Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: Felix Mayol

Félix Mayol Performs “White Lilacs” (1905)

Alternate Title: Félix Mayol, lilas-blanc

My final Félix Mayol phonoscène by Alice Guy portrays one of his most popular songs. He sings and dances a bit, working in lip-synch with a prerecorded gramophone record.

Felix Mayol White Lilacs

Once again, Mayol enters the stage in long-shot and the camera remains stationary for the length of his song. We get no color or close-ups this time. The curtain is the same: especially sharp-eyed viewers may have noticed that it is adorned with white lilacs, and that Mayol has one in his buttonhole as well. This time, I can spot the Gaumont symbol way down in the lower-right corner. Presumably, it was there for the other movies as well, but the cinematographer failed to get it in the frame.

White Lilacs” is a love song, told more or less from the woman’s perspective, with a tragic ending (the woman chooses a man who doesn’t love her over one who does). Apparently Mayol suggested the idea to the songwriter, Théodore Botrel, because they were his favorite flower and he wanted it to be his signature song. Apart from phonoscènes, Mayol didn’t have many screen appearances until the advent of “Talkies,” but he did a number of French talking pictures in the 1930s. He would die in October, 1941, in what was then Vichy France, the collaborationist regime with the Nazi occupation force.

Director: Alice Guy

Camera: Unknown, possibly Alice Guy or Anatole Thiberville

Starring: Félix Mayol

Run  Time: 3 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

Félix Mayol Performs “The Trottins Polka” (1905)

This is another of the short sound-on-disc phonoscènes that Alice Guy shot with Félix Mayol. It fits in neatly with the others I’ve looked at this week, but has some distinctions from last night’s entry.

Felix Mayol Trottins PolkaOnce again, Mayol walks onto the stage and sings. This time, the image is black and white, and the camera is set back to give us a full-shot of the actor, including some of the studio floor. This latter is probably because, unlike in “Indiscreet Questions,” Mayol does do a bit of a dance here, and needed more room to move around on camera. This was clearly shot in the same session; even the curtain is identical to last night’s film. His hair is also identical – apparently it was part of his act, as caricatured in the poster below:

Felix Mayol PosterI thought at first that the “polka” might mean that this song would make fun of Germans, but if these lyrics are correct, it doesn’t seem to be the case. In fact, it seems to be a song about the culture of young boys who hang around railroad stations hoping to pick up tips for helping to cart luggage for tourists. Given that Mayol was apparently gay, and that young boys at railroad stations sometimes make money in less savory fashions, this song may have a certain racy implication as well. As before, Mayol communicates the humor of the song with subtlety, and only suggests, rather than making anything obvious.

Director: Alice Guy

Camera: Unknown, possibly Alice Guy or Anatole Thiberville

Starring: Félix Mayol

Run Time: 2 Min, 25 secs

You can watch it for free: here.

Félix Mayol Performs “Indiscreet Questions” (1905)

Alternate Title: Félix Mayol, Questions Indiscrète

This is another of Alice Guy’s sound-on-disc releases. It is shot in a somewhat different (perhaps more “modern) fashion, but is essentially just a static performance of a song by a known performer.

Felix Mayol Indiscreet QuestionsOnce again, a singer walks onto a small stage and performs a single tune for us. In this case, the backdrop is a curtain, and the performer is shot in mid-shot, from the waist up. We never see his feet or the floor of the stage. The more intimate distance allows us to see his handsome face and expressions more clearly. He does not move around or dance, however, because the tight shot doesn’t give him room. This time, there is no Gaumont logo visible in the background. The image is in color, which looks to me not like hand-tinting, but some form of early two-color process.

Felix_MayolHaving read up a bit more on Phonoscènes, I am beginning to understand that they are not “sound” films in the sense of having the sound and action recorded at the same time, but rather an early form of lip-synch. In the case of “Alice Guy Records a Phonoscène,” that large sound device I saw her playing with actually was a gramophone, not a recorder. This does make more sense, but I believe that in the case of “Cyrano” we may have heard live sound recorded experimentally; the “Dickson Experimental Sound Film” definitely does have it.

The performance does strike me as more modern, even without movement or cutting, and that’s largely due to the camera angle. It somewhat reminded me of the old “Lawrence Welk Show,” with the fancy curtain backdrop. Being able to see the actor’s face makes a huge difference. I’d noticed with Dranem and Polin that they seemed to close their eyes while they sang, but with Mayol I could be sure. This might have been because of the bright studio lights, or maybe it was just the style at the time. The song appears to be rather suggestive, but unlike the broad comedy of the other singers, Mayol handles it with occasional smiles and winks, which would have been harder to catch at a distance.

Director: Alice Guy

Camera: Unknown, possibly Alice Guy or Anatole Thiberville

Starring: Félix Mayol

Run Time: 2 Min, 50 secs

You can watch it for free: here.