Italian Immigrants

The Italian
R: Reginald Barker. B: Thomas H. Ince, C. Gardner Sullivan. D: George Beban, Clara Williams, J. Frank Burke. P: Thomas H. Ince / New York Motion Picture. USA 1915
Print: Library of Congress, Washington D.C.

“It tells the story of an immigrant Venetian named Pietro ‘Beppo’ Donnetti (George Beban). The film follows Beppo after he moves to New York from Italy in the 1910s. Upon arrival, Beppo experiences the precarious state of being an immigrant, encountering thieves, criminal gangs and being robbed by street vendors. This kind of immigrant experience is integral to America’s cultural imagination, and I believe constitutes the archetype for contemporary New York diasporic gangster movies. (…)
The Italian is certainly an important documentation of American Social history, charting a narrative that has since been retold again and again: that of the immigrant and the urban underbelly. But isn’t all of film history subject to the cementing and re-cementing of popular narratives? In the case of The Italian, the film explores a dark subject that was incredibly forward thinking for 1915. D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation (released the same year) comes to mind, a film with strikingly conservative and disturbingly racist narrative and characterisation to modern eyes.”
James Harrison

“By portraying immigrants as both pittoresque and ill-fated, American films struck a fine, yet universalist balance between catering to familiar aesthetic responses and encouraging forms of emotional identification. Crucial to these processes was the Irish-Dalmatian figure of George Beban, whose stage and film career recapitulates the relationship between silent American cinema and race. If in the mid-1900s Petrosino was the Italian face of the American justice system, in the mid-1910s Beban became the Italian face of the American cinema.”
Giorgio Bertellini: Italy in Early American Cinema: Race, Landscape, and the Picturesque. Indiana University Press 2010, p. 214

The District Attorney’s Conscience
R: Arthur V. Johnson. D: Arthur V. Johnson, Lottie Briscoe, Howard M. Mitchell, Charles Brandt, Florence Hackett. P: Lubin Manufacturing Company. USA 1913
Print: EYE
Dutch titles

>>> Plot summary in English here

“Before Beban’s feature character performances, other, shorter films had explicitly explored the narrative possibility of humanizing Italians as victims of injustice. They included Out of the Past (Vitagraph, 1910) – ‘A Special Two-Part Feature Drama of Italian American Life’ -; Trials of an Immigrant (Reliance, 1911) about the ‘piteous trials of an Italian woman, wife of a drunken immigrant’; and The District Attorney’s Conscience (Lubin, 1913).”
Giorgio Bertellini: Italy in Early American Cinema: Race, Landscape, and the Picturesque. Indiana University Press 2010, p. 345, fn. 36

>>> L’emigrante (Febo Mari) and The Two Roses (Dir. unknown)

American Glory, Hand-Colored

Three American Beauties
R: Wallace McCutcheon / Edwin S. Porter. P: Edison Manufacturing Company. USA 1906

Three American Beauties (1906) was nearly always shown as a hand-tinted color film, & would be used by exhibitors as the closing short subject after a program otherwise of black & white films. Because it was designed to be colored, it was restricted to under a minute, as hand coloring films was an expensive time consuming process. At the Edison Manufacturing Company, it was performed chiefly by the wives of company employees.

The first beauty is a rose which is in fact called ‘American Beauty’ & to this day a garden standard. The second beauty is a woman holding the rose. Close ups of a rose, & of pretty women holding a rose, provided for easy & coloring opportunity. The third beauty is the American flag blowing in the wind, in red white & blue. Ending exhibits with the flag would remain a tradition of many movie houses for decades to come, as also early television which went off the air each night with the American flag & patriotic band music.”
Paghat the Ratgirl

L’ Amour Fou

Les deux sœurs
R: Albert Capellani. P: Pathé Frères. Fr 1907
Print: CNC
Engl. subtitles

Les deux sœurs tells a very different story of mésalliance between social classes. This film focusses on two sisters, and their sick mother who live together in a garret room (described in the opening LS), where the young women (whose white-colored costumes contrast with the mother’s black dress) (…) do ‘put-out’ work as seemstresses. (…) In a final tableau, preceded by an intertitle translated as ‘The return to duty’, the two sisters resume their work as seemstresses in the same garett room where the film began. Now that any explicit male presence has been erased, however, the newly reaffirmed bond between sisters is determined by their shared relationship to the dead mother. Both are dressed in black – as if replicating the mother’s figure – and her chair is conspicuously empty in the room’s background. In the end, a double absence or erasure seems to ‘lock’ them into the woman’s part of suffering victim. However, although social mobility through illicit means seems roundly condemned as dangerous in Les deux sœurs, it is less certain whether the sisters’ final position should be read as a punishment for disobedience, as a working-class ‘fate’ to be endured, or, perhaps less likely, as a sign of social injustice.”
Richard Abel: The Ciné Goes to Town: French Cinema, 1896-1914. Updated and Expanded Edition. University of California Press 1998, p. 154/155

>>> The Ciné-Tourist

Amour d’esclave
R: Albert Capellani.  D: Gabriel Moreau, Darenne Bennard. P: Pathé. Fr 1907
Print: Filmmuseum Netherlands
Dutch titles

“Very good stencil technique for 1907. Some shots involved bright costumes against dark backgrounds, which conceal the mismatch of color and representation. Nice moment at around 7:00 when female dancers reveal their multi-color veils, suddenly creating an abstract, striped, pinwheel shape.”
Yuri Tsivian



Toil and Tyranny
R: Harry Harvey. B: Henry King, Will M. Ritchey. D: Henry King, Ruth Roland, Daniel Gilfether. P: Pathé/Balboa Amusement Producing Company. USA 1915
Twelfth and final episode in the “Who Pays?” series of three-reel dramas

“Unstinting in their condemnation of employer uses of violence against workers, these softer liberal films were equally critical and often quite patronizing toward working-class collectice action. Unions, strikes, and their leaders were not inherently bad, as was the case in conservative films. They were simply incapable of offering measured responses to their grievances. (…)
In Toil and Tyranny, peaceful workers (dressed in clean white shirts rather than the more sinister dark costumes used in conservative films) are transformed into a bloodthirsty mob when, after being attacked by police and evicted from company homes, they follow the violent exhortations of a man dressed in black. Once violence begins, the choreography of crowd scenes suddenly becomes similar to conservative films: workers are bunched together and when they speak they do so with arms widely flailing in the air. In none of these films, or others like them, do we ever see a leader emerge from within the working-class who is able to resolve the situation in a peaceful manner.”
Steven J. Ross: Working-class Hollywood: Silent Film and the Shaping of Class in America. Princeton University Press 1998, p. 75

Cleopatra 1912

R: Charles L. Gaskill. B: Victorien Sardou (play). K: Lucien Tainguy. D: Helen Gardner, Pearl Sindelar, Miss Fielding. P: Helen Gardner Picture Players. USA 1912

“One of the early cinema’s first dramatic feature films at six reels, Cleopatra was undoubtedly projected at the typical rate of 16 frames per second, which would have made the film an epic hour in length in 1912. And Cleopatra covers enough material for several epics as its story gallivants across time even as its storytelling technique remains fairly static like many early silents. The stagey, histrionic action is interrupted by long explanatory intertitles. Oceanic battle scenes are recreated with smoke and close-ups of Antony standing on a ship’s deck, preparing to sail into battle against Cleopatra’s fleet. Like other films of its day, Cleopatra was defiantly set-bound and unrealistic, even when compared with stage productions of the time, which tended to take more creative risks.
But unlike other early silents, Cleopatra was noteworthy for being exhibited in a novel manner. Though the nickelodeon was still the definitive venue for motion picture audiences, Cleopatra’s producers took the innovative strategy of playing up their film’s high art, theatrical pedigree by exhibiting the film as a road show production. Prints of the film were sent to provincial theaters, opera houses or town halls along with an advance-man, a lecturer-projectionist and a manager.
Cleopatra was innovative in other ways as well. It starred the multitalented Helen Gardner, who was the first woman filmmaker at Vitagraph, where she began as a teacher of pantomime at the studio in 1911. An incredibly accomplished figure in early motion pictures, Gardner was also one of the first women to form her own production company, Helen Gardner Picture players.”
Felicia Feaster

“Victorien Sardou,  (born Sept. 5, 1831—died Nov. 8, 1908), playwright who, with Émile Augier and Alexandre Dumas fils, dominated the French stage in the late 19th century and is still remembered as a craftsman of bourgeois drama of a type belittled by George Bernard Shaw as ‘Sardoodledom.’ His work ‘Les Pattes de mouche’ (1860; ‘A Scrap of Paper’) is a model of the well-made play. He relied heavily on theatrical devices to create an illusion of life, and this largely accounts for his rapid decline in popularity. ‘Madame Sans-Gêne’, his last success, is still performed. His initial successes he owed to the actress Virginie Déjazet, and several of his 70 works were written for her; others were written for Sarah Bernhardt. In 1877 he was elected to the Académie Française.”
Encyclopædia Britannica

>>> Theda Bara on this site

Gulliver’s Travels by Méliès

Le voyage de Gulliver à Lilliput et chez les géants
R: Georges Méliès. P: Star-Film. Fr 1902
Engl. subtitles

“Of all the beautiful stories ever told none are more interesting than Gulliver’s Travels. How Gulliver set out on a journey and was shipwrecked on an island, where he found strange people, so small that a hundred of them full size could safely repose in the hollow of his hand. How he fell asleep, was discovered by the inhabitants of the island and securely bound with thousands of feet of cord and made to promise to do everything he was told under pain of instant death. He became a favorite with the people, who finally trusted him, but his roving nature would not permit him to settle there permanently.
A most interesting part of this film is in which the King and Queen arrive to look on the giant from a strange land, and as the Queen arrives and sits down, Gulliver immediately lifts her upon the table, upon which he has prepared his food, and the Queen and he hold intercourse, after which he again places her and the receptacle in which she is carried, to the ground. Immediately after a fire breaks out, and while the people try to attack their fire apparatus, Gulliver seizes a seltzer bottle and extinguishes the blaze with its contents. He leaves the island at last, and after wandering about for some months he is again shipwrecked, but this time is thrown among the giants, who look upon him, a natural-sized man, as a novelty. They pick him up like a top, and one amuses himself by blowing a cloud of smoke in Gulliver’s face, the while smoking a huge clay pipe. The Princess of the giants, learning of the new arrival, dismisses her followers and interviews the little man, who being too far away, climbs a ladder in order to reach the Princess, but she admonishes him for his presumption and in his confusion he falls to the ground. Here is a subject that will enthuse your audience, not alone the children, but the grown folks as well. It is a story complete in itself and takes one back to ancient times, when such doings were looked upon as natural. It is a wonderful picture, wonderfully produced.”
le grimh


Travelogues 1910

New York of Today
P: Edison Manufacturing Company. USA 1910
German titles
Engl. subtitles

A New York travelogue made for the European market

“In its time, this feature was filmed in large part as an invitation for tourists, especially from overseas, to visit New York. But the footage is interesting now for different reasons, as a portrait of what New York City looked like in 1910, and as an example of the development of early cinema techniques and methods. (…)
The camera movement is the most noticeable aspect of the technique, with the 1910 footage containing a number of smoothly done, effective pans. Then also, in a couple of scenes the camera moves upward to show the height of a skyscraper. These shots are not nearly as smooth as the horizontal pans, but in one of them there is an interesting (if possibly unintentional) effect, as the building outline fades away into fog or low-lying clouds.”
Snow Leopard (Ohio)

More New York films on this website:

>>> New York Stories, about 1900
>>> New York 1911
>>> Griffith and the New York Police Dept.
>>> Modern New York
>>> NYC: Newspapers and Skyscrapers
>>> Defilee
>>> New Brooklyn to New York via Brooklyn Bridge
>>> New York City “ghetto” fish market
>>> New York, pont de Brooklyn

685-Madrid 1910
Madrid hacia 1910
No credits. Sp 1910
Print: Filmoteca Ministerio de Cultura

Please, view this film on facebook!

>>> Éclair’s Travelogues



Capellani: Two Deadly Romances

Mortelle Idylle
R: Albert Capellani. B: André Heuzé. P: Pathé Frères. Fr 1906
Engl. subtitles

L’homme aux gants blancs
R: Albert Capellani. B: Georges Docquois (play). D: Henri Desfontaines, Marguerite Brésil, Alexandre Arquillière. P: Pathé Frères. Fr 1908
Engl. subtitles

“A major step forward since last year is the fact that we now have a reasonably complete print of L’Homme aux gants blancs. As it demonstrates, Capellani can cut in on those rare occasions when it’s necessary. Here we need to see the detail of the seamstress fixing a loose button on the new gloves, not just for its own sake but because those gloves will later be lost, found by a thief, and deliberately dropped beside the body of a woman whom the thief kills. The seamstress’ identification of the repaired glove leads to the arrest of the wrong man. In the final shot, the devil-may-care thief, witnessing the arrest, enjoys the irony by holding the door open for a police inspector and handing him his dropped cane. The ending is grim, since the paddy-wagon departs, leaving us to assume that the wrong man will be punished.”
Kristin Thompson on David Bordwell’s website on cinema

372-Rue Louis Besquel in Vincennes
The rue Louis Besquel, Vincennes, in Capellani’s L’Homme aux gants blancs
The Ciné-Tourist

>>> Capellani 1906Germinal 1913

The Biggest English Comedy Hit of the Year

Diving Lucy
R & P: Sagar Mitchell and James Kenyon. UK 1903

“The film was the most successful Mitchell & Kenyon film. A reviewer in ‘The Talking Machine News’ described it as a ‘decided novelty”‘, concluding ‘we do not remember seeing anything similar before’. It was also released in America in February 1904, where the Biograph Company advertised it as ‘the biggest English comedy hit of the year’. Alongside Biograph, the film was also distributed by the Edison Manufacturing Company.”

“Two men are at a pond in a park exclaiming, the camera moves so you can see two shapely legs in striped stockings sticking up in the middle of the pond. The two men get a bench and a plank in order to crawl out to the legs. One man gestures “come here” to someone off camera, and a third man appears. A policeman also arrives and he indicates he will crawl along the plank. He does so with the three men holding down the plank. He pulls the legs up and we see they are wooden with the word ‘Rats’ where the thighs would be. The men jump up and the policeman falls into the water.”

>>> non-fiction films made by Mitchell & Kenyon on this site

Earliest Dickens Film

The Death of Poor Joe
R: George Albert Smith. B: Charles Dickens (novel). D: Laura Bayley, Tom Green. P: Warwick Trading Company. UK 1900/01
Print: BFI National Archive

The Death of Poor Joe is a 1901 British short silent drama film, directed by George Albert Smith, which features the director’s wife Laura Bayley as Joe, a child street-sweeper who dies of disease on the street in the arms of a policeman. The film, which went on release in March 1901, takes its name from a famous photograph posed by Oscar Rejlander after an episode in Charles Dickens‘ ‘Bleak House’ and is the oldest known surviving film featuring a Dickens character.”

“The film was very likely to have been based on a stage original (Bayley was a stage actress and pantomime artist in Brighton) or possibly a magic lantern slide set. It has that look of deliberation which comes when something is being followed closely, particularly the actions of the nightwatchman. Further investigation of the film’s production origins may reveal just how closely or tangentially it is related to Dickens’ novel. The film is also interesting for the effect of the nightwatchman’s lamp light (created by a light shining off-screen) and for the wind-blown backdrop with the shadows of branches – the film was clearly made in the open-air (probably St Ann’s Well Gardens in Hove, when Smith had an open-air studio).”
Luke McKernan
The Bioscope

Scrooge, or, Marley’s Ghost
R: Walter R. Booth. B: Charles Dickens. D: Daniel Smith. P: Paul’s Animatograph Works (Robert W. Paul). UK 1901

“Produced by the English movie pioneer R. W. Paul, this version of ‘A Christmas Carol’ was, until the 2011 rediscovery of the Bleak House-derived The Death of Poor Joe (d. G.A. Smith, c.1900/1901), believed to be the earliest adaptation of Dickens’ work on film. The only known print, held by the BFI, is incomplete, but manages to tell enough of the story for it to be recognisable. As so often in the cinema’s early days, the filmmakers chose to adapt an already well-known story, assuming the audience’s familiarity with the tale meant less need for excessive inter-titles. There is evidence to suggest that Paul’s version of ‘A Christmas Carol’ was based as much on J.C. Buckstone‘s popular stage adaptation as on Dickens’ original story. (…) Although somewhat flat and stage-bound to modern eyes, this first cinematic excursion into Dickens’ most popular tale was an ambitious undertaking at the time. Not only did it attempt to tell an 80-page story in five minutes, but it featured impressive trick effects, superimposing Marley’s face over the door knocker and the scenes from his youth over a black curtain in Scrooge’s bedroom. Paul was a trick film specialist and Walter Booth – credited with the film’s direction – was a well-known magician.”
Ewan Davidson

>>> Dickens on Screen on this site