Germany 1903

Akt-Skulpturen. Studienfilm für bildende Künstler
R / K: Oskar Messter. P: Messters Projection GmbH. D 1903
Print: Jugolovenska Kinoteka

“Um die Zensur zu umgehen, müssen die Kamera und die Modelle starr sein. Die Drehbühne ist eine raffinierte Methode, um die Aktmodelle aus jedem Blickwinkel zu zeigen. Oskar Messter (1866-1943) macht sich hier die Inszenierung des Lebenden Gemäldes zu Eigen, die es dem Publikum ermöglicht Nacktheit zu sehen, ohne dass es verwerflich wäre.”

“Messter engagierte für das Projekt etliche der bekanntesten Berliner Modelle der damaligen Zeit, die nackt auf einer Drehbühne mehrere Szenen aus der Mythologie, Geschichte und der Literatur nachstellen sollten. Zwei unbekleidete, wohlgeformte Körper symbolisierten beispielsweise den ‘Kult um Körper und Schönheit’, ein typisch deutsches Ideal jener Zeit. Gleichzeitig wird deutlich, dass Messter auch der kommerzielle Erfolg durchaus wichtig war – die erotischen Szenen sollten natürlich so viele Zuschauer wie möglich in die Kinosäle locken, die damals eine noch ganz neue Attraktion darstellten.”
The Nitrate Picture Postcards (Katalog des 11. Festivals des Nitratfilms, Seite 20)

“Bending, sitting, standing—what we have here is a combination of Edweard Muybridge and Edgar Degas, and it’s lovely.
Is it innocent? Would you want your kids to see it? We should acknowledge that there’s always a degree of sensuality in this kind of thing. But this kind of thing, and certainly in this particular film, sensuality is subordinated, balanced by other considerations. Structure, musculature, movement—actual, or intimated—the miracle of the organism! This is precisely what you’d get at the most circumspect art studio, and in the most decorous of life drawing classes.
Just as cool: these figures are posing on a fabulous rotating apparatus. The camera that records is completely static, but the wheel turns for each composition. The effect is quite electrifying, something like the tracking shot that Georges Méliès contrived when he brought the moon to his camera in 1902. Cinema? Absolutely! The effect put me in mind of the luminous (controversial!) Greece-to-Germany opening of Leni Riefenstahl’s Olympia (1936).”
Dean Duncan
Films in Review

Luftnummer (Up in the Air)
R / P: Julius Neubronner. D 1903
Print: Deutsches Filminstitut – DIF e.V.

Julius Neubronner (1852-1932), a chemist and inventor from Kronberg, was one of the first people to film in the Rhine-Main region. He purchased his first camera in 1903, a ‘Kino’ manufactured by Dresdner Foto-Firma. With his camera Neubronner recorded historical events as well as the everyday life of his family. Furthermore, he also shot short sketches performed by himself and his family on a stage set-up in the garden of their home. ‘Up in the Air’ shows two of Neubronner’s sons on a trapeze.”
Filmarchives online

Moren tanzt (Moren Dances)
R / P: Julius Neubronner. D 1903
Print: Deutsches Filminstitut – DIF e.V.

“‘Moren Dances’ shows amateur footage of a bank employee from Kronberg performing a number of female impersonations before a backdrop in Neubronner’s garden. He appears dressed up as harlequin, geisha and Roman woman.”

Sacha Guitry Film Director

448-Oscar rencontre...

Oscar rencontre Mademoiselle Manageot
R / P: Sacha Guitry. Fr 1914

Film temporarily not available

Sacha Guitry, original name Alexandre-Georges Guitry (1885 – 1957), prodigious French playwright, director, and screenwriter who often acted in his own productions. (…)
It is difficult to draw an absolute distinction between his work as an actor and as a playwright, for his art was always to some extent in the nature of brilliant improvisation. His output was enormous: he had over 90 plays produced out of 130 that he wrote. He wrote a number of serious plays for his father to act in, including ‘Debureau’ (1918), ‘Pasteur’ (1919), and ‘Béranger’ (1920). He wrote, directed, and acted in many motion pictures, of which the best known was perhaps Roman d’un tricheur (1936; “The Cheat”). His autobiography, ‘Mémoires d’un tricheur’ (translated into English as ‘If I Remember Right’), appeared in 1935. He was made commander of the Legion of Honour in 1936 and elected to the Académie Goncourt in 1939.”
Encyclopaedia Britannica

Griffith: Home, Sweet Home

Home, Sweet Home
R: David W. Griffith, B: H.E. Aitken, D.W. Griffith. K: G.W. Bitzer. D: Robert Harron, Mae Marsh, Henry Walthall, Josephine Crowell, Lillian Gish, Dorothy Gish, Donald Crisp, James Kirkwood, Jack Pickford, Courtenay Foote, Blanche Sweet, Owen Moore. P: Reliance Motion Picture Corporation and Majestic Motion Picture Company. USA 1914

“All the best players under Griffith’s command are in this feature at one time or another. In illustrating the effect of the immortal song, together with the early life and death of the author of it, along with an allegory of the great good the lyric has accomplished, the scenario writers delved into love and the Wild West.
The first reels are devoted to John Howard Payne, showing him to have written the song in a foreign land, dying shortly after. The next episode is a western mining camp, to which comes a young easterner, who falls in love. They become engaged; the easterner is called back home; his love for a young woman of his own set is rekindled; he returns to the camp, and leaves without seeing Mary, but on his way back is stopped by an organ grinder playing ‘Home Sweet Home’.
In the third episode, a wife about to become unfaithful to her husband is stopped by the music of a violin above her apartment playing the strain, and she travels thereafter in the dutiful path.”

“Program notes for this (…) production – the first feature-length episode film produced in the United States – indicate that companies and reviewers were using the term ‘episode’ to denote the individual stories within multi-narrative works as early as the 1910s and 1920s (and that only much later did critics begin inventing neologisms such as ‘dramette’,’cinemanecdote’, and so on to describe an episode). Home, Sweet Home also anticipates subsequent ‘rushes to the relicts’, to paraphrase Tom Gunning‘s description of adaptation in his study of the origins of American narrative film.”
David Scott Diffrient: Omnibus Films: Theorizing Transauthorial Cinema. Edinburgh University Press 2014, p. 38

Griffith 1912

The Sunbeam
R: David W. Griffith. B: George Hennessy. K: G.W. Bitzer. D: Ynez Seabury, Kate Bruce, Claire McDowell, Dell Henderson. P: American Biograph. USA 1912

The Sunbeam is most often praised for its editing, pretty sophisticated for the time. The action of the film takes place in one apartment building with characters running back and forth between their rooms and the hallway. In spite of this, the audience is always aware of where they are. This may not seem like a big deal but the power editing was only just beginning to be recognized at this point in movie history.”
Fritzi Kramer
Movies Silently

The Mender of Nets
R: David W. Griffith. K: G.W. Bitzer. D: Mary Pickford, Charles West, Mabel Normand, Charles Hill Mailes, Marguerite Marsh. P: American Biograph. USA 1912

The Mender of Nets is a classic D.W. Griffith, Biograph melodramatic story, which shows the Santa Monica Bay in Southern California in its undeveloped splendor and Mabel Normand before her comic genius was captured by Mack Sennett’s Keystone comedies in all her brilliances. (…)
The opening title cards reads 1910 but it was made during the 1912 season of the Biograph Company in California. WDG (sic!) had already developed a powerful command of the cinematic language, which is represented in The Mender of Nets by his impressive use of a series of cross-cuts to create and provoke the suspense.”
Marilyn Slater
Looking for Mabel Normand

>>> Mack Sennett and Mabel Normand

Also on this site:

Griffith 1911

The Rose of Kentucky
R: David W. Griffith. K: G.W. Bitzer. D: Wilfred Lucas, Marion Sunshine, Charles West, Kate Bruce. P: Biograph Company. USA 1911

“In The Rose of Kentucky – not one of the filmmaker’s better Biographs – the Klan are featured as villains, not the good guys. There are no African Americans present, but the hero, a white plantation owner, must shoot a couple of them to save the day (and the woman). After the gunfight, those Klan members still standing agree with the hero that they’ve done wrong and promise they’ll now go straight. (…) The Rose of Kentucky appeared in 1911, leading us to conjecture that Griffith, having assigned them as rogue villains that year, made an about face and filmed them as avenging saviors of Southern honor a mere three years later, partially (but not only) because he’d found a property with a good clinching climax.
To give an audience a damn good race to the rescue was certainly Griffith’s priority, here and elsewhere in his career, but the director seemed hard-wired to want historical films like Birth [of a Nation] to simultaneously, along with the thrills, operate as agents of enlightenment or of cultivation. To him this was how motion pictures entered the realm of high-toned works of art, those, that is, deemed worth of enduring, unlike those that merely offered coarse entertainment.”
Gordon Thomas: A Film Divided Against Itself: D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation (1915)

His Trust / His Trust Fulfilled
R: David W. Griffith. B: Emmett C. Hall. K: G.W. Bitzer. D: Wilfred Lucas, Dell Henderson, Claire McDowell, Edith Haldeman, Dorothy West, Kate Bruce, Gladys Egan. P: American Biograph. USA 1911

His Trust and His Trust Fulfilled are two one-reel films directed by D.W. Griffith in 1911. They were meant to be played as one story but due to technical limitations of the day were released separately. (…)
It is a somewhat touching story of an old black, an Uncle Tom like character who takes care of the daughter of his dead master. Many of the battle scenes are precursors of what Griffith would do later in Birth of a Nation and his attitudes towards race while not as pronounced as in that later film are quite apparent.”

“Released three days apart in early 1911, these two films constitute Griffith’s first two-reel production, though his wish to have them exhibited as a single film was overruled by his Biograph bosses. (…)
These films provide a compressed version of The Birth of a Nation, narrating both the Civil War and Reconstruction from the point of view of a southern hearth that is irrevocably disrupted by history itself. Military matters are dispatched in a few short minutes,  and in any case rendered meaningless without the home front to endure, interpret, and give context and consequence to their events. The crisis of His Trust and His Trust Fulfilled is not black political dominance and sexual predation, which cries out for white vigilant justice in The Birth of a Nation; more simply, but no less urgently, it is the precarious position of a young white girl whose family has been ravaged by the cosmic forces of a war she is too young and innocent to understand. In shepherding the girl through these hardships and delivering her to the wedding altar, George single-handedly reassembles the shattered dream of the Old South for modernity. In his steadfast fealty to his master, George foregoes personhood in favour of continued submission to the familial – and by extension in this context, social and political – vision of his long-deceased owner and to the slave era that expired in law bur not in spirit in 1865.”
Deborah Barker, Kathryn B. McKee: American Cinema and the Southern Imaginary. University of Georgia Press 2011, p. 38-39

Also on this site:

Griffith 1910

Rose O’Salem Town
R: David W. Griffith. D: Marion Leonard, Henry B. Walthall, Clara T. Bracey, W. Chrystie Miller, Gladys Egan, Guy Hedlund, Alfred Paget, Arthur V. Johnson, George Nichols sr, Dorothy West. P: Biograph Company. USA 1910
Print: EYE Filmmuseum
Dutch titles

The Two Brothers
R: David W. Griffith. B: Eleanor Hicks. K: G.W. Bitzer, Arthur Marvin. D: Arthur V. Johnson, Dell Henderson, Kate Bruce, Marion Leonard, Charles West, Henry B. Walthall, W. Chrystie Miller. P: Biograph Company. USA 1910
Print: EYE Filmmuseum
German titles

As It Is in Life
R: David W. Griffith. B: Stanner E.V. Taylor. K: G.W. Bitzer. D: George Nichols, Gladys Egan, Mary Pickford, Kate Bruce, Charles West. P: American Biograph. USA 1910

D. W. Griffith took the core of his Biograph team to southern California in late January 1910, almost as a reward for their performance in a grueling schedule in 1909. They had completed 143 short films (78 in the first six months of the year), nearly 3 per week on average. But it was more opportunity than reward. California provided almost limitless scenic possibilities in an outdoor environment far more hospitable for motion picture work than New York, New Jersey and Connecticut in the winter months. And although Biograph had secured the rental of an indoor stage in Los Angeles that was at least twice the size of what they had available to them at the New York studio, most of the thirty or so films completed during the three months they would spend in California were shot entirely outdoors.
Among these outdoor films was As It Is in Life, made during the fourth week of shooting in California. Though a minor Biograph film, As It Is in Life is interesting in several ways, particularly its structure and the acting styles. Essentially the film consists of three parts, an introduction to the primary characters and their motivations, a central section where most of the action and all of the ‘drama’ takes place, and the dénouement: a resolution that takes tragedy and gives it a positive conclusion — a ‘happy ending’ that was hardly typical of the Biograph product of the period.
The final sequence of the film (…) may seem a bit forced, but a tidy and, yes, hasty conclusion was a product of the hard reality of the single-reel, 1000 foot maximum length imposed by the industry — the producers, distributors and exhibitors — in the years preceding the rise of the multiple reel and ‘feature’-length motion picture. The alternative would have been to end the film with tragedy. Biograph was already well-known for such endings, and this may have been no more than an effort by Griffith to do what was, perversely, the unexpected for a Biograph product of 1910.”
Gene Zonarich
THE PICKFORD BIOGRAPHS: “AS IT IS IN LIFE” (with a nod to Gladys Egan)

The House with Closed Shutters
R: D.W. Griffith. B: Emmett C. Hall. K: G.W. Bitzer. D: Henry B. Walthall, Grace Henderson, Dorothy West, Joseph Graybill, Charles West. P: American Biograph. USA 1910

“Griffith’s eye for iconic imagery that heightens the emotive intensity of his film making is apparent in The House with Closed Shutters. The strongest example of this is the relationship between the confederate flag and the heroic sister. The film opens with the emblematic image of the confederate flag being sewed by the soldier’s sister (…). She is next seen with the flag when she has taken the place of her brother on the battlefield, where she recklessly carries it beyond the soldiers in front of her and is shot down by the opposing forces.
Griffith’s perceived racism is well documented, but in this instance Griffith must be commended for allowing his female protagonist possess the valour and bravery that the male protagonist lacks. Given that in the US, women would not be permitted to join the military in roles other than nurses until 1940 when the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) was formed and that they would have to wait until 1978 to serve alongside their fellow male troops; Griffith deserves credit for making this bold move.
The film’s most impressive scenes involve the complex choreography of the battle scenes. Griffith portrays a carnage filled battlefield with great success; although smoke covers up much of the immediate image as the Confederate forces fire at their enemy, the image of the Yankees emerging from the smoke to viciously overrun their opposing forces is one of early cinema’s most iconic images.”
Film ab Initio

A Child of the Ghetto
R: David W. Griffith. B: Stanner E.V. Taylor, K: G.W. Bitzer / Arthur Marvin. D: Dorothy West, Kate Bruce, Dell Henderson, Charles West, Henry B. Walthall.
P: American Biograph. USA 1910

A Child of the Ghetto was made at the height of Griffith’s career at Biograph, a period when he was perfecting the storytelling power of the film medium. Like Romance of a Jewess, this is a story of Lower East Side life, and Griffith again captures in near-documentary style the hustle and bustle of Rivington Street. Griffith’s development of editing techniques since 1908 is evident; although both films are about the same length, A Child of the Ghetto has forty-six shots while Romance of a Jewess has only thriteen!
The movement from city slums to pastoral country differentiates A Child of the Ghetto from most other American Jewish films of this period. The city is seen as a place of hardship, exploitation, and false accusation, while the country offers health, trust, beauty, and love. Griffith seems to indicate that immigrant Jews would improve their lives by moving out of the ghetto, a possibility entertained by few other films. A Child of the Ghetto is also one of the earliest films to treat an interfaith romance unproblematically.”
The National Center for Jewish Film

>>> Romance of a Jewess on this site: Griffith 1908

Also on this site:

Griffith 1909

The Violin Maker of Cremona
R: D.W. Griffith. B: Frank E. Woods, from the play by Françoise Coppée. K: G.W. Bitzer. D: David Miles, Herbert Prior, Mary Pickford, Owen Moore, Mack Sennett. P: American Biograph. USA 1909

“The new year brought a significant acceleration in the pace of Griffith’s activity. While he produced 30 films in the last quarter of 1908 (no mean feat in itself!), he issued the staggering total of 44 in the first three months of 1909. (That’s one complete picture every two days – including weekends!) The total release footage rose by only 20%. Rather, the increase seems to have stemmed from a change in company policy – more than half of Biograph’s twice-weekly releases now consisted of split reels (containing two shorter films) rather than a single full-length subject – and Griffith apparently was responsible for their entire output.
Not surprisingly, the accelerated pace took a toll in quality. The need for a greater number of stories resulted in a profusion of insipid drawing-room tales that are totally devoid of social significance. Production values plunged as well – of the 44 films, more than a third consist of only one or two sets and camera positions monotonously intercut. Predictably, Griffith lavished the least attention on the shortest films (some of which run a mere three minutes or so). Griffith’s distaste for these perfunctory shorts is further suggested by two facts. First, the total length of each Biograph release nearly always comes within a few feet of a full reel (1,000 35 mm feet – an important target for both Biograph, which sold its release prints outright to film exchanges by the foot, and to Griffith, who earned a royalty on each foot of film sold). Second, the shorter film in a split reel generally was shot much closer to the release date than the longer subject, and often was finished in a single day. All of this suggests that Griffith had to make films to order and put off the task of making the filler of a split-reel program as long as possible.
In the meantime, in several films of 1909 Griffith explored the creative potential of fade-outs. The first was A Baby’s Shoe (April 5, 6 and 12) in which a man discovers that his fiancée is in fact his long-lost sister and enters the priesthood. The final shot shows him and a senior priest kneeling to pray together as the background fades, leaving their faces fully illuminated. The effect is wonderfully suggestive of the world and its disappointments literally fading away, leaving the faithful suspended in a spiritual space free of earthly anchors. A similar concluding partial fadeout to suggest religious meditation would be found in A Strange Meeting (June 11 and 17). Next, though, was The Violin Maker of Cremona (April 21, 22 and 23), which ends after the title character loses his girl to a rival, foregoes a prize he has won, smashes his violin and returns alone to his room where the lighting begins to dim, thus clearly reflecting his state of mind. Somewhat less creatively, Fools of Fate (August 27 – 30) used a fade-out literally, but in the course of its story rather than only at the end, as two hunters bed down for the night. (Since the scene was shot outdoors, the effect must have been achieved by stopping down the lens rather than by dimming the light.)”
Peter Gutmann
Classical Notes

Pippa Passes
R: D.W. Griffith. B: Robert Browning (play). K: G.W. Bitzer. D: Gertrude Robinson, George Nichols, Arthur V. Johnson, Mary Pickford, Mack Sennett. P: American Biograph. USA 1909

“Griffith made a number of technical innovations in this film that made it a cut above the average film offering of the day. But by far the most important departure from ‘cheap melodrama’ was the very adaptation of Browning to film itself, which was, as the Times reviewer noted, ‘the most rarified dramatic stuff up to date’. In the light of modern film adaptations of literature, the relative artistic merits of the two works are not difficult to judge: the Browning play is without doubt the better work of art. Moreover, there is no real evidence to suggest that Griffith would have rendered the story any more poetically or with less didacticism had the technical limitations he faced in the medium not existed. His most powerful and lyrical visual poetry was still ahead of him, and in any case, as James Agee observes: ‘He doesn’t appear ever to have realized one of the richest promises that movies hold, as a perfect medium for realism raised to the level of high poetry; nor, oddly enough, was he much of a dramatic poet.’ In Pippa Passes, in fact, he does much harm in many ways to the dramatic poetry of his source. The film is, despite its contemporary and popular success, one of those aesthetic failures in the oeuvre of an artist that reveals in its flaws the aesthetic problems besetting him, problems which, in later and more genuinely successful works, are not as readily apparent.”
Ferdinand Alexi Hilenski

The Necklace
R: D.W. Griffith. B: Based on the short story “La parure” by Guy de Maupassant. K: G.W. Bitzer, Arthur Marvin. D: Rose King, Herbert Prior, Caroline Harris, Mary Pickford, Charles Avery, Charles Inslee, Arthur V. Johnson, James Kirkwood, Florence Lawrence. P: American Biograph. USA 1909
Print: Paper Print Collection in the Library of Congress

“‘The Diamond Necklace’ ( ‘La parure’) by Guy de Maupassant portrays the complexities and consequences of keeping up appearances in the 19th century. Mathilde is a young and beautiful woman, struggling with the ordinary circumstances of her life and marriage. When she is invited to a fancy ball with her husband, she borrows a diamond necklace from a friend. To her horror, she finds the necklace to be gone by the end of the night. The couple must now find a way to quickly replace the necklace, but the cost turns out to be terribly high. The story has inspired film adaptations, such as the silent film The Nacklace (1909).”

Also on this site:

Griffith 1908

Money Mad
R: David W. Griffith. B: David W. Griffith. K: G.W. Bitzer. D: Charles Inslee, George Gebhardt, Arthur V. Johnson, Florence Lawrence, Mack Sennett. P: American Mutoscope & Biograph. USA 1908

D.W. Griffith set some of his most important Biograph films – The Song of the Shirt (1908), Money Mad (1908), A Child of the Ghetto (1910), The Lily of the Tenements (1911) – in the ghetto neighborhoods of New York City, and in this he was no different from many other filmmakers of the time. However, unlike most of his colleagues in the industry, who used such locations primarily as colorful backdrops for standard melodramas, Griffith sought to advance a markedly progressive agenda through these films, one that used melodrama to critique the systemic corruption and vice found in the inner city.”
Steven Higgins: Still Moving: The Film and Media Collections of The Museum of Modern Art. New York City 2006, p. 43

The Song of the Shirt
R: D.W. Griffith. B: D.W. Griffith, Thomas Hood (story). K: G.W. Bitzer. D: Linda Arvidson, George Gebhardt, Robert Harron, Florence Lawrence, Alfred Paget, Mack Sennett. P: American Mutoscope & Biograph. USA 1908

Romance of a Jewess
R: David W. Griffith. K: G.W. Bitzer. D: Florence Lawrence, George Gebhardt, Gladys Egan, Arthur V. Johnson, Alfred Paget. P: American Biograph. USA 1908

“This early D.W. Griffith short shows the director’s interest in Jewish ghetto life, portrayed here with sympathy and sentimentality. The melodramatic plot involves the conflict between generations that life in the New World brought to the Jewish family.
Lower East Side street scenes blend actors from the Biograph Studios (such as the young Gladys Eagan) with actual street vendors and passersby in such a natural way that it is obvious they were shot candidly with a hidden camera. The part of Ruth, heroine of the story is played by Florence Lawrence, the ‘Biograph Girl’ whose popularity with audiences was such that she became the first American movie star even before her name was known. Romance of a Jewess anticipates Jewish immigrant dramas like The Jazz Singer and His People. Griffith explored similar themes in Old Isaacs, The Pawnbroker and A Child of the Ghetto.”
The National Center for Jewish Film

Also on this site:

Alice Guy: La Marâtre, 1906

La Marâtre
R: Alice Guy. P: Société des Etablissements L. Gaumont. Fr 1906

Guy’s distinct point of view was to be seen in her story films, and she was among the first to make them. She worked from scripts, which she wrote as well as directed. Though she produced such typical period genres as chase films or those derived from fairy tales, these often featured a twist. The folktale of children born in a cabbage patch is the subject of her first film, La Fée aux choux (The Cabbage Fairy). In the story, babies are presented as if they are new cameras for sale. The theme of the complications of parenthood recurs in many of her films, whether La Fée Printemps (1906), in which a fairy magically transforms winter to spring and delivers a newborn from a garden to expectant parents, or Madame a des envies (Madame Has Cravings, 1906), a new kind of chase film, where a pregnant woman races through town, husband and child in tow, stealing foods to satisfy her cravings. Guy also addressed the duplicity and brutality of a stepmother (La Marâtre, 1906) and the same year made her epic La Vie du Christ, with sets and costumes based on the realist illustrations in a famous James Tissot bible, using some twenty-five sets and hundreds of extras, for a film running ca. thirty-four minutes long, at a time when the norm was a maximum of six or seven minutes.”

>>> early Guy films on this site: Special effects: The Beginnings