Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: Ladislaw Starevich

Best Visual Effects 1915

Whereas cinematography refers to the straight use of the camera to create an image, many images are created through the use of other devices, or by using a camera in ways not necessarily intended by its originators. The story goes that Georges Méliès “invented” visual effects by accident. He was on the street, filming traffic as it passed when the film jammed. He continued shooting after clearing the jam. When he played back the footage, a bus had turned into a hearse, and a man into a woman, because of the elapsed time between the shots. Whether this is exactly true or not, filmmakers have been using cameras ever since to distort time and reality.

By 1915, visual effects had become part and parcel of many films, and were used to display either supernatural, psychological, or spectacular events. In “Regeneration,” filmmaker Raoul Walsh gave us a tremendous ferry fire, tinted with color to emphasize the drama. Similarly, John H. Collins, working at the under-rated Edison Studios, re-created the Triangle Shirtwaist fire as a plot element in his “Children of Eve.” Wladislaw Starevich made the entire First World War into an allegory with animals fighting through stop-motion animation in “Lily of Belgium.” In “Hypocrites,” director Lois Weber showed the “Naked Truth” as a transparent nude woman. Finally, the Russian filmmaker Evgeni Bauer creates a Gothic psychological drama through the effects in “After Death.”

The nominees for Best Visual Effects (includes animation) of 1915 are…

  1. Regeneration
  2. Lily of Belgium
  3. Hypocrites
  4. Children of Eve
  5. After Death

And the winner is…”Lily of Belgium!”

Lily1While it’s a pretty predictable propaganda movie, this war of beetles against frogs and pine cones holds up today as a technical achievement of early classical silent cinema. The bad guy beetles are especially individualized and interesting, with beer steins, cars, and cannon designed for their use. And, as strange as it is to see pine cones are warriors, they make fascinating characters as well. Starevich once again established his supremacy at visual effects in 1915.

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

House in Kolomna (1913)

Alternate Titles: Little House in Kolomna, Domik v Kolomne

 House in Kolomna1

Ivan Mosjoukine is rightly known for the diversity of the roles he’s played: I’ve now seen him both as the Devil and as a transvestite soldier! In this light romp based on a poem by Pushkin, the young daughter of a widow is carrying on an affair with Ivan, during the occasional breaks she gets from Mama’s watchful eye. When Mama asks her to go out and find a “cheap cook,” she seizes her chance and goes straight to her soldier. He agrees to dress up as a woman and goes home with her. Of course, the new cook proves to be incompetent at cooking and other womanly duties like sewing, giving the widow massages, or leaving the house (since he’s afraid he’ll be recognized). That’s OK, though, because the daughter is always there to bail her/him out of trouble, and they get to carry on their lovemaking in her room whenever Mama’s not around. One day, the cook fakes sick to get out of going to Mass, but Mama thinks maybe “she’s” planning to rob the joint, so sneaks back and catches “her” shaving, which practically gives her an apoplexy. The movie ends with a comedic moral about cheap cooks and men wearing skirts.

 House in Kolomna

I found this to be a pretty effective “situational comedy,” not so different to gender-bending comedies from the US of the time, but possibly a bit more feminist. Why feminist? Well, the person in control of this whole situation is the daughter, not the man, and even in the bedroom scene, she clearly places herself in the dominant position. Mosjoukine gets into his role and exaggerates both feminine and masculine body language for comedic effect. The liner notes claim that he enjoyed himself so much that during outdoor scenes he attracted crowds of astonished people. The movie was also shot by Ladislaw Starevich, better known for his animated movies, and directed by Pyotr Chardynin, of “The Queen of Spades.” Once again, I would assume that the targeted audience was probably familiar with the source material, but here we see an unusual number of intertitles to clarify, and also to slip in some sly jokes here and there. Probably these are lines from Pushkin that the audience would have expected to see; even with my severely flawed Russian I caught that some of the intertitles rhymed, or made plays on language.

 House in Kolomna2

Incidentally, Fritzi Kramer, over at Movies Silently, also recently reviewed this film. Check out her thoughts here.

Director: Pyotr Chardynin

Camera: Ladislaw Starevich

Starring: Ivan Mosjoukine, Sofia Golovskaya, Praskovya Maksimova

Run Time: 30 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

Lily of Belgium (1915)

Lily1

Alternative Titles: Liliya Bel’gii, The Suffering and Resurrection of Belgium, An Allegory of Today

Beetles fight a war against frogs and pine cones (!) in this child’s allegory of World War One by Ladislaw Starevich. Here, he gives us a live-action wraparound story in which a small child finds a crushed lily in a field and asks her grandfather what has happened. The granddad sees an opportunity for childish attentions and weaves the tale of how the beetles decided to wage war on their neighbors, chopping down the lily along the way to serve as a bridge for their mechanized forces. The story of the lily and the war are accomplished through more of Starevich’s deft animations of small dead animals. I found the propagandistic side of the movie a bit disappointing from someone capable of so much more creative storytelling, but the animation made up for it. As usual, the bad guys are generally more interesting than the good, with their miniature cars, beer steins, and cannon, although the scenes of pine cone jubilation after the armistice were entertaining as well. There’s not much information on this movie, even the year is uncertain on the DVD liner, and I’m not certain who the mysterious “Skobelev Committee” was who ostensibly funded it.

Director: Ladislaw Starevich

Camera: Ladislaw Starevich

Run Time: 10 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

Christmas Eve (1913)

Christmas Eve

Alternate Titles: The Night Before Christmas, Ночь пе́ред Рождество́м, Noch pered Rozhdestvom

Thanks to the Devil, everyone will have a merry Christmas this year! This movie by Ladislaw Starevich shows that, in addition to a talented animator, he was a clever director of live action as well. The plot is based on a story by Nikolai Gogol, so once again Russian filmmakers draw on “high” cultural sources, but in this case, the result is rather more Earthy humor than we were getting from our Pushkin fare. The Devil meets up with a witch and goes for a ride on her broomstick, then a series of men come to visit her, each in sequence hiding in a sack to avoid detection by the others. Meanwhile, the witch’s son, apparently a straight-laced lad who is also the town blacksmith, calls on the woman he hopes to marry, a vain creature who demands that he procure the Tsaritsa’s shoes as a wedding gift. Our poor smith heads back home, where he finds all the sacks. He takes one with him to a man “who knows all the devils” and apparently dines by use of telekinesis. The man sees the Devil in his sack and tells him he doesn’t have far to go to find him. Befuddled, the smith returns to the road, where the Devil escapes from his sack and agrees to fly the smith to St Petersburg. Once there, the Devil shrinks down and hides in his pocket, then gives him some presentable clothes for his audience with Potemkin. Potemkin agrees to let him have the shoes and he returns to his village, beating the Devil for good measure and offering, along with the gifts, to let the father of the bride beat him. The fickle girl has lost interest in the shoes, but agrees to marry him anyway.

 Christmas Eve1

This is probably the best comedy I’ve seen among the Russian movies I’ve watched so far. Starevich is much more comfortable moving the camera and giving closer views than either Goncharov or Drankov, although he’s no Bauer. He relies more on effects than almost anyone I’ve seen from this period, outside of Méliès. In addition to multiple flying scenes, we get the Devil shrinking, the dumplings flying from the pot into the wise man’s mouth, and a few appearances and disappearances as well. Also, the Devil at one point “steals the moon,” which appears to be an actually working practical light, which he holds as if it were quite hot (which I would expect it to be!). There’s also a curious illuminated prop, which is part of a caroling procession. Finally, in the role of the Devil we get the famous Ivan Mosjoukine, one of the best actors of the period. He puts his all into the role of the degenerated man-beast, hopping about with monkey-like frolics. There’s lots to be enjoyed here, and although Starevich probably relied on the audience’s familiarity with the story, not knowing it beforehand won’t get in the way of watching it.

Director: Ladislaw Starevich

Camera: Ladislaw Starevich

Starring: Ivan Mosjoukine, Olga Obolenskaya, Lidiya Tridenskaya, Alexander Kheruvimov, Petr Lopukhin

Run Time: 41 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

The Dragonfly and the Ant (1913)

Dragonfly and the Ant

Alternate Titles: Strekoza i muravey, Стрекоза и муравей

Ladislaw Starevich is one of those figures in film history who is unknown by many, but loved by most who do know him. He more or less “invented” stop motion photography – that’s not to say he was necessarily the first to do it, but he figured it out without being taught by anyone. While working on a nature film on the battles performed by stag beetles, he discovered that they couldn’t survive under harsh movie lights, but that he could make animatable “puppets” from their corpses and shoot them one frame at a time, thus simulating the combat. He soon graduated from making faux-nature films to telling stories, using little dead insects as his performers. This story has been told many times since (usually in English as “The Ant and the Grasshopper,” but I’m sticking with the DVD edition’s title for now), and is a sort of morality fable in which the hard-working ant survives a cold winter because he’s prepared for it while a more fun-loving, lazy creature perishes for lack of foresight. Because it’s based on one of Aesop’s Fables, this more or less conforms with expectations that animation is a format for children’s movies, but this would not hold true for most of Starevich’s work. Even here, the cruelty of the ant in turning away his “relation” seems to militate against modern concerns about children’s sensitivities. It struck me that, since the dragonfly/grasshopper in this movie is a musician, there’s also something of a message regarding the STEM fields and the Humanities underlying this version – a society which doesn’t value its artists will see them all die off in the Winter! On the other hand, the grasshopper/dragonfly does seem to have a drinking problem, and maybe that’s part of the moral as Starevich saw it.

Director: Ladislaw Starevich

Camera: Ladislaw Starevich

Run Time: 5 Min

You can watch it for free: here.