Some of the most important early developments in “talking pictures” were stimulated by the Paris Exposition of 1900. One of the most notable cinematic events at the Exposition was “Le Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre” financed by Paris businessman Paul Decauville (1846-1922) and with actress and dancer Marguerite Vrignault, later known as Marguerite Vrignault Chenu, (1861-c. 1933), apparently the original inspiration of the project, as directeur artistique, the term used at this period for what, broadly speaking, would now be simply described as the director. The films were shot by the Lumières’ former Paris concessionnaire Clément-Maurice, using the Cinépar “camera” created by Ambrose-François Parnaland (1854-1913), and the “Idéal” phonographe of Henri Lioret (1848-1838), later replaced (September 19th) by the Pathé phonographe “Le Céleste”. Lioret was also responsible for the system of “playback” sound-synchronization. The projection-room at the Exposition was built by the architect René Dulong (1860-1944), and was based on Ange-Jacques Gabriel’s Pavilion frais (1751) in the Petit Trianon at Versailles. The décors were by the painter François Flameng (1856-1923), who also designed the magnificent poster showing Sarah Bernhardt in costume as Tosca, although no such scene was actually filmed for the show. The projection was in the hands of Clément-Maurice’s two sons, Georges and Léopold.
Clément Maurice Gratioulet also known as Clément-Maurice (1853-1933) was an ex-employee of the Lumière photographic factory at Monplaisir, Lyon and a close friend of Antoine Lumière and his sons, who had followed with interest their work both with new photographic processes and the development of the cinématographe. He became a professional photographer with a studio at 8, boulevard des Italiens in Paris, just above Georges Méliès’ théâtre Robert-Houdin, and it was he who arranged the rental of the Salon Indien, at the Grand Café, for the first public Lumière show on December 28, 1895, and who took charge of the till for the first performances. He later recalled how the the owner had, unwisely, rejected the offer of a percentage of the takings, preferring a fixed daily rent of thirty francs. Clément-Maurice was the official Paris concessionnaire for the Lumières and continued to manage the Lumière programme at the Grand Café for some time, while remaining a particularly active figure in the burgeoning Paris film scene. He acted as camera operator, with the assistance of his teenage son Leopold and the additional operator Ambroise-François Parnaland, to the surgeon Eugène-Louis Doyen for the filming of his operations in 1898. In March 1898 he won first prize in the world’s first film competition, held in Monaco, for his film Monaco vivant par les appareils cinématographiques. In 1900 he devised, with Henri Lioret, the “Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre” at the Paris Exposition, where synchronized sound films were made of extracts from plays and of artistes such as Sarah Bernhardt, Coquelin, Gabrielle Réjane, Little Tich and many others.
The “Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre” opened on April 29, 1900. The program consisted of a three-tableau excerpt from the pantomime L’Enfant prodigue (“Le Vol”, “Pierrot chez Phrynette” and “Le Retour”) by Michel Carré with music by André Wormser starring Felicia Mallet as Pierrot and Marie Magnier as Madame Pierrot. Mallet (1863-1928) was from the original 1890-1900 cast at the théâtre de Bouffes. Magnier (1848-1913) had in fact replaced Irma Crosnier in the part of the mother. The part of Phrynette, originally played on the stage by Biana Duhamel (1870-1910) was advertised intriguingly on this occasion as being played by “Mlle X”. One would like to think that the part was perhaps played on this occasion by Biana’s little sister Sarah (1873-1926), who, as Rosalie and Pétronille, would later be a major star of early film comedy.
There was also a scene of mimed theatricals (“Le Piston de Hortense”) from the second act of a three-act comedy Ma Cousine by Henri Meilhac (1830-1897), created at the théâtre des Variétés on October 27, 1890 and starring one of the monstres sacrés of belle époque theatre, and the great rival of Sarah Bernhardt, Gabrielle Réjane (1856-1920). A hugely successful comedy – it ran for over two hundred consecutive performances – features the intrigues of a Paris socialite Gabrielle, played by Réjane, on behalf of her cousin Clotilde who is trying to win back her husband Raoul from his new lover, Victorine (here played by a certain Mlle Avril). The comedy contains a play within a play supposedly written by Victorine’s husband, Champcourtier and this play within the play begins with a pantomime (a comic polka). This scene, from Act II of the play, is a rehearsal of the pantomime which also features two actors called Lubas and Numa, presumably playing Raoul and Champcourtier, and the scene culminates in the polka, suitably accompanied by “lustful glances and jealous reproaches”, to quote the author of a modern adaptation of the Meilhac play, David Nicholson. Interestingly in Nicholson’s adaptation (updated to the 1920s), he has the rather good idea of having Champcourtier say that he does not call the dance scene (a tango in the updated version) a pantomime but is trying “to combine the best of moving pictures with the best of the stage. The curtains part . . . and the audience can read the preamble written on large cards – we call them titles – then the actors enter and, well . . . act – and the next title tells the audience what they are saying to one another, and so on, just like at the cinema . . . and then they dance a tango”. None of this could of course possibly been said, or even thought, in 1900, let alone in 1890 when the play was written, but provides nevertheless a certain insight into the complicated reflexive relationship already involved in a film of a pantomime within a play. Réjane was less eager in general to perform for the camera than Bernhardt but would appear again for Le Film d’Art in 1908 and 1911 as well as starring in Henri Pouctal’s propagandist wartime drama, Alsace in 1916 and appearing in a small role in Louis Mercanton’s Miarka, la fille à l’ourse in 1920, the year of her death.
Sarah Bernhardt herself appeared in the duel-scene from Hamlet with Pierre Magnier as Laertes and Suzanne Seylor as “l’homme d’armes”. The part was a new one for Bernhardt, premièred at the Théâtre Sarah Bernhardt on May 20, 1899 in a new, specially written prose adaptation. It was very much a Hamlet in the Continental European style, portraying the character as a lively, active prince rather than as the self-pitying melancholic mother’s boy of the typical Anglo-Saxon reading, so the duel scene was a natural one to pick. In England, Hamlet tended to be dressed in black; even in France he traditionally wore a black-plumed hat, a tradition Bernhardt chose to discard. The black plume was inextricably associated with the graveyard scene and, by wearing an unadorned hat, Bernhardt liberated her Hamlet from the introspection, pessimism, and irresolution so often associated with the part. The British were of course scandalized by this “lack of proper philosophic melancholy” but the style became common in European performances and can be seen again in Asta Nielsen’s wonderful 1921 film of the Shakespeare play. Nielsen, although in fact Danish, was often described as “the German Bernhardt.”
The scene also shows off to best advantage Bernhardt’s legs in a costume deliberately designed to be more revealing in this respect than that of Pierre Magnier’s as Laertes. As Victoria Duckett has pointed out in her excellent Seeing Sarah Bernhardt: Performance and Silent Film (2015), fencing was becoming a popular sport for women in France at this time. Nothing, according to La Vie parisienne in 1884, was “more efficient in combating this modern sickness of neurosis which they all more or less suffer, for accentuating the elegance of a slender waist, or for reducing the exaggerated opulence of the bodice.”
This film, shot in two parts, each of nearly a minute long, designed nevertheless to play continuously, was the beginning of a long involvement with the cinema for Bernhardt, who was one of the few stars of the classic theatre not to belittle the idea of “posing” for moving pictures, in the patronizing expression often used by stage actors, but to regard the new medium as a potential means of making a permanent record of at least some of her performances for posterity. It was a courageous posture for an artiste with such a formidable reputation at stake but Bernhardt did not hesitate to take the risk, appearing later in the title role of André Calmettes film of La Tosca (1908), based on the 1887 play by Victorien Sardou, a part she had herself first created on the stage in that year. In 1812 she appeared as the Queen in Henri Desfontaines and Louis Mercanton’s Les Amours de la reine Élisabeth (Queen Elizabeth) and as Marguerite Gauthier in Calmettes and Mercanton’s La Dame aux camélias (Camille). She appeared in four further feature films 1913-1917 and, despite her disability – she had had a leg amputated in 1915 and thereafter only played roles where she could remain seated – was in the process of making a fifth, La Voyante at the time of her death in 1924.
There was also a scene from Molière’s Les Précieuses ridicules (1659) with Benoît Constant Coquelin also known as Coquelin aîné (1841-1909). Coquelin, one of the most celebrated comic actors of the time, had first played the part of Mascarille, the servant who fancies himself a gentleman, in the Molière comedy at the Comédie française in Paris in 1875 but had also played the part more recently (1894) on Broadway at the Abbey’s Theater (later known as the Knickerbocker Theater). Here he appears with Mlle Marguerite Esquilar (born 1870) in the role of Magdelon and Jeanne Kerwich (dates unknown) in the role of Cathos. The majority of this scene represented is in fact devoted to Coquelin (as Mascarille) singing an “impromptu” that he has composed, “Au voleur” (Stop thief!), which Coquelin sings extremely (but of course deliberately) badly. Coquelin aîné also performed the duel-scene from Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac, a part he had created at the théâtre de la Porte-Saint-Martin (of which he was also the manager) at its première on December 28, 1897. We are extremely fortunate that this short film survives in color and with its original sound-cylinder intact because these appearances are the only time that Coquelin ever deigned to appear before a camera. Maxime Desjardins (1863-1936), who plays the other role (le Comte du Guiche) in this film, would go on to perform in some thirty films 1911-1932, while Kerwich, whom Coquelin had recruited for his US tour, would appear in three films, 1922-1930, including one of the first French “talkies” of the modern era, Ewald André Dupont and Jean Kemm’s Atlantic (Atlantis) (it was a Franco-British co-production) in 1930, where she and Desjardins, acting together on screen for the first time – here they are in different films – play a man and wife traveling on the doomed liner.
Arias sung by popular stars were also a feature. An air from Roméo et Juliette (1867) by Charles Gounod (1818-1893) and Jules Barbier and Michel Carré (libretto) was sung by a tenor from l’Opéra, Émile Cossira (1854-1823). With a certain inevitability it was the balcony scene, filmed in costume but without Juliet and with Cossira standing in front of a very modern-looking window. When the “Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre” films, long thought lost, were rediscovered in the 1930s, those who recalled the events were invited to reminisce for the journal L’Image. Cossira’s son, Henri, recalled the awkwardness of the “playback” process, with the images seemingly being recorded immediately after the sound. He remembered his father spreading his arms wide to invoke the sun (“Lève-toi, soleil”) and singing aloud then remaining motionless to mime the words over again for the camera. Henri nevertheless judged that the synchronization was “not too bad for the period”.
L’Invocation à Diane (“Ô toi qui prolongeas mes jours”) from Iphigénie en Tauride by Nicolas François Guillard (libretto) and Christoph Willibald Gluck (1714-1787) was sung by mezzo-soprano Jeanne Hatto (1879-1958). This famous opera, based ultimately on the tragedy by Euripides, had first been performed, in the presence of Queen Marie-Antoinette, on May 18, 1779, but was revived at the théâtre de la Renaissance in 1899 and at l’Opéra-Comique in 1900. Jeanne Hatto, just twenty-one, was a rising star at l’Opéra-Comique and in much demand; she would record the same song again for the Pathé Céleste, Pathé’s prize-winning new phonograph, the following year. The Annuaire des artistes for 1902 described her in positively adulatory terms:
Mlle Jeanne Hatto est actuellement, à l’Opéra, l’incarnation le plus parfaite du soprano dramatique. Grande, d’allure superbe, avec une physionomie d’une mobilité extraordinaire, ses yeux pétillants d’intelligence, et dans toute sa personne un air crâne qui en impose aux moins timides… elle est bien la femme pour personnifier, dans tout leur éclat, les héroïnes du répertoire lyrique.
Mlle Jeanne Hatto is at present, at l’Opéra, the most perfect incarnation of the dramatic soprano. Tall, with a superb bearing, and a physiognomy of an extraordinary unique mobility, eyes flashing with intelligence, and in all her person a brave air that imposes itself on the less timid [they mean presumably the opposite]…she is indeed the woman to personify, in all their splendor, the heroines of the lyric repertoire.
Henri Cossira in 1933 recalled an anecdote told by the artistic director, Marguerite Chenu, of something that occurred when the “Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre” was on tour in 1901. The cylinder for this particular film had been mislaid and Chenu and Félix Mesguich (responsible for the projection) were obliged to show it “silent”. Jeanne Hatto was, however, as it happened, herself in the audience, curious to see her own film, and Chenu held her breath and sent up a little prayer. Sure enough, at the appropriate moment, the song swelled loud and clear from the auditorium to the delight both of exhibitors and audience. It was one of those magical moments of “live” cinema, in a sense entirely lost to us today, that were always possible, whether by design or, as here, by happy accident, during the silent era.
In a rather different register, a trio from the popular operetta La Poupée (1896) by Maurice Ordonneau (libretto) and Edmond Audran (1842-1891) was sung by Belgian soprano Mariette Sully (1874-1940), who had created the role of the title character, Alesia, on the stage, in company with MM. Fugère and Soums. This enormously popular operetta, which toured Europe for several years, is little known today but had an extremely important influence upon the history of cinema. It has a story not dissimilar to that of the famous conte by E. T. A. Hoffmann (1776-1822), Der Sandmann (1816-1817), in which an automaton comes to life. The Hoffman tale, a classic forerunner of so much later fantastique literature and films, had already been adapted as a ballet, Coppélia, ou la Fille aux yeux d’émail (1870), by Charles Nuittier with choreography by Arthur Saint-Léon and music by Léo Delibes. Edmond Audran’s operetta was a more light-hearted take on the same idea. It had opened at the Théâtre de la Gaîté in Montparnasse, Paris on October 31, 1896, played in London in 1897 for a staggering 576 performances and been partly filmed (three scenes) in Rome, during its Italian run, in 1898 or 1899, by Lumière operators, probably on the initiative of one of Lumière’s Italian “concessionnaires”, magician and quick-change artiste, Leopoldo Fregoli, who himself acted in it. Popular on the stage, such stories of automata and dolls that come to life have an even more striking analogical significance where the “moving pictures” were concerned. The operetta would form the basis for a later Lumière film (1903), Les Poupées by Gaston Velle, would be filmed in Britain by in its entirety by Ward Meyrick Milton in 1920 and would provide the inspiration for Ernst Lubitsch’s comedy Die Puppe in 1919.
Soprano Émilie Mily-Meyer also known as Mily-Meyer (1852-1952) was something of a hybrid, who lent her powerful voice both to innumerable operettas and to songs and sketches in the café concerts. The songs performed in 1900 came principally from a show called Chansons en crinoline that she performed with Désiré Pougaud (1866-1928) at the théâtre du Châtelet. There were two solo songs under this general title (Fleur de l’âme, a pleasant song but not, as is frequently claimed, a setting of a Victor Hugo poem, and Pourquoi garder ton coeur ?, a very charming 1886 song by Jean-Baptiste Weckerlin (1821-1910), J. Leybach, and Victor Wilder) but one them (it is not certain which) had to be withdrawn after Mily-Meyer received complaints that a couplet was missing that rendered the song incomprehensible. There were also two untitled duets with Pougaud, presumably drawn from the same show. Both are typical courtship songs in the same setting of a park. Finally, the irrepressible Mily-Meyer belted out Après la bataille, which is equally not a setting of the famous Victor Hugo poem of that name but a rousing patriotic song. This was seemingly recorded later than Mily-Meyer’s other films, during the period when the show was on tour during 1901-1902. Perhaps it was to make up for the unfortunate error made in the recording of one of the Chansons en crinoline. Because of the instability of the wax cylinders, re-recording seems in any case to have been fairly constantly necessary and we know for instance that Jeanne Hatto’s Invocation à Diane was also re-recorded in 1901, probably the reason why it was not available when she attended a performance that year. Other films, too, in particular some of those films that are still lost, may have been added to the repertoire during the tour. Amongst the few films in the repertoire that are lost was the comic song J’ai perdu ma gigolette sung by Louis Maurel (1859-1936).
Invocation à Diane sung by Jeanne Hatto
Jules Moy (1852-1938), a performer at the famous cabaret Le Chat Noir and a comedy actor who would go on to appear in several films 1916-1936, performed four comic monologues, of which only two survive as films, Le Maître de ballet and Une poule introduite dans un concert. An original recording does exist for the first of these and also for another monologue, largely sung after a fashion, J’ai le pied qui remue for which the film is lost. A fourth monologue, Concert arabe is entirely lost. Moy was able to surprise journalists in 1932, in replying to a question as to when he had made his first film by announcing that it had been in 1900 and a “talkie”. He also explained the difficulties associated with the as yet un-automatized playback synchronization.
Oui, j’ai tourné mon premier film sonore à l’Exposition de 1900. Ça s’appelait le “Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre”. Il fallait s’habituer à parler en même temps que les images passaient. Quand on avait peu de choses à dire ça allait. Mais quand il fallait “synchroniser” (le mot n’existait pas encore) une longue tirade, ça n’allait plus du tout.
Yes, I made my first sound film at the Exposition of 1900. It was called the “Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre”. One had to get used to speaking at the same rhythm as the images that were shown. When one didn’t have much to say, that was fine. But when one had to “synchronize” (the word didn’t exist yet) a long tirade, that didn’t work at all.
The point made by Moy here explains a great deal about the repertoire of the early “talkies” and why they almost invariably tended to privilege scenes of song and dance over the spoken word. The latter was simply far more difficult to synchronize. Unsurprisingly the pioneers who ventured furthest with the spoken word were those, like Auguste Baron and later Henri Joly, who had devised an electrical device to create an automatic link between cinematograph and phonograph. Yet even when this process was generally automatized (after 1907), the prejudice in favor of song and dance remained. It was perhaps the greatest weakness of these early “talkies'”. Essentially film-producers labored under a misconception that it was these aspects of sound that must necessarily be most interesting to audiences. It rarely occurred to them – and it is perhaps counter-intuitive – that is was the perfectly ordinary spoken voice that they were principally interested in hearing. Even after 1927-1928, and despite the sensation caused by the famous incidental piece of well-worn Jolson stage-patter in the part-talkie The Jazz Singer (“you ain’t heard nothing yet”), the misconception persisted, as witness the excessive number of musicals produced in 1929-1930, many completely abysmal, which came close to making the public thoroughly sick of the “sound” revolution they had so enthusiastically welcomed.
More “spoken word” was provided by French café concert comedian and singer Paul Marsalés also known as Polin (1863-1927) who performed a comic monologue, Le Troupier pompette. This genre, the “troupier comique” (the comic soldier), was a Polin speciality derived from the many comedies of military life written at the end of the nineteenth century by Georges Courteline (1858-1929), of which the most enduringly famous is the 1886 comedy, filmed many times over the years, Les Gaietés de l’escadron. In 1906 Polin would, along with fellow café concert stars Félix Mayol and Dranem, record for both camera and phonograph a whole series of “phonoscènes”, a lucky thirteen in all, in what amounted to a kind of “best of” compilation (“Polin dans ses créations”) and an effective film-record of the singer’s career.
Although the theatrical pieces produced for “Le Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre” were sensational enough, it was in some respects the remarkable dance program that was the highlight of the show. Like the great and the good of the legitimate theatre, the major dance-stars tended to turn their nose up at cinema; even Alice Guy at Gaumont, who showed a very particular interest in dance-films from an early stage in her career, had to rely largely on dancers of second rank. Here Vrignault has managed to assemble a really rather remarkable line-up of first-rate stars. The Italian Achille Viscusi (1869-1945) was not only a dancer but one of the most important choreographers and dance-teachers of the day, as was Jeanne Chasles (1869-1939), director of the Opéra comique and later (1915) professeur de danse at the Paris Conservatoire. The Belgian Joseph Hansen (1842-1907), who choreographs one of the ballet-scenes, had worked in London and Moscow before becoming Maître de ballet at the Palais Garnier (1887-1907). Michel Vasquez (1855-1903) was later Maìtre de Ballet at l’Opéra (1902-1903).
Christine Kerf (1875-1963), a star at l’Opéra Comique, would go on to appear in four films (1912-1922). The Spanish dancer Rosetta Mauri Segura (1850-1923) was approaching the end of her career – she had actually retired from dancing in 1898 – but would teach at l’Opéra until 1920. She was succeeded in her roles by the Italian Carlotta Zambelli (1875-1968), who would go on to be one of the great stars of l’Opéra, later known as “la Grande Mademoiselle”, and who would leave in 1901 for a tour in St. Petersburg. Zambelli herself retired from dancing in 1930 but taught for a further twenty-five years, a career at l’Opéra of sixty-one years in all. According to dance-critic André Levinson (1887-1933), Zambelli exemplified “la ferveur italienne, tempérée par la mesure française” (Italian fervor tempered by French rhythm), which produced
une exécution pondérée, nuancée et infiniment vivante… Son jeu est aigu, incisif, brillant ; ses pas ne sont pas ébauchés à l’estompe, mais tracés au burin. Aucun excès de sensibilité, mais infiniment d’intelligence… Ce qui enrichit l’art subtil de Carlotta, fait d’intuition et de discipline, d’un attrait exceptionnel sinon unique, c’est sa suprême musicalité, c’est la naissance de chaque pas de l’esprit même du rythme, la concordance absolue de l’impulsion sonore et de l’essor saltatoire.a performance, deeply considered, nuanced and infinitely lively…..sharp, incisive, brilliant; her steps are not produced with a stump but traced with a fine engraving tool. No excess of sensibility, but an infinity of intelligence….What enriches Carlotta’s subtle art, formed from a combination of intuition and discipline, of an exceptional if not unique attractiveness, is her supreme musicality; it is the birth at each step of the spirit of rhythm itself, the complete concordance of the impulse of sound with the sweep of her curvet.
A pupil, Lycette Darsonval (1912-1996), later herself directrice of the ballet de l’Opéra and of the ballet de Nice, once said of “la Grande Mademoiselle” that she taught dancers “à n’être pas que des automates” (not just to be automata) “mais à pénétrer aussi l’esprit d’un ballet, à observer les jeux de l’expression.” (to penetrate the spirit of the ballet, to observe the play of expression).
Then the program also included a performance by Cléo de Mérode who was something else again. Cléopâtre-Diane de Merode also known as Cléo de Mérode (1875-1966) was not only a dancer but one of the acknowledged beauties of the period. Already by the age of twenty-three, in 1898, she had danced in the major works of Delibes (Coppélia and Sylvia), André Messager (Les deux pigeons), André Wormser (L’Étoile) and Gustave Charpentier (Le Couronnement de la Muse but had left l’Opéra in tht year to pursuse an independent career and her reputation as a dancer was often eclipsed by her mythic status as “reine de Beauté” established notably in a series of photographs by Paul Nadar (1856-1939) and Léopold-Émile Reutlinger (1863-1937), whose sumptuous albums of photographs devoted to her gained an international reputation and spawned innumerable postcards. A great many of the photographs, including those of her in costume for both her Javanaise and Cambodian dances, were taken at precisely this time.
Scandal had been caused by a famous nude statue (1896) of Mérode by Jean-Alexandre-Joseph Falguière (1831-1900), although she denied ever having actually posed nude for it. Then there were the risqué performances at the Folies Bergère and the Alcazar, a far cry from le ballet de l’Opéra, and the seemingly endless procession of male admirers, including most notoriously King Léopold II of the Belgians, with whom equally she denied ever having had an affair, as was popularly rumored. All served to give her at this time a particularly sulfurous reputation on a par with that of the other celebrated dancer-courtesane of the Belle Époque, the Spaniard Caroline Otero (la belle Otéro) (1868-1965), a reputation which, although it added to her celebrity, was mercilessly exploited by the caricaturists. Yet, although the two were often popularly seen as rivals, they had in reality little in common. Unlike the flamboyant and opportunistic Otero, Cléo de Mérode took her dancing, even if it became of a distinctly eclectic nature, perfectly seriously and, again unlike Otero, always denied the imputations alleged by her detractors. As late as 1955 she would successfully sue Simone de Beauvoir after the feminist had sourly referred to her as a “cocotte” in her 1949 book Le Deuxième Sexe.
Other dancers who appear, minor only by comparison with the big stars, were the three dancer-daughters of Louis-Amedée Mante, Suxanne, Louise (1880-1999) and Blanche and Sandrine Violat, all of whom were regular dancers at l’Opéra. The Mante sisters were known punningly as “Mantes-les-Jolies” because of the town of Mantes-la-Jolie, now a very unpretty suburb in the Paris sprawl. Described as danseuses mondaines, they would later record several “phonoscènes” for Alice Guy at Gaumont in 1906. Louis-Amedée Mante (1826-1913), himself appears nowhere in the program and is not amongst the credits, but it does not seem too fanciful to suppose that he may have played a certain role in its evolution. Bass-player with the orchestra of l’Opéra, he was also a celebrated photographer. The Mante sisters were not only frequently photographed by their father but also painted by Edgar Degas (1824-1917), who had known them from childhood.
As regards the content of the program, it is as remarkable for what it does not contain as for what it does. There is for instance no “Loïe Fuller” dance, what would later be thought of as “modern dance”. Apart from the British, who seem at this time to have had little concept of dance beyond jigs and highland flings, virtually every film-maker of the period from Max Skladanowky in Germany to Lumière, Pathé, Demenÿ and later Guy for Gaumont, Méliès, Parnaland, Joly, Léar and Pirou, Mendel, Baron, Nadar, De Bedts and, across the Atlantic, Edison, Mutoscope, Lubin and Selig, all eagerly jumped on the bandwagon of Fuller’s surprise success at the Folies bergère (the danse serpentine of 1892) and produced at least one example, and often several examples, of some dancer or other – never Fuller herself – twirling around in a flurry of bedsheets. Given the constant parade of such Fuller dance-alikes, the omission here is very striking and must quite clearly be the result of a deliberate decision not to include such a film.
Then again, although the program is, as we shall see, far from austere or lacking in passion and sensuousness, and contains much exotic and “orientalist” material, there are no belly-dances or spear-waving Ashanti. There are no Barrison sister, the “wickedest girls in the world” offering to show the audience their pussies; they had kittens strapped into their knickers. There are not even any of the popular novelty dances (the cakewalk, the kickapoo, the tough dance, the apache dance, the shimmy), that were beginning to become popular in the US and would in time come to dominate the dance-repertoire of films. Instead what we have is a high-quality program of an interesting variety but of a certain artistic seriousness that is enormously to the credit of Marguerite Vrignault, herself a dancer, as director. It is also in looking at the dance-program that one appreciates fully the way that the “Phono-cinéma-théâtre”, situated itself at the heart of the Paris Exposition, sought to developed the “cosmopolitan” themes and motifs associated with the International Expositions.
The Palais de la Danse advertised itself at this time as providing “a history of the dance in ballets” with “dances from all countries”. The Ballet de Terpsichore (Un Mariage aux Flambeaux), danced by Christine Kerf and Achille Viscusi of the Palais de la Danse. Terpsichore was a new one-act ballet produced in 1900 with music by Léo Pouget (1875-1930) and a libretto by Adolphe Thalasso (1858-1919), choreographed by Mariquita and, in the original production, with an orchestra directed by Félix Desgranges. Marie-Thérèse Gamalery also known as Madame Mariquita (1841-1922) was an Algerian-born dancer of Spanish descent who had a remarkably varied career and was quite possibly the most famous maîtresse de ballet of the Belle Époque. She had made her début at the Funambules, in the dingy boulevard du Temple (nicknamed « boulevard du crime », later famous as the setting for Marcel Carné’s Les Enfants du paradis, then worked her way up successively to théâtre des Bouffes-Parisiens, the Teatro Variedades in Madrid (where she presumably learned the flamenco), théâtre de la Porte Saint-Martin (whose director, Marc Fournier, she married). By 1871 she was maîtresse de ballet at the Folies bergère but continued to dance herself in theatres of all kinds (Châtelet, Gaîté, Bouffes-Parisiens, Variétés, Porte Saint-Martin, the London Lyceum, the théâtre Lafayette in Rouen, the Skating in la rue Blanche, etc.). Maîtresse de ballet at l’Opéra Comique (1898-1920), in addition to her work at the Folies, she was also director of choreography of the Palais de la Danse at the 1900 Exposition. This did not prevent her from also dancing herself from time to time, during the Exposition, at “La Feria” restaurant in the Spanish Pavilion in the Rue des Nations.
The entire ballet consisted of three separate tableaux, each representing a different country – Spain, Italy and Greece. Un mariage aux flambeaux, In 1900, the Ballet de Terpsichore (Un Mariage aux Flambeaux), danced by Christine Kerf and Achille Viscusi for the “Phono-cinéma-théâtre”, set in the Alhambra at Granada, was the Spanish scene, featuring characters based on Carmen, Kerf as “la cigarrera” and Viscusi as a matador while the dance itself was a flamenco. Le Matin, which had reviewed the stage-show on 27 May 1900, singled Kerf out for praise for l’élégance et la fureur” of her performance, describing her as “une danseuse étonnante”. An extended article by critic Gabriel Pitté consecrated to Terpsichore in La Grande Vue provides a fuller account:
Tout en satin blanc, une fabricante de cigares se penche, brille, tourbillonne et s’enflamme, poursuivie et hantée par un torero agile, un torero tout en satin blanc comme elle et qui, vertigineux, plein de désir passionné, tremble frénétiquement sous ses jupes un tambourin tintant. Presque accroupi sous ses pas, on dirait qu’il infuse la montée de son désir ardent : la fabricante de cigares, après chaque pause, se penche de plus en plus abandonnée, puis se lève et repart, volant au-delà. Six Andalouses vêtues de longs châles, la fleur de la grenade à l’oreille, rampent dans leur ombre, les suivent pas à pas, enivrant le couple avec un tumulte déchaîné d’olés, de tambourins et de gais castagnettes : au fond, au fond des arches maures, les guitares étincelantes et les torches qui rougissent, saignent dans le bleu de la nuit : c’est toute l’Espagne et tout Grenade.
All white satin, a cigar maker leans, shines, swirls and flames, pursued and haunted by an agile bullfighter, a bullfighter, all white satin like her, who, dizzyingly, full of passionate desire, frantically shakes beneath her skirts a tinkling tambourine. Almost crouching under her feet, he could be said to be infusing the mounting ardor of his desire: the cigar maker, after each pause, inclines in a more abandoned, then gets up and leaves, flying away. Six Andalusian girls dressed in long shawls, with pomegranate flowers in their ears, creep in their shadow, following them step by step, intoxicating the couple with a raging tumult of olés, tambourines and cheerful castanets: in the background, behind the Moorish arches, the jangle of guitars, and the glowing torches that bleed in the blue of the night: it is all Spain and all Granada.
For the “Phono-cinéma-théâtre” version it would seem from Pitté’s account that the six Andalusian dancers were replaced by an entire corps de ballet specially imported from Granada so that “leurs coutumes quelque … dangereuses” (their somewhat…risqué costumes) “pour être exposés avec toute la fougue de la jeunesse devant les regards excités d’un public cosmopolite” (could be displayed with all the élan of youth, before the excited regard of a cosmopolitan public). This show in full could also be seen live at the Palais de Danse in the Rue de Paris, just a short walk away.
Le Cid was a four-act opera rather than a ballet, with music by Jules Massenet (1842-1912) and a libretto by Louis Gallet, Édouard Blau and Adolphe d’Ennery based on the 1636 play by Jean Racine, but it gives a very large place to dance, with an elborate ballet suite in Act II. There is in fact no “habanera”, as advertised for the “Phono-cinéma-théâtre”, but rather a “Castillane”, followed by an “Andalouse”, an “aragonaise”, an “aubade”, a “Catalane”, a “Madrilène” and a a “Navarrosie”, the object being in other words to represent all the different regions of Spain. First produced by the Opéra comique, and the ballet suite had been specially created by Massenet for the Spanish prima ballerina Rosita Mauri, who was now, almost symbolically, passing on her roles to Carlotta Zambelli, What Zambelli and Michel Vasquez dance on film is probably the “Catalane”, since the “habanera”, although, as its name implies, a Cuban dance in origin, was particularly associated with Catalonia.
The Kerf-Viscusi flamenco and the Zambelli-Vasquez habanera or catalane constituted only a small part of the Spanish dance available at the Exposition. An Andalouisan dance-troupe could also be seen in L’Andalousie au temps des Maures at the Trocadéro while other Spanish dancers featured in the Panorama de La Tour de Monde at the Théâtre Exotique in the Champ-de-Mars, at the « La Feria » restaurant in the Spanish Pavilion in the Rue des Nations and, from time to time, at the Pavillon Bleu in the shadow of the Tour Eiffel. There was apparently even a spectacle Las sevillanas being performed in the reconstructed “Vieux Paris” along the banks of the Seine.
Japanese art was in high esteem in France at this time. The Japanese “ukiyo-e” (floating world) art movement that had flourished under the Tokugawa shogunate (1603-1868) was an important influence on the Impressionists and other contemporary French painters. High prices were paid for very collectable works by Outamaro and Hokousai to whom the writer and critic Edmond de Goncourt (1822-1896) had devoted books in 1891 and 1896. In 1889 Le Guide Bleu du Figaro et du Petit Journal enthused over the Pavillon japonais – “des soieries, des porcelaines, des cloisonnées, des laques, des scultures. Mille richesses arrêtent retiennent” (a thousand riches retain the attention) and the art historian Raymond Koechlin (1860-1931), visiting the pavillon japonais in 1900, regretted the “egotistical classicism” of certain Europeans that was all that prevented Japanese (and for that matter Chinese) art from taking the place alongside European art which was rightfully theirs.
French musicians influenced by Japan included Camille Saint-Saëns (1831-1921) whose opera La Princesse jaune with a libretto by Louis Gallet (1835-1898) had appeared in 1872 at l’Opéra comique. Le Rêve (1890) was a ballet with music by Léon Gastinel (1823-1906), a libretto by Edward Blau and with choreography by Joseph Hansen. It contained, in the second act, a pantomime, Mikagouva, also known as “le pas de la robe de chambre”, which had been specially written for Rosita Mauri who had come out of retirement to perform it and here danced it yet again, ten years later, for the camera of Clément-Maurice. To judge from the critical notices, it proved one of her greatest triumphs.
According to one critic who witnessed the original production, Mauri plays a woman who, although supposedly Japanese – la gitanilla de Tokio (the little gypsy or Tokyo), according to one critic – has the rather unJapanese name of Dalta and who has been given her first long dress. sewn for her by the fairies, along with a sacred fan and, after a suitable swish of the latter, to an accompaniment of flute and harp, she “parcourt le théâtre avec une joie enfantine” (runs through the theatre with a childish joy), stopping from time to time to admire herself in her dress, then proceeding triumphantly on her way. She was “bissée” (called on to perform an encore) and, according to the critic, they would have liked to have “trissée” (called for yet another encore), so delightful was the dance – “un véritable petit trouvail” (a real little find). Another critic (Le Radical) described it as “un bijou choréographique et musical” (a choreographic and musical jewel), Another (Le Gaulois) enthused at greater length if with less coherence. The piece is ridiculously euphemistic in style and difficult to render in meaningful English, but one gets the basic idea. It was a pretty sexy performance.
Mlle. Mauri y montre plus que jamais de fine et légère fantaisie, d’art délicat, de virtuosité spirituelle, nuancée de ci de là, de tendresses et de langoureux abandons.. J’ai parlé de Mlle, Mauri qui mime et danse le rôle de Dalta. Cette denseuse exquise n’a jamais été plus en verve. Elle a des hardiesses de légèreté qui lui sont toute naturelles. Quand l’on le revêt, au second acte, de l’ample robe des déesses, et que l’on confie l’éventail sacré, elle marque des étonnements ravis, elle dégage une séduction étrange, et rien de plus gracieusement fantasque que la façon dont elle rejette derrière elle, en dansant, la draperie surabondante. …Mlle. Mauri plaît par la caractère spontané de son talent ; elle semble toujours danser et mimer improvisant, et toujours elle est vive, amusante, et ausi vraie que le comporte son art. Parfois, une nuance de sensibilité colore son caprice. Et le charme est autant plus vivant qu’il est plus franchement rythmique sous la constante liberté des mouvements.Mlle. Mauri shows here more than ever a fine and light fantasy, delicate art and spiritual virtuosity, nuanced here and there by tenderness and languorous abandon…..I have spoken of Mlle, Mauri who mimes and dances the rôle of Dalta. This exquisite dancer has never been on better form. She has the boldness of lightness [it does not make much sense in French either – ed.] that is natural to her. When she put on, in the second act, the ample dress of the goddesses, and is entrusted with the sacred fan, she gives vent to ravished astonishment and emits a strange seduction and there could be nothing more graciously fantastic than the way in which she throws off behind her the superabundant drapery…..Mlle. Mauri pleases by the spontaneous character of her talent; she seems always to dance and mime ad lib, and she is always lively, amusing and as true as her art permits. Sometimes a nuance of sensibility colors her caprice. And the charm of it is even more lively for being frankly rhythmic through the constant liberty of movement.
Danse javanaise, dansée par Mlle Cléo de Mérode
There has been a post-colonial tendency to make a great deal what might be called the “village nègre” aspect of late nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century expositions, the “human zoos” where peoples from all over the world, including the newly colonized parts of Africa and South-East Asia, were exhibited for the voyeuristic pleasure of European audiences. Often, however, discussions of this phenomenon lump everything together, sometimes even the Swiss – Swiss villages were a very popular number – as though they were somehow all the same thing and as though the European regard on the less developed world, was always the same. In fact it varied considerably from place to place. The cultures of the far East, even beyond the ancient empires of India and China and Japan, commanded a certain respect and attracted a good deal of admiration. The French colonies of Annam and Cambodia (French Indo-China) were represented at the Paris Expositions of both 1889 and 1900, along with a slightly anomalous honorary presence at both Expositions, of Java in the Dutch East Indies.
In 1889, the foreign pavilions were to be found on the Esplanade des Invalides. The Annamite Theatre was to the left of the central avenue in the middle of the Esplanade, while the « kampong javanais » was near the end of the Esplanade. The theatre showed long dramatised epics with improvised dialogue, accompanied by an orchestra of six musicians, five grouped around the perfomers while the sixth remained in the background, punctuating the performance from time to time on a drum. In the Javanese pavilion, a village had been set up. Here sixty Javanese people went about their daily tasks of cooking, making batiks and, most importantly, making music and dancing. A second orchestra played marching music used to accompany the performers when they processed through the compound. In 1900, the Javanese orchestra, the « gamelan-goedjin », was again present to accompany the dances, music, according to Émile Verhaeren “like flowing water” that “animates these dances, these calm, chaste and tranquil dances. it has neither beginning nor end; one would say that it forms part of the unceasing movement of the universe”. In respect both of exoticism and of authenticity (however judged), the Javanese dancers rivalled the Spanish gitanes as the stars of the.Exposition.
It is symptomatic of the much greater respect showed to the Indianised culture of South-East Asia, that the Cambodian dancers, associated with the court of King Sihanouk, were particularly admired although they were not present at either exhibition and would not be permitted by the King to come to Europe until 1905. It was possible, nevertheless, to see other artefacts associated with the culture. Edmond de Goncourt, a notable cynic, who nevertheless attended the Exposition assiduously, found the Cambodian display particularly disquieting:
À l’Exposition. Antiquités cambodgiennes. Ces monstres à bec d’oiseau, qui ont l’air d’appartenir à une période d’êtres plésiosauriques, ces sphinx en forme de cynocéphales, ces éléphants à l’aspect d’énormes colimaçons, ces griffons qui semblent les féroces paraphes d’un calligraphe géant en délire Et au milieu de l’ornementation de queues de paon, d’yeux de plumage, ces attelées d’hommes à la pantomime inquiétante, et ces danseuses, aux formes de fœtus, coiffées de tiares, au rire héliogabalesque. Oh ! ce rire dans ces bouches bordées de lèvres, comme on en voit dans les masques antiques, et encore ces têtes avec des oreilles semblables à des ailes de chauve-souris, et avec l’ombre endormie et heureuse qu’elles ont sous leurs paupières fermées, et avec l’épatement sensuel, et avec la léthargie jouisseuse d’un sommeillant en une pollution nocturne…Tout ce monde de pierre a quelque chose d’hallucinatoire qui vous retire de votre temps et de votre humanité.At the the Exposition, Cambodian antiquities. These monsters with, which have the air of belonging to a period of plesiosauric beings, these swan-headed sphinxes, these spiraling elephants, these griffons which seem like ferocious squiggles from a crazed giant exercise in calligraphy. And in the middle of the ornamentation of peacock-tails, plumage of eyes, disquieting pantomimes of men in harness, and these dancers in the form of fetuses, adorned with crowns and Heliogabalesque grins. Oh that grin on those mouths, all lips, that one sees in antique mask, and those head with ears like bats’ wings, and with that happy, sleeping shadows that they have on their closed eyelids, and with the sensual stupefaction and the delicious lethargy of a sleeper in a nocturnal pollution…..All this world of stone has something hallucinatory about it that takes you away from your own time and your humanity.
The composer Claude Debussy, who first encountered Javanese music at the 1889 Exposition and was hugely influenced by it, was of quite a different opinion. In 1913 he would write:
Il y a eu, il y a même encore, malgré les désordres qu’apporte la civilisation, de charmants petits peuples qui apprirent la musique aussi simplement qu’on apprend à respirer. Leur conservatoire c’est : le rythme éternel de la mer, le vent dans les feuilles, et mille petits bruits qu’ils écoutèrent avec soin, sans jamais regarder dans d’arbitraires traités. Leurs traditions n’existent que dans de très vieilles chansons, mêlées de danses, où chacun, siècle sur siècle, apporta sa respectueuse contribution. Cependant, la musique javanaise observe un contrepoint auprès duquel celui de Palestrina n’est qu’un jeu d’enfant. Et si l’on écoute, sans parti pris européen, le charme de leur « percussion », on est bien obligé de constater que la nôtre n’est qu’un bruit barbare de cirque forain.
There have been, and they still exist, despite the disorders which civilization brings in its train, charming little peoples who learned music as simply as one learns to breathe. Their conservatoire is the eternal rhythm of the sea, the wind in the leaves, the thousand little noises which they listen to carefully, without ever consulting arbitrary treatises. Their traditions only exist in very old songs and dances to which each one of them, throughout the centuries, brought his respectful contribution. Nevertheless, Javanese music is characterized by an art of counterpoint compared to which that of Palestrina is mere child’s play. And if we listen, forgetting our European prejudices, to the charm of their «percussion» we are forced to admit that ours sounds like the barbarous noise of a traveling circus.
Perhaps the most eloquent testimony concerning the Javanese dance comes from the pen and brush of the US artist John Singer Sargent.
Cléo de Mérode became the prime European exponent of the dance-styles both of Java and Cambodia, which she set herself to study with a certain care. At the 1900 Exposition, not only could she be seen on film at the “Phono-cinéma-théâtre” in the Javanese dance she had developed, in the wake of the Exposition of 1899, but she could also be seen live, again just a step or so away, at the magnificent Cambodian Pavilion in the Jardins du Trocadéro, designed by exoticiste French architect Alexandre Marcel (1860-1928), where she was performing her newly-devised Cambodian dance. Here, those interested could also view the films shot by Lumière operator Gabirel Veyre, in Cambodia in 1898-1899.
Another show that had been specially prepared for the 1900 Exposition was Danses de naguère et de jadis, with a composite score by Paul Vidal (1863-1931), based on twenty-eight airs from the past (ranging from works by Rameau to those of the contemporary composer André Wormser). Produced by the opera-singer and theatre director Pierre Samson Gailhard Pedro Gailhard (1848-1914) and performed once again by the ballet de l’Opéra where the composer was “directeur de chant” (1892-1905) and later “chef d’orchestr” (1906), described at the time as “maître de l’art de Terpsichore”. The show was also the culmination of a whole process of careful research concerning ancient Greek orchestration conducted by the choreographers Laure Françoise Pointet dite Laure Fonta (1845-1915) and Joseph Hansen.
An extract from this entertainment, the Greek dances in the show were a notable success. A dance of priestesses was performed to music by Paul Véronge de la Nux (1853-1928), “chef de chant” at Sarah Bernhardt’s Théâtre de la Renaissance, set by Louis-Albert Bourgault-Ducoudray (1840-1910), composer, conductor, champion of the folk-music of his native Brittany and one of France’s foremost experts on folk-music, and sung by Jeanne Julia Regnault also known as Julia Bartet (1854-1941), star of the Comédie française and another, along with Réjane and Bernhardt, of the great actresses of the day. Unlike her consoeurs, Bartet never appeared in a film. Then the Italian dancer Emma Sandrini (1871-1927) performed a more dramatic dance to the music of Les Troyens à Carthage (1863) by Hector Berlioz (1803-1969). Amongst the supporting cast, Sandrine Violat appeared as one of the accompanying fauns (the other is Jeanne Régnier). This was followed by a « danse des crotales » (antique cymbals) followed by a further dance (priestesses and fauns) to the poetry of Pierre-Barthélemy Gheusi (1865-1943), Toulousain writer and journalist with an interest in the medieval heretics of that region, popularly known nowadays as the “cathares “, set to the music of Ernest Guiraud (1837-1932). Guiraud, best known today as the compor of the famous récitatifs for Bizet’s Carmen and for his completion of the orchestration for Offenbach’s Contes d’Hofmann, was a founder-member of the Société Nationale de Musique (1871), motto “Ars gallica”, which aimed to promote the cause of French music in contrast to the German tradition, “to spread the gospel of French music and to make known the works of living French composers” and was also the author of a highly-respected scholarly treatise on instrumentation (1891).
One sees in this extraordinary potpourri, a really rather remarkable combination of the scholarly and the dilettante, the fascination with both an imagined past and an imagined present, interests, variously represented, that are local, national and cosmopolitan. Once again it is the effect of a collage or patchwork, in the image of the Exposition’s own aspirations to universality. In talking of MM. Gailhard, Vidal and Hansen “à qui l’on doit cette œuvre de grand art” (to whom we owe this great work of art), one critic emphasizes how they
ont pris tous les Tanagra, ont étudié les diverses poses des danseuses antiques, ont cherché la première position de la danse. Les autres positions ont découlé de celles-ci. M. Vidal alors a appliqué au rythme donné par la reconstitution des mouvements antiques, les œuvres des divers compositeurs qui pouvaient le mieux les accompagnerhave taken the Tanagra (essence of ancient Greek elegance), have studied the various movements of antique dance, have sought the original form of the dance. The other movements developed from those. M. Vidal has also adapted to the rhythm derived from the antique movements, the works of various composers which could best accompany them.
La Gavotte from this same show, described as “une danse ancienne” and featuring Cléo de Mérode in fact had music by a contemporary composer Marcel Samuel-Rousseau. It could be seen on film at “Le Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre” but could have also been seen elsewhere, like Terpsichore, live as part of the entire spectacle. It was performed at two of the great landmark-buildings of the Exposition, first performed on 10 August 1900 at the Palais de l’Elysée (entirely rebuilt in the course of the two Paris Expositions of 1889 and 1900 in place of the Palais de l’Industrie of 1855 as “le Grand Palais des Beaux Arts et des arts décoratifs” and “le Petit Palais de l’art français” and then on 11 November 1900 at the Palais du Trocadéro (originally built for the Exposition of 1878 but a centerpiece of the 1900 Exposition where it overlooked the colonial pavilions constructed in the surrounding gardens). Mérode herself, also performing at the Cambodian Pavilion, must, like several artistes, have commuted from one venue to another.
Other dances included in the programme were Danse des Incroyables, Danse Directoire and Danses slaves. Th two last both had music by cellist, pianist and composer William (1861-1933) Marie), the first being danced by Blanche and Louise Mante of l’Opéra, the second by Jeanne Chasles of l’Opéra-Comique and Achille Viscusi of the Palais de la Dans. The dancer and choreographer Jeanne Chasles also appeared in a very mouvementée dance, Le Pas du petit faune from Le Cygne, a setting of a poem by the prolific Catulle Mendès (1841-1909) by composer Charles Lecoq (1832-1918) while Le Pas de la Sabotière from the ballet La Korrigane (1884) by François Coppée (1842-1908) and dancer and maître de ballet of the previous generation, Louis-Alexandre dit Louis Mérante (1828-with music by Charles-Marie Widor (1844-1937) was danced by Rosita Mauri accompanied by Sandrine Violat and Suzanne Mante.
Zambelli also danced La Pizzicati from Sylvia ou la Nymphe de Diane (1876) by Jules Barbier and Jacques de Reinach with music by Léo Délibes (1836-1891). Her performance of La Pizzicata, which she possibly also dances in a later1908 film of her by Paul Nadar, son of the great photographer, was, and remained, one of her most famous pieces. The French ballerina Yvette Chauviré (1917-2018), who had been taught by Zambelli and was herself famous for her performances of Giselle (1841), a part inherited from Zambelli and Michel Fokine’s La Mort d’un cygne (1907), described the technique of Zambeli as « éblouissante » (stunning). « Dans Sylvia, elle bissait toujours les célèbres pizzicati » (she was always called on to perform an encore of the famous Pizzicati). « Elle était distinguée, sans une once de vulgarité. » (she was distinguished without an ounce of vulgarity).
Two of the Mantes sisters (Blanche and Louise) also performed a dance to a recording of medieval carols, Caroles du Moyen Age set by William Marie, but this is one of the very few films that remains lost.
The comedy duo from the Nouveau Cirquein the rue Saint Honoré, Foottit and Chocolat perform three of their best-loved sketches, Guillaume Tell, Les Échasses or Entrées des échasses (stilt-walking) and Le Policeman. The British-born clown George Foottit (1884-1921) and the his Cuban-born black partner Chocolat, whose real name whose real name was Rafael or Raphaël, were at the height of their popularity at this time. Guillaume Tell had first been filmed in 1896 by Charles-Émile Reynaud for his Théâtre Optque at the Musée Grévin and was also among six of their sketches filmed in July of this same year by Jacques Ducom for the Lumières as was Le Policeman. No accompanying recordings survive for these films but it is probable that they existed; dialogue (including Chocolat’s impertinence and Foottit’s very imperfect French) were an important element in the Foottit and Chocolat sketches. There has been a recent fictionalized film biography of the Cuban, Chocolat (2016) directed by Roschdy Zem with Omar Sy in the title role and James Thierée (a grandson of Charles Chaplin) playing George Foottit.
More comedy was provided by another British entertainer, Harry Relph known as Little Tich (1867-1928) who performed the “big boots” act for which he was most famous, as well as performing a danse espagnole (Spanish dance). The great French cinéaste Jacques Tati once described this film as “la base de tout ce qui a été réalisé dans la comédie sur l’écran” (the basis for all that has been achieved in screen comedy). Mason and Forbes, described as excentrics américains performed a comic pantomime sketch in a photographer’s studio, Scène chez le photographe.
Even scène grivoises (bawdy scenes) were not neglected, as the female impersonator Brunin (1859-1933) from Les Ambassadeurs performed his parody of the Famous Willy Louise La Coucher de la mariée entitled Déshabillé de la mariée.
“Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre” opened on March 28, 1900 and was an immediate success with the critics. According to Le Figaro:
Grâce à la combinaison complète et absolue de ces deux merveilles, le phonographe et le cinématographe, on est arrivé à un résultat d’une rare perfection, dont il faut féliciter MM. Clément Maurice et Lioret…Quant au phonographe, c’est également une pure merveille de netteté et de sonorité.
Thanks to the complete and absolute combination of these two marvels, the phonograph and the cinematograph, a rare perfection has been achieved, for which we must thank MM. Clément Maurice and Lioret…As for the phonograph, it is also an absolute marvel.
The public itself, unfortunately, was more reticent, the attendance was disappointing and the takings were less than expected, but the films, or a selection of them, continued to be exhibited in Switzerland, Sweden, Spain, England, Germany, Austria, and Italy, and finally in 1901 at the Isola Brothers’ Olympia theatre in Paris, the former Lumière operator Félix Mesguich apparently being the operator responsible for the touring version. This was almost certainly largely due to the fact that the synchronization, remedied now of course by modern technology in the restored versions, was in fact still far from perfect, that the quality of the phonograph recordings was still poor and the cylinders themselves unstable, and that the amplification was almost certainly also inadequate. These were problems that beset all the “playback” systems and would not really be resolved (by the Gaumont engineers) until 1907. The Société Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre was finally dissolved on 26 November 1901. Virtually the entire collection of films, rediscovered in 1961, with some newly-discovered additions from other sources, was restored by the Cinémathèque française in 2010-2012. Author David Bond is a historian who specializes in the study of cultural history. Subjects of interest, past and present, include late seventeenth-century English drama, early English paperback publishing, the French graphic novel (bande dessinnée), Jamaican popular music (not just the “r” word) and cinema – of all periods and all traditions but with a special interest in the period prior to the (mitigated) disaster of what is popularly known as “sound”.