F.: Armand Guerra. Int.: Musidora, Lina Clamour, Armand Guerra, Michelet. Prod.: Le Cinéma du Peuple. 35mm. L.: 272 m. D.: 13’ a 18 f/s. Bn
Though some sources list Musidora appearances as early as Louis Feuillade’s L’Esclave, 1908, or Étienne Arnaud’s La Main noire, 1910, these claims are hard to verify. Musidora’s first official appearance on screen is regarded as Louise, a young and exploited working girl in Les Misères de l’aiguille, co-directed by Raphaël Clamour and Armand Guerra (formerly of Éclair), shot at the Lux Studios for Le Cinéma du Peuple film co-op, an original and libertarian experiment in propaganda and pioneering activist film outfit. The film’s cast, including Musidora, came from the theatres and music halls. This proved a charismatic, if an acrobatic choice. Clamour, a leading trade unionist who had partnered Musidora at the Châtelet theatre, turned them into a company of tragedians intent on promoting social, fraternal and feminist causes. Le Cinéma du Peuple showed this film, its first, at the Hôtel des sociétés savantes in the rue Danton, Paris, on January 18th, 1914, with commentary by Chalres Marck of the CGT trade union. Lucien Descaves, a libertarian Paris-Commune veteran, spoke after the show.
As its first offering, Le Cinéma du Peuple has decided to release a social drama about women. However one looks at it, women find themselves in today’s society very inferior to men. It is said, with some justice, that women are doubly exploited: both as work forces and often in the home too. More than 300,000 women are forced to hire themselves out as labourers in Paris for paltry wages. Every morning, thousands of ‘Louises’ make their way through the railway terminals of the city, coming in from the suburbs. They pour into the shops and workshops of the capital. Our intention has been to use cinema as means of illustrating the tribulations of today’s women, who must work in every sector for a pittance. “The Angel of the Hearth” that poets used to sing of old no longer exists. Today, there are only unfortunate women, ill-treated by fortune. Our feminism is about raising women, returning women to their rightful position in society, as men’s social equals. Above all, we wish women to concern themselves with social issues, and thus help change the material and moral condition of the oppressed. If every ‘Louise’ would only consent to reflect on her own unfortunate fate, she might do away with her lethal isolation; she might gather with others and organise in her own defence. If every activist interested in setting women free would only join us, the cause of women’s liberation would leap forward and Le Cinéma du Peuple would have no cause to regret the effort involved in releasing Les Misères de l’Aiguille. This tale is only one, among all the tales of hardship at work. Tomorrow, we intend to show working lives on the big screen. Every profession is to us a field of study. We will find a wealth of subject matter there. We shall not forget our history. We shall bring the heroes of the working class to life, the Varlins and the Millières, the Flourens and many others. We, at Le Cinéma du Peuple, intend to place work on a pedestal because only work, we believe, deserves to stand there.
Story as related in a Le Cinéma Le Peuple cooperative pamphlet of the day, printed by L’Emancipatrice, a communist printing company in Paris, now preserved in the archives of the International Institute of Social History, Amsterdam