Film Program Notes 2021

Kennington Bioscope Online Program

Kennington Bioscope (KB), The Cinema Museum, London Presents:
Solax, The House Built by Alice Guy Blaché

A film program in conjunction with Women and the Silent Screen (WSS)—Online (Friday, June 4 –Sunday, June 6, 2021). The KB online event will premiere on the KB YouTube Channel, Wednesday, June 2, 2021 at 7:30pm GMT (2:30pm EST), and remain online through June 30, 2021.

Program curated by Kim Tomadjoglou.

Hosted by Michelle Facey, Women Film Pioneers Project and Kennington Bioscope. Introductions by Kim Tomadjoglou; Allison Farrell and Tami Williams, University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee; and LC Lab Staff: Heather Linville (Lab Supervisor), Frank Wylie (Head Lab Timer), Lynanne Schweighofer (Preservation Specialist), and George Willeman (Nitrate Vault Leader). 

Coordinators: Kim Tomadjoglou and Tami Williams.

Special Thanks to Peter Bagrov (GEM), Bryony Dixon (BFI), Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi (Eye Filmmuseum), Serge Bromberg (Lobster Films), and Heather Linville (LOC).

[Links to information on Kennington Bioscope and musicians.]

Total Running Time: ~120 min. (~60 min. x 2)

Frozen on Love’s Trail. Dir./prod.: Alice Guy Blaché (Solax, US, 1912). RT: 13:30 min. Source Archive: Eye Filmmuseum. Music: Costas Fotopolous.

In this lesser-known early Solax western, Mary, the daughter of a military officer, befriends a Native American courier (played by a white male in blackface). Shamed by “Captain Black” for associating with a Native American, Mary rejects her suitor’s affection. Later Mary is caught in a terrible snowstorm, where she falls from her horse and remains unconscious. The courier finds her, wraps her in his fur coat, and instructs his dogs to return her home. Overwhelmed by the blizzard, he freezes to death. Back at the camp and safe, Mary is full of remorse when she accidentally discovers a charm buried in the snowa gift from the courier that she shamefully refused. Entirely shot in exteriors in the mountainous environs of Fort Lee during a snowstorm, Frozen on Love’s Trail is a stunning example of Solax cinematography and use of exteriors settings. The film is also representative of Guy Blaché’s other westerns (Two Little Rangers, Algie the Miner) where the genre affords a landscape to explore and expand on questions of gender, class, and race.

Two Little Rangers. Dir./prod.: Alice Guy Blaché (Solax, US, 1912). RT: 14 min. Source Archive: Eye Filmmuseum. Music: Andrew E. Simpson.

“A spirited story of the West and adventures of two little girls, the daughters of a postmaster, who track down a desperate criminal after setting fire to the desperado’s shack and burning him alive.” “Sensational and thrilling” also read the Solax advertising for August 1912. Guy protégée Vinnie Burns, a Solax regular, stars as the elder of the two girls, and displays her skill and agility using a lasso. The younger of the two girls, still unidentified, delivers perhaps the biggest visual surprise of the program. Solax stock performers Blanche Cornwall and Darwin Karr join the cast in this action-packed film in which Alice Guy achieves what she sets out forthrills and, not least, the utilization of Cliffhanger Point in Fort Lee, New Jersey, for dramatic scenes.

The Strike. Dir./prod.: Alice Guy Blaché (Solax, US, 1912). RT: 11:10 min. Source Archive: BFI.  Music: Lillian Henley.

In this film, which Solax marketed as “a big labor problem play, showing the human side of the employer,” Darwin Karr plays Jack Smith, a factory worker, union leader, and loving husband and father. Yet Smith’s family life comes under threat when he and the other workers start planning for a strike as a result of their boss refusing their demands. After Smith leaves his house, where he has hidden a bomb the workers plan to plant in the factory later that night, he receives a call from his wife (Blanche Cornwall) informing him that their daughter is trapped in a fire. Whether Smith will make it in time to save them before the bomb explodes is uncertain, thereby creating the kind of suspense that was typical of silent melodramas. Thanks to his boss who drives him home, however, all’s well that ends well. Smith rescues his wife and daughter, and the workers call off the strike and return to work the next day. Staging, composition, set design, and coloring add to this short film’s dramatic plotting.

A Man’s a Man. Dir./prod.: Alice Guy Blaché (Solax, US, 1912). RT: 9.5 min. Source Archive: GEM. Music: Andrew E. Simpson.

A drama of social justice and personal responsibility, A Man’s a Man portrays the story of two men: Jacob Strauss (Lee Beggs), a Jewish man, and the “Joy-Rider” (Patrick Foy), a Gentile. In this unsettling morality tale, the latter flees from a lynch mob, composed of Jewish immigrants, after killing a young girl in a car accident. Strauss, the little girl’s father, hides the Joy-Rider, sparing him the mob’s violent retribution and refusing payment for his mercy. In saving him from the mob, Strauss has given the Joy-Rider the opportunity for redemption. The film resolves with a feeling of social understanding for the Joy-Rider when he visits the girl’s grave. He is redeemed through his own sense of guilt but without accountability when Strauss embraces him at the gravesite. Both, then, are able to mourn the death of a child. Through this complex and humanizing portrait of the Jewish father, Guy Blaché demonstrates her place as a filmmaker who cannot be easily categorized in early French or American national film histories marked by more simple and straightforward social and moral tales.

Starting Something. Dir./prod: Alice Guy Blaché (Solax, US, 1911). RT: 10:30 min. Source Archive: LOC/Lobster Films Collection. Music: John Sweeney.

In this early Solax comedy, Auntie, a hefty, full-busted suffragette, dresses like a man and fills the house with signs like “Women for President.” Auntie drinks some liquor-spiked lime juice as does Jones, the man of the house. But Jones can’t hold his liquor or tolerate the feminist atmosphere, so Auntie suggests to his wife that she use mental suggestion and hypnotism to help him stop his drinking. Jones’s wife reads a book on the subject and then casts a spell over her husband, who is by now passed out. Not seeing any results, she knocks him over the head and he comes to. A shared bottle of lime juice thought to be poison is the source of ruckus and disruption in this brief skit in which a maid, a butler, a doctor, and a policeman are led in circles by the delirious Jones.

The Sewer. Dir.: Edward Warren (Solax, US, 1912). Prod./sc.: Alice Guy Blaché. Set design: Henri Ménessier. RT: 18:40 min. (at 16fps). Source Archive: LOC. Music: John Sweeney.

Directed by Edward Warren with a script by Alice Guy Blanché and set design by Henri Ménessier, The Sewer represents the lavish production standards of Solax’s earliest feature films. Moving Picture World commented: “The Solax company is able to say [...] that it now has one of the most vivid and the most remarkable melodramas produced in pictures. Every foot of the film brings a new thrill. In the long weeks of preparation, real sewers, manholes, rats, traps, switches, pulleys, divers and dens, mannikins and other contraptions used in the underworld, were gotten together with utmost care and attention to detail.” (Moving Picture World, v. 11 n. 13, March 30, 1912, p. 1152) Herbert Moore and his gang of crooks foment an elaborate plan to steal from the home of wealthy philanthropists Mr. and Mrs. Stanhope (Blanche Cornwall and Darwin Karr). “Little Oliver,” a pupil of the gang (played by female child actress Magda Foy), is the only member of the gang small enough to fit through the window of Stanhope’s home. When “Little Oliver” is caught in the act by Mr. Stanhope, Oliver’s young age endears him to the child, who is released. This act of kindness will ultimately save Mr. Stanhope’s life, when brave “Little Oliver” aids Stanhope to escape a trap set by Moore’s gang which locks him in the city’s sewers.

Cousins of Sherlocko. Dir./prod.: Alice Guy Blaché (Solax, US, 1913). RT: 12 min. Source Archive: LOC. Music: Colin Sell.

Mistaken identity motivates this male buddy comedy in which men display unconventional behavior while women obtain the upper hand. Sallie’s suitor Fraunie looks identical to the criminal Spike appearing in the local paper. When Sallie’s dad sees the ad, he calls Fraunie “a two-faced scoundrel,” then throws him out. On the street, Fraunie is recognized by the great criminal hunters “Sherlocko and his partner.” To avoid the detectives, Fraunie seeks the help of his friend Dick, who suggests they dress up as women. Meanwhile, Sally tries to find the criminal Spike, whom she meets on a ship. But Father fears Sally has eloped with Spike and goes to the police for help. Fraunie and Dick are arrested, but Father says Dick in drag is not his daughter, so Fraunie is thrown behind bars. Having solved the case of mistaken identity Sallie arrives on the scene just in time with the criminal Spike, and Fraunie is set free. The film’s denouement, in which the exonerated Fraunie embraces Sallie, finds her dad embracing Dick in drag.

The Detective’s Dog. Prod: Alice Guy Blaché (Solax, US, 1912). RT: 11:30 min. Source Archive: LOC. Music: Meg Morley.

Described as a “stirring melodrama” upon its release, The Detective’s Dog recounts the misadventure of Detective Harper (Darwin Karr) as duty calls upon him to pursue Richard Toole, the thief of a counterfeiting gang (Lee Beggs). Harper’s home life with his wife (Blanche Cornwall), daughter (Magda Foy), and new dog is harmonious and peaceful, while his job presents many dangers. Toole and his partners in crime set a trap and capture Harper and lock him in a room tied to a moving sawmill. Back home, Mrs. Harper gets so worried about her husband’s tardiness that she sends the dog on his tracks. The dog rescues Harper in the nick of time, and the counterfeiting gang is eventually arrested, although this last scene is missing from the extant print.

Greater Love Hath No Man. Dir./prod.: Alice Guy Blaché (Solax, US, 1911). RT: 15:20 min (at 16fps). Source Archive: LOC. Music: John Sweeney.

In a New Mexico mining camp, a new superintendent is appointed. It is love at first sight for Florence, much to the dismay of Jake, who is madly in love with her. Conflict soon erupts between the new superintendent, Harry, and the Mexican miners (played by white actors) as they disagree with the manager’s weights of their share of the work. They mutiny and plan to attack and kill Harry. Jake overhears the plan and decides to warn his rival to rescue Florence. They manage to escape, but with only one horse, Jake stays behind as Florence and Harry depart to seek aid. The cavalry arrives but it is too late for Jake, who dies in Florence’s arms. As in Frozen on Love’s Trail, a lover’s sacrifice is at the center of this western’s drama. It also heavily relies on racial stereotypes, a trait of the genre Solax productions rarely dispelled.

Film notes by Clara Auclair, Michelle Facey, Allison Farrell, Aurore Spiers, and Kim Tomadjoglou.

Friday, June 4
9:00am–11:00am EST
Part of Program II—Panel # 1: The Art of Recycling: Early Soviet Compilation Film
Includes Screening: Manifest / Manifesto. Dir.: Lidia Stepanova (Sovkino, USSR, 1927). RT: 45 min. Source Archive: Russian State Film and Photo Archive (RGAKFD).
Film Program Note: Manifesto is the first independent work of the classic Soviet documentarian Lidia Stepanova. The documentary was compiled from newsreel material shot across the USSR as well as from foreign footage, with the purpose of celebrating the achievements of the newly established Bolshevik state. Unlike other Soviet compilation film classics, such as Esfir Shub’s The Fall of the Romanov Dynasty (1927) or The Great Road (1927), Stepanova’s Manifesto received very limited circulation and went unnoticed by both contemporary audiences and film historians. This will be the first US screening of Manifesto.

Online Screening & Discussion
Friday, June 4—3:00pm–4:00pm EST
Lights! Camera! Alice! A Conversation with Manohla Dargis (New York Times) and Ariel Schweitzer (Cahiers du cinéma). With newly released extracts from Alice Guy, Pioneer of the 7th Art, Forgotten by History. Dirs. Nathalie Masduraud and Valérie Urrea (ARTE France/10.7 Productions, France, 2021). Film elements courtesy of Cathy Palumbo and ARTE France.
English translation for ARTE documentary (PLEASE DO NOT CITE OR CIRCULATE – FOR WSS USE ONLY)
Description: Alice Guy Blaché has been the object of a variety of recent independent and commercial creations, both in France and the United States. This transatlantic conversation with renowned French and US critics reflects on contemporary representations of the pioneer cineaste through an exclusive look at the newly released archival documentary Alice Guy, Pioneer of the 7th Art, Forgotten by History (2021), featuring animated drawings by the renowned French illustrator Catel Muller.

Online Screening:
Friday, June 4—7:00pm–9:30 EST

/ Today (Cannons or Tractors?). Dir.: Esfir Shub (Sovkino and Weltfilm, USSR, 1930). Sc.: Esfir Shub and Mark Tseitlin. RT: 75 min. Source Archive: RGAKFD.
Introduction: Anastasia Kostina
Film Program Note: A co-production of Sovkino (USSR) and Weltfilm (Germany), Today (Cannons or Tractors?) is one of the most visually experimental and the least studied of Esfir Shub’s early films. Conceived as “a biting film pamphlet denouncing the modern political and economic system of the capitalist world,” the film juxtaposes the Soviet Union with the West. The Soviet segment was shot for the film, while Today’s representations of the West are mainly comprised of newsreel footage that Shub selected at the German UFA studio. A rich documentary amalgamation, Today was deemed so radical that it was confiscated by the New Jersey state police when the film was last screened in the US in the 1930s. Read more here.

The Curse of Quon Gwon: When the Far East Mingles with the West. Dir.: Marion E. Wong (Mandarin Film Co., US, 1916). RT: 50 min. Source Archive: Academy Film Archive.
Virtual viewing for The Curse of Quon Gwon (PLEASE DO NOT CITE OR CIRCULATE – FOR WSS USE ONLY)

Introduction: Cordelia Siporin
Film Program Note: This screening marks the international debut of a new version of The Curse of Quon Gwon that contains the restoration of the long-lost plot of the film. This plot appears through reconstructed intertitles that approximate the essence of what the film’s missing title cards are believed to have once conveyed, as analyzed and interpreted by Prof. Cordelia Siporin (who will lecture on this process on Saturday, 3:00pm–5:00pm EST).

A Comedy of Errors. Dir./prod.: Alice Guy Blaché (Solax, US, 1912). Cast: Blanche Cornwall, Darwin Karr, Billy Quirk, Vinnie Burns. RT: 14 min.
Source: Kino Lorber. Archive: BFI. Music composed and performed by AJ Layague. Special thanks to Bret Wood (KL) and Bryony Dixon (BFI).
Introduction: Kim Tomadjoglou and Tami Williams, with commentary by composer AJ Layague
Film Program NoteBilly lives in the second-story flat directly opposite “Mr. and Mrs. Green Eyes.” While looking out of his window, he mistakenly believes that the kisses “Mrs. Green Eyes” blows to her husband are intended for him. Billy proceeds to visit her with the pretext that he is returning a book she dropped from her window. “Mrs. Green Eyes” is put off by Billy’s advances and suggests his presence would not please her husband, a six-footer with “Big Muscles.” Billy takes the hint and leaves, but accidentally forgets his umbrella. This leads to a series of comic misunderstandings after “Mr. Green Eyes” returns home and discovers Billy’s umbrella, and then a pair of gloves. He suspects his wife is cheating, but clever “Mrs. Green Eyes” uses the excuse that these articles are surprise birthday gifts. When Billy returns once again to claim his possessions, the maid and “Mrs. Green Eyes,” fearing the worst, knock Billy out cold and hide him in a closet. When he comes to, he encounters “Mr. Green Eyes” and a chase ensues whereby “Mr. Green Eyes” stumbles and also loses consciousness. When he comes to, “Mrs. Green Eyes” puts her husband’s jealousy to rest by convincing him that he is suffering from delirium. Spousal infidelity, a recurring theme of Guy’s Solax comedies, is set in motion by the exchange of personal objects that function to motivate narrative action. Character gestures, facial expressions, and bodily movements demonstrate Guy’s tenet that her players “be natural,” while elements of the chase film transform the domestic sphere of the bourgeois home into an inherently female space of pleasure and play.

Kino Lorber


Sunday, June 6
12:00pm–2:00pm EST
Part of Program II—Panel # 2: Women in Silent Soviet Documentary
Includes Screening:
Tungusy / Tungus. Dir./ed.: Elizaveta Svilova (Sovkino, USSR, 1927). Cam.: Y. Tolchan. RT: 12 min. Source Archive: RGAKFD.

Bukhara. Dir./ed.: Elizaveta Svilova (Sovkino, USSR, 1927). Cam.: P. Zotov. RT: 11 min. Source Archive: RGAKFD.

Film Program Note: Exploring the distant corners of the Soviet Empire, Tungus and Bukhara were made by Elizaveta Svilova from footage originally shot for Dziga Vertov’s ambitious undertaking The Sixth Part of the World (1926). Tungus is an ethnographic short that focuses on the traditions and trade of one of the indigenous peoples of the Soviet north. Bukhara, set in the city of the same name in the Soviet Republic of Uzbekistan, draws the viewer into the exotic and picturesque life of the Soviet Orient.

Pioneria / Pioneers Episode 2. Dirs.: Arsha Ovanesova and E. Borisovich (Soyuzkinokhronika, USSR, 1931). RT: 11 min. Source Archive: RGAKFD.

Film Program Note: Founded by Arsha Ovanesova in 1931, Pioneers became the first children’s newsreel in the Soviet Union. Named after the country’s mass youth organization, the journal sought to inform, educate, and entertain Soviet school children, all the while propagating the virtues of communist ideology. The second issue of the newsreel features episodes about unemployment in the US, the American pioneers, the participation of Soviet pioneers in the industrialization projects of the First Five-Year Plan (1928–1932), and children’s work at schools.