The Sunday Intertitle: Max Actor

There are NO intertitles in LES DEBUTS DE MAX AU CINEMA, I’m afraid to say. But I feel there should be. Max at one point turns and gives a look to us, his chums the audience, and says something, probably in French, which receives no intertitular enlargement. I’m pretty sure Max meant for us to know what he was saying.

Tempting to believe the titles have been lost, but the rest of the film is in absolutely stunning condition, so that would be surprising.

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Maybe the decision was made based on the fact that the story told was (perhaps) pretty well-known. It apparently derives from the true tale of Max’s screen debut, in which he became so enraged at the slapstick treatment he was receiving that he blew his top and stormed off. In this short, helmed by Louis J. Gasnier who would go on, tragically, to “direct” REEFER MADNESS, Max shows himself a good sport by recreating the incident.

The restoration and transfer are so fine that one barely notices the gags, which are reasonably nice but nothing special. The high-quality Pathé Bros sets — or maybe most of them are the real production company offices? — are so richly detailed it’s like time-travelling back 106 years to observe Linder (and the actual Pathé brothers, above) at work.

Also a weird directorial choice when Max plays his first real scene, as a hen-pecked husband: it’s a piece of behind-the-scenes footage, supposedly, but we never see the crew. Maybe they couldn’t afford a second camera. But when Max is chucked out the window, a small camera team abruptly appears to film his descent. Comparisons are possible to Chaplin’s tramp debut in KID AUTO RACES AT VENICE, which also takes as subject the comedian’s relationship to the camera, but remember: this isn’t Max’s debut, but a fictional recreation of same. At this point, Max was already a veteran.

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