Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The British Museum (permanent exhibition) Highlights: The Royal Game of Ur


The Royal Game of Ur. From Ur, southern Iraq, about 2600-2400 BC. L 30 cm. The British Museum 120834.

The museum guide: "This is one of the oldest surviving board games in the world. According to references in ancient documents, two players competed to race their pieces from one end of the board to the other. The game was played all over the ancient Near East for about 3000 years."

The British Museum (permanent exhibition) Highlights: Oxus Treasure: Gold Griffin-Headed Armlet


Gold Griffin-Headed Armlet. Achaemenid period (550-331 BC). From the region of Takth-I Kuwad, Tajikistan. A442.1884 (Victoria & Albert reg. number)

The museum guide: "The Oxus Treasure is the most important collection of gold and silver to have survived from the Achaemenid period (550-331 BC). Armlets were among the items considered as gifts of honour at the Persian court. The hollow spaces would have contained inlays of glass or semi-precious stones".

The British Museum (permanent exhibition) Highlights: The Holy Thorn Reliquary


The Holy Thorn Reliquary. 1400, Paris. The British Museum WB.67

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Amedeo Modigliani (an exhibition at Ateneum)


Amedeo Modigliani: Head of a Woman (1911). Musée National d’Art Moderne / Centre de création industrielle – Centre Pompidou, Paris. © Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Philippe Migeat. – Please do click on the images to enlarge them!

Amedeo Modigliani: Reclining Nude with Loose Hair (1917). Osaka City Museum of Modern Art, Japan. Photo: Osaka City Museum of Modern Art.

Amedeo Modigliani: Portrait of the Artist Léopold Survage (1918). Finnish National Gallery/Ateneum Art Museum. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen.

Amedeo Modigliani: Maternity (1919). Musée national d’art moderne / Centre de création industrielle, deposited in LaM, Lille métropole musée d’art moderne, d’art contemporain et d’art brut, Villeneuve d’Ascq, Donation of Geneviève and Jean Masurel in 1979. Photo: Philip Bernard.
Man Ray: Amedeo Modigliani's death mask (1929). Musée National d’Art Moderne / Centre de création industrielle – Centre Pompidou, Paris. © Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Guy Carrard. © Man Ray Trust / Kuvasto 2016

Amedeo Modigliani. An exhibition at Ateneum / Finnish National Gallery, 28 Oct 2016–5 Feb 2017
    The Helsinki leg of a touring exhibition previously seen in Lille and Budapest.
    The international book to the touring exhibition:
    Amedeo Modigliani: The Inner Eye. [Editors n.c.]. Contributors: Damien Castelain, Sophie Lévy, Jeanne-Bathilde Lacourt, Marie-Amélie Senot, Kenneth Wayne, Marc Décimo, Sophie Krebs, Béatrice Joyeux-Prunel, Stéphanie Verdavaine. Printed in Belgium on the presses of Geers Offset, Ghent. Paris: Editions Gallimard / LaM [Lille Métropole d'Art Moderne, d'Art Contemporain et d'Art Brut], 2016.
    The Finnish book to the exhibition:
    Anna-Maria von Bonsdorff (ed.): Amedeo Modigliani. Contibutors: Anna-Maria von Bonsdorff, Timo Huusko. Ateneumin julkaisut n:o 85. Printed at Premedia Helsinki. Published in two editions: Finnish and Swedish. Helsinki: Kansallisgalleria / Ateneumin taidemuseo, 2016.
    Visited on 5 Nov 2016 and 17 Dec 2016.

From the official press introduction: "An exhibition of the work of the painter and sculptor Amedeo Modigliani (1884–1920) opens at the Ateneum Art Museum in Helsinki, Finland, on Friday 28 October 2016. The exhibition, which was on display in Lille and Budapest prior to Helsinki, will present the multifaceted life and work of the Italian artist. Modigliani, who died on the verge of fame at the early age of 35, is one of the most interesting artists in modern art today. The works on display constitute the largest Modigliani retrospective in the Nordic countries to date."

"The Ateneum collection includes what is presumably the only Finnish-owned Modigliani oil painting, Portrait of the Artist Léopold Survage (1918). When the Modigliani exhibition was being put together, a letter sent by Léopold Survage to the Ateneum in 1956 was discovered in the museum archives, in which he describes the circumstances around the painting's creation and its provenance. The correspondence was related to the acquisition of the Modigliani piece and its inclusion in the Ateneum collection in 1955. The letter presents new information on Modigliani for international research. Léopold Survage (1879–1968) was one of Modigliani's closest artist friends."

"Amedeo Modigliani is known particularly for his sensuous portrayals of women. This top international exhibition will provide an opportunity to explore Modigliani's diverse work, and his life in the Montparnasse district, which was the centre of artistic life in Paris in the early part of the 20th century. Modigliani wanted to use his sculptures and paintings to create a new kind of aesthetic that would bring together art from different eras and continents. His fascinating portraits, mystical sculptures, and sensuous nudes present a picture of an international, ambitious and educated artist."

"The inner circle of the charismatic Modigliani included painters, sculptors, writers, poets and composers. Modigliani's lady friends – the poet Anna Akhmatova, the art critic Beatrice Hastings, and the art student Jeanne Hébuterne – also played a significant role in his art and life. The exhibition will also feature works by Modigliani's artist friends, such as Pablo Picasso and Constantin Brâncuși. A total of 83 paintings, sculptures and paper-based works will be on display."

"The exhibition coincides with the publication of a book that presents Modigliani's art and his eventful life. The work is the first Finnish-language publication on the artist in decades. The book will also be available in Swedish. An English-language exhibition catalogue, specifically produced for the touring exhibition, will also be for sale at the Ateneum."

"The exhibition has been produced by La Réunion des Musées Nationaux (RMN) / Grand Palais, and the Lille Métropole Museum of Modern, Contemporary and Outsider Art, in association with the Hungarian National Gallery / Museum of Fine Arts Budapest, and the Ateneum Art Museum. The chief curator of the Modigliani exhibition is Sophie Lévy, who previously worked as the director of the Lille Métropole Museum of Modern, Contemporary and Outsider Art. The other curators of the exhibition are Jeanne-Bathilde Lacourt and Marie-Amélie Senot. The chief curators Anna-Maria von Bonsdorff and Timo Huusko are responsible for the exhibition at the Ateneum end.
"

AA: All autumn Amedeo Modigliani has been drawing big crowds to Ateneum, the Finnish National Gallery. The touring exhibition is based on the collections of the Lille Métropole d'Art Moderne; their holdings, in turn, based on a donation by Geneviève and Jean Masurel, heirs to the Roger Dutilleul collection. This is the largest Modigliani exhibition seen in the Nordic countries, and at least a half of the visitors are from abroad.

The winter solstice is drawing near – the darkest time of the year, when the sun shines for only six hours, even then crawling next to the horizon –, and Modigliani is perfect colour therapy. One of the most profound elements of his art is the Mediterranean glow of the sun. Many Modigliani paintings bathe in warm colour. I like to get next to them in the exhibition, to feel the heat. I carry the exhibition books with me and compare the colour worlds. The books fail to convey Modigliani's fire.

The selection is selective but representative, covering the range of Modigliani's quest. We see his sketches, drawings, sculptures, portraits, and nudes. His Jewish context and his influences in ancient and African art are covered. There are displays of the Parisian art milieu of his age.

The chief curator Sophie Lévy and the curators Jeanne-Bathilde Lacourt and Marie-Amélie Seno quote three aspects that have guided their selection. They want to explore how an artist with a classical heritage creates universal beauty by drawing on ancient and non-Western art. They want to question the received image of the marginalized loner in discovering Modigliani's rich cultural milieu. And they want to give a special focus on the role of Roger Dutilleul in the recognition of "Modi the Maudit".

In his art Modigliani aspired at the universal. At the same time he was proud of his Jewish identity, having grown in a loving Sephardi family and community in Livorno. Modigliani made a point of signing not only his own name but also the names of his Jewish sitters in his portraits, including those of Max Jacob, Moïse Kisling, Chaïm Soutine, Jacques Lipschitz, and Henri Epstein (who would die in Auschwitz in 1944). A special feature of the exhibition is a display of paintings of Modigliani's Jewish fellow artists such as Kisling and Soutine.

Modigliani belonged to the first significant generation of Jewish fine artists. There had been single masters such as Mark Antokolsky in Russia and Camille Pissarro in France, but never before a full generation. The true history of Jewish fine arts starts in the 19th century, and the bloom starts in the 20th. The background to such a delay is in the Biblical image ban in the Ten Commandments the First or the Second, depending on the edition. It has been argued that American Abstract Expressionism after WWII is not in conflict with the image ban since the paintings are not figurative, not representational of concrete reality.

Modigliani's art was always figurative and representational, but never in a straightforwardly realistic way. The depiction is reduced. The form is stylized. The figures are elongated. There is a sense of something broken. The affinity to ancient images is evident. Like in sculpture, eyes are often merely indicated also in paintings. The other eye may be empty: one eye is the exterior one, the other is the inner eye.

We are remembering the centenary of the First World War. On Sunday, 18 December, we have the centenary of the end of the Battle of Verdun of 1916, the second bloodiest battle in history, only surpassed by the Battle of Stalingrad. Over 700.000 died in the meaningless massacre of Verdun.

In the history of art, WWI meant the end of the Belle Époque. Modernist trends that had started in the 19th century became dominant. As an artist working in the figurative and representational continuum, Modigliani was not among the leading Modernists, but his oeuvre is relevant from viewpoints of Symbolism, Expressionism, Cubism, Dadaism, and Surrealism. He was among the artists that were included in the Cabaret Voltaire ensemble in 1916, a hundred years ago. There is a sense of a volcanic force about to erupt in many of his works. At the same time there is a sense of the atavistic in his reverence of the bold stylization of classical and ancient art. In Modigliani's late work there is a unique synthesis of the starkly reduced form and a sensitivity to the telling individual detail. All basking in glorious, often warm, colour.

A hundred years ago Modigliani embarked on his cycle of nudes of which he painted several dozen during 19161919, commissioned by his dealer Léopold Zborowski. They brought him a certain notoriety as the police asked them to remove the nudes from the storefront of Modigliani's only solo exhibition. Although highly reduced and stylized, Modigliani's nudes often displayed pubic hair, rarely seen in classical art. Modigliani's nudes were far from obscene. Rather, Modigliani's faith was the same as Rodin's: in art, everything is sacred.

What was obscene was the skyrocketing of the market value of Modigliani as soon as he was dead. There is a true mystery in Modigliani like in Van Gogh. Both failed to receive decent financial compensation for their works during their lifetimes. The market value of both spiralled to surreal heights after their deaths.

Modigliani's idiosyncratic and reduced style is easy to imitate. Elmyr de Hory created dozens of "new Modiglianis" in the master's style, appreciated by experts until de Hory was exposed. There has also been the Christian Parisot affair. In 2015, Modigliani's Nu couché Paris 1917 was sold at Christie's US at over 170 million dollars. Sums like that make it easy to understand the temptation of Modigliani for forgers and swindlers. (Elmyr de Hory was not necessarily a forger, but he was a swindler because he did not sign his works in his own name).

As a teenager Modigliani caught tuberculosis, then the leading cause of death. During his short life he was always aware of its brevity. He worked and lived like in a fever. He was an alcoholic and a drug addict or he pretended to be so to lead people's attention away from his TB. He was not a recluse. When he died there was an enormous funeral of mourners.

He pretended to be a corrupt primitive, but he was a deeply cultured man who knew by heart passages or whole works by Dante, Nietzsche, and Comte de Lautréamont, among many others. His closest friends included the poets Anna Akhmatova and Beatrice Hastings.

Film-relevant: I am fond of Jacques Becker's Montparnasse 19 / Les Amants de Montparnasse (1958) starring Gérard Philipe (Modigliani), Anouk Aimée (Jeanne Hébuterne), Lilli Palmer (Beatrice Hastings) – and Lino Ventura as the art dealer just waiting in the background for Modigliani's death, after which he knows his market value will explode. Many things may be wrong in this movie, but Becker had a strong sense of the death drive. (Max Ophuls, the original director, had just died. Philipe would die next year, and Becker the year after that. They lived the part.).

Film-relevant also: on display is also Modigliani's portrait of Gaston Modot (1918) which I last saw at Centre Pompidou two years ago; I believe it had then been recently rediscovered for the public view. Gaston Modot (1887–1970) was, among other things, an acteur-fétiche of the French cinema from 1909 until 1964, starring in Luis Buñuel's L'Age d'Or and Jean Renoir's La Règle du jeu, among some 330 other films. He was a comic talent who portrayed a "stubborn kind of fellow" for those two masters.

Both books to the exhibition are worthwhile. The international book to the touring show includes illustrations of many works which are not exhibited at Ateneum. On the other hand, we see at Ateneum works that are not included among the illustrations of the international book, but illustrations of those works appear in the Finnish book. The international book is eminently readable, and a favourite chapter of mine is Marc Décimo's "Modigliani: Modern Man of Letters".

The Finnish Modigliani book is an introduction for the general audience, but it also has an article of expert interest: Timo Huusko on the portrait of Léopold Survage (1918), presumably the only Modigliani painting in a Finnish holding. The portrait dates from the same year and has the same approach as the Gaston Modot portrait, by the way. I had been under the impression that Survage was born in Finland, at Lappeenranta (Villmanstrand), during Finland's years as a part of the Russian Empire. Even on the frame of that painting there is the writing "Le peintre finlandais Survage", but it turns out that only Survage's grandfather had been born in Lappeenranta, and Survage just performed his military service there. In 1918 Modigliani also painted the portrait of a woman whom Survage would meet three years later and who would become his wife Germaine Survage. That painting is also displayed at Ateneum.

The illustrations in the book look lovely, but they literally pale in comparison with the originals. The colours in the books are dimmer or paler or both.

P.S. 30 Dec 2016. Modigliani belongs to the most recognizable artists because of his unique signature style. But not all works on display are truly great, including the big nude poster shot (see above). There is a touch of the decorative and the commercial, although, tragically, Modigliani himself never got to enjoy the financial success of his art.

Stories of Finnish Art II: Modernism (a new hanging of the permament collection of Ateneum / Finnish National Gallery)


Sam Vanni: Polydimensional Space (1961). Ateneum Art Museum. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen. - Sam Vanni (1908-1992) was a pioneer of Finnish abstract art. Together with his girlfriend Tove Jansson he also frequented the first Finnish film society Projektio in the mid-1930s.

Helena Pylkkänen: Giannicolo (1976). Ateneum Art Museum. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Petri Virtanen. - I understand that Giannicolo is a "lovers' lane" in Rome.

Suomen taiteen tarina / Historier inom finsk konst / Stories of Finnish Art. A new display of the permanent collection of Ateneum / Finnish National Gallery. Part Two: Modernism, covering the 1950s and 1960s opened on 6 September 2016.
    The exhibition team included the museum director Susanna Pettersson, the chief curator Timo Huusko, the curator Anu Utriainen, the special researcher Erkki Anttonen, the archive and library manager Hanna-Leena Paloposki, and the director of collections management Riitta Ojanperä. The experimental exhibition design is by Marcel Schmalgemeijer, and the graphic design of the exhibition space is by Mariëlle Tolenaar, both from the Netherlands.
    The illustrations in the book to the exhibition only partly overlap with the actual exhibition: most of the works in the exhibition are missing from the book, and half of the illustrations of the book cover works not exhibited.
    Visited on 10 September, 2016, and many times afterwards.

From the Ateneum press release: "The exhibition is complemented with modern art from the post-war years, when the three halls on the first floor open to the public on Tuesday 6 September 2016. The additions include works from the Ateneum collections from the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s."

"The works highlight the post-Second World War reconstruction period and the emergent media society. The exhibition features paintings, sculptures and prints by Finnish and foreign artists such as Anitra Lucander, Unto Pusa, Ulla Rantanen, Anita Snellman, Sam Vanni and Andy Warhol. Prints by foreign artists are exhibited on a regularly changing basis: the first in the series is David Hockney. The exhibition also includes Eino Ruutsalo's experimental films and commercials."

""The post-Second World War art history reflects the change that had taken place in society. It also reflects the artists' desire to find new ways of expression, even if this meant taking risks. Breaking the mould of convention was not easy, but it was necessary", says the museum director Susanna Pettersson."

"In Finland, the period from 1950 to 1970 was a time of migration from the countryside to the industrialising cities. The breakthrough of modernism meant a major transformation in art. The makers of concrete art focused on form and colour, while others explored the off-shoots of surrealism or painted the world as it appeared to them."

"The importance of international art increased. In 1961, the Ateneum Art Museum organised the first ARS exhibition, which introduced Finland to Italian, French and Spanish informalism. The influence of informalism also showed in the work of many Finnish artists."

"Newspapers, radio and television provided snapshots of political crises and wars, but they also covered underground culture, the hippie movement, and phenomena in pop culture. Art was used to make statements, and the artists' media ranged from pop art to performance art, environmental art, and conceptual art.
" - From the Ateneum press release

AA: This modern leg of the new permanent Ateneum exhibition has been dear to me during all autumn. (I am writing these remarks in December).

The hanging is attractive and sympathetic. There are thematic links (the seasons in the lobby, 1-4) and contexts of expression (form and colour in the first room, 5-23). There is room for experimentation (second room, 24-44) and reactions to the pop world of media (room three, 45-54). Although the title of the exhibition is "Stories of Finnish Art" there are also samples of international art for reflection.

Here we can visit sober still lifes with windows by Veikko Vionoja and witness the gentle surrealism of Otto Mäkilä (The Tower). The seasons are covered by Aimo Kanerva, Unto Koistinen, and Mauri Favén. I like very much the room of abstractions, how the paintings are hung. Unto Pusa's Watermill in Kuusamo, and Juhana Blomstedt's Composition (Signa) are among the treats. The colourism of Rafael Wardi is like sunlight in the room.

There are sets of prints by Pentti Kaskipuro and David Hockney; this part of the exhibition will be rotated. Giannicolo is a sensual and uninhibited sample of the bronzes of the sculptor Helena Pylkkänen. Pop art is represented by Paul Osipow, assemblage sculpture by Edward Kienholz, and conceptual art by J. O. Mallander.

Eino Ruutsalo the kinetic artist has three short films on display: Kinetic Images, The Eagle and The Jump, with jazz music by Henrik Otto Donner. The films are looped on a monitor from a data file.

Among the 55 works obvious choices alternate with discoveries. There do seem to be stories hidden in the display. The most interesting stories are internal ones, and there are special discoveries to be made in room one, the one with the abstractions.

These works speak to us and with each other.

THE LIST OF WORKS ON DISPLAY BEYOND THE JUMP BREAK:

Sunday, October 09, 2016

Rudolf Kurtz: Expressionismus und Film (a book)


Paul Leni: cover design for Rudolf Kurtz: Expressionismus und Film (1926)

An illustration in Rudolf Kurtz's book.

Rudolf Kurtz: Expressionism und Film. An art book by Verlag der Lichtbühne, Berlin 1926. With 73 reproductions, 5 colour plates and a cover illustration by Paul Leni.
    Nachdruck Zürich 2007 (Chronos), Herausgegeben und mit einem Nachwort versehen von Christian Kiening und Ulrich Johannes Beil.
    Read in the English edition:
    Rudolf Kurtz: Expressionism and Film. Edited with an afterword by Christian Kiening and Ulrich Johannes Beil. Translated by: Brenda Benthien. Printed and bound in China. Distributed by: Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Published by: Herts: John Libbey Publishing Ltd., 2016.
   
In Pordenone at Le Giornate del Cinema Muto I spent a lot of time reading and re-reading the excellent programme catalogue, but there was also another splendid book in the guest package – a copy of Expressionism and Film by Rudolf Kurtz.

I have known since my school days the classic books on Weimar cinema by Lotte H. Eisner (L'Ecran démoniaque) and Siegfried Kracauer (From Caligari to Hitler). I think they were available at the Tampere city library, and I soon acquired copies of my own.

Eisner and Kracauer both relied on the first classic book on the topic – Rudolf Kurtz's Expressionism and Film – but I had never come to read it before now.

This book is very well written. Rudolf Kurtz was himself an insider in the German expressionist movement. We get a unique and privileged look into the birth of expressionism and the artistic atmosphere surrounding it, including trends in Picasso (Horta de Ebro, 1909) and Chagall (Naissance II, 1918) and the discovery of African art and the art of the insane. There are passages on sculpture, architecture, music, theatre, pantomime (Valeska Gert), and typography.

"Of all art forms, film seems to be the least like art and the most like nature". This condition of naturalism was challenged by the expressionists, most famously in Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari, approaching the condition of painting. Kurtz studies aspects of art direction, technology, and cinematography in making this happen. "Light breathed soul into expressionistic films".

Kurtz focuses on the few key films: Caligari (the beginning which "has never been surpassed"), Von Morgens bis Mitternacht, Genuine, Das Haus zum Mond, Raskolnikow, and Das Wachsfigurenkabinett, and also gives comments on expressionist elements in film in general, including works such as Die Bergkatze, Nosferatu, Die Nibelungen, Hintertreppe, and Die Strasse.

But even more generally: "Expressionism lent a hand whenever there was a need to express a particular kind of muted energy that was poised to spring, or whenever one strove to depict the sense of a situation beyond its outward appearance. Whether the liveliness of a cosmopolitan street or the oddness of a setting was to be rendered on a deeper level of consciousness, expressionist form was called on to provide the effect". These remarks seem valid even for film, television, and cyber games today.

There is an excellent chapter on abstract art. Kurtz on Malevich: "Light and dark, direction and expansion organize the visual space into a battlefield of motion". Film-relevant names include Man Ray, Hans Richter, Viking Eggeling, Fernand Léger, Walther Ruttmann, and Francis Picabia.

Kurtz analyzes the contributions of the director, the screenwriter, the actor, and the art director. He is frank about the limitations of the expressionist film, a topic to which is devoted a chapter of its own. In 1926 Kurtz saw expressionism already as a phenomenon of the past. "Expressionism as a strict art form is no longer current". "Wherever there is movement, there is change in the world; uniformity is paralysis of the soul. All paths lead toward the goal, but only a bolt of lightning can spark a flame".

The editors, Christian Kiening and Ulrich Johannes Beil provide an extensive and useful apparatus of notation and a highly rewarding sixty-page afterword which helps us understand the context and impact of Rudolf Kurtz's work. They also expand the list of relevant films with titles such as Verlogene Moral, Erdgeist, and Algol, and later related works like Shinel, Geheimnisse einer Seele, and Metropolis which had not been released by the time of the publication of Kurtz's book.

Kiening and Beil document the reception history of the book. It is also fascinating to learn about Kurtz's reaction to Eisner's work: "You are missing the central premise of my book. For me, Expressionism is not an artistic genre, but the expression of a world crisis".

Read today, Kurtz's work turns out to be one of the foundation works of studying film from the perspective of art history. It is based on first-hand observations and written in a style ranging from sober commentary to inspired generalizations. With its excellent illustrations it is also itself a work of art within the expressionist movement.

Saturday, October 08, 2016

Film concert The Thief of Bagdad (1924), score: Mortimer Wilson, conductor: Mark Fitz-Gerald, performed by: Orchestra San Marco di Pordenone



Serata finale / Closing Night

THE THIEF OF BAGDAD (Il ladro di Bagdad) (US 1924). D: Raoul Walsh. AD: William Cameron Menzies. C: Douglas Fairbanks, Julanne Johnston, Anna May Wong. PC: Douglas Fairbanks Pictures. DCP, 154', col. (tinted); titles: ENG. Source: Photoplay Productions / Patrick Stanbury Collection, London.
    Score by Mortimer Wilson (1924), courtesy of Photoplay Productions / Patrick Stanbury Collection.
    Score arranged and synchronized by Mark Fitz-Gerald.
    Performed live by: Orchestra San Marco, Pordenone; conductor: Mark Fitz-Gerald.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto: Eventi Speciali.
    Teatro Verdi, Pordenone, e-subtitles in Italian by Sub-Ti, 8 Oct 2016.

Le Giornate del Cinema Muto 2016 poster, Douglas Fairbanks in The Thief of Bagdad (Il ladro di Bagdad) Elaborazione grafica, Giulio Calderini, Carmen Marchese, photo Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and Le Giornate del Cinema Muto.

The Music

Mark Fitz-Gerald (GCM Catalog and website): "Douglas Fairbanks’s commission to Mortimer Wilson (1876–1932) to create the orchestral score for The Thief of Bagdad was revolutionary – a revolution not altogether welcomed by Hollywood producers and musicians content with the industrial status quo of music for film performance. For the first time, Fairbanks recognized the composer as a creative collaborator, from the start, in the overall composition of his film – a situation paralleled to some degree by Shostakovich’s work on New Babylon, four years later."

"Wilson, a serious classical composer, proved an inspired choice. Born in rural Iowa, he studied organ, violin, and composition with Frederick Grant Gleason at the Chicago Music College, and at 25 was appointed head of the Department of Theory and Composition at the University of Nebraska. He moved on to Leipzig to study composition with the noted German composer Max Reger."

"Returning to the States, from 1911 to 1916 he conducted the Atlanta Philharmonic Orchestra and taught at the Atlanta Conservatory, and thereafter until his early death was consulting editor for the National Academy of Music in New York. At the same time he was clearly already fascinated by motion pictures: in 1919 he published Silhouettes from the Screen, op. 55, whose five “Scriabinesque” movements were dedicated to William S. Hart, Charles Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Theda Bara, and Douglas Fairbanks (“Tempo di valse”)."

"Fairbanks, it was widely reported, instructed Wilson, “Make your score as artistic as you can and don’t feel that you have to jump like a banderlog from one mood to another at the expense of the development of your musical ideas.” In the New York Morning Telegraph, the composer and critic Theodore Stearns celebrated: “A big motion picture producer who is artist enough to say that to a composer has made musical history.” The Literary Digest observed that “Mr. Wilson has worked in the same spirit as the composer of a symphony employs in pursuing his ends. He is permitted to see his ideas develop with a regard to their own integrity and not become merely a running comment on the text of the picture.”"

"Uniquely, Wilson was present throughout the rehearsals and shooting of the film, constantly jotting down notes and ideas for the characters and moods. Subsequently he spent many hours in the projection room working out precise timings for every scene."

"Fairbanks’s revolution and Wilson’s finished score were however to meet fierce opposition as the premiere – at the Liberty Theatre, New York, on 18 March 1924 – drew near. Fairbanks had engaged the prominent Lithuanian-born impresario Morris Gest (Moishe Gershnowitz, 1875–1942), at a fee of $3,000 a week, to promote the film. One of Gest’s first contributions was to exhort Fairbanks to drop Mortimer Wilson’s score in favour of a composer “with a big name”. "

"Gillian Anderson (without citing the source) has given us Wilson’s personal account of what followed. With only two weeks to go and the parts already printed, Wilson was permitted to conduct his own score for the premiere and the first two weeks of the run. Gest’s only interference at this stage was to insist on the interpolation of a few (Wilson remembered ten) compilation extracts by other composers. Wilson managed imperceptibly to “lose” these in the first few days, though some were still with the score as we received it, and have been faithfully “unpinned” for our current restoration."

"A fortnight after the opening, however, the relentless Gest announced that a new compilation score – apparently the work of James C. Bradford (1885–1941) – was now ready and would be tried out. The unfortunate orchestra was consequently obliged to rehearse this for five hours each morning before going on to perform the matinee and evening performances with Wilson’s score. The new score (alleged to have cost $7,000) was finally tried for a single day; Wilson ironically comments that it “proved to be as good as any assembled score can be”. Bradford’s score was quietly forgotten, and Wilson’s was resumed for the rest of the run and went on to be performed in ten other cities."

"Wilson recalled that while Fairbanks had expressed his enthusiasm in a number of interviews, Gest instructed his New York press staff to “lay off the music”; and music critics were only invited after the abortive compilation try-out. “When the music critics did come, they made our score famous all over the United States in a few short weeks. The Literary Digest gave two pages to a review of the outstanding critiques... and a committee from the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, after a visit to The Thief of Bagdad, performed a suite from our score at the Stadium concerts.” The veteran music critic and great Wagnerian Henry T. Finck declared in the New York Evening Post, “Yesterday he conducted the score as only the creator of the work [could] – he happened to be a born leader.”"

"Wilson was understandably unmoved by Gest’s first-night telegram, “I know you have the goods”: “It only goes to show that the serious American composer and conductor will be discriminated against just so long as certain European managers who are un-Americanized are active in catering to the American public.”"

"Wilson’s work with Reger had evidently endowed him with an enormous palette of harmonic skills as well as particular ingenuity with orchestration and counterpoint – exemplif ied in the miniature fugue which introduces the three eunuchs in Part One of The Thief. Like Shostakovich, Wilson did not propose precise metronome speeds, but only added vague traditional indications like allegro and largo. The only precise indication in Wilson’s Thief score is the note “Film speed: 85’”, which evidently indicates feet per minute, and is equivalent to 22.6 frames per second – guidance more helpful to the projectionist than to the conductor. (Patrick Stanbury has chosen to run the film slightly slower than this indicated speed.)"

"The restoration of the score has inevitably been a challenge. In late 2015, in advance of receiving a working copy of this new restoration of the film, Patrick Stanbury introduced me to his collection of material for Wilson’s score. This was without a full score, but a “piano conductor” score with many instrumental cues. This contains very few errors, and must have been well supervised by the composer himself. However, the original orchestral parts, which were also present, were riddled with errors and problems. A basic diff iculty was that on each page the clef and key signature appear only once, on the top line – a fairly standard practice at that time, buthazardously confusing for a complex composition with endless concealed new key signature and clef changes."

"There were innumerable errors to be spotted and corrected, not only involving incorrect notes. For example, we discovered that some of the trumpet part (in B flat) had been copied in error into the horn part – in F. A compensation was that the instrumental parts had been printed on stiff paper in folding concertina form, precluding awkward page turns and cascading scores. The parts had evidently been cheerfully used without correction."

"Wilson organizes his score in 82 titled sections, with only half a dozen specific cues. During many weeks of measuring and constantly re-checking the 82 sections with a stop-watch and metronome, it became clear that only about 80% of the music could be fitted with the film. Of the other 20%, there were some passages where there was music but no film, and even more passages where there was film but no corresponding music. Many of the problems came in Part Two. In total there were 2 sections of music and no film; 7 sections where there was either no – or in a couple of cases not enough – music, adding up to over 15 minutes. Some of these lacunae could be filled by careful addition. A couple of sections for which the score provided no music could only be sorted by constructing them from other parts of the film."

"A total of 11 repeats had to be removed, and 3 new repeats added. In this work, the collaboration of our small team of expert computer copyists – Stephen Anthony Brown, Christopher Taylor, and Ray Lee – was indispensable."

"The explanation of these gaps and inconsistencies was given by Wilson himself, in an unsourced letter of 1927, again cited by Gillian Anderson: “I have seen the film grow daily, from one hundred feet to fifteen or twenty thousand feet, in four months, and subsequently viewed the cutting process back to ten thousand feet, as ready for the market. During this time I have written the music for every foot of the film, finally, cutting to match the footage. Now here is where the main difficulty lies. The producer never knows what the sequence of the footage will be until after the first public performances. It is a case, you see, of trying it on the dog, so to speak. Now the original score must keep pace with all the various changes in footage and sequence which are made from time to time. That would be simple enough, of course, if the tempos of various operators in the booth were somewhat similar, but you will readily understand that the interest of the average operator is not with the music in such a case, but with his own comfort.” As it survives, the score shows that the composer was not always able to keep abreast of the cuts and insertions after the premiere."

"Wilson chose to work with an orchestra of moderate size, presumably in the hope that this would make the project available to smaller outlying cinemas. It is written for 1 flute (= piccolo), 1 oboe, 2 clarinets, 1 bassoon, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, 2 trombones, harp, percussion, and a flexible string section. The work is sometimes referred to as “a screen symphony”. Despite being complex structurally and harmonically, it has a great musical unity. To respect this symphonic continuity, Wilson resists slavishly following every small action of the film. He delights in allusions to the styles of other composers. The film opens and closes with the priest (imam) revealing the moral of the tale, written in the stars: “Happiness must be earned.” The music here seems to allude to Puccini’s aria “Vissi d’arte” from Tosca, while in the second part, the music for the flying horse is not without hints of Wagner’s Valkyrie steeds."

"Do not be deceived by the music in Part One, with its exotic mood to suit pickpockets and prayers, as well as moments of fabulous verismo-erotic love music. In Part Two, as the Thief undertakes the trial of the six moons, the music develops a grotesque and terrifying character, not unrelated to some of the more extreme moments of Alban Berg. The six moon sections are skilfully shaped in the form of a stylized rondo; and as the Thief triumphs over each ordeal there is a frisky scherzo coda, in which we recognize a distinctly Regeresque allusion to the second movement of Tchaikovsky’s Manfred Symphony."

"With the ending, the “magic carpet” music takes on a character of beautiful simplicity, with gentle woodwind trills as the opening motto, “Happiness must be earned”, is again written in the stars as the Thief and his Princess fly serenely past the Moon on their magic carpet.
"

– Mark Fitz-Gerald

"Wilson went on to compose scores for Fairbanks’s Don Q, Son of Zorro (1925) and The Black Pirate (1926). A Wikipedia reference to a score for The Mark of Zorro (1920) cannot be substantiated by reference to the Mortimer Wilson archive, now at UCLA."

The Thief of Bagdad, Aerial view of the set construction, photo: Photoplay Productions.

The Thief of Bagdad, photo: Menzies Family Collection, Barry Lauesen.

The Thief of Bagdad, photo: Photoplay Productions.

The Thief of Bagdad. Anna May Wong, Douglas Fairbanks.

AA: We saw in Helsinki on 26 March 2004 Carl Davis at the Finlandia Hall conducting his magnificent score for The Thief of Bagdad, performed by the Radio Symphony Orchestra. We were delighted to hear the inspired interpretation and arrangement based on Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade. Played by a Finnish orchestra it was impossible to ignore the association that Sibelius must have heard it before composing his Violin Concerto. That gave us a sweet and thrilling bonus. The cultural context was perfect since Douglas Fairbanks was inspired by Ballets Russes, Nijinsky, Bakst – and Diaghilev's Scheherazade.

But I have been aware for a long time that according to Gillian Anderson Mortimer Wilson's original music for The Thief of Bagdad is the finest of all American silent film scores. I had been looking forward to hear it at last.

But it was late, and the main film started 50 minutes after the start of the closing gala with an overture of seven minutes. I watched some 40 minutes with a growing awareness of a wake-up call five hours later to an early morning flight before which I had my packing to do. I could not focus anymore and left my back row seat on the second balcony. (I usually sit in the very first row but I had failed to queue on time this year).

What I heard was very good, but I was aware from Mark Fitz-Gerald's program note that the most rewarding passages of the music would be forthcoming in Part Two. I am now looking forward even more determinedly to finally to hear the entire Mortimer Wilson score at last!

Scheherazade. Set and costume design for Sergei Diaghilev: Léon Bakst.

The Little Rascal


Little Rascal, starring Baby Peggy, photo: Gosfilmofond of Russia, Moscow.

THE LITTLE RASCAL (Чертёнок Пегги / Chertionok Peggy / [Peggy, the Little Devil]) (US 1922). D+SC: Arvid E. Gillstrom. C: Baby Peggy, Dick Smith, Fred Spencer, Blanche Payson, Max Mogi, Louise Montgomery. PC: Century Comedies. Dist: Universal. 35 mm, 1306 ft, 16' (22 fps); no titles; credits missing. Source: Gosfilmofond of Russia, Moscow.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto: Serata finale. Riscoperte.
    Teatro Verdi, Pordenone, no titles, grand piano: Donald Sosin, 8 Oct 2016.

Steve Massa (GCM catalog and website): "The rediscovery of a Baby Peggy comedy is always a cause for celebration, and we have Moscow’s Gosfilmofond archive to thank for turning up The Little Rascal. Peggy Jean Montgomery made her film debut in 1920 at the age of 19 months, appearing in Century Comedies produced by Abe and Julius Stern, brothers-in-law of Universal head Carl Laemmle, who distributed their shorts."

"Starting out as an unbilled sidekick to Brownie the Wonder Dog, Peggy also worked with Lee Moran and Teddy the Keystone dog before becoming known as Baby Peggy and starring in her own series. The Sterns put together a unit that turned out her shorts through 1924, which was made up of talented comedy creators such as Arvid E. Gillstrom, Fred Hibbard, and Alf Goulding, and surrounded her with regular supporting players like Blanche Payson, Dick Smith, Max Asher, James T. Kelly, William Irving, and giant Jack Earle. Tiny and cute, but in a character sort of way with a pug nose, big eyes, and bowl haircut, Montgomery became a miniature working girl in shorts such as The Kid Reporter (1923) or spoofed rival movie stars in Peg O’ the Movies and Carmen Jr. (both 1923)."

"Part of the fun of her series is seeing the pint-sized Montgomery enact routines that were part of the standard repertoire of seasoned professionals such as Roscoe Arbuckle or Lloyd Hamilton. For instance, in Peggy Behave! (1922) the tot has broken a window and in order to escape the wrath of her large stepmother Blanche Payson she makes a big show of “polishing” the imaginary glass, even making extra effort to get rid of an obstinate flyspeck. Peggy was also headlined in a series of loose fairy-tale adaptations like Hansel and Gretel (1923) and Jack and the Beanstalk (1924), and moved into features such as The Darling of New York (1923) and Captain January (1924). Her immense popularity led to all kinds of Baby Peggy merchandise – dolls, cut-outs, books, etc . – but by age 6 she was out of films due to a disagreement with her father and producer Sol Lesser. Her Hollywood fame secured her appearances in vaudeville for a time, but she was never able to get a foothold in pictures again. Today as author Diana Serra Cary she remains a feisty presence, preserving film history and presiding over screenings of her films.
" – Steve Massa

AA: The serata finale of Le Giornate del Cinema Muto started with celebrating the last living star of the silent age – Diana Serra Cary also known as Baby Peggy – by showing a film of hers which had been believed lost but has now been found at the Gosfilmofond at Belye Stolby.

The child stars of the silent age were amazing. Would Willy (William Sanders, with a success comedy series at Éclair in 1910–1916) have been the first of them? The Kid by Charles Chaplin with Jackie Coogan perhaps gave a boost for an unprecedented enthusiasm for child comedians, and Baby Peggy became one of the greatest of them. She made more than 150 films, most of them before she turned six.

The Little Rascal is a delightful comedy. The routines involve a seesaw nutcracker, shoe polish, shaving, dogs, and a talking tube which can also be used for transporting liquids... soot... flour...

Visual quality: excellent.

Mocny człowiek / [A Strong Man]


Agnes Kuck as Łucja who condemns her boyfriend Henryk when he publishes his dead friend's novel under his own name in Mocny człowiek (PL 1929), photo: Filmoteka Narodowa, Warszawa. Please do click on the images to enlarge them!
In the editing room of Mocny człowiek (PL 1929), photo: Filmoteka Narodowa, Warszawa.

MOCNY CZŁOWIEK [L’uomo forte / A Strong Man] (PL 1929). D: Henryk Szaro. SC: Jerzy Braun, Henryk Szaro, based on the novel by Stanisław Przybyszewski. Cin: Giovanni Vitrotti. AD: Hans Rouc. Ass D: Jan Belina. C: Grigorij [Grzegorz] Chmara (Henryk Bielecki, writer), Agnes Kuck (Łucja, Bielecki’s lover), Julian Krzewiński (Ligęza, landowner), Maria Majdrowicz (Nina, Ligęza’s wife), Artur Socha (Jerzy Górski, writer), Stanisława Wysocka (Bielecki’s grandmother), Bolesław Mierzejewski (theatre director), Janina Romanówna (Nastka Żegota, actress), Aleksander Zelwerowicz (publisher), Jan Kurnakowicz (secretary), Ludwik Fritsche (usurer), Jerzy Dworski (Karewicz), Lech Owron (actor), Władysław Walter (janitor). PC: Gloria. Rel: 10.2.1929. 35 mm, 2146 m, 81' (24 fps); titles: POL. Source: Filmoteka Narodowa, Warszawa (preserved 1998)
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto: Polonia.
    Teatro Verdi, Pordenone, e-subtitles in English and Italian, grand piano: Günter Buchwald, 8 Oct 2016.

Michał Pabiś-Orzeszyna: "Long before its premiere in the autumn of 1929, when Warsaw audiences first saw Henryk Szaro’s A Strong Man (Mocny człowiek), a film with the same title was released in St Petersburg. Vsevolod Meyerhold’s A Strong Man (Sil’nyi chelovek) came out in 1917, also in the autumn, and was the second film, after The Picture of Dorian Gray (Portet Doriana Greya, 1915), directed by the noted theatrical innovator."

"Like Szaro’s film, Meyerhold’s Strong Man was based on the novel by Polish modernist, bon vivant, and philosopher Stanisław Przybyszewski. The Polish writer had frequently been approached to adapt his story, but he held out until an offer came from the cosmopolitan community of Russian theatrical experimenters. Przybyszewski was well-acquainted with their work, specifically with Meyerhold, as ten years earlier the Russian had staged one of his dramas in St. Petersburg. While Meyerhold’s film unfortunately doesn’t survive, it still constitutes an important milestone for understanding the later Polish feature film."

"A Strong Man is the story of Henryk Bielecki, lacking in literary talent, who treacherously murders his friend in order to appropriate the authorship of an unpublished type-script. The only person who knows his secret is his partner Łucja. The book that he’s stolen, entitled A Strong Man, becomes a bestseller, thus bringing the false author fame and for tune. Bielecki acquires high social status, receives of fers to adap this book for the stage, and has an af fair with a married woman, Nina Ligęza. As his situation becomes increasingly complicated, Bielecki is forced to commit more and more crimes, which awakens his conscience, leading to a dramatic ending."

"The films by Meyerhold and Szaro are similar not only in title and plot, but also because of the transnational interplay of styles and production crews, so emblematic of Polish cinema as a whole during the interwar period. This allows us to interpret Szaro’s version as an effort to more accurately realize a cosmopolitan aesthetic within Polish cinema."

"Szaro himself used to be Meyerhold’s student, and was therefore very familiar not only with the creative world of the theatrical fringe in St. Petersburg, but with recent avant-garde artistic developments in both Germany and Russia. Moreover, some of the production team behind his Strong Man were also closely involved in this new school of thought. These include director of photography Giovanni Vitrotti (1874–1966), who began with Ambrosio and had already shothundreds of movies in Italy and Germany; art director Hans Rouc (1893-1963), who worked with Robert Wiene; and leading actor Gregori Chmara (1878–1970), veteran of Wiene’s I.N.R.I. and Raskolnikow, among other Weimar titles, and a follower of both Konstantin Stanislavski and Meyerhold (Chmara was also Asta Nielsen’s lover). Several of these figures made further films in Poland, attesting to a certain international characteristic of Polish cinema, which frequently imported not just personnel but stylistic developments."

"The engagement of such a cosmopolitan creative team brought a distinctive international flavour to the film, which Szaro clearly fostered. Through numerous expressionistic techniques such as double exposure and a pronounced use of cross-cutting, one can recognize the aesthetics of the city symphony films, exemplified in the sequence showing a theatre premiere. Foreign influences can be seen not only in the visuals, sets, and editing, but also the staging itself. Szaro was notably inspired by Meyerhold’s aesthetics, visible in the measured movement of actors across the sets. At the same time, these unusual means of expression don’t interfere with the film’s quite traditional genre classif ication, and in Polish cinemas it was screened as a melodrama."

"A number of critics thought the movie had the potential to go beyond the Polish film market . Stefania Heymanowa, one of the more powerful critics, wrote in Bluszcz, “it could easily reach any European big screen and should find admirers everywhere.” Such a judgment was due not only to the “international” visual layer of the movie, but also its “non-national” script. The adaptation of Przybyszewski’s book – completed by another Polish modernist, Andrzej Strug – included updating the story and removing parts that strongly related to Polish national culture. On this basis it was decided to distribute the film abroad; however, its reach has yet to be established."

"For many years the film was considered lost. A print was discovered in 1997 at the Cinémathèque Royale in Belgium, but it remains incomplete.
" – Michał Pabiś-Orzeszyna

AA: There is an affinity in the storyline with one of the stories in Woody Allen's multi-character study You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (2010) and with Georg af Klercker's Nattliga toner [Nocturnal Tones] (1918) which was one of Ingmar Bergman's favourite films.

Henryk steals his dying friend's novel manuscript, publishes it in his own name, and it becomes a bestseller. However, when it is being dramatized for the theatre people get increasingly aware of the fraud ("Why is his talent so unexpectedly developed?"), and the tension gets too much to bear. "Author! Author!" is heard at the premiere. Henryk steps forward, confesses the truth and commits suicide with a bullet in his brain.

A film with interesting lyrical passages, hallucinations, bold trick effects, and montages of superimpositions. The culminating "play within the play" with Expressionist emphases is the strongest sequence. At about 22 minutes reels were switched and screened in the wrong order with the result that also the subtitling was off for a while, hampering a full reception of this film somewhat, while the film also remains incomplete.

A valuable restoration / reconstruction from challenging sources often in high contrast and with a duped look. Worthwhile all the same.

Zza kulis dźwiękowców polskich / [Polish Sound Editors Behind the Scenes]


Zza kulis dźwiękowców polskich. Photo: Filmoteka Narodowa website.

ZZA KULIS DŹWIĘKOWCÓW POLSKICH [Ingegneri del suono polacchi dietro le quinte / Polish Sound Editors Behind the Scenes] (PL 1930). D: ?. PC: Towarzystwo Filmowe “Wytwórnia Doświadczalna”. 35 mm, 30 m, 1'05" (24 fps); titles: POL. Source: Filmoteka Narodowa, Warszawa.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto: Polonia.
    Teatro Verdi, Pordenone, e-subtitles in English and Italian, grand piano: Günter Buchwald, 8 Oct 2016.

Katarzyna Koła-Bielawska: "Newsreel item. The inside story of making a movie with the Polish stars Mieczysław Cybulski and Jerzy Marr, and new starlet Ola Obarska. The film is not identified, but it is probably the now-lost short Tajemniczy gentleman (The Mysterious Gentleman, 1930), directed by Janusz Star. The newsreel material was silent, but The Mysterious Gentleman was sound, using the Breusing sound system." – Katarzyna Koła-Bielawska

AA: An elegant glimpse of making an early Polish sound film on a soundstage. Stylish. Visual quality: good.

Karykatury Jotesa. Serja VIII: Świat filmowy / [The Caricatures of Jotes. Series VIII. Film Stars]


Karykatury Jotesa. PL 1930. [Not  Świat filmowy]. Source: Filmoteka Narodowa, Warszawa website.

KARYKATURY JOTESA. SERJA VIII: ŚWIAT FILMOWY [Le caricature di Jotes. VIII serie: Stelle del cinema / The Caricatures of Jotes. Series VIII. Film Stars] (PL 1930). D: ?. PC: Towarzystwo Filmowe “Wytwórnia Doświadczalna”. 35 mm, 54 m, 1'59" (24 fps); titles: POL. Source: Filmoteka Narodowa, Warszawa.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto: Polonia.
    Teatro Verdi, Pordenone, e-subtitles in English and Italian, grand piano: Günter Buchwald, 8 Oct 2016.

Katarzyna Koła-Bielawska: "Newsreel item. “Jotes” (also known as “J. S.”) was the pseudonym of the Polish caricaturist and journalist Jerzy Szwajcer (1892–1967). Szwajcer studied art in Brussels, where he made his debut in 1912 in the Belgian magazine Pourquoi Pas? He specialized in caricature portraits. The film shows the artist at work, and his caricatures of current Polish movie stars: Adam Brodzisz, Jadwiga Smosarska, Nora Ney. In the final sequence we watch him draw Zofia Batycka – actress, Miss Poland 1930, runner-up for Miss Europe 1930 and then Miss Paramount 1931. He presents the drawing to her and kisses her hand." – Katarzyna Koła-Bielawska

AA: Jotes (Jerzy Szwajcer) at work, drawing and inking lightning sketches of Polish film people. In the last segment Zofia Batycka poses for him and laughs amusedly at the caricature. Visual quality: ok.

Al Christie – Christie Men


No Sparking (US 1927), D: Robert Kerr, C: Ann Christy, Jimmie Adams, William Irving, photo: Robert Arkus.

Gli attori di Christie / Christie Men

    A cura di Steve Massa.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto: Al Christie.
    Cinemazero, Pordenone, e-subtitles in English and Italian by Sub-Ti, grand piano by masterclass students, 8 Oct 2016.

Eddie Lyons, Lee Moran. Photo: Collezzione Steve Massa.

Eddie Lyons & Lee Moran

BEHIND THE SCREEN (US 1915). D: Al Christie. SC: Al Christie. C: Eddie Lyons, Lee Moran, Victoria Forde, Stella Adams, Harry Rattenberry, George French, Anton Nagy. PC: Nestor Films. Rel: 23.7.1915. Dist: Universal. DCP, 12'26" (transferred at 18 fps); titles: ENG. Incomp. (orig. 2 rl.; only rl. 1). Source: Library of Congress Packard Center for Audio Visual Conservation, Culpeper, VA.

Steve Massa: "While the “Christie Girls” were a ready subject for studio publicity, there were also plenty of male comics on the Christie roster. This program is a cross-section of some of their most popular – as well as the most neglected."

"The first of Al Christie’s regular performers to become stars were Eddie Lyons and Lee Moran. Under Christie’s guidance they became the most popular team in silent comedy before Laurel & Hardy. They both came from stage backgrounds of vaudeville and musical comedy. Lyons hit movies first in 1911 at the Biograph Studio in New York and he soon joined Imp, which led to David Horsley’s Nestor Films. Lee Moran debuted at Nestor in 1912, and the pair first worked together as part of the ensemble with Victoria Forde, Billie Rhodes, Harry Rattenberry, Stella Adams, Neal Burns, Jane Waller, Betty Compson, Ray Gallagher, George French, and little Gus Alexander. After countless comedy one-reelers they came to be naturally working opposite each other all the time, and were made an official team by Christie in 1915. Behind the Screen comes from this year and is a unique look at how Nestor comedies were made, with the technicians as well as actors playing themselves, including Al Christie directing and putting everyone through their respective duties."

"When Christie left Nestor and Universal in 1916 for his own company, the Nestor players, including Eddie and Lee, all came with him, but not for long. Universal quickly made the boys a counter-offer to direct and star for their own unit. Returning to Universal, they continued under the Nestor brand and in 1918 their releases became Star Comedies . Their shorts were more situational, with them frequently playing buddies who were in hot water with their wives. Eddie Lyons looked like the boy next door, while Lee Moran was goofier – tall and gangly. Often Lyons would play the straight man with Moran supplying the character comedy, as in House Cleaning Horrors (1918), where newlyweds Eddie and Dorothy Devore hire inepthandyman Lee to repaper and paint their love nest, with, of course, disastrous results."

"In 1920 they began making popular five-reel features, such as Everything But the Truth and La La Lucille, but in early 1921 they dissolved their partnership. No reason has been quoted for the split, so it may have just been time for a change. Eddie Lyons moved over to the Arrow Film Corp. and produced a series of shorts for himself, and another for Bobby Dunn. These lasted to 1924, and from there Eddie took supporting roles in dramatic features like Déclassé (1925) and The Lodge in the Wilderness (1926), before his sudden death (which has variously been reported as due to appendicitis, a nervous breakdown, and a brain tumor) in August of 1926. Lee Moran remained at Universal after the split, and for a while headlined in their Century Comedies before going on to shorts for Educational, Standard, and Fox. He also made the leap to supporting roles in mid-1920s features, but his career petered out with the coming of sound. It ended in 1935, and he died at the Motion Picture Country Home in 1961.
" – Steve Massa

AA: Non-fiction, a film about film-making, a highly valuable account on professional film production a hundred years ago. The scenario department, the property room, a carpenter's workshop, a dressing room. "The largest stage in the world". How a scene is shot, and another. The swift switches of cardboard backdrops and carpets. Shooting in sunlight. Transportation: slow but sure. "Otis Turner's company making a feature play". A big scene. Handcranked cameras. Lunch time at the cantina. Visual quality: a good definition of light. *

Beans for Two. Photo: EYE on YouTube.

Harry Depp

BEANS FOR TWO (US 1918). D: ?. C: Harry Depp (Jimmy), Elinor Field (Betty), George B. French. PC: Strand Comedies / Caulfield Photoplay Co. Rel: 22.12.1919 (1 rl.). Dist: Mutual. 35 mm, 770 ft, 11' (18 fps); titles: ENG. Source: EYE Filmmuseum, Amsterdam.

Steve Massa: "The now-forgotten Harry Depp was a comic lead for Christie in the late 1910s, and was very busy supporting Fay Tincher in shorts like Rowdy Ann (1919) or being teamed with Elinor Field in Strand Comedies like this and Easy Payments (1919)."

"Depp came from the stage, where he had a varied background in stock companies, as support for star comedienne Else Janis, and spending eight years working for producers Klaw & Erlanger in shows such as The Pink Lady and The Little Café. He entered films in 1916 at Universal, appearing in some features and shorts for their Nestor and Victor brands. 1917 saw him shift to Triangle Comedies, where he headlined in numerous one-reelers alongside Reggie Morris, Claire Anderson, Lillian Biron, and Raymond Griffith. Short and slight, with very refined features, Depp made a convincing “other woman” in drag – a handy skill for two-reel farces. With Christie from 1918 through 1920, his resemblance to Christie star Bobby Vernon led him to move on to Fox Sunshine Comedies for a number of comedy shorts, as well as supporting roles in features on the order of Quincy Adams Sawyer (1922) and Inez from Hollywood (1924). After leaving films in 1926, he returned in the early 1930s, regularly playing uncredited bit parts until 1947.
" – Steve Massa

AA: Husband and wife unknown to each other start to finance the purchase of a gramophone via stamps from buying beans. They purchase enormous amount of beans until they have an incredible stock of them – and two gramophones. The beans go to the Belgian Relief Fund. Visual quality: high contrast, a duped look.

Monkey Shines (US 1920), D: Frederic Sullivan, photo: Library of Congress Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation, Culpeper, VA.

Eddie Barry & Neal Burns

MONKEY SHINES (US 1920). D: Frederic Sullivan. SC: Scott Darling. C: Eddie Barry, Earle Rodney, Helen Darling. PC: Christie Film Co. Copy: 35 mm, 965 ft, 13' (20 fps); titles: ENG. Source: Library of Congress Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation, Culpeper, VA (printed 1994).

Steve Massa: "Almost as neglected as Harry Depp is Eddie Barry, who spent 14 years on and off working for Christie, not only as a star comic but also as a versatile character man. Born George Joseph Burns in 1887, he was the older brother of comedian Neal Burns (more on him in a moment), and had extensive theatrical experience which included playing comedy with the Madame Sherry touring company, stock for the Keith and Proctor theatres, and vaudeville as part of Lasky’s Hoboes. Christie brought him to films in 1916, and until 1930 he took on all kinds of roles with Betty Compson, his brother Neal , Fay Tincher, Billie Rhodes, Jack Duffy, Billy Dooley, and Frances Lee. Tall and gangly, he wasn’t a leading man and was best used as character support, although in the early 1920 s Christie headlined him in his own starring vehicles, such as Monkey Shines, Home, James, and Mr. Fatima (all 1920)."

"Although the Christie lot was his homebase, he also worked in L-K-O and Century Comedies, was teamed with Vera Reynolds in a series of two-reelers for Arrow, and in the mid-1920s was a sidekick in action and Western features on the order of Red Blood, Sagebrush Lady (both 1925), and That Girl from Oklahoma (1926). After a few sound appearances he left movies in 1930, and died in 1966."

"As mentioned above, Barry was the brother of Neal Burns (see No Parking and A Pair of Sexes, in other Christie programs at this year’s Giornate), who along with Bobby Vernon was one of the Christie’s biggest stars of the 1920 s. Born in 1892 , he made his stage debut in 1907 and spent the next few years specializing in light comedy roles, which he continued on film. "

"He began working with the Nestor Company with Nellie the Pride of the Firehouse (1915), and stayed with them until Christie set up his own shop in 1916. Like his brother he began freelancing in 1918, with appearances at L-KO, Nestor (appearing in Stan Laurel’s first films), Sennett, and Century, but by 1921 he was exclusively with Christie. Handsome and charming, Neal always got the girl by the end of a picture, but in 1924 he and Christie took a more character approach to his screen persona by adding a pair of horn-rimmed glasses. This gave Neal a bookish, persnickety personality that sethim apart from the crowd of good-looking but bland leading men. Through 1929 Neal turned out top-notch two-reelers, and even found time to direct his Christie contemporaries Jack Duffy and Frances Lee. The arrival of sound was not kind to Burns, as he lost his star status, and the stock market crash wiped out the fortune he had amassed in the 1920s. Relegated to uncredited extra work, he kept busy in films until 1946 , and passed away in Los Angeles in 1969.
" – Steve Massa

AA: This film has the same concept as Howard Hawks's Monkey Business (1952), written by Ben Hecht, Charles Lederer, and I. A. L. Diamond, based on a story by Harry Segall. Monkey glands turn a tired old man, Uncle Ebenezer, into a virile party-goer who heads into the company of dancing girls at a cabaret and learns all the new steps. But his wife, Aunt Sally, has an operation, as well, and soon they are dancing together on their second honeymoon. *

Bobby Vernon publicity shot. Collezione Steve Massa.

Bobby Vernon

SECOND CHILDHOOD (US 1923). D: Harold Beaudine. SC: Frank Roland Conklin. C: Bobby Vernon, Babe London, Earle Rodney, Charlotte Stevens, Lincoln Plumer. PC: Christie Film Co. Dist: Educational Pictures (orig. 2 rl.). DCP, 20' (transferred at 24 fps); titles: ENG. Source: Lobster Films, Paris.

Steve Massa: "Al Christie’s biggest star, male or female, was Bobby Vernon, who with his diminutive size and eager-to-please personality was the “little boy” of slapstick comedy. Although practically all of his films centered around romance and the pursuit of the leading lady, he sometimes seemed too young to know why he was pursuing her or what he should finally do if he caught her."

"Born Sylvion de Jardin, his career began on stage with Kolb & Dill (the West Coast version of Weber & Fields). While still a teenager he entered films at Universal, and became part of the ensemble in their Joker Comedies. After a couple of years he switched to Mack Sennett, where he made a miniature comedy team with the petite Gloria Swanson in shorts such as The Danger Girl (1916), Teddy at the Throttle, and The Sultan’s Wife both 1917). "

"In 1918 he joined the Christie organization, and began an 11-year association with the producer. The 1920s were the peak of his career, as he headlined in tailor-made comedies on the order of A Barnyard Cavalier (1922), Ride ’Em Cowboy (1924), and Why Gorillas Leave Home (1929). Although his voice was fine in talkie appearances like Sheer Luck (1931), Vernon didn’t go over in sound. Getting too old to play his regular youthful character – his hairline was visibly receding and he was getting stocky – he opted to move behind the camera, and as Robert Vernon worked for Educational and Paramount as a writer and comedy supervisor, before his early death in 1939.
" – Steve Massa

AA: Waiting for "the usual birthday check" from the rich uncle Oscar the couple, haunted by debt collectors, is surprised to learn that the uncle is going to bring it in person to the non-existent son. Bobby Vernon now needs to dress as "little Oscar". But Oscar also brings with him his daughter Violet (Babe London) who is superior in boxing. A comedy of anxiety and embarrassment. Visual quality: low contrast, duped.

Grandpa's Girl (US 1924), D: Gilbert Pratt, C: Jack Duffy, Kathleen Clifford. Photo: Cineteca Nazionale, Roma.

Jack Duffy

GRANDPA’S GIRL (US 1924). D: Gilbert Pratt. Titles (orig.): Norman Z. McLeod (title-card artwork). C: Kathleen Clifford, Jack Duffy, Eddie Barry, Margaret Cullington, Jimmie Harrison, Lila Leslie, Babe London, Eddie Baker, Budd Fine, George B. French. PC: Christie Film Co. Rel: 15.6.1924 (2 rl.). Dist: Educational Pictures. DCP (from 35 mm, orig. 376 m), 23'40" (transferred at 20 fps), b&w + col. (tinted); Titles: ITA (in rima). Missing main title. Source: Fondazione CSC - Cineteca Nazionale, Roma (Digitized and restored in 4K, 2016; with thanks to Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa).

Steve Massa: "Known as the “foxy grandpa” of silent comedy, Jack Duffy was actually some 30 years younger than his popular screen persona. Born in 1882, he was the younger brother of Irish character actress Kate Price, and spent years in stock companies, musical comedy, and vaudeville. His first documented movie work is for Universal in 1916, and he can be spotted in bit parts in shorts such as Chaplin’s A Dog’s Life (1918), and Misfits and Matrimony (also 1918) with Earl Montgomery and Joe Rock. Around 1920, with the use of make-up and the discarding of his dentures, he hit upon his senio-citizen character and found his niche. Overnight he was everywhere, working as a regular player at Fox and Speed Comedies, plus supporting Larry Semon, Louise Fazenda, and Monty Banks in titles like The Hick, A Rural Cinderella (both 1921), The Fast Male, The Counter Jumper (both 1922), and Jungle Pals (1923)."

"In 1924 he became part of the stock company in Christie Comedies and two years later became one of their stars. Through comedy misadventures such as Hold Still (1926), Chicken Feathers, Hot Papa, and Queer Ducks (all 1927), Duffy gummed his way with relish. The peak of his career was the late 1920s, when his shorts were built around the character of “Sandy McDuff,” a cranky Scottish skinflint, plus he had juicy supporting roles in features like Ella Cinders (1926) and Harold Teen (1928). He began the sound era in shorts, and had a hilarious bit in the Marilyn Miller feature Sally (1929), buthis appearances soon dwindled, and he embarked on a second career as a studio make-up man. Sadly, Duffy never reached the age of his movie alter ego, as he passed away at 57 in 1939.
" – Steve Massa

AA: I read my handwritten notes seven weeks afterwards and find remarks such as: - college - moving a huge load of furniture - bees in ancient Egypt - an alarm bell - petrified - bees attack - an entrance hall full of grandsons - the girl in drag - a boxing hall - the girl beats an overpowering adversary. I confess I have forgotten this film. A digital transfer in 4K from a 16 mm, high contrast, and duped source.

No Sparking (US 1927), D: Robert Kerr, C: Jimmie Adams, Ann Christy, photo: Robert Arkus.

NO SPARKING (US 1927). D: Robert Kerr. SC: Frank Roland Conklin. C: Jimmie Adams, Ann Christy, William Irving, Billy Engle, Cliff Lancaster, Stella Adams. PC: Christie Film Co. Rel: 22.05.1927 (2 rl.). Dist: Educational Pictures. Incomp., DCP, 12'26" (transferred at 24 fps); no titles. Source: Lobster Films, Paris.

Steve Massa: "In addition to being one of Al Christie’s stars, Jimmie Adams was a popular screen clown for more than a decade. Born in 1888 in Paterson, New Jersey, he spent time on the stage and entered films in 1917. His early work was in Fox Sunshine Comedies, where he was part of the ensemble with Lloyd Hamilton, Billie Ritchie, and Hugh Fay, and then he moved to Century, where he played second fiddle to animal actors such as Joe Martin the orangutan and the Century Lions. During this time he even wrote World War I songs with Charles Parrott (Charley Chase). Jimmie’s big break came in 1920, when producer Jack White headlined him in a series of wild and crazy shorts like A Fresh Start, Nonsense, and Bang! (1921), in which he was teamed with Lige Conley or Sid Smith."

"From there he moved over to Hallroom Boys Comedies and briefly back to Jack White before signing with Christie in 1923. The next few years saw his best films, and although not a particularly inventive comic Jimmie did everything with a breezy nonchalance, and shorts such as Safe and Sane (1924), Be Careful (1925), Whoa, Emma (1926), and Oh, Mummy (1927) were fast and funny. In addition to his busy schedule for Christie, he found time to appear as comic relief in the features Triumph (1924) and Her Man O’War (1926). His starring career came to an abrupt end in 1928, due to illness that may have been caused by drinking bad bootleg booze. A year or so later he returned to the screen in small bits, mostly in his old pal Charley Chase’s talkies, like Arabian Tights and Luncheon at Twelve (both 1933), where he was part of the singing group The Ranch Boys. He died in 1933 at age 45."

"More Christie Men: In addition to the above players, other regular Christie men included the leads Jimmie Harrison, Earle Rodney, and Jay Belasco, ubiquitous supporting characters George B . French and Harry Rattenberry, and headliner Billy Dooley.
" – Steve Massa

AA: Our protagonist learns to defend himself and he beats the villain dressed as a donkey. The climax takes place in a burning house. The protagonist is taken for a superhero. I write these remarks seven weeks afterwards and do not remember this film well anymore.