Sunday, 25 October 2015

Silent film viewing in Luxembourg, c.1920

I really enjoyed this post on Luke McKernan's excellent Picturegoing blog, which quotes an account by the American journalist Robert Joseph Casey (1890-1962) of going to the cinema in the town of Ettleburck in Luxembourg shortly after the First World War:
I suspected from the first that “On the Line of the Four,” however much it might promise as a war picture, was very likely our old friend and neighbor “The Sign of the Four,” and so it was.

The original nationality of the piece was a doubtful matter. There was hardly enough of it left to give one a consecutive idea of the plot, and the French captions were so worn that little was to be gained from them. It may have been an American film of that era when there were no stars. At any rate, no latter-day favorites appeared in it. It may have been English. Certain elements in the “locations” suggested England forcibly. But whatever its pedigree, its days of usefulness were nearly done.

The Anglo Saxons in the house, to whom the name Sherlock Holmes was a sufficient guaranty of story action and plot, could not get very far with the titles in French. Those who had mastered enough of the language to surmount this difficulty were certain to become hopelessly muddled in the aimless mixing of scenes that seemed to be the result of many years of “cut and patch.”
This issue of the difficulty of identifying a silent film's origin echoes the story of the 'O'Kalem collection', a DVD release of the surviving films shot by the Kalem film company (in its various incarnations) in Ireland between 1910 and 1915. The fact that two of the films, The Lad from Old Ireland (1910) and His Mother (1912), only survived in German and Dutch versions respectively, 'delayed their identification by scholars over the years', as we are told in the very informative booklet accompanying the DVD.

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