Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Luca Comerio 3 - Prog. 1


Sixième bataille de l'Isonzo (IT 1916), D: Luca Comerio. Photo: Archives françaises du film du CNC, Bois d’Arcy.

Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone.
    Grand piano: Mauro Colombis.
    Teatro Verdi, e-subtitles in English and Italian, 3 Oct 2017.

Sergio M. Grmek Germani (GCM 2017):
Never Praise the Day before Night: Wars and the Post-War Period in the Work of Luca Comerio

"In the 1940 LUCE newsreel item about the death of Luca Comerio, shown at the Giornate last year in the second part of our three-year programme devoted to the film-maker, the pompous but never sincerely moved voice of the commentator describes him as a “humble but courageous cameraman” – an apparent tribute which nevertheless displays all the belittling to which Comerio has been subjected. He was certainly a great cameraman (and before that a photographer of still pictures which already suggested movement), but he was also and always a film-maker, a total director. It was not until Mario Bava (a comparison by no means unjustified if we consider Bava’s documentary work) that there appeared in Italian cinema a similar ability to translate the role of a cameraman into that of a director, even before he officially declared himself to be one."

"Yet those four words uttered by the LUCE newsreel’s voiceover commentary reflect many other misconceptions about Comerio. They fix him in the universe (which is by contrast a fluid one) of the documentary, of films of the real, whereas a present-day viewing of his fictional work – not only comic – reveals a strong mise-en-scène, able to augment documentaries with reconstructed scenes. These add the truth of fiction to the (always suspect) truth of documented reality, and at the same time endow his fiction films with a transparency, with their flagrant presences, which make them among the most original and free in Italian silent cinema."

"In those words, “humble but courageous”, also lurks a double falsehood. Comerio was certainly capable of real modesty (it is no coincidence that he was not celebrated as a film-maker either by the critics or officialdom), but certainly not in the sense, as the words would imply, that he was at the service of the powers-that-be (as a royal photographer, or a sole chronicler of colonial wars and the Great War…), and so he was called “courageous” not because of any real risks entailed by his work shooting with a camera, but in the sense of a campaign medal awarded to a soldier who must accept his destiny even though he has no love for war or death."

"Cinema teaches us, however, that from every falsehood the truth will out. This is shown in a seminal book by Milanese journalist Paolo Valera (1850-1926) on the Milan uprising put down in 1898 by General Bava-Beccaris, who ordered troops to fire on civilians, for which he was disgracefully rewarded by the King of Italy, provoking oaths of anarchist vendetta. For Comerio – then a photographer, not yet a film-maker – this revolt was his first “set”. It was an episode fiercely denounced at the time by Valera, along with Anna Kulischov and other socialists and anarchists (which rightly caused leading Italian Communist Amadeo Bordiga to say that before fascism Francesco Crispi and Bava-Beccaris had not been any less brutal), and also later in the two editions of Valera’s book (La sanguinosa settimana del Maggio ’98 [The Bloody Week of May ’98], 1907, and Le terribili giornate del maggio ’98 [The Terrible Days of May ’98], 1913). No film historian who has written about Comerio has mentioned this book, and its revealing chapter “The Photographer of the Barricades”, in which an intransigent Valera reproached Comerio for placing himself at the service of the authorities, but also pointed out that, talking about how he took his pictures of civil war, risking his own personal safety, Comerio admitted quite frankly: “I was always cap-in-hand, and the only language I used was that of the servant, even when I had Bava-Beccaris’s safe-conduct pass in my pocket.” The same was true of his documenting of the colonial wars in Africa and the war in Europe that became the First World War. Comerio could accept a safe-conduct pass from Luigi Cadorna [Chief of Staff of the Italian Army] or any other commander, but he knew he also had to be a servant in a deeper sense – seeking glimmers of truth in the scenes he had to film."

"The aim of the third part of our tribute is to complete the presentation of this great director. In the first year we concentrated on some of his masterful footage from the First World War. In the second we attempted to reconstruct his artistic development by emphasizing the presence of various “pre-wars” presaging the full-scale conflict to come. This year, besides some necessary additions of footage of the Italo-Turkish War (1912) and the First World War, we focus on the post-war period, a particularly difficult time for Comerio, the inter-war years between the end of the First World War and the beginning of the Second, which he did not live to see. While his film chronicles of D’Annunzio’s exploits in Fiume are currently not available for projection, there is abundant, as well as original, evidence of the attention he devoted to the rise of Fascism, and its exploitation of the myth of the fighting man and the rhetoric of death, stemming from the Great War."

"In this year’s two-part programme, however, our aim is to confirm Comerio’s merits as a total film-maker, so each programme opens with a visually inventive film outside the realm of political history. Il baco da seta (The Silkworm; 1909), anticipates the subject matter of Roberto Omegna, and Jean Painlevé in France, while Il carnevale di Nizza (1913) is a prelude to the great Jean Vigo’s À propos de Nice (1930). Each programme concludes with a comic film from 1914, just before Italy entered the First World War, featuring characters created by Edoardo Ferravilla (1846-1915), a widely loved although regional comic actor and playwright of Milanese dialect theatre. The remarkable thing about these comedy films, precious records of one of the greatest theatres Italy has ever produced, is that they are not confined to “filmed theatre”, but liberally underscore Comerio’s rapport with history and the characters of politics. In La class di asen a portrait of the King of Italy dominating the background acts as an extension within the scene of a figure that features in his other films. In Tecoppa & C. the parody of spiritualism becomes a mocking summoning back to life of all the dead in the historical events characterized in the war footage shot by Comerio."

"Comerio’s films are striking in their profound piety; be they records of the 1909 Messina earthquake (shown last year) or the battlefields of war, their dead – even when the propagandists who commissioned them wished to play down the number of “our” dead or celebrate the number of enemy casualties – are for Comerio above all ordinary victims of tragic events. It was hardly coincidental that in 1962 when Cecilia Mangini, Lino Del Fra, and Lino Miccichè made All’armi siam fascisti! they found in Comerio’s films the most hard-eyed representation of Italian colonialism: the tracking shot of hanged Libyans they edited into their picture goes beyond any servile role of a film-maker towards the commissioners of a film – it serves only the freedom of the gaze, and thus becomes a true document, one of the most revealing in what was a radically anti-Fascist film."

"To this day, among the repertoire of sequences documenting the First World War, some of Comerio’s footage retains a supreme iconic force. This year we are finally able to screen La sixième bataille de l’Isonzo, a film we wanted to show two years ago, but which was wrongly labelled in the archives as Les Annales de la guerre no. 8 and has now been correctly identified. This film about the capture of Gorizia contains some images which would encapsulate any war, such as soldiers entering a town and coming across a funeral procession, with an intersection of movement that makes the sequence a masterpiece, confirming what critic Roberto Turigliatto said last year when he saw Comerio’s film on the Messina earthquake: “here every shot becomes a masterpiece”. This comment astutely expresses the idea of how in Comerio’s work, photography is always the source of mise-en-scène, a concentration of thought, image, and feeling that is among the highest in cinema."

"Last year we borrowed the title of one of Comerio’s films, Dalla pietà all’amore/Compassion and Love, to describe the entire programme. It indicates movement, as do some of his other titles: Dal Polo all’Equatore (rediscovered and remade by Yervant Gianikian and Angela Ricci Lucchi in 1987) and Dal Grappa al mare, whose digital restoration by Rome’s Cineteca Nazionale has reinstated its proper title (it had been mistakenly catalogued as Cimiteri degli eroi). From some of these examples it is clear that work on Comerio’s cinema is still in its early stages, even though when the Cineteca Italiana was founded in Milan a discovery made by Luigi Comencini revealed the splendour of a film we screened last year, L’avventura galante di un provinciale (1908), and now the same archive has found and is restoring Piero Mazzarella’s collection of films featuring Edoardo Ferravilla. The Cineteca Italiana also holds the great comedy film that we presented last year under its German title, Man soll den Tag nicht vor Abend loben. We have now identified it under its original 1912 Italian title, which we are using as the title of this year’s programme, because it seems to sum up the uncertainty with which historical events can presage new wars: Non si deve mai lodare il giorno prima della notte / Never Praise the Day before Night."

"We are particularly happy that our three Comerio programmes have contained contributions and restorations from all of Italy’s FIAF archives: Rome, Milan, Bologna (with its precious work on Kinemacolor), Gemona, and Turin (source of the reconstruction of Captain F.E. Kleinschmidt’s Arctic Hunt – which Comerio did not direct, but acquired and edited footage from it into his Dal Polo all’Equatore), as well as the archives of LUCE, the AIRSC, the Associazione Hommelette, and the Fondazione dei Caduti di Rovereto. The scope of contributions to our programmes has been further broadened by items found in foreign archives and collections – evidence of how Comerio stood as one of Italian cinema’s greatest international representatives, effectively exploding the nationalistic myths which led Italy into the First World War."

"Several excellent studies on Comerio exist, notably Aldo Bernardini’s filmographies; the pioneering Luca Comerio fotografo e cineasta, published by Electa in 1979; Moltiplicare l’istante, published by Il Castoro in 2007; Luca Comerio. Milanese. Fotografo, pioniere e padre del cinema italiano, the homage by Paolo Pillitteri and Davide Mengacci published by Spirali in 2011; and the recent researches by Maria Assunta Pimpinelli, all of which open Comerio’s universe to numerous philological and aesthetic questions, to which we have attempted to make a contribution in this three-year review, pursuing some insights which bear further examination."

"This third part of our journey (which we could call “From Comerio to Comerio”, with the same planetary perspective as his Dal Polo all’Equatore [From the Pole to the Equator]) also encounters what we might call the most “losing” moment of Comerio’s film career: when the Fascist regime consolidated its grip on power by centralizing the records of various military archives and documentary production in LUCE, it mistreated Comerio, rejecting his attempts to place himself “at its service”. Out of this emerged feature-length pieces such as Dal Grappa al mare, containing beautiful images easily attributable to this supreme film-maker (e.g., the country cemetery with two old women, one kneeling, the other approaching the wooden crosses, while a disturbing little girl passes across the background, obviously discovering here the rituals of death), but submerged in a construction that deprived Comerio of his own signature intertitles, substituting instead rhetorical lines from Carducci on Trieste, D’Annunzio on Fiume, and Giuseppe Ellero on Gorizia, Caporetto, and Udine, “the capital of the war”. In short, we are closer here to  LUCE’s pompous Gloria by Omegna, than the collective Gloria. Apoteosi del soldato ignoto, an “apotheosis of the unknown soldier” in which the ferocity of death is removed from propaganda, or the pioneer female director Elvira Giallanella’s fable Umanità (1920) and the writer Chino Ermacora’s “piccola patria” (“little country”). In 1940, the year of Comerio’s death, another great director, Ferdinando Maria Poggioli, made a new version of Addio giovinezza! (whose title can also be read as Addio, “Giovinezza” – Farewell, “Youth”), a reference to the Italian Fascist national hymn, which was also the title of a fine film Comerio made in 1922, and included in this programme, about a rally with Mussolini in Milan. Though one of his most “servile” films, its gaze is free; perhaps indeed it is the only film in which Mussolini, the man who makes history, even if with the determination to force himself upon others, appears to us a perplexed and mysterious enigma.
" Sergio M. Grmek Germani

IL BACO DA SETA (Der Seidenwurm) / [The Silk Worm] (IT 1909), 35 mm, 151 m, 8′ (16 fps); titles: GER, source: BFI National Archive, London.
    AA: A sober nature documentary, a scientific record on the silk worm. Bad visual quality in high contrast.

LA GUERRA ITALO-TURCA / [The Italian-Turkish War] (IT 1912) Fragment of an episode from the series, 35 mm, 61 m, 3′ (16 fps); titles: ITA, source: Fondazione CSC – Cineteca Nazionale, Roma.
    AA: Non-fiction. Epic footage of big guns and cavalry charges.

La gloriosa battaglia del 12 marzo (IT 1912), Luca Comerio. Photo: Fondazione CSC – Cineteca Nazionale, Roma.

LA GLORIOSA BATTAGLIA DEL 12 MARZO: A BENGASI NELL’OASI DELLE DUE PALME / [The Glorious Battle of March the 12th: Benghazi in the Oasis of Two Palms] (IT 1912), followed by a fragment [Costruzione delle trincee / The Construction of Trenches] (IT 1912), DCP (restored from 35 mm), 11′; titles: ITA, source: Fondazione CSC – Cineteca Nazionale, Roma.
    AA: Non-fiction shot in the Benghazi Redoubt with a palm as a look-out point. Good visual quality with impressive long shots, partly damaged. The fragment Costruzione delle trincee: 2017 restoration. Trenches levelled to the ground, preparation of mines, views from the trenches to the shores of Tripoli, with Ain-Zara minaret, a mediocre visual quality.

THE VICTORIOUS BATTLE FOR THE CONQUEST OF MERGHEB, AFRICA (IT 1912), DCP (from 16 mm), 4′; titles: ENG, source: La Cineteca del Friuli, Gemona.
    AA: The Red Cross tends to the wounded. The return of the cavalry to the conquered position. A zeppelin and a pile of corpses. A cavalry charge, the fleeing enemy, the stronghold of Mergheb, Eritrian ascars. Visual quality: from 16 mm.

LA VITA DEI NOSTRI: ASCARI ERITREI IN LIBIA (IT 1912), DCP (restored from 35 mm, Kinemacolor), 9′; titles: ITA, source: Cineteca di Bologna.
    AA: Restored in 2017 in 4K in Kinecolor. Men at work, walls are erected, a mobile camera, soldiers at sport exercises. Visual quality weak but intriguing.

Plotoni nuotatori della 3ª divisione cavalleria comandata da S.A.R. il conte di Torino (IT 1912), Luca Comerio. Photo: Fondazione Cineteca di Bologna.

Plotoni nuotatori della 3ª divisione cavalleria comandata da S.A.R. il conte di Torino (IT 1912), Luca Comerio. Photo: Fondazione Cineteca di Bologna.

PLOTONI NUOTATORI DELLA 3ª DIVISIONE CAVALLERIA COMANDATA DA S.A.R. IL CONTE DI TORINO (IT 1912), DCP (restored from 35 mm, Kinemacolor), 9′; titles: ITA, source: Cineteca di Bologna.
    AA: Restored in 2016 in 4K in Kinemacolor. Horses haul pontoons.

Sixième bataille de l'Isonzo (IT 1916), Luca Comerio. Photo: Archives françaises du film du CNC, Bois d’Arcy.

Sixième bataille de l'Isonzo (IT 1916), Luca Comerio. Photo: Archives françaises du film du CNC, Bois d’Arcy.

Sixième bataille de l'Isonzo (IT 1916), Luca Comerio. Photo: Archives françaises du film du CNC, Bois d’Arcy.

SIXIÈME BATAILLE DE L’ISONZO (IT 1916), French version of La battaglia di Gorizia (IT 1916), 35 mm, 170 m, 9′ (18 fps); titles: FRA, source: Archives françaises du film du CNC, Bois d’Arcy.
    AA: Title on screen: La Guerre de la montagne. Establishing shots on mountain bridges and ruins after battles. Shells are inserted, shooting angles set to the infernal valley. A response to the enemy artillery. The images are often much less informative than the intertitles. A pan on the Isonzo. The troops attack Gorizia. City war. The cavalry enters the city. The count of Turin guards the city. Bread and blankets to the prisoners. Good visual quality.

Resistere! (IT 1918), Luca Comerio. Photo: Cineteca Italiana, Milano.

RESISTERE! (IT 1918), DCP, 9′; titles: ITA, source: Cineteca Italiana, Milano.
    AA: The cavalry enters the city. A tank rolls over trenches. A flag is waving. A propaganda montage. Superimposed visions. Marching troops. Defending the borders God gave us. Enlist! Resist! Air force. Eugenio Chiesa. A film de montage. A huge cannon. A cavalry charge. A mountain range. Impressive footage on war at sea. Impressive tinting and toning.

"Giovinezza, giovinezza, primavera di bellezza!" L'adunata dei fascisti Lombardi a Milano (marzo 1922) (IT 1922), Luca Comerio. In the center: Benito Mussolini. Photo: Cineteca Italiana, Milano.

“GIOVINEZZA, GIOVINEZZA, PRIMAVERA DI BELLEZZA!” L’ADUNATA DEI FASCISTI LOMBARDI A MILANO (MARZO 1922) / ["Youth, Youth, Springtime of Beauty!" The Assembly of Lombardian Fascists in Milano (March 1922)] (IT 1922), DCP, 13′; titles: ITA, source: Cineteca Italiana, Milano.
    AA: Fascinating documentary footage on Benito Mussolini in the year 1922 when he became Prime Minister of Italy. The march of the black shirts. A noi! Youth, youth, springtime of beauty! A Fascist parade movie. Even children make Fascist greetings. Fascio Milanese. Mussolini gives a speech from a balcony. A big parade. The visual quality is good in the beginning, often not so good.

VISITA DI S.M. IL RE VITTORIO EMANUELE III ALLO STABILIMENTO PIRELLI ALLA BICOCCA. 20 GIUGNO 1927 (IT 1927), DCP, 17′; titles: ITA, source: Cineteca Italiana, Milano.
    AA: The King of Italy visits the Pirelli factory at Bicocca. A high angle shot of the magnificent industrial area. The Pirellis welcome the King who arrives by car. The purification of rubber. The production of tyres, electric power cord and telephone wires. Huge cable reels. Electricity tests. Electronic conductiors. Submarine cables. The Bicocca Castle. Medals of merit to 12 workers. A huge crowd.

La class di Asen (IT 1914), Luca Comerio. Photo: Cineteca Italiana, Milano.

LA CLASS DI ASEN (IT 1914), DCP (restored from 35 mm), 16′; titles: ITA. source: Cineteca Italiana, Milano.
    AA: Fiction, poem intertitles in dialect, a school farce that takes place during the final exams. A bit wearisome.

Pamir, krisha mira / Pamir, Roof of the World


Pamir, krisha mira (SU 1927), D: Vladimir Yerofeyev. Photo: RGAKFD, Krasnogorsk.

Памир, крыша мира / [Pamir, il tetto del mondo]. SU 1927, dir, ed: Vladimir Yerofeyev, photog: Vasilii Beliayev, prod: Sovkino. DCP (from 35 mm, 2008 m), 71′; titles: RUS. Source: RGAKFD, Krasnogorsk.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone.
    Grand piano and violin: Günter Buchwald.
    Teatro Verdi, e-subtitles in English and Italian, 3 Oct 2017.

Oksana Sarkisova (GCM 2017): "Film-maker Vladimir Yerofeyev (1898-1940) was a pioneer of expedition cinema in the Soviet Union, advocating for increased attention and investment in edifying non-fiction films made to win the interest of broad audiences. Pamir. Roof of the World, 1927, is his second feature film, and the first resulting from an expedition (his debut that same year, Za poliarnym krugom [Beyond the Arctic Circle] was a co-edited compilation film). In summer 1927, a trek to the mountainous Pamir region, known as the “Roof of the World”, in present-day Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, was organized by the Sovkino studio in co-operation with the Geological Committee. Yerofeyev worked with prominent geologist Dmitrii Nalivkin and ethnographer Mikhail Andreyev; both scholars had extensively researched the area and contributed to the planning for the crew’s journey."

"The film opens with an animated map presenting the itinerary. Starting off in Moscow, the symbolic center of the new empire, it leads through Samara and Orenburg to Tashkent, Osh, and further on to the Pamir Mountains of Central Asia. Following a tracking shot from the moving train, the crew is shown arriving in Osh, in present-day Kyrgyzstan, the expedition’s base, where where the camera records fragments of town life: a picturesque bazaar, veiled women in the streets, and the expedition’s crew, horses, and camels, along with their heavy loads. After leaving Osh, the crew crosses the Taldyk Pass, and makes its first stop in the Alay Valley. Subsequent segments feature different elements of the trek, including crossing mountain rivers, traversing snowy passes, and descending into valleys in bloom, emphasizing the expedition’s progress. In the Alay Valley the camera records the practices of the Kyrgyz nomads – constructing a tent, keeping goats, sheep, and horses, making dairy products, and working a traditional one-shuttle weaver’s loom. The community is presented as traditional and self-sufficient. The film avoids picturing the Kyrgyz nomads as “dependent” or “primitive”, but shows them as masters of their space and a community connected to the outside world."

"Further on towards the border with India, the crew and the audience observe spectacular mountain panoramas. Leaving the plateau, the group enters a Tajik village at the foot of the Pamirs. Compressing different elements of community life into a single episode, the film introduces summer herding practices, when the women take the cattle up to summer pastures while the men stay behind to look after the household. Yerofeyev also zooms in on religious customs: the Tajiks of Western Pamir belong to the Ismailian sect and worship a “living god”, the Aga Khan, whom we see in a photo wearing a fancy European-style suit. The film’s matter-of-fact attitude to presenting religious beliefs stands in contrast to the mainstream Soviet pattern of straightforward derogatory representations of religion. The scenes of religious practices are tendentiously followed by images of unconscious opium-smokers. The narrative contrasts the “prejudices” with the “new shoots” of the time – pioneers marching with a drum, women without veils, a new school where a teacher holds a lesson, and indeed a low-angle shot of a bust of Lenin. Overcoming the snowy paths by driving their horses to the tune of a local guide’s flute, the crew finally enters Dushanbe, the capital of Soviet Tajikistan, after having covered 2,000 kilometres."

"The observations of city life include men in robes, donkeys on the streets, and local craftsmen in the bazaar. The crew boards the plane to return to Moscow, where the record of their journey across a rich region is pieced together. The final result demonstrates the interaction of various cultures not yet fully streamlined to the requirements of the uniformed all-Soviet world."

"Breaking the established convention of the invisibility of the traveller, Yerofeyev himself makes a cameo appearance towards the end of the film, energetically shaking hands with a local merchant. For all its brevity, the appearance of the director encapsulates the ambiguity of the relationship between the film-maker and his subjects.
" Oksana Sarkisova

AA: A documentary record of a stunning expedition, Pamir is also a distinguished mountain film: the Pamir mountains are among the highest in the world, to the northwest from the Himalayas, to the north from the Karakoram and Hindu Kush. The itinerary is illustrated as animation.

Via the Caspian Sea, the Aral Sea, and Tashkent we reach the ancient city of Osh in the Ferghana Valley. The expedition is big. Horses carry heavy loads. The trek proceeds higher and higher. We enter the Taldyk Pass.

We meet Kirghiz nomads. A dairy farm is the basis of their existence. Cheese is produced from sheep milk. Kumis is being produced and consumed. Fur is processed, carpets are rolled, weaving is going on. There is a mobile medical center. Trachoma and syphilis are among the diseases treated. Children's eyes are cured.

Magnificent snow-capped mountain tops are sighted. The caravan reaches the Alay valley. Kyzylart is the last stand before the route to "the top of the world". There is a sacred site above. We are near the border to Afghanistan, India (today Pakistan), and China. Pamir is "the knot of the worlds", the greatest mountain range to the north of Hindu Kush. (Hindu Kush in our times ominously known as the hideaway of the Taliban and Al Qaeda).

We observe immense glaciers and moraines. An incessant strong wind grows into a whirlwind. Over the centuries, the wind has created whimsical shapes in the rock. The caravan proceeds in the barren landscape. There are snow fields that have not melted in decades. (I wonder how it is today). We observe firns.

We reach Karakul Lake (Black Lake), 4100 meters above the sea level. We observe ancient remains. There is 1000 year old ice. (Again, I wonder how it fares today). We enter the Zor-Tash-Kul Ridge. Faces need to be covered with vaselin. Extremes of temperature are met. A Sovkino tent is being erected. There is a "film on film" element. Hazards of film-making include the fact that liquids turn to ice at night. In the thin air water boils at a lower temperature. Geological research is being conducted. Iron ore is detected. There are flowers on the Pamir. A kitchen is set up. The camp is covered with snow. The dog catches marmots. One must wear masks and glasses for protection.

There are people living on the Pamir. We visit a village (aul) and observe a yak (kutas), a source of food, with a broad chest and thick fur. The yak is also a means of transportation. A yurta is smoky, cold and cirty. There are many children in the village, few elderly. All chores are done by women. Men prefer to do nothing. Occasionally they go hunting. The muftuk rifles are antediluvian, made in China. It takes at least ten minutes to prepare the rifle for use. A mountain goat is shot. Blood is smeared on the rifle. Ancestors are honoured. The graveyard is the richest place in the village.

Murghab is the center of commerce with China. There is a Kashgarian restaurant and a health resort with boiling sulphuric springs and hot springs spas.

The caravan's journey continues towards Hindu Kush, the Indian (today Pakistanian) border, in Western Pamir. From perennial snow we come to wild rivers. Liangar is the first Tajik village. Yarn is being wound, music is being played. We come to Pyandzh (today Dusti), to ancient Tajik villages. The Tajik have cleverly cultivated every piece of land. They bring soil from the river bank and spread it over stones. There is an irrigation system. Before spring the Tajik feed on grass. Later, there is mulberry season. Dried berries are ground into flour. Women work at summer pastures up in the mountains. Butter is churned. Men stay at villages doing women's chores. Carpets (palas) are woven. Prospectors look for gold in ravines. Gold is being panned off through sieves with sheepskin. When men come together their hands never stop moving for a minute.

There is a sect worshipping Aga Khan as a living god, his representation the Ishan. There is a prayer at the holy place, Mazora.

Opium is smuggled from Afghanistan. There is an open air school. The children already know Lenin. There is a statue of Lenin.

The Panj River (here the Pyandzh River) is magnificent. Villagers navigate it with gupsare: sheepskin boats inflated with air. It is always very dangerous to cross the river. The caravan continues along the bank of the Panj River. The waterfalls are wild. There are ancient drawings on the rocks. The Slepus fortress is legendary. Footpaths are made of wicker. The mountain paths are perilous. The suspension bridges are shaky. Liangar. The harvest is already ripe. With special handcarts outsized bales are carried, to be ground with a bunch of brushwood. Hay on sleighs. Tambourines (dafi) at the harvest feast. Children are at play, a fashionable lady, a game of marmut is played, men wrestle. There is a partridge fight, a traditional game of chui, and a dance of boys to the music of traditional instruments, also a dance of horse and rider, a comical dance of an old man and a young girl (both interpreted by men). The old man is passionate, the young girl is disinterested. In the end the young girl gives in. There is even a dance of a fox and a marmot, and a hunting dance with a simulated rifle.

Getting down from the Pamir is no less difficult than climbing it. Footpaths are flooded. There is no road. Camels save the day after reloading. There is a strong current in the river. It is negotiated on a raft. Step ladders are perilous. Horses swim. In the district the scourge is the goitre, caused by the river, its water is dangerous for health. Again difficult passages are ahead: Odudi Pass is breathtaking. The landscapes are astounding. The descent is extremely steep. The expedition lands under a waterfall. The pass can only be crossed on foot. The flute is played to time the movement. The peak of the pass is 4,2 kilometers above sea level. There are huge snow plains. We see a glacier in an extreme long shot. We pass through the gorge.

We reach Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan, after a voyage of 2000 kilometers. Melons and grapes are ripe at the market. A horse is suffering from skin damage and vermin.

At the airport we board a Junkers air plane.

There are issues of low contrast in the DCP of this film shot in extremely demanding circumstances.

Bukhara


Bukhara (SU 1927), D: Yelizabeta Svilova. Photo: RGAKFD, Krasnogorsk.

Бухара. SU 1927. D: Yelizaveta Svilova, ed: Yelizaveta Svilova, photog: Yakov Tolchan, prod: Sovkino. DCP (from 35 mm, 325 m), 12′; titles: RUS. Source: RGAKFD, Krasnogorsk.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone.
    Grand piano: Günter Buchwald.
    Teatro Verdi, e-subtitles in English and Italian, 3 Oct 2017.

Oksana Sarkisova (GCM 2017): "Tungusi and Bukhara were made from material originally shot for Dziga Vertov’s A Sixth Part of the World (Shestaia chast mira, 1926). Vertov’s film was financed by Gostorg, the state foreign trade monopoly in the Soviet Union, which commissioned a film to promote its image and popularize its activities during the New Economic Policy (NEP) years. It also hoped to gain credibility from Vertov’s concept of capturing “life as it is” on film. The trade monopoly offered a generous budget, enough to finance ten expeditions to remote parts of the Soviet Union, and shoot approximately 26,000 metres of footage. Vertov intended to use Gostorg’s money to make a series of films that would launch a powerful new visual protocol for portraying the Soviet Union. With this aim, he engaged a large team of cameramen, including Ivan Beliakov, Samuil Benderskii, Nikolai Konstantinov, Aleksandr Lemberg, Nikolai Strukov, Yakov Tolchan, and Petr Zotov to shoot footage across the Soviet Union."

"The surplus footage that remained after the completion of A Sixth Part of the World was also used in related kulturfilms, such as Furs (Pushnina) and Flax (Len), both by Ilya Kopalin, Fishing (Rybolovstvo; possibly also known as Malorossiisk), by Mikhail Kaufman, and Gut Production (Proizvodstvo kishok), by Yelizaveta Svilova, as well as in a number of ethnographic and scenic films."

"Tungusi is a short ethnographic sketch that “zooms in” on the Evenki minority in Northeast Siberia (a region which until 1931 was referred to as “The Tungus”). The film introduces its anonymous protagonists in medium close-ups, as “types” of men, women, and children; this is followed by showing us different kinds of habitat, the construction of a tent, and cooking, hunting, and trading activities. The collective Evenki (Tungus) portrait highlights the people’s regular interaction with state traders; it includes a visit to the state co-operative and features a hunter trading furs for manufactured goods. Originally shot to emphasize the extension of the Gostorg network, the film presents the new trading “contact zone” as mutually beneficial, emphasizes regular interaction with the state traders, and foregrounds the state agency Gostorg as the agent of modernity."

"Bukhara was another film edited by Vertov’s colleague and wife Yelizaveta Svilova from surplus footage. This time she used material filmed in Uzbekistan in Central Asia by Yakov Tolchan, to construct a short scenic film which sensitively portrays this bustling ancient city, with its vivid streets, canals, mosques, cotton fields, and bazaars. In this account references to Gostorg are completely absent; the film builds on the tradition of early travelogues, combining established orientalist references with scenes of modern change."

"Both films were envisaged as part of a Soviet kino-atlas, and were released with the aim of familiarizing audiences with the ethnographic and cultural diversity of their country. While the representation of the multinational and resource-rich Soviet Union became a standard cinema trope, the concept and scale of Vertov’s grand project was harshly criticized by the Sovkino studio management. Despite the production of a number of films from the Gostorg-financed footage, Sovkino accused Vertov of inefficient planning and misuse of funds, and fired him.
" Oksana Sarkisova

AA: This contribution to the Soviet kino-atlas is crammed with observations. Starting from a crowd at worship by a mosque next to a minaret it shows processes of irrigation via water flagons necessary for cotton cultivation. Camels and donkeys are the vehicles of transportation for cotton sacks. We are in the legendary land of Astrakhan sheep and Karakul sheep and visit a market for Astrakhan fur coats, skins, hides, and leather. Even the recycling of sheeps' intestines is detailed. Little lambs are for sale, as well, at the Karakul bazaar. Weavers loom, silk is dyed, horses are shoed, children are at play.

Details of daily life include steaming tea, shashlik shafts, water pipes being smoked, a scalp massage at the barber's, and white yoghurt consumed as delicacy. Elements of life here may still be like they were in antiquity.

The DCP is in low contrast and heavily duped, yet providing an intriguing and rewarding experience.

Monday, October 02, 2017

Schatten / Warning Shadows


Schatten (DE 1923). D: Arthur Robison. Ruth Weyher, Gustav von Wangenheim. Photo: Cineteca Italiana, Milano.

Schatten: eine nächtliche Halluzination / Varjoja / Skuggor / Schatten: une hallucination nocturne – Le Montreur d’ombres. DE 1923. D: Arthur Robison, story, des, cost: Albin Grau, scen: Rudolf Schneider, Artur Robison, photog: Fritz Arno Wagner, cast: Fritz Kortner (the man), Ruth Weyher (the woman), Gustav von Wangenheim (the youth), Alexander Granach (ombromane / the traveling shadow player), Eugen Rex, Max Gülstorff, Ferdinand von Alten (gentlemen), Fritz Rasp, Karl Platen (servants), Lilly Harder (lady’s maid), prod: Pan-Film GmbH, Berlin, for Deutsch-Amerikanische Film-Union AG (Dafu), Berlin, filmed: 5.1923, Lixie-Atelier, Berlin-Weißensee, censor date: 19.7.1923 (B.07460, 1721 m), première: 16.10.1923, U.T. Nollendorfplatz, Berlin.
    35 mm, 1926 m, 93′ (18 fps), tinted; main title: FRA; no intertitles.
    Source: Cineteca Italiana, Milano.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone: Cineteca Italiana 70.
    Music: Daan van den Hurk, Frank Bockius.
    Teatro Verdi, no intertitles, 2 Oct 2017.

Anton Kaes (GCM 2017): "Artur Robison’s 1923 film Schatten: Eine nächtliche Halluzination (Warning Shadows: Nocturnal Hallucinations) offers bold insights into the status and function of cinema itself. What was film and what could it do? Schatten makes good on the promise of silent cinema to tell a story by means of images alone. Foregoing explanatory title cards, the film explores the interplay of light and shadow and focuses on the very possibilities of cinematic expression. The film’s preoccupation with shadows as ghostly doubles galvanizes the realm of imagination, illusion, and dark fantasy; it sheds light on a hidden and repressed reality that “shadows” the tangible one. Although an everyday phenomenon, shadows nevertheless evince a sense of uncanny mystery that dates back to Plato’s allegory of the cave. For Maxim Gorky in 1895, the movies represented no less than the “kingdom of shadows.”"

"Schatten experiments with the effects achieved by projection, not only in the technical sense but also in its Freudian meaning, in which repressed thoughts and cravings are “projected” to the outside world. It is indicative that the film’s fictional characters are reduced to typified figures (the credits identify them as Man, Woman, Youth, and Traveling Entertainer) who act like marionettes. Although Schatten was not the first feature film without intertitles, moviegoers struggled to make sense of the story and characters. The film even triggered a debate about the need for titles, in which the director argued that written words (as remnants of an older medium) merely intrude in what the visuals (lighting design, décor, acting, and camera) were supposed to convey. Only films without titles were deemed to be pure film art; words, he claimed, disturb the atmosphere and mystique of mute images that speak another language. Nonetheless, in 1928, explanatory intertitles were added as a concession to the general public."

"Coming on the heels of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) and Nosferatu (1922), Schatten, which premiered on 16 October 1923, appears as a latecomer to German Expressionism. It is no less radical than its more famous predecessors. It shares with Caligari a plot that hinges on the medium’s inherent illusionism and deception. Less reliant on distorted sets, Schatten compulsively manipulates light and shadow to propel the story and draw attention to the ability of film to bring out hidden desires. Schatten shares with Nosferatu the intermingling of horror with melodrama, as well as a Freudian probing of the unconscious by way of shadows and mirrors, which produced infinite play with doubles. Schatten is also indebted to German Romanticism, where the loss of one’s shadow means a loss of one’s self – a motif that also animated The Student of Prague, the first German art film, from 1913."

"In Schatten, we experience two forerunners of cinema folded into one – the Chinese shadow play from antiquity (revived in the 1920s by the silhouette films of Lotte Reiniger) and the magic lantern shows popular since the 18th century. The shadow player in Schatten is presented as a traveling showman, in the tradition of the fairground entrepreneurs of early cinema. What was most radical (and confusing to the original audiences) is the conceit that the hypnotized spectators would enter the shadow play’s phantasmagorical realm and have their alter egos – their shadows – act out their innermost fantasies. Not unlike the play within the play in Hamlet, the shadow play within the film (i.e., the ultimate shadow play) leads the audience to confront and recognize their repressed wishes and perversions."

"Schatten is based on an idea by set designer and professed occultist Albin Grau, who had produced Nosferatu for Prana-Film a year earlier. Shortly after Prana’s bankruptcy, Grau started Pan-Film, one of the many small production companies competing with Ufa. His wish to make another film with Murnau in the supernatural style of Nosferatu was thwarted, because the director was already under contract to Ufa. Grau then approached Artur Robison (1883-1935), a Chicago-born screenwriter and director whose German family had moved back to Germany in 1895. After briefly practicing medicine, Robison joined the film industry and became known for Nächte des Grauens (Nights of Horror, 1916) with Emil Jannings and Werner Krauss. More importantly for the visual design of Schatten was Albin Grau’s choice of Nosferatu’s cinematographer, Fritz Arno Wagner, who ranks today as one of the most brilliant cameramen of Weimar cinema. In addition, several actors from Nosferatu joined the production: Gustav von Wangenheim as the forlorn young lover and Alexander Granach as the traveling shadow player. The jealous husband is played by the famous stage and film actor Fritz Kortner, who had worked with Max Reinhardt and starred in more than 40 films before 1923. Schatten was the film debut of Ruth Weyher, who would reprise the role of a young wife in G. W. Pabst’s psychoanalytic film Secrets of a Soul (1926)."

"The acting style in Schatten is highly theatrical and owes much to the Expressionist emphasis on overacting over naturalness, following the dictum: “Reality is there, why replicate it on screen?” The film’s calculated manipulation of artificial lighting underscores the willed stylization of the performance. This stress on theatricality highlights the medium as a machine to project the unrestrained inner world outward. Visible but possessing no materiality of their own, shadows depend on light to exist and constitute an uncanny double of the visible world, not unlike the spectral images of film."

"In the tradition of so-called “Aufklärungsfilme” (sex education films) from 1919-20, Schatten invokes a sexually charged atmosphere of aristocratic decadence and depravity, including, in the phantasmagorical scene, bondage, implied gang rape, and murder (represented as shadow play). Looking back, film critic Lotte Eisner, author of The Haunted Screen, called the film one of the most overtly erotic films ever. Not unlike Secrets of a Soul, Schatten is framed as a lesson in overcoming a psychological disorder (impotence in the former, jealousy in the latter). While in Secrets psychoanalysis provides the cure, in Schatten it is the hallucinatory shadow play – a perfect double for the immersive cinematic experience – that leads to a happy ending.
" Anton Kaes

AA: It was a revelation to finally see a print this good from this Weimar classic. I have seen it and we have screened Schatten only in low contrast prints which fail to convey the impact of this purely visual film. This print is from Cineteca Italiana in Milan, but the opening credits state that the sources are La Cinémathèque française and The Museum of Modern Art. There are no intertitles, but the art credits in the beginning are in French.

Arthur Robison kept directing strong silent films until the very end (Looping the Loop, The Informer), and he made solid sound films, too (including the last film adaptation of Der Student von Prag), but in this screening I'm finally convinced that he was at his best in Schatten. (Robison's Der Student von Prag and Frank Wysbar's Fährmann Maria are considered the last achievements relevant to the Weimar cinema's heritage of the fantastique).

Strengths include: a genuine sense of the fantastique, an irresistible dream mode, a talent in mounting a dream stage, a sense of wonder, a sense of the macabre (Alexander Granach as le montreur d'ombres), a powerful yet refined sensuality, an overheated and unrealistic atmosphere.

In a hypnotical fashion the ombromane invites his audience, our surrogates, into a collective nightmare. Projecting at first his ombres chinoises he invites the actual shadows of his viewers to take over the dream stage. The nightmares are not innocent: sexual violence and murder are imminent. Fritz Kortner as The Man breaks a mirror. The action has taken place on a screen of the unconscious. The ombromane conjures the living shadows back to their owners again. We return to the Chinese shadows, but a disturbing feeling lingers and an ultimate sense of mystery remains.

The screening of Schatten did not belong to the Canon Revisited series of the Festival, but for me this viewing confirmed the status of this powerful movie as one of the great Weimar films. The mysterious ombromane deserves a place besides the ominous hypnotists Dr. Caligari and Dr. Mabuse, and perhaps the Devil himself as incarnated as Scapinelli in Der Student von Prag, although in Robison's sound adaptation he is called Dr. Carpis. In Der Student von Prag as in Schatten people are caught in the spell of a magnetic mastermind and must inevitably confront their evil doubles.

The live music performance of Daan van den Hurk and Frank Bockius was enchanting.

Speaking of music I cannot resist a digression to Robison's final film, his adaptation of Der Student von Prag. I do not know how it is elsewhere but in Finland the theme song of that film, "Warum?" by Theo Mackeben, sung by the coloratura Miliza Korjus, became a big hit, still continuously played on the radio. The lyrics are by Goethe, from a private poem of his to Charlotte von Stein, published only after both were dead. It is a poem of unrequited love but it also conveys something of a general sense of mystery so potently understood by Robison in his films.

The Reckless Age (2017 restoration in 4K by NBCUniversal)


The Reckless Age (US 1924), D: Harry Pollard, with John Steppling, Ruth Dwyer, Reginald Denny. Photo: Bison Archives / Marc Wanamaker.

The Reckless Age (US 1924), D: Harry Pollard, with Ruth Dwyer, Reginald Denny. Photo: Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (2017).

(L’età frenetica), (US 1924), D: Harry Pollard, scen: Rex Taylor, [Edward T. Lowe, Jr.?], from the novel by Earl Derr Biggers (1914), titles: Tom Miranda, photog: William Fildew, cast: Reginald Denny (Dick Minot), Ruth Dwyer (Cecilia Meyrick), John Steppling (Spencer Meyrick), May Wallace (aunt Mary), William Austin (Lord Allan Harrowby), Tom McGuire (Martin Wall), Fred Malatesta (Manuel Gonzalez), Henry A. Barrows (John Thacker), Frederick Vroom (Owen Jephson), William E. Lawrence (John Paddock), Dorothy Revier (Gabrielle Rose), Bertram Johns (Duke of Lismore), Fay Tincher (Duchess of Lismore), Hayden Stevenson (Henry Trimmer), Frank Leigh (Jenkins), prod: Universal Pictures, dist: Universal-Jewel, rel: 17.8.1924.
    The film was not released in Finland.
    DCP, 4K (from 35 mm, orig. 6954 ft), 70′; titles: ENG, source: NBCUniversal, Restored: 2017.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone.
    Music: Donald Sosin, Frank Bockius.
    Teatro Verdi, with e-subtitles in Italian, 2 Oct 2017.

Marc Wanamaker, Kimberly Pucci (GCM 2017): "The Reckless Age is a comedy-drama based on the novel Love Insurance by Earl Derr Biggers, best known as the author of the “Charlie Chan” stories. First serialized in a number of U.S. newspapers in February 1914, the novel appeared in book form later that year, when Klaw & Erlanger purchased the theatrical rights and assigned A. E. Thomas to adapt the story for the stage. Nothing came of this venture, but in 1919 Paramount produced the first film version (now lost), Love Insurance, and in the same year See-Saw, a musical also based on the Biggers novel, opened on Broadway to positive reviews. The story revolves around Dick Minot, an insurance agent assigned to protect a $100,000 policy taken out by Lord Harrowby, engaged to heiress Cynthia Meyrick. Harrowby needs money quickly, and the insurance policy is there just in case the marriage falls through before he gets to the altar. Minot is meant to ensure the wedding takes place, but he meets Cynthia on the train and the two fall for each other."

"This most charming romantic comedy was shot at Universal City and on location at Los Olivos, California, and at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Production was announced at least as early as October 1923, with Eddie Cline earmarked as director, but the star, Reginald Denny, was injured in a car accident that month and the film wasn’t begun until January, by which time Cline had been replaced by Harry Pollard, who had brought Denny to fame as heavyweight boxing champion Kane “Kid Roberts” Halliday in their pugilist series of two-reelers, The Leather Pushers. Following the success of these 24 shorts, Pollard and Denny went on to work together in several Universal features, including race-car classic Sporting Youth, before filming The Reckless Age (both in 1924), and then smash hits Oh Doctor!, I’ll Show You the Town, and California Straight Ahead (all in 1925)."

"One of the more exciting sequences in the film is the automobile and train race through the Santa Ynez Valley, culminating in one of Hollywood’s most daring stunts, when the train and automobile almost collide at a crossing. For “Railroads in Films” historians, the use of the now-defunct Pacific Coast Railway and Locomotive No. 106 might be the only existing footage of this historic railroad and the Los Olivos railroad station in town."

"The Beverly Hills Hotel location is also extraordinary, as there are very few examples of the hotel being used in silent films other than Harold Lloyd’s A Sailor Made Man. Both films show the exterior of the hotel in the early 1920s, but The Reckless Age shows the entire exterior of the hotel at Sunset Boulevard, the driveways, the front entrance, and various patios, verandas, and gardens (all standing in as the “Hotel de la Paix” in Florida)."

"Reginald Denny (1891-1967) was an amateur racecar driver as well as a stunt pilot and boxing champ – he certainly lived up to the “reckless” moniker by moonlighting as a daredevil pilot with the famed team of stunt flyers, The Black Cats. British-born “Reggie” had learned to fly the first military fighter planes in action when he joined the Royal Flying Corps (later the Royal Air Force) at the onset of World War I; seven years later and now a movie star, he bought a Jenny biplane along with two British Sopwith Snipes he had flown during the war. Hollywood’s top aviator club took note of Denny’s flying abilities and asked him to join as their “lucky 13th” Black Cat around the time of this film. The club would soar over the skies of Southern California performing such dangerous aerial stunts that it’s amazing Universal executive Carl Laemmle and Pollard allowed their leading man to conduct these devil-may-care feats while starring in their films, but as the Los Angeles Times stated back then about the invincible Denny: “Black cats have … nine lives, you know.”"

"Denny became one of Universal’s most popular actors of the 1920s, effortlessly blurring the line between romantic leading man and action hero. He made the successful transition from silent film star to the “talkies” and continued working steadily in movies and television until shortly before his death in 1967, while also making a name for himself as inventor of the drone and pioneer of unmanned aviation. His co-star here, Ruth Dwyer (1898-1978), never had the same success, yet she remains a recognized name thanks to her appearance opposite Buster Keaton in Seven Chances.
" Marc Wanamaker, Kimberly Pucci

The restoration 

Janice Simpson (GCM 2017): "In 2013 the National Film Preservation Foundation (NFPF) contacted NBCUniversal regarding a 35 mm nitrate film discovered by EYE Filmmuseum in Amsterdam among the archive’s unpreserved backlog. This Dutch-language print turned out to be a complete copy of The Reckless Age, a feature-length comedy produced by Universal in 1924, for which EYE had the only reported copy in the world. The tinted print was in remarkably fine condition, showing no nitrate decomposition but some shrinkage (1.2-1.6%)."

"Specifically, the NFPF asked Universal if the studio might be interested in funding its preservation. In 2015, when Universal initiated its Silent Film Restoration Project to honor the 100th Anniversary of Universal City, it added this title to the list and started working with NFPF’s Executive Director, who arranged to ship the film elements from EYE to the Library of Congress, and then to Universal City."

"This print, with heavy dirt, stains, and scratches, was the sole source for the 4K digital restoration. Dirt and scratches were digitally removed, the film was stabilized, and film tears, warping, and shifts were repaired. Tints were analyzed with the assistance of Jere Gulden of the Packard Humanities Institute and recreated digitally to duplicate the tinting used for the print. The film’s 181 intertitles were recreated in English over a neutral, textless background."

"Thank-yous go to EYE Filmmuseum for providing the source material; the Library of Congress and the National Film Preservation Foundation for their facilitation and assistance; and Jere Guldin (Packard Humanities Institute) for assistance with tint analysis. Restoration services provided by NBCUniversal StudioPost.
" Janice Simpson

AA: A funny satire on the insurance business and a romantic comedy about the battle of wits between Dick Minot (Reginald Denny) and Cecilia Meyrick (Ruth Dwyer). Ten years later this would have been perfect screwball material. The two car vs. train chase sequences are genuinely thrilling.

A brilliant digital copy with a simulation of tinting in orange.

Now We're in the Air (2017 restoration by Národní filmový archiv & San Francisco Silent Film Festival)


Now We're in the Air (US 1927). D: Frank R. Strayer. Raymond Hatton, Louise Brooks, Wallace Beery.

Now We're in the Air (US 1927). D: Frank R. Strayer. Emile Chautard, Louise Brooks. Photo: Louise Brooks Society.

Now We're in the Air (US 1927). D: Frank R. Strayer. Raymond Hatton, Louise Brooks, Wallace Beery. Photo: Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences - Margaret Herrick Library. Scene not included in the surviving fragment.

Now We're in the Air (US 1927). D: Frank R. Strayer. Louise Brooks. Portrait by Eugene Robert Richee. Photo: Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences - Margaret Herrick Library. Scene not included in the surviving fragment.

Now We're in the Air (US 1927). D: Frank R. Strayer. Louise Brooks. Portrait by Eugene Robert Richee.

Now We're in the Air (US 1927). D: Frank R. Strayer. Louise Brooks. Portrait by Eugene Robert Richee. Scene not included in the surviving fragment.

Sankareita ilmassa / Hjältar i luften / Aviatori per forza (US 1927), D: Frank R. Strayer, story: Monte Brice, Keene Thompson, scen: Tom J. Geraghty, titles: George Marion, Jr., photog: Harry Perry, [2nd camera: Alfred “Buddy” Williams, E. Burton Steene. ed: Carl Pierson.], cast: Wallace Beery (Wally), Raymond Hatton (Ray), Louise Brooks (Griselle Chelaine; Grisette Chelaine), Russell Simpson (Lord Abercrombie McTavish), Emile Chautard (M. Chelaine), Malcolm Waite (Professor Saenger), Duke Martin (Top Sergeant), [uncredited: Mattie Witting (Mme. Chelaine)], prod: Adolph Zukor, Jesse L. Lasky, Paramount, dist: Paramount, rel: 22.10.1927, copy: incompl. (orig. 5798 ft, 6 rl, ca 70′), 35 mm, 1377 ft (fragments of rl. 2, 3, 6), 23 min (20 fps); titles: ENG, source: Národní filmový archiv, Praha, & San Francisco Silent Film Festival, restored: 2017.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone, e-subtitles in Italian.
    Teatro Verdi, 2 Oct 2017.

GCM (2017): "It’s hard to imagine anyone at Paramount seriously believing that Mauritz Stiller was well-suited to direct the third World War I-themed comedy pairing of Wallace Beery and Raymond Hatton, but that’s what Film Daily reported on 26 January 1927. Unsurprisingly, the idea didn’t last long, and the following month the same trade paper announced that James Cruze would be the popular duo’s latest director instead. Louise Brooks Society founder Thomas Gladysz found evidence that William Wellman was also attached at some point, which makes quite a bit of sense, but by June the studio revealed that the director for Now We’re in the Air would be Frank R. Strayer, a considerably lesser talent than the original three choices. On this basis, the film’s loss wouldn’t generate more than passing disappointment, but there was another factor to be considered, in the form of its 21-year-old leading lady, Louise Brooks."

"Eugene Robert Richee’s playfully seductive portraits of Brooks from the film, saucily posed in a racy black tutu, made the loss even more tantalizing, and the actress’ own declaration that her favorite publicity still was a casual shot of her reading on the set, next to screenwriter Keene Thompson, added to the feeling that we were missing something special. Then came the announcement in 2016 that parts of Reels 2, 3, and 6 were discovered at the Národní filmový archiv in Prague (the cans were labeled with its Czech title, Rif a Raf, Politi), making the incomplete Now We’re in the Air footage the sole surviving element from any of the four films Brooks made in 1927. Sadly, Brooks appears in only about 5 minutes of the newly found fragments, but it’s hard to look anywhere else when she’s on screen. Though purely decorative, she exudes a timelessness, relaxed and informal, that stands out for modern audiences when contrasted with the broad-based comedy around her."

"It’s important to remember that Brooks was just in her second year making movies, and her contribution was always secondary: production files at the Margaret Herrick Library show she was paid $500 a week, which was $50 a week less than actor Malcolm Waite’s salary. On the other hand, Beery was getting $3,000, and Hatton $2,000. The main stars had already appeared in two other comedies with military backgrounds, Behind the Front and We’re in the Navy Now (both 1926 and both directed by Brooks’ husband, Eddie Sutherland), and Paramount cleverly chose to complete the armed services trilogy with an air force setting just when aviation mania was sweeping the globe following Charles Lindbergh’s transatlantic flight in May 1927. Profiting from the hoopla, advertisements hailed Beery and Hatton as “loony Lindberghs.”"

"Although Strayer (1891-1964) was a largely workmanlike director whose career highlight was a string of “Blondie” films in the late 1930s and early 40s, the cinematographer, Harry Perry, had a knack for aerial photography: in 1923 he shot The Broken Wing, and four months before Now We’re in the Air he’d finished work on Wings, together with second cameramen Alfred “Buddy” Williams and E. Burton Steene, also collaborating here (Perry and Steene later shot Hell’s Angels). Aside from Brooks’ presence, it’s these aerial moments that generate the most interest in the surviving footage, some of which, during the Armistice scene, was actually left over from Wings, no doubt used as a cost-saving measure – perhaps Paramount had blown their budget when they rented 15 planes to add to the authenticity and thrills."

"The plot is predictably silly: Beery and Hatton are Wally and Ray, a couple of bumbling cousins scheming to get their aristocratic Scottish grandfather’s inheritance by appealing to his love of aviation. Once on the Continent during the War, the two fall for twin sisters Grisette and Griselle, one raised in France, the other in Germany – Brooks plays both characters, though the surviving footage only shows Grisette, a tutu-clad carnival entertainer, and not Griselle in her peasant bodice and kerchief. Wally and Ray wind up in the U.S. air service, but get blown into enemy territory in a circus balloon, where they’re mistaken for sympathizers. The Germans think they can use them as spies so send them back across the lines, where they’re finally able to make things right after nearly being blown up. Critic Wilella Waldorf, in the New York Evening Post, was not amused:
Mr. Beery and Mr. Hatton have been seen so often to kick each other that it has ceased exactly to be a fountain of wit.” However, Alfred Greason was far more positive in Variety, praising the aerial photography and the succession of gags, notwithstanding “an utter disregard of the finer aspects of wit and humor.”" Jay Weissberg

AA: This fragment of 23 minutes has brought film aficionados a lot of joy. Now We're in the Air is an action comedy set in WWI. In its surviving footage a spy is found at a carnival, and there is some thrilling action, perhaps a bit like Laurel and Hardy in Liberty, as Wallace Beery and Raymond Hatton are caught in a hot air balloon which takes them across enemy lines. An epic battleground scene is included. For five minutes Louise Brooks lights up the screen by her mere presence as the carnival dancer Grisette. Very watchable from scratched fragments with tinting simulated.

For a Better Vision (GCM 2017, a Desmet Collection show from 1910-1915 curated by Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi)


Water Lilies (US 1911). Photo: Collection EYE Filmmuseum, Amsterdam.

Prints from EYE Filmmuseum / Desmet Collection (expect A Flash of Light by Griffith).
Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone.
Grand piano: Mauro Colombis.
Teatro Verdi, e-subtitles in English and Italian, 2 Oct 2017.

Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi (GCM 2017): "Cinema is visual entertainment. It seems only fair then that filmmakers are obsessed with themes around seeing and not seeing. Not being able to see provides an intensely dramatic plot, with regaining one’s vision often constituting the climax. Whether melodramas, comedies, or even documentaries, plots are often constructed in such a way to achieve “better vision”."

"This year’s Desmet selection contains fewer comedies and more dramas. The consequences of not being able to recognize a face or read a letter, and constantly being dependent on others, are so powerful that blindness seems to be more often used for drama."

"As usual, this year’s compilation consists of fiction and non-fiction films (from 1910-1915), relevant to the same theme in very different ways. The programme brings together various films in which men or women go blind and then recover their vision; there’s also a charity fashion show to help the blind, as well as films in which characters pretend to be blind, and others in which doctors perform eye surgery to overcome blindness.
" Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi

Mieux valait la nuit (FR 1911).

MIEUX VALAIT LA NUIT (Was ik maar blind gebleven) / [Night Would Have Been Better] ? (FR 1911), cast: ?. prod: Éclair, copy: 35 mm, 214 m, 11’26” (18 fps), (tinted, Desmet process); titles: NLD. Preserved in colour in 1990 using an internegative.
    While preparing to go out with her husband, Simone is blinded by a sudden explosion in her face while her maid helps her do her hair (this accident is shown in a neighbouring room via a reflection in a mirror, while her husband reads a newspaper in the foreground). The doctors tell her she can never see again. Despite giving Simone loving care, her husband eventually grows fond of one of her best friends. The lovers get careless, trusting that Simone can never see them together. But Simone secretly tries an alternative cure which does heal her. She rushes to tell her husband, only to witness him in the arms of his lover, and collapses of a broken heart.
    Not much is known about this mysterious Éclair film. The identification of the title is not fully confirmed, and no information about the cast is available in written sources. We believe that Simone is played by Renée Sylvaire, and her rival by Cécile Guyon. Could the husband be the Éclair veteran André Liabel
. Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi
    AA: Drama. A startling mini-movie on the perennial motif of melodrama: blindness. The Finnish counterpart would be Teuvo Tulio's Restless Blood. In both, the woman believed blind discovers what is going on with her husband and another woman. Here she dies of heartbreak. Mirrors expand the scope of vision. From a tinted and toned source with sometimes a soft and duped look.

Amma, le voleur aveugle (FR 1912). Photo: Collection EYE Filmmuseum, Amsterdam.

AMMA, LE VOLEUR AVEUGLE / [Amma, the Blind Thief]. ? (FR 1912), cast: ?, prod: Pathé Frères (The Japanese Film), copy: incomp., DCP, 4’45”; intertitles missing.
    The plot, as related by the Pathé Catalogue: “The delicate Lotus Flower is tired after attending to her bonsai trees, and calls for a masseur. She leaves her jewels in a precious box and slips them under her pillow while her maid brings in the masseur Amma, who, like all his colleagues in Japan, is blind, or at least seems to be. Lotus Flower soon falls asleep; the masseur, taking advantage of her slumber, searches the room. Noticing the box resting under her head, he tries to take it, but awakens the sleeper. After a short struggle Lotus Flower faints and Amma runs away with his booty. The maidservant alerts her mistress. Amma is discovered and punished.”
    Only 108 metres of this film (of the original 280 m.) were found and identified in 2014. This is believed to be the second half of the film. It only shows the “blind” masseur being escorted out by the maidservant, who then goes to check on her mistress and finds the wooden box is empty. She wakes up her mistress, who is distraught at the robbery. In the meantime, a policeman arrives and the gardener is summoned; they all go after Amma, who is hiding up a tree in the garden. A struggle ensues, the thief is captured, and the jewellery is recovered.
    The original nitrate is tinted and toned. However, for the moment the film is preserved via a black & white duplicate negative only. The intertitles are missing. The DCP is based on the HD scan of the duplicate negative made from the nitrate in 2014 at Haghefilm
. Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi
    AA: Crime drama. Again, the fact of being believed to be blind leads to suspense and drama. Furious action. There are some damage marks in the source.

Le Cœur et les yeux (FR 1911), D: Émile Chautard. Photo: Collection EYE Filmmuseum, Amsterdam.

LE COEUR ET LES YEUX (Ziek hart et zieke oogen) (US: Hearts and Eyes; GB: The Heart and the Eyes), FR 1911, dir, scen: Émile Chautard, cast: Cécile Didier (Cécile Aubry [Dutch print: Cecilie]), Philippe Damorès (Dr. Paul Humbert), Maria Fromet (Jeanne Aubry), prod: ACAD [Association Cinématographique des Auteurs Dramatiques], dist: Éclair, 35 mm, 182 m., 9’35” (18 fps), col. (tinted, Desmet process); titles: NLD. Desmet Collection. Preserved in colour in 1989 using an internegative.
    Cécile is blinded while cleaning a pair of gloves with benzine. As she is the sole provider for her little sister Jeanne, they now become poor and eventually homeless. Jeanne begs money from strangers, one of whom turns out to be Dr. Humbert, an eye specialist, who offers to operate on Cécile’s eyes. The surgery is successful, and by the time Cécile has regained her sight the doctor has desperately lost his heart to his beautiful patient.
    The Association Cinématographique des Auteurs Dramatiques (ACAD) was established in 1910 in Paris, with the stage actor and director Émile Chautard (1864-1934) as one of its founding partners. A subsidiary of Éclair, the company was meant to compete with Film d’Art and S.C.A.G.L., and similarly aspired to make film adaptations of celebrated literary classics and popular works by contemporary authors. This film is an adaptation of a popular novel of the same title by the prolific author Pierre Sales (1854/56?-1914)
. Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi
    AA: A love story. Startling images of eye surgery in a story of love as healing. "Restoring light in eyes you restore the heart". A mirror introduces the shot-countershot effect without cutting.

[MESSTER-WOCHE:] MODESCHAU IM ZOO, ? (DE, ca 1915), prod: Messters Projektion, copy: fragment, 35 mm, 60 m, 2’56” (18 fps), tinted; titles: GER.
Printed in 2009 at Haghefilm, from an internegative made in 1988.
    This short fragment of a Messter-Woche newsreel item doesn’t really contain anyone blind or otherwise visually impaired. Instead, it features a charity fashion show held for blind war veterans. Kriegsblindenheim, a home for the war blind, was established in 1915 at Bellevuestrasse 12 in Berlin by Mrs. Ernst Von Ihne, the wife of an acclaimed architect, who reportedly spent her entire fortune on helping the war blind to reintegrate into society. After the passing of her husband in April 1917, she also started a library for the war blind.
    The fashions shown in the film include designs by Christoph Drecoll in Berlin. The headwear is from the Seidenhaus (Silk House) of the Gebrüder Frank (Frank Brothers) in Munich. The models strolling and posing in the single parlour set are also credited, as “Misses Tönnessen, Liebe, Hansen and others”. The “Misses Tönnessen” may possibly refer to models hired by the pioneer American commercial art photographer Beatrice Tonnesen (1871-1958) to pose for the earliest advertising pictures using live models; her business spanned 1896-1930
. Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi
    AA: Newsreel. An intriguing fashion show.

Water Lilies (US 1911). Irmgard von Rottenthal (Albertina).

WATER LILIES (De Waterlelie), ? (US 1911), scen: ?, cast: Irmgard von Rottenthal (Albertina), ? (Maurice), ? (Aunt Mary), ? (Maurice’s mother), prod: Vitagraph Company of America, filmed: 1910, rel: 13.1.1911, copy: incomp., 35 mm, 282 m (= 925 ft; orig. 991 ft), 14’51” (18 fps), col. (tinted, Desmet process); did./titles: NLD. Preserved: 2010 (lab. Haghefilm).
    Even in 1911, commentators scoffed at the idea of someone being permanently blinded by merely looking at a flash of lightning: in his largely positive review of Water Lilies, the critic for The Nickelodeon singled out just such a scene for his complaint: “No stage trickery could have made it convincing anyhow, because it seems to be inherently impossible.” Apparently, he hadn’t been reading the newspapers, which not infrequently featured just such stories. It’s true the scene in Water Lilies is weakly staged, but clearly the unidentified director and writer were more interested in the consequences of Maurice’s loss of sight rather than the cause. For without an ability to see, the young man couldn’t take in the terpsichorean magnificence of the film’s raison d’être, its star Baroness Irmgard von Rottenthal.
    She was born in Croatia circa 1890, the daughter of Baron Josef von Rothenthal, an illegitimate son of Prince Heinrich XX Reuß – why she changed the spelling to Rottenthal remains a mystery. By 1906 she was in the U.S., where she became a pupil of Rita Sacchetto and Mrs. Richard Hovey, the latter a leading teacher of the Delsarte technique, a theory of movement and expression whose profound influence on modern dance is well known. Only recently however has the impact of François Delsarte and his acolytes on silent film acting been explored, and watching Rottenthal in Water Lilies offers a fascinating opportunity to see Delsartean technique brought whole to the screen. The Baroness is all about gesture, even when not dancing: her hands and arms are ultra-expressive in an almost pantomimic way, reflecting her moods and the beauties of nature. As poetically stated by Moving Picture World, she’s “like a thistle-down wafted by some gentle zephyr.” In the film she plays Albertina, a dancer for high society (not unlike herself) who falls in love with Maurice while she’s recovering at her aunt’s from heart trouble. When he’s struck blind, he claims not to love Albertina, so as to spare her the burden of looking after him; however, true love will out. Not everyone was enchanted – the critic for Moving Picture News grumbled, “The young lady should never have been allowed to run at large. Her place was in a padded cell.”
    In the early-to-mid-1910s, she was high society’s preferred artiste at charity functions, performing her interpretive dances in the mansions of Manhattan, Newport, Chicago, and beyond. Among her most popular roles were “Temptation of Eve,” dressed in two giant fig leaves, “Schmerzen,” performed (incredibly) with 30 pounds of chains on her wrists, and “Gold Fish,” praised for its fidelity to nature. In 1914, Rodney Lee of the Toledo Blade enthused, “The Baroness possesses to an unusual degree the power of expressing various emotions by a glance of the eye, a turn of the head, and the use of her long, shapely hands.” The self-same hands, it was said, which had been admired by Rodin himself.
    Rottenthal’s film appearances are few: after Water Lilies, she was absent from screens until Kalem’s Midnight at Maxim’s (1915), where she does two specialty numbers; later that year she was seen in Hearst-Selig News Pictorial No. 61, dancing in New York’s Central Park. By late 1916 Rottenthal disappears from the press entirely, most likely because her German surname wasn’t the best calling card in the lead-up to America’s entry into the War. Rottenthal died in New York in 1935, three years after the death of her second husband. My research into the life and career of this fascinating figure is ongoing
. Jay Weissberg
    AA: A romantic drama. A lovely sense of nature is a major feature in this lyrical and elegiac story of healing and sacrifice. The man goes blind during a thunderstorm and pretends that he does not love her anymore. But inevitably they find each other again.

MR. MYOPE CHASSE (The Sportsman), ? (FR 1910), cast: ?, prod: Pathé Frères, 35 mm, 115 m, 5’06” (18 fps), col. (tinted, Desmet process); main title: ENG; no intertitles. Preserved: 2011 (lab. Haghefilm), from an original print from the collection of the Archive Film Agency, London.
    Over the years it has become a tradition to include in our Desmet selection a breakneck-style chase comedy, where the action builds and everything comes crashing down in the end. In order not to break with tradition, we present Mr. Myope, a short-sighted hunter. Poor eyesight can be employed as a natural comedy element when a main character is unable to see what is right in front of him. Believing to have found game, Mr. Myope shoots at a young calf that has been tethered by two farm workers. They start to chase him with the calf, and mayhem ensues. He knocks down an apple picker with a ladder, a washerwoman, a shopkeeper waiting on her customer at a vegetable stall, a worker with a wheelbarrow, a china salesman, and two men carrying a basket of birds, and they all join in the chase. The sportsman finally heads home to his wife for safety. After paying off all the damages he adopts the calf, and he and his wife are left petting and feeding the animal (now wearing spectacles!), from a baby’s milk bottle via a tube. Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi
    AA: A funny catastrophe farce where the myopic hunter is a peril to the world, as detailed above. A fine sense of escalation, and a droll denouement.

Le Mensonge de Jean le Manchot (FR 1911). D: Michel Carré. Photo: Collection EYE Filmmuseum, Amsterdam.

LE MENSONGE DE JEAN LE MANCHOT (Door bedrog voor een treurig leed bespaard) / [The Lie of Jean le Manchot], (FR 1911), dir, scen: Michel Carré, cast: Adrien Caillard (Jacques Reynaud), Paul Capellani (Jean le Manchot), Marie Ernestine Desclauzas (the mother), Charles Mosnier (the father), Blanche Albane (Jeanne Sabourée, Reynaud’s fiancée), prod: Pathé Frères – S.C.A.G.L. [Société Cinématographique des Auteurs et des Gens de Lettres], 35 mm, 256 m, 12’29” (18 fps), col. (tinted, Desmet process); titles: NLD.
    Captain Reynaud is engaged to the pretty schoolteacher Jeanne. Following unrest in Yunnan province, Reynaud is called to fight in Indo-China. Two years go by, during which everyone waits for the captain to return to France, including his best friend, the one-armed Jean. In the meantime Reynaud’s old father goes completely blind. After Reynaud dies heroically during an attack, his belongings are sent home. While the others know the sad news, Reynaud’s blind father believes his son is back when he discovers his trunk has been brought in. In an attempt to protect the old man’s feelings Jean puts on his dear friend’s uniform, leading the father to believe that his son has returned from the front, having only lost an arm, and Jeanne and Jean are compelled to pledge their troth, joining hands in a silent alliance.
    This is one of the few films starring the influential French stage actress Blanche Albane-Duhamel (born Blanche Alice Sistoli, 1886-1975), who was the wife of the acclaimed author Georges Duhamel (1884-1966) from 1909 until his death. She was greatly admired by André Gide and Jean Cocteau among others, as recalled by her husband in one of his books
. Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi
    AA: Drama. That the father would not know: this film is theatrical but expressive in the blind father being deceived to believe that his son has come home from the front. A lively mise-en-scène.

BLINDENINSTITUUT EN OOGLIJDERSGASTHUIS TE BANDOENG [Istituto per ciechi a Bandung / Institute for the Blind Home in Bandung], J. C. Lamster (NL, 1912-1913), Prod: Koloniaal Instituut, Amsterdam, 35 mm, 139 m, 6’45” (18 fps), col. (tinted, Desmet process); titles: NLD. Preserved: 1999 (lab. Haghefilm).
    This documentary from the Colonial Institute Collection shows the Ooglijdersgasthuis, the Institute for the Blind facility at the Dutch colony of Bandung in Indonesia, which was established by Doctor C. H. A. Westhoff in 1901. The film shows the patients’ daily life at the Queen Wilhelmina home and clinic, including making brooms, basket weaving, and schooling. It ends with rather graphic footage of an eye operation performed by Dr. Westhoff – not for those of a weak disposition!
    C. H. A. Westhoff was born in 1848 in Nijmegen, and died in 1913 in Sydney, Australia. He first went to Indonesia in 1872 as young doctor. After going back to the Netherlands in 1884 to specialize in eye surgery, in 1900 he returned to Indonesia, where he established the Ooglijdersgasthuis
. Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi
    AA: Straight non-fiction about the blind being taught to earn a living in Bandung as detailed above. There is an unflinching account of an eye operation. The composition is fine. Very watchable although with a soft visual quality.

A Flash of Light (US 1910). D: D. W. Griffith. Stephanie Longfellow (the older sister who truly loves John), Charles West (John Rogers, chemist), Vivian Prescott (Belle Rogers, the younger sister who is John's wife and wants to pursue her stage career). Photo: EYE on YouTube.

A FLASH OF LIGHT, D. W. Griffith (US 1910), scen: Stanner E. V. Taylor, photog: G. W. Bitzer, prod: Biograph.
    C: Charles West (John Rogers, chemist), Vivian Prescott (Belle, the younger sister), Stephanie Longfellow (the older sister), Verner Clarges (dad); George D. Nicholls (surgeon), Wm. J. Butler (family doctor), Grace Henderson (Mrs. Walton, society hostess), Joseph Graybill (Horace Dooley, stage impresario), Tony O’Sullivan (lead servant), W. C. “Spike” Robinson (2nd servant), Kate Toncray (nurse), [Charles Craig, Gertrude Robinson, Alfred Paget, George Siegmann, Mack Sennett (wedding guests), Edward Dillon, Claire McDowell, Dorothy West, John Dillon, Guy Hedlund (at Mrs. Walton’s soirée), Guy Hedlund, Ruth Hart, John Dillon, Henry Lehrman(?) (at theatre party)].
    Filmed: 14-17.6.1910 (Biograph Studio, NY), rel: 18.7.1910, 35 mm, 973 ft (orig. ca 998 ft), 17′ (16 fps); titles: ENG, source: BFI National Archive, London.
    "In one of his most tortured Biographs, Griffith saves his wildest moment for his final shot, where his immovable plot meets the irresistible metaphors that go with blindness and light. In the front parlor of his home, the bandages of a blinded chemist are about to be removed. He is flanked by the two women in his life – his frivolous wife, who is ready to leave him because she finds his blindness stifling; and his long-suffering sister-in-law, who secretly loves him and who, thanks to his blindness, has fooled him into thinking she is his wife. The bandages come off and he sees – i.e., understands – who has been caring for him. But his wife, recoiling, knocks down the heavy parlor drapes and the blaze of sunlight blinds her husband again – this time permanently. Aghast, the wife runs out, leaving her re-blinded husband with the woman who will now be his eyes for the foreseeable future. Overwhelmed, he kneels down and kisses the hem of her dress."
    "In a single amazing shot, Griffith (with his prolific writer Stanner E. V. Taylor) manages to jam together the time-honored connections between moral, emotional, and physical blindness. What starts as a story about a chemist blinded by one of his experiments develops as a tale of two sisters: one who basks in the bright lights and glitter of high society; the other whose selfless devotion makes her literally invisible, playing off her would-be lover’s multiple forms of blindness by masquerading as a wife with the help of her sister’s discarded ring."
    "For post-moderns (and who among us has escaped?) what leaps out is the tension between the overt moralism of the film and the medium in which Griffith is working. As Scott Simmon notes in his first-rate chapter on the Biograph woman’s film in The Films of D. W. Griffith, the movie takes an unambiguous stand against the corruption of superficial sight and gaudy entertainment. In case we miss the point, the intertitles are there to help, as is Griffith’s intercutting between scenes of parties and receptions with scenes of care and nurture. But as a commercial filmmaker, Griffith inevitably traffics in exactly the world of display and glamour he disparages. As Simmon writes, “‘A flash of light’ twice blinds the chemist, but the phrase also defines the silent film apparatus, and the wife [in all her finery] is put on display for us, come what may.”"
    "This light-obsessed film culminates in a wonderfully compressed and sublimely silly coup de thêàtre that brings the contradictions to the fore, and arguably lets in more than Griffith knows. The dazzling burst of sunlight that the celebrity sister (by now a comic-opera diva) dramatically exposes is a moment bristling with ironies and multiple meanings. Like the Cooper Hewitt lights (which in fact produce the flamboyant ultra-theatrical “sunlight” effect), the sun that re-blinds the chemist also puts the other sister in the spotlight, making her stand in stark relief from the other characters. However, the exposé of the noble sister (who in this single moment shines brighter than her sister) is mainly a way to dramatize the superiority of the shadows. The re-blinding brings with it both insight – the chemist’s recognition and appreciation of true virtue – and a means for matching the noble heroine who prefers to work unseen with a partner whose blindness gives her the perfect opportunity to continue her self-sacrificing mission.
" Russell Merritt
   
AA: Tragedy. Last seen at Le Giornate in 2000 in Sacile, probably in the same print in The Griffith Project marathons, this DWG opus 272 startles in a new way in this context. Having lost his eyesight the man never finds out who his true lover is. A tragic surprise leads us to a Russian ending.

Another of Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi's curated thematic shows from the Desmet Collection of the EYE Filmmuseum. Inspired film programming of the highest order.

Seeing and blindness have multiple and complex meanings in the cinema, from the literal to the philosophical. "I see". But sometimes it is blindness that makes us see beyond the surface.