T. Lavorazione: The Sea Gull; Sog., Scen.: Josef Von Sternberg; F.: Edward Gheller Iniziò Le Riprese, Poisubentrò Paul Ivano; Mo.: Charles Chaplin; Scgf.: Donald Hall; Int.: Edna Purviance (Joan), Ève Southern (Magdalen), Charles French (Il Padre), Raymond Bloomer (Peter, Il Pescatore), Gayne Whitman (Il Romanziere); Prod.: Charles Chaplin Per Charles Chaplin Film Corporation, Josef Von Sternberg. 35mm. Bn. Not Distribuited. Negative Copy Deleted On June 24th, 1933.
March 11, 1926: 42 days into the production and 4 into the shooting of The Sea Gull. Fair weather. Cast and crew had driven up the coast from Los Angeles to Monterey in a Packard and a Ford truck. According to the daily production report signed by Charles B. Fiammond, between 8:00 a.m. and 4:45 p.m., 1.200 feetof film were shot: “Love sequence on pier this morning, shot scenes of restless seas, afternoon”. Soon to be renamed A Woman of the Sea, this film was produced by Chaplin to revive the career of his former leading lady Edna Purviance, and directed by Josef von Sternberg; Chaplin did not appear in the film. Searching through the Chaplin Archives for ‘fingerprints left by Josef von Sternberg’ might not provide torough answers to the many questions raised by the disappearance of one of thè most legendary titles in cinema history, but the documents are tantalizing vivid: daily production reports, the list of final credits and intertitles. Reading through them, you feel like you are there too, day after day, through- out the production (well before Steinbeck’s Monterey – “tin and iron and rust and splintered wood, chipped pavement and weedy lots and junk heaps, sardine canneries of corrugated iron”).
As a matter of fact, few witnesses who saw the finished film in a private screening or at the Beverly Hills preview organized by Sternberg, without Chaplin’s permission, described the film in all its details. Sternberg, Chaplin and star Edna Purviance remained resolutely silent on the matter. John Grierson was allegedly one. A few years before his own depiction of herring fishermen in the North Sea in the Flaherty- inspired Drifters (1929), Grierson described The Sea Gull as “a strangely beautiful and empty affair – possibly the most beautiful I have ever seen – of net patterns, sea patterns and hair in the wind”. Sternberg’s cameraman Paul Ivano (who replaced Eddie Gheller on April 26, 1926) and Robert Florey were two others. In Florey and Maurice Bessy’s Monsieur Chaplin ou le rire dans la nuit, Florey goes even further and reports being one of the few to have seen the two versions of The Sea Gull “cette oeuvre si curieuse de Josef von Sternberg”. His account fed the myth that two versions of the film existed and that Chaplin might have not distributed the film because von Sternberg failed to invite him to the preview screening in a Beverly Hills theatre…
In the past twenty-five years the records from the Chaplin Archive, the discovery of Edna Purviance’s photos (the beautiful Elli Hill collection, recently published), and other fragments and frames have led to a tentative reconstruction of the film’s narrative and hinted at its style. We will present those along with other materials and stories around The Sea Gull, to try to convey the film’s production process a long with its narrative, in the hope of exciting more interest in this fascinating mystery of film history and bringing to light stili more.
Janet Bergstrom, Cecilia Cenciarelli