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Terje Vigen (1917)
Remarkable adaptation of H. Ibsen's eponymous poem.
This is a faithful adaptation of the eponymous poem by Henrik Ibsen, and all inter-titles are quotations of Ibsen's original text. The film follows an innovative non chronological structure. In the brief opening scene, old grey-haired Terje Vigen is contemplating a stormy sea. It is followed by a long flash back showing his past life first with his wife and daughter, his trip to Denmark, his capture by the English, his life as prisoner in England, and finally his return home. There is even a flashback in the flashback when, while in jail, Terje Vigen remembers his wife and daughter. The last part starts with the same scene as the opening one, followed by the rescue of the British yacht. It is interrupted by a brief flashback when Terje Vigen realises the Captain of the yacht is the Englishman who had taken him prisoner. The most remarkable aspect of the film is the outdoor on-location filming on the coast and on small boats, which gives great authenticity to the action, in particular the very realistic chase and sinking of the dinghy in the middle of reefs. Editing is brisk, cross-cutting between views of the two boats and then between the English boat and Terje Vigen trying to escape by swimming underwater.
See more and a link to the full film at: a-cinema-history.blogspot.com/2013/12
First tentative for a Futurist cinema:
This is the first film directed by Anton Giulio Bragaglia, a pioneer in Futurism photography and cinema Futurism was a mostly Italian artistic movement, emphasizing contemporary concepts of the future. The film's prologue states that it includes images by Futurist painters to strengthen the classic narrative in order to evoke in the viewer stronger emotions than those created by mere film images.
The film contrasts naturalist outdoor views of horse riding, horse carriages and motor cars, in particular a car crossing a river on a small ferry, with indoor views with sets designed by renowned Futurist painter Enrico Prampolini. As the film progresses and Thaïs becomes more and more irrational, the geometric and symbolic motives of the sets take an increasing importance and the film becomes almost abstract.
See further analysis and a link to the full film at:
The Poor Little Rich Girl (1917)
Putting in images the delirium of a seriously ill little girl
The most original aspect of this film is that it translates into images the delirium of a seriously ill little girl fighting for her life. The beginning of the film is quite conventional both as regards the story, a little girl is ignored by her rich parents and bullied by the servants, and the way of filming, mostly indoor long duration wide shots with fixed camera, with some medium shots and a few close-ups. There are some slapstick gags and a funny scene when the father, remembering that, as a child, he had been dressed as a girl to punish him, decides to dress Gwen as a boy. Far from considering this as a punishment, she enjoys her boy costume and has a lot of fun having a mud fight with street boys.
The film becomes more interesting in the second half when it veers towards surrealism. It shows what Gwen is imagining, taking literally expressions that she hears, e.g. her father fighting bears, and the servants looking like their nicknames, snake in grass, double-face or big ears. It also shows the father, who has big financial worries, visualising his double taking a gun to commit suicide, with Gwen overlooking the scene.
Tigre reale (1916)
An Italian diplomat falls in love with a mysterious Russian countess who is said to have led to suicide her former lover.
In this film, Giovanni Pastrone successfully applies to the melodrama genre the innovative cinematographic language that he had developed in Cabiria. As in Cabiria, there are ellipses in the action to cover a long period of time; in addition, there is here a long flashback where the Countess tells the story of her dramatic first love. Cross-cutting is used efficiently and filming combines camera movements and alternating between wide shots, medium shots and close-ups. Numerous indoor and outdoor sets are used with spectacular scenes involving a troika sledge in deep snow and a theatre and hotel engulfed in fire. Orange, yellow, green, blue and red tainting is used to convey the atmosphere of the various scenes. Pina Menichelli, one of the great Italian stars of the time is wonderful as a femme fatale and all men around her are only sidekicks, although Febo Mari is quite convincing as the polish outlaw desperately in love with the beautiful countess.
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1916)
An interesting adaptation of 20000 Leagues Under The Sea, and The Mysterious Island
This is the first adaptation of 20000 Leagues Under the Sea as Melies 1907 eponymous short film only shares with Verne's book a submarine called Nautilus. The film does not follow strictly Jules Verne's two books. The two main differences are that the end of 20000 Leagues Under the Sea is omitted, i.e. when the Nautilus disappears in the Maelstrom off the coast of Norway, and that two characters are added, Nemo's daughter and the evil Denver. Quite strangely, an inter-title informs the viewer towards the end of the film "Captain Nemo reveals the secret of his life, which Jules Verne never told" when the script actually follows quite closely The Mysterious Island, in particular with the revelation that Nemo is an Indian Prince whose family was massacred by the British.
This is the first film featuring under sea filming thanks to watertight tubes and mirrors allowing the camera to shoot reflected images. This allows quite spectacular (for the time) views of corrals, wrecks, sharks and actors in scuba diving suits. The filming on location on New Providence Island and the use of real sailing boats, of a full-size navigable mock-up of the Nautilus, and of large sets and exotic costumes gives authenticity to the action.
The film uses quite an elaborate narrative with cross-cutting between the parallel actions of Nemo, Lt. Bond and Denver, leading to their meeting on Mysterious Island. The chronological development is interrupted by flashbacks for the actions which took place in India many years before.
Making a Living (1914)
First film with Charlie Chaplin, inspired by Max Linder
For his first film, Charlie Chaplin does not yet wear his tramp costume but is dressed as a dandy, a character clearly inspired by Max Linder.
This is a good example of the one- or two-reel slapstick comedies which constituted a large part of American film production at the time. While there is a story which keeps the viewer's interest, it is mainly an opportunity to accumulate as many visual gags as possible. Only four inter-titles are used in the film and they are not even really necessary. Although the filming consists mostly of wide shots and three quarter shots, always with a static camera, the editing gives a very dynamic progression of the action, with a systematic use of cross- cutting. The fact that it is mostly filmed on location in the streets of Los Angeles and in the office of the L.A. Times gives it authenticity and adds now a historical interest with views of the city and of different parts of a newspaper office in 1914, notably shots of a Linotype used for the composition of the newspaper.
An early adaptation of the 1834 novel by Edward Bulwer
Based on the 1834 novel by Edward Bulwer, the film tells the love story of Glaucus and Jone in 79 AD at the time of the destruction of Pompeii by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius.
This is a typical example of an early Italian super-production. It includes a convincing reproduction of Pompei on the eve of its destruction. The special effects are quite limited but the crowd scenes in the circus are impressive. Cross-cutting is used effectively and some of the editing is a precursor of soviet montage, e.g. close-ups of doves to evoke Glaucus and Jone, and a hawk to symbolize Arbace.
Why was Intolerance a commercial failure?
Intolerance has been sometimes referred to as the Greatest film of all times. This is in my view an exaggeration, but Intolerance is definitely a milestone in cinema history.
It is quite unique in its combination of five different stories only linked by their common reference to the theme of intolerance. 1) a contemporary melodrama showing how charities can be led by selfish motives and can have disastrous consequences; 2) the passion of Jesus Christ in Judea; 3) the events surrounding the 1573 St Bartholomew's Day massacre in France (substantial parts of this segment are lost), 4) the fall of the Babylonian Empire to Persia, 5) a pacifist epilogue showing the war raging at the time in Europe grinding to a halt with soldiers fraternizing, flowery fields blooming and children playing among abandoned canons. This pacifist message must be put back in the context of the discussions going on in America at the time about joining the war.
Maybe because of this pacifist message just before the decision to go to war, Intolerance was released in September 1916 and the United States declared war to Germany in April 1917, maybe because the form of the film was too much ahead of its time with its distinct stories running in parallel, the film was a commercial failure; it could not recover the enormous production costs, particularly for the Babylonian segment.
Hell's Hinges (1916)
An unusual pre-code Western
This is an unusual Western which uses the freedom which existed before the Hays Code to cast as a villain a faithless Reverend who gets drunk in the local saloon, spends the night with one of the saloon girls and takes part in the arson of his own church. Opposite him we find the Reverend's saintly sister, adequately called Faith, and the big gun Blaze who was determined to get rid of the parson but falls in love with Faith and because of that start believing in God, protects the justs and destroys the villains. Apart from the parsons who is torn between good and evil, the characters are quite unidimensional and racist stereotypes are present, in this case concerning Mexicans. The sudden transformation of Blaze from bad to good is a bit too sudden to be credible.
The cinematography is quite innovative for the time with the use notably of a very wide shot with extended panning to follow a stage coach traveling in the hills. Editing is dynamic with efficient use of cross-cutting. Most of the action is filmed outdoor with the reconstitution of a Wild West settlement which is entirely burned down at the end. Sepia, blue and red tainting are used to convey the atmosphere of different scenes. Humour is also present e.g. when we are shown how the parsons imagines the West. The moralizing ending where the bad are punished is a bit too conventional.
An early psychological drama where we see a man whose beloved young wife died becoming progressively mad because of his obsession with her.
Acting is very convincing with a contrast between Sergei sinking into madness, with a brief moment of lucidity and Tina as a young and carefree woman. The use of flashback is very effective with an ambiguous transition between present and past. The filming mirrors the progressive confinement of Sergei's mind After the initial scene where we briefly glimpse Elena alive before seeing her on her deathbed, we see Sergei walking in the streets with the camera panning to follow him. He then goes to the opera where he meets Tina and his obsession becomes more and more oppressive. From that moment we see only inside scenes, her place, his place and the place of his painter friend. He realises himself that he is becoming mad but cannot resist his madness. After a violent scene at Elena's place where she tells him to go and lie down with his dead wife, he will no longer move out of his room where Elena's ghost will start appearing to him. We think for a moment that he is walking in a park with Tina, but it is a flashback of walks with his wife, which finishes with the scene of the beginning at the deathbed being replayed. When the maid announces that she is leaving him and Tina comes to his place talking lightly about Elena, we know that a tragic issue is forthcoming.