Camille Blot-Wellens, Jon Wengström (Svenska Filminstitut) and Elif Rongen Kaynakçi (EYE Filmmuseum)
Early films from the collections of the Svenska Filminstitutet
At Il Cinema Ritrovato 2016, the Svenska Filminstitutet presented 14 early shorts that had recently been identified in its collections and photochemically preserved at its Rotebro laboratory. The 9 films presented in new 35mm prints this year do not come from a single source or specific collection. The original nitrate prints entered the Filminstitutet’s archive over the years, and little is known about when and from where they entered the collection, except for the most recent acquisition, Ronneby – Ville de la Suède méridionale. This film was deposited in 2017 by ETH (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich), thanks to the intervention of Cinémathèque Suisse. Cinémathèque Suisse also financially supported the preservation of Sur le Lac Léman, and helped in the identification of the film.
The production years of the 9 films range from 1897 to 1913; 6 of them were produced by Pathé Frères. They provide a rich sample of various colouring techniques such as tinting, toning and stencils, as well as black-and-white. The mixture of non-fiction, drama and comedy resembles the common practice of combined cinema programmes of that period, and displays the diversity and playfulness of early cinema; from the stunningly beautiful record of harbour life in Au Maroc: Tanger and the colourful fantasy of La Fée des fontaines to the dramatic Un attentat sur la voie ferrée with its climactic finale prefiguring events in Abel Gance’s La Roue.
The reproduction of the tining and toning in the original nitrate prints has been done by duplication to B/W duplicate negatives from which Desmet prints have been struck, whereas stencil-coloured films have been duplicated by way of colour duplicate negatives. No additional restoration such as recreating lost intertitles or inserting explanatory texts when footage is missing has been carried out. Two films have proved difficult to identify with certainty, and despite research into catalogues and paper archives, the identification of Le Faux serment and La Fée des fontaines remains unconfirmed.
Colours refound: ten films 1896-1916
The 10 films that make up this programme come from different archives and have been restored in projects not connected to each other. It was only after they passed the selection for the festival individually that they clustered together to form a crash course about the techniques used in silent cinema to colour black-and-white positives.
In the latter years of the 19th century films were coloured by hand, in workshops that specialised in colouring photographs and slides for magic lanterns. The most famous of the Paris ateliers was run by Élisabeth Thuillier (do not miss the conference dedicated to her!), and Madame et Monsieur sont pressés (1901) is one of the rare Pathé films that we know for certain was coloured in the Thuillier workshop.
In early black-and-white productions by Pathé frères, the intertitles were usually tinted in orange-red to give structure and rhythm, as can be seen in Paris élégant: le Bois de Boulogne (1907). Soon, the exquisite polychrome stencil colouring became the pride of the company. The unrivalled Pathécolor, used for travelogues, féeries and costume dramas, can be admired in Phèdre (1910) and Le Port de Marseille (1912). The other companies mostly had to make do with simple tinting and/or toning.
None of the prints in this programme was rediscovered in its country of production, and all of them are foreign-language versions, which just illustrates how international cinema has always been.
P.S. My Little Baby is a fake short film; this fragment of a Francesca Bertini comedy turned up in Berlin and was added at the last moment to the programme.
AU MAROC: TANGER
TERREUR EN RUSSIE
PASSAGE DE RIVIÈRE
[LE FAUX SERMENT]
RONNEBY – VILLE DE LA SUÈDE MÉRIDIONALE
UN ATTENTAT SUR LA VOIE FERRÉE
[LA FÉE DES FONTAINES]
SUR LE LAC LÉMAN
L’HISTOIRE DE MINNA CLAESSENS
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