Vitagraph’s “Napoleon”, 1909

Napoleon and the Empress Josephine (aka Napoleon, the Man of Destiny)
R: J. Stuart Blackton. D: William Humphrey. P: Vitagraph Company of America. USA 1909
Print: EYE (Desmet collection)
Dutch titles

“To successfully depict even a portion of the dramatic scenes and incidents in the life of such a man as Napoleon, is a task of great magnitude. To succeed as admirably as the Vitagraph has done in its late effort is to be commended. Sometimes manufacturers have made the mistake of following too closely the written records of such characters. Undoubtedly it is better to suggest rather than follow slavishly. Generally a character is known by some salient development, and the character of Napoleon is one of these. But beyond the fact that the character is admirably suggested, the scenario is a marvel of historic accuracy. The manager of the company went to France for the express purpose of obtaining accurate information for this purpose. That he did so is shown by the picture itself. Both the characters of Napoleon and Josephine are presented with fidelity and power. The film opens with a scene in a garden in the West Indies, where the young Josephine is told by a fortune-teller that she will be queen. The next scene is where Napoleon and Josephine meet for the first time. The historical accuracy of the uniforms and costumes in this is interesting. The setting is beyond description. The divorce itself, the final parting, and, last of all, the memories of Napoleon at Malmaison, are all good. Of all the ambitious attempts of this house none has succeeded so admirably as this. It is a pity that the daily changes give it only a short run. It should have more.”
The Moving Picture World, April 10, 1909

“Given Napoleon’s popularity among social formations whose members probably did not normally attend the nickelodeon,  Vitagraph may have hoped to lure in new viewers or at least gain a certain measure of social cachet for the studio. As the laudatory reviews suggest, the Napopeon films may well have garnered Vitagraph a certain status within the industry. And they would certainly have performed well in the European export so vital to Vitagraph’s financial health. The films may also have been an extension of Blackton’s social and cultural obsessions, allowing him to travel to France and to impress his friends.”
William Uricchio, Roberta E. Pearson: Reframing Culture: The Case of the Vitagraph Quality Films. Princeton University Press 2014, p. 157

Robert W. Paul: Hammerfest, 1903

R / P: Robert W. Paul. UK 1903
Print: Nasjonalbiblioteket, Oslo

“Paul was one of the first English producers to realise the possibilities of cinema as a means of presenting short comic and dramatic stories and to this end he built the first studio in England, with an adjacent laboratory capable of processing up to 8,000 feet of film per day. He employed a staff of very able technicians, some of whom – G.H. Cricks, J.H. Martin, Jack Smith, Walter Booth and Frank Mottershaw – went on to achieve success in their own right. Paul’s films were some of the most technically advanced for the times, his trick films being extremely ingenious. His choice of subject matter was more varied than that of any of his contemporaries and his coverage of topical events, including the war in South Africa, was matched only by that of the Warwick Trading Company and the Mutoscope & Biograph Syndicate. By the turn of the century his film projectors were being exported to the Continent, as well as to Australia and other British Dependencies. He entirely dominated the home market and it is no wonder that he earned his title ‘Father of the British Film Industry.'”
John Barnes
Who’s who of Victorian Cinema


>>> more Paul films on this website: 1898: A Story to Continue, The First Sight, Dangerous Cars II

The First Native American Director

White Fawn’s Devotion
R: James Young Deer. P: Pathé Frères. USA 1910
Filming Locations: New Jersey, USA
Print: Library of Congress

White Fawn’s Devotion has been called the earliest surviving film directed by a Native American. Released in June 1910, it is also among the first films made in America by France’s Pathé Frères, then the world’s largest film production company. U.S. motion picture trade journals, in a battle both cultural and economic, had ridiculed the English saddles and gingham-shirted Indians in Pathé’s European-made Westerns. Pathé’s answer was to open a studio in New Jersey and hire as director of its Westerns a Native American, James Young Deer. After Pathé opened a Los Angeles branch, Young Deer would be promoted to its gen­eral manager. (…) In part because he was never given credit on-screen for any of the approximately 120 films he directed for Pathé between 1910 and 1913, James Young Deer has become a completely forgotten figure, and his films are impossible to attribute with certainty. Only about six are thought to survive in U.S. archives.
White Fawn’s Devotion, like almost all American Westerns before it, was shot in the East. As with several other Young Deer films (to judge from their plot descriptions), it draws from the popular 1905 stage melodrama ‘The Squaw Man’ —about a Briton whose Indian wife sacrifices herself by suicide—but alters the outcome significantly. (…)
For all its simple pantomime style, White Fawn’s Devotion arrives at a conclusion almost unknown in the era’s film or fiction: The interracial couple live happily ever after. The surviving print, preserved by the Library of Congress, is missing a few feet at its end, and Pathé’s publicity fills in the resolution: ‘The Combs take their departure and return to their home, for he feels he will be happier with his family on the plains than if he goes east and claims his legacy.’ It was only when Young Deer reversed the sexes of the interracial couple that reviewers were outraged. About (the unfortunately lost) Red Deer’s Devotion, which Young Deer shot in the West in 1911, ‘Moving Picture World’ said: ‘Another feature of this film will not please a good many. It represents a white girl and an Indian falling in love with each other. While such a thing is possible, and undoubtedly has been done many times, there is still a feeling of disgust which cannot be overcome when this sort of thing is depicted as plainly as it is here.’
Between 1908 and 1912, Native American images were seen more widely on movie screens than ever again. In 1913, ‘Moving Picture World’ reported that ‘Indian dramas… are played out’ and that film companies were hanging NO INDIANS WANTED signs. That is also the year that James Young Deer — who surfaced briefly in the British and French film industries — essentially vanished from the American movie business.”
Scott Simmon
Film Preservation

Urban Views: Perth and Melbourne

Street Scenes in Perth, Western Australia
R, K and P: Leonard Corrick. AUS 1907
This film is part of the Corrick Collection of films made and screened by the Marvellous Corricks during their touring career, 1901-14. Donated to the NFSA by John Corrick. (NFSA)

“One of the first films the Corricks made after acquiring their motion picture camera was set on Perth’s Hay, Barrack and William streets. They placed a special notice in the Friday, 8 March 1907 edition of ‘The West Australian’ newspaper announcing that the next morning they would be filming at St George’s Terrace near the post office, and two different downtown intersections (Hay and William, and Hay and Barrack streets). The resulting film would be shown during their concert that night and every night during the coming week. On Saturday evening, the Queen’s Hall was crowded with locals who came to see themselves on screen, alongside footage of the Prince and Princess of Wales during their visit to Mandalay; views of Venice, Vesuvius, and Rome; and a selection of comedic and trick films, including La Fée aux fleurs and Dream of a Rarebit Fiend. While the length of the original film is unknown, what remains is a sequence of four shots featuring downtown Perth and its inhabitants. Over the next month, the family made two other films in the region: The Day-Postle Match at Boulder, Western Australia (1907), documenting a series of races between Australian sprinting champion Arthur Postle and Irishman RB Day, and The Bashful Mr Brown (1907), a chase-comedy starring the Corricks themselves, which they filmed in some of the same locations seen in Street Scenes in Perth.”
Leslie Lewis
National Film and Sound Archive of Australia (NFSA)

Marvellous Melbourne – Queen City of the South 
R: Charles Cozens Spencer. K: Ernest Higgins. P: Charles Cozens Spencer. AUS 1910

“In the days of early film production ‘scenics’ or ‘gazettes’ were seminal in establishing urban film-going as ‘big business’. Most popular between 1903 and 1912, they coincided with the development of city film exhibition, which ‘The Bulletin’ in March 1908 reported to include over a dozen Melbourne cinemas either in the form of auditoriums permanently built for film watching or existing buildings renovated for ‘special film events’. Although local dramas such as The Story of the Kelly Gang (Charles Tait, 1906) were popular in Melbourne, the city documentaries caused the largest sensation because they allowed audiences to see their life and city as represented. Cozen Spencer’s Marvellous Melbourne: Queen City of the South (1910) surveyed how Melburnians took advantage of expanded leisure time and a reduced working week. (…)
Considering that Cozens Spencer was a Londoner and Ernest Higgins was Tasmanian, and both lived in Sydney, Marvellous Melbourne could only ever offer a touristic ‘imagination’ of the city. This quality certainly validates the filmmakers’ decision to shoot the film as a travelogue. Yet, as much as the film creates a glossed portrait of the city, its grand and theatrical style sets it apart from the typical ‘ethnographic’ films of its day, mostly shot by inexperienced film practitioners. It is also different from other Australian scenics, such as Buffalo Mountains (1909) and Australia at Work (1911), which fetishise the ‘workingman’ ethos of Australian legend. Marvellous Melbourne highlights a civilised social order in which women, children and men join together to enjoy local sport (such as a rugged game of Australian Rules football at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.) (…)
Marvellous Melbourne is an interesting, nascent example of how the city has been repeatedly introduced and re-imagined throughout the history of Melbourne filmmaking. Yet crucially, it provides a sense of identity and focus not only for Melburnians but a wider cinema audience. Spencer’s film was often included in England (in 1911) on the same programme as Charles Urban’s enduring and resilient Living London (1903), a work that was still popular eight years after its production. In addition to working as a topographic document that illustrates the design and architecture of a now historical city, Marvellous Melbourne demonstrates the way in which Spencer introduced and represented the city as a cultural hub of festivity and modernity.”
Stephen Gaunson
senses of cinema


>>> The Story of the Kelly Gang on this website: Early Cinema in Australia – 1


Ferdinand Zecca

“In 1898 Charles Pathé engaged ‘for a few weeks’ a young man who ‘was playing the cornet at the Foire au Pain d’épices’. The few weeks were to last almost twenty years. The young man was Ferdinand Zecca. He was the second son of the concierge of the Théâtre de l’Ambigu in Paris, and was making his living as a café entertainer. In 1899, Zecca and another artist, Charlus, were performing a musical fantasia entitled Le Muet mélomane. At the request of Dufayel, owner of the Grands Magasins Dufayel, they acted the piece before a camera. In April 1900, at the Paris Exposition Universelle, Charles Pathé, in a hurry to instal the pavilion allocated to him, gave the job to Zecca. He managed it so well that Pathé appointed him as assistant to the director at his Vincennes factory. From then on until 1906, Zecca himself directed or supervised several hundred Pathé films. The first of these are obvious copies or plagiarisms of English films, for example La loupe de grand-mère or Rêve et réalité, both from 1901, to cite only two.”
Henri Bousquet
Who’s Who of Victorian Cinema

Par le trou de la serrure
R: Ferinand Zecca. P: Pathé Frères. Fr 1901

“The dividing up of the scene into a number of shots, which was first introduced in Britain by George Albert Smith in 1900 (Grandma’s Reading Glass) reappears in a 1901 Pathé film (Par le trou de la serrure). A little later, the perfecting of cross-cutting (parallel sequencing) effected by Pathé in 1907 (Le cheval emballé) was seized upon in no time at all by D.W. Griffith and made into his own trademark. This fact points (…) to the difficulty of enunciating a national cinema and also suggests that a national cinema can get elided as a concept.”
Susan Hayward: French National Cinema. Routledge 2006, p. 74

“The keyhole perspective has a long history in erotic representation and obscene writing (see ‘Fanny Hill’ for instance), but it was re-appropriated by Victorian photography (…). Many close-up photographs from the period extended in the way they were cropped with circular or keyhole frames. Pre-filmic technologies (mutoscopes and kinetoscopes) and early film also developped this perspective, often incorporating it into comedic narratives of illicit voyeurism. George Albert Smith’s As Seen through a Telescope (1900) and Pathé Frères Par le trou de la serrure (1901) are classic early point-of-view films alternating shots of a hidden observer and a close-up shot of a woman (…).”
Colette Colligan, Margaret Linley: Media, Technology, and Literature in the Nineteenth Century: Image, Sound, Touch. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. 2013, p. 232

Le pêcheur de perles
R: Ferdinand Zecca. P: Pathé Frères. Fr 1907

“(…) an elaborate fantasy in which the hero is seduced into the depths of the sea by five magical maidens. The film clearly recalls at least two earlier deep-sea fantasies made by Georges Méliès: La Sirène (The Mermaid, 1904) and Jack le ramoneur (The Chimney Sweep, 1906). In the first, a male magician orchestrates a libidinous fantasy of wish-fulfillment by transforming himself into the god of the sea and conjuring a delectable mermaid to share his undersea conch. In the second, a young man dreams that he’s transported across the waters and crowned her king by a princess on a seashell.
Zecca’s film opens on the scene of a young man lounging on a fountain under the arc of a rainbow. When the five maidens materialize, he leaps into the fountain and sinks into the blue waters of the sea, where he encounters a giant starfish that turns into yet another lovely maiden and directs him inside an outsized scallop. There, water sylphs dance for him as he appears to declare his love for their queen. He then awakens as from a dream, but we see immediately that it was no dream, for he’s sleeping on an underwater oyster, and although he’s missing most of his clothes, there is a great string of pearls at his side. The queen of the mermaids rises out of the shell and vanishes, leaving us to assume that the pearls have been left as payment for services rendered in an arcane ritual of a sexual nature.
Zecca, however, does not end the the film at this point. Rather, we follow the hero back to his terrestrial home and his real-life beloved. He bestows the pearls upon her, whereupon her dress turns to a gown of gold and the mermaid queen reappears, draping the whole house with pearls and performing what appears to be a marriage ceremony attended by the maidens who had danced for the young man the night before. With the addition of this epilogue, Zecca dramatically underscores a couple of elaborate ironies at work in his parable. First, the final scene treats us to the spectacle of a man seducing his bride with the fruits of services as a gigolo performed just the night before. (The French word pêcheur, by the way, means sinner as well as fisherman.) The jest, then, comes at the expense of conventional morality, and it also reverses the gender roles in the recurring melodramatic formula by which the heroine is offered compensation for her virtue that will simultaneously make marital bliss economically possible.”

>>> Zecca’s  La course des sergents de ville:  Panic and Paranoia
>>> La Sirène: Méliès: Attraction and Narration