An Early ‘Race Movie’

Two Knights of Vaudeville
R: Unknown. D: Jimmy Marshall, Florence McClain, Frank Montgomery, Bert Murphy. P: Historical Feature Film Company. USA 1915

Film was made by the Historical Feature Film Company [US] which was a white-run company; but, distributed by the Ebony Film Company [US] to make it appear that it was released by a black-controlled company. (IMDb)

“In most American silent films, minorities were generally played by white actors in make-up. When actual minorities were cast, roles were generally limited. Latinos in silent films usually played greasers and bandits; Asian-Americans played waiters, tongs and laundrymen; and blacks usually played bellboys, stable hands, maids or simple buffoons. Early film depictions of black characters were highly offensive, including those in the films Nigger in the Woodpile, Rastus, Sambo and The Wooing and Wedding of a Coon. Not surprisingly, both Asian-Americans and blacks responded by launching their own alternative cinemas. But whilst Asian-American Silent Cinema quickly faltered, black cinema (blessed with a much larger audience) flourished and soon many so-called ‘race movies’ were being made by both black and white filmmakers for black filmgoers.
The first film company devoted to the production of race movies was the Chicago-based Ebony Film Company, which began operation in 1915. The first black-owned film company was The Lincoln Motion Picture Company, founded by the famous actor Noble Johnson in 1916. However, the biggest name in race movies was and remains Oscar Micheaux, an Illinois-born director who started The Micheaux Book & Film Company in 1919 and went on to direct at least forty films with predominantly black casts for black audiences. Also in 1919, seeing how lucrative the growing race movie market was, Jacksonville, Florida’s Norman Film Manufacturing Company switched tracks and began making race films, starting with an all black remake of one of their earlier films.”
Eric Brightwell: A History of Black Cinema: 1915 – 1969

>>> Early “Afro-American” Cinema on this site

>>> A Fool and his Money, presumedly the earliest surviving US film with an all black cast


Inside Africa

Navigazione sul Nilo
No Credits (Unidentified material). It ca. 1912 (?)
Original title unknown
Print: Museo Nazionale del Cinema di Torino

“A documentary film shot during a navigation of the Nile river and in the surrounding woods. Elephant, turtles, buffalos, giraffes, snakes and lions live in the lush vegetation. The light filters through the ancient trees and frightful crocodiles swim in the river, while the local tribes chase the wild beasts. The travelers hunt crowned cranes. The film ends with the shootings of an evocative sunset.
The film restoration:
The film was preserved by the Museo Nazionale del Cinema di Torino from a tinted and toned nitrate print (121 meter long) held by the Museo. The preservation work was carried out in 2012 by L’Immagine Ritrovata laboratory in Bologna.”
Museo Nazionale del Cinema di Torino

Aus dem Innern Afrika’s (I. Teil)
R: Unknown. P: Éclair. Fr (ca.) 1910
Original title unknown
German title inserts
Print: EYE

IMDb führt einen britischen Film unter dem deutschen Titel  “Eine Reise nach dem innern Afrikas” auf, Regie: Cherry Kearton, produziert von der Warwick Trading Company, 1911. Das Firmenlogo “Raleigh & Roberts” im Titel des vorliegenden Films verweist auf eine in Paris ansässige Firma dieses Namens, die zwischen 1903 und 1913 nach Eileen Bowser als “agents for a large number of European producers”, also als eine frühe Vertriebsgesellschaft agiert hat. Wolfgang Fuhrmann zufolge wurden im Jahre 1911 mehrere Kolonialfilme der Freiburger Express-Films Co. GmbH von der mit ihr “assoziierten” Gesellschaft Raleigh & Roberts “international vertrieben”. (KK)

>>> Colonial Sujets / Foreign Countries

>>> La chasse à la girafe en Ouganda

>>> Viaggio in Congo

Music-Hall and Film

Van boerin tot artist
R: Chrétien van Esse. K: H.J.W. van Luijnen. D: Louisa Augusta van Gijtenbeek, Chrétien van Esse. P: Unknown. NL 1910 (1916?)
Print: EYE
Engl. title inserts

Chrétien van Esse, artist name: Chrétienni, 1855-1921. Belgian revue singer who formed a duo with Louise Augusta van Gijtenbeek, Dutch revue artist, 1882-1965: “Louisette and Chrétienni”.
This film was used to introduce the music-hall act of Louisette and Chrétienni and was an integral part of their performance.

More about Louisette and Chrétienni:
Annette Förster: Women in the Silent Cinema: Histories of Fame and Fate. Amsterdam University Press 2018

G. Donaldson: Of Joy and Sorrow. A Filmography of Dutch Silent Fiction. Amsterdam 1997


Georges Méliès, Musician

R: Georges Méliès. D: Georges Méliès. P: Star-Film. Fr 1900

Le mélomane
R: Georges Méliès. D: Georges Méliès. P: Star-Film. Fr 1903
Sound Design:

“Although there’s nothing in Le mélomane that we haven’t seen before from Méliès  —  particularly in Un homme de tetes and L’homme orchestre  —  the inventive manner in which he renews these tricks gives the film enormous charm, and we can only wonder how Méliès consistently came up with new and entertaining ways to demonstrate the same tricks over and over. Le mélomane boasts some of Méliès’ most accomplished trick shots, particularly in the way he throws his disembodied heads into the telegraph wires and the way in which those heads appear to dart around the screen before flying off at the film’s end.
It’s worth noting that the positioning of his disembodied heads in the wires forms the opening notes to the British National Anthem (My Country, Tis of Thee, to our American cousins), which suggests Méliès might have been pandering to these markets (sheet music was still popular at the turn of the 20th Century, so audiences back then were much more likely to recognise the tune). Of course, the irony is that Le mélomane is a silent musical, although it’s probable that the film would have been accompanied by live music in many theatres. This inventiveness on the part of Méliès makes all the more puzzling his inability to adapt to the changing taste in movies — a flaw which would eventually force him out of the business entirely.”
20/20 Movie Reviews

The patriotic death of a child

La piccola vedetta lombarda
R: Vittorio Rossi Pianelli. B: Edmondo De Amicis (story). K: Giacomo Farò. D: Vittorio Petrugaro, Telemaco Ruggeri, Antonio Monti. P: Film Artistica Gloria (Torino). It 1915
Print: Museo Nazionale del Cinema

“The story of La piccola vedetta lombarda / The Little Lookout from Lombardy takes place during the Risorgimento, after the battle of Solferino in 1859. Italian soldiers ask an orphan boy from Lombardy (Luigino Petrangaro, sic!) to spy on the Austrian enemy troops. First he climbs on a roof and when that is too low, he spies from a high tree.
Despite the officer (Antonio Monti) asking him to come down, the boy stays too long in the tree and he is shot down by enemy fire. The soldiers pay their respects to his patriotic death, each passing his corps draped in the flag to honor him. And there he slept in the grass, draped in his flag, his face white, smiling, as if he was happy to have given his life for Lombardy.”
European Film Star Postcards

“Gloria [i.e the production company] adapted several stories from Edmondo De Amicis‘ popular book ‘Cuore’ about the life of nine boys in a school class in the city of Turin. (…)
For a long time the story of La piccola vedetta lombarda was considered as fiction. But author Edmondo de Amicis based in 1886 his story on a historical incident with the orphan Giovanni Minoli (1847-1859). In 2009 historians Fabrizio Bernini and Daniele Salerno have completed and published a meticulous reconstruction of the facts, based on archival documents of the time, which confirms the real existence of Giovanni Minoli and his tragic end.
There are some variations between fact and fiction. In the novel and the film, the boy dies almost immediately while in reality he died after a few months suffering in a hospital. The tree in which he climbed is in the story an ash tree while in reality it was a poplar. This poplar still exists.”
Paul van Yperen’s Blog (goodreads)

>>> Il piccolo Garibaldino,   The Spirit of the Flag Den lille hornblæser The Drummer of the 8th

>>> WAR

Max Linder, hanging

Le pendu
R: Louis J. Gasnier. D: Max Linder. P: Pathé Frères. Fr 1906

During its premiere at the Omnia Pathé in Paris, on Dec. 14, 1906, a “live” rendition of the song “Le pendu” accompanied the film. For this upload, a recording from 1902, sung by André Maréchal was used.

“‘Attempted Suicide’ is a travesty on the ‘red tape’ of the French police service; at least the characters seem French and the uniforms worn are of that nation. (…) That personage, while alarmed, declines to hasten until his necktie and scarf have been properly adjusted, when all run to the woods, and the presumed suicide (by this time) is laid upon the ground. Upon his sweetheart arriving he embraces her madly, having been playing ‘possum, which may be detected by the audience through seeing a hook attached to the end of the rope in his coat. This relieves what would be otherwise a gruesome sight, and for real pure fun, with the burlesque on the idiotic police system always to the fore, ‘Attempted Suicide’ will be difficult to beat.”
Variety, Feb. 9, 1907

“Unlike the later comic suicide attempts by Harold Lloyd in Haunted Spooks (1920) and Buster Keaton in Hard Luck (1921), the act is here performed nearly-dead serious, with zero gags to make up for it, and thus our distance to the execution remains arguably too slight for us to laugh at it. However, upon the film’s release in the United States, one reviewer in ‘Variety’ praised the brief scene, suggesting it to be most of all a ‘travesty’ on French police. (…) Travesty or not, Le pendu is perhaps most notable today for displaying Max in a role akin to the one he was to make his trademark, sporting dark bowler and light suit. He is plainly approaching the gentleman boulevardier of his later films.”
Snorre Smári Mathiesen: Max Linder: Father of Film Comedy. BearManor Media 2018

>>> suicide in early silent comedy: Polidor vuol suicidarsi


“Titanic” or “Olympic”?

“One of the common frustrations for any researcher is the seeming lack of and/or inaccurate film footage of Titanic and her two sisters Olympic and Britannic. (…) Newsreel strands, such as the Gaumont Film Company’s Animated Weekly, made up for the lack of footage of the ship itself by splicing in newly shot material of the aftermath of the sinking. These included scenes such as Carpathia arriving at New York, the Titanic survivors disembarking and the crowds gathering outside the White Star Line offices in Brooklyn as lists of the casualties were being posted. Gaumont’s Titanic newsreel  [ >>> Fiction and Newsreel] was hugely successful and played to packed houses around the world. The first Titanic newsreels appeared in Australia as early as 27 April, while in Germany the Martin Dentler company promised that its Titanic newsreel would ‘guarantee a full house!’.(…) Some movie companies tried to make up for the lack of footage by passing off film of other liners as being of the Titanic, or marketing the footage of Titanic‘s launch as showing her sinking. (…) The most common error – and seemingly not accidental either – was to describe footage as being of Titanic when in actual fact it was her older sister Olympic. This issue persists until today. Even a casual search on YouTube will show a myriad of results describing Titanic when it is not. That such an error is not accidental can be seen by the fact that the names of the tugs have been removed from the footage so as to conceal its whereabouts and that it is actually Olympic, not Titanic. ”
Wikipedia  / William Murdoch Net

R.M.S.Olympic, Construction and Launch, 1908-1910
P: Kineto. UK 1908-1910

Newsreel footage of the construction and launch of R.M.S. Olympic at Harland and Wolff, Belfast, Ireland. Olympic‘s keel was laid in December 1908 and she was launched on 20 October 1910. The original newsreel was shot on 600 feet of silent, black and white 35mm film by the production company Kineto and had German titles. Original newsreel footage has been converted into HD and audio recreated.
The Life and Mystery of First Officer William Murdoch

More about the Titanic complex here:
>>> Fiction and Newsreel,  Feuillade’s Titanic Film


R: Herbert Brenon. B: Herbert Brenon, Frederick Melville (play), Walter Scott (novel). D: Leah Baird, King Baggot, Jack Bates, Wallace Bosco, Herbert Brenon, Evelyn Hope, William Calvert, A.J. Charlwood, George Courtenay, Helen Downing, R. Hollies. P: Independent Moving Pictures Co. of America (IMP) / Carl Laemmle. USA 1913
Print: EYE (Desmet Collection)
Dutch titles

>>> Summary  (Moving Picture World synopsis)

“This much heralded three-reel offering will not disappoint observers in one respect. It possesses the quality of atmosphere to a remarkable degree. It visualizes for the observer very effectively the knights of olden days, ancient castles and battlements, Robin Hood and his merry band, and through the entire production there is scarcely a thing to he wished from a scenic standpoint. This reflects great credit upon Herbert Brenon, the producer, and upon the very efficient band of English supers who assisted him. King Baggot appears as Ivanhoe, Evelyn Hope as Lady Rowena and Lean Baird as Rebecca. The acting is adequate throughout. The story gets underway slowly, as does the novel itself, but the last two reels bring it to a satisfactory conclusion. A strong feature offering.”
The Moving Picture World, September 20, 1913

“In 1913, the American film industry was still teetering between focusing of features and focusing on shorts. Should they keep grinding out one and two-reel sausages or set their sights on bigger and better things? Ivanhoe was an example of the industry’s attempts to compete with the big European productions. IMP adapted Sir Walter Scott’s famous novel and then sent director Herbert Brenon and the cast off to England to soak up some atmosphere. (The English produced their own version of the tale the same year, this film is also reportedly extant.) The picture opened 100 years ago to audience acclaim and box office success.”
Fritzi Kramer
Movies silently

“For three or four weeks in 1913, the town of Chepstow took on the state of a festival, as nothing like the filming of Ivanhoe had been done on British soil up until that time. All the local hotels were full of Norman knights and damsels with American accents, the local ‘supers’ or extras, apparently went about their work in costume. Locals assisted with the costumes and ‘The Church Boy’s House’, a large social hall, was converted into a props and makeup facility. Reporters from national newspapers and the film press covered the making of Ivanhoe in detail, wanting to see how a “great cinematograph picture is taken”. They gave high praise to the making of the battle scenes. The sack of ‘Torquilstone’ caused two days of great excitement involving an army of 300 locals (Universal would claim ‘A Cast of Thousands’ in the film’s marketing). Enthusiastic participation resulted in a number of injuries, mostly minor, as well as many broken ‘weapons’. King Baggot himself was injured during the making of the film when an extra smacked him on the chin with a sword.”
Tom Stockman
We are movie geeks

“As features were getting underway from about 1912 to 1914, they had some trouble stretching the short and traditionally stage bound tradition of film. I mean, they really did just stretch those forms for a longer run time, rather than reworking cinematic language for lengthier storytelling. Of course, many of the basics established by filmmakers like Alice Guy-Blaché, Georges Méliès, Edwin S. Porter, and James Williamson were still at the foundation of the budding features, just as they often are today. But playing with camera distance and creating a greater sense of depth in a modern sense was a rare thing, and that’s only more glaring in features of the time. Films like Cleopatra (1912) and From the Manger to the Cross (1912) are impressive in their historical context, but they certainly drag. Ivanhoe, at about 52 minutes, does as well, but director Herbert Brenon did just a bit more with sets and his camera so as to mark the movie as a more clear landmark in the transition into early feature filmmaking.”
Tristan Ettleman

>>> Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Herbert Brenon