"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 1: "Sexual Misconduct"

Program 1: "Sexual Misconduct"
Thu, Mar 15, 7:30 (Introduced by Elif Rongen-Kaynakci); Wed, Mar 21, 1:30.

film notes © 2012 by Steve Massa.

La lune de miel de Zigoto (1912) France. Gaumont. Dir: Jean Durand. Cast: Lucien Bataille, Berthe Dagmar. (6 min)
In the grip of passionate foreplay, Zigoto and his lover are oblivious to an escalating series of interruptions and catastrophes going on around them.

As Zigoto, comic Lucien Bataille is one of the more quietly eccentric denizens of the outrageous European film comedy universe. In some ways his body language and comedic attitude foreshadows Jacques Tati as Zigoto ambles to a decidedly different drummer. Bataille left Gaumont in 1912 and headlined in a new series for Éclair where he was re-dubbed Casimir. He later worked as a character actor in films such as Le Miracle des loup (Miracle of the Wolves 1924) and La Coquille et la clergyman (The Seashell and the Clergyman 1928).

Signora Robinet (a.k.a. Madamigella Robinet) (1912) Italy. Ambrosio. Dir: Marcel Perez (Fabre). Cast: Marcel Perez (Fabre), Nildi Baracchi, Angelo Vestri. (7 min)
Robinet disguises himself as a woman to get away from his girlfriend’s husband, and discovers the unexpected pleasures of public drag amidst mobs of flirtatious men.

Robinet is Marcel Perez, an ex-circus clown who began appearing in French films in 1900, and was hired by the Ambrosio Company of Turin in 1910 to star in this series. Born in Spain as Manuel Fernandez Perez, he worked under various versions of that name and made five years worth of Robinet misadventures before heading to the United States in 1915. With Max Linder he was one of the few direct links between European and American silent comedy, and continued his prolific output until an on the set accident brought his performing career to a close. Later he directed and wrote films until the late 1920s.

Robinet troppo amato da sua moglie (a.k.a. Robinet wordt te veel bemind) (1912) Italy. Ambrosio. Dir: Marcel Perez (Fabre). Cast: Marcel Perez (Fabre), Gigetta Morano, Nilde Baracchi. (7 min)
Robinet escapes from his wife’s smothering devotion to the adventure of lovemaking outside of marriage.   

An important part of Ambrosio’s Robinet series was actress Nilde Baracchi who co-starred as Robinette opposite her real-life husband Marcel Perez (as Marcel Fabre). Beautiful and statuesque, the French-born Baracchi had appeared on stage in Italian music hall and dramas, and made a great screen foil for her husband with her charm and good humor. In 1915 the pair came to America where she continued to work with Perez under the names Babette Perez and Nilde Babette in his comedies for Eagle and Jester, before they separated and she returned to Europe in 1919.

Finalmente soli! (1912) Italy. Italia. Director unknown. Cast: Ernesto Vaser. (8 min)
In this early mother-in-law comedy, a bride’s mother insists on managing the private lives of the newly married couple – to the point of sleeping with them.

Ernesto Vaser was a popular clown who is practically forgotten today. Coming from a theatrical family – his father was stage actor Pietro Vasar and brothers Vittorio and Ercole also ended up in the movies – he entered films in 1905 for the Ambrosio Company. Tubby and pop-eyed, Vaser became known as Fricot and often appeared with, and was directed by, Marcel Perez as Robinet. By 1912 he had moved to Italia and continued his misadventures there under the name Fringuelli. Also directing many of his shorts as well, his career lasted until 1920.

Al cinematografo guardate…ma non toccata. (1912) Italy. Italia. Director unknown. Cast: Ernesto Vaser. (6 min)
A cinema become the site of sexual intrigue when a man looking for romance in the dark follows a woman into the movies and finds himself molesting her husband instead.

The Italia Film Co. was based in Turin and founded in 1907 as Carlo Rossi & Co. Managed by Carlo Sclamengo and the director Giovanni Pastrone, it was the third most important Italian film company after Cines and Ambrosio. Their biggest comic star was Andre Deed, whom they had lured away from Pathe and re-named Cretenetti, but they also had the comics Ernesto Vasar (seen in this film) and Emile Vardannes. Thanks to the money made on Andre Deed’s comedies the company went on to specialize in historical epics such as Pastrone’s The Fall of Troy (1911) and the famous Cabiria (1914). By 1919 Italia had merged into the Unione Cinematogratica Italiana.

Cunegonde femme crampon (a.k.a. Cunegonde wil niet dat d’r man alleen uitgaat) (1912). France. Lux. Director and cast unknown. (9 min)
An insanely jealous wife locks up her husband, lassos him on the street from a second story window, and ships herself to him in a trunk when he leaves her home.

From 1911 to 1913 the Lux Company made twenty-five shorts chronicling the misadventures of Cunegonde. While in this entry she plays a bourgeois wife determined to keep her husband from philandering, she was usually an oafish servant such as in Cunegonde de aime son maitre (1912) where the lady of the house wants a maid her husband won’t flirt with so she hires the ugly Cunegonde. She, of course, falls in love with the master and drives him crazy with her unwanted attentions. Despite a number of surviving films, the identity of the actress who played Cunegonde is unknown.

Acque Miracolose (1912) Italy. Ambrosio. Dir: Eleuterio Rodolfi. Cast: Gigetta Morano, Eleuterio Rodolfi. (9 min)
In this sophisticated romantic comedy, healing waters are the cover for an extra-marital affair that “cures” the infertility problems of a childless couple.

This short stars Gigetta Morano, another of the Ambrosio Company’s popular stars. From 1909 to 1920 Morano appeared in over one hundred and forty films for the studio, sometimes with Marcel Perez, but most frequently with her real-life partner Eleuterio Rodolfi. Gigetta was the first lady of Italian comedy films, and Rodolfi directed as well as co-starred. The strength of films such as Mam’selle Nitouche (1912) enabled her to move beyond comedy. Her career ended in 1921, but she occasionally turned up in bit parts, most notably in Fellini’s I Vitelloni (1953). Born in 1887, she made it close to her centenary when she died in 1986.

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