A Forgotten Clown: Ernesto Vaser

Rincasare non è sempre facile
R: Unknown. D: Ernesto Vaser. P: Itala Film. It 1912
Print: Museo Nazionale del Cinema / EYE collection
Dutch titles

I bottoni delle bretelle
R: Unknown. D: Ernesto Vaser. P: Itala Film. It 1912
Print: Museo Nazionale del Cinema / EYE collection
Dutch titles

Attenti alla vernice!
R: Unknown. D: Ernesto Vaser. P: Itala Film. It 1913
Print: Museo Nazionale del Cinema / EYE collection
Dutch titles

“Divenuto molto popolare, fu uno dei primi attori teatrali ad avvicinarsi al cinema, e nel 1905 iniziò a girare le prime comiche, sotto la direzione di Arturo Ambrosio. In un cinema italiano come quello di allora, cioè agli inizi, e con attori protagonisti stranieri, Vaser fu quasi certamente il primo attore comico italiano della storia del cinema nazionale.
Da Ambrosio fu poi ingaggiato per lavorare nella casa cinematografica da egli fondata, la Ambrosio Film, prestando la sua interpretazione ad alcune importanti pellicole, di altri generi, come Gli ultimi giorni di Pompei. Della società torinese, Vaser divenne comunque uno dei suoi attori comici principali, il secondo dopo lo spagnolo Marcel Fabre (Robinet), e tra il 1910 e il 1916 interpretò il ruolo del comico personaggio Fricot in diversi cortometraggi, anche da protagonista.”

Ernesto Vaser was a popular clown who is practically forgotten today. Coming from a theatrical family – his father was stage actor Pietro Vasar and brothers Vittorio and Ercole also ended up in the movies – he entered films in 1905 for the Ambrosio Company. Tubby and pop-eyed, Vaser became known as Fricot and often appeared with, and was directed by, Marcel Perez as Robinet. By 1912 he had moved to Itala and continued his misadventures there under the name Fringuelli. Also directing many of his shorts as well, his career lasted until 1920.”
Ben Model
Cruel and Unusual Comedy

Fricot e l’estintore
R: Ernesto Vaser. D: Ernesto Vaser. P: Società Anonima Ambrosio. It 1913
Print: Museo Nazionale del Cinema

>>> Vaser in Buon Anno!Al cinematografo, guardate… e non toccate


A Robust Western Woman

The Girl of the Golden West
R: Cecil B. DeMille. B: David Belasco (play), Cecil B. DeMille (scenario). K: Alvin Wyckoff. D: Mabel Van Buren, Theodore Roberts, House Peters, Anita King, Sydney Deane, William Elmer. P: Jesse L. Lasky Feature Play Company. USA 1914/15
French subtitles

“Much of the film was shot at the then-new Lasky ranch. DeMille wrote in his autobiography that the film was shot in eight days, and that some filming was done near Mt. Palomar in San Diego County. According to modern sources, DeMille was the film editor, as well as the director. The film was re-released by the Famous Players-Lasky Corp. in their Success Series on 15 Sep 1918.”

David Belasco (1853 – 1931) was an impresario, director and playwright from San Francisco. Throughout his long career, stretching from the 1880s 1930, Belasco either wrote, directed, or produced more than 100 Broadway plays including ‘Hearts of Oak’, ‘The Heart of Maryland’ and ‘Du Barry’, making him one of the most powerful personalities on the New York City theater scene. He is perhaps most famous for having adapted the 1898 John Luther Long short story ‘Madame Butterfly’ into a 1900 play with the same name and for writing ‘The Girl of the Golden West’ for the stage in 1905: both were turned into operas by Giacomo Puccini (1904, 1910). More than forty motion pictures have been made from Belasco’s works. (…) Giacomo Puccini saw the play in New York in 1907, and was entranced. He immediately decided that it should be turned into an opera. Carlo Zangarini and Guelfo Givinni began work on a libretto. ‘La Fanciulla del West’, the first piece to be commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera, premiered at New York in 1910, with Belasco as stage director and a stellar cast of singers: Toscanini conducted; Enrico Caruso, Emmy Destinn and Pasquale Amato sang the leads; and Puccini, alone in his box, surveyed the scene. It was received very well. The Girl of the Golden West was made into four films: silent movies in 1915 and 1923, a talkie in 1930 and a Jeanette MacDonald/Nelson Eddy musical in 1938. The opera has been given many times since and remains one of Puccini’s finest, if perhaps underrated works.”
Jeff Arnold’s West

>>> Belasco’s play

“Set in concocted California mining town called Cloudy during the postwar interregnum, DeMille’s The Girl of the Golden West focuses on a love triangle between ‘the Girl’ (a.k.a. Minnie), Sheriff Jack Rance of New Orleans, and the Murrieta-type outlaw leader named Ramerrez, forced into banditry due to the dispossession of the Californios. The Girl, who runs the town’s rough-and-ready saloon, is a robust western new woman who nonetheless ‘has preserved her maidenly modesty’. Her compassion, strength, and love transform Ramerrez, whom she believes is Dick Johnson, a gentleman thief. (…) The film thus grapples with thorny racial and social relations in the borderlands after the Anglo-American colonization of California and the influx of forty-niners. At the same time, it evinced the reformist tenor of the Progressive Era, as well as the contested nature of whiteness in the early twentieth century; the light-skinned Ramerrez easily passes for the Anglo-American stranger Dick Johnson.”
Dominique Brégent-Heald: Borderland Films: American Cinema, Mexico, and Canada During the Progressive Era. University of Nebraska Press 2015, p. 186/87

>>> DeMille’s first film: The Squaw Man

The Mexican Villain

A Bit of Blue Ribbon
R: Rollin S. Sturgeon. B: Hanson Durham. D: Mary Charleson, Charles Bennett, Anne Schaefer, William Eagle Eye . P: Vitagraph Company of America. USA 1912/13
Print: EYE collection
Dutch titles

“Senor is only a horse, a thoroughbred, and winner of many blue ribbons. On account of old age, Jim Hartwell, the ranch owner, orders Steve, an employee, to take the old horse into the foothills and shoot him. Kitty, Hartwell’s daughter, loves old Senor and claims him for her personal property. Steve loves Kitty and refuses to shoot the horse. In anger, Hartwell discharges him. The ranch owner, mounting his horse, leads Senor to the foothills. He takes the bit of blue ribbon which Kitty had tied in Senor’s foretop, and throws it aside. Just as he raises his revolver to shoot, he sees a Mexican creeping towards his horse in the act of stealing it. He turns his attention towards the thief, who shoots Hartwell. Steve appears, and fires at the Mexican, who in turn, shoots Steve and escapes. Steve, not seriously wounded, turns his attention to Mr. Hartwell. The Mexican makes his way afoot across the hills and comes across a party of range riders. He notifies them that Hartwell is dead and that he saw Steve shoot him. Steve is found bending over Hartwell. Mr. Hartwell is taken back to his ranch and Steve is delivered to the sheriff. Hartwell regains consciousness, but has lost all recollection of what has happened. (…)”
Moving Picture World synopsis

“This is another Vitagraph filmed in California. By now the company had moved to a new studio in the Los Feliz area of Los Angeles, located near hills and open country: likely a factor in the move.. The film has what seems an unusual plot and the print we viewed was only 741 feet, apparently with missing shots and title cards. So the opening of the film is unclear. It seems that Kitty (Marty Charleson), the daughter of a ranch owner, has a favourite horse Seňor: she also has a human sweetheart, Steve (Robert Burns). The father Hartwell (Charles Bennett) orders Steve to shoot Seňor, though why is not clear.”
Early & Silent Film

Rollin S. Sturgeon on this website:

>>> Rollin S. Sturgeon (1)Rollin S. Sturgeon (2)
>>> The Courage of the Commonplace
>>> The Greater Love


San Francisco, Chinatown 1912

Seeing America’s Greatest Chinatown: San Francisco (Part I)
R: “Captain” H.J. Lewis. Contributers and Production unknown. USA 1912

Seeing America’s Greatest Chinatown: San Francisco (Part II)

Captain Lewis was a licensed Chinatown guide; these films represent what was salvaged from a multi-reel film. (Internet Archive)

Prints: Prelinger Archives, San Francisco

“The way Chinatown guide H.J. Lewis actively used film around 1912 illustrates the relation between tourist guides and motion pictures as well as the possibilities the new medium opened. ‘Captain’ Lewis began conducting guided tours through San Francisco’s Chinatown in the late 1880s. The ‘San Francisco Call’ devoted a small article to him and ‘his experience taking parties through (the) local orient.’ According to the article, Lewis was a licensed guide who spoke Chinese fluently and had contacts with many people in Chinatown. (…) Apart from his on-site tours, Lewis made use from the film medium and created a new way to experience Chinatown on the silver screen. His films mark an early example of the connection between film and tourism. To create his cinematic version of a trip to Chinatown, Lewis shot several scenes in San Francisco that corresponded roughly to the stations of his tours – that is, street scenes, restaurants, tenements, Joss houses,  bazaars, and stores. The collection of scenes was titled Seeing America’s Greatest Chinatown: San Francisco and formed the basis for his ‘Oriental travelogue’, a show that included the screening along with introductory remarks and anecdotes by Lewis.”
Björn A. Schmidt: Visualizing Orientalness: Chinese Immigration and Race in U.S. Motion Pictures, 1910s-1930s. Böhlau Verlag Köln / Weimar 2017, p. 159/160


Photo: Arnold Genthe/Library of Congress Judy Yung

>>> San Francisco, 1906 on this website

>>> Urban Life


India’s First Long Film

Raja Harishchandra (Frgm.)
R: Dhundiraj Govind Phalke. B: Dhundiraj Govind Phalke, Ranchhodbai Udayram (story). K: Dhundiraj Govind Phalke, Trymbak B. Telang. D: D.D. Dabke, P.G. Sane, Bhalachandra D. Phalke, G.V. Sane. P: Phalke Films. IN 1913
Engl. titles

“Directed and produced by Dadasaheb Phalke, the ‘father of Indian Cinema’, this 40-minute-long silent film is the very first full-length Indian feature — the beginning of Bollywood. The narrative of the film is based on the eponymous legend recounted in the Sanskrit epics Ramayana and Mahabharata. The story centres around the hero Harishchandra, a noble king, who, to honour his promise to the sage Vishwamitra, sacrifices his kingdom, his wife, and eventually also his children. By the end, however, having pleased the Gods with his actions, Harishchandra’s former glory is restored.
Phalke was apparently inspired to make films after watching the French film The Life of Christ (1902)*, twice in one day. He quit his job at a printing press and went to London to learn the technical ins and outs of making a film. Returning to India, he pledged in his life-assurance policies and his wife sold her jewellery to raise the capital needed. Struggling to find women willing to act in the film, Phalke had to instead cast men in the female roles, including Anna Salunke as Harishchandra’s wife. (…) Unfortunately, Raja Harishchandra only exists now in fragments.”
The Public Domain Review

* Maybe, he watched the 1906 Alice Guy Film La naissance, la vie et la mort du Christ

“It took Phalke and his team over six months to complete filming Raja Harishchandra. (…) Since working in a film was considered taboo in those days, Phalke instructed his team to tell people that they were working at the ‘Harishchandrachi Factory’. One of the biggest roles in the film’s production can be attributed to Phalke’s wife, Saraswati. She was responsible for feeding the entire production team, washing actors’ costumes, painting the film’s posters, and taking care of many other technical details of the film. It is believed that she used to cook for 500 people every day, without any help.

Phalke was well aware of his limitations of making a silent film. In order to better the audience’s understanding of the movie, he inserted title plates between scenes. These plates explained parts of the story in both the English and Hindi languages. Along with this, Phalke used live music to accompany the moving imagery on the screen. Raja Harishchandra was screened in a single theatre – Coronation Cinematograph. On its first screening, Phalke invited the press and many other people to watch. He promoted the movie with a catchy phrase – ‘Raja Harishchandra: A performance with 57,000 photographs. A picture two miles long. All for only three annas.’ In order to increase the attraction for people, he also hired two European dancers to perform before the film begun, for the first few screenings. Needless to say, people came, watched, and went home saying good things about the ‘57,000 photographs’. The first full-length feature film was a success and ran for 23 days in the Coronation Cinematograph. A year later, the movie was screened in London as well.”

The beginnings of cinema in India
“The movies arrived in India on 7 July 1896, barely seven months after the Lumiere brothers’ first ever screening of a motion picture in Paris the previous December.  The location was the somewhat upmarket Watson Hotel in Bombay (now Mumbai) where Marius Sestier, employed by the Lumiere brothers to demonstrate their cinematograph abroad, screened six short Lumiere films.  Amongst the largely European audience was an Indian national, H S Bhatavdekar (more commonly known as Save Dada) who was inspired by the screening to go out and order a camera of his own from the UK.   With his newly acquired camera (but having to return the film to Britain for processing) Save Dada shot India’s first short film, The Wrestler (1899), simply a filmed record of a wrestling match.  Dada went on to film other notable events, including the reception given to mathematics scholar R. P Paranjpye who achieved a First at Cambridge University and a Darber coronation in Delhi in 1903, in effect establishing himself as an early newsreel photographer. (…) India’s first film studio, the Elphinstone Production Company, was established in 1907 by J F Madan who had made his money up until then as a successful distributor and exhibitor of imported films.  He also opened India’s first purpose-built cinema the same year, the Elphinstone Picture Palace, in Calcutta.  Madan’s film businesses grew to dominate the Indian film industry in the 1920s and 1930s.

>>> Gabriel Veyre, Lumière operator

Shooting. 50 feet. $7.50


Click and view the film on YouTube

Shooting captured insurgents
K: William Heise. P: James H. White / Edison Manufacturing Co. USA 1898
Print: Library of Congress
Reenacted ca. July 1898, probably in New Jersey.

Sources used: Copyright catalog, motion pictures, 1894-1912; Musser, C. Edison motion pictures 1890-1900, 1997, p. 458; Niver, K.R. Early motion pictures, 1985; Edison films catalog, no. 94, March 1900, p. 10 [MI]; Edison films catalog, no. 105, July 1901, p. 34 [MI]
Library of Congress Control Number 00694305

From Edison films catalog: A file of Spanish soldiers line up the Cubans against a blank wall and fire a volley. The flash of rifles and drifting smoke make a very striking picture. 50 feet. $7.50.
Library of Congress

>>> Spanish-American War 1898  on this site

>>> WAR

Méliès: His (Self-)Decapitations

Un homme de têtes
R: Georges Méliès. D: Georges Méliès. P: Star-Film. Fr 1898

“‘The Four Troublesome Heads’ (i.e. Un homme de têtes) is a nice intro to Méliès’s talent and goofy sense of humor. (…) He used substitution splicing, a.k.a. stop-substitutions a.k.a. stop-tricks, every time he takes off his ‘head’. This meant stopping the camera and placing a dummy head in his hands and what appears to be a dark cloth or bag over his real head. The multiple ‘heads’ were photographed using the wonders of the multiple exposure and split-screen techniques. Méliès had used substitution splicing earlier in The Vanishing Lady (1896) and the lost The Cabinet of Mephistopheles (1897), but this is his most elaborate use of the effect so far. Other filmmakers, at least George Albert Smith, had also tinkered with these kinds of effects, but Méliès was probably the most fascinated by their many possibilities. (…) Look at how the two on the left table start chatting with each other – this was very tough to do, since Méliès would’ve had to rewind the film several times to capture his different performances while remembering his exact expressions and movements in the previous few seconds. Remember, this was over two decades before performers such as Buster Keaton would try doing the same thing.”

L’homme à la tête de caoutchouc
R: Georges Méliès. D: Georges Méliès. P: Star-Film. Fr 1901


A Salty Melodrama

A Tragedy of the Cornish Coast
R: Sidney Northcote. B: Harold Brett. D: J. Wallett Waller, Dorothy Foster, Oriel Farrell. P: British & Colonial Kinematograph Company. UK 1912
Location: Newquay
Print: BFI National Archive

“Oversized characters populate this drama about a jealous fisherman who kidnaps a local girl when she falls in love with a travelling artist. A lifeboat team – arguably the real heroes of the hour – is corralled in attempt to make the rescue. B&C, the London-based producers of the picture, were well-regarded at the time for both feature films and documentary-style items.”
BFI Player

“‘I was in at the beginning’, recalled Douglas Payne, a veteran actor who had played thoughtful heroes since Herbert Asquith was prime minister. ‘Believe me, the British film industry developed through the efforts of the strangest conglomerate of humanity one could imagine. Of course, there were the visionaries, the pioneering spirits, the intellectuals; but in comparison with other industries, more than the usual percentage of adventurers, confidence men, and even a few of what used to be called in my youth, ‘white slavers’. They saw the casting couch as the answer to their wildest dreams. I once mistakenly lent a dress suit to a producer. It was returned to me covered in blood, the by-product of discharging pox. Yes, you met all kinds of game in those days.’
We know the names of the beasts that were bagged by the police. Bernard Edwin Doxatt-Pratt worked as a film director in Britain and Holland, making boxing pictures and movie versions of West End hits. He abandoned two wives, disappeared with the fees of a film acting school for which he failed to take a single class, and was sent to prison for failing to pay a hotel bill. His contemporary Sydney Northcote was a prolific producer of salty melodramas, all of which featured Dorothy Foster emoting on various stretches of British coastline. The titles he shot just in one year, 1912 – The Smuggler’s Daughter of Anglesey, The Belle of Bettwys-y-Coed, A Cornish Romance, The Pedlar of Penmaemawr, A Tragedy of the Cornish Coast and The Fisher Girl of Cornwall – suggest that he was not the most versatile of talents, but they also explain the nature of his life of crime. Shortly after this spurt of activity, it struck him that it was not absolutely necessary to make a picture in order to extract cash from its backers, and took to touring seaside resorts, raising funds for the production of movies, and absconding with the cash before a frame was in the can.”
Matthew Sweet
The Guardian, 8 Apr, 2011

A Financial Crime Drama, NYC

The Streets of New York
R: Travers Vale. B: Dion Boucicault (play). D: J.H. Roberts, Louise Vale, Madge Orlamond, Herbert Barrington, J.W. Hartman. P: Pilot Films Corporation. USA 1913
Print: EYE (Desmet collection)
Dutch titles

“The play takes place in New York City during the panic of 1907. Gideon Bloodgood, a prominent banker, is on the eve of absconding, owing to the affairs of his bank being in a precarious condition. At this juncture relief comes in the person of Captain Fairweather, who has sold out his interests in the Mercantile Marine Company, intending to retire from the active duties of his profession. Fairweather comes to Bloodgood’s bank; it is after banking hours, but he prevails upon Bloodgood to accept his money, amounting to $100,000, as a special deposit. News come that the captain who was to have taken command of Fairweather’ s ship has met with a severe accident and is unable to sail. His old employers prevail upon Fairweather to make this final trip. He is about to go on board when his attention is attracted by the newsboys shouting “Extra.” He buys a paper and is horrified to discover that Bloodgood’s bank is in a shaky condition. He rushes hack to the bank and demands his money (…)”
Moving Picture World synopsis

“Travers Vale (1865 – 1927) was an English-born silent film director. He directed 78 films between 1910 and 1926. (…) Travers Vale’s actual birth name was Solomon Flohm, son of Joseph Flohm and Esther Flegeltaub who were both Russian Polish Jews who had emigrated to the UK during the Crimean War. Soon after Solomon’s birth, they set sail to Australia on the SS Great Britain with other family members and ended up settling in Ballarat, Victoria (…). Family myth suggests that his first independent stage production [in which he used the name, Travers Vale] was when he produced a stage version of ‘The Mystery of the Hansom Cab’ – a ripping murder mystery novel written in Melbourne in the 1880s by Fergus Hume and contains many descriptions of Melbourne life at that time. Sometime late 1890s / early 1900s, he ventured with his wife (…) to India and then onto London. In London Leah gave birth to their first child, Violet Rachel Vale, in 1894. Some time later they arrived in the USA [probably Alabama] and Leah gave birth to their second child, Olga Vale, in 1900. Sadly Leah died in Alabama on 13 May 1904. Travers and his girls moved soon after to New York where he became involved in the early days of Vaudeville before the film industry headed emmass across the continent to Hollywood in the 1920s.”

More New York films on this website:

>>> New York Stories, about 1900
>>> New York 1911
>>> Griffith and the New York Police Dept.
>>> Modern New York
>>> NYC: Newspapers and Skyscrapers
>>> Defilee
>>> New Brooklyn to New York via Brooklyn Bridge
>>> New York City “ghetto” fish market
>>> New York of Today
>>> New York, pont de Brooklyn

Early Cinema in Catalonia

Misterio de dolor (Frgm.)
R: Adrià Gual. B: Adrià Gual (screenplay and story). K: Alfredo Fontanals, Juan Solá Mestres. Ba: Juan Morales.  D: Aurora Baró, Emilia Baró, Joaquín Carrasco,José Durany, Enrique Jiménez. P: Barcinógrafo. Sp 1914
Print: Filmoteca Catalana

“A rather well told and well acted little short in the attractive setting of the Catalan mountains on a theme where early film-makers rarely dared to venture. A young shepherd attracts the love of a widow with a grown-up daughter. He marries her but increasingly finds himself drawn to the daughter who is secretly in love with him.”

“Adrià Gual (Barcelona 1872-1943), who was a playwright, poet and painter, was one of the most innovative Catalan theatre writers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. As a theatre and film director, he synthesised the different arts with the aim of achieving the total spectacle. He started out as a painter but soon gave his attention to theatre. The influence of French symbolism and, above all, of the Belgian writer Maurice Maeterlinck marked his first stage as a playwright. ‘Nocturn. Andante. Morat’ (Nocturne: Andante in Purple, 1896) and ‘Silenci’ (Silence, 1898) are two of the most representative works of this period of his life. However, lack of public interest in this type of theatre increasingly alienated him from the ‘decadent’ turn-of-the-century aesthetics. Although the presence of symbolist elements would remain in works such as ‘La culpable’ (The Guilty Woman, 1899), his theatre steadily acquired a more realist tone. ‘Misteri de dolor’ (Mystery of Pain, 1904), considered by Gual to be a ‘drama of the world’ was his first great success. This work, which was translated into several languages, inaugurated a new phase that was notable for its naturalist dramas such as ‘La fi de Tomàs Reynald’ (The End of Tomàs Reynald, 1905). (…) Gual created and directed the company Teatre Íntim (1898-1927) with the aim of modernising Catalan theatre. Later, commissioned by the Mancomunitat (a federation of the four Catalan Provincial Councils), he founded the Escola Catalana d’Art Dramàtic (Catalan School of Dramatic Art, 1913-1934). He was also an outstanding representative of the early years of cinema in Catalonia.”
Francesc Viñas
L’Associació d’Escriptors en Llengua Catalana


>>> Early Spanish Cinema 1, Early Spanish Cinema 2, Early Spanish Cinema 3