Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle’s New Humor

Fatty’s Plucky Pup
R: Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle. D: Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle, Phyllis Allen, Edgar Kennedy, Joe Bordeaux, Josephine Stevens, Al St. John. P: Keystone Film Company. USA 1915

“The narrative discourse of Fatty’s Plucky Pup is evidently not designed for unity. There is nothing necessary in the events of the first reel for an understanding of the second; we do not, for example, need to know how Fatty acquires his dog in order to accept the dog’s subsequent presence. Narrative development is hostage to the film’s structural tensions and divisions. As unusual as this film is, the majority of Keystone’s two reel releases exhibit a similar compromise with narrative values: rather than attempt a comprehensively plotted form, Keystone’s filmmakers preferred a more divided approach, shifting from loosely structured ‘biz’ at the films’ beginnings to tautly plotted melodramas at the ends. The inventiveness of this strategy was to have met the challenge of the two-reel format without undermining Keystone’s indebtedness to the disjunctive formulas of the New Humor. But it also produced an unresolved tension between the demands of slapstick and the demands of narrative, a tension that could – and in the case of Fatty’s Plucky Pup did – yield disunities within the comic text. This tension lay in the heart of Tillie’s Punctured Romance.”
Rob King: The Fun Factory: The Keystone Film Company and the Emergence of Mass Culture. University of California Press 2008, p. 118/119

>>> Fatty and Mabel

Up the River Congo, 1912

531-CongoClick the picture, film starts after 25 sec.

Viaggio in Congo
K: Guido Piacenza. It 1912

Guido Piacenza, as his brother Mario, was a clever entrepreneur, driven, both by the business sense and by a strong adventure spirit. In 1912 he organized an expedition to Belgian Congo, considering to arrive to Matadi and reach Uganda going up the river Congo. With him there was his friend Neri, expert in the sleeping sickness. During the trip, Guido Piacenza brought the movie camera and some negative film stock with himself, in order to document some of the most characteristic aspects of that country. At a first research, the images shot by Piacenza seem to be the most antique scenes of that area. Some important stopovers were documented by Piacenza himself, who also left, as a testimony of the entire expedition, a manuscript diary, that is now conserved at the Fondazione Famiglia Piacenza di Pollone.
At that time the film wasn’t edited, but it was safeguarded by the family who then entrusted to Museo Nazionale del Cinema. The information contained in the diary have permitted to determine a chronologic order to the editing. The manuscript has also been the source of the intertitles inserted in the film, edited with the contribution of the Laboratorio di Antropologia Visiva del Dipartimento Culture, Politiche e Società dell’Università di Torino.”
Museo Nazionale del Cinema

Viaggio in Congo 
Restored version (with musical composition and recited text):

“The restored version of Journey to Congo was accompanied in 2016 with ‘KNG’: musical composition by Emiliano Minervino; performed by Arianna Di Martino (cello) and E. Minervino (vibraphone, guitar, piano, drums and percussion); texts taken from Guido Piacenza’s travel diary (kept at the Fondazione Piacenza in Pollone) recited by Riccardo Niceforo; the selection of the texts was made by the Museo Nazionale del Cinema and by the Fondazione Piacenza.”

>>> Inside Africa

>>> Colonial Sujets / Foreign Countries

Max Linder – Early Comedies

Max et la doctoresse
R: Max Linder. B: Max Linder. D: Max Linder, Lucy d’Orbel, Georges Gorby. P: Pathé Frères. Fr 1909
German subtitles

“Max makes love to the lady doctor, who, of course, cannot forbid his visiting her, and we see him married later to the lady, but each time he starts to embrace she is called away to treat a sudden patient. Finally he kicks all the patients out of the office and domesticity reigns supreme. Such a subject, of course, could be made most suggestive which the film is in spots. It shows the flexible featured Max in the role of the husband. The picture is presented in a capable manner.”
The New York Dramatic Mirror, Dec. 9, 1914

“Une spirituelle critique de la question féministe, toujours brûlante d’actualité. Les femmes ont conquis le droit d’occuper les fonctions jadis exclusivement réservées aux hommes. Quel sera, dans un ménage, le résultat de cet état de choses? C’est ce que nous conte, cette très amusante comédie jouée par le trois fois illustre Max Linder.”
Le Film, 3.7.1914

Je voudrais un enfant
R: Max Linder. B: Lucien Boyer, Max Linder. D: Max Linder. P: Pathé Frères. Fr 1910
German subtitles

“As a result of Max’s desire for a family, his wife takes a recommended prescription and presents the dismayed Max with a family of a dozen or more children. A risque type of French comedy, not suited for critical audiences.”
Pathescope film catalog, 1920

“So great and so successful a firm as Pathé puts out some of the prettiest — and some of the worst — comedies one can want to see or flee. (…) Attracted by the name Pathé, which usually means ‘well done,’ the present scribe wandered into a ‘photoplayhouse’ (horrific name this, not to say horrendous)! yesterday, and sat interestedly through One on Max*. Interested, because from the beginning things happened in so unhuman, unnatural and peculiar a manner that one couldn’t help wanting to know what the deuce was coming next. Now, the present scribe is not French, has never been in France and couldn’t pretend to say anything about the French character. He hardly imagines that this is a sample of French humor, but if it is — God pity the French!”
C.H. Claudy, Moving Picture World, Jan. 14, 1911

* ‘One on Max’ is the US title of the Linder comedy La vengeance du bottier, 1909


Australia’s Earliest Films

Patineur grotesque
R: Marius Sestier. P: Lumière Brothers. AUS 1896
Filming Locations: Prince Alfred Park, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Print: National Film and Sound Archive of Australia

“When frères Lumière representative to Australia, Marius Sestier, arrived in Sydney in mid September 1896 one of his tasks was to not only show films but to make films. With his Australian concessionaire, Henry Walter Barnett, the pair made Australia’s first film Passengers Leaving SS Brighton at Manly in Sydney. The first screening of that film at the Salon Lumière on 27 October 1896 was a success and Sestier announced more local films to come. (…) Patineur Grotesque, aka The Humourous Rollerskater or The Burlesque Roller Skater, was made in Prince Alfred Park, Sydney but the exact date is still unknown. Despite this, the film’s first screening was not in Australia, but in Lyon, France on 28 February 1897. It is believed that the film had never been screened in Australia until 2010. (…)

In 2005, Coralie Martin, an intern of the NFSA’s Research Program identified two films made in Australia by Marius Sestier in 1896 which were not in the NFSA’s Collection. (…) One film was from the Melbourne Cup Carnival Series shot in Melbourne in 1896 and was added to the titles already held. The Melbourne Cup film was readily identified as the weighing-in for the Cup, in which the jockeys ride their horses to the weighing room on the Flemington racecourse and are weighed for correct weight before the race. The other film was of a burlesque (comic) roller skater also made in 1896. The second film of a roller skater, Patineur Grotesque, was unknown to NFSA curators as there had been no previous mention of this film in Australia. (..) Burlesque rollerskating had been included on the stage since the 1880s in Australia and around the world. A burlesque rollerskater was often hired to perform at outside venues such as skating rinks, circuses, aquariums or other places of amusement. Now also recognised as Australia’s first comedy film, it is interesting to note that French film historian, Georges Sadoul, in his 1973 rewrite of ‘L’invention du Cinéma’, refers to Patineur Grotesque as the forerunner to the work of Charlie Chaplin and Max Linder.
National Film and Sound Archive of Australia

For more about Marius Sestier see Salon Lumière: Australia’s first cinema

The Melbourne Cup Horse Races in Australia
R: Marius Sestier / H. Walter Barnett. P: Lumière Brothers. AUS 1896
Print: National Film and Sound Archive of Australia

>>> more early Australian films here: Australia

The Thanhouser Kid

The Tiniest of Stars
R: Unknown. D: James Cruze, Marguerite Snow, Marie Eline, Helen Badgley. P: Thanhouser Film Corporation. USA 1912/13
Print: Library of Congress

“The movie was shot in New Rochelle NY in the fall of 1912 and released in January 1913. (…) Marie Eline was such a superb young pioneer child silent performer that she became known as the Thanhouser Kid. She made her first movie for Thanhouser in 1910, The 29 cent Robbery when she was barely 8. In this movie, she pulls off the part of a young boy better than any boy could have.”

“An air of authenticity infuses this family drama of a brother and sister who take to the variety stage. The popular stage was a source of everyday entertainment for most Americans of the time, and had been Edwin Thanhouser’s career before 1910. Audiences were beginning to recognize and demand more of the little actresses Marie Eline (who plays the little boy) and Helen Badgley, which led to the studio promoting them, and demand for their movies helped create the star system which survives today stronger than ever.”

Marie Eline with Thanhouser:

>>> In a Garden, Just a Shabby Doll, The Vicar of Wakefield, The Two Roses, Get Rich Quick, Only in the Way, The Evidence of the Film, Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

A stylish mise-en-scène

Young Romance
R: George Melford. B: William C. de Mille (play and screenplay). K: Walter Stradling. D: Edith Taliaferro, Florence Dagmar, Tom Forman, Frederick Wilson, Al Ernest Garcia, Marshall Mackaye. P: Jesse L. Lasky Feature Play Company. USA 1915

“What might have been little more than a slight comedy-drama of a young impoverished pair pretending to be wealthy socialites at fashionable Newport becomes a gem of humor and adventure thanks to the play by William C. de Mille on which Young Romance was based, and the underplaying of the charming Edith Taliaferro. From her performance in Young Romance, it is obvious that Miss Taliaferro might well have been one of the major actresses of the cinema’s formative years, and one can only wonder why her career was so short and why she has been so long overlooked.”
Anthony Slide

“The shots often have a greater depth-of-field than others movies of the time, and even when they are limited to small stages, the sets are decorated in a very conscious, balanced fashion, presenting a stylish mise-en-scène, appropriate to the sophisticated storyline. The editing emphasizes contrasts and parallels. We see Edith and Tom prepare for their trips in similar tiny apartments, then arrive and move into strongly contrasting hotel rooms – his dismal and small, hers spacious and lovely. Other pieces of editing, such as the Count’s getaway on a train being intercut with Tom’s boat ride to the rescue also show good use of parallelism. We also get close ups, irises, and an interesting overhead pov shot when Tom peers through a hole in his wall to observe the Count’s nefarious actions.”
Century Film Project

>>> George Melford’s The Colonel’s Escape on this site

Mauritz Stiller

636-HämnarenHämnaren (The Avenger)
R: Mauritz Stiller. B: Martin Jørgensen, Louis Levy. K: Hugo Edlund. D: Wilhelm Hansson, Edith Erastoff, Edmond Hansen, Richard Lund, Gustaf Callmén, Tyra Dörum, John Ekman. P: Svenska Biografteatern. Sw 1915
Print: Filmarkivet Svenska Filminstitutet
Span. subtitles

Print temporarily not available. Here is a fragment:

“Swedish filmmaker Mauritz Stiller (1883-1928) was, next to Victor Sjöström, the greatest director of Swedish cinema’s golden age. Stiller, the Helsinki-born son of Russian-Polish Jewish parents, was orphaned at four and then adopted by the Katzmans, a family of haberdashers. As a youth he attended Hebrew school, took violin lessons and apprenticed at their business until he was conscripted into the Czar’s army. Rather than serve he escaped to Sweden. He got involved in the Swedish film industry in 1912. Like his colleague Sjöström, Stiller was able to create sophisticated, lyrical films that earned Swedish cinema great international respect. His early films were usually elegant social satires, but after World War I, he began making epic adaptations of popular novels, those of Selma Lagerlöf in particular. On of those adaptations The Atonement of Gosta Berling (1924) introduced Greta Garbo, his protogée. At the invitation of mogul Louis B. Mayer, Stiller and Garbo went to Hollywood where her career exploded while his lagged behind as he found himself constantly battling the confines of the Hollywood studio system. His first American Garbo film, The Temptress (1926), was taken away from him. He found success with his next two films, but in all, he was not impressed with Hollywood and returned to Sweden in the late twenties. There he died of acute rheumatism at age 45.”
Sandra Brennan, Rovi

“Mauritz Stiller and Victor Sjöström emerged as two of Sweden’s greatest pioneer directors, and Stiller’s The Avenger (1915) and Sjöström’s Kiss of Death (1916) offer glimpses of what was soon to come — although Sjöström had already directed Ingeborg Holm (1913), which film critic Andrew Sarris suspects may be the movies’ first masterpiece.
The Avenger, about a pregnant Jewish woman’s rejection by her Gentile lover and its consequences to the next generation, is strongly steeped in the coincidental and the didactic. It is far removed from the sophisticated fare that would make Stiller a rival to Lubitsch — yet the story must have been exceptionally close to his heart.”
Kevin Thomas
Leaders in the silent era of film

Madame de Thèbes
R: Mauritz Stiller. B: Martin Jørgensen, Louis Levy. K: Julius Jaenzon. D: John Ekman, Märta Halldén, Nicolai Johannsen, William Larsson, Albin Lavén, Karin Molander. P: Svenska Biografteatern. Sw 1915
Print: Stiftung Deutsche Kinemathek / Svenska Filminstitutet

“Madame de Thèbes (1845–1916), pseudonym of Anne Victorine Savigny, was a French clairvoyant and palm reader. She plied her trade from her living room at No. 29 Avenue de Wagram in Paris. Every Christmas, she published her prophecies in an Almanac, which enjoyed wide circulation. She was said to have predicted: The Boer War, the Russo-Japanese War, Triggers of World War I (and more). She published the book ‘The Enigma of the Dream: Explanation of Dreams’ in 1908.”

“It was Dumas who suggested to Savary that she adopted the professional name ‘Madame de Thèbes’ in reference to a play he had been working for years called ‘La route de Thèbes’, a psychological drama centred on a mysterious woman. He never finished the play but the creation of  ‘Madame de Thèbes’ was completed to great effect. By the time Dumas died in 1895, de Thèbes’ business was well established, and for the next two decades the elite of Parisian society made their way to her consulting rooms at 29, avenue des Wagram. (…) Madame de Thèbes had a successful publishing career, with titles such as ‘L’ Énigme de la main’ (1901). The vehicle for her First World War prophecies, though, was her ‘Almanach de Madame de Thèbes’, the first volume of which appeared in 1903. (…) In her Almanach for 1913, de Thèbes had predicted ‘Germany menaces Europe in general, but France in particular. When the war breaks out she will have willed it, but after it there will no longer be Hohenzollern or Prussian domination.’ (…) While one Austrian newspaper dismissed ‘the famous Madame de Thèbes’ as being a mere agitator for the ‘Pan-Slavic’ clique in Paris who sought to unify the Slavic nations of Eastern Europe, she was widely feted as an extraordinary international figure. Such was her fame due to her war prophecy that in 1915 the Finnish-Swedish film director Mauritz Stiller made a romantic drama about an ambitious politician who does not realize that he is the illegitimate son of none other that Madame de Thèbes, but this knowledge falls into the hands of a political rival.”
Owen Davies: A Supernatural War: Magic, Divination, and Faith During the First World War. Oxford University Press 2018, pp. 30-33

“La mise en scène efficace et élégante de Stiller est parfois relativement rudimentaire, proche de l’esprit du cinéma des origines (simple enregistrement de ce qui se passe devant la caméra), mais le plus souvent beaucoup plus articulée, voire sophistiquée : déplacements de caméra pour suivre le mouvement ou découvrir un élément caché ; gros plans comme celui de la main projetée sur un écran dans le cabinet de la voyante équipé de la technologie la plus moderne ; souci de fluidité dans les enchaînements.
Surtout, certaines scènes prennent une réelle ampleur grâce à un sens de la nature qui annonce les amples sagas à venir et un instinct infaillible dans la manière d’installer action et personnages dans un espace vivant ( le valet qui rattrape la bohémienne dans le parc du château ; celle-ci surprenant la comtesse venue noyer son bébé mort dans l’étang ; le vagabond qui surgit du fossé et agresse la jeune fille). Bref, au-delà de ses côtés un peu frustes et malgré son caractère tronqué cette Madame de Thèbes plus que prometteuse est bien l’oeuvre d’un véritable cinéaste.”
Claude Rieffel

>>> Mauritz Stiller’s Vingane

528-mauritz stiller

A Famous Plagiarism

Den hvide slavehandel (The white slave trade)
R: August Blom*. K: Axel Graatkjær. D: Ellen Rindom, Svend Bille, Lauritz Olsen, Einar Zangenberg, Victor Fabian. P: Fotorama/Nordisk Films Kompagni. Dk 1910
Print: Det Danske Filminstitut
Engl. subtitles
* following Det Danske Filminstitut: Alfred Cohn

“Anna, a young girl from a poor but honest household, is offered an attractive position as a lady’s companion in London. Her childhood friend is worried, but she goes anyway. To Anna’s horror, the ‘distinguished house’ turns out to be a brothel, but she manages to overpower her first customer. A helpful maid smuggles out a letter to her parents, and they alert the League for the Suppression of the White Slave Traffic. The childhood friend travels to England and hires a detective. Together, they find the brothel and Anna. They arrange her escape. Anna lowers herself down from her window, but after an automobile chase, the slavers overpower her liberators and abduct her again. Fortunately, the maid alerts Scotland Yard, and on board the ship they had hoped to escape on, the villains are caught and Anna freed.

This film is a brazen, setup-for-setup rip-off of an identically titled film, Den hvide Slavehandel, made in the spring of 1910 by the film company Fotorama in Denmark’s second-largest city, Aarhus. The Fotorama version was the first Danish feature-length film (3 reels), and it was phenomenally successful. Nordisk wanted in on the action, and they simply plagarized the film, scoring a huge hit outside Denmark. Fotorama threatened legal action, but the matter was settled out of court, apparently to the satisfaction of everyone concerned. Only a few fragments of the Fotorama version survive, but the similarity is evident. Nordisk even copied technical refinements like the three-panel split screen image, where two of the villains have a telephone conversation in the side panels while the central panel shows a busy street (this portion of the Fotorama version does not survive, but it was described in a contemporary newpaper review).
European Gateway

527-Slave trade Advertising poster

Further reading: Jean Allain – White Slave Traffic in International Law