Maciste, Italy’s Fairbanks


Maciste alpino

Three fragments

Maciste alpino
R: Luigi Maggi, Luigi Romano Borgnetto; Supervision Giovanni Pastrone. K: Giovanni Tomatis, Carlo Franzoni, Augusto Battagliotti. D: Bartolomeo Pagano, Fido Schirru, Enrico Gemelli, Marussia Allesti. P: Itala Film. It 1916
Print: Cineteca MNC
Frgm. I

Maciste alpino
Frgm. II

Maciste alpino
Frgm. III

“Maciste made his debut in the 1914 Italian silent movie classic Cabiria. (…) Maciste’s debut set the tone for his later adventures. Including Cabiria itself, there have been at least 52 movies featuring Maciste, 27 of them being pre-1927 silent films starring Bartolomeo Pagano and the other 25 being a series of sound/color films produced in the early 1960s. Typical plots involve tyrannical rulers who practice vile magical rituals or worship evil gods. Typically, the young lady who is the love interest runs afoul of the evil ruler. Maciste, who possesses superhuman strength, must rescue her. There is often a rightful king who wants to overthrow the evil usurper, as well as a belly dance scene. There is often an evil queen who has carnal designs on the hero. These films were set in locales including Mongolia, Peru, Egypt, and the Roman Empire.”

“Upon Cabiria’s release, the popular press and national and international audiences alike hailed Maciste as an Italian hero, despite his diegetic racial otherness, by readily and enthusiastically admiring his bravery and strength as well as his kindness and gentleness; they quickly dubbed him ‘Il gigante buono’ (the gentle giant). Following the film’s and the character’s phenomenal international success, Itala Film decided to produce a series of adventure films with Maciste as protagonist, beginning with Maciste (released in the United States as ‘Marvelous Maciste’, Vincenzo Dénizot and Romano Luigi Borgnetto, Itala, 1915), supervised by Pastrone. Pagano subsequently starred in approximately twenty films produced by Itala and other film companies, including Maciste alpino (‘The Warrior’, Giovanni Pastrone, Itala, 1916), Maciste innamorato (‘Maciste in love’, Romano Luigi Borgnetto, Itala, 1919), and Maciste in vacanza (‘Maciste on Vacation’, Romano Luigi Borgnetto, Itala, 1921).”
Jaqueline Reich: The Metamorphosis of Maciste in Italian Silent Cinema

“Pagani (!), or Maciste, as he has been known since the Cabiria film, is the Douglas Fairbanks of Italy. As a matter of fact, he out-Fairbanks Fairbanks, since he is almost twice as big as our own favorite athletic actor. Fairbanks has often whipped a whole township in live reels, but in ‘The Warrior’ Maciste makes the whole Austrian Army shake in its boots.
The Austro-Italian Alpine front furnished the background for most of the scenes, so that from a pictorial point of view the film is impressive. Through the intervention of Gabriele d’Annunzio, the poet, who wrote Cabiria, permission from the Italian Government was obtained to invade the fighting zone with the movie camera, so the fictional episodes are interlarded with views of real troop movements.”
The New York Times, July 17, 1917

>>> Maciste – The First Superhero on this site

A Dutch Director on a European Scale

An Attempt to Smash a Bank
R: Theo Frenkel Sen. P: Hepworth. UK 1909
Print: EYE collection

Frenkel made his acting debut in 1897 under the name Theo Bouwmeester, a reference to his famous mother and uncle. In 1904 he caused a furore in the play ‘In de Jonge Jan’, written by Herman Heijermans, which was a so-called transformation play in which Frenkel performed different roles. He also performed this piece abroad, in London, Paris, Brussels, and Madrid. During this tour, he came into contact with Charles Pathé, who hired him for a film role in his spare time.
Frenkel had acquired a taste of success, and after the tour, he had the opportunity to start working for the British producer Cecil Hepworth. Beginning in 1908, he worked as a director and actor for Hepworth in his studio in Walton-on-Thames. Over the course of eighteen months, Frenkel directed more than 50 short one-act films.
In the summer of 1910, Frenkel moved from Hepworth to Urban. Frenkel worked for Urban in its Hove studios (near Brighton), and also at the studios that Urban owned in Nice, in the south of France. In two years, he made more than 120 films for Urban. Two short one-act films from Frenkel’s British period are An Attempt to Smash a Bank and A Woman´s Treachery.”

A Woman’s Treachery
R: Theo Frenkel Sen. P: Hepworth. UK 1910
Print: EYE collection

“Theo Frenkel made more than 220 films between 1908 and 1925, but only a few have survived, making it impossible properly to assess his artistic importance. He was a director on a European scale, producing a vast body of work spanning Britain, France, Germany and the Netherlands. Frenkel preferred to call himself Theo Bouwmeester after his mother, who came from a well-known theatrical family in the Netherlands. Before entering the film industry, he worked as a stage actor in many countries. He directed his first film in Cecil Hepworth’s filmstudio in Walton-on-Thames (England) in 1908. He soon had his own troupe of actors and made more than fifty pictures in a variety of genres, mostly writing the scripts himself. In 1910 he became head of Charles Urban’s studio’s in Hove near Brighton (UK) and in Nice (France), where he directed more than 120 films in two years, many of them in colour, using one of the earliest colour systems, Kinemacolor. (…)
In his own country he was one of the most experienced directors at the time, and he waisted no time creating several sensational dramas such as Het wrak van de Noordzee (The Wreck of the North Sea, 1915), Genie tegen geweld (Genius Against Violence, 1916) and Pro domo (1918). After the war, Frenkel returned to Berlin to direct German-Dutch co-productions such as Alexandra (1922) and Frauenmoral (1923), but his international career was over.”
Karel Dibbets, Amsterdam

>>> Het wrak van de Noordzee and Genie tegen geweld on this site: Theo Frenkel

Émile Cohl – the Pathé Period

Emile Courtet was born in Paris in 1857 and adopted the pseudonym Cohl when he was 20 . He only began to take an interest in the cinema in 1907 – a year that marked a turning point in what was already a productive life and career. Between the ages of 18 and 50, Cohl plied a large number of trades. He worked mainly in satiric illustration (he was friend and disciple of André Gill), cartoons, journalism, and also theater and photography. He rubbed shoulders with many painters and writers: Victor Hugo, Courteline, Verlaine, François Coppée, Alphonse Allais, Alphonse Daudet, H. Gauthier-Villars (aka Willy), Caran d’Ache, Willette, Daubigny, and others. He belonged to two artistic movements, the Hydropathes and the Incohérents, and was a regular at the Lapin Agile and Chat Noir cabarets. Cohl came to the cinema as a fairground entertainer, but having no head for business, he preferred to offer his services as scenario writer and trick film director to Lux, and particularly to Gaumont, which he joined after a year working independently. After a short stint with Pathé (1911), he went independent again and made some films for Eclipse, before being sent by Eclair to work in their American studios in Fort Lee, New Jersey (1912-14) where, shortly after his return to France, the first animation studios would open (Raoul Barré and J.R. Bray).”
Les indépendants du premier siecle

Le retapeur de cervelles
R: Émile Cohl. P: Pathé Frères. Fr 1910/11

Le musée des grotesques
R: Émile Cohl. P: Pathé Frères. Fr 1911

“La période Pathé semble avoir été sous le signe d’un questionnement des conventions sociales car Émile Cohl s’attache, dans la totalité des films conservés, à dénoncer le jeu des apparences, qui dissimule et parfois brime, dans des situations codifiées, la vérité des êtres. Dans le Musée des grotesques, le rideau s’ouvre sur un visage aux traits angéliques bientôt transformés par la méchanceté, en raison d’une laideur d’âme, tandis qu’un autre, pourtant repoussant, nous est montré semblable à cette perle au cœur de l’huître. Dans le Retapeur de cervelles, le médecin pénètre la calotte crânienne du patient pour observer son cerveau. Les métamorphoses retracent, par le biais des métaphores, les motifs de son mal-être : jeune homme à l’égal d’un oiseau, bientôt mis en cage, il s’est vu contraint de courber l’échine. Adulte, il ne sait plus où donner de la tête, et le voilà avalé par la ‘maison’, c’est-à-dire par la vie matérielle. La guerre, réelle ou imaginaire, a fragilisé l’homme mûr et sa ‘cafetière’ prend l’eau.”
Valérie Vignaux: Les carnets filmographiques d’Émile Cohl ou le mouvement d’une œuvre : l’image par image de Gaumont à Éclair

>>> more Cohl films on this site: Émile Cohl, Master of Animation

Class Conflicts


P: Éclair. Fr 1911
German version
Print: Deutsches Filminstitut-DIF

View the film on

“Der Kurzfilm thematisiert Klassenkonflikte am Vorabend des Ersten Weltkriegs in ungewöhnlich deutlicher Form. Erstaunlich sind die explizite Darstellung von Gewalt gegen einen Angehörigen der Oberschicht sowie der Einsatz der Zwischentitel, die hier nicht der Erläuterung von gerade laufenden Szenen, sondern der Ankündigung von nachfolgenden Szenen dienen. Dadurch werden Dialoge und Handlungselemente bereits eingeführt, bevor sie zu sehen sind. Bei der hier digitalisierten Fassung aus dem Archiv des Deutschen Filminstituts handelt es sich wohl um die weltweit einzige Überlieferung des Films.”

The Automobile Adventure Genre

557-OctaviusClick at the picture

The Adventure of the Hasty Elopement
R: Charles M. Seay. B: Frederic Arnold Kummer. D: Barry O’Moore, Julian Reed, Viola Dana. P: Edison Company. USA 1914

The Adventure of the Hasty Elopement (1914) describes itself in a lengthy subtitle as ‘A story of Octavius, Amateur Detective, by Frederick Arnold Kummer, based on a story from the Pictorial Review, October 1914.’
Frederic(k) Arnold Kummer, Jr., was a member in high standing in the development of the Detective Short Story, the short form having been the predominant form from Poe to after World War II. Many of his short tales were adapted as silent films of the ‘teens & ‘twenties, but his heyday had passed by the time of the talkies, despite that he continued to write for detective pulps & sold steadily in hardcover collections. The influence of Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes was profound in Kummer’s day, even to adapting the phrase ‘The Adventure of the’ preface for each story in a collection.
The quarter-hour Adventure of the Hasty Elopement is actually a spoof of the detective genre, in that amateur sleuth Octavius (Barry O’Moore, who played Octavius in a handful of these short films) may think himself another Sherlock, but seems to be shy a few deductions. He buys an automobile, quite a pleasant vehicle, & the film should be classified ‘automobile adventure genre’ which was a real film & book genre that lost its cache when autos had been around long enough to take for granted. (…)”
Paghat the Ratgirl

Dr. X – Mephisto in Denmark

Dr. X
R: Robert Dinesen. B: Niels Th. Thomsen. K: Sophus Wangøe. D: Gunnar Tolnæs, Carlo Wieth, Johanne Fritz-Petersen, Henry Seemann. P: Nordisk. Dk 1915
Ital. intertitles

Print temporarily unavailable

Doktor Voluntas (aka Dr. X) is a fairly obscure melodrama. Its presentation of a master puppeteer guiding the lives of innocents, as Ron Mottram has pointed out, looks forward to German Expressionism. Just as striking, however, is Robert Dinesen’s bold use of composition and staging.
Felix, an introverted researcher, asks the worldly Dr. Voluntas to guide him toward worldly pleasures. Dr. Voluntas accepts the invitation and leads his laboratory rival down the path of dissipation. One striking motif is that of a sweeping darkness associated with Voluntas’ control over Felix. Early on, both men become shadowy figures coming out of the foreground when Voluntas takes Felix to a jewelry shop. (…)

About the Nordisk culture:
My main point, though, is to show the level of achievement — one attained, remarkably, within only a few years. Progress is always a contentious notion in the arts, but when several artists share norms, purposes, and circumstance (here, a common studio culture), we can sometimes identify a growing mastery of technique. From the awkwardness of the office boy in Pat Corner in 1909 we can identify a growing confidence in choreography (depth, blockage, mirrors) that leads to the sustained intricacy of the pub scene in The Moth and the Flame and the bravura vivacity of Dr. Voluntas. In at least some films, the Nordisk directors display a progressive refinement of basic staging principles.”
David Bordwell: Nordisk and the Tableau Aesthetic

>>> on this site: August Blom and the Nordisk

Stanner E.V. Taylor

The Conflict’s End
R: Stanner E.V. Taylor. D: Marion Leonard, Harry F. Millarde, Josephine Crowell. P: Rex Motion Picture Company. USA 1912
Print: EYE Collection / Desmet Collection
Engl. intertitles

EYE quotes the Dutch title “Een bende valsemunters opgerold door de pers”, following Ivo Blom who translates (for his English speaking readers): “A Gang of Counterfeiters Caught by the Press”, adding it to the “number of films in the Desmet Collection that have not been identified and have been dated at around 1915 or 1916”. (Ivo Blom: Jean Desmet and the Early Dutch Film Trade. Amsterdam University Press, Amsterdam 2003, p. 413/414). The Filmografie Desmet Collectie identifies the film as The Eternal Conflict, 1912. This film, also directed by Stanner E.V. Taylor and casting Marion Leonard, has been released in the US at 12 May 1912, The Conflict’s End at 22 September 1912. So, the films look like two parts of the same stuff.

Stanner worked as a freelance writer before landing a job at the New York Herald. During the evenings, he wrote plays. Shortly thereafter, Stanner ran into someone from the Biograph Company at a diner. They got to talking, and the man suggested Stanner write some scenarios for them. Stanner started working for Biograph as a scenario writer in 1907-08. Around the same time, Griffith and actress Marion Leonard joined the studio. Stanner penned 1908’s The Adventures of Dollie, the first short Griffith ever directed. (…)
From 1908-1910, Stanner wrote about 64 scenarios for Biograph, most of them for Griffith, including In Old California, which is the first movie (short) ever made in Hollywood, in 1910. 1910-1911 were transitional years for Stanner and Marion Leonard, who at some point became Stanner’s second wife; they fell in love after working so closely together at Biograph. Both Stanner and Marion also worked for several other companies during this time, and they tried to capitalize on Marion’s popularity as an actress while Stanner transitioned into producing and directing.
Stanner and Marion created the Gem Motion Picture Company in 1911. The first release was supposed to be in January, but the company ran into trouble with Thomas Edison and copyright restrictions; Edison was patenting sprocket holes, and it’s hard to make a movie without those! Edison ended up with 26 of Gem’s films and the company soon folded. However, the duo rebounded quickly and formed the Monopol Film Company in 1912 to make films on their own.”
Steve Taylor about his grandfather:
American Cinematheque

“Taylor expanded to writing, directing and producing and made over 100 films before retiring in 1926. As a silent film pioneer, he was the first director to receive on screen credit (1910), the first screenwriter to work on retainer, the first producer to be pictured in a film advertisement (1913), and his 1913 production of Carmen contained 426 scenes. S.E.V. Taylor created the first quadruple exposure in-camera visual effects shot in Monopol’s The Dead Secret (1913) with Marion Leonard playing a dual role.”
S.C.V. Taylor

>>> The Adventures of Dollie on this site: The Very First Griffith

Old London

Old London Street Scenes
No credits. UK 1903
Print: BFI

“This footage shows a number of scenes shot around central London, taking in locations such as Hyde Park Corner, Parliament Square and Charing Cross Station. We see crowds of people disembarking from a pleasure steamer at Victoria Embankment, pedestrians dodging horse-drawn carriages in Pall Mall, and heavy traffic trotting down the Strand. There are plenty of famous landmarks to spot here, including Big Ben, the National Gallery and the Bank of England, and it is fascinating to see the similarities between the customs of “then” and “now” – the dense traffic (mainly horse-drawn, with the occasional motor car) is highly reminiscent of today’s London rush hour, whilst advertising on public transport is clearly no new phenomenon – in one scene, an advert for Nestlé’s Milk seems to be plastered on every other vehicle.”
Alex Davidson

“Among the earliest actualities filmed by the Lumieres were single street scenes, some well-known street in a major city and they quickly fell into a pattern, ending with a public transportation vehicle pulling into the center of the frame to end the film; even the one showing ended with a rickshaw pulling up. This assortment is a bit different, suggesting that the whole is more than the sum of its parts. It’s not a startling insight of the makers of this film. Brief, single-shot actualities were already on their way out and travelogues would become quite elaborate with a few years. Even so, it’s pleasant and early in the process.”
IMDb / boblipton

Lord Mayor’s Show
P: Topical Film Company. UK 1914
Print: BFI

“In November 1914, the newsreel cameras were out in force to catch all the pomp of Lord Mayor’s Show – the centuries-old tradition in which the newly-elected Lord Mayor of London pledges loyalty to the Crown. Vast crowds came out to glimpse Sir Charles Johnston – seen here descending from the majestic state coach – and to support the parading military personnel, shortly off to war in Europe.”
BFI Player

>>> Mitchell & Kenyon

Two Selig Thrillers

When the Night Call Came
R: Edward LeSaint. B: William E. Wing. D: Guy Oliver, Eugenie Besserer, Joe King. P: Selig Polyscope Company. USA 1914
Dutch titles
Print: EYE collection (Desmet collection)

“When the night call came, it found a young woman struggling with great emotions, the better impulses of her sex battling against the perverted sordid side of her nature. It was the culmination of the biggest game Nell Delaney and her gang had ever undertaken. The girl, in order to land an over-cautious victim, had actually married Karl Kreidt, an unsophisticated young man, who had just come into possession of a large amount of money. He was thoroughly infatuated with the woman, could do naught but plan for her comfort, and so fell into the trap she had devised. Lured into a lonely house at night, he surrendered his fortune to the crooks rather than meet death, never knowing that Nell was the chief plotter. (…)”
Moving Picture World synopsis

A Freight Train Drama
R: Francis Boggs. D: Frank Weed, Winifred Greenwood, Margaret Carle. P: Selig Polyscope Company. USA 1912
Dutch titles
Print: EYE collection (Desmet collection)

“The Selig Polyscope Company was founded in 1896 by ‘Colonel’ William Selig. Although Selig Polyscope holds the distinction of becoming the first film company to erect a permanent studio in Southern California, Selig got his start in his native Chicago. After spending time in California with a traveling minstrel show, Selig returned to Chicago with a wealth of theater management experience and an interest in the Kinetoscope. Using drawings of the Lumiere Cinematographie, Selig, along with his machinist, were able to build their own camera, the Selig Standard Camera. (…)
In 1901, Armour & Co., reeling from Upton Sinclair’s ‘The Jungle’, was eager to have their meat processing plant shown in a good light, and contracted Selig. The end result was, as ‘Moving Picture World’ described it, the greatest advertisement the company ever had.
Selig’s first dabble with animal pictures was born as the result of a denied request to join Theodore Roosevelt as he hunted big game in Africa. When Selig’s cameraman was denied permission to accompany Roosevelt on his expedition, Selig did the next best thing. He staged and filmed a hunt using retired circus animals. Released in May 1909, Hunting Big Game in Africa represented a turning point for Selig and the first of many animal pictures.
In addition to being one of the first film pioneers in Chicago and in the world, Selig was also a pioneer in the genres he produced. Widely loved and respected for his thrill pictures, he sent teams of players, directors and cinematographers west to make westerns and animal pictures. Still, he continued to make films in Chicago. He moved his plant to Irving Park Blvd. and Western Ave. and brought popular stories to the big screen – including some of the earliest film adaptations of ‘The Wizard of Oz’ and ‘Two Orphans’ (D.W. Griffith’s Orphans of the Storm is the best known adaptation of the story). The studio even teamed with the Chicago Tribune briefly to produce newsreels. Selig is also credited as the pioneer of the two-reeler. (…)”
Chicago Nitrate

>>> Selig’s Tropical Jungle Zoo

>>> the Pathé film Theodore Roosevelt in Africa