Jolly Cinema > 18:00

A funny 1921: Keaton, Biscot

Introduced by

Serge Bromberg (Les Coulisses du cinéma, Hard Luck and Seraphine) and Cecilia Cenciarelli (The Electric House)

Piano accompaniment by Serge Bromberg for Les Coulisses du cinéma, Seraphine and Crazy to Marry
Piano accompaniment by Donald Sosin. Drums accompaniment by Frank Bockius for The Electric House


Tuesday 20/07/2021


Original version with subtitles


Film Notes

1921 is the first year in our series A Hundred Years Ago in which films of the classical avant-garde comprise part of our selection. The term avant-garde was probably first applied in film circles in the 1920s in France, Germany and other countries in Western Europe to describe films and filmmakers in opposition to commercial cinema. When we speak of the avant-garde in film today, we refer to the 1920s as the classical period. The strand of avant-gardist movies from 1921 already features some of the most famous protagonists of this movement, such as Ruttmann and Richter. Both artists will be ‘fore-guards’ in avant-garde and experimental filmmaking for years to come. Another groundbreaking work from 1921 is the short documentary film Manhatta by Charles Sheeler and Paul Strand, considered to be the first American avant-garde film by many scholars. It can also be seen as a precursor of the famous feature-length city portraits (eg Man with a Movie Camera by Dziga Vertov) by avant-garde filmmakers, which will pop up at the end of the 1920s.
Alongside films from this new genre we show ‘usual suspects’ in this section such as a travelogue from North Africa and a colonial film from Congo. Both films demonstrate the inability of most filmmakers to meet a foreign culture in an appropriate manner, while offering gorgeous cinematographic shots from African landscapes, an important raison d’être of the genre. A Movie Trip Through Filmland and Les Coulisses du cinéma focus on the world of cinema: the first on the production of film material at the Kodak factory in Rochester and the second on the life of film stars in Hollywood.

Karl Wratschko

Cast and Credits

Prod.: Super Film. 35mm. L.: 336 m. D.: 16’ a 18 f/s. Col. (Desmet)


Film Notes

To succeed the series La Vie drôle, between May 1921 and February 1922 Feuillade directed a series of six ‘ciné-vaudevilles’ starring the comedian Georges Biscot (1889-1944). Biscot had been an operative at the Pathé laboratories and a projectionist at the Bobino music hall before becoming a music hall singer. He was performing a Charlie Chaplin impersonation when he was discovered by Jacques Feyder and put into films in 1916. The films in the Belle humeur series were all filmed in Nice. Séraphin ou les jambes nues is the wildest vaudeville from the series. Following a series of unfortunate accidents, the eminently respectable Séraphin, the meticulous and correct manager in an insurance company, finds himself trouserless in the middle of the street.

David Robinson


Cast and Credits

Int.: Georges Biscot (Séraphin), Édouard Mathé (Paul Cerisier), Jeanne Rollette (Virginie Cerisier), Émile André (il signor Manchapelle), Reynier (la signora Manchapelle), Blanche Montel (una cliente), Henri-Amédée Charpentier (il proprietario dell’albergo), Lise Jaux (la moglie di Séraphin). Prod.: Société des Etablissements L. Gaumont DCP. Bn.


Film Notes

It is well-known that Hard Luck has been missing for over half a century. Buster Keaton always had a weakness for it, as he revealed in the famous interview with Robert Franklin, in 1958. He never knew that the Cineteca Italiana in Milan owned an (incomplete) copy with the misleading title Nel paese degli armadilli (literally In Armadillo Country), nor that a decade after the first restoration carried out in 1987 by Kevin Brownlow and David Gill, new materials would emerge to finally reveal the impossible gag Keaton kept describing. After so long, the echo of laughter was still loud and clear in his memory: “the audience would be laughing getting into their cars, out in the parking lots… and if they stayed in there and watched the feature picture coming on, they’d still be laughing at the middle of the next reel of the feature.” His final dive – reminiscent and yet antithetical to his attempted suicide in The Electric House – is shown in a very Keatonian shot with no cuts. It is an impossible dive, a round trip to the other side of the world.

Cecilia Cenciarelli

Cast and Credits

Scen.: Buster Keaton, Eddie Cline. F.: Elgin Lessley. Int.: Buster Keaton (giovane triste), Virginia Fox (giovane donna), Joe Roberts (capo dei banditi), Bull Montana (marito della giovane donna). Prod.: Joseph M. Schenck per Comique Film Corporation. DCP. Bn.


Film Notes

Buster Keaton was a great visionary architect. In every corner of the homes he conceived, lurks a limitless imagination as well as a lucid and implacable vision of America and its paradoxes. Whereas One Week ridiculed the mass production of prefabricated houses – extremely popular since the 1910s – available from Sears Modern Homes catalogue and shipped by mail, The Electric House looks like an extension of the machine-house (as Deleuze defined it) of The Scarecrow, a one-room full of gears in which each piece is combined with (and complicated by) another. This time the target of Keaton’s genius is technological progress, the quintessential American home extensively equipped with facilities and amenities: a state-of-the-art plumbing system, electricity in all rooms and an ultra-modern kitchen. But also escalators, electric food conveyors, a pool-emptying device and other appliances. However, the system does not last long, and the apparently benign and super-functional domestic space begins to revolt, transforming the home-owner’s bourgeois dream into a tangle of crazy mechanisms that cannot be controlled by humans.

Cecilia Cenciarelli


For the restoration of The Electric House eight elements –preserved by the Cohen Film Collection – were inspected, digitised and compared. The reconstruction used a fourth generation dupe negative (CO_COLU_DN_RR593) and a third generation dupe positive (CO_COLU_DP_BND40).

Cast and Credits

Scen.: Buster Keaton, Eddie Cline. F.: Elgin Lessley. Int.: Buster Keaton (giovane laureato in botanica scelto come ingegnere), Virginia Fox (giovane donna), Joe Roberts (preside di facoltà e padre della giovane). Prod.: Joseph M. Schenck per Buster Keaton Productions. DCP. Bn.