Prod.: Milano Films 35mm. L.: 64 m. D.: 3’30” a 16 f/s. Bn
Popular Opposites: Men and Women (2)
In 1908, Dorando Pietri failed to win the marathon at the Olympic Games in London, coming in first only to be disqualified, which made him the most famous Italian in the world after Enrico Caruso; the Austro-Hungarian empire celebrated Emperor Franz Joseph I’s 60th jubilee; Tolstoy turned 80 and was filmed for the first time (by Aleksandr Drankov); Carlos I, king of Portugal, was killed by a Republican assassini bullet; David Wark Griffith joined Biograph. We could easily have filled an entire programme with famous filmed and filmic men of 1908. Another programme idea to bring the world of 1908 back to life could be ‘extinct male occupations’ – coachmen, charcoal makers… emperors… – all gone from Europe, and miners have become rare (while kings – and queens – have held on remark- ably well). Then I read in Thorsten Veblen’s economic study The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899) about the prestige differential between the ‘debasing drudgery’ of women and slaves and the ‘honorific exploits’ of men, to which he attributes the later evolution into a working class and a leisure class. The latter is characterised, among other things, by the ‘conspicuous exemption from all useful employment; the usual occupations for men of the leisure class are ‘government, war, sports and devout observances’, while women of the leisure class serve merely as indicators of their men’s prestige, by means of demonstratively useless activities and ‘conspicuous consumption. These would also be useful concepts for a film programme on the men of 1908.
In addition to the consolidated film production in France, the USA, Britain and Italy, films were also produced locally all over Europe, above all local actuality films, often by cinema owners or photographers. In some cases, these developed into internationally successful production companies as in the case of Welt-Kinematograph GmbH based in Freiburg, Germany. Between 1908 and 1911 alone, the company offered some 280 views of towns and landscapes and continued to make local newsreels (including on commission) such as Beerdigung der Opfer des Grubenunglucks auf der Zeche Radbod (Funeral of the Victims of the Mining Disaster at the Radbod Colliery). After the Tonbilder (sound films), a non-fiction genre was thus the second German production to become integrated into the world market. The first attempts at feature films in Germany and Russia were based on popular local material such as fairy tales and folk songs; the producer Aleksandr Drankov provided cinemas with a record of music to accompany Stenka Razin – the film based on a popular ballad officially considered to be Russia’s first feature film. It was not this film that gained Drankov international attention in 1908, however, but his film material of Leo Tolstoy. Drankov was a photographer, worked for the international press and the tsarist family and also owned a large chain of photographic studios. As a film producer, he engaged in embittered competition until 1917 with his rival, A. Khanzhonkov, whose studio produced films by Yevgenii Bauer and Ladislas Starewicz.