Léonce Perret: L’enfant de Paris

L’enfant de Paris
British version: The Child of Paris
R: Léonce Perret. B: Léonce Perret. K: Georges Specht. D: Suzanne Privat, Émile Keppens, Louis Leubas, Marc Gérard, Maurice Lagrenée, René Navarre (?). P: Société des Etablissements L. Gaumont. Fr 1913
Print: Cinémathèque française
Engl. titles

“Whatever you do now that you think is new was already done in 1913.” (Martin Scorsese)

“1913 was a year renowned for its various contributions to the film industry. It was in that year that many highly influential films came to be released, and these included titles such as the first German Expressionist film The Student of Prague, proto-thriller Suspense, and Ingeborg Holm which brought about changes in Swedish society. But there was one particular film in 1913 that far surpassed them all; one which was ahead of its time but has unfortunately been left in the shadows of the Silent Film Era by many people. That film is The Child of Paris. (…) Like a roman-feuilleton (political sections of French newspapers consisting of literature and criticism), The Child of Paris is complete with depictions of class struggles and social divisions in a society with patriarchy and the presence of the bourgeois. The Child of Paris is, however, by no means an outright and blatant political film. Rather, it was simply a traditional melodrama of its time in which depictions of the working class were prevalent in cinema. That being said, the film’s merits lies in the way it sets out to present its story by utilizing techniques that were ahead of its time. With vertical and through-the-wall camera movements as well as shots like alternating POVs, cut-ins, superimpositions and high angle exterior shots, The Child of Paris created a visual language of storytelling that would go on to be employed by future filmmakers.”
Haru in Letterboxd

This film is more than just Fantômas-by-the-seaside though, being an almost unprecedented two hours in length and proving not only worthy of its extensive running time – largely – but chock full of inventive and entertaining composition and narrative drive. You find glimpses of cinema-to-come in many shorter films from the period but there are few that I’ve seen that are as likeable and logical as this one. It helps that director Léonce Perret also wrote and that this is not an attempt to compress a novel or expand a play – it is a composition purely for cinematic exposition. At some points it appears a little too deliberate – man climbs into house, walks down a shadowy corridor and searches rooms… but this isn’t Liam Neeson chasing down euro-criminals in cut-up cine-short hand, it’s a man going through the steps in real time… well almost: you soon realise the cutting and directoral finesse already involved even if it’s almost invisible to the jaded modern eye. These scenes manage to build a genuine tension aided by the unpredictability of the vintage pacing.”

“Possibly the first feature film that took two hours without giving a dead minute back – the story skillfully exploits every act, throws the viewer from one situation to the other and constantly balances the pacing with several technical quirks and masterful tableaux filming. A typical example of the many truly overlooked works of early film history – as underrated as they come, from Léonce Perret’s sound (albeit silent) direction to the often awe-inspiring cinematography by George Specht and the memorable Maurice Lagrenée as Bosco, the character who unexpectedly becomes the film’s bittersweet protagonist halfway in.”
Arbogast Video Theatre in Letterboxd

“The sleuth Bosco uses high technology, like Professor Williams in Le mystère des roches de Kador. He sends a telegram, and takes a ride on a train. One of the most exciting, heartening things in the second half of L’Enfant de Paris is seeing the lower class Bosco do all the things that had been denied him due to poverty. It is thrilling to see him break through and send a telegram, something he has probably never done before in his life. In 1913 telegrams were high tech. It is like a poor person today using the Internet for the first time. Bosco is completely successful, too. Unlike what skeptics might say, the working class Bosco is plenty smart enough to take part in society and use technology. He just has lacked the money to do so.”
Mike Grost

“Most of the movie is edited in sequence, with each scene playing out before moving on to the next one, although there is some cross-cutting in the sequences when Bosco follows the Graduate and calls in the police. The real strength of the movie, however, is the photography by Georges Specht. There are a number of interesting backlit scenes, as well as some shots which are much darker than we usually see in movies from the time, including the ‘dark’ themed crime movies of Louis Feuillade. The use of mise-en-scene establishes the contrast between the comfortable and opulent home of the family, and the squalid conditions of the cobbler and his underworld associates.”

>>> Perret’s Le roman d’un mousse on this site

>>> Léonce Perret

Alice Guy in America – 4

Across the Mexican Line
R: Alice Guy. D: Romaine Fielding, Frances Gibson. P: Solax Film Company. USA 1911

Across the Mexican Line was the first of Solax’s regular output of military pictures and, reportedly, the only one to be directed by Alice Guy Blanché. It’s an unremarkable and dated one-reeler. Its main draw is that it was directed by the world’s first female filmmaker. She began making movies in 1896 or thereabouts for the French studio Gaumont. In America, she and her husband formed the Solax studio. Although the output of other early cinema pioneers, like Georges Méliès and Edwin S. Porter, e.g., seems to have grown stale by the 1910s, Guy remained proficient throughout the decade, running her own company, but Across the Mexican Line is not one of her better productions. (…) The story is a bland and jingoistic spy romance set during the Mexican-American War and with the added exotica for the era of an interracial coupling with a ‘half-breed,’ as portrayed by an Anglo actress, though (and which rather gives a double meaning to the ‘Mexican line’ title). Dolores uses her newfound skills in telegraphy to betray her Mexican countrymen and to save her beloved American. Harpodeon’s print is missing some footage, which is filled in by text explaining the missing scenes – although they don’t explain the seemingly poor use of crosscutting between Dolores on top of a telegraph pole and a shot of two soldiers firing guns. The editing suggests that they fired at Dolores, but the subsequent scene of her shows her apparently unharmed, and we don’t see another scene of the two soldiers. Oh well. It compares poorly to, say, the crosscutting last-minute-rescue films of D.W. Griffith, from around the same time.”

Parson Sue
R: Alice Guy. D: Blanche Cornwall, Darwin Karr, Gladden James, Billy Quirk. P: Solax Film Company. USA 1911/12
Print: Nelson Collection / National Film Preservation Foundation (NFPF)

“Before 1912 trade papers used the term  ‘western’ in a descriptive sense, as in the phrase ‘Wild West dramas’.  At that time the films that today would be called ‘Westerns’ were known under various genre categories: military films, Indian films,  sometimes even ‘Western dramas’ and  ‘Western comedies’.  Apparently, the first appearance of the term ‘Western’ to describe a film generically appeared in The Moving Picture World on July 20, 1912.  Ironically, the westerns shot in and around Fort Lee had their heyday in 1911; by mid 1912 the western ‘fad’ appeared to be over. According to a variety of articles and editorials in The Moving Picture World, the audience was tired of them. (…) Of course, the migration of film companies to California brought spectacular light and landscapes, real Indians, real bronco riders, real Mexicans and stars like Tom Mix and William S. Hart to the genre, giving it a new life by 1915.

Alice Guy Blaché had inaugurated her film company, Solax, in the fall of 1910, in Flushing, NY.  She discovered that the Cheyenne Days Company troop of cowboys on hiatus between Orpheum Circuit engagements when she was in Ft. Meyer, Va., supervising the production of some military films.  She told The Moving Picture News that she hadn’t thought of making a western until she saw these bronco riders in action. (…) The Cheyenne Riders starred in The Girl and the Broncho Buster (Solax, 1911) which was released July 14, (now a lost film) and the next Solax western, Outwitted by Horse and Lariat (Solax 1911, released July 28th) (still extant). (…) Parson Sue was released January 17, 1912, and it was the first Solax film to feature the newly hired Billy Quirk, a veteran of Biograph.
The Solax promotional summary for the film in Moving Picture World describes the film as a ‘Western Comedy’ that achieves its hilarity without ‘resorting to moss-eaten methods.’ (…) Guy pushed at the boundaries of the Western genre when she moved from having a woman using her smarts to get herself saved, to a woman as a parson and inspire cowboys to reform, to a woman throwing her own lasso and shooting her own gun. The latter happens in Two Little Rangers, sometimes also known as ‘The Little Rangers’ (released August 12, 1912). The final triangular tableau, reminiscent of a pietà arrangement, is typical of Guy’s endings for her action films; we see a very similar tableau at the end of Greater Love Hath No Man (Solax 1911). At this point she had pushed the genre as far as she could.”
Alison McMahan
Alice Guy-Blaché

God Disposes
R: Alice Guy. D: Mace Greenleaf,  Blanche Cornwall, Darwin Karr, Magda Foy. P: Solax Film Company. USA 1912
Print: EYE

>>> Alice Guy in America – 1,   Alice Guy in America – 2,    Alice Guy in America – 3

Der Hund von Baskerville, 1914

Der Hund von Baskerville
R: Rudolf Meinert. B: Richard Oswald, based on Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel ‘
Print: Filmmuseum München
Engl. subtitles

“Der Hund von Baskerville is a 1914 German silent film adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle‘s The Hound of the Baskervilles. This was the first film adaptation of the famed Conan Doyle novel. According to the website silentera.com, the film was considered lost, but has been rediscovered; the Russian Gosfilmofond film archive possesses a print, while the Filmmuseum München has a 35mm positive print.”

“In this early version the classic ‘Hound of the Baskervilles’ mystery is not faithfully adapted, Watson’s character is absent and there are two Holmes. Holmes’ foe is called Stapleton and he menaces Holmes’ client Lord Henry and his fiancée, Laura Lyons, masquerading himself as Holmes. Hidden passages, hand bombs and mechanical devices abound, reminding more of a serial than of a Conan Doyle story.”

“In 1907, Richard Oswald mounted a version of ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ in Praterstraße [i.e. a theatre in the famous Prater district of Old Vienna] based on ‘Der Hund von Baskerville: Schauspiel in vier Aufzügen aus dem Schottischen Hochland. Frei nach Motiven aus Poes und Doyles Novellen’ (The Hound of the Baskervilles: a play in four acts set in the Scottish Highlands. Freely adapted from the stories of Poe and Doyle) which was written by Ferdinand Bonn. By 1914, Oswald was working as a script supervisor at Union-Vitascope studios in the Berlin-Weißensee. Films based on mystery novels were very successful in German cinema at the time, so Oswald found himself in the position to pen a film script based on The Hound of the Baskervilles. (…) Der Hund von Baskerville was so successful, it spawned five more films: Das einsame Haus, Das unheimliche Zimmer, Die Sage vom Hund von Baskerville, Dr. MacDonalds Sanatorium, and Das Haus ohne Fenster. Neuß played Holmes in the first three sequels, but was replaced in the last two by Erich Kaiser-Titz.”

The film was released in France as Le Chien des Baskerville by Compagnie Genérale des Établissements Pathé Frères Phonographes & Cinématographes in 1915.
Silent Era

“Rudolf Meinert (1882–1943) was an Austrian screenwriter, film producer and director. Meinert was born Rudolf Bürstein in Vienna, but worked for most of his career in the German film industry. He became well-established as the producer/director of silent crime films. In the immediate post-First World War period, Meinert was head of production at the German studio Decla after his own production unit Meinert-Film was taken over by the larger outfit. Meinert, rather than Erich Pommer, is sometimes credited as the producer behind Decla’s revolutionary The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920). Following the Nazi takeover of power in Germany, Meinert, who was Jewish, went into exile in the Netherlands, however he returned to Austria. He moved to France in 1937 and lived there until he was caught, sent to Drancy internment camp and transported to Majdanek concentration camp on 6 March 1943, where he died.”

664-Rudolf Meinert

>>> Sherlock Holmes on Screen

>>> The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia


Over the Top

Over the Top – A Battle with the Elements
R: Unknown. P: Earle Films. USA 1915
Original title: The 1915 Buick, Across the Sierra from San Francisco to Reno

“In the early 1900’s Reno was the economic center of the Eastern Sierra. – With livestock, agriculture and mining making up the economy, folks would travel to Reno to do their business, ship and receive goods being delivered by rail from the east and west coast industrial centers – there was no tourism industry, no gaming, as we know it. It was to be legalized 15 years later.
The economic lifeblood of this community of 12-15,000 was the railroad, which was similar to all of the towns east of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and west of the Rockies. A serious problem arose in early 1916, when the railroad increased freight rates for shorter hauls than a longer haul on the same line in the same direction. A local organization called the Reno Commercial Club began organizing business groups in Reno, and other towns to the east to lobby Washington to pass legislation to make such practices unlawful.

It is thought by many that this was the basis for organizing the Rotary Club of Reno. Just another organization to provide more names to impress Congress with the petition. Although this may be conjecture to some extent, when one reviews the manner in which the Club was chartered, one would have the tendency to agree with the circumstances. I’ll leave it up to you to decide.”
History of the Rotary Club of Reno