Feuillade’s Bébé: Clément Mary

Bébé tire à la cible
R: Louis Feuillade. D: Renée Carl, Clément Mary, Paul Manson, Jeanne Saint-Bonnet. P: Société des Etablissements L. Gaumont. Fr 1912

“Clément Mary (1905-1974) was the most celebrated of the European child stars of the silent period. At the age of five he was employed by the French Gaumont studios to star in a series of comedies under the name of Bébé. Bébé was a cheeky, resourceful character who was invariably far smarter than the adult world around him. Indeed, the common gag in the Bébé films was to place the child in adult situations, evidenced in such titles as Bébé apache (1910), Bébé millionaire (1911) and Bébé candidat au mariage (1911). In the first of those, Bébé’s ability to capture the mannerisms of the Parisian apache, and to play these convincingly and with deft coming timing amid an adult cast is extraordinary. He also played occasional non-Bébé roles. In 1912, Louis Feuillade at Gaumont introduced a new child character into the films, Bout-de-Zan, and won a court case against Mary’s father who had protested at the competition. The father won the right to keep using the Bébé name however, and they moved to Eclectic Films to continue the series until 1916. In adulthood, he changed his name to René Dary and enjoyed a successful career in film and television into the 1970s.”
The Bioscope

“Feuillade, like many of his peers, was sort of a renaissance man filmmaker, experimenting in every genre and setting the medium encompassed at the time. But his crossover from the trick and comedy films of the early 1900s to the complexities of feature length filmmaking in the middle of the 1910s (although his most famous ‘features’ are technically series of shorts) is unique and commendable. Feuillade, in hindsight, was really interested in creating series, and his Bébé shorts probably represent his first. The installments are little comedy sketches about a little boy up to some kind of mischief, and the enterprise was eventually replaced by the Bout de Zan character (essentially the same concept).”
Tristan Ettleman


Between Naked and Nude

Le reveil de Chrysis
Dir. and actors unknown. P: Pathé frères. Fr 1897/99
From the Pathé series ‘Scènes grivoises d’un caractère piquant’ (6ème Série)

“Dans une atmosphère de parfums d’Orient, Chrysis s’éveille. Une négresse lui prodigue respectueusement les soins du lever, pendant que Chry sis soulève langoureusement son corps encore alangui par le sommeil.

Chrysis awakes in an atmosphere of oriental perfumes, and as she rises languidly from her couch, a negress attends respectfully to her wants.”
Filmographie Pathé

“[The] ambivalence between lustful voyeurism and artistic contemplation was later theorized as an opposition between the words naked and nude. While other languages, like French, make no distinction (using the word ‘le nu’ for both translations), English does. Kenneth Clark has theorized this dissimilarity in the following polarization: On the one hand he links ‘nakedness’ with ‘artless’, obscene exhibition and illicit voyeurism. On the other, he identifies ‘nudity’ as an artistic category that deals with ideal beauty and deserves legitimate contemplation. The attraction of living pictures precisely rested on this oscillation between nakedness and nudity, on the one hand de-idealizing the paint that takes shape in the flesh, on the other hand tranfiguring the actors’ bodies into works of art. The fact is too often overlooked, but thanks to this nude alibi, tableaux vivants were the means by which, historically, the naked body got on stage. And the same story occured on screen: the naked came into view under the guise of the nude, shaped by pictorial codes. Motion pictures became the direct heir of living pictures. (…) In the Pathé Catalogue, the film [ref. to La naissance de Vénus, Pathé 1899] appears in a series called ‘scènes grivoises d’un caractère piquant’, literally meaning ‘saucy scenes with a hot quality’. In addition to this title, a warning advises exhibitors to ‘exclude children from the exhibition of these pictures’. The tone is set. (…) The exhibition of flesh is the main selling point. (…)
The catalog summaries make constant reference to art, literature, mythology, and famous iconic nude figures in a lyrical literary style, with sophisticated adjectives, elaborated grammar, and a touch of poetry quelling any suspicion of vulgarity. And several surviving films of this ‘not-for-children’-list prove that the reference was visually significant. La naissance de Vénus (Pathé, ca. 1899) is inspired by William Bouguereau‘s painted Venus, (…) and Le Reveil de Chrysis (Pathé, ca. 1899) has much in common with Ferdinand Roybet‘s ‘Odalisque’.”
Valentine Robert: Nudity in Early Cinema; or, the Pictorial Transgression. In: Marina Dahlquist, Doron Galili, Jan Olsson, Valentine Robert (ed.): Corporeality in Early Cinema: Viscera, Skin, and Physical Form. Indiana University Press 2018, p. 157-159


Ferdinand Roybet (1840-1920): Odalisque (La Sultane)

Le bain des dames de la cour
Dir. and actors unknown. P: Pathé. Fr 1904
Print: Filmoteca de Zaragoza

>>> Herrenabendfilme

Stacia Napierkowska

Le pain des petits oiseaux
R: Albert Capellani. B: Georges Le Faure. D: Stacia Napierkowska, Edmond Duquesne, Lucien Callamand, Paule Andral. P: Pathé Frères (Société cinématographique des auteurs et gens de lettres SCAGL). Fr 1911
Print: Cinémathèque française

Stacia Napierkowska was a French actress and dancer, who worked during the silent film era. She appeared in 86 films between 1908 and 1926. She was born Renée Claire Angèle Élisabeth Napierkowski in Paris to a Polish father, Stanisław Artur Napierkowski, and a French mother. Napierkowska began her career with the Folies-Bergères, where she was noticed by the director of the Opera Comique who engaged her to perform in the Fêtes Romaines organized at the Théâtre d’Orange. She then acted in early silent films, becoming a star while playing opposite the celebrated Max Linder. In January 1913, she embarked for the United States to launch an international career: While sailing on the ocean liner ‘Lorraine’, she encountered the painter, Francis Picabia, who went on to produce a series of paintings inspired by her. In New York City, she was arrested during a dance performance when it was declared indecent. After returning to France, Napierkowska said,’Really, I have not brought away a single pleasant memory from the United States’ and ‘What a narrow-minded people they are – how utterly impervious to any beautiful impression!’ In 1917, Napierkowska directed the short film L’Héritière de la manade. She died in Paris on 11 May 1945.”

>>> TRAUM UND EXZESS, p. 303-304

>>> Stacia Napierkowska in Feuillade’s Les Vampires on this site

Chaplin’s ‘Shanghaied’

R: Charles Chaplin. B: Charles Chaplin. K: Harry Ensign. D: Charles Chaplin, Billy Armstrong, Lawrence A. Bowes, Edna Purviance, Wesley Ruggles. P: The Essanay Film Manufacturing Company. USA 1915

Print has been restored by Fondazione Cineteca di Bologna and Lobster Films in collaboration with Film Preservation Associates, from a nitrate fine grain preserved at The Museum of Modern Art. Intertitles have been reconstructed from re-release titles of 1920’s found in a Kodascope 16mm original element. (IMDb)

Shanghaied, Charlie Chaplin‘s 11th film for Essanay was shot largely on board the SS Vaquero, which Chaplin had rented for the film. Chaplin’s cameraman, Harry Ensign, devised a pivot for the camera which simulated the violent rocking of the ship as well as rockers for the stage, anticipating the shipboard shots in The Immigrant.”
Silent Hollywood.com


“The majority of the action on Shanghaied takes place aboard ship. Roused by his new crew, the Tramp is put to work under threat of physical violence. He tangles with a cabin boy, grapples with a cargo hook, and finally — now in a sloppy sailor uniform — serves soup from the galley kitchen. Each of these sequences consists of well thought through and developed comedy slapstick, with Chaplin pushing the boat out (ahem) to make sure he doesn’t miss a comedy trick.”
Brian J. Robb
Chaplin: Film by Film

“We are getting used to seeing the style of editing Chaplin developed from Keystone and refined in his year at Essanay, and he is now comfortable using close-ups to emphasize reactions and promote sympathy in the audience. Charlie also does a funny bit where he ‘salutes’ the captain, but (seemingly by mistake) puts his thumb to his nose as he does so. This seems to represent his comedic rejection of authority even while bowing to it.”
Century Film Project


“This film was sent to the Ohio Board of Film Censorship by the distributors so that it could be played in the state of Ohio. They approved it with eliminations. The requested eliminations are: ‘Cut out sub-title about destroying boat to get insurance money. Cut out all scenes where man strike others over head with mallet. Cut out scene where men are lying unconscious on boat. Cut out scene where Chaplin knocks man down. Cut out scene of men placing explosive in ship and setting fire to fuse’. (Bulletin for October 2, 1915)”
The Obscene Moving Image

Charlie in Transition

The Rounders
R: Charles Chaplin. B: Charles Chaplin. K: Frank D. Williams. D: Charles Chaplin, Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle, Phyllis Allen, Minta Durfee, Al St. John. P: Keystone Film Company. USA 1914

“The impersonation of a drunk was a long-lived vaudeville standby, a staple of the live entertainment circuit that just as quickly became a staple of screen entertainment in the early days of silent comedy. This film was the only one to properly team Chaplin with Fatty Arbuckle (they’d appeared together, but had minimal interaction before), and Chaplin biographer David Thompson saw it as looking back over ‘Chaplin’s whole gallery of inebriates from Karno to Keystone, and forward to A Night Out (1915) and ultimately to the Tramp’s night on the town with the millionaire in City Lights (1931).’ The title of The Rounders supposedly derives from the buying of drinks in rounds, so those who participate are ’rounders’, but it is a phrase that has long since fallen into disuse (although another explanation for the term suggests it derives from a combination of ‘rogue’ and ‘bounder’).”
Brian J. Robb
Chaplin: Film-By-Film

Getting Acquainted
R: Charles Chaplin. B: Charles Chaplin. K: Frank D. Williams. D: Charles Chaplin, Phyllis Allen, Mack Swain, Mabel Normand, Harry McCoy, Edgar Kennedy, Cecile Arnold. P: Keystone Film Company. USA 1914

“Chaplin’s second-to-last short for Keystone came in early December of 1914 with the release of Getting Acquainted. Chaplin had been as happy as he could be with the confines of the studio because he was quite happy with the wage he was earning. However, when Chaplin became aware of his rising stardom and huge popularity, he began to realise Sennett was not really paying him his dues. For him to have stayed at Keystone for much longer would have meant not only a huge pay rise, but also free reign as a creative artist. (…) But it wasn’t to be and Sennett could no longer contain his star, the man who had been giving him a good living but knew would be leaving the nest for greater things. Getting Acquainted is the product of a man with a lot on his mind, namely his own future. It doesn’t exactly feel half hearted but it’s obvious that Charlie was putting on his running shoes. That said, no Chaplin fan couldn’t enjoy the opportunity of watching the great man goof off. And that is basically what he is doing here. It’s another Keystone park comedy, with Charlie suffering along with his wife, hilariously named Mrs Sniffels, who he can’t wait to get away from so he can try to woo Mabel, a pretty girl he has his eyes on. By no means a highlight but interesting for seeing a Chaplin just about to switch gears.”
Chris Wade: Charlie Chaplin – The Complete Film Guide. Wisdom Twins Books 2019, p. 90-91

Chaplin’s last short for Keystone:

His Prehistoric Past
R: Charles Chaplin. B: Charles Chaplin. K: Frank D. Williams. D: Charles Chaplin, Mack Swain, May Wallace, Gene Marsh, Fritz Schade, Cecile Arnold, Al St. John. P: Keystone Film Company. USA 1914

Charlie and Edna

R: Charles Chaplin. B: Charles Chaplin. K: Harry Ensign, Roland Totheroh. D: Charles Chaplin, Edna Purviance, Billy Armstrong, Marta Golden, Charles Inslee, Paddy McGuire. P: The Essanay Film Manufacturing Company. USA 1915

Chaplin‘s career at Essanay began when negotiations between Keystone Studios’ impresario Mack Sennett and Chaplin stalled. Chaplin had been making $150 a week at the beginning of the year; now, he wanted $1,000 a week, an unheard of sum. That was more than he made himself, as head of the studio, protested a pained Sennett. But, said Chaplin, it was not Sennett, but Chaplin who brought the audiences to Sennett’s films. The dispute became public, and G.M. Anderson and George K. Spoor (their initials made up Essanay’s name) offered Chaplin an astounding $1200 a week, and the opportunity to make fewer films. (Chaplin had made 35 films in his hectic year at Keystone.) Chaplin’s Essanay career was brief; he made films there during 1915 and part of 1916, a total of 14 films, before he jumped to still more money — $10,000 a week and a $150,000 bonus, an astronomical sum — at Mutual.”
Kevin Hagopian
New York State Writers Institute

A Jitney Elopement
R: Charles Chaplin. B: Charles Chaplin. K: Harry Ensign. D: Charles Chaplin, Edna Purviance, Lloyd Bacon, Ernest Van Pelt, Leo White. P: The Essanay Film Manufacturing Company. USA 1915
Print: Restored by Fondazione Cineteca di Bologna and Lobster Films in collaboration with Film Preservation Associates, from a nitrate fine grain preserved at The Museum of Modern Art and a nitrate print preserved at the Cinemathèque Royale de Belgique. (IMDb)

“This was the first film that would focus on developing a romance between the characters played by Chaplin and Edna Purviance (reflecting their off-screen real lives), an area that many of the subsequent films would build further upon. The whole premise of the short develops from the Tramp’s attempts to save Edna from the arranged marriage her father (Ernest Van Pelt) has contracted with Leo White’s Count. (…)
Amid the action, Chaplin never forgets that it is character that counts. The opening of the film sees the Tramp holding a flower, suggesting the character’s softer and more emotional or caring side. This would be an image that Chaplin would repeat and develop as his filmmaking became more sophisticated, with the contrast between the freshness and vitality of a flower with the broken down aspect of the Tramp becoming one of the filmmaker’s favourite juxtapositions. Notice, also, in this sequence, Chaplin’s use, as director, of an iris out effect (a circular transition effect achieved in the film developing lab — a facility which Essanay lacked prior to Chaplin’s arrival) to emphasise the detail of the flower. Cinematic technique or clever direction or camerawork was never central to Chaplin’s comedy or Rollie Tothero’s cinematography, but they would develop the ‘iris out’ as a signature finale to many of their shorts beginning with The Tramp.”
Brian J. Robb
Chaplin: Film by Film

The Champion
R: Charles Chaplin. B: Charles Chaplin. K: Harry Ensign. D: Charles Chaplin, Edna Purviance, Bud Jamison, Gilbert M. ‘Broncho Billy’ Anderson, Billy Armstrong, Lloyd Bacon, Bud Jamison, Paddy McGuire, Leo White. P: The Essanay Film Manufacturing Company. USA 1915
Print: Restored by Fondazione Cineteca di Bologna and Lobster Films in collaboration with Film Preservation Associates, from a nitrate dupe negative preserved at the British Film Institute. (IMDb)

“In early 1915 Chaplin, who had recently signed a contract with the Essanay movie company located near San Francisco at Niles, California, began a search for a leading lady. After rejecting several chorus girls, Chaplin arranged a meeting with Purviance, who was working as a secretary and had become involved in San Francisco’s bohemian life. A Night Out (1915), made soon after that meeting, was the first collaboration of Purviance and Chaplin. Although her role varied from film to film, Purviance almost always appeared as Chaplin’s love interest, bringing a heartfelt gentleness and soft blonde beauty to her roles that sweetly complemented the chaos of Chaplin’s tramp character. In real life as in the films, Purviance and Chaplin were romantically involved, and they remained close friends even after their affair was over.”
Encyclopaedia Britannica

Read: How Chaplin Filmed The Champion – on Location in Niles

>>> From Keystone to Essanay: Chaplin 1914/15

Christmas Eve Night

Nuit de Noël (Christmas Eve Night)
Dir. and actors unknown. P: Pathé frères. Fr 1908
Engl. intertitles

Nuit de Noël (1908) (…) tells the familiar story of a woman’s infidelity and her husband’s revenge, but makes the main characters a simple fisherman, his wife, and a miller, in the ‘wilds’ of Britanny. As beautifully composed as is the opening rose-tinted HA LS of the Breton harbor where the fisherman puts out to sea in small sailing ship, it takes on particular significance when the wife comes into the foreground, turns and waves, and then exits crying, quite close to the camera. This focus on her desolate state carries over into the next shots (now toned sepia) as she pauses at a cross marker on a barren hill, walks along an empty slope (with a windmill, bare tree, and lighthouse on the distant horizon), and approaches their two-story stone house. Another sequence of LSs (here sepia toning shifts to yellow-green tinting) takes her to the windmill, pulling a wheelbarrow through a landscape of scattered, huge upright stones, as if to mark the earth itself as a land of the dead – and perhaps evoke the threat of her husband’s possible death at sea.
That this shocking story occurs on Christmas Eve (…) does make the film almost deliberately blasphemous. And while this anticlerical attitude was typical of grand guignol – and of French culture during the Third Republic in general – it seemed distinctly ‘foreign’ in the United States where one reviewer was disturbed enough to call for its censorship. But what was perhaps just as unsettling or ‘offensive’ was the ambiguity of the film’s attitude toward the woman in this story. For, if at least one intertitle condemns her as a coquette, many of the images lend her desire, even her subjectivity, some legitimacy – at least until her character is nearly erased in the sheer savagery and violence of her husband’s revenge.”
Richard Abel: The Cine Goes to Town: French Cinema, 1896-1914, Updated and Expanded Edition. University of California Press 1998, p. 202-204

Note on terms: HA = high angle (shot from above eye level), LS = long shot

>>> Alfred Machin’s Le moulin maudit

Purely Visual Means

The Little Match Seller
R: James Williamson. B: Based on the fairy tale of Hans Christian Andersen. P: James Williamson Kinematograph Company. UK 1902
Print: BFI

“(…) Williamson here resorts to numerous special effects, mostly in the form of superimpositions. However, these are entirely true to the spirit of the original story, whose dramatic and emotional centerpiece is the series of ‘visions’ seen by the little match seller when striking matches to keep warm. (…) In other words, some fifty years before the introduction of the cinema, Andersen created a character who projected her fantasies onto a blank wall, exactly as Williamson was to do in this film. More importantly, Williamson used this conception to create something almost entirely new for the cinema: a serious attempt at depicting a person’s inner emotional life on film through purely visual means (there is no onscreen text of any kind), using trick effects not to provoke laughter but for serious dramatic reasons.”
Michael Brooke
BFI  Screenonline

The Little Match Girl
R: Percy Nash. B: Based on the story of Hans Christian Andersen. D: John East. P: Neptune Film Company. UK 1914
Print: BFI
Dutch titles

The Little Match Girl (Danish: ‘Den Lille Pige med Svovlstikkerne’, meaning ‘The little girl with the matchsticks’) is a literary fairy tale by Danish poet and author Hans Christian Andersen. The story, about a dying child’s dreams and hope, was first published in 1845. It has been adapted to various media, including animated and live-action films, television musicals, and video games.”

>>> Read Andersen’s fairy tale here

>>> Brighton School: James Williamson

The Star of Bethlehem

The Star of Bethlehem (Fragment)
R: Lawrence Marston. B: Lloyd F. Lonergan. D: Florence LaBadie, James Cruze, William Russell, Harry Benham, Justus D. Barnes, Charles Horan, Riley Chamberlin. P: Thanhouser Company. USA 1912
Original length three reels (3,000 feet); surviving version edited to one real (1,000 feet)
Print: British Film Institute / National Film and Television Archive

“Preparation of this epic was one of the last duties of Edwin Thanhouser before leaving the studio that bore his name. He had sold it to Mutual in April of 1912 and continued to work as studio manager until he ‘retired’ in November, 1912, only to return in 1915. Thanhouser’s biggest production up to that point in time, the film required a one-month shooting schedule, employed a cast of 200 (including forty principals), and cost a hefty $8,000. Special effects alone took a full week’s work.“
Matt Page
Bible Films Blog

“That the picture fulfills the purpose for which it is produced is certain. It is not a dramatic product in any sense of the word; it is a simple, vivid story of the coming of Christ. Harmony and taste have exercised in its production, and many of the photographic effects are especially fine. Three reels have been used in telling the story. It is said that 200 people were required, a month was consumed in its preparation, and $8,000 expended before the picture was ready to be shown. Whether the costumes and the characters are historically correct we do not know. Certainly they have been kept close to the biblical narrative and tradition. The story opens with a prologue, seven hundred or so years before Christ’s birth, when Isaiah beheld in prophetic vision the great things that were to happen in later days, and comforted his down-trodden people with the information. From here the action shifts to the time when Mary and Joseph are being betrothed. The continuity is well retained in developing the various events in the theme.”
The New York Dramatic Mirror, December 25, 1912

>>> more about Thanhouser

>>> more about Lawrence Marston

An Unusual Broncho Billy

A Wife of the Hills
R: Gilbert M. ‘Broncho Billy’ Anderson. D: Gilbert M. ‘Broncho Billy’ Anderson, Arthur Mackley, Brinsley Shaw, Vedah Bertram. P: The Essanay Film Manufacturing Company. USA 1912
Print: EYE
Dutch titles
Engl. subtitles

“The outlaw gang leader Bart McGrew lives with his wife in a shack in the hills. Unknown to McGrew, his wife is in love with an outlaw partner, Dan Trout, and they plot to run away. Trout chances to see a sheriff’s notice that promises to free any gang member who turns himself in; he uses this opportunity to lead the sheriff to the shack, where McGrew is arrested.
Realizing the two lovers’ treachery, McGrew vows vengeance. The next morning, he escapes from jail and heads for the shack, pursued by the sheriff’s posse. Reaching the shack and looking in the open window at the lovers, he is about to fire his gun, when the sheriff’s bullet meant for him misses and hits Trout, who falls dead across a table. Smiling at his wife sobbing over her lover, McGrew turns and lets himself be captured and led away.
This is a rather unusual film in Essanay’s ‘Broncho Billy’ series, not in that Anderson plays a differently named character (which he often does), but that the story refuses to lead to the outlaw’s expected transformation and redemption.
The posse’s pursuit of McGrew may be extended longer than need be, and directions get a little confusing as the outlaw and the sheriff and his men separately edge through the brush and trees toward the shack. But that delay makes the shooting of Trout all the more grimly ironic — and a sharp contrast to the ending of Essanay’s A Pal’s Oath (1911), (…) in which Broncho Billy decides not to exact vengeance when, through an open window, he finds his nemesis embracing his wife (Billy’s former lover) and child.”
Richard Abel
Antti Alanen: Film Diary

Broncho Billy on this website:
>>> Broncho Billy, the First Cowboy
>>> Broncho Billy meets Charlie
>>> Broncho Billy: Exploring a Genre
>>> An Outlaw with a Sense of Responsibility