"Cruel and Unusual Comedy"...on the air on NPR

Elif Rongen-Kaynakci and Steve Massa were guests on the Leonard Lopate Radio Program on March 16, 2012.

Listen here:

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

EYE Institute Program 5: "Domestic Abuse"

Program 5: "Domestic Abuse"
Sun. Mar 18, 7:00; Thu. Mar 29, 1:30. 
film notes © 2012 by Steve Massa.

Le torchon brule ou une querlle de ménage (1911) France. Pathe. Dir: Romeo Bossetti. Cast: Sarah Duhamel. (5 min)
A couple’s fight over dinner, leads to a spiraling domestic abuse that spreads all over town.

Pathe Freres, with its famous rooster logo, is the largest and best known of the French film studios. Charles Pathe’s initial experience with the cinema came with selling counterfeit Edison Kinetoscopes to fairground exhibitors. That was in 1895, and by 1900 his company was set up and Ferdinand Zecca had been hired to oversee film production. Their output soon surpassed that of George Melies, with a glass studio constructed in 1902, soon followed by two more. Pathe continued to turn out film stock, equipment, and movies, and was perhaps the first film factory with more than 1,200 employees, many of whom worked on a kind of assembly-line splicing and coloring.

The product consisted of actualities, historical reconstructions, and trick films, often handled by Zecca. Its comedy output was prodigious, with major players such as Max Linder, Andre Deed, Charles Prince, and director Romeo Bosetti. They even had a comedy arm, Comica, which was headed by Bosetti and put out the misadventures of Little Moritz, Rosalie, Calino, Bigorno, and many more.

One of the main strengths of the company was its distribution which included Central Europe, Asia, the Americas, and Africa. In the teens the Linder and Prince comedies were very popular in America, and the company also distributed American-made product. It was a distribution deal with Pathe that gave the fledgling Hal Roach Studio its first toehold in the industry, and by the early 1920s they were releasing Roach and Mack Sennett’s comedy output. Over the years Pathe has withstood many restructurings and economic up-and-downs. The company is still distributing films such as Slumdog Millionaire (2008) today. 

Le pendu (1906) France. Pathe. Dir: Louis Gasner. Cast: Max Linder. (7 min)
Suffering from unrequited love, Max hangs himself from a tree, and ends up hanging for hours while local townspeople squabble over whose responsibility it is to rescue him.

In addition to being the best known comic in this series, Max Linder was the first international comedy movie star. The most sophisticated screen comic before the arrival of Charlie Chaplin, Linder’s popularity led to two production forays to the United States, neither of which was particularly successful or satisfying for the comedian. As in this short, despair and suicide were frequent motifs in Linder’s films, and is a chilling reminder that he took his own life in 1925.

Polycarpe veut faire un carton (a.k.a. Polycarpe is aan het schijifschieten) (1913) France. Éclipse. Dir: Ernest Servaes. Cast: Charles Servaes. (4 min)
The homeless Polycarpe steals a rifle from some careless society sportsmen and goes on a mindless shooting spree.

The unknown Charles Servaes, brother of Ernest Servares the writer and director of this series, played Polycarpe from 1913 to 1917. Originally embodied by Edouard Pinto, Servaes soon took over the role and was one of the most extreme of the early Euro-clowns. His Polycarpe is like an escaped lunatic, doing his best to disrupt any semblance of sanity or order with a squatting walk, too large jacket and derby, and a jutting jaw. A very striking clown, unfortunately the only other info on Charles Servaes is that he also played a character named Seraphin for Eclipse.

Bebe soigné son pere (a.k.a. De vader van Bebe geroelt zich reruland ziek) (1912) France. Gaumont. Dir: Louis Feuillade. Cast: Rene Dary. (9 min)
A mischievous child feeds his father a laxative leading to disruptive bouts of intestinal disorder and an unexpected reward.

Beginning in 1910, this series showcased Louis Feuillade’s five year-old discovery Clement Mary, with the precocious imp tormenting his bourgeois parents in seventy-four entries made through 1913. Problems with the boy’s real-life show business parents led to his being replaced by the younger Bout de Zan. Later re-appearing as an adult under the name Rene Dary, he was busy until his death in 1974.

Gratitude obsedante (1912) France. Lux. Cast: Paul Bertho. (7 min)
The clown Flippie’s gratitude to a passing stranger goes too far, driving his benefactor to distraction and dismemberment.

Societe Lux was formed in 1907, and its principal director-screenwriter was Gerard Bourgeois. He was assisted by the young caricaturist and journalist Jean Durand, who became one of the most prolific comedy creators of the period before ending his career in 1929. During its heyday the studio’s foreign distribution stretched from North and South America to the extremes of Russia. Its most popular titles were comedies, such as the “Cunegondes” and “Patouillards” which starred Paul Bertho (who plays the annoying Flippie in this film), but they also turned out contemporary melodramas and westerns with a character named Arizona Bill. Sadly, today there are few surviving examples of the Lux product.

Artheme promene son oncle (1913) France. Eclipse. Dir: Ernest Servaes. Cast: Ernest Servaes. (6 min)
Artheme takes his elderly uncle for a walk in his wheelchair, but abandons the invalid in the woods overnight when he spots a pretty girl.

The Societe generale des cinematographs Eclipse came about in 1906 as a French offshoot of the giant British company Urban Trading. After absorbing a smaller company, Radios, and acquiring its “glass house” studio, Eclipse got a solid footing in the U.S. through distributor George Kleine. This and Charles Urban’s strength made Eclipse the fourth largest producer of French films. Today few of their productions survive, with writer, director and comic Ernest Servaes particularly overlooked. From 1911 to 1917 he helmed the Polycarpe comedies, as well as his own starring Artheme series. As Artheme, Servaes spends a lot of time confiding to the camera as he pursues women and neglects the duties assigned to him. Artheme promene son oncle is the prototype for all the American comedies where lame or gouty-footed elders are abused, and is the blueprint for Charlie Chaplin’s Keystone comedy His New Profession (1914). Not much information has survived on Servaes, and his last known credit is for writing and directing the short Mireille in 1922.

Little Moritz demande Rosalie en marriage (1911) France. Pathe. Dir: Romeo Bosetti. Cast: Maurice Schwartz, Sarah Duhamel. (6 min)
Wimpy Little Moritz needs to toughen up to win Rosalie, but ends up smashing everyone and everything in sight when boxing lessons turn him into a mindless fighting machine.

Romeo Bossetti was the renaissance man of the early Euro-comedies. Not only did he write and direct an amazing output of shorts for other people, but also had his own “Romeo” series for Pathe. He had come from the music hall and circus, as had his two stars for this series, Sarah Duhamel and Moritz Schwartz. Having joined Pathe in 1906, Bosetti soon moved over to Gaumont, but eventually returned to Pathe to work with Little Moritz, Rosale, and Leontine. Other comedy series he helmed include Bobino, Zoe, Toto, Moustache, Purtin, Bigorneau, and Calino. He even found the time to produce some of the Fantomas films for Louis Feuillade, and although his film career ended in 1916, he lived to 1948.

1 comment:

  1. I wish there was a way to see some of these up here in Boston.