298: James Card Lecture

Archival Spaces 298

James Card Memorial Lecture at Nitrate Picture Show

Uploaded 24 June 2022

James Card ca. 1975 with one of his legendary sports cars

Below is an excerpt of my James Card Memorial Lecture at the recent Nitrate Picture Show at George Eastman Museum on 4 June 2022. As some people know, I started my career there:

47 years ago I began my career as a motion picture archivist, although at the time I don’t think I knew that was actually happening.  In September 1975, I moved from Boston to Rochester, New York, and began a one-year postgraduate internship in the film department at George Eastman Museum, funded by the National Endowment for the Arts.  As far as I can tell, it was the first formal moving image archive training program in the United States. Getting the internship was more luck than anything else. I had finished my master’s degree at Boston University in May, having written a thesis on “Ernst Lubitsch and the Rise of UFA.”  Wishing to follow Lubitsch’s tracks to Hollywood, I applied for and received a fellowship from the Louis B. Mayer Foundation Oral History Program at the American Film Institute, in order to interview German Jewish refugees from the film industry who had fled Hitler after 1933.  While I was doing research at the AFI’s old Greystone Mansion, I got a call from Eastman’s assistant director, Andy Eskind, asking me if I would like to have a paid internship in GEH’s film department. Apparently, their chosen candidate had changed his mind and gone to Washington’s Folger Library.  When I asked how they had heard about me, I was told that they had called my thesis advisor, Prof. Evan Cameron, because he had organized a major film conference at Eastman a year earlier. I had written a paper about nitrate film preservation for Evan in a seminar after I had told him I wanted to be a film historian or critic, not a filmmaker.  

George Eastman Mansion
Old vaults in the basement of the mansion

In any case, I suddenly had my first archival job. The film department at Eastman was still run by legendary film collector and archivist, James Card, who immediately took a liking to me, because he had studied in Germany and was an incurable Germanophile.  He became my first mentor, as did George Pratt, the department’s assistant curator. The staff was tiny: Marshall Deutelbaum, who eventually moved to a professorship in film studies at Purdue University, Kay McRae, Card’s longtime secretary, Allan Bobey, and projectionist Bob Ogie.

James Card at old Strong Nitrate vaults at back of Eastman property

My first job at Eastman Museum that September was conducting an inventory of the nitrate vaults at the back of the property.  I think I spent three months in those vaults with Jonathan Doherty, the son of museum director Robert Doherty, diligently writing down all the information on every can.  We had absolutely no training on the handling of nitrate film, which is unthinkable today, given the many hazards to which we were exposed in the old nitrate vaults. The irony was that Jim Card was dead set against any kind of cataloging or inventory.  This was an era when the FBI was still looking for film pirates, and many of the films in the archive (as in every major American archive) were there semi-legally, often having been procured in the collector’s market. 

George Pratt, 1958, Theodore Huff Room
Theodore Huff Room, 3rd floor, Eastman Mansion, 1986

As an intern, I was involved in almost all departmental activities, including preservation and programming, and learned mostly by doing. I also spent almost all of my free time watching films from the vaults. My whole sense of film history changed.  Like most film students, I had a “greatest hits” notion of film history, meaning I had seen some of the classics from Griffith to Fellini, but now I was getting a vertical, as well as a horizontal view of film history. On weekends I would often project films for friends of Card who had come to see films or do research. I also spent a lot of time in the old library, reading film historical texts. Meanwhile, George Pratt educated me in the use of primary source material and its importance for film historical research, patiently guiding my way through the maze of files, books, film magazines, and photographs. We would begin with a particular filmographic problem and then, as if on some grand treasure hunt, ferret out all the relevant information, oftentimes resolving an issue after flipping through one of George’s legendary notebooks.

When I left Eastman, I knew I wanted to be a film historian working in an archive, but there weren’t really many jobs in the field back then.  I went to Europe and eventually started a Ph.D., while occasionally doing freelance work as an archive researcher.  Eight years later that I returned to Eastman Museum to become an associate curator of film, still guided by the lessons that Jim Card and George Pratt, each so different, had taught me. In a 45-year career, I’ve been privileged to synthesize those lessons, putting my archival work in the service of film history and film historical writing in the service of film archives.

James Card, 1970s
Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919. Robert Wiene)

The first time I met Jim was in his office on the third floor of the old Eastman House mansion, standing in front of a photographic portrait of himself dressed as Werner Kraus in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. In his autobiography, Seductive Cinema, Card wrote that a 9.5mm print of Caligari was the second film to enter his collection, bought in Heidelberg in 1936, when he was an exchange student in Germany. Later, Card would say that the only reason he had gone to Germany was to find a print of Caligari.  It was the same year that Langlois founded the Cinémathèque, supposedly by starting a collection of nitrate films in his bathtub.  Card’s first acquisition had been James Sibley Watson’s The Fall of the House of Usher (1928), F.W. Murnau’s Faust the third.  Could I have ever imagined then that I would reconstruct Caligari at the Munich Filmmuseum twenty years later or that Fall of the House of Usher would become a central piece of evidence in my book on the neglected early American avant-garde?

Nitrate film fire

Card’s example also has led me to treat nitrate with respect, but not with exaggerated fear.  He was always totally incensed when he spoke of the policy in certain national archives, such as the British Film Institute of destroying nitrate once it had been copied. While nitrate fires had occurred, and such fires were indeed extremely dangerous, nitrate could be handled safely. Contrary to what many younger archivists who have never handled nitrate material may think, nitrate will seldom self-ignite. If one is not smoking, nitrate film can not only be examined, but it can also reveal stories that disappear in preservation to polyester or digital. My own guilty pleasure at Eastman and later in Munich was to look at nitrate prints on an editing table, for cataloging purposes or in the course of reconstruction. Time has also proven Card correct in terms of nitrate’s longevity. While the American Film Institute’s battle cry of the 1970s was “Nitrate Won’t Wait,” the field now realizes that nitrate can wait, if it is stored properly and inspected regularly.  Indeed, RIT research in the 1990s demonstrated that nitrate will last hundreds of years.

Viewing film in new Eastman archive building, ca. 1992

297: Nitrate Film Fest

Archival Spaces 297

Nitrate Picture Show at George Eastman Museum

Uploaded 10 June 2022

After a two-year hiatus, due to the COVID Pandemic, the 6th Nitrate Picture Show was held in Rochester, N.Y. between 2 – 5 June 2022 at George Eastman Museum. Organized by the GEM Film Department’s relatively new curator, Peter Bagrov, the festival included twelve feature films from five countries and a host of shorts. The prints came from as far away as Tokyo and Paris and as close as GEM’s own nitrate vaults, but also from the Museum of Modern Art, the Academy Film Archive, the Library of Congress, and UCLA. Given the severe restrictions on the shipment of nitrate anywhere, one must applaud the very real ingenuity and perseverance necessary for the task. At the opening, Bagrov noted that this film festival had a limited life span because it was becoming increasingly difficult to find projectable nitrate prints, but he hoped to continue the Nitrate Picture Show for at least another ten years, which may or may not be optimistic.

Pat Loughney, Paolo Cherchi Usai, Peter Bagrov, Chris Horak, four George EastmanMuseum film curators at the Nitrate Picture Show.

In 1889, Eastman Kodak began commercial production of nitrate base film, which was delivered to Thomas Edison in 1892 as cellulose nitrate. It was a pyroxylin plastic, made up of organic material. Cotton or wood fiber was treated with a mixture of nitric and sulfuric acids. It was then processed with the addition of solvents, plasticizers, and flame retardants. The result in chemical terms was a nitrate ester of cellulose with the following chemical formula: [C6H9O5(NO2) ] n. This base material is then mixed into a viscous solution with solvent and a plasticizer and spread on a slow-moving, heated, chromium-plated drum. The solvent then evaporates through the influence of heat, leaving a thin layer of film. The technique of solvent casting had to be very precise so that the film had a uniform thickness. Unfortunately, the solvent can’t be completely removed, leading the film to shrink as the solvent continues to evaporate over a period of years. However, this first motion picture base met all the criteria needed for projecting moving images. It was strong, flexible, maintained its shape under varying conditions, and was virtually transparent. Only material of superior strength could hold up in the film projector, given the millimeter separations between perforations. Eastman originally delivered the film in 70mm rolls, which were then sliced into 35mm rolls, creating a standard that lasted over one hundred years.

Decaying and combusting nitrate film

The problem with nitrate base motion picture film was that it was chemically unstable. In particular, it was highly flammable, having a very low flash point. According to A.S.A. testing, nitrate film can self-ignite at a temperature of 300 degrees F., and decomposing nitrate in unventilated conditions has been known to ignite at temperatures as low as 125 degrees F. The base will invariably shrink with age. The degree of shrinkage is measured with a micrometer gauge, which can then be translated into percentages. If a film’s base shrinks more than 2%, the film will no longer run smoothly through a projector, since the distance between perforations has changed too much, causing the pulldown mechanism in the projector to tear the film. Finding nitrate prints with an acceptable shrinkage becomes more difficult with each passing year.

Due to a late-arriving flight and other commitments, I missed a number of films, including William Dieterle’s The Portrait of Jennie (1948), Western Approaches (1944, Pat Jackson), a Technicolor documentary drama of merchant seaman, the newly discovered Trail of the Hawk (1935-50, Edward Dmytryk), a rereleased B-Western with additional footage, Marcel Carne’s Le Jour se léve (1939), and this year’s final “blind date,” Walt Disney’s Pinocchio (1940). Other films I had previously seen included Schlussakkord (1937, Douglas Sirk), The Unholy Three (1927, Jack Conway), and G.PW. Pabst’s The Joyless Street (1925). Indeed, I had used the very same extremely abridged print of the latter – bought by James Card from a Cleveland junk dealer – to complete my 1998 Munich Film Museum restoration of Die freudlose Gasse.

For me, the biggest discovery was Mikio Naruse’s Meshi / Repast (1951), which was not only the most immaculate nitrate print I have ever seen but also close to a masterpiece. After seeing Apart From You (1933) at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival (see https://archivalspaces.com/2022/05/13/295-sfsff/), and Naruse’s first surviving film, No Blood Relation (1932) on TCM last month, I now consider Naruse equal to Kenji Mizoguchi as a director of women. Setsuko Hara – one of Ozu’s favorite actresses – plays a housewife who has moved to Osaka from Tokyo with her husband, but now finds her life has been reduced to the endless drudgery of housework, while her husband becomes insensitive to her emotional needs; she wants to return to work, but there are no jobs. Utilizing a minimum of dialogue, Naruse employs closely framed shots and associative editing to construct a feminist narrative that despite its over-determined happy ending articulates numerous questions about women and gender in post-war Japan. It also made me realize that Naruse’s pre and postwar films are all of a piece in their concerns over gender relations and female desire.

Shockingly, I had never seen Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope (1948), a Technicolor feature famous for the director’s attempt to film the whole story in a single take by shooting ten-minute takes on a single set that are invisibly edited.  Based on the infamous Leopold-Loeb murder, two wealthy friends murder a mutual friend, store the corpse in a trunk and then invite family and friends to a dinner party, staged on the trunk. Like Meshi, the 35mm nitrate print of Rope was flawless, except for the change-over marks which most people don’t even see. It is clear that Hitchcock’s intricate camera movement took significant planning and rehearsal, but also forces the viewer to contemplate the characters’ every action as if a participant in the room. Made three years after the defeat of Adolf Hitler, the film is Hitchcock’s meditation on the Nazi’s belief in the Arayan superman to justify the immorality of murder and genocide. Not three years before, Hitchcock had directed a documentary, German Concentration Camps Factual Survey (1945/2014), after the liberation of Bergen-Belsen KZ, released only decades later as Memory of the Camps (1945/2014).

I also had never viewed Ernst Lubitsch’s Cluny Brown 1946), maybe the only surviving Lubitsch I had not seen in my 49 years of research on Lubitsch. It is out on video, but I’m so happy I waited for this near-perfect nitrate print. I’ve always thought that nitrate shined most in black and white, the silver nitrate shimmering with a luminosity that acetate film never duplicated. Kodak chemists told me it was all in my head.

The romantic comedy takes place in pre-war London and concerns Cluny Brown’s young female domestic who is continuously criticized for not knowing her place but is also mentored by a free-spirited European refugee who seemingly actively undermines the rigid British class system. While Peter Bagrov argued that the film was an under-rated masterpiece, I found it a sweet comedy, but certainly not in the same class as Ninotchka  (1939) and The Shop Around the Corner (1940), maybe because the December-May romance between Charles Boyer and Jennifer Jones stretches credulity, especially in our “Me, Too” era.   

One can only hope that Peter’s prediction about the longevity of the nitrate viewing experience will come to pass, but even then, seeing original first-generation film prints in all their visual glory is now officially a once-in-a-lifetime experience, especially for those of us who mourne the end of the analog era.

296: Reinhard Heydrich’s End

Archival Spaces 296

Operation Anthropoid

Uploaded 27 May 2022

Gen. Josef Kohoutek, my great uncle.

Exactly 80 years ago, on 27 May 1942, the so-called Reichsprotektor of Bohemia and Moravia, Reinhard Heydrich, was wounded in an assassination attempt by members of the Czechoslovak Army in exile in an operation code-named Anthropoid. Flown in by the Royal Air Force and coordinated on the ground with Obrana Národa (Defense of the Nation), the Czech resistance group made of former officers of military intelligence, the operation succeeded when the architect of the Holocaust, died on 4 June of his wounds. The assassination leads to massive reprisals against the Czechoslovak people, including the utter eradication of the village of Lidice outside Prague and its inhabitants, the arrest of 13,000 Czech citizens, and the killing of as many as 5,000. My great uncle, Gen. Josef Kohoutek, a member Obrana Národa, was executed on 19 August 1942 at Plötzensee (Berlin), in a direct reprisal for Heydrich’s death.

SS Obersturmbannfuehrer Reinhard Heyrich
The dead at Lidice, June 1942.

A member of the Czechoslovak Army General Staff, my uncle had married my grandmother’s sister, Milada Koulova in February 1923, the couple remaining childless. Teta Mila’s father, and my great-grandfather, was Ing. Václav Koula, General Director of ČKD (Českomoravská Kolben Danĕk), the country’s largest manufacturer of cars, motorcycles, and trams; it was converted by the Nazis to producing armaments for the Wehrmacht. The main factory in Prague-Vysocany was located just below the two villas belonging to my family. Although V. Koula had retired by the Nazi invasion in March 1939, my grandfather, Ing. Jan Horák, worked as an executive for the same company. After his incarceration in a Concentration Camp in November 1939 at Sachsenhausen-Orianienburg, my father joined the underground. Unwilling collaborators and resistance fighters in the same family; a Czech fate.

V. Koula (Center, Back), J. Horak, Bozena Horakova, Gen. J. Kohoutek, the children are my father, Jerome Horak, and my Aunt, Libuse.
Mila and Josef Kohoutek

General Josef Kohoutek was born in Hodějice, a village just East of Brno, Moravia, on 3 March 1896 and graduated from high school in Brno in 1915. After completing reserve officer training in the Bosnian-Herzegovinian IV Regiment of the Austrian Army, he was sent to the Italian front. He was captured on 18 Sept. 1917 at Carzano, better said deserted to the Italian side, where he joined the Czech Legions, eventually earning an Italian and Czechoslovak War cross for shrapnel wounds to his neck. Meanwhile, my grandfather Jan Horak deserted on the Eastern front and joined the Czech Legions in Russia. Horak returned to private life, while Kohoutek continued his military career after the Armistice, studying at Prague’s War College (1923-25), then joining the Army’s 10th Division, before moving to Army Intelligence, becoming its head in 1933. According to one report, “Josef Kohoutek contributed significantly to the development of plans for the defense of the republic, especially mobilization, at a time of deterioration of the international situation.” After the Nazi occupation in March 1939, he became a government bureaucrat in the Price Control Office but also joined the clandestine Obrana Národa.

Col. Josef Kohoutek, 1920
Gen. Kohoutek (front row, 4th from right) and General Staff Czechoslovak Army, 1937

According to the indictment of the Supreme Prosecutor’s Office of the People’s Court in Berlin on 15 October 1941, Gen. Kohoutek was arrested on 6 February 1940 at his home in Prague Vysočany (next door to my grandparents’ house) and had been detained in Berlin-Moabit Prison since 3 September 1940.  Kohoutek’s indictment for treason, along with seven other members of Obrana Národa read: “The accused have put themselves in the service of the illegal Czech military organization Obrana Národa and as members of the Bohemian Military command have supported a secret conspiracy after the establishment of the Protectorate of Bohemia Moravia. The goal of the organization was the violent separation of Bohemia Moravia, the Sudeten Gau, and other areas from the Reich and the creation of an independent Czechoslovak Republic.” Later in the indictment, the prosecutor characterizes the founding of the Czechoslovak Republic in October 1918 as “less the attempt at the independence of a national group and more an artificial creation by Western democracies wishing to brutally destroy the German Reich.”  

Obrana Národa was founded by Gen. Josef Bíllý in April 1939 within weeks of the Nazi occupation with the goal of organizing an uprising, but soon became more focused on intelligence gathering and minor acts of sabotage, while maintaining contact with the government-in-exile in London under Edvard Beneš. While the organization was able to infiltrate the Gestapo and place members in armaments factories who reported back to London on Nazi military production, the Gestapo also penetrated Obrana Národa, decimating the organizational leadership in February 1940, May 1942, and June 1944, although each time it was reorganized.

Berlin Moabit Prison
Execution chamber at Berlin Ploetzensee

On 28 December 1941, the RAF flew Jozef Gabčík and Jan Kubiš, along with seven other Czech soldiers to Bohemia, where they were hidden by members of Obrana Národa, including my aunt Mila Kohoutová who had joined the organization. After the successful attack, the Gestapo could find no leads on who was responsible for the assassination, while the assailants hid with two Prague families, then moved to the basement of the Karel Boromejsky Church in Prague-Vinohrady. Unfortunately, one of the group, Karel Čurda, turned himself into the Gestapo and revealed the names of their local contacts for a 1 million Reichsmarks reward.  SS troops laid siege to the church but were unable to take the assailants alive, despite a force of 750 Storm Troopers.

Jan, Michael, Chris Horak, Libuse Horakova, Bozena Horakova, Jerome V. and Peter Horak, Mila Kohoutova, 1967

In October  1945, my aunt Milady Kohoutekova received a Czechoslovak War Cross for her and her husband’s resistance, and Gen. Kohoutek was promoted posthumously by President Edvard Beneš to Brigadier General. The Communist Putsch in March 1948, suppressed the history of Obrana Národa in favor of the myth of an all-Communist resistance to the Nazis. And, in the aftermath of my father’s indictment and sentencing to imprisonment in absentia for treason in 1952, Mila Kohoutová was thrown into prison for five years by the Communist government. When I met her in 1965, she still lived in the same house at Pod Krocinkou, next door to my grandparents, all now united in the family crypt.

Koula-Horak Family Crypt,PragueProsek

295: SFSFF

Archival Spaces 295

San Francisco Silent Film Festival

Uploaded 13 May 2022

The San Francisco Silent Film Festival celebrated its 25th Anniversary, 5-11 May 2022, and its first live iteration since before the pandemic in 2019. It may also be the last SFSFF at the storied Castro Theater, which the owners -rumor has it – are converting to a concert venue sans seating. In any case, festival directors Anita Monga and Stacey Wisnia put together a stellar program with revelations at every turn. Due to teaching commitments, I missed several days but what follows are some of the highlights for me.

Apart From You (1933, Mikio Naruse)
Apart From You (1933, Mikio Naruse)

I was bowled over by Mikio Naruse’s 1933 masterpiece, Apart From You, a late silent, shown in a 35mm print from the National Film Archive of Japan. The film follows the fates of two geishas, one aging, the other young, both unhappy in their oldest profession, but trapped because they are supporting families. Terugiku falls in love with Kikue’s son, Yoshio, attempting to keep him from a life of crime, but the couple nevertheless part ways at film’s end because their familial commitments trump personal happiness. There are no big dramatic moments, just the women’s emotional struggle, expressed in intense close-ups, for example, when Kikue’s regular customer leaves her for a younger woman, or when Terugiku realizes her drunkard father wants to sell her younger sister, forcing her to continue working to feed her family.

DJ Spooky and The Rebirth of a Nation

Saturday evening, DJ Spooky presented his The Rebirth of a Nation Remix, a program he has been performing since 2005, but shown here with a modern score by Classical Revolution and Guenther Buchwald. Cut down from its ostensibly three-hour version to 70 minutes, DJ Spooky focuses on intimate scenes of the Caucasian Cameron and Stoneman families, juxtaposed with epic scenes of war and conflict. While Spooky and critic Wesley Morris discussed the project’s attempt at Brechtian distancing effects, I was surprised that the film still held its toxic power, in particular in the KKK “rides again” finale, despite digital manipulation. But the cut-down also made manifest the film’s racist core, its (and Griffith’s) obsession with miscegenation as the root of all evil.

Arrest Warrant (1926, Griorgi Tasin)
Arrest Warrant (1926, Griorgi Tasin)

Sunday’s discovery was the Ukrainian film, Arrest Warrant (1926, Heorhii Tasin), which not only eschewed the reigning Soviet aesthetic of montage and its anti-psychological treatment of actors but also presents an extremely ambiguous view of the Russian Civil War of 1918-20. The second of four films that Tasin directed for VUFKU before Stalin destroyed the Ukrainian company (see Archival Spaces 294), Arrest Warrant’s heroine, Nadya, is the lover of a Red Army Commissar. He asks her to hide important documents when the town is overrun by the White Army. She is psychologically tortured by her White Russian captors, aided by her ex-husband who is conspiring to take away their mutual child. The Bolsheviks don’t come off well either: when the Reds return, her lover believes without evidence that she has betrayed the cause, the woman a victim of patriarchy on all sides. Tasin’s film is constructed through continuity editing rather than dialectic montage, his use of chiaroscuro lighting and dream sequences – as the woman falls into delirium– is heavily influenced by GermanExpressionism, unlike anything else in 1920s Soviet cinema.

Sylvester (1923, Lupu Pick)
Eugen Kloepfer in Sylvester

Sunday’s other revelation was Sylvester (1923, Lupu Pick), which was previously a more or less lost film since the only known nitrate print was inaccessible for decades. The Deutsche Kinemathek Berlin beautifully reconstructed the film with its original score by Klaus Pringsheim; in fact, the score was a guide for the new edit. Scripted by Carl Mayer without subtitles, the film is identified by Lotte Eisner as an expressionist Kammerspiel, but, like Mayer’s next film, The Last Laugh (1924), [and G.W. Pabst’s The Joyless Street (1925)], Sylvester includes expressionist and new realist elements. Pick continually cuts between realistically shot public street scenes of drunken New Year’s Eve revelers of all classes with the intimate emotional struggle of a wife and mother-in-law for the affection of the husband-son, all punctuated by images of the eternal sea, reminding us of nature’s absence. It is in Eugen Klöpfer’s oversized, lumbering but essentially static body, paralyzed in the face of demands by the two women in his life, that we recognize Eisner’s definition of expressionist acting.

Limite(1931, Mário Peixote) is a Brazilian avant-garde film I have been chasing for at least 40 years available since its restoration in 2010. The two-hour-plus film, financed and directed by a wealthy Brazilian amateur, includes only snippets of narrative: two women and a man adrift on an endless sea, a confrontation between two men in a cemetery, a man and a woman foot-bathing, etc. Its construction of images of nature – while eschewing images of modernity – could be from a structuralist film from the 1960s (as could the minimalist electronic score by Matti Bye Ensemble),  but also reminds me in its extreme subjectivity of Henwar Rodakiewicz’s Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man (1931), and of the existential dilemma in the isolation of its human subjects. We are caught in an endless dream between consciousness and sleep, life and death.

Dans la nuit (1930, Marcel Vandel)
Dans la nuit (1930, Marcel Vanel)

Another wonderful discovery was Dans la nuit (1930, Charles Vanel), independently produced and possibly the last French silent film to be released before the talkies arrived. Shot on location in northern France, near Vanel’s childhood home, the film’s first half presents a bucolic paradise of happy quarry workers and a manic country wedding, all sweetness and light. But just as many early images are bifurcated between light and dark, e.g. the taking of the wedding portrait, the film morphs into a nightmare when the young husband is mutilated in a quarry accident and loses the affection of his wife. Ten years after World War I, Vanel analogizes the trauma of France’s war wounded, his hero wearing a mask to hide his disfigured face, a trope future horror films would repeatedly utilize.

So many good films, so little time but I have to mention all the truly wonderful musical accompaniments not named above: Frank Bockius, Timothy Brock, Philip Carli, Clubfoot Hindustani with Pandit Krishna Bhatt, Stephen Horne, Sasha Jacobsen Quintett,  Monte Alto Orchestra, Donald Sosin, and the professional debut of William Lewis. Their inventive live performances added a whole other dimension beyond music and sound.

Philip Carli
Guenter Buchwald, Frank Bockius
Stephen Horne
Donals Sosin

294: Kyiv Film Archive in War

Archival Spaces 294

Ukrainian Film Archives in Peril

Uploaded 29 April 2022

Subway Refuge in Kyiv, March 2022

When the Giornate del cinema muto got its start in 1982 in Gemona, Italy, it was partially in response to a devastating earthquake that had rocked the area of Friuli in 1976, leaving its residents shell-shocked. I was reminded of that fact when recently reading about the Aleksandr Dovzhenko Center, the Ukrainian Film Archive, which has been organizing screenings in the subways of Kyiv and Kharkiv to cheer up shell-shocked residents.  According to several published reports, curators from the archive have been projecting Ukrainian silent animated and live-action comedy shorts, like Grandma’s Gift  (1920s), the silent feature, Adventures of Half a Rubel (1929, Aksel Lundin), as well as recently produced comedy features, like The Best Weekend (2022, Vladyslav Klimchuk) and Star Exchange (2021, Oleksiy Daruha).  As Maria Glazunova from the Dovzhenko Center noted on the Ukrainian website, Real Cinema, “These shows in the subway… help us survive in these difficult times.”

Aleksander Dovzhenko Center
Earth (1930, Aleksander Dovzhenko)

Named after Aleksandr Dovzhenko, the pioneering Soviet-Ukrainian film director of Arsenal (1929) and Earth (1930), the Aleksandr Dovzhenko Center was founded in Kyiv in 1994 on the site of the country’s largest film laboratory, taking over responsibility for Ukraine’s moving image preservation from Gosfilmofond, the Soviet/Russian film archives. According to the Archive’s website (https://dovzhenkocentre.org/en/about/), the Center houses more than 7,000 feature films, documentaries, Ukrainian and foreign animated films, and thousands of archival records from the history of Ukrainian cinema. The Archive now maintains modern climate-controlled film vaults, the only surviving film laboratory in Ukraine, a Cinema Museum, a non-film archive, a multimedia library, and a publishing department. Its mandate, like that of many archives in the Federation Internationale des Archivs du Film (FIAF), which it joined in 2003, is to promote, research, and distribute Ukraine’s national film legacy at home and abroad. Since 2013, the Center has been distributing films abroad and recently made In Spring (1929, Mikhail Kaufmann), an avant-garde documentary by Dziga Vertov’s brother, available to George Eastman Museum, which organized a benefit screening for victims of the Ukrainian war.

In Spring (1929, Mikhail Kaufmann)
The Man With the Movie Camera (1929, Dziga Vertov)

Ukraine has of course had a rich history of cinema. Mikhail Kaufmann shot Vertov’s avant-garde masterpiece, The Man with the Movie Camera (1929), in Kyiv, Kharkiv, and Odesa, as well as several other documentaries.  The films were produced by VUFKU, the All-Ukrainian Photo Cinema Administration  (Всеукраїнське фото кіноуправління), which had been founded in 1922, but was closed down on orders of Stalin in 1930, its infrastructure becoming part of “Ukrainafilm” the Soviet owned Ukrainian Cinema Industry Trust. Other important directors of this period of Ukrainian national cinema included Petr Chardynin, Vladimir Gardin, Favst Lopatynsky, Marko Tereshchenko, and Ivan Kavaleridze.  According to Olena Goncharuk, the director of the Dovzhenko Center, many of the studio’s leading figures were imprisoned or executed (Lopatynsky) as Stalin suppressed the Ukrainian national revival. Kavaleridze and Dovzhenko were censored as Ukrainian nationalists, and Dovzhenko was forced to move to Moscow, basically in exile for the rest of his life. Until the death of Stalin in 1953, only a handful of Ukrainian language features were produced, but a new generation of Ukrainian directors then arose, including Leonid Bykov, Viktor Ivchenko, Yuro Illenko, Mikhail Vartanov (who I hosted at George Eastman Museum in the 1990s), Leonid Osyka, and Mykhailo Ilienko. However, the most famous Ukrainian film before the country regained its independence in 1991 was Sergei Parajanov’s Shadow of Our Forgotten Ancestors (1964).

The Guide (2014, Oles Sanin)

In the 2000s, Ukrainian films have gained increasing international attention, including Firecrosser (2011, Mikhail Ilenko), Such Beautiful People (2013, Dmytro Moyseyev), The Guide (2014, Oles Sanin), Julia Blue (2018, Roxy Toporowych), and the Academy Award-nominated Netflix documentary, Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight For Freedom (2015, Evgeny Afineevsky).  

Until the founding of the Dovzhenko Center, Ukrainian film history was housed in Moscow. As Goncharuk noted: “All the films that were shot in Ukraine or with the participation of Ukrainian directors were moved to Russia to the Gosfilmofond archive.” Until the Ukrainian “Maidan Uprising” in 2013-14, removing Putin’s puppet from power, Gosfilmofond and the Dovzhenko were cooperating on the restitution of Ukrainian films to Kyiv, especially the films of Vertov and Kaufmann. However, communication between the organizations then stopped.

Dovzhenko Center Film Vaults
Aleksander Dovzhenko Film Center Exhibition Space

The war has had a devastating effect on the Dovzhenko Center. While a skeletal staff has been trying to protect the archive and organize film screenings at home and abroad, many of the Center’s curators and archivists have dispersed across Europe among the four million-plus Ukrainians who have been forced from their homes. As Goncharuk notes, a big part of the team, works distantly, including lawyers, the finance department, and researchers. One can only hope that the indiscriminate Russian bombing of civilian targets will spare Ukraine’s film history.

Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom (2015, Evgeny Afineevsky)

293: Austria on Hollywood’s Screens

Archival Spaces 293:

Austria Made in Hollywood

Uploaded 15 April 2022

Fay Wray and Erich von Stroheim in The Wedding March (1928, Erich von Stroheim)

Back in December, I reported on the Academy Film Museum Symposium “Vienna in Hollywood. The Influence and Impact of Austrians on the Hollywood Film Industry 1920s – 2020s.” Now, I have finally caught up with an excellent book that focuses less on Austrians in Hollywood and more on the image of Austria and Austrians in Hollywood cinema: Jacqueline Vansant’s  Austria Made in Hollywood (Rochester, N.Y.: Camden House, 2019). A professor of German at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, Vansant presents close analyses of fourteen out of ca. fifty films with Austrian settings, produced during the classical Hollywood period from the 1920s to the 1960s, noting that Austrian characteristics and stereotypes in these films were filtered through American perceptions and contexts, rather than the historical realities in Austria.  And like the checkered history of that country, American views of Austria have vacillated between positive, often nostalgically tinged images as a happy multi-ethnic empire of benevolent rulers and “sweet young things” and negative images, based on its decadent, even promiscuous, anti-democratic legacy.    

While images of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, appeared occasionally in American cinema prior to the mid-1920s, Vansant rightly points out that it was the man you love to hate, Erich von Stroheim who most lastingly influenced Hollywood’s Austria. In his two Viennese films, Merry-Go-Round (1923) and The Wedding March (1928), von Stroheim, critiques Austria under Emperor Franz Josef I as a decadent, anti-democratic society with a rigid class structure, while at the same time expressing an intense nostalgia for the pomp and circumstance of Austrian nobility. Unlike most biographers of von Stroheim, who have focused on von Stroheim’s wholly fictional biography as an Imperial military officer when he in fact was born an Austrian Jew and social outsider, Vansant analyses how the director employed contemporary American perceptions of Austria to develop moralistic narratives about the hedonism of the ruling class, thereby drawing parallels to America’s roaring twenties, while also nostalgically fetishizing aristocratic etiquette.

Evenings for Sale (1932, Edwin Marin)
Bing Crosby in The Emp[eror Waltz

In the following chapter, Vansant looks at four Paramount comedies: Evenings for Sale (1932, Stuart Walker), Champagne Waltz (1937. A. Edward Sutherland), Billy Wilder’s The Emperor Waltz (1948), and Michael Curtiz’s A Breath of Scandal (1960). The first two films were situated in a post-World War I republican Vienna, untouched by economic hardship and political instability. Evenings for Sale features an impoverished but amoral aristocracy looking for financial support from American merry widows on European junkets and comes down on the side of American Puritanism, while Champagne Waltz pits Austria’s high culture (opera) against American low culture (jazz) in its central romance, its robust American male rescuing an old-world female and bringing her to New York. The Wilder and Curtiz films, on the other hand, imply that the Austro-Hungarian Empire was both racist and anti-democratic, in contrast to the down-home simplicity and moral strength of their American heroes.

The Great Waltz (1938, Julien Duvivier)

In the wake of the so-called Anschluß which unified Nazi Germany and Austria, several Hollywood films tried to construct metaphorically an Austrian identity – separate from Germany – through music and equestrian sport. In The Great Waltz (1938, Julien Duvivier), Franz Josef and Johann Strauss meet after the 1948 revolution to articulate their love for Austria, while the Franz Schubert bio-pic, New Wine (1941, Reinhold Schünzel), emphasizes the Austrian roots of the composer while drawing parallels between the repressive Austria of the 1820s, and the New Order of 1938. Finally, Florian (1940, Edwin L. Marin) utilizes its story of a royal Lipizzaner horse and its human companions before and after World War I to explain to Americans the plight of Austrian refugees after the Anschluß.

Erich von Stroheim in So Ends Our Night (1941, John Cromwell)

The demise of Austria in March 1938 was directly visualized in three Hollywood films. While So Ends Our Night (1941, John Cromwell) and They Dare Not Love (1941, James Whale) take diametrically opposed views on Austria’s guilt or innocence in supporting Adolf Hitler, Once Upon a Honeymoon (1943, Leo McCarey) is more ambivalent, even as it cautions Americans about the dangers of Nazism. Based on Erich Maria Remarque’s novel, Flotsam, So Ends Our Night uses newsreel footage to visualize Austrians enthusiastically cheering Adolf Hitler’s entrance into Vienna to tell its story of Jewish refugees harried across the map of Europe as the Nazi war machine marches on. Strangely, They Dare Not Love also utilizes newsreels, indeed takes its cue from The March of Time’s “Nazi Conquest No. 1” to argue bizarrely for Austrian’s victimhood and the restoration of an Austrian monarchy. Finally, Honeymoon has a democratically-minded American journalist trying to woo a naïve American golddigger who is planning to marry an Austrian aristocrat and secret Nazi, just as Americans in general needed to be convinced that German fascism was dangerous.

Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music (1965, Robert Wise)
The Cardinal (1963, Otto Preminger)

The dichotomy between Austria as an innocent victim of the Nazis and an enthusiastic Fascist collaborator also characterized two Hollywood wide-screen extravaganzas of the 1960s: Robert Wise’s The Sound of Music (1965) and Otto Preminger’s The Cardinal (1963). While the popular musical avoided all discussion of politics, except to create a dramatic raison d’etre for the von Trapp family’s Technicolor flight over the Alps, the fictional biography of an American church leader clearly accused Austrian Cardinal Theodor Innitzer of supporting and sympathizing with the Nazis.

Common to Hollywood’s version of post-Imperial Austria, as Vansant notes about The Sound of Music, is that “there is no mention of political dissent, no civil strife, and no Austro-Fascist government.” (p. 124) Like most of Hollywood’s costume films playing on foreign soil, films about Austria often revealed more about America’s collective fantasies than about the German-speaking nation along the Danube.       

Reginald Owen as Emperor Franz Josef I and HelenGilbert in Florian (1940, Edwin L. Marin)

292:  Film Erotica

Archival Spaces 292

Film Erotica in Papal Film Archives

Uploaded 1 April 2022

Trastavere at Night

My wife and I have been in Rome for the past ten days. Since this is not our first trip to Rome, we have forgone most of the Roman antiquities sites, and have focused on visiting libraries, archives, and private collections of art, including the Galeria Colonna and Galeria Doria Pamphili, still owned and maintained by two of Rome’s wealthiest and most prestigious families, both of whom have been supplying Popes to the Vatican for the last five hundred years. Unfortunately, many of the city’s most famous libraries, including the Biblioteca Casanatense and the Biblioteca Angelica are closed, possibly due to COVID, but who knows, since both websites say they are open. In both cases, we were told, “Non lo so,” when asked when they will open. However, we were vey lucky to see a virtually unknown rarity in Rome’s landscape, namely the Filmoteca de la Pape, or Papal Film Archives.

Getting into the Filmoteca de la Pape, – not to be confused with the Vatican film Library – was a major undertaking and took weeks of negotiation with the Brussels office of the Federation Internationale des Archivs du Film – before we got to Rome, and finally only a letter from Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles got us into the facility. The reason it is so difficult to see this archive, is because it houses one of the largest collections of film erotica in the world, rivalling even the Kinsey Archives Collections. Its official name is the Filmoteca Erotica de Pape, but for obvious reasons the more neutral term is being used.

Goya’s The Nakjed Maja

The Papal libraries have of course been secretly collecting erotic images and books since the latter stages of the Inquisition, when Francisco Goya was summoned in 1815 for having painted The Naked Maja (1805). At the time, administrators in the offices of Pope Pius VII hoped to eradicate all such visual temptations to the flesh by confiscating or purchasing whatever they could find, destroying much of it, but keeping a percentage as documentation of the devil’s work. When Pope Leo XIII was informed by a papal spy in the offices of the Archbishop of Paris, His Eminence François-Marie-Benjamin Richard de la Vergne, in 1899 that the Lumiere Brothers were distributing pornographic films under the table, along with their more famous La Sortie de l’Usine Lumière à Lyon and L’arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat, papal authorities sprung into action, founding the Filmoteca de Pape as a compliment to a similar archive of pornographic photographs that had been set up in the 1850s, after profane images of naked male and female bodies began circulating. For a few years, there was a power struggle between the two archives, but eventually the Filmoteca de Pape won its independence.

Hoochie Coochie Dance

Wisely, the Papal authorities decided that it would not be politic to have such an archive within the confines of the Vatican itself, so a building was purchased in a back courtyard off the Piazza de Renzi in the Vicolo del Cinque in Trastevere. While official films of the Vatican are housed in the Vatican Film Archives proper, the Filmoteca de Pape collected blue material from the turn of the twentieth century to the 1970s. As a staffer told us, the Archive gave up acquiring new material at the time, because funds had been cut and the amount of pornographic material being produced morphed into an avalanche that could no longer be contained. According to the Filmoteca de Pape’s curator – understandably they wished to remain anonymous – the earliest erotic film in the collection is Fatima’s Coochie-Coochie Dance (1896), an Edison kinetoscope film, which shows a gyrating belly dancer.

The Filmoteca’s earliest French pornographic film is A L’Ecu d’Or ou la bonne auberge / At the Golden Shield or the Good Inn from 1908, which survived in a 9.5 mm copy. Unfortunately, many of the earliest films from the turn of the 20th century no longer survive, because the Filmoteca for decades did not have climate-controlled vaults, leading to nitrate decomposition, including as paper records indicate, close to 100 films, produced in the brothels of Buenos Aires and exported to Europe to be shown at stag parties, or what the Germans called “Herrenabende.” One Argentine film that has survived is El Satario / The Satyr, which may have been produced as early as 1907.Besides the French, who specialized gay and straight porn, sometimes in the same film, the Austrians and Germans were big producers. Another gem in the collection of the Filmoteca de Pape is Am Abend, a ten minute German film from 1910.

We were hoping to actually see a few examples from their rich collection of silent porn, but unfortunately COVID restrictions did not make it possible. Their new climate-controlled vaults, however, rival any of those in Italy.

291: Missing Movies

Archival Spaces 291

The “Missing Movies” Manifesto

Uploaded 18 March 2022

Missing Movies Poster

Recently, film director Nancy Savoca and screenwriting partner, Richard Guay realized that their 1993 film, Household Saints, could not be screened at Columbia University, because of copyright problems. Nancy eventually worked with her lawyer, Susan Bodine, and Ira Deutchman, the film’s original distributor, to make the film accessible again. But in the process, she realized that many independently produced films from the 1970s through the 1990s were similarly unavailable, often due to legal issues. She organized a panel discussion at a Director’s Guild of America event in November 2021, resulting in the creation of a new advocacy organization, “Missing Movies,” which has now published a manifesto  (https://missingmovies.org/the-missing-movies-manifesto/), and has begun fundraising.

Nancy Savoca

Missing Movies” was founded by Nancy Savoca, Richard Guayu, Ira Deutchman, Susan Bodine,  filmmakers Mary Harron and Shola Lynch, and Dennis Doros and Amy Heller. The last-named, parents of Milestone Films, who have for decades been a major force in film distribution and film preservation. Besides being a filmmaker, Shola Lynch is also the curator of the New York Public Library’s Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture.  According to their new website, an advisory board has also been formed that includes Mira Nair, Maggie Renzi, Allison Anders, Maggie Greenwald, Dolly Hall, Allyson Nadia Field, Ruby Lerner, and Tanya De Angelis.

Mississippi Masala (1991, Mira Nair)

In the film archival world, there are always two issues confronting film preservationists: 1. Who has the original negatives or other pre-print material to produce new digital masters and 2. Who owns the copyright for public exhibition. In some cases, the film material itself has been lost, or only degraded versions are available, in other cases, the rights have been lost. This is especially true for independent features from the last forty years because such films were often sold to distributors for a limited period of time, e.g. ten years, with the rights then reverting to the original owner. But finding the owner can be tricky because rights are often bought, sold, or inherited by parties who are not necessarily in the business. Without rights from an owner, a film preservationist cannot legally make copies or preserve a given film title.

Annihilation of Fish (1999, Charles Burnett)

The “Missing Movies” Manifesto begins provocatively: “Movie audiences are being told that streaming has made the entire history of cinema available for a simple subscription fee – or at least a couple of dozen subscription fees. This is not true.” In fact, “Thousands of movies are either completely lost or are deemed too small to warrant the expense and are thus completely unavailable. This is especially true of work created by women and people of color.” The issue is that third-party rights-holders of independent feature films fear the cost of preservation and access. Today that means making digital masters and storing them in a safe environment, which because of the cost of computer storage and maintenance is a very expensive proposition. BTW, the cost of storage has not dropped significantly, despite the industry’s assurances that it would.

I also believe it is a truism that the number of commercially accessible films keeps shrinking. Of all the films made in history, only a percentage was even transferred to analog video technology, either from 35mm or 16mm. Given the relatively low cost of analog VHS tape, smaller companies could afford to bring older historical films into the market. Already the shift to DVDs drastically limited access, while the streaming market has further reduced access to film history’s riches.  

True Love (1989)
True Love (1989, Nancy Savoca)

In any case, Nancy Savoca has cause for concern. Her debut film and a Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner, True Love (1989), made Annabella Sciorra a star, but is now on the organization’s list of “missing films.” Mira Nair’s Mississippi Masala (1991), a Venice Film Festival winner and another indie hit by a woman of color, and Mary Herron’s I Shot Andy Warhol (1996) also make the list, which includes numerous classics:  Ali, the Fighter (1975, Bill Greaves), Annihilation of Fish (1999, Charles Burnett), Black Girl (1972, Ossie Davis), The Cool World (1964, Shirley Clarke), The Heartbreak Kid (1972, Elaine May), The Kiss of the Spider Woman (1986, Hector Babenco), Memory of Justice (1976, Marcel Ophuls), Nothing but Common Sense (1972, St. Clair Bourne), The Trial of the Catonsville Nine (1972, Gordon Davidson), Union City (1980, Marcus Reichert). Dennis Doros tells me that the actual list is already much longer than the thirty-plus titles on the “Missing” website, probably already in the hundreds of titles.

Heartbreak Kid (1972, Elaine May)

To begin the process of resolving this challenging situation, the “Missing Movies” Manifesto states that they “will work to demystify and help decipher the economic, legal, and practical hurdles that filmmakers face when they want to make their older works available.” Those challenges include: researching contractual rights, deciphering underlying rights, locating master materials, and making new digital masters. However, this is a very ambitious, long-term plan that will be predicated on financing. In the short term, “Missing Movies’” goals are much more modest and doable because they involve volunteer help:  1. Publicize the need to filmmakers, other stakeholders, and the public; 2. Identify “missing films” and create a database. 3. Create a guide for filmmakers to help them research films. 4. Create FAQs for common issues. 5. Create case studies of success stories involving renewed access. 6. Create a website for all the organization’s activities.

This program reminds me of very similar efforts we undertook with our Sundance film preservation partners when I was Director of UCLA Film & Television Archive. To get filmmakers screening their work at Sundance to think about making sure they have a plan for the long-term survival of their work was daunting. We held events at Sundance, put together brochures with an easy step-by-step guide, but filmmakers were usually more concerned with their next film. It is probably no accident that many of the participating filmmakers in the present endeavor are of an age when they actually do start thinking about their legacy and are therefore involved in what is a very admirable effort.   

290: Julien Duvivier’s Films of Religiosity

Archival Spaces: 290

Julien Duvivier’s Films of Religiosity

Uploaded 4 March 2022

Over the course of the years from 1927 to 1929, Julien Duvivier directed and wrote three films with overt religious subject matter, all of them very much personal projects, products of his Jesuit education:  L’Agonie de Jerusalem/Revelation (1927), Le divine croisière/The Divine Voyage (1929), and La vie miraculeuse de Thérèse Martin/The Miraculous Life of Teresa of Lisieux (1929). All are included on Flicker Alley’s Blu-Ray Box Set, Cinema  Discovery, which I wrote about in 290. Ben McCann in his Senses of Cinema piece on Duvivier also mentions in his trio of religious films, Credo ou la tragédie de Lourdes (1924), which seemingly concerned an atheist medical doctor who witnessed miracles at Lourdes but is seemingly lost, and the Blu-Ray pamphlet does not include the title in its selected filmography.

Interestingly, just like his American counterpart in the religious pictures business, Cecil B. DeMille, Duvivier sprinkled very secular marital melodramas and comedies in between. While Duvivier’s gentle comedy of Belgian manners, Le marriage de Beulemans (1927), is all about class difference, his later two women’s melodramas, Le tourbillion de Paris (1928) and Mamam Colibri (1929), feature upper-middle class wives who eventually return home, humbled and humiliated,  after straying from their marital bed. DeMille’s marital comedies, e.g. Why Change Your Wife? (1920), and social melodramas, like The Golden Bed (1925), are, likewise, morality plays of strained or broken marriages that ultimately reaffirm the protestant ethic and marital fidelity. DeMille’s dramatizations of the Bible, whether The Ten Commandments (1923) or The King of Kings (1927), take the Bible at face value, God’s logos translated into Evangelical visions of Old and New Testament narratives, presented with spectacular special effects. 

Mamam Colibri (1929)
Why Change Your Wife? (1920)
King Of Kings (1927)

Duvivier proceeds differently.  Each of his deeply Catholic films offers a different meditation on religiosity, faith, and the acceptance of miracles. While L’Agonie de Jerusalem visualizes a personal conversion to the Catholic faith at the very site of Calgary, Le Divine Croisière illustrates the simple faith of a parish priest and his poverty-stricken congregation, personified in the refurbished image of Stella Maris. La vie miraculeuse de Thérèse Martin faithfully portrays the life of a very young women, Thérèse of Lisieux, who joined the Carmelite order in Normandy and was canonized in 1925 by Pope Pius XI. 

From the Manger to the Cross (2013)
Quo Vadis (1923)

While various „Passion Plays“ had been popular at the end of the 19th century and Pathé and Gaumont ‘s Life of Christ (1905-1906) remained in distribution for years, overtly religious films were few and far between, both in Europe and Hollywood. The first wave of religious films appeared shortly before World War I with Sidney Olcott’s Kalem Company production, From the Manger to the Cross (1913), which eschewed the painted sets of earlier passion plays and included many scenes shot on location in Palestine, followed by the Italian import, Quo Vadis(1913), produced in eight reels and running an incredible two hours and fifteen minutes.  Based on the monumental novel by Henryk Sienkiewicz, first published in 1908, Quo Vadis’s success encouraged the production of feature-length films worldwide. A second wave of religious films began appearing in the United States in 1924, after the incredible success of Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments, which itself was cashing in on a wave that had begun in Europe a year or two earlier with the Italian-produced epic, The Bible (1922), and the Austrian-produced Sodom and Gomorrah (1922). Internationally, a host of other Christian films were produced, including Natan der Weise (1922), I.N.R.I. (1923), Quo Vadis (1924), Moon over Israel (1924), Ben-Hur (1925), and Noah’s Arc (1928), the failure of the last-named film indicating that the wave was spent.

L’Agonie de Jerusalem (1927)
L’Agonie de Jerusalem (1927)
L’Agonie de Jerusalem (1927)

L’Agonie de Jerusalem relates the conversion to Christianity of a French anarchist and atheist, who is blinded in a Parisian riot and returns home to his deeply religious parents, who literally live on Mt. Scopus in Jerusalem. Although there is a strange subplot concerning an anarchist plot to blow up the damns on the Jordan River, – Duvivier again mixing genres – the film’s main action concerns the prodigal son’s halting acceptance of God, his sight restored on Good Friday after he dreams of seeing Christ’s passion at Golgotha. Much of the film was shot on location in Jerusalem, allowing Duvivier to present numerous biblical sites and stories, including Christ giving a blind man his sight at Jericho and Judas kissing Christ in the garden. All of which gives credence to the anarchist’s conversion in those “holy” places. Seeing the light, the hero joins a modern-day procession recreating the Passion ad locum. Today, we can feast our eyes on tourist views of late 1920s Jerusalem.

Le divine croisiere (1929)
Le divine croisiere (1929)
Le divine croisiere (1929)

While Christ’s Passion is at the center of L’Agonie de Jerusalem, Le divine croisière centers on a firm belief in the Virgin Mary, also known as Stella Maris or „Our Lady Star of the Sea.“ A wealthy ship owner forces his crew to sea in an unseaworthy vessel and seemingly lost. The ship owner’s daughter, however, is devoted to Stella Maris – she is restoring a painting of her in the parish church – and convinces the townspeople to send out another ship, the Stella Maris, and thanks to the crew’s fervent prayer to the Virgin, they find the lost ship and return home. Unlike the previous film, there are no Biblical recreations – Stella Maris’s painted image does come to life at one point – but the film is suffused with religious faith while observing religious and other family rituals of a small fishing village with an almost neorealist eye and certainly an anthropologist’s.

La vie miraculeuse de Thérèse Martin (1929)
La vie miraculeuse de Thérèse Martin (1929)
La vie miraculeuse de Thérèse Martin (1929)
La vie miraculeuse de Thérèse Martin (1929)

Finally, La vie miraculeuse de Thérèse Martin is ostensibly a bio pic of the then newly sanctified St. Thérèse of Lisieux.  The film begins with her parents, who both attempted unsuccessfully to join the Carmelite Order, but raised five girls, four of whom eventually join the Order of the Brothers of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel, as the Carmelites are officially known; their first monastery, the Stella Maris Monastery, was founded on Mount Carmel. The parents, Zélie and Louis Martin were canonized in 2008, the first set of spouses ever to be declared saints. But it is the passion of Thérèse, who suffers pain, isolation, boredom, guilt, cold, and deprivation. She enters the Order at the age of fifteen, receiving special permission from Pope Leo VIII, her anguish at losing her sister Pauline to the Order, then her own entrance into the Order. Duvivier visualizes the Church’s religious rituals around Thérèse’s Postulancy and Novitiate with ethnographic accuracy, while the film‘s most dramatic scenes involve Thérèse’s self-doubts, her wringing with the devil, and her death at the age of 27 of tuberculosis in 1897.     

Similar to Duvivier’s use of dissolves and superimpositions in his silent melodramas to visualize subjective states of mind, Duvivier makes use of similar techniques here to stage religious epiphanies, e.g. Louis Martin with a cross, his suffering equal to that of his daughters. Even within realistic film narratives, then, Duvivier profitably employed expressionistic devices to give material form to faith.  More than twenty years later, Duvivier would recreate the village priest from Le divine croisière in the guise of Fernandel as Don Camillo.

Don Camillo (1952, Julien Duvivier)

289: Julien Duvivier Silents

Archival Spaces 289: Julien Duvivier Blu-Ray Box Set

Uploaded 18 February 2022

Julien Duvivier

For many years, Julien Duvivier was considered one of the greatest directors of the pre-World War II French cinema, celebrated not only by critics, but by the likes of Jean Renoir, Ingmar Bergman, Orson Welles, and Michael Powell. But the French New Wave hated their predecessors, damning the generation of Duvivier, René Clair, and others ungenerously as an uncinematic “cinema of quality.” Jean-Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut were particularly vitriolic in their attacks on Duvivier, who nevertheless continued to make films, like the two Don Camillo films (1952, 1954), which are still childhood favorites of mine. The bad rep probably came from the fact that Duvivier was extremely prolific, eclectic, uneven, and supposedly lacked an auteurist sense of style. In point of fact, as Ben McCann has argued in an appreciation of Duvivier sound films  in Senses of Cinema (Nr. 82, March 2017): “Duvivier did much to establish the formal and aesthetic norms of French poetic realism. La Bandera  and Pépé le Moko both blended elements of populism and melodrama and wrapped them in a highly expressionistic mise en scène.” Even the Cinémathèque Français has come around, dedicating in 2010 a virtually complete retrospective to Duvivier. Ironically, Duvivier’s prolific output during the silent era has been a blank page, due to inaccessibility.  Flicker Alley’s new blu-ray nine-film box set demonstrates that Duvivier’s expressionist cinema was already fully-formed in the 1920s, the stylistic obsessions and thematic concerns of his 1930s work already in full bloom.

Born in October 1896 in Lille, in northern France, Duvivier was educated by the Jesuits, before becoming a stage actor in 1915 at the Théâtre de l’Odéon in Paris. By 1917 he had moved to film as an assistant director to André Antoine and Louis Feuillade. Although he directed his first film in 1919, he really hit his stride with Poil de Carotte (1926), which he remade as a sound film in 1933. Duvivier’s other stand-out films in the 1930s beyond those mentioned above included David Golder (1930), Le Golem (1935), Un carnet du bal (1937), the latter remade in Los Angeles as Lydia (1941), and La fin du jour (1939). In the late 1930s, Duvivier traveled to Hollywood, where he directed The Great Waltz (1938) at MGM, then after a brief retour to France, spent the war years in America, directing Tales of Manhattan (1942) and The Imposter (1944). After returning to Paris, he was responsible for the film maudit, Panique (1946), today acknowledged as a masterpiece, although it bombed in its original release. With Deadlier Than the Male (1956), Duvivier again achieved a degree of critical success, before dying in a car accident in 1967.

Poil de carotte (1926, Julien Duvivier)

Restored by Serge Bromberg’s Lobster Films, in conjunction with the CNC, Cinémathèque Français, Amsterdam’s EYE Institute, among others, the nine silent films presented reveal a unique visual talent who reveled in the possibilities of cinematic technique, especially to capture subjective states of mind. At a time when the cinema was gravitating towards more realistic film styles, Duvivier continued to construct unabashedly expressionistic visions of his sometimes tortured protagonists. Duvivier gravitated towards family melodramas (or comedy), narratives in which the unity of the family is threatened by wayward wives or cold-hearted parents until a crisis precipitates a return to order in the family unit.

Poil de carotte (1926, Julien Duvivier)

Poil de Carrot [Carrot Top](1926) begins with a subjective montage of village gossipers to visualize what we will perceive as the broken marriage of the Lepic family, who neglect and abuse their youngest child, nicknamed Carrot Top. In a nightmare sequence, Duvivier employs one of his favorite techniques, layered multiple exposures in order to visualize the boy’s tortured vision of his scolding mother, leading him to attempt suicide from which he is saved only in the last moment by his father.  Panoramic images of the countryside around the Lepic’s village indicate Duvivier’s geomorphological interest in natural and urban landscapes through long moving camera shots.

Au bonheur des dames (1930, Julien Duvivier)
Au bonheur des dames (1930, Julien Duvivier)

Similarly, the director’s last silent film, Au bonheur des dames  [Ladies Paradise](1930), opens with a country girl (Dita Paolo) arriving in a Paris train station, which is a tour de force of editing and super-impositions, capturing the subjective chaos that is a modern city. Later he visualizes the nervous breakdown of her uncle, whose small shop is being destroyed by the large department store of the title, rapidly intercutting repeated shots of a construction worker wielding a pickaxe, before the despondent uncle takes a gun and starts shooting customers in the offending store. Duvivier’s over-determined ending, though, papers over the film’s central struggle between small business and big capital with a happy end, reflecting the conservative values manifest throughout his work.

Le Tourbillon des Paris (1928, Julien Duvivier)

In Le Tourbilllon de Paris (1928), Duvivier encapsulates the central conflict between Lord Abenston and his wife, the former actress Lady Amiscia (Lili Dagover), in an image that shows the couple facing each other in a foyer, while layers of superimpositions on both sides of the screen illustrate their divergent views of their marriage. Indeed, Duvivier experiments with complex traveling shots, split screens, superimpositions, and flashbacks, while his narrative moves from what initially looks like a mountain film, to a marital drama in an affluent urban environment.

Le tourbillon de Paris (1928, Julien Duvivier)
Le marriage de Mademoiselle Beulemans (1927, Julien Duvivier)
Le marriage de Mademoiselle Beulemans (1927, Julien Duvivier)

Le Tourbillon de Paris also illustrates Duvivier’s geomorphological interest in landscapes, opening as it were a mountain film in moving camera shots of the snowy vistas, some shots recalling early cinema images from the front of a train. Poil de Carotte,  Mamam Colibri (1930), and Le mystère de la Tour Eifel (1927) also feature moving camera panoramas through landscapes, while Duvivier also privileges long, moving camera shots through crowds, whether in a department store, night clubs or at costume balls.  Le marriage de Beulemans (1927), opens literally with a picture book sequence of views of Belgium, its countryside, and quaint villages and towns, like Bruges and Ghent, before zeroing in on a local brewery, owned by the Beulemans family of the title.  

Francis Lederer in Mamam Colibri
Mamam Colibri (1930, Julien Duvivier)
Maria Jacobini in Mamam Colibri

Finally, what may have bothered the New Wave critics was Duvivier’s now thoroughly modern genre mixing, already in evidence in his silent films: Le Tourbillon starts as a mountain film and ends a marital melodrama, Mamam Colibri begins as a society drama with a middle-aged lady straying from her husband then morphs into a Foreign Legion story, while Le mystère de la Tour Eifel is a circus-detective-social drama.

Given his Jesuit upbringing and conservative values, it’s not surprising that Duvivier also specialized in religious films, but the three included in this box set will have to await my next blog. Suffice it to say that the films are all beautifully restored with new musical scores by Antonio Coppola, Marco Dalpane, Gabriel Thibaudeau, and Fay Lovsky.

Le mystère de la Tour Eifel (1928, Julien Duvivier)