R. W. Paul: Blackfriars Bridge

Blackfriars Bridge
R / K: R.W.Paul. P: Paul’s Animatograph Works. UK 1896

“An actuality record of Blackfriars Bridge, London, taken from the southern end looking northwards over the Thames by R.W. Paul in July 1896. It was screened as part of his Alhambra Theatre programme shortly afterwards, certainly no later than 31 August, as it is included in a printed programme of that date (as ‘Traffic on Blackfriars Bridge’). Two or three of the pedestrians seem aware of the camera’s presence, though not to any particularly noticeable extent.”
Michael Brooke
Screen Online

“Paul’s single shot film, Blackfriars Bridge (1896) is typical of the visuel density and local appeal of the actuality. Paul positions his camera to maximise the illusion of immediacy and experiential authenticity. Pedestrians and horse-drawn carriages and omnibuses move in and out of frame in a single shot sequence filmed from the side of one of London’s most iconic bridges. Like so many early actualities, the viewer’s gaze is returned by some of the pedestrians who either look straight into the lens as they approach, or look back as if to catch the eye of the camera as they pass. (…) These moments of gradual apprehension are as much the subject of the film as the bustling traffic of Blackfriars Bridge. The indiscriminate spectacle of movement captured prevails, as multiple anonymous faces and bodies move with varying gaits and bearing through the same public space.”
Helen Groth: Moving Images: Nineteenth-Century Reading and Screen Practices. Edinburgh University Press 2013, p. 167

“The definition of ‘rush hour’ in London grows woollier as the years pass: at its worst it seems to stretch demonically from 6am to 9pm. Journey back over a century to July 1896 though and this tantalising half-minute of footage reveals our Victorian counterparts making their way to work across the Thames by tram, horse-drawn carriage and, for the health-conscious (or the poor), good old Shanks’ pony. More or less business as usual then, although compared to the daily human onslaught we face in 21st century London, the commuters caught by R.W. Paul’s static camera proceed at an enviably elegant pace.”
Simon McCallum


More about Robert W. Paul on this site:

>>> R.W. Paul and Birt Acres1898: A Story to ContinueThe First SightDangerous Cars II

A Real Clown of the Silent Era

Robinet innamorato di una chanteuse
R: Marcel Fabre (i.e. Marcel Perez). D: Marcel Fabre, Gigetta Morano. P: Società Anonima Ambrosio. It 1911
Dutch titles

Robinet chauffeur miope
R: Marcel Fabre. D: Marcel Fabre. P: Società Anonima Ambrosio. It 1914
Dutch titles

“One of the happy discoveries of Steve Massa’s new book ‘Lame Brains and Lunatics’ is Marcel Perez (Manuel Fernandez Perez, 1884-1929). Well enough known in the silent era, Massa postulates that Perez’s present obscurity may stem from the fact that his screen name and identity changed so many times (he also changed nations and studios constantly, but that tended to be less of a problem back in the day, when the movie market was truly international.)
Born in Madrid, Perez moved to Paris in his youth and began performing in music halls, circuses and theatres. Like many clowns of the silent era, he was a small man: five feet tall, 125 lbs. His film career in Paris begins circa 1907 where he appeared in at least a couple of shorts for the Eclipse and Gaumont studios. Thus he was one of the earliest comedy stars. In 1910, he began working for Italy’s Ambrosio Company, writing and performing as Marcel Fabre, playing a character called Robinet in Europe, which was translated into Tweedledum in the United States (you see where it’s already getting confusing). World War I forced him to America in 1915, where he made at least one short for Universal’s Joker series (…). He then became Tweedledum again for Eagle Films in 1916, then was known by the unlovely name of ‘Twede-Dan’ at Jester starting in 1918. In 1921 he went over to Reelcraft where he became known as ‘Tweedy’. In 1922, a horrible accident involving a garden rake (which occurred during the filming of one of his comedies) resulted in the loss of a leg, and from this point, he becomes primarily a director of comedies and westerns, both shorts and features. He died of lung cancer in 1929.”

>>> Slapstick Italiano: Marcel Perez

>>> His great adventure film Saturnino Farandola


Marcel Perez alias Marcel Fabre

Vitagraph’s Shakespeare

Julius Caesar
R: J. Stuart Blackton, William V. Ranous. B: Theodore A. Liebler Jr. (scenario), William Shakespeare (play. D: Charles Kent, William Shea, Maurice Costello, William V. Ranous, Florence Lawrence, Paul Panzer, Earle Williams. P: Vitagraph Company of America. USA 1908
Print: BFI
German intertitles

Shakespeare‘s historical tragedy of the rise and fall of Julius Caesar, told in fifteen scenes. One of plays by William Shakespeare adapted by the Vitagraph Company of America in 1908. The others were A Comedy of Errors, Othello , Macbeth , Romeo and Juliet, Richard III, Antony and Cleopatra and The Merchant of Venice.

“Shakespearean texts and intertexts had far-reaching manifestations, encompassing everything from relatively inexpensive editions of the complete works, to inclusion in school curricula, to ephemera such as advertsing cards. Yet contemporary commentary indicates that knowledge of Shakespeare, for the most part, was limited to the familiarity with famous phrases, speeches and scenes. (…) Even at Shakespearean performances, stated many critics, much of the audiences engaged primarily with theatrical spectacles rather than the ‘beauty’ of Shakespeare’s poetry. Shakespeare’s presence (…) took the form of a widely circulated ‘reductionist’ (in a nonpejorative sense) approach to the complex urtexts.”
Willam Uricchio and Roberta E. Pearson: Dante’s Inferno and Caesar’s Ghost: Intertextuality and Conditions of Reception in Early American Cinema. In: Richard Abel (ed.): Silent Film. A&C Black 1996, p. 226

A Midsummer Night’s Dream
R: Charles Kent / J. Stuart Blackton. B: Eugene Mullin; William Shakespeare (comedy). D: Florence Turner (Titania), Julia Swayne Gordon, Maurice Costello, Gladys Hulette, Clara Kimball Young. P: Vitagraph Company of America. USA 1909
Print: Silent Hall of Fame

Twelfth Night
R: Charles Kent. B: Eugene Mullin (scenario), William Shakespeare (play). D: Julia Swayne Gordon, Charles Kent, Florence Turner. P: Vitagraph Company of America. USA 1910

“A measurement of Turner‘s prominence at Vitagraph can be taken when one considers the nature of her performances in a selection of her extant films. A skilled comedienne, Turner nonetheless excelled in dramatic roles that called upon her growing command of the developing verisimilar style perfected at Vitagraph during this time. In particular, reflexive roles casting Turner as an actress seemed designed to showcase her prodigious talent. In Renunciation (1910), for example, Turner plays a young woman whose fiancé’s father persuades her to discourage his son’s attentions by emulating a state of dissolution. The film’s success hinges on Turner’s ability to portray convincingly an actress giving a performance designed to deceive her diegetic audience, while at the same time prompting the film’s viewers to recognize both the persuasiveness of the performance and the true emotions the character experiences when engaged in the ruse. Possibly Turner’s most demanding role was the rejected lover in Jealousy (1911), a film now lost. Promoted by Vitagraph as ‘A Study in the Art of Dramatic Expression by Florence E. Turner’, the film was a tour de force for the actress, as she was the sole performer on-screen for the entirety of Jealousy‘s running time.”
Charlie Keil
Women Film Pioneers Project

>>> Starring: The Girls on this site

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

How Germany Prepares for WW I (2)

Die Freuden der Reserveübung
R: Charles Decroix. B: Charles Decroix. D: Richard Eichberg, Claire Praetz. P: Films Charles Decroix (Berlin). D 1913
Print: EYE film (Desmet collection)
Dutch intertitles and inserts

The director Charles Decroix belonged to the European film pioneers whose career began in France with movies like Pédicure par amour (1908), Une conquête (1909) with the legendary Max Linder, and Les paysans (1909). From 1910 Decroix started a successful career in Germany as director both in Germany and France. After the outbreak of World War I his career in Germany ended abruptly. He left Germany and went to Switzerland where he remained till to the end of the war. After the war Decroix tried to continue his career in his home country, but because of his active career in Germany before 1914 he failed to gain a foothold in the French film business again. So he returned to Germany where he realised two more movies as a co-director together with Heinrich Bolten-Baeckers.
(Based on IMDb)

>>> Richard Eichberg. Extensive biography by I.S. Mowis

>>> How Germany Prepares for WW I (1)

Canine Cinema

The Detective’s Dog
R: Alice Guy. D: Darwin Karr, Blanche Cornwall, Magda Foy, Lee Beggs. P: Solax Film Company. USA 1912
Print: Library of Congress / National Audio-Visual Conservation Center

“The idea of the detective and dog duo – with the animal as the human’s partner or (…) essentially taking over the role of the main investigator – had already been seen several times, as in Pathé’s Les chiens policiers by Lucien Nonguet (1907) or The Detective’s Dog by Alice Guy-Blaché (1912) from her own Solax Studios which she had founded herself. These films were part of a wider trend of ‘canine cinema’, in which the animal hero usually turned out to be smarter and more effective than people. This trend had its own stars, including a collie named Rover, known from the pictures by Cecil M. Hepworth, or Jean, another collie, from the Vitagraph studio. Spot – the only member of the cast of A Canine Sherlock Holmes (Charles Urban Trading Company, UK 1912) to be credited by name – was another such star, being the mascot of the studio and featuring in commercials.”

Les chiens policiers
R: Lucien Nonguet. P: Pathé frères. Fr 1907
Engl. subtitles

>>> Lassie’s Predecessor on this website

Sarah Bernhardt’s Queen Elizabeth

Les amours de la reine Élisabeth
American version: Queen Elizabeth
R: Louis Mercanton, Henri Desfontaines. B: Émile Moreau, from his play “Les amours de la reine Élisabeth”. K: Clément Maurice Wladimir. D: Sarah Bernhardt, Lou Tellegen, Max Maxudian, Nita Romani, Jean Angelo, Albert Decoeur, Marie-Louise Derval, Henri Desfontaines, Guy Favières. P: Pathé Frères / L’Histrionic Film production (Louis Mercanton) / Adolph Zukor. Fr / USA 1912

“The production was shot in Paris, France. During production, the French production company was forced into liquidation by Compagnie Genérale des Établissements Pathé Frères Phonographes & Cinématographes; Adolph Zukor provided the necessary financing to complete the production. Distributed in the United States on State Rights basis by Famous Players Film Company in July 1912 [their first film release]. USA premiere on 12 July 1912 at the Lyceum Theatre in New York, New York.”
Silent Era

“From beginning to end, the method used in portraying this story of a period in the lives of Queen Elizabeth and the Earl of Essex was a series of tableaus. First, a title appears, and then the next few scenes illustrate that title, and so on until the picture is completed. The film indicates that the ‘Dresses, Armor, and Furniture were from the Sarah Bernhardt Theatre, Paris, France’.”
Early motion pictures / Kemp R. Niver

Sarah Bernhardt, the greatest theatrical star of the late nineteenth century, enabled and even promoted the association of early film with the British monarchy. She did this literally, by playing the role of Queen Elizabeth in Queen Elizabeth (Les Amours de la reine Elisabeth, Henri Desfontaines and Louis Mercanton, 1912). Bernhardt also promoted the association of the cinema with monarchy symbolically, making the medium a new empathetic vehicle for the development of celebrity mystique and global power. (…) It circulated widely, changing the ways audiences engaged with and experienced celebrity mystique and power. In this changed order, it is Bernhardt’s capacity to move audiences through the nascent medium of film that confirms her already established status as a theatrical diva. Film accords her the symbolic status of queen. (…)

Queen Elizabeth was one of the first multiple-reel feature films released in America. A transnational production, it was produced in London by J. Frank Brocliss, the European representative of the Lubin Company, for the Histrionic Film Company (established by Bernhardt for the film), and features Bernhardt with her French cast and the costumes and sets of its stage version. Accompanied by a score composed by Jacques Breil, the film drew middle-class audiences after its lavish opening at the Lyceum Theatre in New York, with its remarkable profits eventually enabling Adolph Zukor to develop Famous Players into the company that became Paramount Pictures. In this way, Queen Elizabeth became precursor to a major Hollywood studio and helped inaugurate a new category of spectacle in the cinema. Indeed, the success of the film drew other theatrical stars to film, helping to develop the longer playing narrative film. As the Italian Enciclopedia dello spettacolo notes, however, Bernhardt’s indirect participation in the development of Paramount is one of the ‘most paradoxical cases in the history of the film industry’. Her cinema performances are criticised for being gestural, melodramatic and physically excessive. (…) Queen Elizabeth is a spectacular film, whose players are indeed theatrical in a manner that appears unusual today: they are separately introduced at the opening of the film, they mouth words we can not hear, they are elaborately costumed and it is they (rather than a mobile or fluid camera) who articulate narrative meaning. Moreover, Bernhardt’s final descent onto a pile of cushions is excessive, and can even seem comical. (…)

It is not just the formal language of Bernhardt’s film but the very performance of British monarchy on screen that prompts Queen Elizabeth’s ongoing association with an haute bourgeois theatrical culture that had no place in early film. The irony, of course, is that it is only on screen that it might be argued that Bernhardt was legitimate. We know – as her own public knew through the many references and anti-Semitic caricatures of her in the popular press – that Bernhardt was Jewish and that in the late nineteenth century this meant that she was cast as an outsider to legitimate French culture. Moreover, Bernhardt was the daughter of an established Parisian courtesan whose profession she also followed in her youth. In these and other ways, her behavior and choices ran counter to established social and theatrical mores: she had a son out of wedlock, was rumoured to be bisexual and disregarded theatrical convention. Even the public who first made her a star were on the margins of Parisian society: they were the Saradoteurs, the modest workers and students of the Left Bank who were vocal and demonstrative in their support of her and who clashed with the older and more established patrons of the Odéon theatre. (…)

It is clear that Bernhardt’s performance of the English queen was a powerful and emotive one. Yet Moreau’s play was performed only twelve times at the Théâtre Sarah Bernhardt in Paris in 1911 and became one of the biggest failures in the actress’s career. Nevertheless, Bernhardt’s decision to film the drama was a canny one: the role allowed her to play an older woman and to develop her existing repertoire of death scenes. It also exhibited a range of emotions (joy, love, jealousy, fury, pain, terror, remorse) made intelligible through physical acting. Bernhardt’s expressive gestures were a celebrated aspect of her performance style, one which enabled its subsequent cinematic success. They allowed audiences to empathetically engage with a figure (the Tudor queen but also the star who played her) often regarded as literally and symbolically removed from the public and the trials of quotidian life.”
Victoria Duckett
Her Majesty moves.  Sarah Bernhardt, Queen Elizabeth and the development of motion pictures

Robert Fells wrote on Facebook (March 26th, 2022):
“This film is of historic importance but does not show the Divine Sarah to her best advantage. She is served much better by a World War I film she made in 1917 called ‘Mothers of France’.”
‘Mothers of France’ is the English title of the French Sarah Bernhardt film Mères françaises (1917). Robert Fells translated the intertitles into English and added “La Marseillaise” at the ending:

Mères françaises
R: René Hervil, Louis Mercanton. B: Jean Richepin. D: Sarah Bernhardt, Gabriel Signoret, Georges Deneubourg, Jean Angelo, Louise Lagrange, Berthe Jalabert, Georges Melchior. P: Société Française des Films Éclair. Fr 1917

Giovanni Enrico Vidali: “Spartaco”

R: Giovanni Enrico Vidali. B: Raffaello Giovagnoli (novel). D: Mario Guaita-Ausonia, Cristina Ruspoli, Enrico Bracci, Maria Gandini, Luigi Mele, Verdi Giovanni, Luciano Albertini, Alberto Capozzi. P: Pasquali e C. It 1913

“Spartaco is considered to be the first film adaptation of this known material about the leader of the slave revolt against the Roman oppressors around seven decades before the birth of Christ. The film found its first screenings in Italy and Spain in 1913. On February 13, 1914, Spartaco could be seen for the first time in Austria-Hungary (Vienna), and in May 1914 the German premiere took place in the Cines on Nollendorfplatz in Berlin. In Germany, the eight-stroke was around 120 minutes long. Spartaco was shown in British and French cinemas in January of the same year. The later sensational film and sandal film star Luciano Albertini allegedly made his film debut here.”
Second Wiki

“The 1900s saw the Italian production houses making tentative experiments in the cinematic reconstruction of Roman history, such as Gli ultimi giorni di Pompei (1908), and Nerone (1909) of the Ambrosio production house, Itala’s Giulio Cesare, and Latium’s Spartaco (1909). By the time Giovanni Enrico Vidali‘s Spartaco or Il gladiatore della Tracia was released by the Paquali film company in 1913, the Italian film industry was in a state of extraordinary expansion, fueled by its own nationalistic agenda and the huge commercial success of the historical Quo vadis? (1913). The constant flood of historical films onto the national and international markets had coincided with the entry of Italian aristocrats into the financial backing of the Italian studios. Film production was viewed as an instrument for the enhancement of the new nation’s prestige both at home and abroad, and historical reconstructions of Italy’s glorious past seemed highly appropriate vehicles for the acquisition of that prestige both for the Italian nation and its film companies. Extravagant cinematic reconstructions of Italy’s past allowed for ambitious and spectacular themes, the exploitation of complex literary narratives, and the display of the production houses’ own technical virtuosity in, for example, the construction of huge, often sumptuous set designs and exotic costumes, and the movement of vast crowds of extras in a newly developed cinematographic space that vastly exceeded the bounds of the proscenium stage.
Furthermore, films set in Italy’s Roman past were perceived and deployed as instruments particularly suited to the moral, civic, and patriotic improvement of their mass audiences. The Italian state born from unification in 1861 continued to view itself as the legitimate heir of its Roman past. Only two years before the release of Spartaco, Italy had celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of unification, still nourished by the myth of continuity with ancient Rome, and the nation’s imperialistic ambitions which had recently been fired by the Italo-Turkish war 1911-1912 were being legitimated by recourse to a vision of historical continuity with an ancient Rome which had once been the mistress of the Mediterranean. Rome could therefore supply the Italian film companies with a repertoire of illustrious precursors through whom audiences could read their present as the crowning epoch of a long, glorious and communal history.”
Mary Wyke: Spartacus: Testing the Strength of the Body Politic. In: Projecting the Past: Ancient Rome, Cinema and History. Routledge 1997, p 34-72, here p. 41/42



The Manaki Brothers

Pazar i kasapi (Marketplace and Butchers)
R: Janaki & Milton Manaki. P: Janaki & Milton Manaki. (North Macedonia) 1905

“The creative work of the brothers Janaki (1878-1954) and Milton (1880-1964) Manaki, the first cameramen on the Balkans, is undoubtedly rich and significant. The cinematographic history of Albania and Macedonia started with them, marking its most important basic values. The Manaki Brothers were born in a small Albanian village Avdela near the town Grevena (Konica area-Greece). They started to work together in 1898. During this time Janaki was a drawing professor in the high school in Yanina, where he opened his photo studio and had his younger brother Milton study photography. In 1904, the Manaki brothers decided to live in Manastir, so that was Milto’s “last stop”, because in that period Manastir was an important political, economic and cultural center for the Balkans. In 1905 they moved their studio to Manastir and opened their well known ‘Studio for art photography’. He [i.e. Janaki] later returned to London and bought a camera from the Charles Urban Trading Co. It was the 300th camera from the ‘Bioscope’ series, thus with that famous Camera 300 started the life of the Albanian and Macedonian cinematography on the Balkans.”
Abas Hoxha

>>> Edison’s New York City “ghetto” fish market (1903) on this site: “The view, photographed from an elevated camera position, looks down on a very crowded New York City street market.”

“Parallel to their photography work, the brothers started to film documentaries. During the Young Turk Revolution of 1908 and 1909, they took around 450 photographs and a short film that recorded every significant event of that period. In 1909, they filmed and made a series of photographs of the arrival of the royal Romanian delegation to Manastir. They also filmed the visit of the Turkish Sultan Mehmed V to Manastir in 1911 — Milton traveled to the port of Selanik (now Thessaloniki) where he recorded the arrival of the Sultan by boat, then the Sultan’s train journey on the Selanik–Manastir route, the Sultan’s reception on the railway station in Manastir, as well as events held in honor of the visit of the Sultan. The same year they were honored as official photographers of the Ottoman Sultan.”


>>> Manaki Brothers – Cineculture

Onésime: Ultimate Conclusions

Onésime et l’étudiante
R: Jean Durand. D: Ernest Bourbon, Édouard Grisollet, Gaston Modot. P: Société des Etablissements L. Gaumont. Fr 1912
Engl. subtitles

Ernest Bourbon, circus acrobat, actor, director, was born in Vierzon, Cher, France on October 23, 1886. Bourbon began his acting career in 1911 under the leadership of Jean Durand , especially in films about his character Calino or Zigoto. It was in 1912 that the director offered him the role of Onésime who will make him famous. Bourbon then focused his career on this particular character, to the point of staging all of his films on the adventures of this one character, even dropping director Durand from the series and taking over the director’s duties himself. His short career ended in 1918. He died on November 19, 1954 in Paris.”
Westerns all’Italiana

Onésime employé des postes
R: Jean Durand. D: Ernest Bourbon,  Mademoiselle Davrières, Édouard Grisollet. P: Société des Etablissements L. Gaumont. Fr 1912
Engl. subtitles

“When one sees again the really old slapstick films, the Boireau or Onésime series, for example, it is not only the acting which strikes one as belonging to the theater, it is also the structure of the story. The cinema makes it possible to carry a simple situation to its ultimate conclusions which on the stage would be restricted by time and space, that is, to what might be called a larval stage. What makes it possible to believe that the cinema exists to discover or create a new set of dramatic facts is its capacity to transform theatrical situations that otherwise would never have reached their maturity. (…) In this sense certain types of theater are founded on dramatic situations that were congenitally atrophied prior to the appearance of the cinema. (…) The majority of these burlesques are and endlessly protracted expression of something that cries from within the character. They are a kind of phenomenology obstinacy. The domestic Boireau will continue to do the housework till the house collapses in ruins. (…) The action here no longer calls for plot, episodes, repercussions, misunderstandings, or sudden revearsals. It unfolds implacably to the point at which it destroys itself. It proceeds unswervingly towards a kind of rudimentary catharsis of catastrophe like a small child recklessly inflating a rubber balloon to the point where it explodes in his face – to our relief and possibly to his.”
André Bazin: What is Cinema? Essays selected and translated by Hugh Gray. University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles/Cambridge University Press, London 1967. Here: Theater and Cinema. Part one, p. 79-80

Onésime champion de boxe
R: Jean Durand. D: Ernest Bourbon,  Mademoiselle Davrières, Édouard Grisollet, Gaston Modot. P: Société des Etablissements L. Gaumont. Fr 1913

>>> The Onésime Series

>>> Zigoto

Alice Guy in America – 3

A Fool and his Money
R: Alice Guy. D: James Russell. P: Solax Film Company. USA 1912

Presumedly the earliest surviving American film with an all black (Afro-American) cast

“The film is a comedy about what happens when a working class black man suddenly comes into a windfall of money. Perhaps the alternate title, ‘Darktown Aristocrats’ best captures the fact that the humor derives from placing black actors in bourgeois settings and clothing.(…) Alisen McMahan argues in an excerpt from her award winning book, ‘Alice Guy Blaché, Lost Visionary of the Cinema’ the film is certainly racist, but it also reflects ‘the dream of assimilation’ associated with both immigrants and the black middle class. For Blaché ‘assimilation meant taking on the stereotypes of the adopted culture.’ Blaché was a French immigrant to the United States which did not prevent her from replicating racist stereotypes of the American culture.”

>>> The Watermelon PatchTwo Knights of VaudevilleA Natural Born Gambler on this site

Matrimony’s Speed Limit
R: Alice Guy. D: Fraunie Fraunholz, Marian Swayne. P: Solax Film Company. USA 1913

“A chase film to the altar, Matrimony’s Speed Limit (Alice GuyBlaché, Solax, 1913) depicts the plight of a financially ruined bachelor, Fraunie, who learns that he has exactly twelve minutes to marry a bride or else he will lose out on a very large inheritance. Made by one of the most prolific early silent filmmakers, Alice GuyBlaché (18731968), this film provides a gendered, comic twist on the terrors of modernity: the collapse of separate public and private spheres, and the unprecedented speed of communications and transportation systems. An urgent telegram and hotrod automobile make a mockery of the institution of marriage, as the film’s title heralds. (…)

As the film reveals, the speed limit of matrimony is, in fact, racial miscegenation (in 1913 American culture). This becomes literalized when Fraunie’s supine, suicidal body actually stops traffic — fortunately, the occupant of the oncoming automobile turns out to be Fraunie’s jilted fiancée, Marian, who had devised the whole scheme, and is herself accompanied by a minister. The two wed immediately, and then retreatto their private domestic space whereupon she discloses her ruse and deception. Fraunie is outraged and attempts to storm off, but Marian steals his hat — of course he cannot go out in public without his hat—and then the two finally embrace. Instead of a marriage-contingent inheritance, Fraunie will have to be satisfied with Marian’s substantial dowry. What could go wrong?

More than just a zippy, entertaining film made by a foundational female filmmaker, Matrimony’s Speed Limit represents a crucial historical text that comically meditates upon the gendered, class, and racial fantasies and anxieties of early twentieth century American culture.”
Margaret Hennefeld
Library of Congress

>>> Alice Guy in America – 1Alice Guy in America – 2  on this site