Starewicz: Mystical and Macabre

Portret (Frgm.)
R: Wladyslaw Starewicz. B: Nikolay Gogol (short story). D: Andrej Gromov, Ivan Lazarev. P: Unknown. RUS 1915
Based on a story by Nikolay Gogol, this film must have run about 45 minutes long, but only this 8 minute fragment is known to have survived so far.

“While the horror genre as an industrial output was never dominant, Russian film-makers regularly enganged with an examination of dark narratives, the phantasmagorical and the mystical in supernatural and modernist re-appropiations of repressed folk motifs. The themes of the supernatural and the fantastic were evident already in Russia’s earliest films of the 1910s:  The Secrets of House No. 5 (Kai Hansen, 1912) is a detective drama with elements of mysticism and the spirit world; Wladyslaw Starewicz’s adaption of Gogol’s Noch pered Rozhdestvom (The Night before Christmas, 1913), Strashnaia mest’ (The Terrible Vengeance, 1913) and Portret The Portrait, 1915) all operate in a dark and unsettling atmosphere with themes of horror, folktales and the macabre.”
Natalie Ryabchikova: Horror. In: Birgit Beumers (ed.): Directory of World Cinema: Russia 2. Intellect Books 2015, p. 155

>>> Wladyslaw Starewicz and Christmas with Starewicz on this website

>>> Films by Kai Hansen: Anton Chekhov on Screen and Russia: Princess Tarakanova

More about Starewicz:
Eric Schneider: Entomology and Animation: A Portrait of An Early Master Ladislaw Starewicz

Albert Capellani: Two Feeries

A Film Director of Two Centuries

“As a 20th century director Capellani works with stories rooted in the present of their times: he achieves a wonderful Effet de Réel with Paris street scenes (Les deux soeurs,  L’homme aux gants blancs). He weaves his characters and plots into continuous narratives consisting of photographic evidence of the sequence of events. He shows cinematographic images of great immediacy, which grab and hold the audience. This is the cinema of empathy, of feelings, the cinema of the now-past 20th century.
Capellani is a director of this 19th century. His films allow us to participate in the cultural life of the ‘800: they give us access to its imaginary worlds, its entertainments and its fantasies. There are féerie subjects, with special effects and apotheoses (La légende de Polichinelle, 1907). There is the fascination with the ancient world and its decadence – veil dances, shimmering colours, goblets of hemlock (Amour d’esclave, 1907)– and the ‘local colour’, be it Cuba (Feast of Life, 1916), Elizabethan England (Marie Stuart, 1908) or Paris, recreated in Studios in the U.S.A (The Virtuous Model, 1919). There are realistic reconstruction of events that took place in 1796 (Le courrier de Lyon, 1911), and monumental frescoes of war and social struggle. (Quatre-vingt-treize and Germinal).”
Mariann Lewinsky
Il Cinema Ritrovato XXV edizione (2011)

La légende de Polichinelle
R: Albert Capellani / Lucien Nonguet. B: Albert Capellani. D: Max Linder. P: Pathé Frères. Fr 1907
Engl. titles

“Born to well-to-do parents in the wine region of Bordeaux, Max (Linder) was fascinated at an early age by the fairground shows and circuses that passed through the area and took up acting at age 16, when he entered the prestigious Bordeaux Conservatoire. A minor star of light comedies on the Paris stage by 1904 (around which time he adopted the name ‘Max Linder’), he was recruited for the movies by Louis J. Gasnier, a theater casting coordinator who moonlighted as a director at Pathé, and he appeared in his first film in 1905. For four years, he played both leads and extras, and not all of his films were comedies. In 1907, for example, Linder was directed by Albert Capellani in a strange rescue-revenge féerie entitled La Légende de Polichinelle (Harlequin’s Story), which is undoubtedly more interesting for Capellani’s direction than for Linder’s capering in the lead role of a mechanical toy in love with a doll.”

Le pied de mouton
R: Albert Capellani. B: Alphonse Martainville / César Ribié. P: Pathé Frères. Fr 1907
German titles, Engl. subitles

“After the French Revolution, theater began to focus on pleasing the bourgeoisie. One of the most popular forms of light entertainment was the whimsical and elaborate féerie, child of the former opulent court ballets. The first official féerie we can point to was ‘Le pied de mouton’ (The Sheep’s Foot),  written by Alphonse Martainville and first staged on December 6, 1806. It was the model for all the plays that followed throughout the 19th century: hero Guzman goes on a quest to rescue his lover Leonora from a villain, and encounters many obstacles and strange sights along the way. Not too far removed from today’s road films, but more in favor of the imagination and the timeless showdown of good vs evil.”
Lea Stans

>>> Timeline of Historical Film Colors: Le pied de mouton

>>> The Tableau System of Presentation and Capellani’s Aladin ou la lampe merveilleuse

Further reading:  Albert Capellani in America: 1915-1922

An Outlaw with a Sense of Responsibility

Broncho Billy’s Christmas Dinner
R: Gilbert M. ‘Broncho Billy’ Anderson. B: Gilbert M. ‘Broncho Billy’ Anderson. D: Gilbert M. ‘Broncho Billy’ Anderson, Edna Fisher, Arthur Mackley, Julia Mackley. P: The Essanay Film Manufacturing Company. USA 1911
Print: EYE
Dutch intertitles, Engl. subtitles

“This film is a novelty in western productions. The idea of it is excellent and the method of working it out is to be commended. Broncho Billy is a bad man who has committed numberless crimes. In this instance, even though he had planned to rob a coach, he rescues the driver and a girl from death in a runaway and is invited with the rest of the crowd to a Christmas dinner at the girl’s home. The incident results in his redemption and a decision to reform. The long ride through the mountains with the coach is attractive and there is a thrill in every step of the runaway horses as they dash away and the outlaw after them. When he climbs to the box and takes the reins from the girl’s hands the audience is ready to cheer. The story and the action are alike excellent and this film will prove popular because of its unusual but altogether reasonable sensations.”
The Moving Picture World, January 6, 1912

“What distinguished Broncho Billy movies was that Billy was a repeating central character that appealed to audiences. Anderson focussed on personality rather than on the spectacle that characterized contemporary Westerns. Billy was typically an outlaw who underwent reformation, but one with a sense of responsibility towards women and children. With Bronch Billy, Anderson tried to create better entertainment for families and at the same time be a role model to teach moral lessons to children. He affirmed Victorian values and made the movie theater an attractive place for middle-class families. Anderson often drew to evangelical themes, especially redemption, and used Christian themes in his movies. Examples were Broncho Billy’s Christmas Dinner (1911), Broncho Billy’s Bible (1912), and Broncho Billy’s Sermon (1914). These themes helped to make him popular with middle-class women.”
Jeremy Agnew: The Creation of the Cowboy Hero: Fiction, Film and Fact. McFarland 2014, p. 101

>>> more Broncho Billy on this website: WESTERN

Selig’s Tropical Jungle Zoo

William N. Selig was an important film producer in the early days of the motion picture industry. A Chicago-born magician, he began his film career in 1895 after he saw a Dallas vaudeville hall demonstration of Thomas Edison‘s Kinetoscope while he was running a travelling minstrel show. Returning to Chicago, he had a projector devised by dissembling and duplicating the Lumière Cinematographe. Working with a machinist, he patented the Selig Standard Camera and the Selig Polyscope, and incorporated his equipment business, a motion-picture studio and a film processing plant as the Selig Polyscope Company in 1896. Within a few years, Selig’s Chicago-based company became the largest filmmaking plant in the United States. At his studio on the city’s outskirts, he produced westerns, adventure films, and melodramas utilizing both indoor and outdoor filmmaking. Among the people he trained was G. M. (“Broncho Billy”) Anderson, who worked as an actor and director for Selig from 1905 to 1907 and then formed a rival company (Essanay) with Chicago businessman George Spoor.
Selig was among the first movie producers who considered Los Angeles as a versatile moviemaking location. After sending crews there for two years, he opened a permanent Los Angeles studio in 1909. The studio became particularly important for his business when, in 1909, President Theodore Roosevelt would not allow a Selig cameraman to accompany his big game expedition to Africa. So Selig bought an aging lion from a Los Angeles zoo and staged his own tropical jungle hunt with a lead character named ‘Teddy.’ When the newspaper wire services announced that Roosevelt had ‘bagged’ a lion, Selig released his fictional film entitled Hunting Big Game in Africa and scored a smash hit. The film was so successful that Selig bought an entire zoo for his Los Angeles studio and began making jungle adventure films.”
Lauren Rabinovitz
Film Reference

Thor, Lord of the Jungle
R: Francis J. Grandon. B: James Oliver Curwood, Edward McWade. D: Kathlyn Williams, Tom Santschi, Charles Clary, William Holland, Lafe McKee. P: Selig Polyscope Company. USA 1913
Print: EYE
Dutch titles
Engl. subtitles

“Although Selig had started to make wild animal pictures after Hunting Big Game in Africa, and although he had been filming in Florida in 1910-11, the flurry of jungle- adventure films truly started in 1912, after the opening of Selig’s Wild Animal Farm in Los Angeles;  by 1914 he had contracts with many exchanges to release at least one jungle-adventure film per week. Some of these films were set in the USA (…), but many of these films, including the serial The Adventures of Kathlyn, were set in or around European colonies in Africa or Asia, even as they featured American characters. By plotting relationships with European colonies the jungle-adventure films imagined a particularly American cinematic empire. (…) In Thor, Lord of the Jungle (Colin Campbell [sic!], US 1913), Henry (Charles Clary), a good-for-nothing circus owner with an antagonistic relationship to animals, hunts and captures animals in Africa. (…) We are supposed to understand that animals in film are more thrilling than animals at the circus, and that unlike other entertainments, wild animal films claim the moral high ground, a strategy no doubt related to the cinema’s attempt to legitimize itself at the time.”
Michael Lawrence, Karen Lury: The Zoo and Screen Media: Images of Exhibition and Encounter. Springer 2016, p. 100-101

Alone in the Jungle
R: Colin Campbell. B: Otto Breitkreutz. D: Tom Santschi, Bessie Eyton, Frank Clark, Lillian Hayward, Wheeler Oakman, Eddie James. P: Selig Polyscope Company (William Nicholas Selig). USA 1913
Print: EYE
Dutch titles

“The Brown family, which consists of Hon. John Brown, his wife, two sons, Harold and Billy, and a young sister named Helen, has settled on an isolated plantation in the Jungles. Jack Arden, son of another English planter, who comes over frequently to hunt with the boys has fallen in love with Helen. But Papa Brown discourages the lovers, saying that Helen is too young to be married. Jack agrees to wait. Some time afterward the Browns receive a letter from Jack stating that he is coming for another week-end of shooting- with the Brown boys. On his way to the Brown’s home, Jack knocks down Concho, an overseer, for being cruel to one of the slaves. His action is approved of by the Browns. In honor of Jack the family starts on a lion hunt, and, after a long trip, they return by the river route. They espy a lioness drinking at the river’s edge. She is killed by Jack and taken aboard. That night Jack again asks Mr. Brown for Helen’s hand and is again told to wait. The next day when Jack is going away, Helen, unknown to anyone else, accompanies him a little way into the jungle. (…)”
Moving Picture World synopsis

“Interestingly, an old patriarchal imperialism based on hunting gets represented but also critiqued. Alone in the Jungle (Colin Campbell, US 1913) includes a lion hunt  at the end of the first reel, in which ‘the lion shooting is actually accomplished in full view of the camera, and is real in every respect, the actors being face to face with the blood-thirsty beasts in a real jungle’; at the end of the second reel, the heroine (played by Bessie Eyton) is rescued from underneath a lion just in time. But in Thor, Lord of the Jungle, released a few months later, our sympathies are on the side of the lion and its female admirer. (…) But the hunter, while often present, is rarely in the center of the plot, at least not as a hunter. Likewise, older male patriarchs are rarely the heros. In Alone in the Jungle, the father’s objection to his daughter’s early matrimony postpones the romantic plot and endangers the daughter. (…) The incorporation of old patriarchs and hunters, along with the simultaneous focus on youthful romances was certainly connected to the film’s desire for an inclusive audience.
While a proto-imperialist social order focused on the male patriarch rarely gets endorsed, many of the films indulge in a plantation fantasy in which a white nuclear family is surrounded by racially coded laborers or other support staff. Alone in the Jungle is set on a plantation in South Africa. (…) Even films that are not set on plantations (…) provide opportunities for racial regimes reminiscent of plantation culture. (…) Thor, Lord of the Jungle features African American extras who pull carts oxen and horses. (…) The plantation ideal of the youngish white nuclear family supported by friendly brown bodies crucially supplemented by animals is at the basis of many of these films.”
Michael Lawrence, Karen Lury: The Zoo and Screen Media: Images of Exhibition and Encounter. Springer 2016, p. 101-103

548-Alone in the Jungle

>>> Two Selig Thrillers

>>> Theodore Roosevelt in Africa


A Painterly Use of Light

Expressens mysterium (Alone with the Devil)
R: Hjalmar Davidsen. B: Carl Gandrup, Laurids Skands. K: Louis Larsen. D: Valdemar Psilander, Christel Holch, Svend Aggerholm, Carl Lauritzen. P: Nordisk Films Kompagni. Dk 1914
Ital. intertitles

“A four-part offering rather artistically produced and humanly acted, so that there are many fine scenes and pleasing pictures. The story, with much that is far-fetched in it, is not without dignity, inasmuch as it gives a good portrayal of friendship which is at once both convincing and worthy. But it has a gruesome background in the work of the hypnotist devil and his influence on the wife. The effect, as a whole, is not quite pleasant enough to be truly entertaining. The ‘devil’ is the business rival of the hero and has the latter’s wife under hypnotic control, forcing her to reveal her husband’s business secrets. The husband has a friend, a lawyer, who acts as guardian angel to him.”
The Moving Picture World, April 4, 1914

“Nordisk took its place alongside Pathé and Gaumont as a major producer and distributor. Granted, smaller Danish companies sometimes proved more innovative: Kosmorama with the Asta Nielsen sensation Afgrunden (1910), Fotorama with the 700-meter White Slave Trade (1910), Dansk Biografkompani with Benjamin Christensen’s extraordinary Mysterious X (1913) and Hævnens Nat (1915). But Nordisk had the resources to capitalize on these firms’ efforts and standardize them. Benefiting from a stable of skilful directors, Nordisk was able to create films that exemplify the range of aesthetic resources during this crucial decade.
Film historians have pointed out Nordisk’s accomplishments in cinematic storytelling, especially the modulated performances of Asta Nielsen, Valdemar Psilander, and their peers, along with the painterly use of light, as here in Alone with the Devil (Ekspressens Mysterium, 1914). We can also find early uses of close-ups, crosscutting, and scene dissection in Danish cinema. Here and elsewhere, these editing-based techniques, historians argued, replaced the purportedly heavy tableaux of ‘theatrical’ cinema.
By 1919, throughout the world, silent cinema seemed to have found its mature form, and Danish directors played a crucial part in the enterprise. The evidence is now overwhelming, however, that the editing-driven account of film technique is one-sided. The international ‘theatrical’ style of the 1910s was far more complex than many historians allowed. As an aesthetic system, it was based on the idea of the shot as a rich totality. Setting, lighting, camera position, and figure movement created an expressive image that ripened through time. The most ambitious 1910s tableaux exercised the viewer’s eye in ways we have still not fully appreciated, and Nordisk played an important role in this staging-based approach to filmic storytelling.”
David Bordwell: Nordisk and the Tableau Aesthetic

Hjalmar Davidsen (1879 – 1958), producer (Afgrunden, 1910) and director

>>> August Blom and the Nordisk on this site

Charlie vs. Chester Conklin

Those Love Pangs
R: Charles Chaplin. D: Charles Chaplin, Chester Conklin, Cecile Arnold, Vivian Edwards, Peggy Page, Marvin Faylen, Fritz Schade. P: Keystone Film Company. USA – Rel. 10 October 1914

“In his memoirs, Mack Sennett recalled that production on the largely improvised short was shut down after only a few days and a few simple shots. (…) What remained to make up Those Love Pangs was a mishmash of elements familiar from a handful of then-recent Chaplin shorts, including the boarding house setting of The Star Boarder, the romantic goings on at the centre of Twenty Minutes of Love, and in the cinema-set climax, elements of A Film Johnnie. It’s clear that in the trade off in comic material between Those Love Pangs and Dough and Dynamite, it was the second film that came off best.
That’s not to say that there’s nothing notable about this largely improvised, off-the-cuff short. It’s not as innovative or as interesting as the one that followed, but it did show — albeit in small details — that Chaplin’s art, especially his performance, was continuing to grow and develop beyond the confines of the formula of Keystone slapstick (although he still manages to include the inevitable lake-in-the-park scene, where his forlorn romantic contemplates suicide).”
Brian J. Robb
Chaplin: Film by Film

Dough and Dynamite
R: Charles Chaplin. B: Mack Sennett, Charles Chaplin. K: Frank D. Williams. D: Charles Chaplin, Chester Conklin, Fritz Schade, Norma Nichols, Peggy Page, Cecile Arnold. P: Keystone Film Company. USA – Rel.  26 October 1914

“If Those Love Pangs was a lesser film in Chaplin’s filmography, there’s good reason; all the best material had been left out, marked instead for this film. That picture had aimed to set him and Chester Conklin up as screen rivals for the attentions of their landlady, without any real idea of how that was going to unfold. Chaplin developed the idea of them working at a bakery and that soon grew into such promising material that it was shifted out to be a separate picture, this one. Those Love Pangs was therefore developed once again, was shot quickly in only four days and ended up feeling much like an afterthought, albeit one that benefitted from Chaplin’s continued growth as a filmmaker; he endowed it with enough interesting detail that it doesn’t feel unworthy of attention. It’s immediately obvious that Dough and Dynamite completely overshadows it, though, as Jeffrey Vance ably highlights: ‘In the early silent-film era,’ he explains, ‘Dough and Dynamite was generally regarded as one of the greatest of all Hollywood comedies.'”
Hal C. F. Astell

Gentlemen of Nerve
R: Charles Chaplin. D: Charles Chaplin, Chester Conklin, Mack Swain, Mabel Normand, Phyllis Allen, Alice Davenport. P: Keystone Film Company. USA – Rel. 29 October 1914

“The first deliberate meaning of the title presumably refers to the real drivers racing their automobiles on the Ascot Park Speedway in Los Angeles on Sunday, 20th September, 1914. This is the same venue which served as the background for Mabel’s Busy Day, four months earlier, possibly the worst of Chaplin’s 1914 shorts. That was ostensibly a Mabel Normand picture with Chaplin trying to steal it from her, while this is a Charlie Chaplin picture with Normand trying to steal it from him, so it could easily be regarded as a riff on the earlier film or a thematic sequel. I found Mabel’s Busy Day not only the worst of Chaplin’s pictures for Keystone but the one in which he was most obnoxious and least sympathetic; he returns to that here somewhat but not to the same degree. Fortunately, Mabel, an annoying character in that film too for her constant ‘woe is me’ attitude and an unbelievable copout at the end, is an absolute joy here and surely the cause of some of the best moments in the picture.”
Hal C. F. Astell