Saturday, October 07, 2017

Anna-Liisa (1922)


Anna-Liisa (FI 1922). In the flashback the farmhand Mikko (Einari Rinne) is in love with Anna-Liisa (Helmi Lindelöf), the 15 year old daughter of the Kortesuo farm.

FI 1922. D: Teuvo Puro, Jussi Snellman, scen: Jussi Snellman, based on the play Anna Liisa (1895) by Minna Canth, photog: Kurt Jäger (interiors), A. J. Tenhovaara (exteriors), des: Carl Fager, ed: Teuvo Puro, Kurt Jäger, cast: Hemmo Kallio (the master of Kortesuo), Meri Roini (the mistress of Kortesuo), Helmi Lindelöf (Anna-Liisa, the daughter at Kortesuo), Greta Waahtera (Pirkko, her little sister), Emil Autere (Johannes Kivimaa, Anna-Liisa’s fiancé), Mimmi Lähteenoja (Husso), Einari Rinne (Mikko, Husso’s son, now a lumber boss), Axel Ahlberg (provost), prod: Erkki Karu, Suomi-Filmi Oy, filmed: summer 1921 – winter 1922, rel: 20.3.1922, DCP (from 35 mm, 1581 m), 69 min (transferred at 20 fps), tinted; titles: FIN, SWE, subt. ENG by Maarit Tulkki, source: KAVI – Kansallinen audiovisuaalinen instituutti, Helsinki.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone: The Swedish challenge.
    Grand piano: Gabriel Thibaudeau.
    Cinemazero, e-subtitles in Italian, 7 Oct 2017.

Magnus Rosborn, Casper Tybjerg, Antti Alanen (GCM 2017): "Anna-Liisa, the daughter of a well-to-do farm-owner, is engaged to be married to a wealthy young neighbor, Johannes. She is admired for her upright and decorous nature, but she carries a dark and melancholy secret that once drove her to the brink of suicide. The secret is known to old Husso, the mother of Mikko, formerly a farmhand on Anna-Liisa’s father’s farm. Mikko has made a lot of money as a log-rolling boss and now returns to claim Anna-Liisa as his bride. She does not want him, but she is caught in a bind by Mikko and Husso’s threat to expose her dreadful secret: that she became pregnant by Mikko and in desperation killed her newborn child."

"Even today, making an infanticide the heroine of a story seems incredibly bold. The film was based on the 1895 play Anna-Liisa, written by Minna Canth (1844–1897). Canth was a pioneer of realism on the Finnish stage and a committed participant in the debates on the social position of women and the institution of marriage that raged across the Nordic countries in the 1880s and 1890s. Her strong stance against the oppression of women and the poor made her work controversial, but when the film was made, Canth was recognized as the most popular and prolific Finnish-language dramatist. Adapting one of her plays was therefore a logical choice for a film company wanting to make a Swedish-style national film based on a distinguished literary work. The final result was a success; Anna-Liisa even became the first Finnish film to be exported (it premiered in Stockholm in September 1922)."

"The stage play is quite compact, with all three acts using the same set: everything happens in the main room of Anna-Liisa’s father’s farm. The film effectively opens up the play, moving quite a bit of the action outside and adding little vignettes of Finnish rural life, including a shot of Johannes emerging from a sauna and a scene of Mikko among his fellow log-rollers, visualizing an important type in Finnish films, the virile but sometimes loutish lumberjack. The film also uses flashbacks to fill in the backstory, including gorgeous images of Anna-Liisa’s summer-night tryst with Mikko. All these exterior shots help to give the film a rural pictorial atmosphere which resembles some of the best Swedish achievements of the period. It should however be pointed out that Mikko’s profession as a lumberjack was also an element of the stage play, so this detail is therefore not an addition inspired by Mauritz Stiller’s Sången om den eldröda blomman (Song of the Scarlet Flower, 1919), even if that film was especially influential for Finnish film production."

"Teuvo Puro (1884
1956) was one of the makers of the first Finnish fiction film, Salaviinanpolttajat (The Moonshiners, 1907), in which Jussi Snellman (18791969) played the lead. Puro and Snellman were both actors with the Finnish National Theatre in Helsinki, and the leads of Anna-Liisa, Lindelöf, Autere, and Rinne, also came from there. In 1919, Puro was one of the co-founders of Suomi-Filmi, one of Finland’s two leading film companies during the studio era. Puro went on to make several important silent films, including Meren kasvojen edessä (Before the Face of the Sea, 1926) and Noidan kirot (The Curse of the Witch, 1927)."

The print

"A new digital restoration based on a duplicate positive was carried out by KAVI (The National Audiovisual Institute, Helsinki) in 2013. The material was scanned at 2K but because of frame-line issues in the first-generation material the image had to be scanned twice; the best alternative was selected scene-by-scene. The restoration was conducted using DaVinci Revival and PFClean software programmes. Almost all scenes have been stabilized, and flicker, dirt, scratches, tears, splices, and all manner of patina have been removed when possible. Contrast has been corrected, and colour has been added according to original models using DaVinci Resolve software; the DCP has a colour solution similar to tinting." Magnus Rosborn, Casper Tybjerg, Antti Alanen

AA: I have already blogged about this restoration of Anna-Liisa in 2014.

The subject-matter is distressingly topical, including this week in the U.S. Congress as the Donald Trump administration seeks to roll back the birth control mandate.

Infanticide is a heavy topic. Minna Canth in her final work confronted it boldly, aware of how acute it was in reality. In the 1890s the 15 year old Anna-Liisa, daughter of a prosperous farmer, cannot marry her lover Mikko because he is only a farmhand without means. Abortion is illegal, and to keep a baby out of wedlock would destroy Anna-Liisa's life. Nobody would marry her. Nobody would take care of her. (This week in Pordenone we have seen films of young mothers in similar situations in Der gelbe Schein and Fante-Anne. In both the mother dies and the orphan baby is left in the care of others).

This is Anna-Liisa's coming of age story. At first she is a victim of circumstances; in the finale she transcends them. She takes full responsibility of her actions although the world has been unfair to her. Doing so she wins everybody's respect, and Johannes will be waiting for her when she is released from prison. This is a story of Anna-Liisa's growth to her full strength of character.

Infanticide is not an exceptional theme in world art. It is central in Goethe's Faust, in the tragedy of Gretchen / Margarethe.

It was also a key theme also in Tolstoy's play The Power of Darkness which Canth had not yet read or seen, but Canth was deeply Tolstoyan, and their minds moved along similar tracks. The Power of Darkness had its Finnish premiere in 1896, the year after Anna-Liisa.

Selma Lagerlöf's great international breakthrough novel Jerusalem (19011902) starts with infanticide. Gerhard Hauptmann's play Rose Bernd (1903) also deals with infanticide; its Finnish premiere was in 1914.

In D. W. Griffith's Way Down East (1920, based on a play by Lottie Blair Parker) the seduced girl (Lillian Gish) becomes pregnant and the baby dies. While it is not a story of infanticide the tragedy is similar to Goethe, Tolstoy, Canth, Lagerlöf and Hauptmann.

Anna-Liisa the 1922 adaptation belonged to the early prestige works of the Finnish cinema. Based on a compact play that obeys the three unities it has been successfully opened up cinematically, and yet it retains the explosive intensity of the tragedy in the psychologically complex finale.

Among the weaknesses is the casting of Helmi Lindelöf (18841966) in the leading role of Anna-Liisa who is 18 years old during the present of the narrative (and 15 in the flashback). Lindelöf would have been at the right age to play Anna-Liisa's mother rather than Anna-Liisa. There are instances of overacting.

Einari Rinne (18901933) is photogenic in his first film role as the lumber boss Mikko, now a man of independent means who returns to reclaim Anna-Liisa whom he had seduced three years earlier. Einari Rinne was the eldest of the three charismatic Rinne actor brothers. Jalmari Rinne and Joel Rinne had long careers in the theatre and the cinema, and the Rinne family is a continuing presence on the Finnish stage.

Because of Einari Rinne's effortless masculine presence we may sense that Mikko might have been the right one for Anna-Liisa if the social conditions would have been fair to both.

Watching this Finnish film in an international festival I became aware of the high literary quality of the intertitles which the translation fails to convey. Finland is bilingual, but already the original Swedish intertitles missed the poetry. The English translation is faultless and accurate but without literary flair. The same probably goes for the Italian translation. (There was a moment of amusement in the audience when the titles appeared in four languages for the first time.)

Gabriel Thibaudeau focused on the interior development of the psyche in his subtle and lyrical musical interpretation.

The DCP has been expertly created from excellent source materials. As always, I have my reservations on simulations of tinting on digital.

Cinemazero was so packed that there was a long queue outside of festival patrons who were left out of the screening.

Podvig vo ldakh / Heroic Deed Among the Ice


Подвиг во льдах (1928). From the website: Humus.dreamwidth.org. Советские кино и театральные плакаты 1920-1930-х годов

Подвиг во льдах. Поиски экипажа "Италии". Героический фильм в 7 ч. [A Feat in the Ice. In Search of the Crew of the Italia. A Heroic Film in Seven Acts] / Urotyö Jäämerellä / Exploit on the Ice / Ice-Breaker Krassin / [Feat in the Ice / Impresa tra i ghiacci], D: Sergei Vasiliev, Georgii Vasiliev (USSR 1928), photog: Wilhelm Bluvshtein, Ignatii Vallentei, Evgenii Bogorov, prod: Sovkino (Leningradskaia fabrika), DCP (from 35 mm, 2016 m), 71 min; titles: RUS, source: RGAKFD, Krasnogorsk.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone: Soviet Travelogues.
    Grand piano: José Maria Serralde Ruiz.
    Cinemazero, e-subtitles in English and Italian, 7 Oct 2017.

Oksana Sarkisova (GCM 2017): "The industrialization campaign in the Soviet Union brought growing attention to the Arctic as a new frontier of symbolic spatial politics. In 1928, international media attention was drawn to the efforts to save Umberto Nobile, a famous Italian airship designer, and his team following the catastrophe on the expedition to the North Pole of the airship Italia. Nobile’s expedition started off from Milan in April 1928; on May 23, the airship left Spitsbergen and headed towards the North Pole. Two days later the Italia crashed; several survivors, including Nobile, set up a red-coloured tent off Foyn Island, in the northeast (the least accessible region of Svalbard), and sent out SOS signals. Several countries participated in the rescue mission. The Soviet Union dispatched several ships, three of them with cameramen on board. The rescue operation became the subject of Georgii and Sergei Vasiliev’s compilation film, Feat in the Ice. Cameraman Evgenii Bogorov worked on board the research vessel Persei, Ignatii Vallentei filmed on the icebreaker Malygin, and Wilhelm Bluvshtein, who also served as the directors’ assistant on the production of the film, was dispatched to the icebreaker Krasin, which ultimately played the central role in the rescue mission. Feat in the Ice combines footage by various cameramen, and interweaves several expeditions into a single heroic narrative."

"The film opens with footage of Georgii Sedov’s 1912 expedition, which, despite its tragic end, is referenced as an early predecessor of Soviet polar exploration. This is followed by a brief mention of Roald Amundsen and Umberto Nobile’s 1926 flight to the North Pole on the airship Norge. Amundsen is greeted by crowds upon arriving in the USSR; an animated map traces the expedition’s itinerary. The rest of Feat in the Ice focuses on the 1928 rescue mission. The tripartite structure of the first part of the film reminds us of a folktale with three heroes: the Persei starts off from Murmansk and gets caught in the ice shortly upon its departure; the Malygin departs from Arkhangelsk and also becomes stranded in the ice, yet continues its search mission with an airplane operated by pilot Mikhail Babushkin. Finally, the Krasin becomes the main hero of the story: it takes off from “the city of Lenin” and, as if guided by the “directing” gesture of Lenin’s monument, cuts across the desert of ice. While its advance is slowed down by propeller blade damage, the icebreaker sends out a Junkers aircraft operated by Boris Chukhnovsky, which identifies several men on the ice but is itself forced down onto an ice floe by thick fog. Flying together with Chukhnovsky, Bluvshtein records the experience of the crew, a polar bear hunt, a “festive” meal, and spectacular icy panoramas as a backdrop."

"The film repeatedly emphasizes the pioneering achievements of the Krasin, which set a record for advancing the farthest north in the Svalbard region. The final reel highlights international media interest in the event – printing presses, radio stations, telegraphs, and crowds of newspaper boys not only circulate reports about the rescue, but also propagate a proud Soviet narrative of pioneering exploits in the Arctic. The survivors who appear on record are radio operator Giuseppe Biagi, technician Natale Cecioni, navigator Alfredo Viglieri, and of course expedition leader Umberto Nobile, among others. Swedish pilot Einar Lundborg, who picked up Nobile from the ice floe but crashed his plane on the return for more survivors, also appears in the film. The Krasin’s rescue mission was unexpectedly extended, as in late July it also offered assistance to the German passenger liner Monte Cervantes with 1,800 passengers on board, when it collided with an iceberg on its journey from Norway’s North Cape to the Svalbard archipelago."

"In the final episodes, the Krasin arrives at Stavanger in Norway, where Soviet Ambassador Alexandra Kollontai, an organized group of Norwegian workers, foreign correspondents, and a group of youth identified as “Norwegian pioneers” visit the ship. The closing scenes show the Krasin carrying on the Soviet mission of mastering the Arctic regions. Feat in the Ice remains an important document of transnational solidarity, the strengthening rhetoric of ideological competition in the Arctic, and the cameramen’s dedicated work in harsh polar conditions.
" Oksana Sarkisova

AA: An Arctic documentary film of high value, an account of the international rescue mission to save the crew of Umberto Nobile in 1928, with a focus on the Soviet contribution.

The film begins with a résumé of previous Arctic explorations, including Sedov and Amundsen. Umberto Nobile dedices to fly "to the place where not even the eagle has landed". Nobile does reach the North Pole with his zeppelin Italia but crashes on his way back with heavy casualties. There is an international rescue mission. (Even Finland participated).

This film focuses on the Soviet contribution. Of the Soviet ships, Persei, Malygin, and Krasin had camera crews, and the film is based on their footage. There are epic tracking shots from the ships, and stunning aerial footage from the airplanes. Exciting moments include hauling airplanes from the ships, and footage of crashed airplanes. Seagulls and ice bears are sighted. The audience squirmed when ice bears were shot, and there was a silence even in the music. Krasin, "the most powerful icebreaker of the world", is observed facing its biggest challenges, trying to cut the heavy ice.

The visual storytelling is mostly classical, but towards the end there is a montage approach as the message of the success of the rescue travels around the world: we see printing presses, newsboys, etc.

There is an escort to Hammerfest, and in Stavanger a meeting with Alexandra Kollontay, the Soviet Ambassador, one of the first women to hold such a post. There is a propaganda moment which weakens the film as propaganda. The film ends in montage style. In the final images the ice is breaking.

The grip on the narrative is not very strong, but the footage is often amazing. Animation is often used on maps to make sense of the voyages.

José Maria Serralde Ruiz provided a heroic musical commentary with references in the beginning to Sergei Rachmaninoff's fifth piano prelude (Прелюдии для фортепиано / Ten Preludes, Op. 23, 1903, No. 5, in G minor) and towards the finale to Dmitri Shostakovich's concertino for two pianos (Концертино для двух фортепиано, соч. 94, 1954).

The visual quality is uneven but often enough good and with full contrast.

The Red Tent (Красная палатка), a fictional account of the voyage was directed by Mikhail Kalatozov as his last film in 1969 with Peter Finch (Umberto Nobile), Sean Connery (Roald Amundsen), Claudia Cardinale (Valeria), Eduard Martsevich (Malmberg) and Hardy Krüger (Lundborg).

Kara-Dag. Zhemchuzhina vostochnogo Kryma / [Kara-Dag. The Pearl of Eastern Crimea]


Kara-Dag (SU 1929), D: Anatoly Zhardiniye. Photo: RGAKFD, Krasnogorsk.

Карадаг. Жемчужина восточного Крыма / [Kara-Dag, la perla della Crimea orientale]. SU 1929, dir, photog: Anatoly Zhardiniye, prod: Sovkino, DCP (from 35 mm, 359 m), 13 min; titles: RUS, source: RGAKFD, Krasnogorsk.
   Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone: Soviet Travelogues.
   Grand piano: José Maria Serralde Ruiz.
   Cinemazero, e-subtitles in English and Italian, 7 Oct 2017.

Oksana Sarkisova (GCM 2017): "The end of the 1920s witnessed a surge in mass tourism, prompting Soviet film studios to increase their output of expedition films depicting the beauty and tourist potential of various regions. The Crimea was turning into “the people’s resort,” and kulturfilms started to promote the area as a popular locale.The coastline of the Black Sea, known as the “Soviet Riviera”, attracted the attention of filmmakers and cameramen in the second half of the decade. Kara-Dag (Black Mountain), a volcanic mountain range in Eastern Crimea, was especially famed as a destination for poets and artists in the early 20th century. Poet Maximilian Voloshin’s mansion in Koktebel at the foot of the mountain served as a summer residence and shelter for many “Silver Age” poets, including Marina Tsvetaeva, Osip Mandelstam, and Andrei Belyi, who found inspiration there, immersed themselves in “primeval” nature, and discovered a safe haven in increasingly troubled times."

"Cinematographer Anatoly Zhardiniye combined an interest in filming with experiments with gliding – another activity which has attracted many adventurers to the Crimea. In 1929 he produced this one-reel travelogue, which features numerous panoramic vistas, showcasing the beauty of the area’s picturesque coastline with its famous gorges and cliffs, and many natural rock formations, such as Kara-Dag’s Great Wall, Devil’s Finger, King, Queen, and other peculiar shapes linked to ancient legends. The film also includes a visit to the village of Otuzy, inhabited by Crimean Tatars, where the camera captures traditional dwellings (saklia), gardens and vineyards, a cemetery, and a winery. We also see the Biological Station of the National Academy of Science, established in 1901 by the scientist Terenty Vyazemsky (1857-1914), who transformed his own estate as well as donating his considerable library for the purpose. The station was later nationalized and continues to host a research center and a rich botanical and mineral collection. The film Kara-Dag thus fuses cultural, touristic, ethnographic, and scientific frames of reference.
" Oksana Sarkisova

AA: A geological travelogue of the magnificent volcanic rock formation Kara Dag (Black Mount) between Koktebel and the Otuzka River Valley on the south coast of Crimea.

Kara Dag is introduced in a tracking shot from a boat. Gora Svyataya (Sacred Mountain) has emerged from volcanic matter, liquidified lava. Mountain climbing is hazardous as stones are easily removed on the limestone slopes.

At the Kok-Kaya the destructive force of lime, the levelling impact is in evidence.

We observe the Ivan-Razboinik Rock, the mythical Vorota Karadaya (= today Zolotye Vorota or The Golden Gate, also known as Shaitan-kapu / Chertovy), and Chortov Palek = Devil's Finger.

From the underground water beautiful springs emerge. Cows are on pasture. We witness the erosion of Karache slopes. Ocean waves have worked the deep rock and the solidified lava.

At Otuzka villages grapes are cultivated. Grapes look juicy. Most become wine. Villagers dance a ring dance.

Finally we see the biological research station established by Terentiy Viazamsky. The Mediterranean vegetation is studied there.

André Bazin would have loved this film, as would Andrei Tarkovsky: a film about sculpting in time. There is a sense of the sublime in the way the landscapes are shot.

There were touches of J. S. Bach in the piano interpretation of José Maria Serralde Ruiz.

A pale dupe in low contrast of a film that must have looked beautiful.

Friday, October 06, 2017

Rudyard Kipling: The Vampire (a poem)


Philip Burne-Jones: The Vampire (1897), the painting that inspired Rudyard Kipling's poem. The webmaster informs us that the painting and the poem were exhibited side by side. The painter is Philip Burne-Jones, not his father Edward. The exhibition took place a few months before the publication of Bram Stoker's Dracula. Image and data from the website Postcard Roundup. The original painting is in monochrome (see below).

Rudyard Kipling
The Vampire

A fool there was and he made his prayer—   
    (Even as you and I!)   
To a rag and a bone and a hank of hair—   
    (We called her the woman who did not care)   
But the fool he called her his lady fair
    (Even as you and I!)   

Oh, the years we waste and the tears we waste   
    And the work of our head and hand   
Belong to the woman who did not know   
    (And now we know that she never could know)   
And did not understand!   

A fool there was and his goods he spent   
    (Even as you and I!)   
Honour and faith and a sure intent   
(And it wasn’t the least what the lady meant)
But a fool must follow his natural bent   
    (Even as you and I!)   

Oh, the toil we lost and the spoil we lost   
And the excellent things we planned   
Belong to the woman who didn’t know why
(And now we know that she never knew why)   
    And did not understand!   

The fool was stripped to his foolish hide   
    (Even as you and I!)   
Which she might have seen when she threw him aside—
(But it isn’t on record the lady tried)   
So some of him lived but the most of him died—   
    (Even as you and I!)   

“And it isn’t the shame and it isn’t the blame   
    That stings like a white hot brand—
It’s coming to know that she never knew why   
(Seeing, at last, she could never know why)   
    And never could understand!”

1897
Rudyard Kipling (1865–1936)
Public domain.

Philip Burne-Jones: The Vampire (1897). Public domain. Wikipedia. Please click to enlarge the image.

A Fool There Was, film concert (2017 score by Philip C. Carli)


A Fool There Was (US 1915) with Theda Bara and Edward José. William Fox Vaudeville Company / Box Office Attractions Company. Public domain. Image: Wikipedia. Please click to enlarge the image.

US 1915, D: Frank Powell, scen, adapt: Roy L. McCardell, Frank Powell, from: the play by Porter Emerson Browne (1909), the poem by Rudyard Kipling (1897), painting by Philip Burne-Jones (1897), photog: George Schneiderman, cast: Edward José (The Husband [John Schuyler]), Theda Bara (la donna vampiro / The Vampire), Mabel Frenyear (The Wife [Kate Schuyler]), May Allison (la cognata / The Wife’s Sister), Runa Hodges (The Child), Clifford Bruce (The Friend [Tom]), Victor Benoit (One of Her Victims [Parmalee]), Frank Powell (The Doctor), Minna Gale (The Doctor’s Wife), [Creighton Hale (The Vampire’s new admirer, guest at wild party), Makoto Inokuchi (servant)], prod: William Fox Vaudeville Company; presented by William Fox, dist: Box Office Attraction Co., filmed: 1914 (Fox / Willat Studio, Ft. Lee, New Jersey; St. Augustine, Florida), rel: 12.1.1915, 35 mm, 5284 ft (orig. 6 rl.), 78 min (18 fps); titles: ENG, source: The Museum of Modern Art, New York.
    Preserved with support from The National Film Preservation Foundation / Park Service, The Film Foundation.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone: The Canon Revisited.
    World premiere of a score composed and conducted by Philip C. Carli.
    Played by the Philip C. Carli quintet with David Shermancik, Günter Buchwald, Romano Todesco, and Cristina Nadal.
    Teatro Verdi, e-subtitles in Italian, 6 Oct 2017

Leslie Midkiff DeBauche (GCM 2017): "“There has always been a mantle of mystery around me, a consummation partly the result of chance, partly of design, and partly the result of consistent work on the part of the press department,” said Theda Bara in 1916. Born in 1885 or 1890, in the shadow of the Sphinx or in Cincinnati, the daughter of an Italian painter or a Russian Jewish tailor, she played bit parts in several plays beginning in 1908 and acted in the Yiddish theatre. As Theodosia Goodman, her actual name, she appeared in the 1914 feature film The Stain (Pathé) directed by Frank Powell. The following year Powell moved to Fox Film, where he recommended the unknown actress for the role of The Vampire, “the woman who did not care… And never could understand,” in A Fool There Was. William Fox signed her to a five-year contract on the advice of Robert Hilliard, the matinee idol who had played the husband on stage when A Fool There Was ran at New York’s Liberty Theatre in 1909; he predicted that “the part will make her.” It did. Renamed Theda Bara, she became a celebrity."

"The artist Philip Burne-Jones (son of the famous Pre-Raphaelite painter Edward Burne-Jones) had prefigured the female vampire, a soulless “rag and a bone and a hank of hair,” in his 1897 painting depicting a satiated woman, her eyelids drooping, her mouth half-opened, leaning over the still body of a man whose chest shows the mark of her teeth. Burne-Jones’s cousin, Rudyard Kipling, wrote a poem called “The Vampire,” which began with the words “A fool there was,” to accompany the painting’s exhibition. In 1909 the American author Porter Emerson Browne used the poem as the basis for a stage play. That same year he also fleshed out her story in a novelization which provided the Vampire’s backstory: she was the illegitimate child of a peasant and a debauched French nobleman."

"A slightly different vampire emerged in the Fox film (there had been two earlier movie adaptations: Selig’s 1910 The Vampire, and Vitagraph’s 1913 The Vampire of the Desert). Via the film’s narrative structure and its style – especially editing and mise-en-scène – Bara’s “hell cat” becomes, ironically, a more conventional but also a more dangerous “other woman,” wielding her sexuality to attain position and wealth. No longer the bad seed of a corrupt line or an embodied libido, she is an angry social climber whose seduction of the Husband is motivated by a snub from his wife. Even before she acts to entrap Schuyler, a father, Wall Street lawyer, and citizen-statesman on a mission to the Court of St. James, contemporary audiences would have recognized that she was ill-bred, if not immoral: her clothes are all “wrong.”"

"At a resort where most ladies are relaxing wearing white summer dresses and soft, non-tailored suits, the Vampire wears a tight striped skirt, and encases herself in an exotic form-fitting dark jacket with a long tapered back, like tails; the shape of this ensemble resembles a wasp’s carapace. Instead of a conventional wide-brimmed hat, trimmed with lace to keep off the sun, she sports a dark straw hat with a flipped brim on one side, with one tall trailing feather. Cutting-edge perhaps for Europe but outré in the Schuylers’ circles, she stands apart. Making her stand out even further in this milieu, she wears far too much make-up, especially around the eyes."

"The Vampire is contrasted with a range of female types. First, she competes with the long-suffering, ever-loyal Kate Schuyler for her husband’s love. Second, she is contrasted with Kate’s sister, a spunky American girl engaged to Schuyler’s best friend. While the Vamp is deviant in every respect, the sister represents all that is correct and appropriate to the gendered norms of the day. Surprisingly however, the most intriguing female character vis à vis the Vampire is the Schuylers’ young daughter."

"Her hair dressed in ringlets and a doll in her arms, the little girl seems to be as ingenuous as the Vampire is deceptive. And yet, an editing motif established early in the film parallels these two characters. In a series of juxtapositions, the child behaves like a “baby vampire” in the slang this film spawned, a vamp-in-training. Both characters are imperious, literally controlling where men sit and what they do. Both emasculate men. Twice Schuyler kneels before the Vampire, his head slumped on her bosom. Similarly, the child forces the family butler to play with her doll, to hold her kitten while she “reads” the newspaper, and to let her ride him like a horse. While these scenes function as comic relief, their pattern begs the question: would, could this child grow up to be a vampire?"

"The girl and the Vampire also function as rivals for John Schuyler. A striking use of mobile framing illustrates their irreconcilable, and equally impossible, goals: the child wants her father back, her family reunited; the Vampire desires social acceptance. A high-angled shot of a busy New York street centers on two cars driving side by side. One contains Schuyler’s wife and daughter, the other Schuyler with the Vampire. Husband and wife face away from one another, but the child leans towards her father’s vehicle desperately crying, “Papa dear, I want you!” While he cowers, the Vampire responds to her with a wave and a smile."

"At the end of the film, the girl is brought to her father’s apartment. “As a last appeal I will take his child to him,” says Tom, Schuyler’s friend. She takes her father’s hand and tries to pull him out of his chair, towards the door and home. Yet the Vampire has only to enter the frame, and Schuyler turns towards her, never looking back at his daughter, doomed."

"Kipling’s poem is quoted one last time: “So some of him lived, but the most of him died.” The film resolves the poem’s ambiguity: at the end, Schuyler truly is dead. His family is broken, his diplomatic mission to England unrealized. Still, the Vampire’s victory is pyrrhic. Alone again, without money, or sex, or love (at least temporarily), she’s last seen dressed similarly to the figure in the Burne-Jones painting, smiling over Schuyler’s body. That final image reinforces the moral void at her centre, much as Kipling does with his last line, “(Seeing, at last, she could never know why) / And could never understand!
” Leslie Midkiff DeBauche"

The music

Philip C. Carli: "A Fool There Was has always fascinated me – there is so little of Theda Bara left to see, it was a shatteringly popular success upon release, its director (Frank Powell) is barely a footnote in film history, and it has had an unequivocally negative (and often snide) assessment in film histories up to the present. What is it?"

"A damned good film, in my opinion, and one whose emotional impact has made it one of the hardest things to compose for I’ve ever faced."

"Such a progressively degrading and bleak narrative, so well depicted by its stars, writers, director, and cameraman (George Schneiderman was a genius, I must say) has impacted me very hard. I don’t know if that will come through in the music I’ve composed, but I have viewed this not so much as a morality tale but as a story of severely flawed human beings who all have the capacity of free will, but choose their paths according to their class, personalities, and predilections. No one is simple or simplistically portrayed; there are moral and ethical choices everywhere, and most of them are misdirected. Though it would be a stretch beyond belief to equate director Frank Powell and scenarist Roy McCardell’s effort with, say, the films of Evgeni Bauer, there are corollaries here and there with elements of Bauer’s intricate fatalistic outlook. There is a control in Theda Bara’s performance throughout the film which makes Edward José’s dissolution all the more painful to watch – if you accept the premise. I stress this because I think of Bara’s character as a succubus – succubi are accepted psychological personae, and Theda Bara’s part is not a male fantasy, but a female entirely in charge of herself in a specific mental and emotional way, obtaining strength and independence through methodically using others to her own ends. She is, in a way, almost admirable; she is certainly compelling to watch and assess in every respect. And the focus is on her and her psyche from the opening credit: “a psychological drama by Porter Emerson Brown”."

"Musically, it has been difficult to fully complement this film. Its bleakness has been a challenge to partner, as much as I desire to embrace it. I try to make colors emerge from the progressive despair and not have it be simply melodramatically monochrome; glints of tension, corruption, and attractive evil coming through the harmony and melody are what I believe highlight the emotion and pain that seeps through the film to its final moments. Musically I am a craftsman first and an artist second; A Fool There Was is a film that must be viewed as craft that became art, almost in an unconscious way, and I hope to link with it sympathetically and evocatively, however it may be viewed by modern audiences.
" Philip C. Carli

AA: I saw for the first time A Fool There Was. It was screened in Pordenone in The Canon Revisited series, one of whose intentions is to screen films which everyone is aware of but few have seen.

I was impressed by the blunt and bold approach to the tragedy. Theda Bara as the vamp is a force of nature, a pheromone powerhouse whose mere presence derails men and sends them onto a path to destruction. One rots in jail, another is an alcoholic wreck in the gutter, and her latest conquest puts a bullet through his brain when Theda abandons him, but not before ordering: "Kiss me, my fool!"

Theda is usually rude and sulky. Her animal magnetism is so irresistible that she does not even need to smile.

We start at the sunset of the happiness of the Schuyler family. John Schuyler receives a letter from the State Department: he has been appointed U.S. Ambassador in England. This being 1915, a fatally important mission.

His wife Kate's sister is injured when she falls from a car, and Kate stays home to take care of her.

On board of the ocean liner Gigantic the languorous Theda immediately starts to spin her web around John. Two months later they are on a love holiday in Italy. But "why are your thoughts in America when you say your heart is in Italy?"

Because of John's conduct nobody wants to meet the U.S. Ambassador. Schuler is a disgrace to his country, and he is dismissed. His staff resigns, too.

Kate knows everything but stands by her man. "A cross means love, and love often means a cross", she explains to their little daughter. Reading John's mail Theda adds to the signature: "The Fool".

In one of the most memorable images of the movie two cars meet: John with Theda, and Kate with the daughter. The daughter misses her daddy most.

Kate tries to rescue John from Theda's spell, to no avail. Kate's confrontation with Theda is electrifying. "As a last appeal I will take his child to him". John is now a drunken ruin, a shadow of his former self, but his daughter's visit moves him to return to his family. Then the mere appearance of Theda makes him turn around for good. He crawls on the stairs, struts and frets and falls.

"So some of him lived, but the most of him died (even as you and I)" is the final text: Rudyard Kipling's poem The Vampire is used liberally in the intertitles.

A Fool There Was is an essential work in the screen history of divas, femmes fatales and love goddesses, interesting to watch during the same week with Pola Negri vehicles. Theda Bara is a truly fatal woman, dressed in black, intelligent and clever, incarnating sexual desire only. When Marlene Dietrich played fatal women there was always a tender and maternal side. None of that with Theda Bara.

An inspired score by Philip C. Carli played with feeling by Carli, David Shermancik, Günter Buchwald, Romano Todesco and Cristina Nadal perfectly in tune with a film which is highly stylized and exaggerated but in an energetic and sophisticated way.

A watchable print from sources with sometimes a soft, shaky and duped look.

Med bærerkaravane gjennem Œstafrika / [By Caravan through East Africa]


[In carovana attraverso l’Africa orientale], ?, ca 1920, prod: ?. DCP (from 35 mm), 10’28”, tinted; titles: NOR, print from: Nasjonalbiblioteket, Norway.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone: Silent Africa in Norway.
    Grand piano: Günter Buchwald.
    Teatro Verdi, e-subtitles in English and Italian, 6 Oct 2017.

Tina Anckarman (GCM 2017): "Med bærerkaravane gjennem Østafrika and [Kaffeplantasje i Afrika / Kenya] share, as the titles reveal, geographic locations with the three ethnographic films. Med bærerkaravane gjennem Østafrika is a safari-travelogue, but instead of showing “the bravery of the white man” it focuses on native peoples from various tribes, probably Kikuyu and Kamba, working as porters for the colonialists, presumably heading north from Nairobi, much as Theodore Roosevelt had done in his well-documented safari of 1909. On the way, the caravan stops for supplies at the trading town of Maragua. [Kaffeplantasje i Afrika / Kenya] appears in records with two title variations; the title card is missing, so which one is more correct in this case can’t be determined. Here the focus is less on the native Maasai and Kikuyu labourers, instead concentrating on production activities at a coffee plantation."

"These two reels derive from the collection of one of the earliest filmmakers / distributors in Norway, Hans Berge (1877–1934). In cinema’s early years Berge made actualities documenting major and minor events, and like other filmmakers he also arranged screenings and lectures. The surviving collection of approximately 300 reels bears testimony to Berge’s many activities, and contains a wide range of genres, from all continents. The collection was incorporated in the holdings of the Norsk Filminstitutt in 1996 and later moved to the Nasjonalbiblioteket. According to the catalogue, the original length for Med bærerkaravane gjennem Østafrika was 130 metres, thus shorter than the surviving reel at the Nasjonalbiblioteket and perhaps indicating that several versions were available at the time. The original nitrate prints are unfortunately considered lost, but an earlier intervention preserved these titles. In the process the nitrate full-frame print was copied over to acetate sound format, resulting in some information loss on the edge.
" Tina Anckarman

AA: The previous films seen in the Silent Africa in Norway series were documentary records of lives of authentic African tribes. This film is a record of colonialism.

One hundred black porters are engaged on a safari caravan. A market is visited to stock up on provisions. Maize and beans are purchased. We see black children with sad faces. The proprietors are usually Hindu merchants. During the trek a well is being dug. White men's tent is erected under a tree, equipped with solid camp beds. The main food of the negroes is corn flour: a kilo a day for each. Corn gruel is their normal supper. On a hunting trip meat is also needed. A chilly dusk fills the savanna.

A good visual quality in the material, slightly marred by a simulation of tinting.

Antologia filmati neuropatologici realizzati dal prof. Camillo Negro con Roberto Omegna (2011 restoration Museo Nazionale del Cinema, Torino)


Camillo Negro. Museo Nazionale del Cinema, Torino.
Antologia filmati neuropatologici realizzati dal prof. Camillo Negro con Roberto Omegna: the shell-shock victim (Grande guerra 100, 7 Oct 2017). Museo Nazionale del Cinema, Torino.

Camillo Negro (IT 1906-1918), photog: Roberto Omegna, prod: Ambrosio, 35 mm, 987 m, 48 min (18 fps); b&w, tinted; titles: ITA, ENG, source: Museo Nazionale del Cinema, Torino, restored: 2011, Museo Nazionale del Cinema, Torino, with the collaboration of Dipartimento di Neuroscienze dell’Università di Torino.
    Parts one and two of this compilation film (lasting 32 minutes), will be screened in the section “Rediscoveries and Restorations” (R&R); the third part (16 minutes), of a shell-shock victim, is in “The Effects of War.” 
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone: Rediscoveries and Restorations.
    Grand piano: Daan van den Hurk (6 Oct 2017), John Sweeney (7 Oct 2017)
    Teatro Verdi, 6 Oct 2017 and 7 Oct 2017.

Claudia Gianetto (GCM 2017): "Between 1906 and 1908 a professor of neurology, Camillo Negro, with his assistant Giuseppe Roasenda and Roberto Omegna, an expert cameraman, filmed some of his patients in the Cottolengo charity hospital and the Policlinico in Turin. During the First World War he continued his scientific cinema project in Turin’s military hospital, documenting the effects of the fighting on shell-shocked troops returning from the front line."

"Inspired by the experience of French surgeon Eugène Doyen and particularly Romanian neurologist Gheorghe Marinesco, Negro was among the first to employ film technology for the purposes of scientific research and dissemination, achieving remarkable results, in aesthetic as well as medical terms. His films are distinguished not only by the quality of their photography, and the sympathetic onscreen presence of Negro, but also the sensitivity with which the patients are shown; powerful in their visual impact, they record the advanced stages of a variety of illnesses."

"In the contemporary press, accounts of the lectures given by Negro indicate that the footage had the structure of an anthology, organized into chapters or episodes, which he modified several times in the 1910s and 20s."

"Presented abroad as well as in Italy, the footage was a great academic success, but was never released commercially. Following Negro’s death in 1927 it languished, invisible, for decades, considered even by the most scrupulous experts to be nothing more than a short documentary of only a few metres. In the early 1980s the noted Italian historian and critic Alberto Farassino described the material he had seen of La neuropatologia: a fragment conserved at the Istituto Luce, which was included by Virgilio Tosi in his documentary on Omegna, dealing with the fits of a blindfolded hysteric, and two unprojectable nitrate reels held by Maria Adriana Prolo at the archive in Turin. Believing these “scraps” to be the film’s only surviving sequences, Farassino wrote: “Even in a fragment of film a few metres long, even in an offcut, there is life that has passed and been recorded forever. And often it takes just a couple of frames to make a story.”"

"An in-depth analysis of the fragments subsequently preserved, and the discovery of new nitrate material held in the Museo del Cinema, made it possible to assemble an anthology (about 1,000 metres, in 35 mm), edited by the Museo in co-operation with the Neuroscience Department of the University of Turin, which was realized at the Immagine Ritrovata laboratory in Bologna in 2011. Starting from an analysis of the sources, a new editing sequence was devised, so that all the miscellaneous material could be correctly presented in a coherent order. Of crucial importance for this analysis were the paper documents held in a “private Omegna archive”, information obtained from the historian Bujor T. Rîpeanu, and comparison with films conserved in the Arhiva Nationala de Filme in Bucharest."

"The first part of the anthology (29′, b&w) presents the episodes shot between 1906 and 1908, based on a detailed account dated 12 March 1908 of a screening at the Salpêtrière hospital in Paris, published in the first issue of Phono-Cinéma-Revue (March 1908). The editing of this sequence corresponds to medical and viewing logic alike, with a progression of “cases” from the  particular to the general. The middle part (3′, b&w) consists of images showing Negro surrounded by a team of doctors and students. The material depicting shell-shock is collected in the third part of the anthology (16′, b&w and colour), with cases documenting the war’s devastating impact in clinical-neurological terms. One of the most significant and distressing sequences among the new additions shows a young man reliving the horror of the trenches in a room in the military hospital.
" Claudia Gianetto

AA: Medical records of neuropathological syndromes filmed by prof. Camillo Negro and Roberto Omegna.

Medical records belong to the most unforgettable documents of early cinema. I will never forget the Edison cycle on epileptic seizures (GCM 1995). Nor Eugène-Louis Doyen's Extirpation des tumeurs encapsulées (FR 1906) and Les Opérations sur la cavité crânienne (FR 1911), restored in 2002 by Cinemateca Portuguesa (Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna, 2004). The cure of la grande hystérie was recorded in La neuropatologia (IT 1908) by Camillo Negro and Roberto Omegna in the program Cento anni fà: I film del 1908: 1: Donne del 1908 curated by Mariann Lewinsky and Monica Dall'Asta (Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna, 2008). I do not remember if the footage of that eight minute film is identical to some in today's program. Anyway these Camillo Negro films are in the same league.

The anthology starts with an extreme close-up of eyes opening and shutting and close-ups of facial expressions. A girl's knee reflexes are recorded. A man is trembling on a bench. A man stares at us, his mouth shaking, dripping with saliva. Various forms of dyskinesia are documented. A man tries to stand up, helped by four doctors. The leg is trembling while he is trying to walk. A man is walking in a circle. In winter footage a man clad in a winter coat is not able to drink because his hand is shaking so violently. A scene with four mentally retarded grown-ups. A scene with nine patients with dyskinesia. A scene with dozens of patients walking in the yard of a mental hospital. A scene with two doctors and a patient with dyskinesia of the neck. A scene with two doctors and a woman clad in a black mask experiencing syndromes of La Grande hystérie (violent cramps). Two doctors hold the woman on a bed until the fit is over. There is an atmosphere of tender attention. A scene of hysteria without a mask; in the end the woman is smiling. Footage on knee reflexes. Outside in the sunshine patients are trembling.

Distinctions of this footage include a sense of tenderness and even a dimension of the sacred. The vulnerability of human existence.

Good visual quality in the anthology.

Thora van Deken (2017 digital restoration Svenska Filminstitutet)


Thora van Deken (SE 1920). Principal Brandt (Oscar Johansson), Thora van Deken (Pauline Brunius), pastor Bjerring (Gösta Ekman), Esther (Jessie Wessel). Photo: Paul van Yperen's Blog.

Thora van Deken (SE 1920). Esther (Jessie Wessel) leaves Sweden with her newly wed husband, pastor Bjerring (Gösta Ekman).

Thora van Deken (SE 1920). Thora (Pauline Brunius) observes her daughter Esther (Jessie Wessel) with her beloved pastor Bjerring (Gösta Ekman).

A Mother’s Fight. SE 1920. D: John W. Brunius, scen: John W. Brunius, Sam Ask – screenplay supervised by Henrik Pontoppidan – based on a dramatization by Hjalmar Bergström (1916 at Svenska Teatern in Stockholm directed by John W. Brunius – based on Lille Rødhætte (Little Red Riding Hood) (1900) by Henrik Pontoppidan, photog: Hugo Edlund, des: Vilhelm Bryde, Gustaf Hallén, cast: Pauline Brunius (Thora van Deken), Hugo Björne (Niels Engelstoft), Jessie Wessel (Esther Engelstoft), Gösta Ekman (pastor Bjerring), Gösta Cederlund (magistrate Sidenius), Oscar Johansson (principal Brandt), Sam Ask (attorney Sandberg), prod: Filmindustri AB Skandia, rel: 15.3.1920, DCP (from 35 mm, 1836 m; orig. 1846 m), 85 min (transferred at 19 fps), tinted; titles: SWE, source: Svenska Filminstitutet, Stockholm.
    The film was not released in Finland according to our database but according to Svensk Filmdatabas it was. It may have been released in Swedish Finland only.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone: The Swedish Challenge.
    Grand piano: Maud Nelissen.
    Teatro Verdi, e-subtitles in English and Italian, 6 Oct 2017.

Magnus Rosborn, Casper Tybjerg (GCM 2017): "When Thora van Deken is called to the deathbed of her divorced husband, Squire Niels Engelstoft, she learns that he has bequeathed a substantial part of his estate to the foundation of a nursing home rather than to their daughter Esther. She pleads with him to revoke his will, but he dies before he can react. Thora takes the matter into her own hands: she steals the will and takes over the estate as Esther’s guardian, claiming that the will was burned in agreement with her late husband before he died. When nasty rumors spread, Thora stands firm, committed to maintaining control of the estate on behalf of her daughter at all costs. But Esther is far less concerned with her inheritance; despite her mother’s attempts to prevent it, Esther falls in love with the young idealistic pastor Bjerring. All Thora’s efforts may have been for nothing."

"The film is based on a short novel written in 1900 by the Danish 1917 Nobel Prize laureate Henrik Pontoppidan, Lille Rødhætte (Little Red Riding Hood). It was adapted for the stage in 1914, retitled Thora van Deken. John W. Brunius directed the play in Stockholm in 1916, and his film version features several cast members from that production. Like Synnöve Solbakken, this film, shot in the late summer of 1919, was one of Skandia’s prestige projects aiming to compete with the foremost productions of Svenska Bio. However, the two rival companies would merge into the newly founded Svensk Filmindustri before the film’s release in March 1920."

"Again like Synnöve Solbakken, the exteriors of which were shot on location in Norway, Thora van Deken intends to evoke the atmosphere of the literary work’s country of origin. The “Danish” look was captured by shooting the majority of the exteriors in Sweden’s southernmost province, Scania, which has a landscape similar to Denmark’s."

"Compared to the filmic style John W. Brunius used in Synnöve Solbakken, whose picturesque tableaux inspired by 19th-century paintings give that film a rather static impression, Thora van Deken is told in a very different manner. Considering Brunius’s previous work with Pontoppidan’s story on stage and the fact that the film is mostly set indoors, it is interesting that here he doesn’t fall into the use of a theatrical tableau staging style. Instead, Thora van Deken, with its first-class camerawork, editing, and narrative structure, is an intense cinematic drama which brilliantly reflects its characters’ psychological conflicts. The elaborate flashback structure of Thora’s meeting with her dying ex-husband in the first two acts of the film bears a close resemblance to the narrative structure of Victor Sjöström’s masterpiece of the following year, The Phantom Carriage (Körkarlen, 1921), a considerable portion of which is told through deathbed flashbacks."

"Much of Thora van Deken’s strength undoubtedly rests on Pauline Brunius’s stunning performance in the title role, which is arguably the best of her film career. (Pauline Brunius, who also directed a few films on her own, had only a limited screen acting career and is today best known as a stage diva and the first female director of the Royal Dramatic Theatre in Stockholm.) Interestingly, the film is consistently structured around Thora’s – and, in few scenes, her daughter’s – point of view."

"Thora van Deken (released in Britain as A Mother’s Fight) is one of the foremost examples of films by the minor directors of the Swedish “Golden Age”. Yet sadly it has been overshadowed by the work of the masters Stiller and Sjöström in both film history and screening praxis. The latest known showing for a theatre audience was in France in 1985."

"The print  In 1968 a fine grain master was made from the original camera negative, which no longer exists. To complete the parts of the negative that were missing (the majority of Act 3 and the whole of Act 4), a duplicate negative was struck from a nitrate print. In 2017 the fine grain master and duplicate negative were scanned by the Swedish Film Institute and edited together with full-length intertitles. The tinting scheme of the final DCP is based on a severely deteriorated nitrate print.
" Magnus Rosborn, Casper Tybjerg

AA: Thora van Deken is the tragedy of a strong and proud mother and her disappointment in life. We meet her as a bitter and taciturn woman arriving at the deathbed of her ex-husband Niels. "Jag är vad livet gjort mig till": "I am what life has made of me".

Her father was a fun-loving rogue who came home with other women. Han spelade bort det sista vi ägde: he gambled away the family fortune.

Thora was a poor teacher when she met Niels. "Jag älskade dig, Thora": "I loved you, Thora". Sedan var det kärleken till Esther: his love was then transferred to the daughter Esther.

When Niels starts to play with another woman, Sofie Brandt, Thora becomes cold towards him and prevents even Esther from expressing tenderness to him. Divorce ensues, Niels marries Sofie, but within a year Sofie dies.

Now even Niels is on his deathbed, and in his testament he bequeaths the Sofiehöj estate to Sofie's brother, principal Brandt, to become a ladies' rest home. Thora asks Niels to burn the testament. Sofiehöj must belong to Esther. When Niels dies, Thora hides the testament and claims that Niels had asked her to burn it.

There is great commotion in the district when Thora settles in Sofiehöj. A mob gathers. There is a threat of violence. A stone is thrown, breaking a window.

The country magistrate Lars Sidenius (Gösta Cederlund) remembers Thora as a little girl like Little Red Riding Hood. After Thora's father's death Sidenius came to say goodbye, but livet skilde oss åt: life separated us. Lars had loved Thora and was disappointed when she married the rich Niels.

In a police investigation Thora commits perjury about the testament because she wants justice for her daughter. But Esther has seen the testament in her mother's hands. In a special effect prefiguring Stroheim's The Wedding March Thora's fingers on the Bible turn to skeleton fingers.

Esther is getting fond of pastor Bjerring who had alerted Thora to Niels's deathbed in the first place, in hope of reconciliation. Bjerring is getting an appointment as a missionary in Asia. Thora has secretly donated money to the congregation, perhaps hoping that Bjerring will move far away. But Esther wants to follow him.

Thora does not believe in God. In defiance of Thora's ban Bjerring comes to propose to Esther. Thora asks Esther to choose between her and Bjerring. At night Esther leaves, having asked Bjerring to "take me with you, I die of agony here".

Thora calls Lars to confess. "Jag är färdig med livet": "I'm through with life". She throws Esther's photograph to the fire. The ship carrying Bjerring and Esther recedes towards the horizon. Thora faces prison.

John W. Brunius's approach is sober, balanced, and subdued. The mise-en-scène is assured. The atmosphere is melancholic rather than dramatic. In the beginning the exposition is lengthy and convoluted, and the storytelling feels static and stolid at first. Although the performances are good there is at times too much gesticulation. Strengths of the film include Pauline Brunius's complex tragic performance and the agony at Niels's deathbed.

The screen debut of Pauline Brunius and Jessie Wessel. John W. Brunius and his wife Pauline Brunius were a dynamic duo in the Swedish theatre and film scene, and Gösta Ekman was their closest collaborator for instance at Oscarsteatern. Pauline Brunius was a grande dame of the Swedish theatre, a Shakespeare and Strindberg actor, also a theatre director and soon after this screen debut one of the first female film directors in Sweden. She was the managing director of Oscarsteatern and the first female managing director of the Royal Dramatic Theatre in 1938–1948.

Thora van Deken has been little seen for decades, but Magnus Rosborn reported that Ingmar Bergman booked it twice for his private screening sessions. We can imagine Bergman admiring what has been called Pauline Brunius's finest film performance. She only acted in 13 films of which Gunnar Hedes saga is the best known.

Maud Nelissen brought a sophisticated musical interpretation to an unusual and psychologically complex tragedy.

This restoration is highly welcome and very watchable. The imagery is often darkish, and as usual I belong to the minority that would prefer to see this untinted.

Dawn (2014 digital transfer by EYE Film Institute)



Dawn (GB 1928). Sybil Thorndike as Edith Cavell. Photo: Cinémathèque royale de Belgique / Koninklijk Belgisch Filmarchief, Brussels

Edith Cavell, "Englannin valkoinen sisar" / La Tragédie de Miss Cavell [title of the print]. GB 1928, D: Herbert Wilcox, scen: Herbert Wilcox, Robert Cullen, based on  the story by Reginald Berkeley, photog: Bernard Knowles, des: Clifford Pember, cast: Sybil Thorndike (Edith Cavell), Ada Bodart (herself), Gordon Craig (Philippe Bodart), Marie Ault (Madame Rappard), Mary Brough (Madame Pitou), Mickey Brantford (Jacques Rappard), Richard Worth (Jean Pitou), Colin Bell (Widow Deveaux), Dacia Deane (Madame Deveaux’s daughter), Cecil Barry (Col. Schultz), Frank Perfitt (General von Zauberzweig), Haddon Mason (Assistant Provost Marshal), Griffith Humphrey (President of the Court Martial), Edward O’Neill (Priest), Edward Sorley (German soldier Rammler), prod: Herbert Wilcox Productions, British & Dominion Film Corporation, DCP (from 35 mm, incomp.), 91 min, titles: FRA, NLD; final reel: 35 mm, 1040 ft, 14 min (20 fps), titles: ENG, source: DCP: Cinémathèque royale de Belgique, Bruxelles; final reel: BFI National Archive, London.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone: Canon Revisited.
    Grand piano: Stephen Horne, also at the drums and the flute.
    Teatro Verdi, e-subtitles in English and Italian, 6 Oct 2017.

Daniël Biltereyst, Bruno Mestdagh (GCM 2017): "Although Herbert Wilcox’s Dawn (1928) is rarely revived, it was one of the most controversial feature films of the 1920s. Dawn tells the story of British nurse Edith Cavell, shot at dawn by the Germans on 12 October 1915 in Brussels for setting up a rescue network for Allied soldiers. During the First World War, Cavell became a world-wide propaganda icon and her death was used as a compelling story illustrating German war atrocities in Belgium. In particular, the circumstances of Cavell’s execution played a crucial part in British propaganda around the brave martyr. Contributing to this narrative was the myth that a certain private Rammler, supposedly part of the German firing squad, refused to shoot and was executed as well, followed by Cavell’s fainting and subsequent fatal blow from the commanding officer’s revolver."

"Wilcox’s Dawn was not the first feature film based on Cavell (these include Nurse and Martyr, GB 1915, and The Woman the Germans Shot, US 1918), but it was certainly the most hotly debated one. This was partly due to Wilcox’s intention to make a realistic and historically accurate film. Although most of the shooting was done at London’s Cricklewood Studios, Wilcox included original archive material and location footage from the Belgian capital. The realistic touch was also visible in Clifford Pember’s set designs (based on existing photographs and visits to locations in Brussels), in the chronological narrative, and even the choice of actors: one of Cavell’s collaborators, Ada Bodart, played herself, while the role of Cavell was given to prominent actress Sybil Thorndike, who bore a physical resemblance to the nurse. In addition, Wilcox tried to draw a more balanced picture of the Germans, who mostly play secondary roles as bureaucratic executors of a heartless war machine. However, Dawn’s portrayal of Germans remains ambivalent, best illustrated by the execution scene, shown in Pordenone in two versions."

"The Dawn controversy started in September 1927, when British newspapers reported on Wilcox’s intention to make a new movie based on Cavell. The report was repeated abroad, resulting in intense international diplomatic activities which lasted for several months. Besides the fear that Dawn could revive anti-German sentiments, both the German and British governments saw the film as a threat to the normalization of international relations following the October 1925 Locarno Treaties. The announcement of a new British Cavell movie threatened Britain’s role as a broker between the Continental powers, and Germany asked that the film’s production be stopped, although the British Foreign Office claimed the government had no censorship powers. Germany made similar requests in Belgium, where Wilcox started shooting in October 1927. Although it’s not clear to what extent the director was affected by pressure from the authorities, it is known that Pauline Frederick, in Brussels to play Cavell, suddenly withdrew from the project, according to Wilcox due to pressures from the German embassy."

"Dawn became a major diplomatic problem, though the results varied within each country. In the British case, Foreign Secretary Austen Chamberlain publicly denounced the movie and pressured the president of the British Board of Film Censors. When the BBFC effectively banned the film in February 1928 on grounds of public expediency, press comments suggested this was a result of German pressure. Early in April 1928, after a long all-night sitting, the London City Council gave permission for Dawn to be shown for adults, though only once cuts were made, particularly in the execution scene."

"In Belgium, the Dawn affair was headline news for several weeks, especially after the government refused to agree to German demands, with the Belgian Minister of Foreign Affairs Paul Hymans arguing that his government could not intervene. But unlike in Britain, the Belgian censors accepted the movie for public screening, even for children and without cuts. This uncensored version, which had its world premiere in Brussels’ biggest cinema, the Agora, on 9 March 1928, depicted Rammler’s disobedience and execution by the commanding officer (off-screen), followed by Cavell lying on the ground, ending with a shot of Cavell’s grave."

"At one point the Cinémathèque royale had two nitrate prints of the Belgian release version, one of which was discovered in a treasure trove of more than one hundred silent films acquired in 1984 from a fairground manager. The archive then embarked on a restoration plan that involved evaluating the precarious condition of both prints, both affected by partial nitrate decomposition. A preservation and a projection print were made using the best material from each source. Then in 2012, when the European Film Gateway’s EFG1914 project offered archives the chance to compare their First World War film lists, it was discovered that the EYE Filmmuseum and the Deutsche Kinemathek also had material on this title. By coincidence, the Dutch version was missing the last reel, whereas the German footage consisted solely of the last reel, with Dutch intertitles. This new material was examined in Brussels, where the Berlin material enabled the Cinémathèque royale to complete the execution scene truncated in the Brussels fairground print. Thanks to the EFG1914 digitization project, the internegative of the new restoration was scanned and the film made available on DCP
. Daniël Biltereyst, Bruno Mestdagh"

"The Belgian print will be screening with the very final scene of the British “version”, which is held at the BFI National Archive in its form as passed by the British Board of Film Censors. This tones down the disobedience of Private Rammler – we don’t see him shot, even off-screen, and titles cover the final action giving Cavell’s words, “Patriotism is not enough. I must have no bitterness towards anyone.” Such anti-war sentiment fell in line with post-Locarno British government policy." Bryony Dixon

AA:

Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies.

Heaven's morning breaks, and earth's vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

– Henry Francis Lyte (hymn quoted in the intertitles and played by Stephen Horne in the finale)

In the context of the centenary of World War I this film based on a true story provides an account of everyday courage and genuine dignity. Dawn is a resistance film in which the protagonists are women.

There is often an approach of almost documentary realism. The location footage is excellent. The film is a thriller, but the suspense is based on the reality of danger in organizing a people smuggling network in German occupied Brussels. A sneeze can be fatal. Looks and hand signs convey crucial messages.

There are instances of a fine sense of mise-en-scène by the director Herbert Wilcox and his cinematographer Bernard Knowles. Dawn was one of Knowles's first films, but already here we can sense some of the touch he brought to the Alfred Hitchcock classics 39 Steps, Secret Agent, Sabotage, and Young and Innocent, not forgetting the original Gaslight by Thorold Dickinson. Wilcox's last film assignment was as the uncredited director of Magical Mystery Tour (1967) next to the credited The Beatles.

In the best scenes of Dawn there is something of the austere intensity of a Dreyer or a Bresson, including of their interpretations of the tragedy of Jeanne d'Arc.

The finale is deeply moving. The dignity of Socrates comes to mind in the way Edith Cavell faces the German firing squad. Especially in her attitude of transcending the circumstances: "Patriotism is not enough. I must have no bitterness towards anyone".

Stephen Horne contributed a deeply felt musical interpretation. In the finale his theme was, as indicated in the intertitles, the hymn "Abide with Me", written in 1847 by Henry Francis Lyte and composed in 1861 by William Henry Monk as "Eventide" (and yes, there is also a Thelonious Monk interpretation, and even a John Coltrane one). Nurse Edith Cavell is said to have sung this hymn the evening before she was shot. It was also one of the final tunes of the orchestra of The Titanic. In Finland the tune is known as hymn 555, "Oi Herra, luoksein jää".

Dame Sybil Thorndike was one of the greatest actresses. Her career lasted from 1893 until 1970. Her main career was always in the theatre, but I have seen her also in films such as Stage Fright (1950) and The Magic Box (1951). Perhaps her most often revived film is The Prince and the Showgirl (1957). She got on well with Marilyn Monroe, and in My Week with Marilyn she is portrayed by Judi Dench. These are marginal accomplishments in comparison with Dawn.

In Herbert Wilcox's sound remake Nurse Edith Cavell (1939) the leading role was played by Anna Neagle, Wilcox's wife and regular star in the 1930s.

In this special screening we saw first the full-length Belgian version and then the censored finale of the British version.

There are instances of overacting.

The cinematography is often excellent.

The visual quality in the screening was very watchable, sometimes with slightly duped look.

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Der Gang in die Nacht (2016 restoration Filmmuseum München)


Der Gang in die Nacht (DE 1920), D: F. W. Murnau. With Conrad Veidt. Photo: Filmmuseum München. Please click to enlarge the image.

Der Gang in die Nacht. Eine Tragödie in 5 Akten (Love’s Mockery) [Il cammino nella notte], F. W. Murnau (DE 1920), scen: Carl Mayer, based on a script by Harriet Bloch, photog: Nax Lutze, des: Heinrich Richter, cast: Olaf Fönss (Eigil Boerne), Erna Morena (Helene), Conrad Veidt (a blind painter), Gudrun Bruun-Steffensen (Lily), Clementine Plessner, prod: Goron-Films, dist: Progress-Film GmbH, rel: 21.1.1921, Berlin (Schauburg), censor date: 20.10.1920 (B.00616), copy: DCP (from 35 mm, orig. 1927 m), 81 min (transferred at 21 fps), col. (tinted); titles: GER, source: Filmmuseum München, Restored: 2016.
    The film was not released in Finland.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone.
    Grand piano: Richard Siedhoff.
    Teatro Verdi, e-subtitles in English and Italian, 5 Oct 2017

Stefan Drössler (GCM 2017): "The earliest surviving film directed by Murnau anticipates themes from his later masterpieces: a siren’s attempt to seduce a man away from his ordered world, as in Sunrise; the contrast between the city and the countryside; Conrad Veidt’s stylized portrayal of a blind man, which seems to prefigure Max Schreck’s performance as the vampire in Nosferatu. Carl Mayer’s screenplay discloses the narrative through a series of scenes in the Kammerspiel style. Murnau’s skilled direction manages to seamlessly bridge the temporal ellipses, while at other points stretching the time out, as during the film’s dramatic climax in the third act, which unfolds in near real-time."

"Considered at the time to be something of an experiment, the film was hailed in Der Kinematograph (no. 728, 30 January 1921) as “the first example of a new level of film art.” Immediately after the press screening, film critic Willy Haas (who would later write the screenplay for Murnau’s Der brennende Acker) raved in his review for Film-Kurier (no. 277, 14 December 1920): “Where does the art of the writer end, and the art of the director and the actors start? One doesn’t know. Everything is intertwined. Everything is – there’s no better word for it – complete. Carl Mayer wrote the script – nothing less than a work of poetry. The film follows his words painstakingly. Unbelievable how he rushes through passages, pressing, breathless, with just two indications. Wonderful how he knows at other times when to pause, easy, almost persistent, as when the lights of cars reflect on the rain-soaked asphalt of the big city [streets], or when the sea churns or the pale sun rises – how he repeats passionately again and again throughout the story: ‘Dear spectator, this belongs in the film, it is part of the storyline.’ Or how he invents elegant flourishes – like the scene with the wounded foot of the woman who is supposedly a farmer – and one can feel the dainty air of creativity. Or when he lets the woman confess to her husband that she is in love with another man: three words, then she bows over his hand – nothing more. All these moments are unforgettable, as simple and inexplicable as life itself, as casual and tirelessly convincing as fate.”"

"According to Lotte Eisner, Henri Langlois discovered the original nitrate negative of the film, which since 1945 was believed to be lost, at the Staatliches Filmarchiv der DDR (the state film archive of the German Democratic Republic), and had a new print struck. However, the negative was incomplete: there were no titles present and Reel 3 was missing in its entirety. The film was shown in this mutilated form throughout the 1960s and 1970s, until Enno Patalas learned that the negative had been copied at Gosfilmofond in Moscow prior to being sent to the GDR, and at that time it had still contained the third reel. Using parts of Murnau’s personal copy of the shooting script, then still in the possession of his heirs, Patalas spliced newly created intertitles into a print he received from Gosfilmofond. Unfortunately, Murnau changed a number of details during the filming and completely rewrote the ending of the film. Thus, the precise number of intertitles and their wording could only be speculated."

"The new digital restoration by the Munich Film Museum draws directly on the original camera negative, now held at the Bundesarchiv, as well as on the workprint edited by Enno Patalas and Murnau’s complete shooting script, which is now held at the Deutsche Kinemathek. By studying these materials intensively and comparing them with existing contemporary reviews from newspapers and magazines, slight corrections could be made to the editing as well as to the frequency, position, and wording of the intertitles. The colour tints and the font of the intertitles were reconstructed following the conventions of the time. Scanning and picture restoration were carried out by Thomas Bakels, while Christian Ketels performed the colour grading and editing. Richard Siedhoff, who was involved in the restoration process, has composed both a new piano soundtrack as well as a full orchestral score. Historian David Bordwell has rhapsodized about the experience of seeing the new restoration: “The Munich Film Museum’s team has created one of the most beautiful editions of a silent film I’ve ever seen. You look at these shots and realize that most versions of silent films are deeply unfaithful to what early audiences saw. In those days, the camera negative was usually the printing negative, so what was recorded got onto the screen. The new Munich restoration allows you to see everything in the frame, with a marvelous translucence and density of detail. Forget High Frame Rate: This is hypnotic, immersive cinema.
” Stefan Droessler

AA: A half of F. W. Murnau's films are believed lost, including his first six films, all from the years 1919–1920. Der Gang in die Nacht, also from 1920, has a precious special status since it is Murnau's earliest surviving film. And what's more, the camera negative exists. In many other Murnau's surviving films the visual quality is inconsistent but in Der Gang in die Nacht we can fully admire the refinement of the cinematography. I saw Der Gang in die Nacht for the first time in 1981 and believe that I have always seen it in prints of fine visual quality. This movie has in a way been a standard-setter for watching Murnau, a key reference to the Murnau look especially earlier when most of Murnau's films were only available in terribly battered versions.

In the new restoration the editing and intertitles have been carefully reworked to make much better sense of this haunting film.

Murnau's sense of composition and mise-en-scène is immediately striking, and his conviction in visual storytelling is already comparable with Griffith and Dreyer. The great quality of the source material does full justice to the deep focus approach.

Carl Mayer's screenplay based on Harriet Bloch's story is wildly incredible in rational terms. But it provides Murnau a framework for visual poetry. Like in his forthcoming masterpieces, he excels here in two different modes. There is the Kammerspiel mode: the psychological mode of interiority. There is the haunted nature mode: the exterior world is already seen as a soulscape in terms of lyrical romantic symbolism. We are in the company of a refined artist who is discovering for the cinema the insights of the great painters.

The performance of Olaf Fønss belongs to the old world of early cinema, fully compatible with the approach of the remarkable early anti-war film Ned Med Vaabnene (1914), but here he is a fish out of water with his histrionic gestures. In this tragedy he fails to move.

The female leads Erna Morena and Gudrun Bruun-Steffensen remain bystanders.

Conrad Veidt is not a naturalistic actor, either, but his exaggerations are much more refined than those of Fønss. Veidt's presence is tremendous as the blind painter. He seems to carry all the suffering of the world on his shoulders. He really conveys such gravity. The blocking of Veidt can already be compared with Nosferatu (and Terence Fisher's Dracula). His mere immobile existence is unsettling. There is a mystery in his sorrow that goes deeper than the nominal plot can convey. His performance is a study in cosmic solitude.

In the context of this year's Le Giornate Der Gang in die Nacht appears as one of the many films dealing with blindness. Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi dedicated to them an entire thematic programme of nine films under the title For a Better Vision. Also in the Grande Guerra 100 programmes blindness is recurrent. We have even seen other triangle dramas about blindness and regaining eyesight (Mieux valait la nuit in Elif's show).

An immaculate digital presentation with beautiful simulations of toning and tinting.

Der Golem (1915) (2017 restoration Filmmuseum München)



Der Golem (DE 1915), with Lyda Salmonova and Paul Wegener. Please click to enlarge the image.

Der Golem. Phantastisches Filmspiel von Henrik Galeen (Monster of Fate), Heinrich Galeen (DE 1915), scen: Paul Wegener, Heinrich Galeen, photog: Guido Seeber, cast: Paul Wegener (Golem), Heinrich Galeen (the Jew), Lyda Salmonova (the Jew’s young daughter), Rudolf Blümner (the scholar), Karl Ebert (the Count), Jakob Tiedtke (the Count’s servant), prod: Deutsche Bioscop GmbH, filmed: 1914, censor date: 22.12.1914, rel: 15.1.1915, Berlin (U.T.-Lichtspiele Kurfürstendamm, Friedrichstraße, & Alexanderplatz), copy: incomp. (orig. 1250 m), DCP, 24 min (transferred at 18 fps), col. (tinted); titles: GER, source: Filmmuseum München, Restored: 2017.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone.
    Grand piano: Richard Siedhoff.
    Teatro Verdi, e-subtitles in English and Italian, 5 Oct 2017.

Stefan Drössler (GCM 2017): "While Der Golem, wie er in die Welt kam (1920) is today considered part of the canon of German silent film classics, Paul Wegener’s first Golem film made in 1914 is essentially believed lost. Until recently, only two very short fragments – of 20 metres and 77 metres respectively – were known to exist. These fragments survived in private collections and were subsequently preserved by the Staatliches Filmarchiv der DDR, the state film archive of the German Democratic Republic, in the 1960s and the Bundesarchiv in the 1990s. In addition, the screenplay and a number of stills survive in Paul Wegener’s estate (the Kai Möller collection), held at the Deutsches Filminstitut. The impulse to bring all these materials together in an attempt to reconstruct the film came about when Fernando Peña identified a 16 mm duplicate negative held at the Museo del Cine Pablo C. Ducrós Hicken in Buenos Aires as the second reel of the American version of Der Golem."

"Paul Wegener, who became famous as an actor in Max Reinhardt’s theatre company in Berlin, objected from the outset to any attempt “to force stage plays and literary storylines into film’s Procrustean bed” and sought out distinctly cinematic subject matter: “The first thing you must do is forget theatre and literature and learn to create films from filmic ideas. The true poet of the cinema is the camera. The possibility to constantly change the viewer’s perspective, the multitude of special effects (produced via double exposure, mirrors, etc.), in short the technology of film should dictate the choice of the story.” (Paul Wegener, lecture, “The Artistic Possibilities of Film”, 24 April 1916)"

"The saga of a clay statue magically brought to life, set in a Prague ghetto, was Wegener’s second success after Der Student von Prag, released in 1913. Since the production’s modest budget didn’t allow for expensive period costumes and settings, the story was shifted to the (then) present-day. Shooting took place in Summer 1914, at the Deutsche Bioscop studios in Babelsberg and on location in the historic town of Hildesheim. By the time the film premiered in January 1915, Paul Wegener was serving as a lieutenant in the German army in Flanders. Wartime advertisements promoted Der Golem as a “film for educated people”, and highlighted that Wegener was serving at the front and had been decorated with the Iron Cross."

"The “most successful film of its time” ran for four weeks in a number of cinemas in Berlin, and was seen by more than 100,000 picturegoers. The film was also exported to Scandinavia, Poland, Japan, and the U.S. In America, where it was retitled The Monster of Fate, the film’s German origin went unmentioned. Instead, it was advertised as a “Bohemian production”. The only members of the cast mentioned in public announcements were “Lydia Salmonova” and “Henry Galeen”, most likely due to their apparently non-German-sounding names."

"Wegener conceived his big-budget 1920 remake of Der Golem as a prequel rather than a sequel to the earlier film. Der Golem, wie er in die Welt kam is essentially an origin story set in the past, featuring period costumes and Expressionist sets by Hans Poelzig. Although the second Golem film follows the storyline of the first film very closely, going as far as to copy certain shots outright, Paul Wegener is credited as sole writer and director. Der Golem, wie er in die Welt kam ultimately did not serve as a companion piece to the first Golem film, but as its replacement. There is no indication that Der Golem and Der Golem, wie er in die Welt kam were ever screened together on a double bill.
" Stefan Droessler

AA:

"Natur wirkt immer tief,
so innen wie auswendig,

Und alles lebt im Tod,
und tot ist es lebendig."
– Angelus Silesius (quoted in the finale of Der Golem)

An exciting discovery. Paul Wegener's Der Golem, wie er in die Welt kam (1920) has rightly retained its status as a key work of Weimar cinema and the international cinéfantastique. We have been aware of the previous Golem film interpretations. Now that footage of the 1915 film has finally become available the revelation is how assured the approach already is.

The 1915 Golem belongs to the earliest films of Paul Wegener and his wife and co-star Lyda Salmonova, but they had already starred in the first film adaptation of Der Student von Prag (1913). For Henrik Galeen this Golem project was his first film credit (his later credits would include Nosferatu, Das Wachsfigurenkabinett, the second adaptation of Der Student von Prag, and Alraune). The true veteran of the team was the master cinematographer Guido Seeber whose career had started already in 1898.

The 1915 Golem starts in the present time at a Jewish antique dealer's store. Old books don't sell, but there is a new treasure in the old vault. A strange clay figure and books that have survived the ravages of the 30 Year War tell the story of the charm of life, a magic paper roll inside a David's Star capsule. Inserted into the clay figure Golem comes alive, awesomely powerful: he breaks the anvil, and his hand does not burn in the tremendous flame of the fire. But when the star is removed Golem becomes lifeless again. Golem guards the daughter and observes the world in silent awe. He crashes a party at the castle. Bullets and daggers do not stop him. The party guests flee, and when Golem enters the street with a knife in his chest he meets a loving couple. The maid removes the star, and Golem crashes lifeless on the ground.

The film is well acted, the pantomime is engaging, and there is an assured approach to the fantastique. The simulation of red toning is impressive.

Lovingly rescued from the ravages of time this fragmentary footage of 24 minutes gives a good idea of a lost movie.