Gaumont Treasures 1897-1913

PrintempsPoster

From Kino comes an abridged and subtitled edition of Gaumont’s superb “Le Premier Cinema” box set from 2008, featuring a generous selection of work by Alice Guy, Louis Feuillade and Leonce Perret. Represented here by the early feature “L’Enfant de Paris” (1913), Perret is likely to be the least known of these pioneer filmmakers to non-French audiences, though he had the longest career of the bunch, easily making the transition from the early tableau style to post-Griffith montage. Unfortunately, the Kino set eliminates the generous selection of short comedies in which Perret starred as well as directed provided by the original Gaumont box, leaving only one aspect of his large talent on display. But admirers of Feuillade who only know him through his serials will have a chance to appreciate his talent as a social realist, though a selection of films from his “Life As It Is” series, and as a pictorialist, in the lyrical, impressionistic “Le Printemps” and the historical epic “L’Agonie de Byzance.” A review here in the New York Times.

42 comments to Gaumont Treasures 1897-1913

  • This is a very good review!
    Thank you for alerting the nation about these important filmmakers.

    Can’t wait to see these discs. They promise a huge expansion of my knowledge of silent film.

  • Gregg Rickman

    Dave, another admirable contribution to the cause of popular awareness of film history. I’ve seen an excellent documentary, THE LOST GARDEN: THE LIFE AND CINEMA OF ALICE GUY-BLACHE (Marquise Lepage, 1995), an hour long NFB production which unfortunately doesn’t seem to be available anywhere in any format. It was largely about her impressive career in the U.S. in the teens.

  • When I read reviews such as this one (excellent, by the way) I fret about the survival of companies such as Kino that do great work but seem to be servicing a diminishing market … but I writing off rough impressions and could have (I hope I have) a completely wrong idea about the status of speciality DVD companies in the marketplace.

  • Alex Hicks

    To any other

  • Alex Hicks

    To any DaveKehr.com convert to the good works of William A. Seiter, tonight on TCM at 11:45 this Seiter:
    Evening TV tangent:
    “If You Could Only Cook” (1935).
    An unhappy executive gets a job as a butler on a lark, only to fall for the family cook.
    Cast: Herbert Marshall, Jean Arthur, Leo Carillo, Lionel Stander.

    Sounds llke a possible inspiration for “My Man Godfrey” (1936).

  • david hare

    While it seems regrettable that Kino reduced the original Gaumont six disc boxset down to three discs, it is unsurprising, given the hard commercial realities of the US market today. I bought the Gaumont box last year in Paris and it’s become a treasured possession. I was fearful one of the first things to go in the Kino reduction might be the Feulliade shorts of his firstchild actor “character” Bebe, and his wilier successor Bout de Zan, so I was delighted to see they’ve kept poosibly my favorite short on the set, Bout de Zan steals an Elephant. It’s almost impossible to describe exactly why and how this early pre-serial short is so enchanting, but it seems to provide the key to all of Feuilade’s cinema in terms of sheer fantasy, self awareness and improvsation. In a very early demonstration of the Break a Leg tradition of actorly rivalry the young kid who played Bout de Zan managed to topple the earlier Bebe from his short lived perch with a most un-childlike professional determination to get on top.

    The name Bout de Zan (Please correct this if necessary J-P) predates the Liquorice Kid who emerges in the serials, and who is given a wonderful reincarnation in Franju’s very beautiful Judex.

  • Jaime

    MoMA ran a sparsely attended, too-brief Feuillade series a while back, but it was a once-in-a-lifetime event with most of the major serials and a small, tight selection of narrative shorts. THE RACE FOR MILLIONS was my favorite. Maybe this set will give me a new candidate.

  • david hare

    My bad – The Gaumont Box is seven discs not six. And I’ve just noticed a sceond volume from amazon.fr on October 13 featuring Emile Cohl, Jean Durand and “l’Ecole des Buttes Chaumont”!!!!

  • Howard Wirajuda

    This looks like a very exciting release; many thanks for the review.

    Hopefully there will be more and more early-cinema releases in the coming years, perhaps someday even on Blu-ray.

  • For me, even though I’ve only seen a smattering of his work so far, Perret is one of the undiscovered giants of French cinema during the teens–as important as Bauer is to prerevolution Russian cinema….Anyone here seen his Feuilladesque serial, “The Black X” (1916)? I’m dying to hear a report. The small sampling of it in the Kino set’s documentary is mouth-watering.

  • david hare

    Jonathon Perret is given a lavish three discs on the Gaumont. Voici the contents of those discs:

    L’automne du coeur
    Le mystère des roches de Kador
    L’express matrimonial
    Sur les rails
    Oscar au bain
    Dents de fer
    Le chrysanthème rouge
    Léonce cinématographiste
    Molière
    Oscar et Kiki la midinette
    Le roman d’un mousse
    L’enfant de Paris
    Léonce aime les morilles

  • Tellos

    Any news or rumours about possible releases of TIH MINH and BARRABAS?

  • It’s gratifying to see there’s been such an explosion in scholarship about Alice Guy-Blache. When I wrote about her for Premiere many years back (“You wrote about her for PREMIERE?” some might ask in amazement…yeah, it was a “Women In Hollywood” issue) she existed largely in footnotes. Always found it inspiring that she was one of the film pioneers of Fort Lee, the town of my birth.

  • Dave K

    Jonathan,I agree with you about Perret but he’s hardly undiscovered! “L’Enfant de Paris” was restored in the 70s and had its American (re) premiere at the 1977 New York Film Festival, and he’s a prominent figure in most histories of early cinema. I’d strongly recommend Richard Abel’s “The Cine Goes to Town” for a full account of Perret’s early career and accomplishments; less well documented is his career shuttling between France and the US in the 1920s (which included the first Franco-American co-production, the Gloria Swanson vehicle “Madame Sans-Gene,” now lost).

    Could you expand on your comparison to Bauer? I’m not sure I see what you mean.

    Tellos, I believe that Gaumont has restored both “Tih Minh” and “Barrabas” but so far I’ve heard of no plans for a video release. The current administration of Gaumont has proven to be a highly responsible curator of the company’s past; one can only dream of an American major — companies probably a hundred times bigger than Gaumont — of spending one tenth the amount on maintaining their library and returning those films to circulation.

  • Gregg, “The Lost Garden” is included as a supplement in the Gaumont box. It’s still available here at amazon.fr, and even with a stiff list price of 60 euros it represents quite a value for money. A second volume has been announced but there are no details on the Gaumont website.

  • The amazon.fr listing includes VAT (value-added tax), which Americans don’t pay. the total cost of ordering the set is 50 Euros and 10 Euros shipping, so it’s like getting free shipping. That is $90 American. Yes, a bargain. As for IF YOU COULD ONLY COOK, that was a recent DVD release (see Mr. Kehr’s review of the Sony “Icons of Screwball Comedy” sets). It’s wonderful, if no MY MAN GODFREY.

  • Jonathan Rosenbaum

    Dave, the connection with Bauer is basically deep focus and long takes–elaborate mise en scene, in other words.

  • jean-pierre coursodon

    david hare: On the Gaumont site both boxes (#1 and forthcoming #2) are listed as six DVDs, not seven.

    Bout de Zan: “Zan” was a brand of liquorice and “Bout de zan” became a familiar popular nickname for kids. It was still in use in the forties and fifties although most people probably didn’t know about its origin.

  • [No text here; just clicking the “Notify me” box; move along, nothing to read here.]

  • david hare

    J-P last year’s Gaumont box is definitely seven. Each of the three dirctors is given a solid colored cardboard sleeve which contains their discs – Perret has three to the others’ two, but the third disc is of course the long feature Dave describes above.

    I have to remark on the box design – although god knows I’ve never been a cover art queen – it is designed like a chocolate box (literally) and has that unusual early 20th Century chalky pastel pink color which seems to be unique to French chocolate shops. They were reapinting one in exactly the same color around the corner from our apartment at Bastille last October!! I would normally scoff at such cuteness but it’s in fact extremely nice and the 100 page book is stuffed with glossy photos and almost worth the price of admission on its own. It’sw a no brainer of a box if you have even the most moderate French.

  • Barry Putterman

    Ah, but I DON’T have even the most moderate French. So it is a some brainer for me. Still, I am leaning towards buying this since we all do have a certain amount of experience watching early cinema without any intertitles. Any advice for we heathen who only speak a bit of broken English?

  • Some common subjects in the films of Louis Feuillade:

    Kidnapping, often in boxes (hero: Les Vampires, Licorice Kid: Judex)
    High technology, used by villains (Les Vampires) or hero (Judex)
    Conspiracies
    Strange eruptions of bizarre events into daily life
    Loving parents and children

    Identity:
    People and animals intergrading in behavior or appearance (humans wearing spines to ward off snakes: Fantômas, bat costume: Les Vampires, smart dogs: Judex)
    Criminals impersonating cops (Episode 5: Les Vampires)
    People with multiple identities
    Shots recreating famous paintings of historical events, but with Feuillade’s characters (Jacques-Louis David’s The Oath of the Horatii, Emanuel Leutze’ Washington Crossing the Delaware: Judex)

    Staging:
    People sticking out their arms to make X shapes (Fantômas, Irma Vep dance: Les Vampires)
    Shadows (Episode One: Judex) and silhouettes (Fantômas)
    Mirrors (dressing room mirror within mirror: Les Vampires, mirror surveillance technology: Judex)
    Moving camera shots down roads (vehicle: Les Vampires, dogs and car: Judex)
    Still women and moving trains (Irma Vep under train: Les Vampires, mother saying goodbye: Judex)

    Architecture:
    Double doors, one open, one shut
    Rows of doors, along a building, corridor or train
    Strange rapid stunts involving people exiting from high windows or balconies
    Polygonal rooms, with cut-off corners
    Doors with spiral metal work
    Men with desks
    People climbing up or down sides of buildings
    Large bodies of water
    Deserted architecture, often at twilight

    Writing:
    Letters (animated anagrams: Les Vampires, letters of fire: Judex)

    Costumes:
    People in related-but-different clothes, often with degrees of formality
    Men’s evening wear
    Men’s top hats and canes
    Men’s cloaks
    Body suits, all-black or all-white
    Hoods
    Women’s shawls or wraps that can be spread out or closed up
    Kohl (that dark stuff Musidora wears as eye shadow)

  • Alex Hicks

    TV Tangent:
    TCM, 8:00 PM tonight.

    Hangover Square (1945)
    A composer who can’t control his creative temperament turns to murder.
    Cast: Laird Cregar, Linda Darnell, George Sanders, Glenn Langan Dir: John Brahm BW-78 mins

  • Brad Stevens

    Another TV Tangent.

    I see that the UK’s Channel 5 are screening a new television film by Charles Burnett next week. The title is RELATIVE STRANGER. I’m a big Burnett fan, but haven’t heard anything about this one. Anyone seen it?

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1252330/

  • david hare

    Barry. the intertitles are very easy to read, and almost only necessary for their whimsical rather than narrative qualities. The long Perret however has scenes of lengthy correspondence with corresponding title cards and this one work would require some effort.

    As mentioned above the French VAT would be removed for offshore buyers making the list price nearer 50 Euros, but postage from anywhere in Europe these days is murderous. To Oz for example it would be around 20 Euros for something of this size! Better still take a trip to Paris and buy it there – even an expensive B&M store like fnac had it on the shelves for 49.99.

  • Barry Putterman

    Thank you so much David. That was extremely helpful. I imagine I can get a french speaking friend to give me some help on the feature. I’m due in Los Angeles (these tragic wildfires willing) for Cinecon tomorrow, and it is barely possible that I can find it there. If not, I’ll consider the possibilities when I return.

    By the way, as long as tangents are the order of the day, Cinecon has a strong lineup this year. Highlights (according to me) include Seiter’s THANKS FOR EVERYTHING (which I have claimed is the link between Sturges’ play “A Cup of Coffee” and film CHRISTMAS IN JULY, and also goes into fascinating areas of its own) and THE BRIDE COMES COME, the Binyon/Ruggles followup to their initial success THE GILDED LILY. Also, silent films from Hawks (PAID TO LOVE), Curtiz (GOOD TIME CHARLEY), Roland West (DE LUXE ANNIE), and, for those not committed to the DVD, Vidor (BARDELYS THE MAGNIFICENT. AND, a personal appearance by Stella Stevens accompanying a screening of THE SILENCERS. I very much look forward. Although the situation in Los Angeles does lessen the excitement.

  • Steve Elworth

    Barry, Good luck on your flight to LA and your time at Cinecon. Don’t want those films to burn.
    I saw L’Enfant de Paris at NYFF in 1977 and loved it and thought it was much shorter. When I get and watch the DVD , I will see if it is my memory, a different speed of projection or extra material.
    And in closing, Stella Stevens, Stella Stevens, Stella Stevens

  • Mathieu Ricordi

    I interrupt this thread to announce some very sad news, the death of Alexis Tioseco and Nika Bohinc. I am sure that many on this forum knew them, either through their film writing, or from film festival juries.

    Alexis was a dear friend of mine from high school, and a very passionate film critic. Through his writings, he wanted to highlight the qualities in his country`s (the Philippines) national cinema he felt were being neglected. He was proud to be a critic, truly proud, and didn`t secretly harbour hopes to be a filmmaker or anything like that; he wanted to excel in his role and do as much as he could through it. Though he wanted his film criticism to primarily introduce as many people as possible to Filipino cinema (and he was very ambitious about this), his tastes did reach much further (we would often discuss our favourite films, and he would often refer to Tarkovsky`s ”Stalker” as possibly his pick). We often disagreed on movies (he thought I was too story and character oriented, I thought his tastes could border on pretentious), but I cherish each and every film discussion of ours because of the passion and commitment behind them. Besides his own writings, Alexis was a pack-rat of other people’s writings. Every time one of you had a new book or essay out, he was the first to purchase it, grab it online, etc. He would shower so many great film texts on me because he so believed in the spreading of good film writing. In the film critic world, nobody could have asked for a better or more supportive colleague. As well, a lot of independent filmmakers from the Philippines owe a lot to him for his no-quit attitude in putting their films out there, and championing them with everything he had. He managed to make some of the film classes he taught sit through 12 hour Lav Diaz films (”very few walk-outs” he would boast). Anyone who has had anything to do with University film classes should know that this anecdote alone is a huge accomplishment.
    Any peek at either his criticene or concentrated nonsense websites will show how in love with film, its writing and exposure were to Alexis.
    As well, although I felt he was accomplishing a great deal in film criticism at his age, he always remained very humble. He would constantly ask me questions on every aspect of film, its history and its technique, he wanted to learn and grow, admit his shortcomings and turn them into new opportunities for knowledge. He would do the same with many of you, read your words, listen to your interviews, constantly surf your websites; a good read from a critic he respected could be more exciting than watching a really great film. He would often ask me if there were any interesting discussions I had gotten into on this website and ask me to send them to him. And when he interviewed a film critic he respected, he would replay it constantly, savour the words.
    I will miss him always as a very close friend, we will all miss him for his ambitions, passion, and respect in film writing.

    I did not know Nika nearly as well, but can speak for her as an equally passionate film lover, and very adventurous editor. I wrote a few articles for her when she was editing the Slovenian film magazine EKRAN, and could see how committed she was, and how she went to bat for her contributors. During her time overseeing EKRAN, she poured every bit of sweat and energy she had into making the magazine as interesting, international and intellectually rigorous as possible. She stayed with the magazine much longer than she had wanted to, even defying poor health caused by running it, because of her amazing commitment to assembling the widest range of writers that could best cover the daunting diversity of our cinematic landscape. Like Alexis, she had a no-quit attitude, and she never gave in to pressures to simplify. I hope someday someone will be equally bold and sit down and translate issue after issue of EKRAN from Slovenian to English, so more people will be able to appreciate what a great editor she was. Nika had the courage to print my defence and highly positive appraisal on the work of the almost universally reviled director John Moore, I’m not sure how many others would have. Any film critic would have considered it a dream to work for her.

    All I can say in closing is R.I.P Alexis Tioseco and Nika Bohinc, you will both be missed immensely.

  • Sad news, indeed, Mathieu. I did not have privilege of knowing them, but clearly our community has suffered a serious loss.

  • Very good movie John Brahm´s “Hangover square” as well as his superior “The lodger” with a tortured Laird Cregar too and that wonderful “The locket” with a fascinating Larraine Day.
    Pity that he is so forgotten

    RIP Alexis

  • Tony Wiliams

    Barry, Good luck on your trip. I met Stella Stevens many years ago at the Memphis Film Festival. She is a delightful lady. That year she brought her Mom and recently appeared with Gene Evans then in a play in Memphis.

    Very sad news about these two talented people.

  • There is an oddly titled DVD, “Before Hollywood, there was Fort Lee, New Jersey”. It has an informative documentary about early filmmaking there. And it has a complete version of Maurice Tourneur’s THE WISHING RING, and what seems to be a chopped down version of A GIRL’S FOLLY. The latter has behind the scenes look at Tourneur’s studio in Fort Lee.

  • Mathieu, never knew you were a school friend of Alex. Thanks for that lovely tribute, and you’re absolutely right: he was a tireless champion for Philippine cinema. We will miss him.

  • “Le Printemps” (Feuillade) is one of the more beautiful silent films. Its images of women dancing anticipate the ballet in “Les Vampires”, and Irma Vep’s dance in front of the Vampire gang to celebrate her recovery. Dancing is seen as an expression of the life force. The wings on some of the fairy women also anticipate the winged bat costume in “Les Vampires”.
    The nymph of the spring in the opening shot of
    “Le Printemps”, also recalls the association of women and moving water in “Judex”: there’s Musidora near the water mill, and later the good gal swimmer known as The Water Goddess.

    “Le Nain” (The Dwarf) is another of Feuillade’s high tech, genius heroes. He uses the telephone exchange, in ways that anticipate Judex, his laboratory, and the special phone with two receivers in that film.

    Feuillade’s films show the deep interest in modern technology found in the 1909-1920 era. One can cite huge numbers of examples in prose mystery fiction.
    Feuillade also shows the interest in myths and legends, that used to play such a role in Western culture. A look at folk myths and classical legend like “Le Printemps” shows the deep vitality of such traditions, and their ability to evoke nature. One wishes that both science-based fiction and mythology would undergo a revival of interest in modern times.

  • Mathieu, my condolences for your friends.

  • PS The movie poster for “Le Printemps” above is remarkably beautiful. Is it known who designed it?
    It seems surprisingly close to the actual images of the movie.

  • Tom Brueggemann

    I saw the Burnett films on its original showing, on of all things the Hallmark Channel (in the US). They didn’t produce it, but its family values (at least on the surface) subject fits in with their favorite kind of movie.

    In any event, it seemed to be pretty minor Burnett by any standards.

  • Mathieu Ricordi

    Dave, Tony, Noel, Mike

    Thank you for your condolences and kind words.
    This is all so painful right now, such lovely human beings have been lost.

    Noel, I thank you for your tribute as well, which I read recently.

  • Gregg Rickman

    Mathieu, your friends sound like wonderful people. I have been browsing their websites (referenced in Jonathan Rosenbaum’s commentary on their passing, http://www.jonathanrosenbaum.com/?m=200909) and admiring their writing. I would also like to call attention to the commentary by another davekehr.com contributor, Glenn Kenny, at http://www.theauteurs.com/notebook/posts/972, which makes the point that they represented a younger generation of critics who advocated, fought for and called attention to important 21st century filmmakers. Many of us, of course, are more comfortable in the 20th century.
    My sincere condolences.

  • All my condolences to you, Mathieu. Nika and Alexis were truly remarkable people, and a real inspiration to us all. They will be sorely missed by so many.

  • Tom

    Hi, I know this was touched on in another comment but I just wanted to be completely clear on it. I would prefer buying the French boxsets but I do not speak French at all, so will I still be able to follow the story without the benefit of understanding the subtitles? Thanks

  • Uncle JG

    A couple of more things about Feuillade’s endlessly fascinating fixed-camera interior shots:

    1. The asymmetrical placement of the background door used for most entrances and exits. I think this compensates for the static camera.

    2. The frequent placement of actors in the foreground, middle and background of the set. They draw the eye and mind back and forth from current to future action.

    Gance et al overturned those techniques, but Feuillade was brilliant; definitely in the pantheon.