Charlie and His Jobs

The Property Man
R: Charles Chaplin. D: Charles Chaplin, Phyllis Allen, Charles Bennett. P: Keystone Film Company. USA 1914

“There can be little doubt that Chaplin’s time in vaudeville as part of Fred Karno’s troupe heavily influenced his work on The Property Man. It was Chaplin’s first attempt at a two reeler entirely under his control, so the familiarity with backstage life was probably something of a reassurance to him, even if there is perhaps not enough truly comedic material to sustain the full double-length running time.
The source for this film is Karno’s regular routine ‘The Mumming Birds’, which toured in America under the title ‘A Night in an English Music Hall’. It was a production which broke the ‘fourth wall’ of theatre, presenting a series of deliberately awful stage turns which were frequently interrupted by planted members of the audience (really other members of the Karno troupe) who took against what was being presented.
Chaplin often featured in this presentation as an upper class drunk who finds his way on stage, attracted by the showgirls and offended by the terrible performances in equal measure. Having perfected his drunk act, he was to put it to good use from his earliest days in American filmmaking — in fact, the first thing we see the Tramp do in this short is take a drink before the action begins!”
Brian J. Robb
Chaplin Film by Film

His New Job
R: Charles Chaplin. D: Charles Chaplin, Billy Armstrong, Agnes Ayres, Gloria Swanson. P: Essanay Film Manufacturing Company. USA 1915

“Perhaps easy to miss in His New Job, as she was uncredited and right at the back of the opening scene, was an appearance of actress Gloria Swanson, more associated with melodrama than silent comedy. Perhaps best known for her role as Norma Desmond, the bitter former silent movie star in Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard (1950), it is sometimes forgotten that Swanson was actually a genuine silent comedy performer, even before she became the muse of director Cecil B. DeMille. Born in Chicago in 1899, Swanson was an army brat who started in movies as an extra at Essanay in 1914, the same year Chaplin was learning the movie ropes at Keystone. She attempted to win the leading female role in His New Job (played by Charlotte Mineau), but Chaplin just didn’t see her in the part (he was looking for a new Mabel Normand type, and eventually found Edna Purviance) casting her instead in the minor role of the uncredited stenographer. She recalled of Chaplin in Chicago that he ‘kept laughing and making his eyes twinkle, and talking in a light, gentle voice, encouraging me to let myself go and be silly.’”
Brian J. Robb
Chaplin Film by Film

>>> Max Linder in Les débuts de Max au cinéma: Max l’immortel

Christmas with Starewicz

Noch pered Rozhdestvom (The Night Before Christmas)
R: Wladyslaw Starewicz. B: Wladyslaw Starewicz, based on Nikolai Gogol’s story. K: Wladyslaw Starewicz. D: Ivan Mozzhukhin, Olga Obolenskaya, Lidiya Tridenskaya. P: Khanzhonkov. RUS 1913
Engl. subtitles

Władysław Starewicz (1882 – 1965) was a Russian, Polish and French stop-motion animator notable as the author of the first puppet-animated film (i.e. The Beautiful Lukanida (1912)). He also used insects and other animals as protagonists of his films.(…)
In 1911, Starewicz moved to Moscow and began work with the film company of Aleksandr Khanzhonkov. There he made two dozen films, most of them puppet animations using dead animals. Of these, The Beautiful Leukanida (premiere – 1912), first puppet film with a plot inspired in the story of Agamenon and Menelas, earned international acclaim (one British reviewer was tricked into thinking the stars were live trained insects), while The Grasshopper and the Ant (1911) got Starewicz decorated by the czar. But the best-known film of this period, was Mest’ kinematograficheskogo operatora (Revenge of the Kinematograph Cameraman, aka The Cameraman’s Revenge) (1912), a cynical work about infidelity and jealousy among the insects. Some of the films made for Khanzhonkov feature live-action/animation interaction. In some cases, the live action consisted of footage of Starewicz’s daughter Irina. Particularly worthy of note is Starevich’s 41-minute 1913 film ‘The Night Before Christmas’, an adaptation of the Nikolai Gogol story of the same name. The 1913 film ‘Terrible Vengeance’ won the Gold Medal at an international festival in Milan in 1914, being just one of five films which won awards among 1005 contestants.”

Rozhdestvo obitateley lesa (The Insects’ Christmas)
R: Wladyslaw Starewicz. P: Khanzhonkov. RUS 1913

>>> Mest kinematograficheskogo operatora on this site: Wladyslaw Starewicz

More about Starewicz:
Film Reference

Alice Guy: Three Extraordinary Shots

Alice Guy tourne une phonoscène sur le théâtre de pose des Buttes-Chaumont, Paris
R: Alice Guy. D: Étienne Arnaud, Alice Guy. P: Société des Etablissements L. Gaumont. Fr 1907

“We see a film studio  from a camera that is set behind the camera which is used to film the actors. The set is brightly lit and includes a variety of actors, apparently preparing to give a large-scale song and dance performance. The crew is visible, but they are mostly silhouettes against the brightly-lit stage. Alice Guy is in the center of the screen, to begin with, but she too is just a silhouette. The camera pans to show all of the equipment. To the left is the movie camera, and on its right is a smaller camera, probably a still camera, the next object is a large table with old-fashioned trumpets (as from a gramophone machine) poking out at the top – presumably this is the sound-recording device. The camera pans past it to show a large reflector, which is at least partly responsible for bouncing all that light onto the performers. It pans back left, but not quite far enough to see the movie camera. The action begins onstage, and during the performance, Guy turns and adjusts some settings on the sound-recorder.”
Century Film Project

Effets de mer
R: Alice Guy. P: Société des Etablissements L. Gaumont. Fr 1906

Le ballon dirigeable ‘Le patrie’
R: Alice Guy. P: Société des Etablissements L. Gaumont. Fr 1907

“The Lebaudy Patrie was a semi-rigid airship built for the French army in Moisson, France, by sugar producers Lebaudy Frères. Designed by Henri Julliot, Lebaudy’s chief engineer, the ‘Patrie’ was completed in November 1906 and handed over to the military the following month. The ‘Patrie’ bears the distinction of being the first airship ordered for military service by the French army.
In 1907, from her base at Chalais-Meudon near Paris, a successful series of military manoeuvres was conducted with the airship by the military command, which included a visit by France’s President of the Council Georges Clemenceau. Following the successful completion of these operations, in November 1907 the ‘Patrie’ was transferred under her own power to her operational base at Verdun, near the German border.
Due to a mechanical fault, the ‘Patrie’ became stranded away from her base on 29 November 1907 in Souhesmes. During a storm on 30 November she was torn loose from her temporary moorings and, despite the efforts of some 200 soldiers who tried to restrain her, she was carried away by the high winds and lost from sight.”

A Feminist View on Jesus Christ?

La naissance, la vie et la mort du Christ
R; Alice Guy / Victorin Jasset. K: Anatole Thiberville. Ba: Henri Ménessier / Robert-Jules Garnier. P: Société des Etablissements L. Gaumont. Fr 1906

“The film, which was directed by Alice Guy Blaché for Gaumont in 1906, is in many ways quite a different film from Pathé’s various cuts, though interestingly it also uses intertitle cards to literally give the title of the scene we are about to witness, which makes compiling a scene guide relatively easy. (…)
In nearly all cases the scene announced by the preceding title card consists of only one shot. There are two exceptions. The first is ‘Saint Veronica’ where the first shot captures the moment Veronica captures Jesus’ image on her cloth, and then cuts to a slightly later mid-shot of her alone holding the cloth. The second is ‘The Resurrection’ where the scene starts inside the cave where the tomb is while we see Jesus be resurrected and the guards react in fear. Then we move outside the cave to see the arrival of the woman, and then we are taken back inside the cave where the women witness the empty tomb.
Interestingly, if you were solely looking at the images in the resurrection scene, one might assume that the soldiers’ fear is because they see the resurrected Jesus, but given how the angels work in this film, not least the way they appear and re-appear, it does leave open the interpretation that the soldiers cannot actually see the angels or the resurrected Jesus, they just see the empty tomb. It is only the audience who sees the full picture. (…)
Of the 25 scenes, only three (‘The Samaritan’, ‘The Miracle of Jairus’ Daughter’ and ‘Mary Magdalene Washes the Feet of Jesus’) are connected with neither Jesus’ birth or passion. The first of these scenes was popular in the early silent era, but for many years was ignored, at least until more recent times.
What is noticeable about these three scenes is that they are three, relatively rare, episodes of the gospels where the main character, apart from Jesus, is a woman. That, combined with the way that the film includes Veronica and ends on the women finding the empty tomb without the male disciples are among the factors that have led to some to see this as a feminist picture.”
Matt Page
Bible Films

>>> Feuillade’s La nativité on this site: A Biblical Thriller

>>> Nonguet’s La vie et la passion de Jésus Christ: Lucien Nonguet

A Biblical Thriller

La nativité
R: Louis Feuillade. D: Renée Carl, Nadette Darson, Alice Tissot, Maurice Vinot. P: Société des Etablissements L. Gaumont. Fr 1910
Print: CNC
French titles

Louis Feuillade‘s retelling of the birth of Christ tells a different story than we’re used to. When the Magi tells King Herod of the birth foretold, Herod first sends his emissaries and then orders the death of the Christ child. Produced as part of the series ‘Le Film esthétique’, which promised audiences films that were ‘visual first and foremost, not theatrical’, La Nativité is part religious spectacle and part Biblical thriller, produced on lavish sets that gave Feuillade the opportunity to stage scenes in deep focus. The shepherds, following the star of Bethlehem, enter from the background and advance toward the camera to take their place in the tableau around the manger, a device he returned to in his hit serial Fantômas. Feuillade and Gaumont were sued by painter Luc Olivier Merson, who accused them of plagiarizing his tableau ‘Le Repos en Egypte’, which if nothing else inspired the unexpected final shot of La Nativité.”
Sean Axmaker

>>> The Star of Bethlehem on this site


Luc-Olivier Merson: Le repos en Egypte, 1880

Film d’Art in Italy

Una congiura contro Murat
R: Giuseppe Petrai. B: Giuseppe Petrai. D: Giovanni Pezzinga, Fernanda Battiferri, Ciro Galvani. P: Film d’Arte Italiana, Roma / S.A. Pathé-Fréres, Paris. It 1912
Print: Museo Nazionale del Cinema, Torino
Dutch titles

“The King of Naples, Murat, while passing through the populous Neapolitan district of Santa Lucia, stops to save a young flower girl, Anna Perugini, from some drunken soldiers. Instantly the girl falls in love with her savior. Later she learns that her father, who is member of a conspiracy against the king, was chosen to kill him; but Anna manages to save him twice – although paying a high price.”
European Film Gateway

About King Murat:
“The shortest-lived dynasty to rule the Kingdom of Naples in its long history was the one installed by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1806. It was the second time in less than a decade that the French had ‘liberated’ Naples from the Bourbons. Earlier, in 1799, the forces of the revolutionary French Republic had set up and shored up the Pathenopean Republic in Naples; however, this sister republic to the south lasted a mere six months before the Bourbon rulers returned from Sicilian exile to restore their monarchy.
In 1806, however, France was firmly in the hands of Napoleon, who, this time around, was taking no chances. He chased the King and Queen of Naples back to Sicily and installed his own brother, Joseph, as King of Naples. Two years later he moved Joseph over to the throne of Spain and installed as King of Naples his sister Carolina‘s husband, Joachim (Gioacchino, in Italian) Murat, a trusted military aide. Murat already had a reputation as a daring cavalry leader, having distinguished himself in support of the French Republic and, later, Napoleon’s meteoric rise to power. Murat’s role in the Egyptian campaign (1798-99) and then in the battles of Austerliz and Jena was heroic. His rule in Naples would last until 1815 and would produce sweeping political and social changes way out of proportion to the few brief years involved.”
Naples: Life, Death & Miracles

>>> Film d’Art and Pathé: The Colours of Pathé

>>> Film d’Arte Italiana

Visions from Holland

Maskeradefeest te Utrecht op 25 juni 1901
P: Filmfabriek F.A. Nöggerath. NL 1901
Print: EYE collection

“The Nederlandsch Centraal Filmarchief was founded in 1919 with the goal of collecting films about the Netherlands for future generations. This short film calls on everyone to become a member of the archive, and to donate their negatives of any historical footage. To give an example of historical film footage, the film contains e.g. images of the Utrecht masquerade parade of 1901. In this film by Filmfabriek F.A. Nöggerath, a long procession of Utrecht students dressed in historical costume passes by. The parade was part of the annual celebrations of the University of Utrecht.”

Oliver Twist (1909)

Oliver Twist
R: J. Stuart Blackton. B: Charles Dickens (novel), Eugene Mullin. D: Edith Storey, William Humphrey, Elita Proctor Otis. P: Vitagraph Company of America. USA 1909

“‘Oliver Twist’ was an immediate success as soon as it started serialization, at first, in monthly instalments in Bentley’s Miscellany. The novel was serialized, at uneven intervals, from February 1837 to April 1839. Evidence of ‘Oliver Twist’s success lies, for example, in the fact that the story was immediately transposed to the Theatre with several theatrical productions of it appearing at the time. This was a common practice at the time and Dickens’ stories seem to have appealed greatly to the appetite of these melodramatic theatrical producers. The same can be said in relation to film, with the first film adaptation of ‘Oliver Twist’ appearing as soon as 1909, by Vitagraph. The list of film adaptations of Oliver Twist, including TV series, animated films and films for the television, is quite long; the IMDb, for example, lists about 30 titles, ranging from 1906 to 2007. (…)
It is more or less obvious that the visuals of the several adaptations of ‘Oliver Twist’ are to be found, not only in the text, but also in other visual intertexts, namely, illustrations of the London streets or other pictures of the nineteenth century. In the 1909 adaptation, bearing the imprint of its time, when cinema was still very close to theatrical mise en scène, we can see very clearly the most important scenes of the novel as if they were ‘tableaux-vivants’, in scenes that are clearly evocative of the illustrations.”
Margarida Esteves Pereira (Universidade do Minho): Representing the Villain and the Hero in Film Adaptations of Oliver Twist

>>> Earliest Dickens Film

>>> more Blackton films: Early SurrealismLady GodivaVitagraph’s Shakespeare

A Diner’s Performance

Een Helpende Hand (Buziau)
R: Unknown. D: Louis Bouwmeester, Johan Buziau, Jan van Dommelen. P: Film-Fabriek Anton Nöggerath. NL 1912
Print: EYE collection, Amsterdam

“A poor old fiddler playing his violin in a restaurant is about to be turned out when a diner – himself a famous music-hall artiste – causes him to remain as his guest. The diner tells the manager of the restaurant that, in order to help the old man, he will give a performance of his music-hall act. He then appears in his stage make-up.”

>>>  Holland 1900 with more films by F.A. Nöggerath

Feuillade’s “André Chénier”

André Chénier
R: Étienne Arnaud, Louis Feuillade. D: Léonce Perret, René Alexandre, Edmund Breon, Renée Carl, René Navarre. P: Société des Etablissements L. Gaumont. Fr 1911
Print: CNC

“It is, in large measure, the historical film that gave modern cinema its overall narrative structure. Many of the earliest narrative films are historical films. These include Albert Capellani‘s La vie de Jeanne d’Arc (1909) (…), Étienne Arnaud‘s and Louis Feuillade‘s André Chénier (1911), André Calmette‘s and Henri Pouctal‘s Camille Desmoulins (1912), and Camille de Morlhon‘s and Ferdinand Zecca‘s 1812*. As the subjects of these films demonstrate, the early cinema tended to mirror or project the vision of the past articulated by nineteenth-century historiography, foregrounding those moments and events deemed formative by Michelet and his successors and implying among these events a linear narrative of national formation and development.”
Dayna Oscherwitz: Past Forward: French Cinema and the Post-Colonial Heritage. Southern Illinois University Press 2010, p. 34/35

* see also: Vasilii Goncharov‘s film 1812 God on this site

About André Chénier:
“André Marie Chénier (30 October 1762 – 25 July 1794) was a French poet of Greek and Franco-Levantine origin, associated with the events of the French Revolution of which he was a victim. His sensual, emotive poetry marks him as one of the precursors of the Romantic movement. His career was brought to an abrupt end when he was guillotined for supposed ‘crimes against the state’, near the end of the Reign of Terror. (…)
After the king’s execution he sought a secluded retreat on the Plateau de Satory at Versailles and only went out after nightfall. There he wrote the poems inspired by Fanny (Mme Laurent Lecoulteux), including the exquisite ‘Ode à Versailles’. His solitary life at Versailles lasted nearly a year. On 7 March 1794 he was arrested at the house of Mme Piscatory at Passy. Two obscure agents of the Committee of Public Safety (one of them named Nicolas Guénot) were in search of a marquise who had fled, but an unknown stranger was found in the house and arrested on suspicion of being the aristocrat they were searching for. This was Chénier, who had come on a visit of sympathy.
He was taken to the Luxembourg Palace and afterwards to the Prison Saint-Lazare. During the 140 days of his imprisonment he wrote a series of iambs (in alternate lines of 12 and 8 syllables) denouncing the Convention, which, in the words of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, ‘hiss and stab like poisoned bullets’, and which were smuggled to his family by a jailer. In prison he also composed his most famous poem, ‘Jeune captive’, a poem at once of enchantment and of despair, inspired by the misfortunes of his fellow captive the duchesse de Fleury, née de Coigny.”

Another film by Étienne Arnaud:

La grève des apaches
R: Étienne Arnaud / Romeo Bosetti. P: Société des Etablissements L. Gaumont. Fr 1907/08
Engl. subtitles

>>> Étienne Arnaud also here: Eclair in America