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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

EYE Institute Program 4: "Tales of Madness"

Program 4: "Tales of Madness"
Sun. Mar 18, 5:00; Wed. Mar 28, 1:30
film notes © 2012 by Steve Massa.

Mr. Smith fait l’ouverture (1914) France. Gaumont. Dir: Jean Durand. (6 min)
Anarchy and madness result when a plague of rabbits overrun the country home of an unpreentant hunter, in the “day of the lepus” farce.

Jean Durand, along with Romeo Bossetti, was one of the top and most prolific comedy creators of European silent comedy. In addition to the popular Onesime and Zigoto series, starting in 1907 he directed all kinds of comedies with performers on the order of Maurice Chevalier, Gaston Modot, and Clement Mige, not to mention numerous early western shorts. His later work included series with Marcel Levesque as “Serpentin” and Berthe Dagmar as “Marie”, before he finished his twenty-two year career with the 1929 feature The Ideal Woman.

Onesime contre Onesime (a.k.a. Simple Simon Leads a Double Life) (1912) France. Gaumont. Dir: Jean Durand. Cast: Ernest Bourbon, Edouard Grisollet, Gaston Modot. (9 min)
When Onesime “doubles” on screen, the battle between his good and evil selves begins.

Our second selection from the popular Onesime series has our hero shadowed by his evil double in a comic Student of Prague scenario. It’s easy to see why this series was the favorite of the Surrealists with its dream-like imagery of malevolent twins, animals in fancy drawing rooms, and the wild acceleration of time. The Onesime’s were really a combination of personality comedy and trick films, as our comic bumbler always found himself in impossible situations that were made possible by sleight of hand with the camera. The series ran from 1912 to 1914. Star Ernest Bourbon appeared in films until 1918, and later had a school for acrobats in Belleville.

La vengeance des spirits (a.k.a. Die rache der geister) (1911) France. Pathe. Dir: Emil Cohl. (5 min)
Grotesque animated spirits punish a disbeliever who scorns his wife’s interest in the occult.

La vengeance des spirits is the work of the celebrated Emil Cohl, regarded as the father of film animation for groundbreaking shorts such as Fantasmagorie (1908) and Les joyeux microbes (1909). He entered films at age 51, after a background in newspaper cartoons, political caricature, painting and poetry, initially to complain to the Gaumont Studio about a film that stole its main idea from one of his strips. Louis Feuillade hired him to write scenarios, and he was soon animating and directing combination live-action and animation trick films. Eventually moving to Pathe, where this title was made, Cohl even spent time in the U.S. turning out “The Newlyweds and their Baby” cartoon series. World War I and its aftermath made it impossible to release his films, and he died in poverty in 1938 the day before George Melies.

Calino sourcier (1913) France. Gaumont. Dir: Jean Durand. Cast: Clement Mige. (4 min)
With a stolen divining rod, Calino sets out to “liquefy” the world, one water spout at a time, in this riff on Goethe’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.

Calino was Clement Mige, yet another veteran of circus and music hall, who started working for Jean Durand as part of the stock company “Les Pouics” (bedbugs) for Gaumont around 1910. As such he was in the ensemble of shorts such as La police de l’an 2000, and eventually headlined in this series as the cheerful title buffoon. (Paul Bertho, better known as Patouillard and Gavroche is said to have filled in for some 1911 entries) Romeo Bosetti created the character, but Jean Durand wrote and directed the bulk of the shorts which always ended in some kind of orgy of destruction. Mige disappears after the end of this series in 1913, except for one isolated appearance in Paris la nuit (1924).

Kri Kri fuma l’oppio (a.k.a. Patachon als opiumschuirer) (1913) Italy. Societa Italiana Cines. Cast: Raymond Frau. (6 min)
A series of trick film hallucinations and scary doubling effects result when Patachon smokes an opium cigarette.

Kri Kri was the Senegal-born Raymond Frau, a circus clown and acrobat who began his career in French vaudeville and cafes. Like Ferdinand Guillaume, Frau settled in at the Cines studio in 1912 and headlined in this series where he was known as “Bloomer” in England and Patachon in Holland and France. Using special effects to create a surreal universe, Kri Kri regularly did acts such as removing his head, or spinning like a mad top and passing it along to the rest of the world when he attempts a pirouette in Kri Kri balla (1915). This film contains some bizarre mirror imagery that predates Jean Cocteau’s Orphee (1950) and the Marx Brothers’ Duck Soup (1933). After Kri Kri, Frau returned to France and later played the character of “Dandy” for Éclair.

Rigadin n’aime pas vendredi 13 (a.k.a. Rigadin n aime pas le renched) (1911) France. Pathe. Dir: Georges Monca. Cast: Charles Prince. (6 min)
Rigadin has nothing but trouble on Friday the 13th.

Today Charles Prince is alongside Max Linder and Andre Deed as one of the best remembered of the early Euro-clowns. Already popular on stage in legitimate comedy and vaudeville, Pathe snared him for films in 1908. Launched as Rigadin the next year, the petit-bourgeois goof was an immediate success, and the series lasted for almost ten years. Thanks to his upturned nose he had the look of perpetually smelling something unpleasant as he navigated his way around toothaches, fickle fiancées, gout, nightmares, and, of course, domineering mother-in-laws. Due to Pathe’s strong distribution chain he was popular all over the world, and known as “Whiffles” in the U.K. and America. Although his career wound down after 1920, he continued to make appearances up to his death in 1933.

L’abito bianco di Robinet (1911) Italy. Ambrosio. Dir: Marcel Perez (as Marcel Fabre). Cast: Fabre. (4 min)
In this play on the symmetry of black and white, Robinet leaves home in his bright new suit for a stroll through a blackening industrial landscape.

The Societa Anonima Ambrosio was, with Italia and Cines, one of the premier film studios of Italy. Originally founded in 1902 by Arturo Ambrosio as photographic shop, Ambrosio caught the movie bug and spent time in France, England and Germany familiarizing himself with filmmaking. By 1907 a large and modern studio had been built on 30,000 square feet of land. Their first big hit was 1908’s The Last Days of Pompeii, directed by Luigi Maggi, who piloted many of the company’s most prestigious films. Besides historical epics, costume dramas, and literary adaptations of the work of Gabriele D’Annunzio, the studio’s comedy creators included Gigetta Morano (and her director and co-star Eleuterio Rodolfi), Ernesto Vasar as Fricot, and Perez as Robinet. Morano and Perez moved into feature length comedies for the company – Morano in works such as La meridana del convent (The Convent’s Sundial 1916) and Perez with the four episodes of Le avventure straoridnarissne di Saturnino Farandola (The Extraordinary Adventures of Saturnino Farandola 1914). As with the other studios, World War I disrupted film production and killed international distribution. Ambrosio continued some producing during the war, but Arturo Ambrosio left the company in 1917, and the studio ended production in 1922.

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