Monday, July 30, 2007
The Movies Begin part five
The Movies Begin: A Treasury of Early Cinemas (1894-1913) Volume Five: Comedy, Spectacle and New Horizons, 1908-1913
This is the last post in a series of five on this subject. There may be some value in scrolling down to the first entry and starting from there.
Max Linder was the first great comic genius of the silent era (before Chaplin and Keaton). This disc contains Max reprend sa liberté / Troubles of a Grass Widower aka Max and the Fowl (1912), in which Max is left alone after his wife leaves him, and has to fend for himself, with dire results. It is sophisticated fare for its day, and still very funny.
The disc contains three other comedies, including the debut of the Keystone Cops in Bangville Police, with Mabel Normand; and Jean Durand’s Onésime horloger / Onésime, Clock-Maker (1912), written by Louis Feuillade. This features Eugene Bourbon as the title character, who speeds up time in order to get an inheritance as quickly as possible. Durand uses time-lapse photography to create variations on the film’s one joke, which has everyone careening around like mad. This was another film beloved by the Dadaists and Surrealists, and was a model for René Clair's experiments with motion in Entr'acte (1924), based on a screenplay by Francis Picabia, and featuring cameos by Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray. Bourbon’s performance in Onésime includes a head-scratching mannerism that would be made familiar by Stan Laurel. It’s dated now, but great fun,
Luigi Maggi’s Nerone / Nero, or the Fall of Rome (1909), is a color tinted 14 minute drama that in some ways anticipates Giovanni Pastrone’s great epic Cabiria (1914). It’s slow going, but has something of the feel that has informed all the cinematic depictions of Rome.
Winsor McCay was American cinema's first great cartoon animator. This disc contains Winsor McCay and His Animated Pictures, a showcase for this creator of Little Nemo and Gertie the Dinosaur. If, like myself, you are unfamiliar with McCay’s work, this short film will make you want to see more, I would think.
There is a D.W. Griffth short on this disc, too, The Girl and Her Trust (1912), featuring Dorothy Bernard. It’s an excellent demonstration of both Griffith’s technical finesse and his ability to create authentic movie drama. The cross-cutting, the close-ups, and location shooting are all there, crude as they may be by today’s standards, and they work exceedingly well. Two things are obviously true as evidenced by the films in this anthology. One is how much movies have changed. The other is how they have not. And there’s a good deal of pleasure (and personal education) in finding out how.