Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: Cecil B DeMille

The Little American (1917)

The star power of Mary Pickford is teamed with the directing power of Cecil B. DeMille to produce a war propaganda picture just as the United States prepares to send its first troops to France to fight in World War One. The movie pulls no punches in showing audiences what the USA will be fighting for, but it has a reputation for being clumsy and jingoistic today.

Mary is the titular representative of the United States, Angela Moore, living a privileged and sheltered life as a socialite on a large estate. She has two suitors: the French Count Jules de Destin (Raymond Hatton) and Karl von Austreim (Jack Holt), a German. As the movie opens, it is July 4, 1914 (which just happens to be Angela’s birthday), and she receives each of them in turn. She seems to prefer Karl, although he insists on teaching her little brother how to goose step. Karl is interrupted as he proposes by an urgent secret message calling him back to serve in the German military, and he honorably releases her from any obligations before he goes. When the Count informs her about the outbreak of war, her first though is of Karl and whether he may have been hurt in the fighting. She sends letters to Karl but hears nothing. Read the rest of this entry »

May 1917

The Century News roundup this week has some interesting trends, in addition to the expected war news and the militarization of the now officially belligerent USA. The Russian Revolution continues, but the big headlines for this month are about uprisings in France and Italy – reasons why people on both sides feared (or anticipated) a coming World Revolution. The Catholic Church has some major events, both at the top and the bottom of its hierarchical structure. And in a film world that is increasingly defined by major stars with huge salaries and unprecedented control of their work, we see important releases from Mary Pickford, Lillian Gish, and Roscoe Arbuckle.

Phillippe Pétain

World War One

The Nivelle Offensive, an attack on the Aisne Front that resulted in over 180,000 French casualties, is abandoned on May 9.

Robert Nivelle is replaced on May 15 as Commander-in-Chief of the French Army by Philippe Pétain. Seen as a hero at this stage of his career, he will later lead the collaborationist regime of Vichy France.

The Selective Service Act passes the United States Congress on May 18, giving the President the power of conscription.

During the Stalemate in Southern Palestine the Raid on the Beersheba to Hafir el Auja railway by Desert Column of British Empire troops, destroys large sections of the railway line linking Beersheba to the main Ottoman desert base on May 23.

Over 30,000 French troops refuse to go to the trenches at Missy-aux-Bois on May27. This is one of several mutinies by French soldiers during the year 1917, as conditions at the Front become increasingly inhuman and the sense that generals sacrifice lives without concern spreads among the common people.

Pope Pius XII

Catholicism

The nuncio Eugenio Pacelli, the future Pope Pius XII, is consecrated Archbishop by Pope Benedict XV on May 13.

Beginning May 13, 10-year-old Lúcia Santos and her cousins Francisco and Jacinta Marto report experiencing a series of Marian apparitions near Fátima, Portugal, which become known as Our Lady of Fátima. These visions continue until October.

Pope Benedict XV promulgates the 1917 Code of Canon Law on May 27.

Disasters

Over 300 acres (73 blocks) are destroyed in the Great Atlanta fire of 1917 on May 21 in the United States.

A tornado strikes Mattoon, Illinois on May 26, causing devastation and killing 101 people.

Transportation

A new Coast and Geodetic Survey Corps of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey is created on May 22, giving the Survey’s officers a commissioned status that protected them from treatment as spies if captured, as well as providing the United States armed forces with a ready source of officers skilled in surveying that could be rapidly assimilated for wartime support of the armed forces.

Crime

Eli Persons is lynched in Memphis on May 22 in connection with the rape and murder of 16-year-old Antoinette Rappal. Parsons was arrested on the evidence of authorities who claimed they could see his face frozen in the pupils of the victim. His death was a partial motivator for the foundation of the Memphis Chapter of the NAACP.

Civil Unrest

A month of civil violence in Milan, Italy, ends on May 23 after the Italian army forcibly takes over the city from anarchists and anti-war revolutionaries. Fifty people are killed and 800 arrested.

Film

Release of A Romance of the Redwoods, directed by Cecil B. DeMille, starring Mary Pickford on May 14.

Release of One Law for Both directed by Ivan Abramson on May 19.

Release of  Souls Triumphant, starring Lillian Gish on May 20

May 21 – A Reckless Romeo, a ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle short on May 21.

Release of Frank Hansen’s Fortune directed by Viggo Larsen – (Germany). Exact date unknown.

Births

May 1 – Danielle Darrieux, actress (in “5 Fingers” and “The Earrings of Madame de…”).

May 10 – Margo, actress (in “The Leopard Man” and “Lost Horizon”).

May 16 – George Gaynes, actor (in “Police Academy” and “Tootsie”).

May 21 – Raymond Burr, actor (known for “Perry Mason” TV series and also in the American release of “Godzilla”).

May 25 – Steve Cochran, actor (who was in “The Best Years of Our Lives” and “Copacabana“).

Best Director 1916

The director’s craft developed over the years of early film at a remarkable pace, so that directors working in 1916 had already achieved a high standard of sophistication and ability. Directors had already come to see themselves as creative artists, as being responsible for coordinating the technical talents of their crew into a single vision They were also the one objective eye watching over the actors, coaching them when performances gave too much or too little. Directors might even see themselves as the final “author” or authority on a film, even though the producers often used economic power to make decisions beyond the control of the directors who worked for them. In this category, we assess the artistic talent of the directors of the year 1916.

Evgeni Bauer was last year’s winner, and his movie “A Life for a Life” has been honored this year with multiple nominations. It shows his talent for mise-en-scène and working in multiple dimensions, and also made a major star of its lead actress, Vera Kholodnaia, this years Century Award winner for Best Actress. His countryman Yakov Protazonov is less well-remembered today, but contributed an interesting entry with “Queen of Spades.” This is the second (known) take on the famous Pushkin story in film, and deals interestingly with the transition between time periods in alternating flashback and “modern” storylines. First-time director Marion E. Wong directed her own screenplay in “The Curse of Quon Gwon,” a story about Asian American immigrants told from their side that still seems original and interesting a hundred years later. She showed her talent for sensitive storytelling as well as good instincts for the cinematic art in this long lost film. Cecil B. DeMille has yet to take home a Century Award, although he’s been nominated each year since I started. His depiction of the life of Joan of Arc in “Joan the Woman” shows how far he’s come in the time since he gave us “The Squaw Man” as his freshman effort. Finally, Charles Swickard and William S. Hart co-directed Hart’s highly effective vehicle, “Hell’s Hinges.” Hart took home the award for Best Actor on that one, can he also manage to win as half a director?

The nominees for Best Director of 1916 are:

  1. Evgeni Bauer, for “A Life for a Life”
  2. Yakov Protazonov, for “Queen of Spades”
  3. Marion E. Wong, for “The Curse of Quon Gwon”
  4. Cecil B. DeMille, for “Joan the Woman”
  5. Charles Swickard and William S. Hart, for “Hell’s Hinges”

And the winner is…Cecil B. DeMille!

joan-the-woman2

I think DeMille’s work is among the best that Hollywood offered in this period. Last year, although he didn’t win the director award, his movie “The Cheat” won as Best Picture, not least due to his direction. Today, DeMille is mostly remembered for grand spectacles like “The Ten Commandments,” but he tried a little of everything in his early years, and that’s part of how he became such an effective showman. In “Joan the Woman,” he fictionalizes enough of the story to hold human interest in a person few can really identify with – a saint and a martyr. The movie is enormously effective and displays the skill he quickly honed by jumping right into feature production in 1914.

1916 Century Award Nominations

12068530171690234341director chair.svg.medSo, once again the Academy Award nominations have been announced, so once again I announce the nominees for the Century Awards. This year, incidentally, I saw several Oscar nominees – all in categories like “production design” and “visual effects” and “makeup and hairstyling.” So yeah, whatever.

Some basic ground rules, once again: I do not have categories for animation or shorts. Those movies are treated like everything else, since they were on a more even playing field at the time. I didn’t actually watch any animation for 1916, so that’s moot anyway, but lots of shorts (mostly comedy) have been nominated in various categories. I only watched one documentary this year, so that category’s a gimme, but I have included it as a nominee in a number of other areas, including Best Picture (because it really is good enough to be considered for it). Oh, and I make no distinction between English and “foreign language” films, since with Intertitles it makes minimal difference.

I do reserve the right to make changes in the final weeks as there are still a few more 1916 films I hope to get around to watching. If you have any opinions on these nominations, or suggestions for things I should watch (especially if they can be seen for free on the Internet), please do write a comment.

Battle of the Somme-film

Best Documentary

  1. Battle of the Somme

Best Makeup/Hairstyling

  1. Intolerance
  2. Queen of Spades
  3. Waiters Ball
  4. The Danger Girl
  5. Snow White

Best Costume Design

  1. Intolerance
  2. The Curse of Quon Gwon
  3. Queen of Spades
  4. Snow White
  5. Joan the Woman

Intolerance BabylonBest Production Design

  1. Intolerance
  2. 20,000 Leagues under the Sea
  3. One A.M.
  4. Joan the Woman
  5. The Captive God

Best Stunts

  1. The Matrimaniac
  2. Flirting with Fate
  3. His Picture in the Papers
  4. Reggie Mixes In
  5. The Poison Man (Les Vampires)
  6. The Rink

Best Film Editing

  1. Intolerance
  2. East Is East
  3. His Picture in the Papers
  4. The Battle of the Somme
  5. The Bloody Wedding (Les Vampires)

Hells Hinges3Best Cinematography

  1. Eugene Gaudio, for “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea”
  2. Elgin Lessley, for “He Did and He Didn’t”
  3. Billy Bitzer, for “Intolerance”
  4. Joseph H. August, for “Hell’s Hinges”
  5. Carl Hoffmann, for “Homunculus

Best Visual Effects (includes animation)

  1. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
  2. The Spectre (Les Vampires)
  3. The Devil’s Needle
  4. Homunculus
  5. The Mysterious Shadow (Judex)

Best Screenplay

  1. East Is East
  2. Hell’s Hinges
  3. The Curse of Quon Gwon
  4. A Life for A Life
  5. Joan the Woman

lord-of-thunderBest Supporting Actress

  1. Lidiia Koroneva, in “A Life for a Life”
  2. Louise Glaum, in “Return of Draw Egan
  3. Constance Talmadge, in “Intolerance”
  4. Marion E. Wong, in “The Curse of Quon Gwon”
  5. Musidora, in “The Lord of Thunder” (Les Vampires)

Best Supporting Actor

  1. Al St. John, in “Fatty and Mabel Adrift
  2. Robert McKim, in “The Return of Draw Egan”
  3. Eric Campbell, in “The Count
  4. Marcel Levésque, in “The Bloody Wedding”
  5. Ernest Maupain, in “Sherlock Holmes”

Best Leading Actor

  1. William Gillette, in “Sherlock Holmes”
  2. Charlie Chaplin, in “The Vagabond
  3. Olaf Fønss, in “Homonculus”
  4. Henry Edwards, in “East Is East”
  5. William S. Hart, in “Hell’s Hinges”

joan-the-woman1Best Leading Actress

  1. Vera Kholodnaia, in “A Life for a Life”
  2. Florence Turner, in “East Is East”
  3. Geraldine Farrar, in “Joan the Woman”
  4. Marguerite Clark, in “Snow White”
  5. Violet Wong, in “The Curse of Quon Gwon”

Best Director

  1. Evgeni Bauer, for “A Life for a Life”
  2. Yakov Protazonov, for “Queen of Spades”
  3. Marion E. Wong, for “The Curse of Quon Gwon”
  4. Cecil B. DeMille, for “Joan the Woman”
  5. Charles Swickard and William S. Hart, for “Hell’s Hinges”

Best Picture

  1. “Intolerance”
  2. “Hell’s Hinges”
  3. “The Curse of Quon Gwon”
  4. “East Is East”
  5. “A Life for a Life”
  6. “Joan the Woman”
  7. “Homunculus”
  8. “Sherlock Holmes”
  9. “The Battle of the Somme”
  10. “The Return of Draw Egan”

Joan the Woman (1916)

Cecil B. DeMille enters the arena of the historical epic with this depiction of France’s most famous saint, starring Geraldine Farrar, who had been very successful in “Carmen” the previous year. While a bit rough in places, it is likely to be a major contender in this year’s Century Awards.

joan_the_womanThis is one of those silent movies that, unfortunately, begins with several minutes of intertitles explaining the plot. Most silent directors did their best to avoid this, but DeMille may have felt that because he was dealing with such a “serious” subject, his audiences would need a little priming to get into the mood. Anyway, after five minutes of introductory reading, we finally get to an unnecessary wraparound story. We begin in the trenches in France in 1916, where a young English soldier is digging in the dirt wall for some reason, and pulls out a sword, apparently buried there since the fifteenth century. He speculates that some “queer bloke” must have wielded it, and then responds to a call for volunteers from an officer. The officer is looking for someone to carry a very unwieldy bomb across no-man’s-land to destroy an enemy trench. He tells the soldier to think about it until midnight before making a decision whether to take on the suicide mission. Once back in his barracks, the soldier sees a vision of Joan of Arc and the real movie finally begins!

joan-the-woman2 Read the rest of this entry »

Best Picture 1915

And so the time comes to announce the best of the best. The movie of 1915 which will live for one hundred years and be so honored as the highest achievement of the motion picture art for that year. This year was an undeniable turning-point in the American film industry. Where last year, they contributed a mere four candidates to the list of nominees for best picture (losing in the end to the Italian “Cabiria”), this year we have no less than seven choices from the USA.

And among those American features, we find three contributed by the same director: Cecil B. DeMille. Whichever film takes away the award, there’s no denying that Mr. DeMille, with only two years experience in the industry, has made his mark. His film “The Cheat” has already taken away an award for Sessue Hayakawa in a supporting role and earned many other nominations. “The Golden Chance” was largely overlooked by the Century Academy, although its story of a woman tempted to dishonor herself for money has much in common with the previous one, plus some impressive editing and acting. And his version of “Carmen” with Geraldine Farrar shows his ability to adapt classic material to the new medium. Another American, Raoul Walsh, got off to a promising start this year with the groundbreaking gangster picture “Regeneration,” another name that we’ve heard quite a few times this evening, although it did not win in any of the categories it was up for so far. Russian filmmaker Evgeni Bauer took home the statue for best director this year after losing out to Giovanni Pastrone of Italy last year. Will one of his movies be selected as the best? This year his offerings included “Children of the Age,” this year’s winner for production design, and more significantly the haunting Turgenev adaptation “After Death,” which won him best director as well as getting best leading actor for star Vitold Polonsky. Charlie Chaplin, who this year as last has taken home only the minor award of best makeup, sees one of his famous slapstick comedies, “The Bank” on the list as well. Can the “Little Tramp” earn the artistic recognition of the century? Frenchman Maurice Tourneur came to Fort Lee, New Jersey, still a major film producing center, just last year and gave us the outstanding “Wishing Ring.” This year his “Alias Jimmy Valentine,” once again a multiple nominee but non-winner, is among our considerations. Fellow countryman Louis Feuillade may have stayed at home, but that didn’t stop him from turning out another bizarre and clever crime serial, one episode of which, “The Deadly Ring,” has taken the prize for best costumes and now stands for best picture. Finally, the winner of best screenplay and best editing, “The Italian,” rounds out our selection of excellent movies from the previous 100 years. Which will be the winner?

The Nominees for Century Award for Best Picture are…

  1. Regeneration
  2. Children of the Age
  3. After Death
  4. The Cheat
  5. Golden Chance
  6. Carmen
  7. The Bank
  8. The Deadly Ring
  9. Alias Jimmy Valentine
  10. The Italian

And the winner is…”The Cheat!”

Cheat_FilmPosterAs with last year, I didn’t have to work too hard to come up with this one. All I had to do was look back and see which movie really stood out as the one I’m going to come back to and want to see again. It may have been “second best” in a number of the single categories – writing, directing, cinematography, etc – but when you put it all together it beats the winners in each single category and comes out as a solid, memorable whole.

And with that, I’m done once again for another year! Thank you all for reading! I look forward to seeing as many good films from 1916!

Best Supporting Actor 1915

A character is defined as “a person in a narrative work” which when portrayed in theater or cinema “involves the illusion of being a human person.” Actors play characters of all types, but sometimes there is a great opportunity to give an illusion that reaches an audience, even from the secondary position of a supporting character. Male actors have a wide range of possibilities, from sidekicks to villains, fathers to sons, and nearly all possible professions, to create that human illusion and help to bring a story to life.

This year, quite a number of our candidates for Best Supporting Actor had the signature pleasure of portraying a villain. Wilton Lackaye brought his stage characterization of Svengali in “Trilby” to the screen to general acclaim. Roy Daugherty also played a familiar role in “Passing of the Oklahoma Outlaw” – he portrayed the Western outlaw he had been in real life before director-star Marshall Bill Tilghman caught up with him. In the role of Skinny, William Sheer goes from henchman to bitter enemy of the protagonist of “Regeneration” and gives a powerfully frightening performance that will influence crime movies for decades. And Sessue Hayakawa presents a genuinely terrifying vision of greed, lust, and arrogance combined for his memorable role in “The Cheat.” Our one non-villain, Marcel Levésque as Mazamette in the “Les Vampires” serial, still hobnobs with a criminal gang, even if it is only to help out the brave but bland reporter Guérande.

The nominees for best actor in a supporting role are…

  1. Wilton Lackaye for “Trilby
  2. Marcel Levésque for “The Deadly Ring
  3. William Sheer for “Regeneration
  4. Roy Daugherty for “Passing of the Oklahoma Outlaw
  5. Sessue Hayakawa for “The Cheat

And the Century Award goes to…Sessue Hayakawa!

Sessue Hayakawa.

Sessue Hayakawa.

There were some really great villains in the movies I watched in 2015, but none made the same impression as Hayakawa in “The Cheat.” When he believes he has Fanny Ward in his power, his assurance and cold desire for her is chilling, while when he finds that she intends to “cheat” him, his rage comes through the screen in waves of intimidation and frustrated power. At every moment of the movie, he is constantly in character and believable, even when his emotions are at a high pitch that would lead many into overacting. This was the only possible choice for best supporting actor in the end, much as I did enjoy all of those nominated.

1915 Century Award Nominations

12068530171690234341director chair.svg.medThe nominations for the “real” Academy Awards were announced earlier today, and once again I’ve seen none of the movies up for consideration, and have only heard of about half of them. This is a recurring theme, and there’s no reason for me to be bitter about it. I just don’t go to the movies very much, and when I do, I usually don’t enjoy it much.

But…for those who are interested in my opinions of the movies of one hundred years ago, this is also the day that I announce my nominations for the Century Awards. I did a pretty good job of watching available movies from 1915 over the past year, although of course it’s not possible to see everything and I may have missed some obvious ones. I may be making some last minute additions in the next weeks, depending on how the Inter-Library Loan gods treat me.

This year, I’m sticking with the categories and rules I established last year with no significant changes. That means that “shorts” and “features” are competing in the same categories, as are “adapted” and “original” screenplays, and there are no special categories for “documentaries” or “animated” movies. In terms of movie length, I could have changed the rules this year, in light of the much higher rate of feature film production in 1915, but with Charlie Chaplin vaulting to super-stardom on the basis of two-reel releases this year, it only seemed right to let him compete with the longer movies. I think most of the “shorts” I nominated are his, though there’s probably an exception or two. I’ve never really understood the distinction between “original” (nothing is original in Hollywood) and “adapted” screenplays, and I’m too lazy to care, so there’s just one category there. As far as docs and animated, it comes down to the fact that I didn’t see enough of either to justify a separate category. The only 1915 animated movie I’ve seen is Ladislaw Starevich’s “Lily of Belgium,” so I guess it wins by default. I saw both “Over the Top” and “Mabel and Fatty Viewing the San Francisco Exposition,” both of which are sort of documentaries and sort of not, but that’s not enough to be called a representative sample of nonfiction film in 1915. (Between the two of them, “Over the Top” would win, if anyone’s interested). I still see no reason to separate “foreign language” from English-language silent films, and, yes, I’m keeping “Best Stunts.”

As I said last year, the rules to the Academy Awards say that there can be “up to five” nominees for each category except Best Picture, which gets “up to ten.” If you want to weigh in on the choices I’ve made, cast your “vote” by commenting, and explain why you think your chosen film should win. I’m still the final arbiter (it’s my blog), but I’ll certainly take well-thought-out arguments into account. If I sneak any new nominees in, it will mean exceeding the maximums, but I figure I can break my own rules when I need to.

Finally, before anyone asks, “where’s ‘The Birth of a Nation,’” the answer to that is here.

 

Best Makeup/Hairstyling

  1. The Deadly Ring
  2. A Woman
  3. A Fool There Was
  4. Trilby
  5. A Night in the Show

Best Costume Design

  1. Trilby
  2. The Deadly Ring
  3. A Fool There Was
  4. The Coward
  5. Hypocrites
  6. Alice in Wonderland

Best Production Design

  1. Young Romance
  2. Daydreams
  3. Evgeni Bauer for Children of the Age
  4. The Cheat
  5. Alias Jimmy Valentine

Best Stunts

  1. Charlie Chaplin for Work
  2. Douglas Fairbanks for The Lamb
  3. Charlie Chaplin for The Champion
  4. William Sheer for Regeneration
  5. Charlie Chaplin for By the Sea
  6. Luke the dog for Fatty’s Faithful Fido
  7. Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle for Fatty’s Tintype Tangle

Best Film Editing

  1. The Coward
  2. The Italian
  3. Hypocrites
  4. Cecil B. DeMille for Golden Chance
  5. Alias Jimmy Valentine

Best Cinematography

  1. Walter Stradling for Young Romance
  2. Joseph H. August for The Italian
  3. Boris Zavelev for Daydreams
  4. Alvin Wyckoff for The Cheat
  5. Alias Jimmy Valentine

Best Visual Effects (includes animation)

  1. Regeneration
  2. Ladislaw Starevich for Lily of Belgium
  3. Frank Ormston Hypocrites
  4. Children of Eve
  5. After Death

Best Screenplay

  1. Charlie Chaplin for The Bank
  2. Carl Harbaugh and Raoul Walsh for Regeneration
  3. C. Gardner Sullivan and Thomas Ince for The Italian
  4. M. Mikhailov for Children of the Age
  5. Hector Turnbull and Jeanie MacPherson for The Cheat

Best Supporting Actress

  1. Musidora for “The Red Cryptogram
  2. Kate Toncray for “The Lamb”
  3. Marta Golden for “Work”
  4. Gertrude Claire for “The Coward”
  5. Florense Simoni for “The Red Cryptogram”

Best Supporting Actor

  1. Wilton Lackaye for “Trilby”
  2. Marcel Levésque for “The Deadly Ring”
  3. William Sheer for “Regeneration”
  4. Roy Daugherty for “Passing of the Oklahoma Outlaw
  5. Sessue Hayakawa for “The Cheat”

Best Leading Actor

  1. Henry B. Walthall for “The Raven
  2. Charlie Chaplin for “The Bank”
  3. Rockliffe Fellowes for “Regeneration”
  4. George Beban for “The Italian”
  5. Vitold Polonsky for “After Death”

Best Leading Actress

  1. Clara Kimball Young for “Trilby”
  2. Anna Q. Nilsson for “Regeneration”
  3. Vera Kholodnaia for “Children of the Age”
  4. Fanny Ward for “The Cheat”
  5. Geraldine Farrar for “Carmen”
  6. Francesca Bertini for “Assunta Spina

Best Director

  1. Cecil B. DeMille for “The Cheat”
  2. Raoul Walsh for “Regeneration”
  3. Evgeni Bauer for “After Death”
  4. Maurice Tourneur for “Alias Jimmy Valentine”
  5. Charlie Chaplin for “The Bank”

Best Picture

  1. Regeneration
  2. Children of the Age
  3. After Death
  4. The Cheat
  5. Golden Chance
  6. Carmen
  7. The Bank
  8. The Deadly Ring
  9. Alias Jimmy Valentine
  10. The Italian

December 1915

Well, it’s time to wrap up the news of the year 1915. It’s been an exciting year, both in and out of the movie theater. The First World War extended far longer than anyone had foreseen and also began to affect areas outside of Europe. The sinking of the Lusitania brought the war to the US, even though the country would remain neutral for two more years. The Gallipoli campaign brought heavy casualties to Turkish and Australian forces. And even African colonies began to get swept up into the war. Meanwhile, a new lease on making feature-length films and a beginning of recognition for film as an art form transformed cinema in the United States, while Chaplin-mania swept the world. American movies were finally beginning to dominate international distribution channels, and “Hollywood” was becoming another word for the American film industry as more and more production moved West.

Burlesque on carmen

Here are some of the headlines for December

World War I: Military higher-ups on both sides work to prevent another “Christmas Truce,” seen as bad for morale and likely to encourage spying. Units that broke ranks and attempted to communicate with the enemy faced harsh discipline. Some individual units were made to conduct raids on Christmas day and artillery barrages were scheduled to keep men in their trenches along the front.

Industry: on December 12, the one millionth Ford automobile rolls off the assembly line. Cars will transform American culture at least as much as the movies.

Politics: Yuan Shikai, the President of the Republic of China, declares himself Emperor, filling the gap left by the abdication of Puyi, the “Last Emperor.” This attempt to reinstate monarchy in China lasts only a few months, and is succeeded by years of internal warfare and instability.

First female President of the US? Edith Wilson nee Galt

First female President of the US? Edith Wilson nee Galt

Romance: on December 18, President Woodrow Wilson marries Edith B. Galt. The new Mrs. Wilson will become an important factor in American politics as the President’s health declines, becoming de facto head of the executive branch of government after he suffers a crippling stroke in 1919.

Shipping: HMHS Britannic, which shares design features with the Titanic, is launched December 23 as a hospital ship for the British Navy. Although it too sinks, after colliding with an underwater mine in 1916, nearly all crew and passengers will be saved due to improved safety features.

Revolts: The Military Council of the Irish Republican Brotherhood formalizes its decision in favor of an “Easter Rising” for Easter weekend, 1916. This has been planned since the beginning of the war, and members of the council have met with German representatives to seek German assistance against British Rule.

Film News:

Cheat_FilmPosterDecember 13, release of “The Cheat” by Cecil B. DeMille.

December 18, release of “Burlesque on Carmen” (in edited form), starring Charlie Chaplin.

December 30, release of “The Golden Chance” by Cecil B. DeMille.

Births:

Frank Sinatra, Dec 12. Singer and star of movies such as “The Man with the Golden Arm” and “Oceans 11.”

Curd Jürgens, Dec 13. Actor, appeared in “The Devil’s General” and “The Longest Day,” in both of which he played German generals during the Third Reich.

Dan Dailey, Dec 14. Actor, appeared in “The Mortal Storm” and “When My Baby Smiles at Me,” for which he won an Oscar.

Directors of 1915

12068530171690234341director chair.svg.med

Before I get started talking about my subject directly, I need to say a bit about Auteur Theory. I have pretty mixed feelings about it, and I’ve tried to represent that in this blog by giving equal space to cinematographers and directors (although you’ll notice I put directors at the top). In the period I’ve been discussing, the division was beginning to be formalized, with the “director” being, first, the one who told the actors what to do while the camera operator figured out the visuals, and, later, the one with the ultimate authority on the set. Part of the problem is that the concept of “director” vs “producer” was unclear in the really early years, although as cinema moved towards narrative fictional representations, it followed the division of labor that had been established in the theater. In that context, a director was seen as a “creative artist,” while the producer was in charge of practical issues like financing and advertising (the director did answer to the producer for his job, though, more on that in a bit).

So, what’s my problem with Auteur Theory? Two things: first, I think it misrepresents the reality of working on film, especially after the division of labor caused it to become a large-scale, collaborative, industrial process, and, second, it’s promotes laziness among critics and fans.

Let me unpack that a bit for you. Auteur Theory states that a movie director is the “author” of the film, the person with ultimate responsibility for what appears on the screen. The equivalency is problematic. “Authors,” taken to mean the writers of modern novels, represent a new way of thinking about the artist as an individual in Western European society that emerged as Europe moved out of the Middle Ages. Authors are imagined as working in isolation, creating something wholly new and original from their own minds. However well this does or does not work for literature of different times and cultures, it doesn’t translate well to working on a movie. Anyone who’s been on a movie set knows that literally hundreds of decisions are made every day by people other than the director. The director may have “ultimate” authority on the set, and certainly has the right to suggest things he or she thinks are “important,” and will be the final arbiter of many of these decisions, but I’ve never seen a director who was enough of a micro-manager as to directly decide the placement of every light, or the exact shade that each wall is painted, or the detailed placement of every prop, or the precise body language the actors use. Directors do hire the people they think will do the best jobs for each of these things (often in collaboration with their boss, the producer), but that’s not the same as “authoring” them. That’s “management.” In terms of management, though, the producer really has the final say, even to the point of being able to fire directors in the middle of making a movie. And some producers seem to have as much right to be seen as “auteurs” as directors: noted examples would be Darryl F. Zanuck and “The Longest Day” and the collected works of Val Lewton. I think I’d suggest Spielberg’s influence on the original “Poltergeist” and George Lucas in terms of everything he’s produced as well.

Where I see the laziness creeping in is the language of criticism. I have seen classic movie bloggers write that a movie was “shot by” or even “lensed by” the director. No, that would be the cinematographer (or even the camera operator, to be really precise). I have a certain affection for cinematographers, partly because the movie “Visions of Light” was a turning point in my life and thinking about movies, and partly because of working for a cinematographer-turned-producer/director in my main real world movie job. But, I’m not going to propose a “Fotografia Theory” that places them as more important than directors, the way some writer did in proposing “Schreiber Theory.” Possibly, sometimes, especially in the very early years at Edison or Lumière, they might have been. But, my point is that there is no real “author” of a movie. It is a collaborative effort, and everyone’s job is worth noticing and recognizing. A serious critic needs to make themselves familiar with each of these jobs and, where possible, give credit where it is due. If you don’t have the time or ability to do that, at least try not to say Orson Welles did what Gregg Toland is actually responsible for, OK?

Gregg Toland cries every time you say Welles shot Citizen Kane

Gregg Toland cries every time you say Welles shot Citizen Kane

OK, back to 1915. I don’t mean all of the above to be taken to say that “directors are unimportant.” They have a lot of responsibility, and they do have an impact on the creative aspects of the movies they direct. So, let’s talk for a bit about some of the leaders, as well as the up-and-comers of 100 years ago.

 GriffithDW

I think I have to start with D.W. Griffith, who in 1915 was riding a wave of popularity and controversy to be possibly the most known director of his time. After years of making shorts for Biograph, he left over the issue of wanting to make feature-length films when the studio refused to release “Judith off Bethulia.” He is often credited in (lazy) film histories with having invented everything from the close-up to sliced bread. Actually, during the years he made shorts, he really was quite an innovator, and I think deserves special credit in terms of developing the editing techniques that allow audiences to understand simultaneous action taking place across distances, which is vital to establishing suspense in the movies. It’s fair to ask, however, whether there was a particular editor at Biograph he worked with in developing this technique.

 Evgeni_Bauer

I’ve already waxed poetic about Evgeni Bauer, who I think may be one of those few directors that might be able to claim something like “auteur” status, not least because of his training in set design and the obvious care he gave to camera placement. In 1915 his movies included “The 1002nd Ruse” and “After Death,” my personal favorite of his.

 Charlie_Chaplin

Not often spoken about in terms of directing is Charlie Chaplin, who directed most of the movies he appeared in, starting about mid-way through his year at Keystone Studios. By this point in 1915, he’s at Essanay, and is directing some of the classic shorts that made him an immortal. It’s hard to extract Chaplin’s directing from the rest of his mythos, but I would say that he had a talent for fast-moving action that slapstick work, and that it took him a while to start thinking seriously about character development or even sympathetic characters. His later work proves that he did get it, eventually. This year, his work includes “The Tramp” and “Burlesque on Carmen.”

 Cecil B DeMille

One of the new faces on the scene is Cecil B. DeMille, who started out late in 1914 working for producer Jesse Lasky. DeMille is remembered today mostly for making sprawling epic films, but he actually did quite diverse work in the first few years. After two solid Westerns, he turned to character-driven melodramas, like “Carmen” and “The Cheat.” These are both very sophisticated movies for their day, both in terms of the mature subject-matter, and the complex story-telling structure and camerawork. DeMille was doubtless assisted by a crew of excellent quality, but he showed considerable promise right out of the gate.

 Maurice_Tourneur_in_1919

We’ve also got Maurice Tourneur, whose son Jacques would also go on to be a director of stylistic films. Tournuer had started in France and wisely got out before World War One to work at the World Film Company. He gave us “The Wishing Ring” in 1914, an “Alias Jimmy Valentine” in 1915. These are both very good character dramas, with the former a pleasant fairy tale fantasy and the second an early installment in the gangster genre. The other night I was watching an old Abbott and Costello movie in which a safe was cracked and a joke came up about “making like Jimmy Valentine,” suggesting that the movie still had some resonance a generation later.

 Louis_Feuillade

Finally, I want to mention Louis Feuillade, who kind of “started it all” for this blog with “Fantômas” and its sequels. I took time to look at some of his shorts earlier this year, and I found his work amazingly diverse. He probably would have agreed with Auteur Theory, being French and given to writing manifestos about filmmaking. Maybe in his case it applies. The thing that stands out to me about his productions is how visually rich they can be, especially when he goes outside and shoots on location, instead on the cramped indoor sets at Gaumont Studios. I anticipate returning to his crime series “Les Vampires” in time for Halloween this year.