The Silent Watchdog: Late 2016

Posted December 2, 2016 at 9:54pm by Carl Martin, edited December 8, 2016 at 9:23pm

Going to the Day of Silents? May as well sleep in a bit and skip the first show. Nothing against Charlie, but these shorts have passed through Serge Bromberg's claws and been reduced to pixels. Instead, arrive around noon..

So This Is Paris comes to us in a new print from the Library of Congress, preserved in 2014 from a nitrate print, part of a collection acquired from United Artists in 1970. This print replaces a worn ("beloved") safety preservation from the same source made 39 years prior.

I haven't heard anything yet regarding Strike, but I expect we'll see a black and white print, hopefully with the original Russian titles (they are a graphical element of the film). We may lose a portion of the left side of the image as Soviet films were commonly printed in later years with a sound aperture even if they were silent and had picture in the soundtrack area. But this is mere speculation.

<edit>We did in fact see a black and white print with the original Russian intertitles and what looks like laser subtitles in English--though they actually have their origin in an older print, presumed by Eastman House, er, sorry: George Eastman Museum, to be an American release print, of unknown vintage, which in 1998 was printed to negative and back to positive (all-analog), passing the image of the titles down through the generations. I saw no evidence that any portion of the image was missing. I did, however, see two shots that were upside-down and time-reversed (in relation to how they were shot). They don't appear to have been planned as backward shots. When in reel 2 the suicide's noose is retightened one could argue that Eisenstein decided the worker's bonds could not be loosened even in death, but the puddle-reflected shot in reel 1 loses its internal logic (which even to Eisenstein carried some weight) to no apparent dramatic or didactic end. In a stairway chat, Russell Merritt opined that both shots are intentionally this way, and he may well be right (and backed up by reams of scholarship I haven't time to tear through). But accidental upside-down shots have precedent in Russian silents. See Aelita, Queen of Mars.</edit>
Which way is up?

Next up, the first of the day's seriously incomplete films, Anders als die Andern, whose homosexual content overstretched Weimar tolerance. All that exists is a 45 minute excerpt included in a later documentary, The Laws of Love, which survives in a Ukrainian print. The reconstruction we'll see includes some stills and text to fill in the gaps. It was done fully photochemically, entirely on black and white stock with some dye-tinted sections.

Not much is known about the print screening of The Last Command. There was a new print around 2008 but my Paramount contact doesn't think this is it. I have no reason, however, to doubt its bona fides.

As you've guessed by now, Sadie Thompson is the second seriously incomplete film. When the sole surviving print was discovered in Gloria Swanson's estate, the last reel was a goner. A patchwork strategy using the script, stills, and footage from a later adaptation of Maughm's story will at least help wrap up the narrative. This reconstruction was undertaken in 1987, before the digital era, so we needn't worry about that sort of thing.

Thanks to Jared Case, Jack Durwood, Kelly Anne Graml, Jan-Christopher Horak, Mike Mashon, and Todd Wiener for doing their best to field my questions.