Exploitation Film

The Inside of the White Slave Traffic
R: Frank Beal. D: Edwin Carewe, Jean Thomas, Virginia Mann. P: Moral Feature Film Co. USA 1913
Print: Library of Congress

“This early exploitation film, produced under the guise of a reformist social drama, has garnered a somewhat exaggerated reputation over the years. While The Inside of the White Slave Traffic (1913) is populated with the early 20th century versions of pimps and prostitutes, they are present by knowing implication rather than by overt expression. As would be expected, whether in modern or contemporary times, the salaciousness of the film exists far more in the mind than in the reality of the action.
While surviving prints of the film are spare of plot, we can reasonably assume that there originally was more substance to the tale of this four-reel feature film.
We love the documentary quality of the scenes that were shot on the streets of New York City. The people are those of the neighborhood, with daytime bustling around them, elevated trains, and rows of businesses. Shots of storefronts invite close scrutiny of signage and products that were commonplace then and a historical curiosity now. Now and again, one’s attention may be spirited away by examination of a gate railing or a chewing gum dispenser, no longer manufactured in its fashion and rarely seen today in its original historical context.”
Carl Bennett
Silent Era

Pimple Parodies

Pimple Has One
R: Fred Evans, Joe Evans. B: Fred Evans, Joe Evans. D: Fred Evans. P: Piccadilly Film Productions. UK 1915
Print: BFI-National Archive

“The inebriate is a traditional music hall character and the ability physically to suggest drunkenness was a key skill for the comedian. Charlie Chaplin had specialised in this during his time with Karno, especially in the sketch A Night in the Show (US, 1915). Fred Evans, although not an especially proficient physical comedian, makes a good fist of this and uses the rocking camera and other traditional drunk gags. Interestingly, at the end, when Pimple encounters a loose woman who is flashing her ankles at him, he coyly looks directly at the camera and paints the glass white to obscure our view, in the equivalent of the theatrical ‘aside’.
Bryony Dixon

Lieutenant Pimple and the Stolen Submarine
R: Fred Evans, Joe Evans. B: Fred Evans, Joe Evans. D: Fred Evans, Joe Evans. P: Folly Films. UK 1914
Print: BFI-National Archive

“This was one of several Pimple parodies of popular adventure series heroes such as Lieutenant Rose and Lieutenant Daring. Highlights of the Stolen Submarine include an undersea fist-fight, a wooden battleship, and a novel alternative to sending a message in a bottle… Pimple was the creation of music hall duo Fred and Joe Evans, who filmed largely from their Thames-side premises on Eel Pie Island (the naval chase scene at the climax of this film was recognisably shot at Twickenham’s Embankment). The Pimple films were known for their endearingly low production values – cardboard sets and props worthy of Blue Peter – which were all part of the gag.”
BFI-National Archive

“The film naturally echoes the films it satirises. The spies are heavily bearded, and notably spy-like. The Royal Navy (in the guise of the wooden barge, HMS ‘Invincible’) gives chase and fires upon the spies, as in Lt Rose and the Stolen Code (1911). As in other Pimple films, the comedy is strikingly modern, reminiscent of Monty Python or Spike Milligan sketches.”
Simon Baker

Winsor McCay

Gertie the Dinosaur
R: Winsor McCay. B: Winsor McCay. D: Winsor McCay, George McManus, Roy L. McCardell. P: Vitagraph Company of America. USA 1914

McCay‘s employer, William Randolph Hearst, was displeased with McCay’s success outside of the newspapers, and used his contractual power to reduce McCay’s stage activities. In late 1914, William Fox, offered to market Gertie the Dinosaur to moving-picture theaters. McCay accepted, and extended the film to include a live-action prologue and intertitles to replace his stage patter. This is the version of the film generally seen nowadays; the original animation comprises roughly 5 minutes of the entire 12-minute film.”

“A 1914 short animated film by Winsor McCay that inspired many generations of animators to bring their cartoons to life. Although not the first animated film, as is sometimes thought, it was the first cartoon to feature a character with an appealing personality. The appearance of a true character distinguished it from earlier animated ‘trick films’, such as those of Blackton and Cohl, and makes it the predecessor to later popular cartoons such as those by Walt Disney. The film was also the first to be created using keyframe animation.
The film has been selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry, and was named 6 of The 50 Greatest Cartoons of all time in a 1994 survey of animators and cartoon historians by Jerry Beck.”

>>> Winsor McCay’s film Little Nemo on this site: Early Cartoons

Feuillade’s Titanic Film

La hantise
R: Louis Feuillade. D: Renée Carl, René Navarre, Miss Édith. P: Gaumont. Fr 1912
Print: Gaumont
Engl. subtitles

La Hantise (1912) (“The Obsession”) is a half-hour film drama. It looks at the suffering caused by a palm-reader’s prediction to a woman that a loved one will die. The poor woman really endures agony over this. La Hantise is in some ways an early film example of a soap opera, the kind of tale featuring a ‘noble woman who suffers and suffers’. This kind of story can be very hard to take.

Attacking Pseudo-Science
More positively, La Hantise is also an early example of exposing pseudo-science junk like palmistry, and all the harm fake pseudo-science does in our society. Unfortunately, in the 2000’s the United States media is deeply awash in the supernatural, paranormal and esoteric: all worthless garbage that causes social harm. Feuillade’s approach is vastly better.
It is often thought that Feuillade was an influence on Fritz Lang, although there is apparently no documentary evidence backing this up. Lang, too, would include scathing exposes of false supernatural mediums in Ministry of Fear (1943) and The 1,000 Eyes of Dr. Mabuse (1960). Other people in the 1910’s were also exposing such frauds: Bayard Veiller‘s stage play ‘The Thirteenth Chair’ (1916) is an example.

Flashing Lights
Flashing lights are an image that runs through Feuillade. They are highly dramatic. And as a purely visual image, they are well suited to silent film. One of the best scenes in La Hantise shows the revolving lights on top of the Eiffel Tower at night.

Evening Clothes
Feuillade’s enthusiasm for evening clothes returns, with the man the heroine talks with at the party in a tuxedo, and another man in the background in full white tie and tails.
It is somewhat atypical in real life to have men in two different degrees of formal dress at one event. Etiquette would rather have all the men in tuxedos, or all the men in tails. This is perhaps an example of Feuillade’s image of ‘two men in similar clothes, but with different degrees of formality’. Judex and his brother will be the most striking example.

René Navarre
The nice guy husband is unexpectedly played by René Navarre, best known for clever villain Fantômas. Navarre can be memorably creepy, in other films. But here he is playing a type that will recur in much subsequent cinema: the blandly decent, ideal husband, a steady man who is everything a woman in a melodrama can ask for in a good guy spouse. He is a loving husband, a devoted father, cheerful and a great provider. Like almost all such movie Good Husbands, he is also strictly bland, so he will not upstage the heroine and her traumas.
Navarre does all this very well. No one seeing La Hantise would ever suspect him of being a master villain.”
Michael E. Grost

  René Navarre as Fantômas

>>> Titanic – In Nacht und Eis on this site: Fiction and Newsreel


The Land Beyond The Sunset
R: Harold M. Shaw. B: Dorothy G. Shore. D: Martin Fuller, Mrs. William Bechtel, Walter Edwin. P: Edison Company. USA 1912
Print: George Eastman House

The Land Beyond The Sunset, written by Dorothy G. Shore and directed by Harold Shaw, is a touching tragedy that goes right to the heart of what storytelling is all about. It also boasts a couple of film techniques common today but nearly unheard of in 1912: the lap dissolve, which is where the end of one scene fades out as the next scene fades in; and the double exposure to show a character’s thoughts.
At the time, these effects had to be created in the camera, by filming a scene then cranking the film back and double exposing it. The lap dissolve was especially difficult because the cameraman had to gradually close down the lens to create the fading out effect, and gradually open it up to fade in. And of course no one would know until the film was developed whether the effect had been successful.”
A Mythical Monkey

DeMille’s First Motion Picture

The Squaw Man
R: Oscar Apfel, Cecil B. DeMille. B: Edwin Milton Royle (play). K: Alfred Gandolfi. D: Dustin Farnum, Monroe Salisbury, Winifred Kingston. P: Jesse L. Lasky Feature Play Company. USA 1914

Young Cecil B. DeMille’s first motion picture – the first feature-length film produced in Hollywood by a major film studio (distributed by Famous Players-Lasky Corporation). It was the first film to use an art director.

Cecil B. DeMille on this website:
>>> The Virginian, 1914
>>> The Girl of the Golden West, 1914/15
>>> Carmen, 1915
>>> The Cheat, 1915
>>> The Captive, 1915
>>> The Golden Chance, 1915



Qui pro quo

La malle au mariage
R: Max Linder. B: Max Linder. D: Max Linder, Charles Mosnier, Suzy Depsy. P: Pathé Frères. Fr 1912

“The guardian of Mamie, with whom Max is in love, wishes to make the girl his wife. Mamie, holding her guardian in mortal terror, insists upon Max concealing himself one day when the former obtrudes his presence upon them. Max obeys, and finding behind the hanging wardrobe a lady’s long plush coat and hat, he dons both articles to make his escape. The disguise leads the guardian, who observes him depart, into supposing that a pretty woman is the owner of the coat. He follows ‘her’, and Max inveigles him into his own rooms, shams a scare on account of a supposed husband, and manages to get him locked up in a big trunk, from which he is released only on his giving his consent to Max’s engagement to Mamie.”
The Bioscope, May 30, 1912

>>>More films by Max Linder on this site: Max l’immortel

Urban Gad

Den sorte Drøm (Der schwarze Traum)
R: Urban Gad. B: Urban Gad. K: Adam Johansen/Guido Seeber. D: Asta Nielsen, Valdemar Psilander, Gunnar Helsengren, Peter Fjelstrup, Ellen Gottschalch. P: Fotorama. Dk 1911
German titles, Engl. subtitles

“Although Urban Gad (1879-1947) made a few films in Germany in the 1920s, during the golden age of Expressionism, his career had petered out by 1927. He clearly was not playing in the same league as Murnau, Lang, Pabst, Leni, Wiene, etc., and though an argument could be made that he anticipated some trends in Expressionism and that his use of eroticism was ahead of his time, his most significant contribution was the discovery of Asta Nielsen (1883-1972). Working in Germany, mostly with her then-husband Gad, ‘Die Asta’ developed a restrained style of film acting, comparable to American counterparts like Lillian Gish and Mae Marsh.”
Charles Silver
Museum of Modern Art

185-Asta Nielsen und Urban Gad-1912  Asta Nielsen and Urban Gad

Der schwarze Traum war einer von vier Filmen, die Asta Nielsen in Dänemark drehte. Nach ihrem Filmdebüt Abgründe im Jahr 1910 und dem unerwarteten, großen Erfolg des Films war sie zunächst von der Bioscop nach Deutschland geholt worden, wo mit Nachtfalter und Heißes Blut bis Mai 1911 zwei Filme entstanden. Obwohl die Bioscop Interesse an einer weiteren Zusammenarbeit mit Asta Nielsen signalisierte, ging sie in den Sommermonaten zurück nach Dänemark, wo sie zunächst für die Fotorama den Film Der schwarze Traum und anschließend für die Nordisk Ballettänzerin drehte. Der Vertrag mit der Nordisk, den Nielsen bereits für das Jahr 1912 abgeschlossen hatte, wurde jedoch nie erfüllt, da Geschäftsmann Christoph Mülleneisen Nielsen bereits im Juni 1911 für weitere Filme in Deutschland verpflichtete und im Gegenzug die Konventionalstrafe von 10.000 Kronen in Kauf nahm.
Der schwarze Traum wurde am 15. August 1911 von der Zensur mit einem Jugendverbot belegt. Der Film erlebte am 19. August 1911 seine deutsche Uraufführung und kam am 4. September 1911 in die dänischen Kinos. Erst 1919 drehte Asta Nielsen mit Der Fackelträger ihren vierten und letzten dänischen Film überhaupt.”

>>> Afgrunden: A Star is Born

Benjamin Christensen

Det hemmelighedsfulde X
R: Benjamin Christensen. B: Laurids Skands. K: Emil Dinesen. D: Benjamin Christensen, Karen Caspersen, Otto Reinwald. P: Dansk Biograf Compagni. Dk 1913/14
Print: Danish Film Institute & Cinematheque

Benjamin Christensen (1879-1959) is probably the most innovative director of Danish silent cinema. He had full control over the creation of his films, not only as a director, but also in many cases by being producer, author and protagonist. Christensen’s first films clearly show his mastery of cinematic expression as well as his charismatic screen appearance. Christensen studied medicine, then took voice tuition, trained in drama and opera, and joined the Royal Theatre in Copenhagen in 1901. After a serious illness, he became a champagne and wine wholesaler. From 1911 onwards he worked as a scriptwriter and actor for the Dansk Biografkompagni in Hellerup, which he took over himself in 1913. His films Det hemmelighedsfulde X (Sealed Orders, 1914) and Hævnens Nat (Blind Justice, 1916) brought him immediate fame. He later filmed in Berlin and Hollywood, returning to Denmark in the early 1930s. His last films were poorly received and he ended his film career running a cinema in a suburb of Copenhagen.
The rarely seen tale of espionage love and treason set in a Europe on the brink of war, Det hemmelighedsfulde X, casts director Benjamin Christensen in a major role as Lt. van Hauen. As he prepares for impending war, the story revolves around his loving wife, who has become the object of the unwanted attentions of a questionable count. In part because human nature changes little, the fully satisfying drama engages on multiple and sophisticated levels. The plot turns on points of honor, loyalty to country, fidelity to family, and the treachery of greed and war. Though some of the cinematic devices will seem quaint, as in a technique resembling a huge stage whisper where the traitorous count hides in plain sight in the drawing room of the van Hauens, the emotionally satisfying screenplay has heart and timelessness. The visual style that clearly influenced German expressionist films that followed is pure pleasure to watch.”
Edition Filmmuseum