The Sunday Intertitle: Incessant Activity


“Incessant activity” is about right — I have been busy — you’ll notice that Shadowplay has featured little that could truly be termed a full “piece” or “review– I have time to watch, or write, but not both.

THE FILM PRIMA DONNA is looking a bit crinkly around the edges, but if you were 101 (going on 102) years old, so would you. This Asta Nielsen vehicle, helmed by the suavely-named Urban Gad (he shortened it from Urban Gadabout) may be incomplete, but it gains considerable interest for its behind-the-scenes view of film-making in 1913. The opening shot (Karl Freund was one of the cinematographers), interrupted though it is by plasmatic pulsings of nitrate decomposition which threaten to swallow the image entirely in a bubbling maelstrom of decay, is a fantastically sophisticated conception, panning across the shiny studio floor, the arrayed camera and lighting kit, onto a set, which gradually empties of crew and extraneous apparatus so that the illusion of a palatial mansion is created.



Nielsen, when she appears, is a radiant and sexy presence, underplaying the diva aspect of the character and competing for screen space with a raging cataract of melting celluloid which roars upwards through the frame, intent on devouring the screen star’s breakfast and sucking the surrounding scenery into its silvery slipstream.


Now that I’ve sampled a Nielsen fragment, I feel the urge to see a whole one — maybe after this current little movie is wrapped…



3 Responses to “The Sunday Intertitle: Incessant Activity”

  1. “he shortened it from Urban Gadabout” – haha!
    Asta is wonderful as always, and I love films about the movie industry – this is a good one.

  2. What’s left of it! It’s a strange irony that though I pray for film preservation, I love fragments and decaying film stock.

  3. Oh, me too. It’s a very beautiful form of damage.

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