“It is not every variety artiste who possesses the ability to act for the camera. Chaplin not only shows that talent; he shows it in a degree which raises him at once to the status of a star performer. We do not often indulge in prophecy, but we do not think we are taking a great risk in prophesying that in six months Chaplin will rank as one of the most popular screen comedians in the world. Certainly there has never been before quite so successful a first appearance.”
Exhibitors’ Mail, 1914 Musée de l’Elysée
His Favorite Pastime
R. George Nichols. K: Frank D. Williams. D: Charles Chaplin, Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle, Peggy Pearce. P: Keystone Film Company. USA 1914
Mabel’s Busy Day
R: Mack Sennett. B: Charles Chaplin / Mabel Normand. K: Frank D. Williams. D: Charles Chaplin, Mabel Normand, Dan Albert, Charley Chase, Chester Conklin. P: Keystone Film Company. USA 1914
Three years later, a very early Buster Keaton:
The Rough House
R: Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle. D: Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, Al St. John, Buster Keaton, Alice Lake, Agnes Neilson. P: Comique Film Company. USA 1917
Thirty Days at Hard Labor
R: Oscar Apfel. B: Based on a story by O. Henry. D: Robert Brower, Mary Fuller, Harod M. Shaw. P: Edison Manufacturing Co. USA 1912
“In Thirty Days at Hard Labor, the story is adapted to the screen with taste and sensitivity, retaining the general outline of the plot: a rich boy courts a rich girl, but her father, a self-made man, objects to her marrying a spoiled idler. He requires the boy to prove himself by earning his living for thirty days by the work of his hands. The boy soon finds that his tender hands are, indeed, no match for digging ditches or shoveling coal; but ultimately he finds a way to satisfy the letter of the law, bringing the story to a sweetly enjoyable conclusion.
The director of Thirty Days, Oscar Apfel, was a prolific director during these years (he would famously co-direct The Squaw Man with DeMille in 1914), but today’s film enthusiast is likely to remember him onscreen as an even more prolific character player in the sound era. Here, as a director, Apfel demonstrates his ability: the story is told with subtlety and charm, and the players deliver restrained performances. Cinematically, too, the film benefits from some effective lighting/photographic touches. One interesting effect appears in the early part of the film: the young lovers are seen on a balcony before a romantic setting, moonlight reflected on water. The moonlight and water are not the real thing, but a theatrical illusion conjured up by electric light and moving silhouettes — holdovers from the stage being a frequent device in films of this period.” J.B. Kaufman
The Totville Eye
R: C.J. Williams. B: Bannister Merwin. D: Walter Edwin, Yale Boss, Robert Brower, Charles Ogle, Bessie Learn, Edward O’Connor. P: Edison Manufacturing Co. USA 1912
“Because of its structure — an assortment of episodes linked by a common thread — The Totville Eye is inevitably compared to such Griffith films as Pippa Passes. (…) Just as Griffith had assembled a company of familiar players who regularly appeared in his films at Biograph, so Edison by 1912 had a regular ‘stock company’ of its own. Some of its most familiar faces are on display in The Totville Eye: Robert Brower, Edison’s resident curmudgeon (whose career would continue throughout the silent period), as the hidebound editor; lovely Bessie Learn as the young bride-to-be; Charles Ogle, best remembered today as the Monster in Edison’s 1910 Frankenstein, as the landlord.
Like many films of this period, The Totville Eye packs a wealth of subtle incident and detail into its spare one-reel length. Audiences of 1912 were conditioned to a certain economy of style in their movies, and easily comprehended nuances which we, today, may miss on first viewing. Kevin Brownlow has written of the scene in The Musketeers of Pig Alley in which a gangster in a dance hall spikes Lillian Gish’s drink, not in closeup but as one of several actions simultaneously occurring in the frame. It’s a key plot point, but today’s viewer, unschooled in such refinements of technique, may miss it altogether. There’s an analogous scene in The Totville Eye, when a friendly drunk lurches into the drugstore and mischievously pours some whiskey from his own bottle into the pastor’s glass. The action is staged a little more conspicuously than that in Musketeers, but the scene does show us the drunk positioning himself between the table and the pastor and distracting him, the pastor soberly entering into the conversation, the drunk simultaneously holding the bottle behind his own back and emptying it into the glass, and the office boy standing in the background and observing the whole incident — all at the same time, and in the same shot.” J.B. Kaufman
One Touch of Nature
R: Ashley Miller. B: Courtenay Ryley Cooper. D: John Sturgeon, Elizabeth Miller, Alan Crolius, Andy Clark. P: Edison Manufacturing Co. USA 1914
Print temporarily not available
“One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.” (John Muir: Our National Parks. Boston 1901)
“One touch of nature makes the whole world kin,
That all with one consent praise new-born gawds,
Though they are made and moulded of things past,
And give to dust that is a little gilt
More laud than gilt o’er-dusted.” William Shakespeare: Troilus and Cressida, III/3
TRAUM UND EXZESS, S. 348 f.
The Avenging Conscience
R und P: David Wark Griffith. D: Henry B. Walthall, Blanche Sweet, Spottiswoode Aitkin, George Siegmann. P: Majestic Motion Picture Company. USA 1914
“The Avenging Conscience: or Thou Shalt Not Kill’ (1914), a pre-Birth of a Nation feature that finds Griffith working in a very different register. A mash-up of several stories and poems by Edgar Allan Poe, Griffith’s fellow tortured Southerner, the film grows more directly from one of the director’s obsessive themes: that of the young couple whose union is prevented by an older authority figure.
In this case the nameless hero (played by Henry B. Walthall) is forbidden to marry his sweetheart (Blanche Sweet) by the uncle (Spottiswoode Aitken) who raised him and wants him to remain at home as his assistant.
Instead of expanding this story into epic form (as he would in The Birth of a Nation), Griffith journeys inward in The Avenging Conscience, giving his hero a series of nightmarish visions that first drive him to strangle the despotic uncle, and then to suffer a nervous breakdown. With superimposed imagery of ghouls and biblical figures, Griffith is working toward an interiorized, psychological sense of character without much precedent in American films of the time. There are moments in The Avenging Conscience that seem to anticipate the stylized imagery of German Expressionism, which would not emerge in the movies until The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari in 1920.” Dave Kehr, 2008 New York Times
“Once there was a city spread out idyllically on the slopes of Santa Ynez Canyon [between Santa Monica and Malibu] with sweeping views of the sea. The streets were lined with houses of many types, from humble cottages to mansions, and the buildings were fashioned after the architecture of many lands. (…) This was the creation of American silent film producer/director Thomas Ince, who in 1912 built a city of motion picture sets on several thousand acres of land in and around the hills and plateaus of the canyon, where he was able to shoot many of the outdoor locales needed for his films. It was here at Inceville, now Sunset [Boulevard] at Pacific Coast Highway, where in 1913 alone, Ince made over 150 two-reeler movies, mostly Westerns, thereby anchoring the popularity of the genre for decades. It was at Inceville where many of the filmmaker’s innovations were developed, such as the shooting script, which included stage direction, dialogue and scene description for interiors and exteriors.” Libby Motika in The Palisadian-Post Alt Film Guide
R: Thomas Harper Ince. D: Red Wing, J. Barney Sherry, Jack Conway. P: Broncho Motion Picture Company. USA 1913
“Born Max Aronson in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1880, Gilbert Anderson had begun his movie career in 1903, the year he appeared in The Great Train Robbery, the first movie with a plot. He had made a few films at Selig Polyscope, a Chicago studio led by the self-styled ‘Colonel’ William Selig, but now he longed for more autonomy. He and Spoor joined forces to create the Peerless Film Manufacturing Company, which they renamed Essanay in August 1907. The studio was ‘probably the MGM of the silents’, says William Grisham, the Evanston movie historian who in the 1960s interviewed Mollie Anderson and some of the Essanay principals.
What’s more, the Essanay movies – and those made by Selig and others – established film as a dramatic and entertaining new art form. ‘They built the foundation for an industry that didn’t exist before and changed the world’, says David Kiehn, the historian for the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum (in Fremont, California) and the author of Broncho Billy and the Essanay Film Company. ‘Unfortunately, 1907 to 1918, when they were all thriving, is a black hole in film history.'” Robert Loerzel Reel Chicago
Broncho Billy and the School Mistress
R: Gilbert M. Anderson. P: Essanay Film Manufacturing Company. USA 1912
“Gilbert Anderson is best remembered as the first western movie hero, ‘Bronco Billy’ (originally spelled Broncho Billy). He directed and starred in almost 400 Broncho Billy films over a seven year period, but Anderson was also a key figure in the development of American films as entertainment. Before beginning his illustrious career in the cinema, Anderson worked as a traveling salesman. An aspiring actor, he then made an unsuccessful attempt to become a stage actor in New York. Instead, he was hired to work as a model in Edwin S. Porter‘s one-reeler, Messenger Boy’s Mistake (1902) for Edison Studios. In 1903, he played multiple roles in the historical classic The Great Train Robbery. He then began playing a variety of roles until he joined Vitagraph several months later where he began directing as well as acting in one-reelers including the hit Raffles, The American Cracksman (1905).
He soon moved to the Selig Polyscope company until 1907 when he teamed up with George K. Spoor to form the famous Essanay company — created by combining the first letters of their last names. They began in Chicago, but eventually opened studios in California where they produced a series of short comedies featuring Ben Turpin. During the same year, Anderson played Broncho Billy for the first time in The Bandit Makes Good. The film was a great success and Anderson became a star. He also produced other successful series including the Snakeville Comedy and Alkali Ike series.
By the following year, Anderson began attempting to produce more costly, higher quality films. Among the illustrious stars that worked for Essanay was Charlie Chaplin who, during his one year with Essanay, was able to perfect his Little Tramp character, imbuing him with more pathos than he was able to do at his previous studio, Keystone. Chaplin left Essanay in 1916; soon after, Anderson sold his interest in the studio to Spoor and retired. In 1920, Anderson tried to become a Broadway producer, but he failed. He then attempted a comeback by directing a series of Stan Laurel shorts for Metro. By the end of the year, he entered permanent retirement as an actor though he did keep on directing and producing for a few years after. Like many early figures of cinema, Gilbert Anderson slowly faded into obscurity until 1957 when he recieved a special Oscar commemorating “his contributions to the development of motion pictures as entertainment.” Sandra Brennan, Rovi ALLMOVIE
Das Recht aufs Dasein
R: Joseph Delmont. D: Joseph Delmont, Fred Sauer. P: Eiko-Film GmbH. D 1913
Print: EYE Collection
“This was the period when Germany began to develop a number of genres that would become typical for its reputation as a distinct national cinema. Vitality and wit emanated, for instance, from the films of Joseph Delmont, whose feeling for the excitement of the metropolis made him depict Berlin in Das Recht aufs Dasein (The Right to Exist, 1913), gripped by a construction and housing boom. While the surreal slapstick comedies of Karl Valentin have often been noted, comedies like Franz Hofer‘s Hurrah, Einquartierung!(Hurrah! We are billeted, 1913) (…) anticipate Ernst Lubitsch‘s frantic farces from the mid-teens. Outstanding among other genres were sensational melodramas and detective films, featuring a star detective with an Anglicised name. The films cast a fascinated eye on modern technology, on the mechanics of crime and detection, with protagonists revelling in disguises and engaging in spectacular stunts, especially for frequent chase scenes, as in Max Mack‘s Wo ist Coletti? (Where is Coletti?, 1913) (…).” Thomas Elsaesser in: Richard Abel (ed.): Encyclopedia of Early Cinema. Taylor & Francis 2005, p. 271
“Delmonts Film Das Recht aufs Dasein (1913) verbindet die kinematografische Wahrnehmung mit dem sozialen Thema eines Haftentlassenen, der zu Unrecht für einen Mörder gehalten und verfolgt wird. Der Zuschauer weiß von Beginn an, dass der Held unschuldig ist – ein Wissensvorsprung, der seine Aufmerksamkeit auf den dramatischen Verlauf von Flucht und Verfolgung in Erwartung eines glücklichen Ausgangs lenkt. Zugleich wird sein Blick frei für das physische Geschehen mit seinen spektakulären Details, also für die filmische Realität: die in Groß- und Naheinstellungen eingefangenen kriminalistischen Ermittlungen; die Hetzjagd durch das graue Industrierevier einer Großstadt; cross-cuttings zwischen dem Verfolgten und seinen Verfolgern; Kamerablicke in einen am Fenster angebrachten Spiegel (einen ›Spion‹, der die Überwachung der Straße ermöglicht); Vertikalschwenks über eine in extrem spitzem Winkel aufgenommene Hausfassade oder, senkrecht von oben gefilmt, ein Balanceakt des Flüchtlings zwischen Eisenbahnwaggon und Lokomotive.” Klaus Kreimeier: Traum und Exzess. Die Kulturgeschichte des frühen Kinos. Wien 2011, p. 334
Der geheimnisvolle Klub
R: Joseph Delmont. D: Fred Sauer, Ilse Bois, Joseph Delmont. P: Eiko-Film GmbH. D 1913
Inspired by Robert Louis Stevenson’s “The Suicide Club”
Print: EYE Collection
“Der geheimhsvolle Klub verlegt Stevensons unheimliche Geschichte vom neblig trüben London in das klare Licht holländischer Originalschauplätze. Er enthält technisch brillante Aufnahmen vom Rotterdamer Hauptbahnhof, einer Stahlkonstruktion, den städtischen Promenaden, Banken und Geschäften, den Grachten, dem Strand von Scheveningen, den Badeanlagen, Jahrhundertwende-Hotels und dem damals noch jungen Radfahrsport. (…)
Die Protagonistin (…) gibt schon in der ersten Einstellung den Eindruck einer modernen jungen Frau, sportlich gekleidet, die sich ungezwungen in dem großzügigen Park, der das Haus ihres Vaters umgibt, bewegt. Bizarr in diesem gepflegten mitteleuropäischen Milieu wirkt ein ständiger Begleiter und Spielgefährte der Konsulstochter, ein ausgewachsener Affe (…), gebändigte Gestalt ihrer Faszination durch das Andere, das Nicht-Rationale, das Un-Zivilisierte, nach kurrenter Darwinscher Theorie die vorgeschichtliche Vergangenheit des Menschen selber.” Heide Schlüpmann: Unheimlichkeit des Blicks. Basel/Frankfurt am Main 1990, S. 130, 132
Zur Technik der Virage
“Bereits vor der Erfindung des Mehrschichtenfarbfilms gab es farbige Kopien, die mit mehreren Verfahren produziert wurden: (1) Bei der Virage (engl. tinting, frz.: tintage) werden Teile einer Schwarzweißkopie in Bäder mit organischen Farbstoffen gelegt. Die Farbstoffe lagern sich in der Gelatine des gesamten Filmbands an und färben dieses in der gewünschten Farbe ein. Die Virage erkennt man daran, dass bei der Vorführung die transparenten Bereiche des Bildes (Himmel mit Wölkchen, helle Kleidung, Schaumkronen auf dem Meer etc.) die Farbe tragen, während sie auf den dunklen Stellen nicht zu sehen ist. (2) Bei der Färbung (engl. toning, frz. virage) werden schwarzweiße Filmteile ebenfalls in Bäder gelegt. Ein chemischer Prozess tauscht das im Bild enthaltene Silbersalz gegen Farbsalze aus, die u.a. auf der Basis von Schwefel (gelb), Kupfer (rot) oder Eisen (blau) hergestellt wurden. Bei diesem Verfahren sind die vorher dunklen, d.h. silberhaltigen Teile des Bildes nun farbig, während die hellen Stellen (die wenig Silbersalz enthielten) die Farbe kaum angenommen haben. Tinting und toning lassen sich gemeinsam anwenden, wodurch Farbkombinationen entstehen. Bei beiden Prozessen müssen nach dem Trocknen die eingefärbten Teile in der richtigen Reihenfolge aneinander montiert werden, so dass das Endresultat viele Klebestellen aufweist.
In Deutschland wurden Stummfilme bis Mitte der 1920er Jahre auf diese Weise farbig gemacht; danach erhielten fast ausschließlich nur noch Nachtszenen eine blaue Einfärbung (tinting-Methode), damit diese als solche eindeutig zu erkennen waren.” Lexikon der Filmbegriffe
The Year 1913
“While historians have difficulties agreeing on periodization, just about everyone concurs that there were two amazing years during the 1910s when filmmaking practice somehow coalesced and produced a burst of creativity: 1913 and 1917. One can point to stylistically significant films made before 1913. Somehow, though, that year seemed to be when filmmakers in several countries simultaneously seized upon what they had already learned of technique and pushed their knowledge to higher levels of expressivity. “Le Gionate del Cinema Muto” (“The Days of Silent Cinema”), the major annual festival, devoted its 1993 event to “The Year 1913.” The program included The Student of Prague (Stellan Rye), Suspense (Phillips Smalley and Lois Weber), Atlantis (August Blom), Raja Harischandra (D. G. Phalke), Juve contre Fantomas (Louis Feuillade), Quo Vadis? (Enrico Guazzoni), Ingeborg Holm (Victor Sjöström), The Mothering Heart (D. W. Griffith), Ma l’amor mio non muore! (Mario Caserini), L’enfant de Paris (Léonce Perret), and Twilight of a Woman’s Soul (Yevgenii Bauer). 1917, by contrast, was primarily an American landmark.” Kristin Thompson David Bordwell’s website on cinema
Der Student von Prag
R: Stellan Rye / Paul Wegener. Buch: Hanns Heinz Ewers. K: Guido Seeber. D: Paul Wegener, John Gottowt, Grete Berger, Lyda Salmonowa. P: Deutsche Bioscop GmbH. D 1913
“The division of the frame and the distinction between foreground and background of an image composed in depth becomes the basis of a textual system of repeated and alternated spatial articulations. Two central oppositions, left/right and near/far, are amplified by a third, less powerful term, frontal/diagonal. (…) As a result, the film is ‘about’ Baldwin and his mirror-image occupying the left or the right hand of the frame; is is ‘about’ movements from the background (far-space) to the foreground (near-space) and back; finally, it is ‘about’ Baldwin’s room being framed either frontally or diagonally.” Leon Hunt: The Student of Prague. In: Thomas Elsaesser with Adam Barker(ed.): Early Cinema: Space, Frame, Narrative. London 1990, p. 390
Der Kritiker Ulrich Rauscher, der die dramaturgischen Schwächen des Films schonungslos tadelt, schreibt über Albert Bassermann: “Die Umwandlung des einen in den ‘Andern’ war schauerlich wahr, nicht dank, sondern trotz Lindau. Diese Fähigkeit, aus einem Menschen in den andern sich zu wandeln, unter schmerzhaften Ruck- und Zuckungen, wie eine Schmetterlingspuppe, die sich schmerzhaft der Hülle entledigt, ist etwas so Erschreckendes, wie ich es im Menschlichen kaum je gesehen habe. Das Größte war natürlich Bassermanns eigenste Schöpfung: wenn er merkt, etwas sei mit ihm nicht richtig, wenn aus jedem Wort der Umgebung etwas unfaßbar Schauerliches sich ankündigt, wenn er sich von unsichtbaren Geistern umstanden fühlt, zuerst unsicher lächelt, ernst wird, verstummt, auffährt und schließlich wie ein getroffenes, zerbrochenes Menschenwesen zusammenstürzt: es gibt für die Sprache des Leibes, im Film und auf der Bühne, nur einen Gott, und Bassermann ist sein Prophet!” Ulrich Rauscher: Der Bassermann-Film. Frankfurter Zeitung, 6. Februar 1913
Der Andere R: Max Mack. B: Paul Lindau. K: Hermann Böttger. D: Albert Bassermann, Emmerich Hanus, Nelly Ridon, Hanni Weisse. P: Vitascope GmbH. D 1912/13 Engl. subtitles
R: Giovanni Pastrone. B: Gabriele d’Annunzio (Titel). K: Giovanni Tomaris, Natale Chiusano. Spezialeffekte: Segundo de Chomon. Bauten: Romano Luigi Borgnetto, Camillo Innocenti. D: Lidia Quaranta, Umberto Mozzato, Bartolomeo Pagano, Dante Testa. P: Itala. It 1912-1914
“This is the day of the new masters. We are witnessing a new style in dramatic kinematography.
Within the last four weeks there have been splendid manifestations of a new art on the screen. The skill and the inspiration of the director, the skill and the patient striving of the cameraman, a deep and conscientious study of screen possibilities, a new school of actors who have fathomed the mysteries of unspoken language – all these elements working toward the harmony of the whole have in part been responsible for the new school, which is opening the eyes of the world. (…) The tremendous moral of the play, the keenly dramatic and broadly humerous, the historic facts are all absorbed in an incredibly short time. Of course the spectacular features help; with all due respect to its classic predecessors I must confess that in the portrayal of the spectacular this film creates new records. (…) It would be a grave mistake, however, to emphasize the spectacular in this film above the dramatic. The spectacular is all the more impressive because an artistic masterhand has subordinated it to the dramatic and poetic moments of the play. (…)” W. Stephen Bush in: The Moving Picture World (New York), 23.5.1914
“Pastrone‘s position and role illustrate Itala’s peculiar internal organization. He was a co-owner, really a minority shareholder, yet in contrast to American producers à la Griffith, he could exercise direct control over the capital invested. More precisely, Pastrone’s role was similar to the one played by Thomas Ince: he overviewed the preparation and production of all Itala’s films in detail. With reference to the American model, Pastrone furthered the distinction between central producer and director in his relationship with other directors at Itala. As for his own professional profile, however, such distinction was meaningless. He was both central producer and director until the end of his career in 1923.” Silvio Alovisio: The “Pastrone System”: Itala Film from the Origins to World War I. Università degli studi di Torino 2013, p. 6
R: George Nichols. B: H. Rider Haggard (novel), Theodore Marston (scenario). D:Marguerite Snow, James Cruze, Viola Alberti. P: Thanhouser Film Corporation. USA 1911
“The tale of She proved to hold an irresistible attraction for the embryonic motion picture industry, being filmed no less than eight times worldwide during the silent era, as well as being spoofed in 1915’s His Egyptian Affinity. It was first the basis for a short film made by Georges Méliès in 1899, La Colonne De Feu, which concentrated upon the visual possibilities of the eternal flame that sustains and ultimately destroys Ayesha. The first American version was made in 1908 by Edwin S. Porter for the Edison Company; sadly, this appears to be a lost film. The story was next tackled by the Thanhouser Company, and it is this production, released in December of 1911, that is the oldest surviving version of the tale. Thanhouser was one of the most important production houses during the development of the cinema in America. Based in New Rochelle, New York, the company turned out over a thousand films in the period between its founding in 1909 and 1917, when it ceased operation. Between these bookends, the company’s original owners sold their interest in it to the Mutual Film Corporation, famous firstly for being the home of the Keystone Cops and Charlie Chaplin during this period, and secondly for in 1915 being on the receiving end of the Supreme Court ruling that declared film to be a business and not an art form, and therefore not protected by the First Amendment; a ruling not overturned until 1952. (Today, Thanhouser Company Film Preservation, Inc., run by the grandson of the company’s founders, is even more important, being devoted to the acquisition and preservation of silent films.)” And You Call Yourself a Scientist!