Thursday, July 14, 2016

Remembering The French Pioneers Of Early Cinema On Bastille Day!

Earlier today, started writing this post to raise our champagne flutes both to France and the early innovators of cinema in celebration of Bastille Day. This day in 2016 has turned out to be a crushingly sad one for France and the world - yet again - giving us all the more reason to raise that toast to the innovators who invented cinema and our friends and film historian counterparts there.

When it comes to filmmaking, the Lumière brothers, Auguste and Louis, sons of prominent portrait painter Antoine Lumière, were responsible for many early innovations in the field of photography and in the development of the movie cameras.

From the section on the Lumière brothers from the comprehensive and splendid Early website:

By early 1895, the brothers had invented their own device combining camera with printer and projector and called it the Cinématographe. Patenting it on February 13th 1895, the Cinématographe was much smaller than Edison’s Kinetograph, was lightweight (around five kilograms), and was hand cranked. The Lumières used a film speed of 16 frames per second, much slower compared with Edison’s 48 fps - this meant that less film was used an also the clatter and grinding associated with Edison’s device was reduced.

In 1895, the Lumières would be doing public screenings using the Cinématographe to project their films featuring scenes from everyday life.

These scenes being an immediate hit with audiences, they augmented them with film of dancers and other performers. Many of these Lumière Brothers productions - and films made not long afterwards by Georges Méliès - can be seen on the DVD The Movies Begin.

The Lumières would very soon be followed by producer, director and Solax Studios founder Alice Guy Blaché. When it comes to filmmaking outside of the "trick film" exemplified at the turn of the 20th century by Melies and his editor Ferdinand Zecca and (slightly later) Segundo de Chomón, it was Solax Studios founder Alice Guy Blaché (1873-1968) who got there first.

Blaché, the cinema's first mogul, is arguably the best known of the female producer-directors who blazed trails in the beginning. She beat everyone else, including Edwin S. Porter, D.W. Griffith and Allan Dwan, to the punch, experimented with color technology, made sound films and also was a mentor to Lois Weber.

It would be an understatement to suggest that the pioneering producer-director wasted no time mastering the new technology.

Alice Guy Blaché was hands-on with the new and innovative motion picture camera technology in Paris and would be making short films for Gaumont as early as 1896-1897.

By the time the first great screen comedian, Max Linder, had become a frequent movie headliner in 1906-1907, Alice Guy Blaché had made hundreds of films. Comedy buffs will note that Alice Guy Blaché is tremendously important to the history of screen humor as both the first comedy filmmaker and the first to film the famous "mirror gag". It's in her 1912 Solax film His Double, which can be seen here, on historian Anthony Balducci's website.

The inventive Ms. Blaché also originated this classic comedy bit for her 1906 film The Drunken Mattress.

Although long overdue recognition, respect and acclaim may not have come in her long lifetime, her contributions to filmmaking were recognized in 1953 when she was awarded the Legion of Honor by the French government.

A comprehensive Alice Guy Blaché, Film Pioneer exhibition did hold forth (and wowed audiences) at the Whitney Museum Of American Art in November 2009 - January 2010.

Saw the following film, Falling Leaves, at the 2009 San Francisco Silent Film Festival and found it touching, beautifully filmed and very advanced for 1912.

There will be more clips in Be Natural, a documentary on the life and films of Alice Guy Blaché, currently in production.

UPDATE 2 Seeing Alice's Films A Fool and His Money (1912) from Be Natural on Vimeo.

UPDATE 43 The Intern & The Ocean Waif from Be Natural on Vimeo.

Thanks to Dr. Jane Gaines, Professor Of Film at Columbia University and students from both Columbia University Libraries/Information Services' School Of The Arts and Barnard College have created the The Women Film Pioneers Project website to shine the klieg lights on the largely untold story of Alice and other pioneering women filmmakers.

While he may have not been the first comic to make a movie, the dapper Parisian boulevardier was the first movie comedian to headline a continuing series: the great Max Linder (1882-1925), the man in the silk hat.

Author Trav S.D. elaborated on the influence of Linder's comedy on Keystone and beyond in his piece For Bastille Day: How the French Invented Film Comedy, excerpted from his book Chain Of Fools: Silent Comedy And Its Legacies, From Nickelodeons To YouTube.

Max would be an enormous influence on Mack Sennett (see the "Mack as Max" Biograph short subject The Curtain Pole) as well as Charlie Chaplin.

Here are some clips from Max' pre-1910 films, transferred from the 9.5mm format by Unknown Video.

The Kino Lorber compilation of Max Linder films for the Slapstick Symposium series, which includes his later films, is something we at Way Too Damn Mazy To Write A Blog recommend highly - on Bastille Day or any day.

We close with a charming cartoon made about dogs, fleas and Paris for MGM by Tex Avery, followed by two renditions of La Marseillaise (the first from Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog favorite Casablanca).

Tex Avery - The flea circus - Video Dailymotion... by cartoonworld4all

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