Prod.: Pathé 35mm. L.: 127 m. D.: 7′ a 16 f/s
Popular Opposites: High and Low
Film historians watch films to school themselves in belle epoque cinematography; if they choose a ‘panoptic perspective’ (A. Gaudreault), they can place the cinematic images within the synchronic panorama of belle epoque cultural production in their ‘cultural order’, linking them with photography music hall, painting and juvenile literature. Conversely cinematography transports current contents, fashions and imaginations. When looking at the films made in 1907, I was struck by the genuinely looming presence of hunger and poverty in the scènes dramatiques (think of La lutte pour la vie and Le bagne des gosses); this inspired the first part of the programme. An image as unforgettable as a photograph: the old woman in the yard of the dog shelter (where the rich lady visits to choose a dog).
Given our experience nowadays, when media mix, scarcely an opera production dispenses with the projection of moving images on stage and the most interesting theatre directors have their actors dance silently one moment and sing a cappella the next, we would not make a bad audience for the historic gala premiere of L’assassinat du Duc de Guise on 17 November 1908 at the Salle Charras. It consisted of filmed dances in the fashionable ancient Greek style (Le secret de Myrto) to a poème musicale by Bérardi, a “Venetian Series” of projected autochrome images with music by Scarlatti and Monteverdi, the recitation of a poem by Rostand illustrated with a (filmed) pantomime and the two films L’empreinte ou la main rouge (“mimodrame cinématographique”) and L’assassinat du Duc de Guise (“Piece cinématographique”), each accompanied by original compositions. Both films rely on body performance. Alongside the mime Gaston Séverin, who plays the leading role of Pierrot, the highlights of L’empreinte are the valse chaloupée by the music-hall stars Mistinguette and Max Dearly (who had been causing a sensation with this Apache dance at the Moulin Rouge since 27 July 1908) and the performance of the dancer Stacia Napierkowska. The tension and coherence of L’assassinat du Duc de Guise are rooted in the powerful presence of Charles Le Bargy as the black perpetrator and Albert Lambert as his white victim; the quality of the performance is immediately apparent to us. Thankfully film historians have stopped measuring the quality of a film by the number of shots and the movement of the camera.