Anton Chekhov on Screen

Roman s kontrabasom / Romance with a Double Bass
R: Kai Hansen. B: Anton Chekhov (short story “Roman s kontrabasom”, 1886), Cheslav Sabinsky. K: Joseph-Louis Mundwiller. D: Vera Gorskaya, Nikolai Vasilyev. P: Pathé. RUS / Fr 1911

Charles Musser, in ‘The Emergence of Cinema’, mentions a number of American comedies in which women’s bodies are exposed for the pleasure of male audiences. This one differs slightly from that earthy tradition. For one thing, it’s based on a Chekhov short story, suggesting that even where light comedy was concerned, Russian audiences wanted to class up the movies with a little culture. For another, the man in this story is also deprived of clothing, although his embarrassment is not lingered over as much. It’s hard to imagine that female audiences found his skinny frame as interesting as the men found the princess, either. Finally, in the movies Musser mentions, the father is often also the butt of some Oedipal prank, as where the escaping boyfriend topples the peeping father from a ladder in How the Athletic Lover Outwitted the Old Man, but here the father is an agent of the girl’s humiliation.”
Century Film Project

Russia: Princess Tarakanova

Knyazhna Tarakanova / Princess Tarakanova
R: Kai Hansen / Maurice Maître. B: Cheslav Sabinsky, Ippolit Shpazhinsky (play). K: Joseph-Louis Mundwiller, Toppi. Ba: Mikhaylov, Cheslav Sabinsky. P: Pathé. RUS / Fr 1910
Engl. subtitles

Tarakanova claimed to be the daughter of Alexei Razumovsky and Empress Elizabeth of Russia, reared in Saint Petersburg. Even her place of birth, however, is not certain, and her real name is not known. She is known to have traveled to several cities in Western Europe; she became a mistress of Philipp Ferdinand of Limburg Stirum and lived off his money in the hope that the count would marry her.
She was eventually arrested in Livorno, Tuscany by Alexei Grigoryevich Orlov, who had been sent by Empress Catherine II to retrieve her. Orlov seduced her, then lured her aboard a Russian ship, arrested her, and brought her to Russia in February 1775. She was imprisoned in the Peter and Paul Fortress, where she died of tuberculosis that December. She was buried in the graveyard of the Peter and Paul Fortress.
A popular theory postulates that her death was faked and she was secretly forced to take the veil under the name “Dosifea.” This mysterious nun was recorded as living in Ivanovsky Convent from 1785 until her death in 1810.”

“Over all, the production here is very stagey, with stationary cameras and scenes shot in single takes. The movie is based on a stage production, and most of the actors make no effort to adapt their acting style for the lack of sound – they just seem to mouth their lines and make the same kinds of motions they would on stage. The exception is V. Mikulina, who played the hapless princess. For most of the movie, we get the impression of a sort of haughty assurance that everyone will realize their mistake, and finally she hams it up gloriously, especially for her (first) death scene, where we get the impression that it was the untimely visit by Orlov that brought about the tubercular attack. Another issue with the movie is that it depends a great deal on written documents to replace the dialog. Every few minutes, Orlov is ending a letter, or Catherine is issuing a decree, so that the audience can be informed of what is happening. Later Russian filmmakers, such as Evgeni Bauer, would avoid such devices where possible.”
Century Film Project

>>>  Jevgenij Bauer-1,   -2,   -3

A Russian-French Documentary, 1908

Zavod Rybnykh Konservov v Astrakhani / Fish Factory in Astrakhan
R: Unknown. P: Pathé. RUS / Fr 1908
Engl. titles

A Fish Factory in Astrakhan is part of the Pathé Frères series ‘Picturesque Russia’, typical of their efficient documentary style. The company had established a Moscow equipment and sales office in 1904, which also rented their French-made films to Russia’s burgeoning cinema network. It was the emergence of Drankov as the first self-declared indigenous producer that prompted Pathé to start production in Russia in February 1908.”

“Actualities made by foreign companies, like Pathé’s A Fish Factory in Astrakhan stimulated a demand for home-produced films which was finally answered by the enterprising Drankov. His Sten’ka Razin (1908) enjoyed immense success as the first Russian dramatic film. Pathé responded by increasing production at their Moscow studio, with art films like Princess Tarakanova (1910) and the first Chekhov adaptation, Romance with Double-Bass (1911).”
Indiana University

“A Fish Factory in Astrakhan (1908), one of the series called ‘Picturesque Russia’, is an early travelogue common in the first years of Russian cinema. (…) The camera lingers on the docks along the Volga deltas, the boats, fisherman, stevedores, cleaners, scalers, salters – women and Bashkirs prominent among them – at work in providing the fish delicacies that we will see being devoured with champagne and voka in films about the haute monde.”
Richard Stites: Passion and Perception: Essays on Russian Culture. New Academia Publishing, LLC, 2010, p. 291

>>> Stenka Razin on this site

Great Western, Greater Love

The Greater Love
R: Rollin S. Sturgeon. D: Robert Thornby, Fred Burns, Edna Fisher, Charles Bennett. P: Vitagraph Company of America. USA 1912
Dutch intertitles, Engl. subtitles
Print: EYE (Desmet collection)

“In the opening scene, as a young ranch woman teases the local sheriff who loves her, a wanted poster introduces the Kansas Kid. Using a set of binoculars, she spots the injured outlaw coming down a distant hillside, and the sheriff, with her father’s help, brings him into the ranch house, where she bandages his head wound. They are attracted to one another, which incites the sheriff, and she has to break up a threatened gunfight. After writing a note revealing who he is , the Kid rides away; chancing to read the note, the sheriff goes in pursuit. Noticing the sheriff in the distance, the Kid attaches a note on a stick, which leads the sheriff to an open area, where they face off on horseback. In the gunfight that ensues, the Kid wounds the sheriff and discovers a photo of the young woman in his hand. Now the Kid bandages his rival, brings him back to the ranch, and, as the sheriff’s men look on, gives him a drink of water from a rain barrel. The sheriff shakes hands with the Kid, and the young woman and her father thank him; but the sheriff’s men still arrest the Kid and lead him away.
This surviving film print includes a range of tinting characteristic of the period, which differentiates one time of day from another as well as exteriors from interiors. It also uses a series of objects to effectively highlight key moments in the story : the wanted poster, a rain barrel, a flower, several written notes, and a photograph. Finally, like Essanay’s slightly earlier The Loafer, this Vitagraph film deploys eyeline-match* editing, in not one but two scenes: the first involving the sheriff and the young woman; the second (with one mismatch), the gunfight between the sheriff and the Kid.”
Richard Abel
Le giornate del cinema muto
Pordenone 1-8 ottobre 2016, p. 178 (PDF)

*An eyeline match is a film editing technique associated with the continuity editing system. It is based on the premise that an audience will want to see what the character on-screen is seeing. An eyeline match begins with a character looking at something off-screen, followed by a cut of another object or person.

1789 from the Aristocratic Viewpoint

The Days of Terror
R: Charles Kent. D: Charles Kent, Julia Swayne Gordon, Leo Delaney, Leah Baird, Maurice Costello, Helene Costello, Mary Navarro. P: Vitagraph Company of America. USA 1912
Print: EYE (Desmet collection)
Dutch titles

“During the French Revolution, the Duke and Duchess of Bérac are captured by a mob. The Duchess agrees to marry one of their leaders in order to save her husband’s life. But her husband finds out about this, and forbids the Duchess to do so. The girlfriend of this leader takes revenge when she learns the truth, and stabs him. The two Béracs then proceed to the guillotine with their heads held high.”

“A romantic picture of the French Revolution from the aristocratic viewpoint; it chooses a duke and duchess for its hero and heroine, while its villain is a minion of Robespierre. There are scenes of palace life and of life in the underworld of the Parisian slums. Mr. Chas. Kent is the duke; Julia Swayne Gordon is the duccesse; Mr. Delany plays the villain’s part; Miss Leah Baird plays the lead in the counterplot; is his low sweetheart who stabs him because of his intrigue to get the beautiful duchess. In one scene, the mob, attacking the duke’s palace, gave a decided thrill. It is a good picture; not because of its plot, but because of its characters and good acting. It has good photography.”
The Moving Picture World, June 29, 1912

>>> Charles Kent’s Shakespeare films here: Vitagraph’s Shakespeare

British Soldiers vs Chinese Gangsters

626-Lieutenant Rose
Lieutenant Rose and the Chinese Pirates
R: Percy Stow. D: P.G. Norgate. P: Clarendon. UK 1910
German titles, Engl. subtitles
Print: BFI

Print temporarily not available

“While Lieutenant Rose is busy entertaining two ladies, villainous Chinese pirate Ling Hoo attacks and kidnaps all three. Tied up and locked in an old temple dungeon, can Rose find a way to escape before the trio are drowned? This silent adventure series combines crude but fun trick shots with plenty of action and derring-do.
The intrepid Lieutenant Rose featured in a popular series of adventures made by prolific British director Percy Stow. Like many films from the era, the depiction of the Chinese pirates is deeply caricatured, revealing the prejudices of the film’s British makers. The film only survives in this German print.”

>>> films by Percy Stow on this site:  Milling the Militants: A Comical AbsurdityAlice in Wonderland

George A. Smith’s Colour Experiments

Tartans of the Scottish Clans
R: George A. Smith. P: Kinematograph Company. UK 1906

Woman Draped in Patterned Handkerchiefs
R: George A. Smith. P: Kinematograph Company. UK 1908

“From 1906, G.A. Smith devoted the rest of his film career to experimenting with colour. Although colour films had already been available for many years, they were usually created via a stencil system that involved them literally being coloured in by hand, whereas Smith’s was the first colour system that attempted to capture natural colours without any post-production intervention.
The Kinemacolor system was based on 35mm black and white film, with both camera and projector running at double the normal speed. Each was fitted with a rotating wheel, exposing each frame to either a red or green filter. Although this produced an unwelcome side-effect of red-green fringing on fast-moving subjects, the system was otherwise surprisingly effective.
Tartans of Scottish Clans was one of Smith’s first Kinemacolor experiments, a very simple idea (essentially, a sequence of Scottish tartan cloths, each appropriately labelled) which nonetheless demanded colour in order to convey the necessary information.
(Woman Draped in Patterned Handkerchiefs): A woman displays assorted tartan cloths, both draped on her body and waved semaphore-style. These are presumably the same cloths featured in Tartans of Scottish Clans (1906), this time shown from various angles.”
Michael Brooke
Screenonline (1)
Screenonline (2)

More about Kinemacolor:
Timeline of Historical Film Colors 
Created, developed and curated by Barbara Flueckiger, professor at the Department of Film Studies, University of Zurich

>>> another colour experiment by George A. Smith: A Firework of Colours

>> > Charles Urban, the founder of the Natural Color Kinematograph Company: Colonial Travelogue: Jamaica

An Everglades Western

The Witch of the Everglades
R: Otis Turner. B: Otis Turner. D: Kathlyn Williams, Charles Clary. P: Selig Polyscope Company. USA 1911
Filming Locations: Florida, USA
Print: EYE (Desmet collection)
German titles

“This Indian story gives an accurate reproduction of life in the Everglades of Florida as it was during the days of the Seminole Indians. In this picture a mother who survives an Indian massacre which her husband was killed, goes insane, her baby stolen and she left for dead. Sufficient instinct was left her to want to kill every Seminole she could find. Years afterward the blow of a bullet on the head restores her memory and she finds her daughter. The scenery is interesting and the characterization leaves little to be desired. The idea of losing the memory is not new. but it is worked out in a new way. In fact, the whole picture is well worth seeing. The woman is held in superstitious veneration by the Indians, which is a true portrayal of the way they look upon those who are wholly or partially insane.”
The Moving Picture World, May 13, 1911

An adventure drama by Otis Turner:

The Rose of Old St Augustine
R: Otis Turner. B: Otis Turner. D: Kathlyn Williams, Charles Clary, William Stowell, Tom Mix, True Boardman. P: Selig Polyscope Company. USA 1911
Print: EYE
Without titles (cut off)

“Captain Lafitte receives word that Alicante, a young Spaniard, is to wed Dolores, the Rose of St. Augustine, whom he has not seen since childhood. He objects to the wedding. Lafitte captures Alicante, dresses in his clothes, and with Dalroy, his lieutenant, dresses as his valet, and Black Hawk, a Seminole Indian of his band, go to St. Augustine and pose as the suitor Alicante. Dolores falls in love with him as Alicante. Dalroy falls madly in love with her, is refused and betrays Lafitte to her father, the commandant. Lafitte is made prisoner and while Dalroy leads her father and soldiers to capture the camp of the Privateers, Black Hawk and Dolores rescue Lafitte from the dungeon. Black Hawk kills his jailer and they escape. The Privateers are attacked by Dalroy and Spanish soldiers and after a fight the most of them escape by boats to their schooner, which is at anchor off the shore. Alicante is rescued and news is brought of the escape of Lafitte and Dolores by a soldier sent by the Duenna. The fugitives are followed by the commandant and soldiers, who use a bloodhound to track them. They are fired on as they float down the bay on an improvised raft, are rescued by the Privateers and taken aboard the ship. Lafitte determines to capture Dalroy; the returning party is ambushed on the shell road. All are released except the traitor, and return to the vessel. The closing incident is of a very sensational nature, Dalroy being forced to walk the plank, the reward of treachery.”
Moving Picture World synopsis

More about Otis Turner:

Otis Turner: a Father Figure to Film-Makers: A Hollywood Bio in Brief

>>> Up Against It by Otis Turner

Méliès: A Multimedia Science Fiction

Photographie électrique à distance
R: Georges Méliès. D: Fernande Albany, Georges Méliès. P: Star-Film. Fr 1908

Georges Méliès‘ prediction of television, ‘Long Distance Wireless Photography’ (1908) may have seemed a logical next step following the development of photography in 1839, the telegraph six years later, and the telephone in 1876. Could that notion of TV have been appropriated from the French artist Albert Robida who in 1869, imagined a large oval TV monitor displaying soft-pornographic imagery? In 1879, coinciding with the first Muybridge show, ‘Punch’ published a drawing of a rectangular screen, transmitting ‘light as well as sound’, inaccurately described as ‘Edison’s Telephonoscope’. The image depicts a sports event: gentlemen and ladies engaged in a tennis match. The following year, Alexander Graham Bell announced the filing of a description of a method for ‘seeing by telegraph’. In 1884, only two years before the publication of Arthur Rimbaud‘s ‘Illuminations’, the German engineer Paul Nipkow constructed a mechanical scanning device, a piece of primitive TV technology. In contrast to and in parallel with film’s temporally fragmented retrieval and replay structure, the concept of the ‘televisual’ that replayed the unbroken interactivity of the telephone and the telegraph, seemed to be in the air.”
Joshua & David Levy
Early American Cinema