Archive for Pathe Freres

The Sunday Intertitle: Max Actor

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on October 23, 2016 by dcairns

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.

The Sunday Intertitle: Men at Work

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on November 25, 2012 by dcairns

A Shadowplay first — Behind the Scenes of an Intertitle.

The chaps at Pathe Freres are seen hard at work here, churning out the intertitles we know and love at Shadowplay. The image is from Pathe: First Empire of the Cinema, known as The Big Book because it’s a primary source at the Screenworks office where we’re assembling NATAN: The Documentary.

I decided I had to read the intertitle, becoming perhaps the first to do so in a hundred years. This involved blowing it up to David Hemmings proportions — my humble cottage is now a magnificent piece of origami, a single print-out folded so as to cover every wall of every room. Wandering through the resulting gallery I perceive the phrase ADMIRACAO DE SEU VENINO, which is Portuguese for ADMIRATION OF HIS VENINO, which doesn’t help at all. But it’s interesting to see that Pathe was producing intertitles in every European language (because if they’re doing Portuguese, they must be doing everything else, right?) — truly, before the First World War, they were an empire.

Arse Gratia Artis

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Painting with tags , , , , , on February 28, 2012 by dcairns

An enticing exhibition, but alas it had ended before we hit the Cinematheque.

The fascination of the scatalogical… actually, the word is a misnomer, because there’s no logic in it…

Shameful to admit, but two of the greatest pleasures of the Cinematheque Francaise were a couple of gratuitous arse gags.

One came in the form of an anamorphic illusion. A painting of distorted shapes on a disc is surmounted by a shiny metal column. Reflected in the concave surface of the column, the distorted painting magically undistorts itself to reveal —

No, not a pretty snowflake as in the above example, but a naked man bending over and examining his arse in a mirror — what he sees is not the reassuring sight of his parted buttocks and hairy anus, but a memento mori, a grinning deathshead! Let that be a warning to you.

I can picture Henri Langlois chuckling over this after picking it up in an antique shop. Then taking it home and trying the mirror trick himself.

The other bottom-related event was a silent short called ERREUR DU PORT, starring a fellow named Dranem. Here’s Dranem in an early sound experiment —

But he’s not quite so charming in ERREUR DE PORT. The film begins with him in a train station (obvious backdrop), asking a guard for directions. Dranem is clad in bumpkin attire including huge, spongy clogs, which seem to give him some difficulty.

The guard gestures towards a sign marked WATER CLOSET. Dranem nods and heads over, but enters the nearby telephone kiosk instead.

Cut to inside the booth. Dranem, ignorant hick that he is, doesn’t realize this isn’t a toilet, and approaches the telephone counter, lowering his trousers and squatting on it. Cue grotesque gurning facial expressions as he exerts himself fully in the act of evacuation.

Cut to the station again. A smartly dressed gent is waiting for his turn in the phone booth. He taps his foot — how impatient he is! Dranem emerges, miming immense satisfaction and relief at the is successful conclusion of his business. He staggers off, nearly going over on his ankle in a wince-inducing stumble as his sponge clogs give way beneath him. The impatient man hurries into the phone booth…

To emerge, choking, eyes rolling in horror, a handkerchief clasped to his face. He exits, wafting a hand under his nose in urgent pantomime of disgust. THE END.

The director of this affair was Ferdinand Zecca, top helmer at Pathe Freres — here’s a more pleasant creation from the Great Man to serve as a kind of palate cleanser —