Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: Renee Carl

Roman Orgy (1911)

Roman Orgy

OK, let’s get it out of the way right off, in case anyone came here because they were Googling for porn: There is no orgy in this film. Move along, nothing to see here. Nothing, that is, except for an odd costume drama directed by Louis Feuillade and starring Jean Aymé (whose talents as a baddy we previously saw in “The Defect”). Aymé camps uncontrollably as the debauched Roman emperor “Heliogabalus” (that’s a mouthful, but the end title makes it even worse by telling us he was the “Sardanapalus of Rome”), who sets lions loose on his dinner guests, spoiling the planned orgy. Having had enough of his tyranny, they call in the Praetorian Guard to do away with him There’s limited hand painting of the costumes in this movie, which is mostly pretty understated, but is striking in the gold helmets and armor of the Praetorians. Gaumont must have had a decent budget or some pull with a local zoo, because there’s at least seven or eight lions running around the studio, apparently with actors and crew right nearby.

Director: Louis Feuillade

Cast: Jean Aymé, Renée Carl, Luitz-Morat

Run Time: 8 Min, 52 secs

You can watch it for free: here.

Defect, the (1911)

Defects

Alternate Title: “La Tare”

This longer story by Louis Feuillade (feature-length, if we accept the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’s liberal definition), is quite somber and serious, although also interestingly different from similar morality films from the US at the time. Anna (Renée Carl, who we’ve seen in a number of these Gaumont movies now) is a “flower girl” working at a brasserie frequented by “loose women” and making time with a dandyish medical student. She is unhappy in her job, but a real doctor strays in and offers her work at a hospital for seriously ill children and old people. She writes her boyfriend a goodbye letter and travels South, taking up her work with determined efficiency and a good bedside manner. Years later, when the old doctor dies, she becomes the director of the hospital. And then her old lover hears of her success and tries to chisel her for a job. When she refuses, he writes to a newspaper of her “sordid past.” The board, which at first appears willing to defend her against slander, decides to dismiss her when she owns up to it all. She can’t get a job without references, and is on the verge of suicide, but she collapses back into her chair and a final intertitle tells us she “considers the Far East — where people stricken by plague need nurses to liberate them from death.”

Now, as this is a bit longer, I want to take a bit of time to discuss it. First, it is interesting that the actress here is not made up to be at all glamorous or attractive, she is quite plain-looking and rarely, if ever, smiles or appears happy. Second, although Feuillade mostly keeps this one inside the cramped, stagey-sets of his studio, we do get some beautiful shots of Paris and the hospital grounds, and a shot of a train racing South that put me in mind of Lumiere, except that the angle was rather more interesting. While we’re on the subject of photography, there’s also an interesting tracking shot between two of the cramped sets at the employment office – nothing groundbreaking, but camera movement is so rare in 1911 that it stood out. It’s quite slow and deliberate, matching the mood of tragic destiny that prevails.  Third, I was fascinated, both by the apparent sympathy for the heroine shown in the narrative, and by the fact that having worked in a “brasserie” would disqualify a competent nurse from hospital work. Wikipedia tells me that “brasserie” means “brewery,” although the translated intertitles once used the term “dance hall,” perhaps trying to make the negative connotation clear to Americans. We don’t see any dancing, though, just what looks like a fairly congenial restaurant, with mostly female wait staff and mostly male clientele, both quite conservatively dressed and not touching one another. I admit, I don’t know much about the turn-of-the-century mores of French dining establishments, but it seems like a pretty judgmental position, perhaps the French equivalent of the gossips fussing about Mary Pickford’s “New York Hat.” Here, however, no one gets any comeuppance and the tragedy is taken almost to its final extreme, aside from the fact that the last intertitle tells us that Anna is truly redeemed and will continue her good works.

Director: Louis Feuillade

Starring:Renée Carl, Jean Aymé, Alice Tissot

Run Time: 41 Min

You can watch it for free: here.

Custody of the Child (1909)

Custody of the Child

Alternate Title: “La Possession de l’enfant

This is another of Louis Feuillade’s early works for Gaumont studios in France. Although this is largely similar to Progressive Era morality dramas being made in the United States, there are some interesting differences. First of all, the very act of basing a film on the premise of divorce is unusual for American pictures anytime before “Kramer vs. Kramer” (1979), or at least “The Parent Trap” (1961). It’s also interesting that the it is the father who is awarded custody, making the conflict of the film the natural love between a mother and child, and the harm done by divorce to this institution. The child, although well-taken-care-of, quickly becomes melancholy, and the father takes him to his maternal grandmother. She, of course, immediately turns him over to the mother, who absconds and then tries to raise the child in poverty. The father goes to the police, and we seem to be set up for a tragic of ending, but the child brings his parents together. Modern audiences may be confused by the long hair and petticoats of the male child, but this would have been typical in Europe at the time. Again, Feuillade makes good use of Paris exteriors intercut with generic, cramped stage-like sets for the play.

Director: Louis Feuillade

Starring: Renée Carl, Christiane Mandelys, Maurice Vinot

Run Time: 11 Min, 34 secs

You can watch it for free: here.

A Very Fine Lady (1908)

Very Fine Lady

Alternate Title: Une dame vraiment bien

Another piece of light fluff from the early years of Louis Feuillade, this depicts a young woman walking around the streets of Paris whose figure apparently causes all sorts of mayhem. When she walks by men, they turn and crash into things, or spray one another with hoses, or otherwise become too distracted to function. She is fully and fashionably clothed, although her corset is very tight, which tends to accentuate her figure, but she is far from immodest, which may actually be part of the joke (or maybe it just seems humorous to modern sensibilities). The various Frenchmen reacting to her seem like something out of a Pepe Le Pew cartoon – they have no dignity and respond with broad gestures and ogles. Finally, a couple of policemen take it upon themselves to cover up her dress with a large coat and escort her safely home. The scene with the soldiers breaking rank to stare at her made me think of how France would be at war in just a few years, fighting against Germans who believed just this sort of idea of French military discipline. Interestingly, the audience never gets a good look at the woman’s face, she is generally depicted at a distance, or walking away from the camera.

Director: Louis Feuillade, Romeo Bosetti

Starring: Renée Carl

Run Time: 3 Min, 26 secs

You can watch it for free: here.

Colonel’s Account (1907)

Le_Récit_du_colonel

AKA: Le récit du colonel

This early short by Louis Feuillade has something of the feeling of a Méliès comedy, although without the expected special effects. A middle class dinner party is disrupted when one of its members – a retired colonel – relates one of his war stories in an overly-animated manner. As his narrative proceeds, he begins acting out the campaign, overturning the table and attacking his fellow diners. Eventually he is subdued by a “devious counter-attack,” in which the entire party pummels him with discarded food from the floor. All action takes place in a single frame, occasionally interrupted by forward-facing intertitles and no editing or camera movement at all. It’s a fairly typical film of the period, not badly done, and it did get a few laughs out of me, but there’s nothing to suggest its director’s later genius.

Director: Louis Feuillade

Starring: Alice Tissot, Maurice Vinot, Renée Carl

Run Time: 3 Min 45 seconds

You can watch it for free: here.