaneuse. It is a unique work, but it also partly belongs to a tradition in which Georges Lacombe's La Zone is an earlier masterful achievement. The connection becomes evident in the title "au pays des chiffonniers" – "in the land of the ragmen". To me, this work is the most profoundly moving among all of Pordenone's city symphony screenings this year. I had seen La Zone once before, in the unforgettable Cent années Lumière touring show of the best French documentaries of all time courtesy of the Institut français in the 1990s. Now La Zone felt even stronger. This is also a film from the outskirts. Like in Varda's film we follow the process of salvaging in different ways. A shock encounter is with the old and marginalized La Goulue, "the Queen of Montmartre", a founder of the can-can, famous from Toulouse-Lautrec posters, now penniless in the slum. We visit an immense flea market. There are also images of young love and nature montages. The visual quality is not hot, and the contrast is high at times.

Prater. Shot on 9.5 mm

PRATER (AT 1929). D+P: Friedrich Kuplent. PC: Frikup Film. 35 mm (blow-up from 9.5 mm), 245 m, 14' (16 fps), col. (tinted); titles: GER. Source: Österreichisches Filmmuseum, Wien.
    Preserved and restored in 2014 by the Österreichisches Filmmuseum, in cooperation with the Klub der Kinoamateure Österreichs.

Eva Hielscher: "Friedrich Kuplent’s experimental short Prater can be considered a pioneering work of Austrian avant-garde film and a domestic city symphony. It was made within the context of the Klub der Kinoamateure Österreichs (the Austrian Film Amateurs Club), of which Kuplent, an employee at the Vienna gasworks, was a co-founder. His film portrays Vienna via a day at the city’s famous Prater fairground. An intertitle describes it as a film from the margins of everyday life. Indeed, as part of city life and the modern urban experience, amusement parks were a typical motif in city symphonies in the inter-war period. Kuplent, however, takes this motif and places it at the very heart of his film."

"This ambitious short begins with street impressions of Vienna, before focusing on the Prater as a distinct quarter of the Austrian capital, and a city within the city. Images of visitors are intercut with showmen and -women, amusement park attractions and architecture. Multiple exposures, unusual camera perspectives, abstract shots, and rapid editing imitate rides on rollercoasters, log flumes, and swing carousels. Kuplent deploys filmic tricks and experimental film techniques, including movement, speed, and kaleidoscopic views, to give us an impression of the fairground’s experiences and multitude of simultaneous thrills and stimuli, translating them into the language of cinema. In this regard, the film also includes a visual exploration of the Wiener Riesenrad, the Vienna Ferris wheel, which Kuplent depicts as a fragmentation of steel parts, not unlike the method Joris Ivens used a year before in De Brug (The Bridge). Finally, Kuplent also hints at social contrasts, before a thunderstorm brings an end to the Prater’s hustle and bustle. To a certain degree, the film’s climax shares some aesthetics with the final sequence of Dziga Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera.
" – Eva Hielscher

AA: "Ein Film vom Rande des Alltags" – "a film from the margin of the everyday". Prater belongs, with Bezúčelná procházka and La Zone, to the periphery films in tonight's city symphony programme. Also here urban views grow into abstract visions. Here the emphasis is on a sense of play. There are jokey intertitles and spoof advertisements. The do-it-yourself aspect of the amateur film is proudly emphasized. The movement is from the concrete to the abstract. Mechanic toys and games are explored. The subjectivity of the handheld camera gives freedom. It is not all fun and games. There are beggars at the gates of the paradise. It ends with clouds, escalating rain, and feet that run. The visual quality: preserved from 9,5 mm amateur film footage.

Erotikon (1920)

SE 1920. PC: AB Svensk Filmindustri. D: Mauritz Stiller. SC: Stiller och C:o [= Artur Nordén, Mauritz Stiller] – based on the play Riddaren av igår / A kék róka (1917) by Ferenc Herczeg.
    1764 m /16 fps/ 97 min
    Jon Wengström: "A black & white duplicate negative was made in the 1960s from a tinted nitrate print with Swedish intertitles. A Desmet print was made from this negative in 2005, using surviving frames from the original nitrate print as a colour reference."
    Print: Svenska Filminstitutet, Stockholm.
    The original length: 2120 m /16 fps/ 115 min
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto: Il canone rivisitato.
    Teatro Verdi, Pordenone, e-subtitles in English and Italian by Sub-Ti, grand piano: John Sweeney, 7 Oct 2016.

AA: Revisited Erotikon, an important film in many ways.

For Mauritz Stiller, Erotikon was the culmination of a favourite trend in his oeuvre. He would have wanted to follow it and made an effort to find scripts along this line but never again found ones that were good enough.

Stiller did not invent this trend of modern sophisticated comedy but he was the its greatest master so far. Cecil B. DeMille had started his cycle in a similar vein in 1918, films that would include Old Wives for New, Don't Change Your Husband, Male and Female, Why Change Your Wife?, and The Affairs of Anatol, usually starring Gloria Swanson. Stiller probably had seen seen early films of this cycle and at least must have been aware of them since they had been released in Sweden.

DeMille's films are excellent in a clever, witty, glossy, and a bit superficial kind of way. They were also daring, modern and path-breaking for American circumstances.

Stiller's Erotikon shares surface characteristics with DeMille but the approach of his satire is more complicated and its direction is different. The plotting plays with conventional and moralistic attitudes, but equally with liberated attitudes and expectations.

Comedy, bedroom farce, and boulevard theatre are based on convention. The audience enters with a knowing attitude. The characters tend to be puppets, the comedy is based on a mechanism. The mechanism of seduction, a basic concept in romantic and erotic comedy.

Miguel Pendás (San Francisco Silent Film Festival, 2012) sums it up well: "Erotikon revolves around the romantic entanglements of six stock characters from drawing room comedy: Professor Leo Charpentier (the clueless husband), Irene (the restless wife), their niece Marte (the flirtatious ingenue), sculptor Preben (the Bohemian artist), aviator Baron Felix (the pretentious flyboy), and Sidonius (the absentminded professor)."

But Stiller's dramatis personae refuse to be reduced to stock characters. Seemingly going through the motions of conventional comedy, they start to transform into something different. The characters do not become three-dimensional – the story-telling is too busy being clever and witty to leave enough room for that – but they remain unpredictable to the end.

Stiller is a genuinely sophisticated artist. Not naive. Not cynical. His films may be about sex, but more importantly, they are about love. They are about the life force which is stronger than social norms or conventions. That eternal conflict is the basis of his comedy. Stiller's hallmark is an underlying tenderness which is more fundamental than sophistication.

That tenderness is the main link between Stiller, Chaplin and Lubitsch. Chaplin admired Erotikon, and in America, Chaplin's A Woman of Paris (1923) would become one of the most influential films of the decade. It changed the cinema of Lubitsch permanently. Four of Chaplin's assistants in that film became directors in their own right in the jazz age cycle of Hollywood's sophisticated comedy, often starring Adolphe Menjou with his immortal moustache, discovered for this kind of role by Chaplin.

Before Chaplin, Lubitsch had been influenced by Stiller's Erotikon directly. That influence has been at times disputed, but Billy Wilder was among the ones who went on record on having heard Lubitsch praise Erotikon many times. (For instance, Billy Wilder interviewed by Barbro Hähnel for Dagens Nyheter, 17 Jan 1975). (Significantly, Lubitsch's mentor Max Reinhardt saw Erotikon in Stockholm in December 1920 and said that it is one of the best films he had seen.)

I have been seeing Erotikon once a decade since I first saw it in September 1980 at the Filmklubben / Cinemateket / Stockholm. I remember the heartfelt laughter of the audiences in Stockholm and in our screenings in Helsinki, but somehow Erotikon has always been elusive for me, although I am an ideal audience for it. Stiller's cutting is always careful; his continuity smooth and sparkling. Perhaps there is something in the rhythms and balances of the incomplete surviving version of Erotikon that frustrates me. There are 17 minutes missing if the projection speed is 16 fps.

As we know the negatives and complete prints of Erotikon probably burned in the Svensk Filmindustri fire in Vinterviken in 1941.

By 1964 there remained one nitrate print from the Swedish school film archive, reviewed by the Swedish film board in September 1925 at 1921 meters. "For pedagogical reasons" certain scenes had been shortened or cut altogether, and certain intertitles had been removed under the guidance of Gustaf Berg, head of the school film archive.

The sole remaining print was being used for screenings. In 1964 it caught fire, and a part of it was burned. In 1969 Svenska Filminstitutet created a safety duplicate negative and viewing prints of Erotikon. The remaining footage was 1769 meters.

Gösta Werner's recommendation for the projection speed was 20 fps, but I have no quarrel with 16 fps, either.

John Sweeney in his beautiful piano interpretation followed the music cue of the film itself and made Edvard Grieg's song "Jeg elsker dig" / "I Love You" his main theme.

I saw this 2005 print for the first time. Top work by the Swedish Film Institute from a challenging source which is duped and sometimes in high contrast. As usual, I have my reservations about heavy tinting on modern stock when the source is duped and would prefer black and white.

P.S. 18 August 2018. Joseph McBride in his book How Would Lubitsch Do It? (2018) devotes more than one page to Erotikon (p. 104-106). I have failed to read Cameron Crowe's Billy Wilder book yet, but McBride quotes from it: "Billy Wilder related to Cameron Crowe that Lubitsch 'told me himself, he learned everything from that picture'."

P.S. 19 August 2018. More on Erotikon in Joseph McBride's book. "Billy Wilder said that when Lubitsch saw Erotikon, 'That was when Lubitsch became Lubitsch.'" (p. 143). More about this on pages 143-144 and 148-149, and indirectly in the pages on The Marriage Circle in general. McBride refers to Crowe, Howe, and Petrie on Billy Wilder, and of course Weinberg on Lubitsch.