A Surrealistic Fairy Tale

Soñar despierto / Superstition andalouse
R / B / K: Segundo de Chomón. P: Ibérico Film / Pathé Frères. Sp / Fr 1912
Engl. titles

This film was written, directed, and photographed (plus special effects and tinting) by Segundo de Chomón. Distribution: Pathé Frères. Quoted by the Filmographie Pathé as “scène de conte”, a kind of scenic narrative.

Segundo de Chomón (1871-1929) became involved in film through his wife, who was an actress in Pathé films. In 1902 he became a concessionary for Pathé in Barcelona, distributing its product in Spanish-speaking countries, and managing a factory for the colouring of Pathé films. He began shooting actuality films of Spanish locations for the company, then 1905 moved to Paris where he became a trick film specialist. The body of work he created over five years was outstanding. Films such as Le Spectre Rouge, Kiriki – Acrobates Japonais, Le Voleur Invisible and Une Excursion Incohérente are among the most imaginative and technically accomplished of their age. De Chomón created fantastical narratives embellished with ingenious effects, gorgeous colour, innovative hand-drawn and puppet animation, tricks of the eye that surprise and delight, and startling turns of surreal imagination (see, for example, the worms that crawl out of a chocolate cake in Une Excursion Incohérente, one of a number of films where visitors or tourists are beset by nightmarish haunted buildings, a favourite de Chomón theme).”
The Bioscope

“This short movie saves most of its special effects for the end, when the woman’s lover is trapped in a strange room with bottles containing various nightmarish demons. Yet there is one special effect early on that is particularly striking. When the woman begins to envision the gypsy’s revenge in her mind, it opens with the woman’s face as she ponders, and then her face moves nearer to us while the background remains static. This is not a new trick; I’m willing to bet it’s similar to the one used by Méliès in L’homme à la tête de caoutchouc  (The Man with the Rubber Head). What makes it striking here is that the purpose of the trick is to give us a sense of her mental state, and I don’t recall a movie from before this date that used special effects for that purpose before.”
Dave Sindelar

>>> Segundo de Chomón on this site

Al St. John

Shot in the Excitement
R: Rube Miller. D: Al St. John, Alice Howell, Rube Miller. P: Keystone Film Company. USA 1914

“Gawky, loose-limbed Al St. John performed from childhood with his family in vaudeville and burlesque around his home state of California, perfecting an athletic bicycle act that would stand him in good stead for the remainder of his career. Despite his parents’ misgivings about ‘the flickers’, St. John was persuaded to enter films by the success of his uncle, Mack Sennett star Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle. St. John became a ‘Keystone Kop’ in that famous congregation’s very first film, The Bangville Police (1913), supported Charles Chaplin and Marie Dressler in the feature comedy Tillie’s Punctured Romance (1914), and then followed Arbuckle to Comique, where he and the young Buster Keaton functioned as ‘second bananas’ to the hefty star. On his own, St. John starred in Educational comedies (one, The Iron Mule [1925], directed by his now disgraced uncle under the pseudonym of William Goodrich), all along developing his patented rube personality complete with oversized overalls and porkpie hat.
St. John himself later claimed that a deal with the Fox company went sour and that he suddenly found himself more or less blacklisted by the major studios. He did appear in one of Roscoe Arbuckle’s comeback shorts, Buzzin’ Around (1933), but by the mid-’30s he seemed all washed up. To keep food (and, it was rumored, quite a bit of spirits) on the table, St. John switched gears and began pursuing a career in independently produced B-Westerns. He played a variety of characters, both major and minor, before almost accidentally stumbling over the particular role that would sustain him for the rest of his career and make him perhaps the favorite sidekick among kids — that of the limber, baggy-pants braggart Fuzzy Q. Jones. (…)”
Hans J. Wollstein, Rovi

567-Al St. John

>>> The Bangville Police: The Keystone Cops
>>> Tillie’s Punctured Romance: The world’s first feature-length comedy

Maurice Tourneur

Alias Jimmy Valentine
R: Maurice Tourneur. B: Paul Armstrong (play), O. Henry (story). D: Robert Warwick, Robert Cummings, Alec B. Francis. P: Peerless Productions. USA 1915
Print: Library of Congress

Paul Spehr, Library of Congress, wrote on Facebook (Aug. 24th, 2016):
Alias Jimmy Valentine was found in Australia and was repatriated to the U. S. during the 1990’s in an exchange with the archive in Canberra arranged by my late wife Susan Dalton. It was one of the most notable of the more than 1000 American films in the exchange. Susan had to conduct a lottery because MoMA, Eastman House and UCLA all wanted it. I won the draw for the Library of Congress. The nitrate was copied by the Library’s lab in Dayton, Ohio and the film was shown first in Pordenone at Le Giornate del Cinema Muto. It’s a charmer that demonstrates Tourneur’s versatility.”

“An influential cinema pioneer, Tourneur brought theatrical experience to the films he made in France and America. His talent for composition, combined with his knowledge of literature, produced films of visual and emotional impact. Tourneur is remembered in America mostly for The Poor Little Rich Girl (1917) and The Last of the Mohicans (1920). But French cinephiles celebrate Tourneur’s later films, many of which influenced the development of French film noir.
Born in 1876 in Paris, Tourneur trained as an illustrator, worked as an assistant to sculptor Auguste Rodin, and acted in theater. In 1912, Tourneur started working at the Éclair film studio, where he established the formula for detective pictures in his first solo directing effort, an adaptation of Gaston Leroux’s novel ‘Le mystère de la chambre jaune’ (1913). That same year, he also filmed a Grand Guignol production of the Edgar Allen Poe short story ‘The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether’.
The English-speaking Tourneur was chosen to head Éclair’s American studio at Fort Lee, New Jersey, in 1914. When World War I broke out in Europe, Tourneur remained in America and assembled a permanent film crew, including editor (and future director) Clarence Brown and the soon-to-be famous actor John Gilbert.”
Richard Hildreth
San Francisco Silent Film Festival

Alias Jimmy Valentine (1915) is a light-hearted melodrama about a safecracker who reforms. Jimmy Valentine was created by short story writer O. Henry, in his tale ‘A Retrieved Reformation’ (1903). The story was dramatized by Paul Armstrong in 1910, becoming a hit Broadway play, ‘Alias Jimmy Valentine’. It is this theatrical version that was adapted by Tourneur into a movie. Tourneur emphasized in his writings that he considered Armstrong’s play to be much richer and better developed than O. Henry’s brief source tale.
The film was remade in the 1920’s twice, under the same title. Maxwell Karger directed a 1920 version with Bert Lytell in the title role, and Jack Conway did the 1928 version with William Haines, and Lionel Barrymore as the policeman who tracks him down. The 1910 play was so popular that a hit song was composed in tribute to it, ‘When Jimmy Valentine Gets Out’ (1911), by vaudeville legend Gus Edwards. This was later sung by Bing Crosby in the movie The Star Maker (Roy Del Ruth, 1939), the musical biography of Gus Edwards. Jimmy Valentine was an early example of a multi-media sensation. The article on crime writer Jack Boyle also suggests that Jimmy Valentine helped inspire Boyle’s own sympathetic thief, Boston Blackie, who also had a prolific career of movie adaptations in the silent era.”
Michael E. Grost

>>> Tourneur’s early Le friquet (Frgm.) on this site


Horror: Méliès, Chomón, Tourneur

Le diable au convent
R: Georges Méliès. P: Star-Film. Fr 1899

“This is one of the earliest examples of a horror movie that could rely on its elaborate set design and artistic design. Everything in this film (…) has been packaged extremely well. (…)
Though nothing that is considered too extreme actually happens, Satan does have his way with a convent. The satanic imagery itself must have kept this film on the traveling carnival circuit. It certainly wouldn’t fit into the good moral bag that society shoved itself into back in those days. That would be the only vice the entire movie has.”
Brandon Siddall
Horror Movie Project

La maison ensorcelée
R: Segundo de Chomón. P: Pathé Frères. Fr 1908
Print: Nederlands Filmmuseum, Amsterdam

“While Méliès had been a performer (as a magician) and set decorator, Segundo had actually little theatrical experience but had instead been a publicist and agent married to an actress when he decided to move into films in 1901. He started out with simple ‘actualities’ but learning fast he soon picked up on the camera tricks of Méliès and set out to top them by adding in some early animation tricks and a slightly more flexible camera. As Méliès’ career declined Chomon’s career picked up and he continued to work into the 1920’s albeit mostly as a photographer and set designer on other people’s films including the Italian epic Cabiria (1914) and Abel Gance‘s classic Napoleon (1927). He was working to develop colour film when he died suddenly aged only 57.”
Moondogs Ballroom
The Silver Screen Surfer

Figures de Cire
R: Maurice Tourneur. D: Henry Roussel, Emile Tramont, Henri Gouget. P: Eclair. Fr 1914

Tourneur‘s 1914 film Figures De Cire (The Wax Figures) was the first in a genre of Wax Museum films that would include Paul Leni‘s legendary 1924 German Expressionist film Waxworks, 1932’s Mystery Of The Wax Museum (directed by Michael Curtiz and starring Lionel Atwill and Fay Wray), 1953’s House Of Wax (in 3D with Vincent Price) and the 2005’s House of Wax with Paris Hilton, not to mention any number of ‘Twilight Zone’ episodes. (…)
The film shows a far more advanced filming technique with a greater variety of shots, shorter edits and better use of lighting, although there are still no proper close-ups. The wax museum sets are spartan but creepy, especially a collection of decapitated heads starring at Pierre or another scene of Pierre cringing before robed figures (shown only from behind) who seem to be judging him. Unlike the Jekyll & Hyde films this film belongs more to the director than the actor. Henry Roussel (1875-1946) would have a long career as an actor, director and writer in France into the sound era retiring just before the Second World War.”
Moondogs Ballroom
The Silver Screen Surfer

>>>  Segundo de Chomón on this website

Coney Island

At Coney Island
R: Mack Sennett. K: Arthur C. Miller. D: Mack Sennett, Mabel Normand, Ford Sterling, Gus Pixley. P: Keystone Film Company. USA 1912
Print: EYE collection
Dutch titles

“In May of 1912, people were still reeling from the Titanic disaster and sorting through a messy presidential election between four viable presidential candidates (Woodrow Wilson, William Howard Taft, Theodore Roosevelt and Eugene V Debs). But most left their worries behind once they stepped off the train at Coney Island, where the amusement parks were just opening their doors that month, making way for the summer crowds with an even wilder array of rides and shows.
Most of the amusements at Steeplechase Park were totally new, as a fire in 1907 had decimated most of the park. Nearby sat the ruins of Dreamland, destroyed in a fire in 1911 and never rebuilt. Luna Park also expanded in 1912 with many new rides, including one that seemed to mock the misfortunes of its rival parks — the Great Fire Show, which presented a Western town ravaged in flame.
But a brand new entertainment was making itself known in Coney Island — moving pictures. For instance, when Luna Park threw open its doors on May 25, 1912, the park contained a theater which presented some of the world’s first color short films in the British-invented Kinemacolor process.
Coney Island theater proprietor Herman Wacke, no stranger to the moving image, is touted by some as the first commercial exhibitor of a motion picture at his Trocadero Hotel in 1893. Wacke’s hotel, a stalwart from Coney’s early years located along a strip of cabarets and beerhalls affectionately called the Bowery, was nearly destroyed in the fire that consumed Steeplechase in 1907. In 1912, Wacke fanned a few new flames.
He began showing films for free in the saloon as a way to entice people to come in and purchase food and beer. Wacke’s was probably the best known of many along the Bowery to exhibit films in this fashion. But the proprietor didn’t have a license to do so, and during one particular sting, Wacke was arrested — ‘charged with conducting a free show in connection with his bar’ — and fined $5. Not a huge sum of money for a successful saloon owner, and Wacke went willingly, becoming a test case for a law that many certainly thought was rigid and overly meddling.
As one of America’s premier leisure destinations, Coney Island was so closely associated with films of this period that it even starred in a few of them, including Mack Sennett’s At Coney Island in 1912. There’s even an Edison film from 1903 called Rube and Mandy at Coney Island.”
The Bowery Boys

Coney Island – Movie List:


Time-lapse and Color

The Birth of a Flower (Extract)
K: Percy Smith. P: Kineto. UK 1910
Print: BFI

The Birth of a Flower (1910) was the film that brought Percy Smith firmly into the public eye. Mesmerising time -lapse photography captures the poetry of flowers opening their petals to the light. This was something new and exciting for cinemagoers of the time and it is reported that the film received riotous applause and requests for immediate repeat screenings.
We see the following plants bloom before our very eyes: hyacinths, crocuses, snowdrops, neapolitan onion flowers, narcissi, Japanese lilies, garden anemones and roses. Smith modified his cinematography set-up with candle wicks, pieces of meccano, door handles and gramophone needles to film these flowers in motion. He set up a system whereby growth could be filmed even while he slept, a large bell being set to ring and wake him if any part of the process malfunctioned.
The film obtained a remarkable amount of press coverage with newspaper reporters as well as the film trade being entranced by this beautiful display of nature in action. In Smith’s own personal scrapbook an unidentified newspaper journalist states that the film: ‘may be regarded as the highest achievement yet obtained in the combined efforts of science, art and enterprise.'”
Jenny Hammerton
Screen online

>>> Percy Smith’s Micro Cinematography