Sunday, October 01, 2017

Le Contremaître incendiaire / The Incendiary Foreman (2009 restoration Cineteca Italiana)

Le Contremaître incendiaire (FR 1907). Photo: Cineteca Italiana, Milano.

Capo operaio incendiario. FR 1907. D: ?, cast: ?, prod: Pathé Frères, rel: 21.12.1907 (Le Cirque d’Hiver, Paris), 35 mm, 250 m (orig. 270 m), 14 min (16 fps), col. (tinted); titles: ITA, source: Cineteca Italiana, Milano, restored: 2009, from a 35 mm nitrate print.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone.
    Grand piano: Antonio Coppola.
    Teatro Verdi, e-subtitles in English, 1 Oct 2017.

Luisa Comencini (GCM 2017): "Synopsis: Following a dispute with one of his subordinates, and envious of his wealthy employer, one night the foreman of a film factory steals the money from the company safe and sets fire to the factory in such a way as to throw suspicion on the worker he argued with, who meanwhile has been sacked from his job. The intervention of the fire brigade and the police investigation bring the matter to an unforeseen conclusion."

"This unusual short, a police procedural docu-fiction before its time, has a combination of features which makes it an exemplary compendium of silent film, both aesthetically and thematically. Its main event, a fire, is not staged – the Pathé cameramen evidently were on the scene to film a real fire as it occurred. The fire wagons pulled by galloping horses, the frantic firemen busy around the hydrants, the fearsome black smoke, the devastation – all combine to create a dramatically realistic atmosphere which contrasts with the fictional mechanism of the culprit’s discovery."

"Generally remembered as the “primary collective trauma” of cinema history is the tragic blaze (over 120 dead) at the Bazar de la Charité, a charity fair which was being held in a temporary wooden structure with canvas stalls in the 8th arrondissement in Paris on 4 May 1897. The fire started in a small room used for the projection of moving pictures with technology invented by the Lumière brothers. Remarkably, it was caused not by the spontaneous combustion of nitrocellulose film, but the explosion of ether in the lamp ignited by the unfortunate projectionist. Henceforth fires in picture houses and film factories caused by nitrate combustion were the occurrences the most feared (and not infrequent) by people who had to work with that dangerous material. It was no coincidence that Charles Pathé advocated the development of cellulose acetate “safety” film in those days. In his 1937 autobiography he wrote, “…the entire cinema world had its eyes fixed on our workshops, our processes, our equipment”."

"This short film thus stands as a specimen of metacinema, locating the basic story in a film factory, and alternating shooting in real exterior locations with interior scenes in sets depicting the factory office and the wealthy employer’s house. With scenes recalling the Lumières’ historic Sortie d’usine (Workers Leaving the Factory), it is also one of the first films to bring to the screen waged human labour and its hierarchies, and the potential effects of the industrial powers of modernity."

"The film’s restoration has brought the vivid original colours of the blazing fire scenes back to life – a further quality that places it among the Cineteca Italiana’s unacknowledged gems.
" Luisa Comencini

AA: There is little to add to Luisa Comencini's remarks on this fascinating account of circumstances at the workplace 110 years ago. First there are the little slights: the foreman is not invited to the lunch table. Then there is a fistfight between the foreman and a worker. Finally the foreman takes up to robbery, trying to conceal it with arson.

The arson leads to a formidable conflagration as nitrate film is involved. A fireman rescues a child from the flames. The horrible fire sequence has been spectacularly tinted in red.

The thieving contremaître is discovered and fired, and the worker harassed by him is promoted.

The word "fire" carries all its meanings here: circumstances at the workplace are combustible, people get fired, and the factory is burned down. The foreman is a case of "a walking disaster".

Thrilling action, lively gesticulation, visual eloquence and natural movement are among the qualities.

A very watchable print from duped sources.

No comments: