Monday, October 03, 2016

Desmet Collection 2016: Money Makes the World Go Around (curated by Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi)

Le Roi des dollars, Segundo de Chomón, photo: Collection EYE Filmmuseum, Amsterdam.

Desmet Collection 2016: Money Makes the World Go Around.
    Prints: EYE Filmmuseum di Amsterdam.
    Curated and program notes written by Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto: Riscoperte.
    Teatro Verdi, Pordenone, e-subtitles in English and Italian by Sub-Ti, grand piano: Gabriel Thibaudeau, 3 Oct 2016.

"Money has been a timeless and universal subject in all genres for centuries. In cinema, the lack or loss of money has been employed as a motivating theme for comedies and dramas alike. This compilation program from EYE Filmmuseum (mainly from the Desmet Collection) provides examples in the broadest sense, where an unexpectedly large inheritance seems to cause as much grief as a stolen wallet, or debts can have consequences varying from hallucinations or suicide to even sewage complications!"

L'Obsession d'or (FR 1906). The hallucination of the artist. D: Lucien Nonguet, photo: Collection EYE Filmmuseum, Amsterdam.

L'Obsession d'or (FR 1906), D: Lucien Nonguet, photo: Collection EYE Filmmuseum, Amsterdam.

L’OBSESSION D’OR (Een visioen van rijkdom) (FR 1906). D: Lucien Nonguet (?). Cinematography: Segundo de Chomón. PC: Pathé Frères. 35 mm, 66 m, 3' (18 fps), col. (tinted); no titles; main titles: NLD. [Desmet/Ligafilms Collection]
    "This is one of the oldest films attributed to the Desmet Collection. Although the print at the EYE archive bears the annotation“Film Pathé Frères uit 1906", it is from the 1929 reissue, which is part of the Centraal Bureau voor Ligafilms collection. It’s not difficult to see why this film appealed to wide audiences: the theme of the artist suffering poverty, together with his selfless wife (seen in black & white) is combined with gold-colored fantasy scenes (nicely motivated in the film as his nightmares and dreams) involving dissolve tricks. All in all, a recipe for a timeless and enjoyable film."
    AA: Une féerie. The hallucination of the artist seen in splendid visions of a good fairy, gorgeous ballerinas, and dancing gold coins. A vision with reverberations in Stroheim's Greed (its gold coins Handschiegl-coloured) and the vision of a naked Ginger Rogers dressed only in coins in the "We're in the Money" number in the "Dance of the Dollars" production number of Gold Diggers of 1933. From a fantastic, hand-painted, worn but very watchable source.

BUTALIN TROPPO ONESTO (Bobillard is zoo eerlijk) (IT 1912). D: ?. PC: Ambrosio. 35 mm, 111 m, 5' (18 fps); titles: NLD. [Desmet Collection]
    "In Ambrosio’s comedy series, anything seems to trigger a breakneck chase. In this particular episode starring Butalin (“Bobillard” in the Dutch version), a lost-and-found wallet is the excuse for the cast to run riot on the streets of Turin. Initially, the actor playing Butalin was assumed to be Cesare Gravina; however, recent research leads us to believe he is most probably Eduardo Monthus, a French actor who came to Italy in 1910, working first for Milano Films and then moving to Ambrosio in 1912, becoming widely known as the comic character Cocciutelli."
    AA: A farce and a chase film based on the principles of hyperbole and reversal of expectations. Butalin (Botillard) is too honest: trying to return a lost wallet to its owner he is feared to be a thief, himself. Walls tumble down, the world is in peril. When the desperate rich man drives his car to the river, he finds no refuge even there as the bum still insists in saving him. I was thinking about Peter von Bagh's Pockpicket due to the reversal principle. Elif Kaynakçi mentions the name of Eduardo Monthus known from his character Cocciutelli; yesterday in the Luca Comerio programme we saw the intriguing Cocciutelli in guerra. Because the films of the period are as a rule in long shot it is not always easy to distinguish faces. A good print with a fine grayscale, except the ending which is in high contrast.

WHEN WEALTH TORMENTS (Geld en Liefde). (US 1912) D: ?. C: Francis X. Bushman (Jim O’Brien), Mildred Weston (Maggie Mahoney), Helen Dunbar (Mrs. Mahoney). PC: Essanay Film Manufacturing. Rel: 08.11.12. 35 mm, 948 ft, 14' (18 fps); titles: NLD. [Desmet Collection]
    "Generally an unexpected large inheritance is good news. But in this romantic comedy, the telegram announcing the windfall causes grief: Jim is suddenly not good enough for the soon-to-be-wealthy Maggie Mahoney (the character’s name per U.S. trade papers of the time; her surname on the Dutch print is Martin). At least that’s what her mother thinks.This is a relatively early appearance of Francis X. Bushman, whose lengthy career extended from the silent era well into television; his pronounced flair for comedy was criminally underused in later years. Also in the cast is veteran actress Helen Dunbar, appearing as the troublesome mother-in-law, and Mildred Weston, an actress whose career was inexplicably over by mid-1913."
    AA: A comedy of manners, a romantic comedy. Jim is not very rich but he loves Maggie. When Maggie and her mother get a large inheritance they change completely, move into a grand hotel, and suddenly only an aristocrat will be good enough for Maggie in her mother's opinion. The desperate Jim sees no other way except to masquerade as "Baron von Snitz". Mother is overwhelmed until the "Baron" starts to grope both mother and daughter. Mother is crying and the daughter is laughing (she is in with the ruse). The Baron is unceremoniously kicked out and Jim welcomed back. Now Jim plays hard to get, and it is the mother who has to insist. Subtle acting, a fine sense of humour. It would be interesting to learn the name of the director. Visual quality: duped but watchable.

LE ROI DES DOLLARS (FR 1905). D: Segundo de Chomón. PC: Pathé Frères. 35 mm, 34 m, 1'50" (18 fps), col. pochoir/stencil-colour); no titles. Main title missing.
    "This is one of the most popular films from EYE’s silent film collection. Although not officially part of the Desmet Collection, it is quite possible that Jean Desmet was showing similar films in his early fairground days. The stencil - colouring works beautifully when combined with the shimmering of coins, creating a truly rich effect."
    AA: A féerie, a trick film, a hallucination of money and gold in a fantastic stencil-coloured film.

Ida's Christmas, D: Van Dyke Brooke, photo: Collection EYE Filmmuseum, Amsterdam.

IDA’S CHRISTMAS (De Kerstman) (US 1912). D: Van Dyke Brooke. SC: Hazel Neason. C: John Bunny (Santa Claus), Dolores Costello (Ida), Charles Edwards (Mr. Smith), Rose Tapley (Mrs. Smith), Van Dyke Brooke (Mr. Jones), Julia Swayne Gordon (Mrs. Agatha Jones), Hazel Neason, Sidney Cummings (little boy). PC: Vitagraph Company of America. Rel: 24.12.1912. 35 mm, 509 ft, (orig. 1 rl.), 8' (18 fps), col. (tinted); titles: NLD. [Desmet Collection]
    "This film arrived relatively late to the Desmet Collection: it was not included in the original donation by Desmet’s heirs to EYE back in 1957, but was part of a small private collection donated in 1998. Nevertheless, the presence of a French publicity flyer (3 pages and in colour!) within the Desmet Collection, and the impressive number of Vitagraph films that were distributed by Desmet around this time, provide enough evidence to include Ida’s Christmas in the collection. Since the film is simply called De Kerstman (“Santa Claus”) in Dutch, it’s impossible to find more concrete evidence in the company papers or the newspapers of the time. Nine-year-old child actress Dolores Costello (the daughter of Vitagraph leading man Maurice Costello, and later to marry another matinee idol, John Barrymore) stars as Ida, and the cast includes (in a rather deus ex machina appearance) the famous Vitagraph comedian John Bunny as a sympathetic Santa Claus. Former stage actor and prolific Vitagraph celebrity Van Dyke Brooke appears both in front of and behind the camera. Ida’s Christmas was hauled out repeatedly over the years during the holiday season: the Beseler Educational Film Corporation was still offering it in 1921, and as late as 1926 the National Board of Review was suggesting the film for Christmas bookings."
    AA: A drama, a Christmas story. "His father is ill and not able to work". Mother seeks work as a maid. Little Ida admires a splendid doll in the shop window. She finds a wallet lost by the rich Jones family and runs after them to return it. She receives a coin and runs to buy the fine doll but regrets and brings the money to her mother, instead. Meanwhile, the single copy of the fine doll has been sold to the Joneses, anyway. Ida cries. On Christmas Santa Claus brings gifts from the Jones family, including a Christmas tree and the beloved doll. This is a happy-end wish-fulfillment story with a gritty underlying sense of the impact of poverty, illness, unemployment and the class society. A fine example of the lively pantomime style of the Vitagraph Company. There is a laconic punch, an impressive mise-en-scène, and talent in storytelling. An attractive performance in the leading role as the child Ida by Dolores Costello whom we remember from grown-up roles as Manon Lescaut (des Grieux played by John Barrymore, her husband-to-be; Drew Barrymore is their granddaughter) and as Isabel in The Magnificent Ambersons. A beautiful print.

VICTIME DES CRÉANCIERS (FR 1906). D: ?. PC: Pathé Frères. 35 mm, 51 m, 2'30" (18 fps); no titles. Main title missing. Preserved 2003.
    "Many films about money are actually about the complete lack of money. In this film, a man unable to pay his debts tries to avoid his creditors, yet they pop up in the most unlikely places to hilarious effect, including the sewage system!"
    AA: A Victim of Creditors. Another farce based on the hyperbole principle and even on magic in a fashion that evokes Méliès. Creditors appear all over the place - miraculously from the soup kettle and even from the toilet seat.

AN ATTEMPT TO SMASH A BANK (GB 1909). D: Lewin Fitzhamon. C: Lewin Fitzhamon, Frank Wilson, Thurston Harris. PC: Hepworth. 35 mm, 558 ft (orig. 625 ft), 9' (18 fps); titles: ENG.
    "A banker’s daughter refuses the marriage proposal of one of his richest clients, whereupon the client threatens to smash the bank by withdrawing his millions, thereby causing a run on the bank. The film employs curious camera movements (pulling in and out, forward-backward, and left-right). The mise-en-scène is rather stagey, showing simultaneously the bank’s back office and the public counter area. Based on research by Geoffrey Donaldson, the film was earlier attributed to Dutch director Theo Frenkel Sr. In an attempt to revive his work , EYE Filmmuseum borrowed the nitrate print held at the British Film Institute in the early 1990s to make a duplicate negative. The current projection print was struck in 2002 at the Neyrac Laboratories in Paris."
    AA: Drama. There is little to add to Elif's note above. As she states, the mise-en-scène is extraordinary. We see two spaces simultaneously, and the camera moves slowly back and forth to give a longer or a closer view or tracks from right to left when the action shifts from one room to another. The banker is saved by a friendly colleague. The shameless client who tried to blackmail the banker to win his daughter's hand is rewarded with a fistful of burning hot coins. "Paid in full". I was thinking about American Madness because of the bank run theme. A good print with a slightly duped look.

HOE MEN HET GELD MAAKT IN NEDERLAND [Come si fa il denaro in Olanda / How Money Is Made in the Netherlands] (NL 1918) (excerpts) .D: Willy Mullens. PC: ‘s-Gravenhaagsche Filmfabriek. DCP, 6' (transferred at 24 fps), col. (tinted); titles: NLD, subt. ENG.
    "Excerpts from an industrial documentary showing the workings of the Royal Dutch Mint. The complete documentary is over 22 minutes long, and shows different stages of minting coins. The portions we have selected depict the punching of blank coins, and then jump to quality control and the weighing of the finished product.The documentary, tinted in various colours, was shot in Utrecht at the Royal Mint, which was founded in 1567 and is still in operation."
    AA: Non-fiction on the minting of coins. There is nothing to add to Elif's note. A fine documentary approach. The colour (says tinted in the program, looked toned in orange and green) is appealing.

L’ORO MALEDETTO (Het Noodlottige wantrouwen) (IT 1911). D: ?. SC: based on a novel by Xavier de Montépin (?). PC: Aquila Films, Torino. Rel: 11.1911. 35 mm, 218 m (orig. 480 m), 11' (18 fps); titles: NLD. [Desmet Collection]
    "A beautiful short drama about a countess and her brother, who loses the regiment’s money at the gambling table. He asks her to help him by sending the money before five o’clock . But her husband discovers the secret note and is consumed by jealousy, convinced that she is having an affair. The presence of a French publicity flyer for L’Ormaudit in the Desmet Company papers has led to the EYE archive cataloguing this film as part of the Desmet Collection. This is probably incorrect , as the flyer refers to the Celio production of 1914, which is clearly not the same film. The director and actors remain unknown."
    AA: Drama. A fatal night at the gambling table puts the honour of a family at stake. And a misunderstanding regarding a secret note puts the marriage of the countess at stake. In long shots and long takes. Impressive golden tinting. A neat print.

GRATIS (IT 1911). D: ?. PC: Pasquali. Rel: 7.7.1911. 35 mm, 113 m (orig. 126 m), 5'30" (18 fps); no titles. [Desmet Collection]
    "Wouldn’t it be nice if everything were free of charge? A shopkeeper puts a table with free leaf lets in front of his shop. When the sign “gratis” falls on the ground it’s accidentally misplaced, and children believe that the candies are free to take. Infuriated when he finds out, the shopkeeper throws the sign away. However, the sign subsequently ends up on all kinds of things in a variety of places, declaring them “free”, causing further havoc."
    AA: A witty comedy. A "gratis" sign originally meant for a stack of free bulletins is on the loose and flies from the outdoors pasticceria stand to a clothing store, a restaurant, a fiacre driver, and finally to a nanny at a park bench. Everywhere a crowd of customers appears, delighted at the opportunity of free service. The nanny finally puts an end to the misunderstanding in a potentially risqué finale.

Elif Rongen's thematic screenings from Amsterdam's Desmet Collection are examples of film programming of the highest order. Each movie is of high value in itself, there are many discoveries among them, and the thematic context is intelligent. Such a programme is more than the sum of its parts. Also this programme is a wonderful cross-section of the period: Pathé's féeries with Segundo de Chomón, Italian companies including Ambrosio's clowns, the American companies Essanay and Vitagraph, and the British Hepworth.

Money, of course, is a great theme in fiction (and non-fiction) dating back at least to Croesus, King of Lydia. Lydia is reported to be the country where the use of coins as money originated. This year I have read Herodotus who tells the marvellous story of Croesus in extenso. It would be a tale worth telling in a film, as well, but no film adaptation comes to my mind.

In this program we see many stories of money: from the drama of getting a big inheritance to the tragedy of losing everything on a gambling table. Many genres and approaches are covered, from non-fiction to fairy-tale.

Again, the Desmet show is a top favourite of mine at Le Giornate del Cinema Muto.

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