Sog.: Norbert Falk e Hanns Kräly dall’opera Don César de Bazan di Adolphe Philippe d’Ennery e Philippe-François Pinel. Scen.: Edward Knobloch. F.: Charles Rosher. Scgf.: William Cameron Menzies. Int.: Mary Pickford (Rosita), Holbrook Blinn (il re), Irene Rich (la regina), George Walsh (Don Diego), Charles Belcher (il primo ministro), Frank Leigh (il comandante della prigione), Mathilde Comont (la madre di Rosita), George Periolat (il padre di Rosita), Mme De Bodamere (cameriera). Prod.: Mary Pickford per Mary Pickford Company. DCP. D.: 95’.
In 1922, the most popular actress in America, Mary Pickford, invited the most acclaimed director in Europe, Ernst Lubitsch, to make his first Hollywood film.
The result was Rosita, released in 1923, in which Pickford plays the title character – a street singer of old Seville whose satirical barbs at the king of Spain (Holbrook Blinn) arouse, in time honored tradition, first his ire and then his ardor. As the king pursues her, to the amusement and mild consternation of his queen (Irene Rich), Rosita becomes enamored with the dashing but impoverished aristocrat (George Walsh, the younger brother of the director Raoul Walsh) who had rescued her from her initial encounter with the king’s guards.
As photographed by Charles Rosher (Sunrise) on expansive sets designed by William Cameron Menzies (Gone with the Wind), Rosita remains, in the words of the Lubitsch biographer Scott Eyman, “among the most physically beautiful of all silent films”. It is also one of the most advanced in terms of substituting the language of cinema for the written word. It’s in Rosita that one first strongly feels the emergence of what would come to be known as ‘the Lubitsch touch’ – the concise gesture that summarizes a character, the placement of a prop that eliminates pages of exposition, the creation of mood and drama through lighting, composition and montage.
For Lubitsch, Rosita was an important transitional film, at once the culmination of the historical epics he had been making in Europe (now realized with the full advantage of Hollywood’s generous budgets and technical sophistication) and the beginning of a new, more intimate and philosophical direction in his work. For all the affection and vivacity with which Lubitsch portrays the pair of young lovers, one feels that his deepest sympathies and attentions lie with the royal couple – the hapless, philandering king and his wise, firm but forgiving queen – whose relationship has weathered real world experience and come out the stronger for it.
The music for Rosita was reconstructed using a cue sheet from 1923 that was based on the now lost score for the film by Louis F. Gottschalk. The 45 pieces listed in the cue sheet were located in collections around the world. I suspect that Lubitsch, who was an accomplished pianist, had a hand in the Gottschalk score and hence in the cue sheet. The music fits the picture beautifully and is an example of the fact that well-chosen music can work just as well with a picture as an original score.
Restored in 2017 by MoMA with the support of The Louis B. Mayer Foundation, RT Features, The Film Foundation and the Celeste Bartos Preservation Fund, from a safety preservation negative created from nitrate print with Russian intertitles. Special thanks to the Mary Pickford Foundation and Filmmuseum München. Original score reconstructed by Gillian Anderson from music sheets preserved at Library of Congress in Washington