Panama Canal

Panama Canal Construction
P: Duhem Motion Picture Manufacturing. USA 1912

“The greatest difficulty of the canal project, now nearing completion, was and is the control of the Chagres River and its many tributaries. The Chagres runs a circuitous, serpentine course backward and forward across the Isthmus from its source, in the San Blas Mountains, to the Caribbean Sea, a mile or two west of Limon Bay. One of the merits claimed for the canal plan as finally adopted is that it converts what was an obstacle into the motive power of the colossal project.
The American canal consists of a sea-level entrance channel from Limon Bay to Gatun, about seven miles long, 41 feet deep at mean tide, and with a bottom width of 500 feet. At Gatun the canal become a high-level canal… Here a mammoth dam has been constructed across the valley, by which the waters of the Chagres River are impounded and a lake, which will have an area of about 164 square miles, is formed. This high level is maintained until Pedro Miguel, thirty-two miles away, is reached. Here the Pacific side of the lake is confined by a dam between the hills, and here also the descent toward a lower level begins through the locks.”
The New York Times, September 22, 1912

Panama Canal: Scenes of the Finished Canal
No credits. USA 1919 (?)
Print: Library of Congress (Theodore Roosevelt Association Collection)

“Scenes of the Panama Canal, generally in the natural order of passage, from a ship moving from the Atlantic to the Pacific. The ship passes by the Panamanian city of Colón on the Atlantic end, through the channel to Gatun Locks and into Gatun Lake, views of the Gatun spillway and the Chagres River. From here she passes from Gaillard Cut (Culebra Cut), into the Pedro Miguel Locks and into Miraflores Lake. Then through the Miraflores Locks and into the final portion of the canal, passing the Canal Zone towns of Ancon, Balboa, and Balboa Heights. Final views are of the Ancon Hospital (Gorgas Hospital) and the U.S. Administration Building at Balboa.”
Library of Congress

More about the Panama Canal

>>> Labour

Russia: Jevgenij Bauer’s Masterpiece

Djeti vjeka (Children of the Age)
R: Jevgenij Bauer. B: M Mikhailov. K: Boris Zavelev. D: Vera Kholodnaja, Ivan Gorskij, Arsenij Bibikov, V. Glinskaja, S. Rassatov, A Sotnikov. P: Aleksandr Khanzhonkov & Co. RUS 1915
Without intertitles

“The picture tells the story of Maria (Vera Kholodnaja), a devoted wife of a bank employee. The couple has a cozy life; they have a baby, but he is cared for by their maid so Maria can spend her time doing terrific things like going shopping. During one of these consumer afternoons Maria meets by chance an old friend, Lidia, who will introduce her to exclusive idle social circles. Soon Maria’s beauty attracts the interest of Lebedev, a rich old libertine. From that point on Maria suffers continual sexual harassment (…)  which she resists for a time. In the end however she falls into his bourgeois claws.”

For a more detailed summary see:
Louise McReynolds: Russia at Play: Leisure Activities at the End of the Tsarist Era. Cornell University Press 2003. Introduction

Bauer entered the cinema as set designer for Drankov, but when in that capacity he moved over to Khanzhonov, he was given an entirely free hand, directing as well for him — and Bauer’s first film as such, Twilight of a Woman’s Soul (1913), still survives. Like most Russian filmmakers of this period, Bauer gave audiences the doom and gloom they craved, often with a last-reel suicide — but he did it with a sophistication matched only by Yakov Protazanov. For instance, in Child of the Big City a working-girl is wooed by a rich man attracted to women outside his own class; after marriage he bores her and she seduces a valet before deciding to use her husband’s friends to become a courtesan, because she does not wish to give up a life of luxury. He, ruined, seeks her out, only to find her no less contemptuous than she was when their marriage ended.
In Silent Witnesses the title characters are the servants of Moscow’s sybaritic high society, but they have an independent life of their own, caring and principled. When one young maid has a mind to the advantages of being a rich man’s lady and, after a half-hearted refusal, acquiesces, she finds her position too insecure to protest against his continuing infidelities. In all of Bauer’s films drunken parties and sexual license are the prerogatives of the rich, who are also vindictive, cruel, and without moral values—but they are also dangerously attractive. In Children of the Age a loving young wife allows an aged roué to seduce her and remains with him even after he has reduced her husband to penury by having him sacked. Her options are open, and furthermore she remains sympathetic, though the peasant audiences of Czarist Russia might well have thought that this brutally unequal society ought to be destroyed forthwith. It would be an overstatement to describe Bauer as subversive, but the society he depicts is wholly unadmirable, mortally sick.”
David Shipman
Film Reference

“This is the most overtly political of the films I have seen directed by Jevgenij Bauer and clearly shows his involvement in the contemporary Russian discourse on social equality and unprincipled capitalism. Children of the Age (Djeti vjeka) may not be a long film but it packs a lot into its 38 minutes: class conflict, sexual violence, corruption… and the human misery derived from all.
Bauer’s trademark touches are all in evidence with the backdrop to every scene beautifully constructed not just for the interiors but also with locations showing Moscow and its surrounding countryside. Djeti vjeka is a feast for the eyes throughout with perfectly judged camerawork and cutting allowing an expressive cast to flourish.”

>>> Jevgenij Bauer (1)Jevgenij Bauer (2)Jevgenij Bauer (3)

1915: American Animation

Dreamy Dud. He Resolves Not to Smoke
R: Wallace A. Carlson. B: Wallace A. Carlson. P: Essanay Film Manufacturing Company. USA 1915
Print: Library of Congress

“The film suggests that Carlson was a dependent on McCay for ideas as for technical inspiration, because the Dreamy Dud of He Resolves Not to Smoke (Essanay 1915) was only a slightly transformed Little Nemo. There is even a ‘slumberland’ plot, and his oneiric name suggests that dreams might have been a frequent narrative device. First, Dud is introduced, with his dog, who performs some well-animated tricks. Both are finely rendered on a glaring white background. The precise drafting is reminiscent of McCay. There are endearing details, like Dud’s father’s slipper flipping off his foot as he snores. After Dud smokes his father’s pipe, the Spirit of Smoke takes the boy to the moon, where he witnisses some Cohl-style hallucinations. It is a charming film, but Dreamy Dud does not seem to have acquired a following and the series ended in 1917.”
Donald Crafton: Before Mickey: The Animated Film 1898-1928. University of Chicago Press 2015, p. 279-281

Keeping up with the Joneses. Women’s styles
R: Harry S. Palmer. B: Harry S. Palmer. P: Gaumont Co./Mutual Film Corp. USA 1915
Print: Library of Congress

“A domestic comedy about the McGinis family — husband Aloysius, wife Clarice, daughter Julie, and housemaid Belladonna. The simple story lines often parody society’s concern with material goods as an indicator of social standing, but the series was not as narrowly focused as the title implies. The Joneses were the McGinis’s neighbors, but were not depicted. They were referred to as objects of envy, with whom the McGinis family was ‘trying to keep up’. In this film Pa is appalled at the latest fashionable dresses worn by the women in his household.”
Library of Congress

Keeping up with the Joneses. Men’s styles
R: Harry S. Palmer. B: Harry S. Palmer. P: Gaumont Co./Mutual Film Corp. USA 1915
Print: Library of Congress

“These two samples are from a series begun in September 1915 based on the ‘Keeping Up with the Joneses’ newspaper comic by ‘Pop’ Momand. The films begin with ‘out of the inkwell’ drawings of the sort seen in Winsor McCay films and later elaborated by Max Fleischer. Like other comic strips and animated films of the era, notably Bringing Up Father (published from 1912; filmed 1916-18), Keeping Up with the Joneses features a husband oppressed by a wifes obsession with high society and consumer fashion. The series ended abruptly in February 1916 after its animator, Harry S. Palmer, lost a patent infringement suit brought by John Randolph Bray over the use of transparent celluloid sheets.”

>>> Early Cartoons on this site

>>> Émile Cohl, Master of Animation

A Hebridian Island

The Island Of St. Kilda
P: British Pathé. UK 1908 (1910?)

St. Kilda, Its People and Birds (extract)
R: Oliver Pike. P: Williamson Kinematograph Company. UK 1908
Print: BFI

“This was the first film to be shot on the Hebridean island of St Kilda, and should not be confused with the later film from 1928 (St. Kilda – Britain’s Loneliest Isle), which is more closely concerned with the population that would later be evacuated from the island forever. This earlier film was by the pioneering bird cinematographer, Oliver Pike, and focuses on the island’s bird population, as well as the St Kildans’ remarkable methods of snaring sea birds for food and gathering eggs from the precarious cliff face. To achieve the spectacular shots of the bird colonies and birds in flight, Pike had to develop his climbing skills, with the aid of the locals, burdened as he was with a heavy film camera.”
Bryony Dixon
BFI Screenonline

“The island group of St Kilda, furthest west of the Hebrides, would be fascinating enough on account of its remoteness, its outstanding scenery and its natural history, but given the drama of its human history and particularly its evacuation in August 1930, it is in a league of its own. St Kilda under human habitation was recorded on film several times. As early as 1908, Oliver Pike made St Kilda: Its People and Birds for the Williamson Kinematograph Company. In 1917 (or possibly earlier), Pathé produced The Island of St Kilda.”
From: ‘Scotland the Movie’ by David Bruce (Polygon 1996)
The Powell & Pressburger Pages

1914: High Point of the Spy Film

The German Spy Peril
R: Bert Haldane. B: Rowland Talbot. D: J. Hastings Batson. P: Barker Motion Photography. UK 1914
Print: BFI

“Like most film genres, the spy film developed from a literary tradition. This can be dated to the first of the future war stories, G.T. Chesney‘s ‘The Battle of Dorking’ (1871), describing a surprise Franco-Russian invasion of Britain. So successful was the story (selling over 80,000 copies) that it spawned a series of similar fictional accounts. However, the first real spy story was probably William Le Queux‘s serial, ‘The Great War in 1897’ (published in book form in 1894). The serial outlined a French attack on Britain masterminded by a Russian spy. (…)
Such scare stories were not confined to print. The play ‘An Englishman’s Home’ ran for eighteen months from January 1909 and was filmed in 1914. Although the nationality of the invaders was not mentioned, the ruler was coyly referred to as the ‘Emperor of the North’, and the spiked helmets worn by the soldiers gave the game away. So successful was the play that a recruiting office for the new Territorial Army was set up in the foyer. (…)
The German naval build-up proved a stumbling block to reconciliation with Britain. The Royal Navy was seen as the defender of Britain and her empire, and any attempt to outdo its numerical or technological advantage was seen as a threat. (…) This naval race led to widespread Anti-German feeling, and The Daily Mail newspaper offered the following advice: “Refuse to be served by an Austrian or German waiter. If your waiter says he is Swiss, ask to see his passport!” A series of newspaper articles appeared which seemed to support the fictional accounts of a Britain overrun by spies. Claims that an army of German spies masquerading as waiters and often working near naval bases or ports were printed in newspapers and widely circulated. (…)
Thus was laid the foundations for the development of the spy genre: popular literature, fear of invasion, xenophobia and a stereotyped enemy. The first spy films were merely re-enactments of real events from the Boer war and later the Russo-Japanese War (1904). However, the invasion literature, newspaper articles and increasing international tension led to a flourishing of spy films. From 1909 there was a gradual build-up in their production to a high point in 1914-15, when around 30 such films were made.”
Simon Baker
BFI Screenonline

“A common plot in the early propaganda dramas was the threat of invasion. England’s Menace, released in September 1914, ‘vividly illustrates a carefully planned invasion of England by the German Navy… Grim realism is imparted to the story by the introduction of fine naval spectacles.’ (The Sydney Morning Herald, September 19, 1914) (…) The German Spy Peril was released shortly after England’s Menace, and it too centers on the threat of German invasion. Instead of the German Navy, however, it features a group of German spies on a mission to blow up Parliament. This propaganda film is particularly important, not only for its message to the male viewer, but because of the event that sets the film in motion. The main character, Jack Holmes, walks down the street when he sees a poster of Lord Kitchener calling for his service. (…) The film not only acts as its own propaganda, but it also commanded the male viewer to obey the propaganda posters he would surely run into after leaving the theatre.”
Evan M. Caris: British Masculinity and Propaganda during the First World War. Louisiana State University (LSU Digital Commons) 2015, p. 40

A Real Clown of the Silent Era

Robinet innamorato di una chanteuse
R: Marcel Fabre (i.e. Marcel Perez). D: Marcel Fabre, Gigetta Morano. P: Società Anonima Ambrosio. It 1911
Dutch titles

Robinet chauffeur miope
R: Marcel Fabre. D: Marcel Fabre. P: Società Anonima Ambrosio. It 1914
Dutch titles

“One of the happy discoveries of Steve Massa’s new book ‘Lame Brains and Lunatics’ is Marcel Perez (Manuel Fernandez Perez, 1884-1929). Well enough known in the silent era, Massa postulates that Perez’s present obscurity may stem from the fact that his screen name and identity changed so many times (he also changed nations and studios constantly, but that tended to be less of a problem back in the day, when the movie market was truly international.)
Born in Madrid, Perez moved to Paris in his youth and began performing in music halls, circuses and theatres. Like many clowns of the silent era, he was a small man: five feet tall, 125 lbs. His film career in Paris begins circa 1907 where he appeared in at least a couple of shorts for the Eclipse and Gaumont studios. Thus he was one of the earliest comedy stars. In 1910, he began working for Italy’s Ambrosio Company, writing and performing as Marcel Fabre, playing a character called Robinet in Europe, which was translated into Tweedledum in the United States (you see where it’s already getting confusing). World War I forced him to America in 1915, where he made at least one short for Universal’s Joker series (…). He then became Tweedledum again for Eagle Films in 1916, then was known by the unlovely name of ‘Twede-Dan’ at Jester starting in 1918. In 1921 he went over to Reelcraft where he became known as ‘Tweedy’. In 1922, a horrible accident involving a garden rake (which occurred during the filming of one of his comedies) resulted in the loss of a leg, and from this point, he becomes primarily a director of comedies and westerns, both shorts and features. He died of lung cancer in 1929.”

>>> Slapstick Italiano: Marcel Perez

>>> His great adventure film Saturnino Farandola


Marcel Perez alias Marcel Fabre