Sunday, September 11, 2011

Bromberg's silent show

Serge Bromberg of Lobster films is a great entertainer who each year presents a show in Paris of short found and restored silent films. The last few years he has taken the show on the road. Recently he has been presenting a show at the Telluride Film Festival and then he hops over to Los Angeles.  I watched his show a couple of years ago in Telluride and it was terrific. I just attended his most recent show at the Academy's Samuel Goldwyn Theater and while I don't think the show was as good as the one from two years ago it was still entertaining and - as always - a learning experience for film buffs.

He is tied in with Flicker Alley which released such DVD titles as Saved From The Flames and a great collection of Georges Méliès films so he knows his stuff and has a treasure trove of films to present.

For this show the main focus was a restoration of a hand colored version of Melies' A Trip To The Moon as well as an assortment of 3-D films.

Here are the titles he presented - a good number of which can be found online. I've included links.

A Trip Down Market Street - a 1906 short single take down Market St in San Francisco a few days before the 1906 earthquake. The reason they know it was only a few days before the quake was because a historian did some work to find out weather conditions as well as license plates on some of the cars that passed by in front of the camera, which was mounted on a cable car. The short is available online here.

San Francisco Apres La Catastrope - A very short film from 1906 of the devastation. Found in Europe.

Metamorphoses du Papillon
- A hand-tinted 1904 short that shows a centipede turning into a butterfly. Only it's all done with an actor. Pleasantly funny. Watch it online here.

The Acrobatic Fly - Described - with a smile - by Bromberg as 'atrocious' it is rather funny until you realize why the fly can't move. Then it is grimly funny. This was shown as part of Bromberg's show at Telluride in 2009. Watch it online here.

La Peine du Talion - A 1906 hand-tinted fantasy film about a guy out chasing and catching butterflies who gets his comeuppance. Watch it online here.

Flirt en Chemin de Fer - A 1902 short that Bromberg said was one of the first films to deal with 'sex'. A man kisses a woman on a train. The train goes through a tunnel very quickly and whatever they did together is over.

Apres Le Bal - An 1897 Méliès film that Bromberg described as erotic. A woman comes home and her maid gives her a bath. The 'water' the maid throws on her looks more like coal dust than water. Watch it online here.

Gwalior - A 1907 travelogue through India. Hand-tinted images of people and an elephant strolling though the town and country.

Joy of Living - A beautiful free flowing animated short from 1934. The film did not necessaily fit with the rest of the program but it is a nice bit of art work. I had seen this before it is an extra on the Mauvaise Graine DVD - an early Billy Wilder film. Watch the short online here.

La Donna e Mobile / Als Wie So Trugerisch
- A 1907 sound film! An actor lip synchs a few moments from the famous opera sung by Enrico Caruso. Mildly amusing but more notable for the sound element which [in its day] utilized a cylinder to play the audio in synch with the image.

Les Kiriki - Very humorous 1907 short with 'Japanese acrobats'. In truth, actors wearing Japanese style hair pieces and the director / editor using trick cinematography to make it look like the troupe is doing magnificent acrobatic tricks. Hand-colored. This was shown as part of Bromberg's show at Telluride in 2009. Watch it online here.

Bunzli System - This was a series of three really short films that were originally processed on a machine developed by Rene Bunzli in the 19th century. Rather that celluloid the film is made of a paper-like substance and utilizes a glass disc and was run through a hand-crank stand-alone viewing contraption that presented the films with a stereoscopic 3-D effect. These shorts were presented to us in 3-D so we had to don the fancy glasses. One dealt with the arrival of a train, one dealt with a brothel and I don't remember the other one. All were about 10 seconds long so they showed them twice.

The three Méliès shorts shown were not originally meant to be seen in 3-D but ironically because of the way Méliès filmed them they were able to be seen that way. The reason is because once Méliès became popular he began to shoot his films with two cameras side by side. One print would be sent east and one to the west. Years later historians would stumble upon the films and notice that one print was slightly off-kilter from the other. Due to this phenomena they were able to lay one film over the top of the other one and create a 3-D effect. Pretty amazing.

The three films were:

Le Chaudron Infernal - A short film with a devil and a cauldron he tries to stuff people into. Hand tinted. Watch it online here.

L'Oracle de Delphes - 1903 short in which a thief attempts to steal some jewels from an Egypian tomb and gets caught by a ghost and some statutes.

La Cornue Infernale
- 1902 short that involves a sleeping wizard, a snake and a series of phantasmagorical images that come to life. This one had the best 3-D effect. Watch it online here.

The final film was a color version of Méliès A Trip To The Moon. The fact that is was in color was remarkable because up until 10 years ago no one knew a color version of the film existed. Of course, it had been hand-painted at some point long ago. But the problem was when the reel was purchased it was severely deteriorated and would take a miracle to make it come back to life. With determination and ingenuity Bromberg along with Tom Burton, the head of the Preservation Department at Technicolor, managed to get the film restored.

Even though the film was warped and shriveled Bromberg brought it back by - ironically - building a humidor to speed up the disintegration, which would in time make the reel of film soft enough to slowly peel. Then they took individual digital photos of each and every frame they could. They ended up with more than 10,000 frames, which were then put onto discs and into a computer where a long two year process of reassembling the movie took place.

The final result is pretty cool. It premiered at Cannes last May complete with a [somewhat inappropriate] soundtrack by the French duo Air.

The non-color version of the film can be seen here.

After the screening Tom Burton gave a Power Point presentation of the whole process. And then they screened it again but this time with Bromberg playing the piano.

Overall, a good night at the movies.

[Fellow blogger Phil was there too.]

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