Thursday, October 10, 2019

Pat & Patachon

Pat & Patachon. Carl Schenstrøm (Fy / “Fyrtaarnet”), Harald Madsen (Bi / “Bivognen”). Photo: Steve Massa Collection. Please click on the images to enlarge them.

European Slapstick – Prog. 4: Pat & Patachon.
Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM), Pordenone.
Grand piano: Neil Brand.
Teatro Verdi, e-subtitles in English and Italian by Underlight, 10 Oct 2019.


Early Cinema: Flipbooks

Nuit agitée (FR 1896) 55’’ (121 fotogrammi/frames, 12 fps): attribuito con certezza a / positively attributed to Méliès, forse la prima versione di / possible first version of Star-Film cat. no. 26 (1896), Une nuit terrible.
    AA: A Kafkaesque moment: the sleeper (Georges Méliès) harassed or seeing a nightmare of a giant bug.
    I saw Georges Mélies's Une nuit terrible (1896) three years ago in Bologna's Anno Uno series.


European Slapstick – Prog. 4: Pat & Patachon.
Mikael Braae, Ulrich Ruedel (GCM):
Slapstick Scandinavian Style

"“The most striking thing about Pat and Patachon is that comedy of poverty which already formed the major part of the Chaplin comedies. […] But Pat and Patachon do not seem to suffer from poverty in the least. It is the vagabonds’ deliberate poverty out of conviction. They are bohemians, and a discreet, shy-cheeky disdain is evident from their behaviour towards any bourgeois prosperity and property […] And how touching and deeply symbolic is their stereotypical gesture: the expression of a creature’s deepest solidarity. So they wander, hand in hand, through the films as episodes […] But even the grandest movie plots are just episodes of their  wanderings, and that entire bourgeois society is perhaps but a whimsical accident. Eternal is only the county road, their friendship, and the blue haze of Nirvana weaving in a tree’s noontime shadow.” (Béla Balázs, “Pat und Patachon”, Der Tag, 30 December 1924, reprinted in/translated from Béla Balázs, Schriften zum Film, Munich: Carl Hanser Verlag, 1982)"

"After Nordisk Film’s decline during World War I, Danish film needed to make a comeback on the international market, and a new comedy team created by Lau Lauritzen turned out to be the dream ticket. Internationally known as Pat and Patachon, Doublepatte and Patachon, Watt en Halfwatt, Long and Short, etc., they joined the ranks of great silent comedians in Europe, their popularity rivalling that of the Hollywood masters Chaplin, Keaton, Lloyd, and others, in countries such as Germany, the Netherlands, France, Belgium, and Russia."

"Systematically devised by veteran comedy director Lau Lauritzen when he joined the newly formed Danish company Palladium in 1921, Pat and Patachon, a duo of warm-hearted comic tramps, was based on the model of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. Their brand of comedy was light-hearted, and in their own peculiar way the team made an impact with this quirky, harmless humour. In this genuine Danish-European variant of slapstick, gentleness and comic characterization in a narrative was often set against the beauty of the Danish landscape (and that of the “Pal Bathing Beauties”), and deemed far more important than split-second slapstick timing. Their popularity was almost instant – and not just in Denmark."

"After a couple of predecessors, with the shorter member of the team still portrayed by another actor, Aage Bendixen, the 1921 Film, Flirt og Forlovelse (Film, Flirt and Film Stars / The Film and the Flirt), nominally an Oscar Stribolt comedy, established the winning team of Carl Schenstrøm and Harald Madsen, or “Fy and Bi”, who were an immediate smash hit."

"Harald Madsen (Patachon / Bivognen / Short, 18901949) started out as a trapeze artist, a contortionist, and a clown in the circus. One night during a circus performance Lau Lauritzen and Palladium owner Svend Nielsen were in the audience. They were sure they had found one part of a comedy team."

"Carl Schenstrøm (Pat / Fyrtaarnet / Long, 18811942) also had a connection with the circus world, through his grandfather, but studied to be an actor at an early age. He started acting in films long before Madsen, at Nordisk Film in 1909, and first  worked with Lauritzen during these early years."

"Palladium soon distributed the team’s films to other European countries, creating the most successful export of 1920s Danish cinema. While most of their films were produced in their home country, Denmark,  for a limited number of productions they were loaned out to Germany, Austria, Sweden, and even England, where they worked under director Monty Banks (who later directed Laurel and Hardy in Great Guns, 1941) and appeared in an early “Cockney talkie”(!), Alf’s Carpet (1929). With more Danish, German, and Austrian talkies, they maintained a fair part of their popularity well into the sound era. All in all, during the period from 1921 to 1940, they eventually made over 40 films."

"Carl Schenstrøm died in 1942, but the team’s popularity lived on, through an attempted revival teaming Madsen with a new partner in Calle og Palle (Calle and Palle, 1948) – Madsen passed away the following year – and then through numerous sonorized and re-edited theatrical and television re-issues and compilations, particularly in Denmark and Germany. Alas, it is these numerous reissues and re-edits (done from the Palladium master materials), in addition to the loss of the original negatives, that account for the poor preservation state of their oeuvre today."

"While books by Marguerite Engberg (Copenhagen, 1979) and Hauke Lange-Fuchs (Germany, 1980) proved significant steps towards an overdue reappraisal, their films have been overshadowed by the masterworks of Laurel and Hardy, and, in comparison, unfairly maligned as slow and unappealing – perhaps in no small part due to the excessive running times reported by Lange-Fuchs, based on an incorrect use of the 16 fps speed, or through poor or re-edited versions. Seen in beautiful tinted nitrates – or proper digitizations thereof – Pat and Patachon’s films can still be as warm, pleasing, and entertaining as they originally were. If far from reaching the artistic heights of a Chaplin or Keaton or the precision and gagman genius of a Harold Lloyd, they deserve to be appreciated on their own terms, as well as in film-history terms. This current digitization of one of their most enduring hits, Filmens Helte [The Film Heroes] (1929), from a beautiful vintage tinted Swedish nitrate print, aims to contribute to this reappraisal and appreciation, but more work remains to be done."

"As part of a huge digitization project by the Danish Film Institute that will take place over the next 5 years and include all the surviving Danish silent films, those of Pat and Patachon will play a major part. All of their silent films will be digitized, and some of them restored using the Palladium and other materials held at the DFI. However, as they were a truly European phenomenon, ideally any effort to bring back Pat and Patachon should also look beyond Denmark. The first surveys suggest that their international popularity is reflected in the presence of a host of surviving export versions preserved in different national archives throughout Europe. Many of their films were shot with two cameras – a practice notably on display on-screen in Filmens Helte (1929) – to create two negatives, one for domestic and one for foreign distribution. Thus, there will also be an ongoing search for Pat & Patachon film material in other European FIAF archives, something that has not been systematically pursued for decades. All of this, and much more, will be included on the DFI’s new silent film website, which is being launched during this year’s Giornate festival."

Mikael Braae, Ulrich Ruedel

Min svigerinde fra Amerika [My Sister-in-law from America] (DK 1917) by Lau Lauritzen Sr. Frederick Bush as the uncle from America and Agnes Andersen as "my sister-in-law from America". Photo: Det Danske Filminstitut, Copenhagen.

MIN SVIGERINDE FRA AMERIKA [My Sister-in-law from America] (DK 1917)
regia/dir: Lau Lauritzen Sr. cast: Frederik Buch, Agnes Andersen, Bertel Krause, Kate Fabian, Gyda Aller. prod: Nordisk Films Kompagni. copia/copy: 35 mm, 172 m, 9′ (16 fps); did./titles: DAN. fonte/source: Det Danske Filminstitut, København.

Ulrich Ruedel (GCM): "Before creating the international hit comedy duo of Pat & Patachon at Palladium studios, former officer Lau Lauritzen had already been extremely prolific, first as an actor and then as a director, since 1909 at Nordisk Film, where he would work with comedians such as Oscar Stribolt (the rotund monk in Benjamin Christensen’s Häxan and frequent co-star of Pat and Patachon), or here, diminutive Frederik Buch, “cinema’s first funny fat man”, who later continued his career in Germany as “Knoppchen”. “My Sister-in-law from America is a typical goofy Lauritzen comedy, where a small household drama unfolds as the husband tries to cover up an affair by presenting his mistress as his brother’s wife.” (Thomas Christensen, Giornate del Cinema Muto, 2016)"

"Lauritzen’s shorts, such as this example, are gentle family or relationship comedies of the same type that would later provide the basic story structure for the first period of Pat and Patachon films. In these, the comedy team acted like a “Robin Hood from Denmark” (per Kaj Wickbom) to help establish, for instance, a romance across social boundaries – creating, in effect, not genuine slapstick features, but rather, typical examples of the popular Danish genre of folkekomedie, simple “people’s comedies” into which, somehow, two slapstick tramps found their way." Ulrich Ruedel (GCM)

AA: Revisited Min svigerinde fra Amerika about which I blogged six years ago at the Nordic archives' meeting in Oslo.

Højt paa en kvist [Up in the Attic] / Moster Malins millioner [Aunt Malin’s Millions] (The Mannequins) (DK?/SE?, 1929) [Swedish trailer]. Photo: Svenska Filminstitutet, Stockholm.

HØJT PAA EN KVIST [Up in the Attic] / MOSTER MALINS MILLIONER [Aunt Malin’s Millions] (The Mannequins) (DK?/SE?, 1929) [Swedish trailer]
regia/dir: ?. cast: Carl Schenstrøm (“Fyrtårnet” [Swe:“Fyrtornet”]), Harald Madsen (“Bivognen” [Swe: “Släpvagnen”]). prod. [feature film]: A/S Dansk Filmindustri Palladium. dist. (Sweden): National Film AB. copia/copy: 35 mm, 96 m, 4′ (22 fps); did./titles: SWE. fonte/source: Svenska Filminstitutet, Stockholm.
    Keikareita, keplottelijoita ja kummituksia / Sprättar, spågummor och spöken / Pat und Patachon als Modekönige.
    Danish premiere: 26 Dec 1929.
    Finnish premiere: 28 April 1930 Punainen Mylly, Piccadilly – control number 16325 – 2280 m.
    Finnish re-release (sonorized): 16 Dec 1945 Scala, released by Kelo-Filmi Oy – 2700 m.
    Finnish re-release: 10 Feb 1956 Pallas, relased by Oy Columbia Films Ab.
    Finnish telecast: 24 June 1965 Yleisradio TV1.

Magnus Rosborn (GCM): "With no other intertitles than the opening credits, a series of the film’s central gags are shown in this Swedish trailer for the Danish Pat & Patachon comedy Højt paa en Kvist (Up in the Attic), 1929. Surely Carl Schenstrøm and Harald Madsen’s brilliant physical comedy, beloved by moviegoers around the world, must have been reason enough to attract fans to cinemas, but unfortunately the end of the trailer is missing, leaving today’s viewers unaware of what the final selling point might have been. It is also not possible to say whether this preserved trailer is representative of how the Pat & Patachon films (or any other films) were marketed in Sweden, since it is one of extremely few Swedish trailers from the silent era to survive."

"The Swedish distributor’s choice of title is particularly interesting. Using the template of a three-word alliteration, typical of many of the comic duo’s earlier films, the Swedish title Moster Malins millioner (Aunt Malin’s Millions) fits much better into the Pat & Patachon oeuvre than the original Danish one."

"About the print: In 2019 a 35 mm black & white duplicate negative was made from a tinted nitrate print. The viewing print was struck from this new negative the same year, using the tinting of the original nitrate as colour reference." Magnus Rosborn (GCM)

AA: A madcap mix of gags in the trailer: pure nonsense. Heavy tint.

BEZOEK WATT EN HALFWATT [Visit of Pat and Patachon] (NL 1924)
Cinegiornale olandese/Dutch newsreel: Weeknummer: 24-06. prod: Polygoon-Profilti. uscita/rel: 17.3.1924. copia/copy: DCP, 2’01”; did./titles: NLD. fonte/source: Nederlands Instituut voor Beeld en Geluid, Amsterdam

DIE UNZERTRENNLICHEN! ANKUNFT DER BELIEBTEN FILMKOMIKER PAT UND PATACHON IN BERLIN [The Inseparables! Arrival of the Beloved Film Comedians Pat and Patachon in Berlin] (DE 1927) [frammento/fragment]
prod: Firma Fuhrmann-Filmproduktion. uscita/rel: 10.1927. copia/copy: 35 mm, 43 ft, 32″ (24 fps); senza did./no titles.  fonte/source: BFI National Archive, London.

JOURNAAL: RECLAME WATT EN HALFWATT FILMS II [Newsreel: Advertisement, Pat & Patachon Films 2] (NL 1925)
prod: ?. copia/copy: 2’49”; did./titles: senza did./no titles. fonte/source: EYE Filmmuseum, Amsterdam.

Ulrich Ruedel (GCM): "The international popularity of Pat and Patachon is evidenced in these actualities, with images of crowds eager to see the comedy team reminiscent of similar scenes we know for Chaplin or, later, Laurel & Hardy or Martin & Lewis. Bezoek Watt en Halfwatt (Visit of Pat & Patachon) likely shows the very same arrival in Amsterdam in 1924 described by Schenstrøm in his autobiography: “It was the first time I travelled south. I had travel fever. First, Holland. Arriving at Amsterdam station, we were literally ‘crushed’. Thousands wanted to see ‘Watt and Halfwatt’, as we were called in the Netherlands. The police had to make room. Cameramen filmed us disembarking from the train. Greeting dignitaries … cars bring us to the ‘Cinema de Munt’… when we enter, everybody stands up and the orchestra plays ‘Kong Christian stod’ [the Danish national anthem].” (Carl Schenstrøm, Fyrtaarnet Forteller, Copenhagen: Hagerup, 1943, quoted in/translated from Hauke Lange-Fuchs, Pat und Patachon, Schondorf/Ammersee: Roloff & Seeßlen, 1980)"

"In 1927, the Unzertrennlichen (inseparable) Pat and Patachon arrive in Berlin, and, as the tongue-in-cheek intertitle – “Vor dem Denkmal Otto Gebührs!” (In front of the Otto Gebühr Memorial!) – suggests, the pair pay tribute to their fellow actor, famous for his portrayal of Fredericus Rex (Frederick the Great)."

"While these two newsreels show the “real thing,” the Dutch advertising footage from 1925 serves to document  another indicator of the team’s massive success: the emergence of a number of imitators operating on their own terms, or working on advertising the films – as indeed this duo of imitators does (note the team’s Dutch name, Watt en Halfwatt, on the tramps’ oversized luggage). A contemporary article from Der Spiegel, “Urlaub vom Himmel” [Vacation from Heaven], reports on a team of imitators, “Pat” Becky and “Patachon” Willy Klein, still working – and contemplating a film project – as late as 1954." Ulrich Ruedel (GCM)

AA: Newsreels of Pat & Patachon's international visits document their huge and genuine popularity.

Pat & Patachon were known in Denmark as Fy & Bi (Fyrtaarnet & Bivognen), in Sweden as Fyrtornet och Släpvagnen and in Finland as Majakka ja Perävaunu.

They were hugely popular in Finland, and their silent films kept being re-released in sonorized versions. Some of their films had three separate theatrical releases in a time period of over 50 years.

The tradition in Sweden and Finland was to give the Fy & Bi films rhyming three word titles in which each word begins with the same letter (Moster Malins millioner / Keikareita, keplottelijoita ja kummituksia). 

Their films were telecast in Finland in the 1960s. The tv versions might have stemmed from a German distributor.

I saw their films as a child in the 1960s, and our archive has an interesting collection of sonorized re-release versions. When we screen them, hardly anyone comes. Those who come don't laugh, and they are not likely to return.

Mostly Fy & Bi have not stood the test of time, but the trouble may be in the overdone editing of the re-release versions. They may have been "cut to the chase" all too eagerly.

It was revealing to see Gustaf Molander's Fy & Bi comedy Polis Paulus' Påskasmäll (1925) in Pordenone six years ago. The same goes for the good-looking feature Filmens helte in this show (see separate entry). These screenings give a much better impression of Fy & Bi than anything I have seen before.

Neil Brand brought a brisk and vigorous musical current to the show.

No comments: