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.”
“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.”
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