Albatros productions

Open, general discussion of silent films, personalities and history.
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Ann Harding

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Albatros productions

PostThu Nov 18, 2010 7:01 am

I want to start a thread where I will mention the silents features I have been able to watch in Paris. In general, I try to catch rare French silents.

The French Cinémathèque is running at the moment an Albatros season. This French production company, located in Montreuil (Northern suburb of Paris) was created in 1919 by Russian émigrés. Its productions contains some superb movies directed by the like of René Clair, Jacques Feyder, Marcel L'Herbier, Jean Epstein, Alexander Volkoff and Victor Tourjansky. Its main star was Ivan Mosjoukine. So far the Cinémathèque has not released a single of these films on DVD in spite of the fact that they own the filmrights. They launched a season of their films yesterday. Alas, the choice is rather strange. Instead of concentrating on the best films, they are showing some recent tinted prints of lesser pictures. Nevertheless, one of the best aspect is that they will be shown with music. Yesterday, it started with a great picture, Le Brasier Ardent.

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Yesterday the Cinémathèque presented a new tinted and toned print of Le Brasier Ardent (The Burning Brazier, 1923), a film directed, scripted and played by Ivan Mosjoukine. Its storyline is very difficult to summarize as Mosjoukine created a kind of cinematic UFO. A woman (Nathalie Lissenko) is having a terrifying nightmare where she is pulled towards a man (I. Mosjoukine) chained to a stake. Later in her dream, she encounters the same man in various guises. Waking up safely in her bed, she realises it was a fantasy as a result of some pulp fiction she was reading. Her husband (N. Koline) meanwhile is worried that he is losing his wife's affection. He goes to strange club where he hires a detective to get back his wife's soul. The detective Z (I. Mosjoukine) happens to be the same man she was dreaming about... The film mixes part melodrama, serial and surrealism. Its storyline is meandering but one thing is certain: Mosjoukine fills the screen with his intense charisma beautifully. Whether a begger, a bishop or a man-about-town, he is convincing in all parts. He didn't direct many films only two. The first one, L'Enfant du Carnaval (1920) is a charming bitter-sweet comedy. Le Brasier Ardent is more ambitious in its scope trying to use the latest advances in cinema at the time. La Roue was released a few months before this one and it's easy to see that film-makers adopted some of Gance's ideas quickly. The scene in a Montmartre dive where Mosjoukine plays a furious piece of music asking women to dance for a 1000 F bill is really the climax of the film. Its rapide cutting gives it a real edge. Volkoff will reuse it also for Kean (1924) with again Mosjoukine. I had so far seen the film only in B&W and this new tinted and toned print from the Belgian Cinémathèque gave it an extra glow. Unfortunately, as it often the case, the scenes toned blue for night lost their contrast. But the real highlight of the evening was the piano playing by Neil Brand. The French cinémathèque has no tradition in terms of music for silents. So it was gratifying to see that many people came to the screening (whereas before I had seen the same film in complete silence in a 3/4 empty room). Brand created a great score that gave the film an irresisitible dynamic. He managed to highlight the comic and the tragic with great skill. A really enjoyable evening.
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Re: Albatros productions

PostThu Nov 18, 2010 2:34 pm

Ann Harding wrote:I want to start a thread where I will mention the silents features I have been able to watch in Paris. In general, I try to catch rare French silents.


Thanks for this, keep 'em coming.
Fred
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PostThu Nov 18, 2010 2:53 pm

The San Francisco Silent Film Festival showed the very funny L'Heureuse Mort by Albatros this summer. It was a well-written and acted film on fame and culture.
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PostThu Nov 18, 2010 5:05 pm

missdupont wrote:The San Francisco Silent Film Festival showed the very funny L'Heureuse Mort by Albatros this summer. It was a well-written and acted film on fame and culture.


I loved it and I did not expect to. L'Heureuse Mort was hilarious and clever and I'd love to have a chance to see it again to enjoy it all over again.
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PostThu Nov 18, 2010 8:17 pm

Thank you for these!
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greta de groat

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PostThu Nov 18, 2010 11:04 pm

Way cool, i've been dying to see Le Brasier Ardent, i hope it makes its way out here one of these days. Hope they show the long version of La maison du mystere--one of my favorite film-going experiences ever!

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Ann Harding

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PostFri Nov 19, 2010 3:57 am

greta de groat wrote:Way cool, i've been dying to see Le Brasier Ardent, i hope it makes its way out here one of these days. Hope they show the long version of La maison du mystere--one of my favorite film-going experiences ever!

greta


Greta, I also loved La Maison du Mystère, but they didn't include it in the season.

L'heureuse Mort, which I saw in Pordenone in 2009, didn't quite work for me. I felt Nicolas Rimsky was not very convincing as a comedian. But that's a matter of taste!

Arte TV is supposed to show some Albatros productions in the near future. But, they didn't say which ones.

My next outing will be Feu Mathias Pascal (1924, M. L'Herbier) with a score by Timothy Brock. I have already seen the film but only on a video screen. It will be great to watch it on a big screen. It's one of my favourite Mosjoukine performances.
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PostFri Nov 19, 2010 4:50 am

There was a thread of Albatros films in Pordenone last year, and another highlighting Mozzhukhin about 6 years back...tremendous. Greta, when you mention the long version of Maison ....do you mean the full 8 hour plus serial ??? Wonderful; the NFT had that on a fortnight before Pordenone ran the 3-hour condensed version !!! Of course you have to see both. The one film I would really go to the ends of the earth to see again is Kean; It's the great romantic actor's idea of how a great romantic actor should live - and die. Just extraordinary, and Ivan is mesmerising in it.
I could use some digital restoration myself...
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Ann Harding

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PostFri Nov 19, 2010 4:54 am

Penfold, if you want to see Kean, you can go to the Mediathèque of the French Cinémathèque where you can watch the film on a video screen. They have a digitized version available. It's also a superb picture.
La Maison du Mystère is also digitized in its full 380 min. It's fabulous.
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PostFri Nov 19, 2010 12:10 pm

Ann Harding wrote:Penfold, if you want to see Kean, you can go to the Mediathèque of the French Cinémathèque where you can watch the film on a video screen. They have a digitized version available. It's also a superb picture.
La Maison du Mystère is also digitized in its full 380 min. It's fabulous.

Are they presented with music, or mute ???
I could use some digital restoration myself...
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greta de groat

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PostSat Nov 20, 2010 1:13 am

Yes, it was the multi-episode version--Pacific Film Archives ran it a few years back over several evenings. I've only seen clips of Feu Mathias Pascal on YouTube and have been hoping to see that one for years as well. Now there are some clips of L'Enfant du Carnaval up on YouTube which i just took a look at. I know his one American film Surrender exists, but i've never seen it.

I'll be looking forward to hearing more about the series!

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PostSat Nov 20, 2010 2:23 am

I'd like to see Mathias Pascal again, if only because, for whatever reason, it was the one film in the strand I didn't warm to, while everyone else raved about it. Perhaps it was me being overtired at that point in the festival.....I feel the need to find out.
L'Enfant Du Carnival is superb; it's the same basic plot as Three Men and The Baby, only it's the one man, and his butler, and the baby....and you will never see that ending coming.... :shock:
I could use some digital restoration myself...
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Ann Harding

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PostSat Nov 20, 2010 3:09 am

Penfold wrote:
Ann Harding wrote:Penfold, if you want to see Kean, you can go to the Mediathèque of the French Cinémathèque where you can watch the film on a video screen. They have a digitized version available. It's also a superb picture.
La Maison du Mystère is also digitized in its full 380 min. It's fabulous.

Are they presented with music, or mute ???

No, it's completely mute. I have watched so many serials without music that now I am used to it.
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PostSun Nov 21, 2010 6:19 am

I had a great evening yesterday! :D
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Feu Mathias Pascal (The Late Mathias Pascal, 1924) by Marcel L'Herbier with Ivan Mosjoukine, Lois Moran, Marcelle Pradot, Michel Simon and Pauline Carton

In Italy, Mathias Pascal (I. Mosjoukine) a shy young man from an impoverished family marries Romilde (M. Pradot). Alas, his life becomes a nightmare thanks to a cantankerous mother-in-law. Following the death of both his child and his mother, he leaves his hometown for a new life...

With Feu Mathias Pascal, the Albatros company produced one of their very best pictures. It also offers Mosjoukine one of his best parts and, what I think, is one of his top performances. The novel by Pirandello offers a rich canvas to Marcel L'Herbier. The film was shot on locations in San Gimignano and Rome in Italy. This new digitized print presented yesterday was the most complete clocking 171 min. It contains elements of various quality, but overall, it's quite good. The tinted sequences were the best in terms of contrast and sharpness.
Mosjoukine gives a devastating performance as Mathias. He is first a shy young man henpecked by a nasty mother-in-law, a loving father who craddles his child and later a man looking for a new destiny faraway from the imprisonment of family life. The scene where he loses simultaneously his child and his mother is truly harrowing. Mosjoukine is losing his mind in front of the camera. We can witness a flash of madness crossing this mind. I can hardly think of another scene with this kind of intensity, not unlike that of The Crowd (1928) when James Murray loses his daughter. But, Mosjoukine is also a first-rate comedian. Just watch him following Lois Moran on the steps of the Piazza di Spagna. He runs down the steps in a Keatonian fashion trying to look inconspicuous. Some other scenes are real comedy pieces like the rat catching in the derelict library. Mathias comes with two cats to rid the place of its infestation of rats.
The cast is strong with a young Michel Simon, with bushy hair, creating a very amusing Pomino. The character actress Pauline Carton is also hilarious when she plasters the evil mother-in-law's face with some dough. It's very moving to recognise Lois Moran who played Stella Dallas' daughter in Henry King's masterpiece. Here, she is the innocent Adrienne Paléari promised to a nasty crook by her father. Her scenes with Mosjoukine have a great freshness and emotion.
Yesterday, I discovered the fabulous score written by Timothy Brock in 2009 for the Bologna Film Festival. It was recorded live and synchronised with the digitized print. I felt he captured brilliantly all the film atmospheres from comedy to darkest drama. I had nearly tears in my eyes when Mosjoukine witnesses his child's death. Brock colored his core with strings not unlike the best music by Bernard Herrmann. The rests was lighter recalling baroque Italian composers.
I really hope the Cinémathèque will release the film on DVD as it's already digitized and with music!
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PostThu Nov 25, 2010 5:47 am

ImageImage Gustav Molander

Förseglade Läppar (Sealed Lips, 1927) by Gustaf Molander with Mona Mårtenson, Louis Lerch and Sandra Milowanoff

This Swedish film was produced in part by the Albatros company which explains its inclusion in the Albatros season. The story is very simple: a young Italian girl -just out of her convent- falls in love with a British painter. She ignores he is married as he didn't tell her. He doesn't want to divorce his wife as she is disabled. This very simple plot is far removed from the brilliant scripts written by Gustaf Molander when he worked for Stiller and Sjöström (Herr Arnes Pengar and Terje Vigen among others). In terms of film-making, Molander is just following the motions. It's a sad reminder of how decimated the Swedish film indistry was after the departure to Hollywood of both Stiller and Sjöström. In 1927, this is the golden age of silent cinema. But, this Molander picture is just very average, far away from the stupendous masterpieces of his fellow countymen in the teens. The heroine played by Mona Mårtenson has a certain charm but she is never allowed to evolve. The same for Louis Lerch (who was Don José in Feyder's Carmen in 1926). Lovely Sandra Milowanoff has only one scene where she commits suicide realizing her husband's infatuation with the Italian girl. Another surprising aspect of this Swedish film is the fact that it was shot in Italy (with a few scenes made in Swedish studios). The Northern Italian landscape of lakes and mountains makes it interesting to watch, but beyond that, it's a really very average picture. The piano playing by Karol Beffa felt more like some background music than a real accompaniment of the film. Overall, disappointing.

But, some good news: Feu Mathias Pascal will be broadcast on Arte TV on December 27th. 8)
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PostMon Nov 29, 2010 4:18 am

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Le Lion des Mogols (The Lion of the Mogols, 1924) by Jean Epstein with Ivan Mosjoukine, Nathalie Lissenko and Camille Bardou

Prince Roundghito-Sing (I. Mosjoukine) leaves his country on a boat as the nasty Great Khan is after him. On the boat, he meets a film crew. He notices immediately Anna (N. Lissenko) an actress...

This Epstein picture seems to enjoy a real prestige among the Albatros collection. I wonder why. It's a high piece of camp and kitsch. Mosjoukine appears on the screen dressed in the most hilarious costume (hot pants!) covered with pearls. The narrative is highly flawed and Epstein seems unable to build characters. Strangely, he manages to get an inexpressive performance from Mosjoukine, that protean actor! The beginning of the film tries to create an Arabian Nights atmosphere unsucessfully. When William Cameron Menzies' sets in Thief of Bagdad are a masterpiece, here we get something that looks like cardboard sets. The film peaks up when he boards a boat bound for France. He steps into a movie set where a camera crew is shooting a film. But what could have provided some amusing comedy relief turns quickly into a bore. The best aspect of the film is that we can get a glimpse of the Albatros studios in Montreuil. But, the idea of the film-within-a-film was not new. In 1920, L'Angoissante Aventure (Protazanov) was also showing scenes behind the camera. Epstein tries to use the latest technical advances, but they seem like showing off rather than an integral part of the film.
I saw yesterday a new print with restored tints (based upon a Pathé-Baby print). Tints or no tints, this film is the least interesting Mosjoukine picture among his French silents.
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Ann Harding

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PostTue Nov 30, 2010 6:23 am

Yesterday I saw the last film in the Albatros season at the Cinémathèque.
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Lillian Hall-Davis and Sandra Milowanoff

La Proie du Vent (The Prey of the Wind, 1926) by René Clair with Charles Vanel, Lillian Hall-Davis, Sandra Milowanoff and Jean Murat

Aviator Pierre Vignal (C. Vanel) crashes with his plane. He is rescued by countesse Elisabeth (L. Hall-Davis) who lives with her sister's husband. He falls in love with her. But, one night, he meets Hélène (S. Milowanoff), her sister, who tells him her husband and her sister keep her captive in the castle...

This René Clair picture based upon a best-seller of the time manages to avoid the clichés and boredom of such novels. Charles Vanel (who had probably one of the longest career in cinema ever starting in 1910 and ending in 1988!) plays the leading man unlike his usual villains. One scene is even a foretaste of Flesh and the Devil when Vanel manages to exchange his cigarette for that of Lillian Hall-Davis. Another beautiful sequence shows Clair's mastery of the cinema. Vanel becomes madly jealous of Hall-Davis' brother-in-law. So we see on the screen what his mind imagines: he arrives in her bedroom and sees her with her brother-in-law. A violent scene ensues. But Vanel decides not to act. The Russian actress Sandra Milowanoff gives a brilliant performance as Hélène. She manages to convince Vanel she is captive and they run away in a car. The following car chase is beautifully edited. Overall, it's not Clair's best silent picture, but extremely worthwhile. The film accompanied by a jazz band. They were good musicians, but they failed to provide the transitions necessary for a successful film score.
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PostTue Nov 30, 2010 6:39 am

I think Andy Hardy.... I mean Mickey Rooney. Mickey Rooney's career is currently longer than Mr. Vanel's, stretching from 1926 to 2010.

But Vanel was in some good 'uns.

Bob
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Ann Harding

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PostTue Dec 28, 2010 8:19 am

Arte TV showed Feu Mathias Pascal yesterday. Alas, I am absolutely furious at the format they used. Just look at this capture:
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A 4:3 image framed into a 16:9 broadcast. :cry:
Did any Nitratevillain in Germany manage to get a better format?
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PostTue Dec 28, 2010 8:43 am

I recorded it, too. Arte Germany broadcast it as 16:9, that is a 4:3 image with a black bar at either side. The Arte logo is half on the black bar and half on the film. Watching it on a 16:9 screen there is no problem. Watching it on a 4:3 screen there would be. But maybe you can alleviate it by fiddling with the settings on your TV/ DVD-player/ HD-recorder.
"The greatest cinematic experience is the human face and it seems to me that silent films can teach us to read it anew." - Wim Wenders
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PostTue Dec 28, 2010 10:17 am

Thanks Arndt. As I don't have a HD recorder and only a 4:3 TV and no zoom function, I am stuck, alas. It's funny how Arte sometimes switches to 4:3 and other times keeps this ghastly 16:9...
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PostTue Dec 28, 2010 10:32 am

It may have something to do with the fact that Arte, like other European TV stations, gets EU money to boost broadcasting in the 16:9 format. On the other hand it may be that they are just thoughtless.
"The greatest cinematic experience is the human face and it seems to me that silent films can teach us to read it anew." - Wim Wenders
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Ann Harding

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PostTue Dec 28, 2010 10:54 am

Arndt wrote:On the other hand it may be that they are just thoughtless.

I buy this one. The recent broadcast of Von Morgens bis Mitternacht was a total disaster. They cropped the top and bottom of the image to make it 16:9. At least for Metropolis, they switched to 4:3.
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PostFri Apr 01, 2011 7:54 am

Image (I. Mosjoukine & N. Koline)

Kean, ou Désordre et Génie (Kean, or Disorder and Genius, 1924) by Alexandre Volkoff with Ivan Mosjoukine, Nicolas Koline and Nathalie Lissenko.

Yesterday I watched again this biopic of the great Shakespearean actor Edmund Kean (1789-1833). The screenplay is loosely based on the 1836 play by Alexandre Dumas (the father). In France, in the 1830s, the romantic authors were all agog with Shakespeare as he was the antithesis of the French classical theatre (Racine and Corneille). He represented madness, violent emotion and a recklessness unknown to the French stage. So Dumas had a field day with the turbulent life of Edmund Kean. For the film, the play has been modified quite a lot. Instead of a standard happy end, we get to see Kean's death during a stormy night reminiscent of a Caspar David Friedrich painting. Mosjoukine in the title role is the perfect choice to embody this romatic artist who burnt the candle at both ends. In real life, Mosjoukine lived the same reckless life: womanizing, drinking and partying. Like his model, he died destitute and forgotten in 1939. But, in 1923, when the film was shot, he was Albatros Studios' top star. He participated in the writing of the screenplay (like he did previously for Volkoff's La Maison du Mystère). The art director, Lochakoff, recreated the Drury Lane Theatre where Kean plays Romeo and Hamlet. All women are madly in love with him while he can't take his eyes off Countess Koefeld (Nathalie Lissenko). This passionate infatuation will drive him to madness. Alexandre Volkoff directs the film with great skill particularly the famous jig in the Coal Hole Tavern. He uses the rapid cutting technique developed recently by Gance in La Roue (1923). It's quite amazing how quickly this technique was adopted by film-makers. Mosjoukine himself used it for Le Brasier Ardent (1923). Mosjoukine and Koline make a famous double act as the artist and his prompter. I love the scene where they live their house in diguise to escape creditors. Mosjoukine is dressed as a sailor and Koline as a woman. The long final death scene is quite in keeping with the plays of the time with the wind howling and distorted trees. With the right music, it can be certainly quite stirring. I am quite certain that the young Marcel Carné must have been aware of this film when he made Les Enfants du Paradis (1945). His hero, the actor Frédéric Lemaître (played by Pierre Brasseur) created the part of Kean in 1836. Dumas wrote it for him. Furthermore, Carné worked as Feyder's assistant in the late 20s for the same Albatros Studios. Overall, I find it a fitting tribute to a great romantic artist who lived a life of 'disorder and genius'.
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PostThu May 26, 2011 12:43 pm

I was also fortunate enough to attend the Films Albatros retrospective. I made it to every screening except Gribiche due to a Thanksgiving dinner with other American friends. It was a wonderful experience. However, I had the exact opposite reaction to Le lion des mogols, which felt so absurdly bipolar that it was the perfect environment for Mozzhukhin's see-saw sentimentality. There's so much going on, and it's so complex, while still Epstein's stylistic playground. The nightclub//taxi-ride cutting sequence rivals anything else in his career. It's not his most beautiful film, but it's certainly his most interesting--particularly as an in-joke about France's very prominent orientalist policy/history/whatever.
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PostFri May 27, 2011 12:06 am

Assuming the contract now with the Cinematheque's legal department goes through, next year Film Preservation Associates will be releasing through Flicker Alley an Albatros DVD box set with KEAN, LE BRASIER ARDENT, FEU MATHIAS PASCAL, GRIBICHE and LES NOUVEAUX MESSIEURS; also the complete serial LA MAISON DE MYSTERE as a separate release.

David Shepard
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PostFri May 27, 2011 2:30 am

DShepFilm wrote:Assuming the contract now with the Cinematheque's legal department goes through, next year Film Preservation Associates will be releasing through Flicker Alley an Albatros DVD box set with KEAN, LE BRASIER ARDENT, FEU MATHIAS PASCAL, GRIBICHE and LES NOUVEAUX MESSIEURS; also the complete serial LA MAISON DE MYSTERE as a separate release.

David Shepard


Well, that's just about the best news I could hope for; that's about a quarter of my 'Films that should be on DVD' wishlist in one hit....... Fingers crossed and congratulations.....may they sell by the shedload.
I could use some digital restoration myself...
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PostFri May 27, 2011 2:43 am

best dvd news imaginable.
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Ann Harding

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PostFri May 27, 2011 3:55 am

DShepFilm wrote:Assuming the contract now with the Cinematheque's legal department goes through, next year Film Preservation Associates will be releasing through Flicker Alley an Albatros DVD box set with KEAN, LE BRASIER ARDENT, FEU MATHIAS PASCAL, GRIBICHE and LES NOUVEAUX MESSIEURS; also the complete serial LA MAISON DE MYSTERE as a separate release.

David Shepard

Wonderful! I can't wait. :)
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Ann Harding

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PostFri May 27, 2011 4:19 am

snackary wrote: However, I had the exact opposite reaction to Le lion des mogols, which felt so absurdly bipolar that it was the perfect environment for Mozzhukhin's see-saw sentimentality. There's so much going on, and it's so complex, while still Epstein's stylistic playground. The nightclub//taxi-ride cutting sequence rivals anything else in his career. It's not his most beautiful film, but it's certainly his most interesting--particularly as an in-joke about France's very prominent orientalist policy/history/whatever.

The film has its fans. Personally, I didn't find it that innovative or well structured. The taxi-ride cutting was quite pointless. It felt like a meaningless exercise unlike Volkoff's rapid-cutting in the Coal Hole Tavern in Kean. Here is was Abel Gance wrote about the film when he saw it in 1924: "I see Le Lion des Mogols. Constant imitation of La Roue. The good scenes are mine. Stupid script. Sets, costumes and acting are in keeping. Mosjoukine is very nearly done for. Overdone and contrived camerawork to show off. No content. Repetitions. A failure." It's a very tough criticism. But, I must agree with him. Epstein is so obsessed with the shape that he forgets the essence.
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