Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: Alexander Wyrubow

Best Cinematography 1915

Capturing images on the screen is where the entire concept of movies begins. What we really respond to in watching a film is simply light, nothing more. The skill required to manipulate light and objects to create images that will impact an audience is tremendous, and often overlooked in the industry. Great cameramen are artists, at least as much as great directors, and accomplished technicians as well.

The year 1915 encouraged the growth of this art form, even as the increasing popularity feature-length movies raised the narrative level of the medium. In “Young Romance,” cameraman Walter Stradling combined striking exteriors with highly deliberate interior shots that show a sense of mise-en-scène rarely seen in American cinema to this time. By contrast, in “The ItalianJoseph H. August creates a stark vision of an urban world of tenements and gangsters, although the opening sequence in the old country also shows a nostalgic romanticism. Russian cinematographer Boris Zavlev, with “Daydreams,” once again merits recognition for his “free” camera which isn’t afraid to move both with and counter to actors in order to place the audience more convincingly inside their world, rather than looking at it from a distance. Back in the USA, Alvin Wyckoff gives us both intimate views of the emotional world of the characters in “The Cheat” and considerable use of contrast and shadows to define the darkening world they inhabit. No doubt this night film style will be picked up and used again in the future. The artistic use of light and shadow is also strong in the crime picture by Maurice Tourneur, “Alias Jimmy Valentine,” which includes some very original angles and unusual images indeed.

The nominees for Best Cinematography for 1915 are

  1. Young Romance
  2. The Italian
  3. Daydreams
  4. The Cheat
  5. Alias Jimmy Valentine

And the winner is…Boris Zavlev for “Daydreams!”

Daydreams1This year we did see American cinematographers start to break out of the confines of earlier years of production, but the Russians still surpassed them. “Daydreams” feels like a movie from the 20s, not the mid-teens, and a lot of that is due to Zavlev’s freely mobile camera. While last year’s winner, “Silent Witnesses” almost won by default, this year “Daydreams” had tough competition but still managed to pull ahead of the pack. The use of a complex tracking shot to show a character’s change of decision and the effective filming of a stage performance that includes the audience without making them into performers themselves are two great examples of what made Russian cinema the artistic leader it was at the time.

Daydreams (1915)

Daydreams

Alternate Titles: Gryosi, Грёзы

Evgeni Bauer presages “Vertigo” with this film about death, identity, grief, and madness. A man is suffering due to the recent death of his young wife, and lops off a piece of her corpse’s hair to remember her by. Inconsolable, he wanders the streets aimlessly, until he spots a woman who is her exact double. He follows her to a theater, and watches the performance, in which she plays the part of a ghost in a cemetery. He reaches out to her, distracting the audience from the performance, then goes after her backstage, finding out where she lives. He visits her with flowers, and she receives his warm attentions with mutual interest. He tells his friend that his has found happiness again, then to his surprise his new love begins a flirtation with the friend! Unable to bear the contradictions between the ghost of his wife and the reality of the actress lookalike, he descends into madness, which is aggravated by cruel taunts from the woman. By the end, driven to the breaking point, he snaps when she starts using the lock of hair as a prop in a jest at his expense.

Daydreams1

So, we’ve got another Bauer movie from 1915, and as usual, it’s fascinating. We get the usual highly decorated Bauer sets, shot as usual from a 30-degree angle, with cutting to close-ups within scenes, and use of depth and camera movement. We also get some really nice location shots of a Russian city (I’m guessing Moscow or Petrograd, but I haven’t found a definite answer), including a very interesting tracking shot that follows the main character down the street, then halts as the woman passes, then tracks backward when he turns to follow her. From the motion, I’m guessing that this was done from an automobile, running at very low speed. The other visually interesting sequence is the theater, which includes a large number of extras (at least twenty to thirty), who are seen from front and back. They appear to be “in on” the movie, and keep to character, while some of the passersby on the street stop to stare at the camera. The theater sequence involved several camera angles, and used stage effects to show ghosts rising from the grave and smoke. The “real” ghost of Elena is represented through double exposures, ala Méliès, and sometimes shows up while her double is on the screen. It’s overall a fairly economical production, with much of the action taking place in the main character’s living room, but nevertheless surprises with its advanced techniques.

As far as the story goes, I think it may translate to modern audiences better than “The 1002nd Ruse” or “Twilight of a Woman’s Soul.” The actress seems a bit too shamelessly wanton and cruel to be believed, but I’m inclined to read this as being seen from the perspective of a man whose perceptions are distorted by grief and madness. He, after all, is demanding that she re-fashion herself to “be” his dead wife, when she is clearly her own person with her own motivations and interests. Not the most reasonable way to establish or maintain a love affair. No doubt at a certain point she feels the need to reassert her own identity, and to demand to be treated as her own person. And who would love someone who was constantly moping around about his dead wife? This is somewhat strengthened by the fact that the actor (Alexander Wyrubow, who as far as I know never worked in movies again) is rather a ham, over-acting when sulking, reaching out for his new interest, and when “going mad” with jealousy. It works for the story of someone with a tenuous grip on reality, but also seems to emphasize why the actress isn’t thrilled with her new relationship.

Director: Evgeni Bauer

Camera: Boris Zavelev

Cast: Alexander Wyrubow, N. Chernobaeva

Run Time: 33 Min

You can watch it for free: here.