Albert Capellani 1911

L’épouvante
R: Albert Capellani. B: Pierre Decourcelle. D: Mistinguett, Émile Mylo, Paul Capellani, Jean Dax. P: Pathé Frères (S.C.A.G.L.) Fr 1911
German titles, Engl. subtitles

Albert Capellani (1874-1931) had already directed nearly fifty films for Pathé-Frères and S.C.A.G.L. (Société Cinématographique des Auteurs et Gens des Lettres*) before L’Épouvante, the first film he did with Mistinguett. Described by the press as a ‘terrifying cinemadrama, Decourcelle’s original script served as an exemplary vehicle for Mistinguett and her co-star Milo by restricting its action to a very short period of time and to just a few adjacent spaces. (…) L’Épouvante is remarkable in several ways. First, it has only four intertitles, two of which succinctly introduce the characters: Mistinguett, in a luxurious white fur, leaving a theater to get into a waiting car, and Milo casing her bedroom, hearing a sound, and hiding under her bed. Later, another sound cue will let Mistinguett discover and rescue Milo. Second, the extended sequence in which the police pursue him, uninterrupted by intertitles, is confined to the narrow balcony running alongside the apartment and to the steeply sloping roof of what turns out to be a five-story building. Relatively quick cutting keeps the pursuers and pursued proximate yet constantly separate, with closer shots adding to the suspense by linking spectators with Milo and his predicament. Third, the initial sequence in the bedroom includes several shots that are simply extraordinary for 1911. After Mistinguett takes off her jewelry, kicks off her shoes, and climbs into bed, she tosses aside a book, reaches for a cigarette, and looks down at a dropped match. Suddenly, the camera dollies back, distancing the spectator from her and accentuating her vulnerability. An overhead shot past her head then frames the thief’s hand emerging from under the bed and snatching the match. The shock of that shot closes the distance between spectator and character with almost Hitchcockian intensity.
Although perhaps lacking the fever pitch of Griffith’s last-minute rescue films, L’Épouvante certainly belies the widely held notion that the French cinema was incapable of producing exciting action films. Especially in its unique framing and editing strategies, this film is nearly the equal of Lois Weber’s and Phillips Smalley’s Suspense (1913).”
Richard Abel
Giornate del cinemato muto

L’intrigante
R: Albert Capellani. D: Georges Coquet, Catherine Fonteney, Georges Tréville. P: Pathé Frères (S.C.A.G.L.). Fr 1911
Engl. subtitles

“During the period February 1910 until March 1911, Albert Capellani directed no fewer than twenty-five pictures. On the surviving register from that period, we see that he was constantly shooting pictures with only one or two days’ break between them. Movies were still short. For example, the shooting of L’intrigante (working title: L’institutrice), a 275-m drama, took just four days, from December 6 to December 9, 1910. The main actress, Catherine Fonteney, was paid 30 francs per day. The result was a very clever movie, which has fortunately survived. It was about a little orphan girl, who is tormented by her Machiavellian tutor, played by Catherine Fonteney, who seems to have been typecast in this kind of role. (…) The total cost was 295 francs, about one franc pro meter of film.”
Christine Leteux: Albert Capellani: Pioneer of the Silent Screen. University Press of Kentucky 2015

“As documentary evidence, here the photograph is instrumental not only in maintaining hierarchy of classes but in keeping sexuality at bay by associating it with potentially criminal behavior. Yet, as a kind of dream scene projection by the girl, it also creates a haunting disturbance in the final portait of father and daughter as a proper bourgeois family. Nevertheless, (…) L’intrigante trades on the seeming veracity and consequent virtue of photogtaph as a privileged source of knowledge and truth – and, by implication, those qualities extend to their own moving images.”
Richard Abel: The Ciné Goes to Town: French Cinema, 1896-1914. Updated and Expanded Edition. University of California Press 1998, p. 210

* S.C.A.G.L. = Société des Auteurs et des Gens de Lettres. A “prestige” production unit within the Pathé organisation, launched by Charles Pathé in 1908. Capellani became its first artistic director, working as adviser and supervisor to various Pathé directors.