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 the “Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre” financed by Paris businessman Paul Decauville (1846-1922) with actress and dancer Marguerite Vrignault, later known as Marguerite Vrignault Chenu, (1861-c. 1933), apparently the original inspiration of the project, as directrice artistique, the term used at this period for what, broadly speaking, would now be simply described as the director. A limited company (société anonyme), La Société Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre, was formed on 2 March 1900 and the films were shot by photographer and cinematographer Clément-Maurice, using the “Cinépar” camera created by Ambrose-François Parnaland (1854-1913). Sound was provided by the “Idéal” phonographe of Henri Lioret (1848-1838), advertised, in competition with the Columbia’s Phonograph Company of Washington’s “Graphophone Multiplex Grand”, as “le plus grand phonographe du monde” (the largest phonograph in the world) but this was later replaced (September 19th) by the Pathé phonographe “Le Céleste”. Lioret was also responsible for the system of “playback” sound-synchronization. The pavilion at the Exposition, in the rue de Paris, 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 system of sound-synchronisation was fairly basic and relied essentially on the dexterity of the operator. According to Le Figaro (7 July 1900), the theatre had two exhibition-halls. In one the operator was former Lumière operator Félix Mesguich:
“Pour les projections parlantes, installation était également très simple. Devant l’écran, à la place de l’orchestre, se trouvaient deux petits boxes pour le phonographe et les appareils à bruit. Dans le cornet du phonographe, il y avait un microphone qui prenait le son, qu’un tube acoustique amenait à la cabine de l’opérateur, Félix Mesguich. Une lampe rouge s’allumait au déclenchement du cylindre phonographique pour permettre le départ simultané du film. L’opérateur, au moyen d’un casque ou d’un simple cornet acoustique, avait le son dans l’oreille : il réglait alors sa manivelle au son et tournait plus ou moins vite pour que les paroles ou les bruits tombassent « juste ».
For the talking picture, installation was also very simple. In front of the screen, in the orchestra pit, there were two small boxes for the phonograph and the sound instruments. In the horn of the phonograph, there was a microphone which picked up the sound, which passed through an acoustic tube that led to the cabin of the operator, Félix Mesguich. A red lamp lit up once the phonographic cylinder started to permit the simultaneous commencement of the film. The operator, by means of a headphone or a simple acoustic horn was able to hear the sound and regulated the movement of the crank, turning slower or faster so that the words and sounds came out ‘right’.”
-Henry Cossira (son of Émile), “La Résurrection du Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre”, L’image, nº 55, 31 mars 1933.
In the second hall, projection was in the hands of Clément-Maurice’s sons, Georges and Léopold. Here too the synchronisation, according to Léopold Maurice, was “approximatif” and he, as the younger and less experienced of the two, had difficulty in matching his cranking to the rhythm of the words and sound (pour suivre le son en accélérant ou ralentissant le projecteur). (Léopold Maurice in Bulletin de l’Association Française des Ingénieurs et Techniciens du Cinéma No 29, 1969).
Clément Maurice Gratioulet 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 subsequently established himself in 1894 as a successful professional photographer in Paris with a studio at 8, boulevard des Italiens in Paris rented for him by Antoine Lumière, just above Georges Méliès’ théâtre Robert-Houdin. It was he who had arranged the rental of the Salon Indien, at the Grand Café, for the first public Lumière show on 28 December 1895, and who took charge of the till for the first performances. Clément-Maurice remained the official Paris concessionnaire for the Lumières and continued to manage the programme at the Grand Café until 10 April 1899, when, with the agreement of Louis Lumière, he resigned as concessionnaire and the offices at 8, boulevard des Italiens were sold. Clément-Maurice produced some of his finest photography at this time (Paris en plein air, a number of fine townscapes that were his contribution to the series Le Beau Pays de France in 1897) and he remained active as a independent cinematographer, organizing a series of projections to accompany a talk on cycling in 1897, making films for Gaumont in 1897-98 and in March of that year winning first prize in the world’s first film competition, held in Monaco, for his film Monaco vivant par les appareils cinématographiques. Since 1898 he had also worked, with the assistance of his teenage son Leopold, as a cinematographer, alongside Ambroise-François Parnaland, for the surgeon Eugène-Louis Doyen for the filming of his operations. In 1899 he was officially chosen by Doyen in preference to Parnaland to continue the work and the two would make over sixty films between 1899 and 1906.
In later years Marguerite Vrignault, now known as Chenu, related to singer Henry Cossira, son of the singer, the origins of the project:
Deux ans avant l’ouverture de l’Exposition de 1900, m’a rappelé Mme Chenu, j’avais, au cours d’un déjeuner de chasse chez Paul Decauville, fait allusion à l’intérêt qu’il y aurait à reconstituer en des visions animées le jeu et la voix de nos plus grands artistes. Séduit, Paul Decauville, m’encouragea à réaliser mon idée et monta une société anonyme dont il voulut prendre le conseil d’administration. Je pus donc faire contruire mon pavillon et, m’étant adressée aux frères Lumière, ceux-ci me conseillèrent de prendre Clément Maurice comme opérateur. Je retrouvai Maurice qui travaillait avec le docteur Doyen, et je n’eus pas à le regretter, car c’était un véritable artiste.
Two years before the opening of the 1900 Exposition, Mme Chenu recalled, I had, in the course of a hunt-breakfast at the house of Paul Decauville, referred to the interest in putting together animated pictures, performance and voice, of our greatest artistes. Convinced, Decauville encouraged me to put my idea into practice and formed a company of which he became president. I was able to have the pavilion built and, applying to the Lumière brothers, was recommended to employ Clément Maurice as operator. I found him working for Doctor Doyen and had no cause to regret the choice, as he was a real artist.”
-Henry Cossira, “La Résurrection du Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre”, L’image, nº 55, 31 mars 1933.
Vrignault’s highly ambitious programme consisted of over thirty synchronized sounds films, many hand-colored. There were songs, monologues, comic sketches and extracts from plays, operas and ballets featuring artistes such as Sarah Bernhardt, Coquelin, Gabriel Réjane, Rosita Mauri, Carlotta Zambelle, Cléo de Mérode, Foottit and Chocolat, Little Tich and many others. The films, all but a handful of which survive, several with their original sound cylinders, were long for the period (in practice two films of just over a minute long played continuously), each being nearly three minutes (between 2 minutes 30 seconds and three minutes) in all. The entire show, according to one contemporary review ran for between two and two and a half hours, although this relates to the touring show which probably contained a good deal of additional material. The running time of the original would presumably have been somewhat variable since there were two exhibition halls but probably no more than about an hour and a half altogether (forty-five minutes in each venue if the division between them was equal) and perhaps shorter still. One contemporary poster lists just six films: La Korrigane, L’Enfant prodigue, Le Cid, Hamlet, Danse javanaise and Chanson en crinoline, a twenty-minutes programme, although it is possible that further pieces, comic monologues and sketches, were used as “intermèdes” (interludes). Showing a selection in this way meant that the programme could be constantly varied; it was apparently changed every Friday. Another programme again lists just six pieces (Danse Directoire, La Poupée, Le Cygne, Les Précieuses ridicules, crossed out on the programme, La Korrigane and Chanson en Crinoline), with another six (Hamlet, Cyrano de Bergerac, Falstaff, Le Rêve and La Poupée announced for the following week. The “Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre” opened on 29 April 1900.
Amongst the theatrical scenes, there was a three-tableau excerpt from the pantomime L’Enfant prodigue (“Le Vol”, “Pierrot chez Phrynette” and “Le Retour”) by Michel-Antoine Carré also known as Michel Carré fils (1865-1945), adapted from his three-act stage-play of 1890 of the same name with music by André Wormser (1851-1926) starring Félicia Mallet as Pierrot and Marie Magnier as Madame Pierrot, his mother. Carré, the son of a well-known playwright and librettist, Michel Carré (1821-1872), had followed in his father’s footsteps. L’Enfant prodigue, probably his best-known work, was a major success both in France and internationally and was frequently revived with different casts. Félicia Mallet (1863-1928) was from the stage cast at the théâtre de Bouffes, having replaced Charlotte Raynard in the part. Magnier (1848-1913) had replaced Clémentine Schmidt and Irma Crosnier in the part of the mother. The part of Phrynette, created by Paula Lemière but later played on the stage by Francesca Zanfretta and 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. The part of Pierrot père had been created by Adolphe Berthet and then played by Louis-Philippe Courtès (1833-1903) in the stage production but here it is played by another very distinguished actor, Edmond Duquesne (1849-1918). Duquesne would appear in over forty films 1909-1921, most notably playing Napoléon in André Calmettes’ 1911 film version of Victorien Sardou and Émile Moreau’s Madame Sans Gêne opposite Gabrielle Réjane in the title role, both playing the parts they had originally created on the stage in 1893. The three scenes represent the theft of money from the family safe by Pierrot while his parents sleep (“Le Vol”), the difficulties of his subsequent life with Phrynette (“Pierrot chez Phrynette”), a scene originally entitled “Le Sommeil de Phrynette”, and his return to the family hearth and eventual forgiveness (“Le Retour”), combining two original scenes, “Le Retour” and “Le Pardon”. In 1907, Charles Pathé, at the urging of his friend and legal advisor Edmond Benoît-Lévy (1858-1929), also founder of France’s first cinema journal Phono-Ciné-Gazette (1905-1909) and firm advocate of the “authored” film, supervised the creation, by Pierre Decourcelle (1856-1926) and Eugène Guggenheim (1857-1921), of the Société cinématographique des auteurs et gens de lettres (S.C.A.G.L.), a production company that operated entirely under the aegis of Pathé Frères. Michel Carré was amongst the most prominent S.C.A.G.L. authors, writing and directing several films between 1907 and 1916. It is sometimes said that he directed a complete version of L’Enfant prodigue in 1907 but the evidence for this is uncertain and appears to arise from a confusion with a short film of the biblical story of the prodigal son that Carré made for Pathé/S.C.A.G.L. in that year. Carré did however quite certainly direct a full-length feature film (over an hour) based on his pantomime-play in 1916.
Mallet’s natural style of pantomime was much admired. The Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) compared her favorably to a certain Mlle Litini who enjoyed considerable success during the 1890s in the character of Pierrot in Tendres Aveux at l’Opéra and A Pierrot’s Life at the Prince of Wales Theatre in London. Two superb pastels of Litini, Le Miroir de Pierrot and Tendre Aveu, Melle Litini et Melle Bariaux, de l’Opéra by Pierre Carrier-Belleuse (1851-1933) were exhibited during the 1900 Exposition but Shaw’s preference for Mallet was firmly expressed in his Dramatic Opinions and Essays (1913):
Felicia Mallet is much more credible, much more realistic, and therefore much more intelligible – also much less slim, and not quite so youthful. Litini was like a dissolute “La Sylphide”: Mallet is frankly and heartily like a scion of the very smallest bourgeoisie sowing his wild oats. She is a good observer, a smart executant, and a vigorous and sympathetic actress, apparently quite indifferent to romantic charm, and intent only on the dramatic interest, realistic illusion, and comic force of her work. And she avoids the conventional gesture-code of academic Italian pantomime, depending on popularly graphic methods throughout.”
The Mlle X, playing Phrynette, gained an equally anonymous rich admirer during the run of the “Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre”. In November, when the Exposition had ended and the show had transferred to the boulevard Bonne-Nouvelle Paris, the following advertisement appeared in Le Matin (22 November 1900):
MONSIEUR bien élevé, instruit, très riche, encore jeune, désirant se marier, voudrait faire connaissance d’une personne ressemblant à l’artiste qui mime le rôle de Phrynette dans L’Enfant prodigue, au Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre, 42 bis, boulevard Bonne-Nouvelle. Ecrire poste restante, sous initiales, T.M., bureau de la Madeleine.
GENTLEMAN, well mannered, educated, very rich, still young, wishing to marry, would like to make the acquaintance of someone resembling the artiste who mimes the role of Phrynette in L’Enfant prodigue, at the Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre, 42 bis, boulevard Bonne-Nouvelle. Write poste restante, under the initials T.M., bureau de la Madeleine.”
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 have 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 had her own theatre in the Place du Châtelet, the Théâtre Sarah Bernhard, where she was premièring L’Aiglon by Edmond Rostand during the Exposition, in which she played the title role of the hapless boy emperor Napoléon II (King of Rome) but for the “Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre”, she reprised another “breeches” part, appearing in the duel-scene from Hamlet with Pierre Magnier as Laertes and Suzanne Seylor as “l’homme d’armes”. This part too was a relatively new one for Bernhardt, having been premièred at the same theatre on May 20, 1899 in a new, specially written prose adaptation in French of the Shakespeare play. Hers 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.” It is not, however, Bernhardt’s legs nor even her acting that attracted most attention from the reviewers of this film in 1900-1902, but the unfamiliar and fascinating sound of the clashing blades as the two antagonists fight.
This film, 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 1912 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 two précieuses ridicules (affected ladies) of the title. 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), played Cyrano’s principal antagonist in the play (le Comte du Guiche) in this film, and would go on to perform in some thirty films 1911-1932, while Kerwich, the ingenue whom Coquelin had recruited for his US tour, played Roxanne and 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 and only time – they do not appear together in these films – play a man and wife traveling on the doomed liner (a simulacrum of the Titanic). Desjardins is mentioned in at least two programmes (when the show was on tour) but the character with whom Cyrano fights the duel in the play (and film) is not le Comte de Guiche but le comte de Valvert, de Guiche’s candidate for the hand of Roxanne, a part that was played by an actor (actress?) called Nicolini.
L’Ami Fritz (?)
One remarkable coup achieved by Marguerite Vrignault, if the “Le Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre” poster is to be believed, more remarkable in its way than the presence in the show of Réjane, Bernhardt or even Coquelin, was to have enlisted the services of Suzanne Reichenberg. Suzanne, popularly known as “Suzette” – the famous crêpe flambée agave; la beurre Suzette created by Auguste Escoffier (1846-1935) was named after her at the suggestion of Prince Albert “Bertie” of England, the future Edward VII – Reichenberg (1853-1924) was “la plus parfaite des ingénues de la Comédie française” (the most perfect of the ingénues of the French Comedy) between 1870 and 1898, in the words of an 1885 tribute in Paris-Artiste, “une fleur, un sourire, un printemps” (a flower, a smile, a Springtime) according to Théophile Gautier, “aussi ingénue que fantaisiste” (as ingenuous as whimsical) according to the dandy Boni de Castellane, “toute gracieuse, habillée de rose pâle et coiffée d’un large chapeau blanc que couvre de grandes plumes roses.” (a picture of gracefulness, dressed in pale pink and a large white hat adorned with large pink feathers) according to Marcel Proust.
L’ingénue au théâtre, c’est l’adolescence accusant déjà la beauté qui va naître c’est la grace qui s’ignore, l’enjouement qui entraîne, la mutinerie provocante, la gaieté franche en dehors de toute préoccupation, la ferme assurance et l’aplomb décidé qui prennent leur source dans l’ignorance du mal, l’espièglerie qui blesse sans la savoir. Et bien, tout cela, Mlle Reichenberg le possédait lorsqu’elle fit ses débuts à’ la Comédie française, et elle en fait preuve encore tous les jours.
The “ingénue” in the theatre, is adolescence advertising the beauty about to be born; it is unconscious grace, enticing joy, provocative mutiny, frank gaiety devoid of all worldly concerns, firm assurance and resolute aplomb which have their origin in the ignorance of evil, a mischievousness that wounds without knowing it. Well, all that, Mlle Reichenberg possessed when she first appeared at the Comédie française, and gives evidence of it still every day.”
–Paris-Artiste No 20, 1885.
In 1886 she played Ophelia in Shakespeare’s Hamlet in a French adaptation by Alexandre Dumas fils (1824-1895) and Paul Meurice (1818-1905), a production where Jean Sully Mounet known as Mounet-Sully (1841-1916) in the title role, headed an all star cast that included the doyen of the Comédie française, Edmond Got (1822-1901) as Polonius, Georges Baillet (1848-1935) as Horatio, Eugène Sylvain (1851-1930) as Claudius, Marie Léonide Charvin known as Agar (1832-1891) as Guinevere and Ernest Alexandre Honoré Coquelin known as Coquelin cadet (1848-1909) as the gravedigger. In part inspired by Reichenberg’s performance, in part influenced by the pre-Raphaelite movement in England, the image of “Ophélie” became in the 1890s an iconic subject of French art and of the emergent post-Romantic French Symbolist movement.
Reichenberg, nicknamed “la petite doyenne”, had, however, retired from the stage in 1898 and would only return again to the boards, on one sole occasion, in 1910. If Vrignault had persuaded her to perform for a film in 1900, this was a distinct feather in her cap; Reichenberg certainly never appeared otherwise in any film.
Reichenberg played many parts in a stage career of thirty years, but one can nonetheless make a reasonable guess at the subject that would have been represented in a 1900 film, if it was indeed made. When she returned briefly to the stage in 1910 it was to play the part of Sûzel in L’Ami Fritz by Émile Erckmann (1822-1899) and Alexandre Chatrain (1826-1890), an 1876 dramatisation of their 1864 novel of the same name. The book and play are often said to be set in Alsace but the original setting is unspecified and is in fact more probably intended to represent the two authors’ native Moselle (in Lorraine). A rakish young man from a prosperous Jewish family, bon vivant and confirmed bachelor, Fritz Kobus, played in the stage production by Frédéric Fèbvre (1833-1916), is challenged by the skeptical rabbi David, played by Edmond Got, who is also the local marriage broker, and meets his match in the form of the innocent and beautiful young daughter of a local anabaptist farmer. The daughter, Sûzel, is of course played by Reichenberg and became her rôle fétiche (signature role). If she chose to reprise this role, despite her years, in 1910, it seems likely that this would also have been the role she would have chosen in 1900. Thanks to the play’s popularity and the plethora of publicity stills, it is possible to get a very good idea how such a film might have looked. L’Ami Fritz was filmed in 1920 by René Hervil with Léon Mathot as Fritz and Huguette Duflos as Sûzel and again in 1933 by Jacques de Baroncelli with Lucien Dubosq as Fritz and Simone Bourday as Sûzel.
There is, amongst all the contemporary documentation relating to the “Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre” one brief mention of “mevrouw Reichenberg” in an announcement of the show when it was due to tour in Amsterdam in 1901 but this would seem simply to have been taken from the poster. During the actual run there, a long review was written which makes no mention at all of Reichenberg. So there is nothing either in the programmes or the reviews to comfort the idea that any film was actually made. Reichenberg was married on 12 October 1900, a major event in the Paris social calendar, to Napoléon-Pierre-Mathieu, baron de Bourgoing (1862-1953). It may well be well be that the approach of this marriage prevented the baronne-to-be from making the intended film. It is equally possible that a film was made but proved unsatisfactory for one reason or another.
Monsieur de Pourceaugnac (?)
If the Baronne de Bourgoing had come to the end of her distinguished career with the Comédie française, Maurice de Féraudy (1859-1932), whose name appears somewhat lower down in the cast list on the “Le Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre” poster, was just beginning his. He had started at the Comédie française in 1880, become sociétaire in 1887 and would live to be the doyen in 1929. Although he had already made something of a name for himself, particularly in comic roles, it was not until a few years later (1903) that he would create his most famous role, that of Isidore Lechat in Les Affaires sont les affaires by Octave Mirbeau (1848-1914), a part he would play some 1,200 times in the next thirty years. He would go on to act in at least seventeen films 1908-1929 including Émile Chautard’s 1910 film version of Molière’s Le Médecin malgré lui, in which he played Sganarelle, Jacques Feyder’s Crainquebille (1922) in which he played the title role and René Clair’s Les Deux timides in which he played Thibaudier, the heroine’s father.
About this time Féraudy also embarked on an almost equally important parallel career as a parolier (songwriter). In 1900 he wrote the words for Amoureuse to waltz music by Rodolphe Berger (1864-1916). Sung originally by Marthe Jeanne Clémence Gallais known as Germaine Gallois (1869-1932) and later reprised by Pauline Josephine Combes known as Paulette Darty (1871-1939), it was his most successful song prior to Fascination, written specially for for Darty in 1905.
There are no references to any film featuring Féraudy in any programme or review, so, possibly, as in the case of Suzanne Reichenberg, none was made or any film that was made proved unsatisfactory. Unfortunately, when the “Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre” films were brought to light for the first time, by Félix Mesguich in 1933, and efforts were made to contact and interview those who had been involved, Maurice de Féraudy was no longer alive. Evidently the intention cannot have been to make a film in which he played his role fétiche, as Isadore Lechat, but there is another interesting possibility to be found in the repertoire of the young actor. The comédie-ballet Monsieur de Pourceaugnac (1669) was one of the least performed of the works of Jean-Baptiste Poquelin dit Molière (1622-1673) even though, like Le Bourgeois gentilhomme (1670), it benefited from an original score by Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632-1687), but the Comédie française decided to revive the play in February 1888 with the new sociétaire not in the title role but in the role of the apothecary who only appears relatively briefly in the play. Féraudy’s performance in this small part seems nevertheless to have caused a sensation and the critic Francisque Sarcey (1827-1899) described the occasion in Le Temps on 20 February 1888:
Féraudy n’a qu’une scène, celle où l’apothicaire offre ses services à Éraste. Il l’a bégayée avec un art exquis. Et comme elle est jolie, cette scène ! Je disais tout à l’heure qu’il n’y en avait qu’une dans l’ouvrage où se retrouvât la main de Molière. J’avais tort, en vérité : que d’autres dans Pourceaugnac, où l’auteur, sans rencontrer ce comique profond qui fait penser, abonde en saillies plaisantes et se joue en imaginations légères ! Y a-t-il rien de plus fantaisiste qu’Éraste courant embrasser Pourceaugnac et lui demandant des nouvelles de toute la parenté qu’il ne connaît pas ? Et cet apothicaire que joue Féraudy ! Cet apothicaire si parfaitement convaincu de l’efficacité des remèdes de sa médecine, quel type d’aveuglement et de bêtise ! Quels éclats de rire Féraudy a excités quand il a dit d’un air persuadé : « Voilà trois de mes enfants dont il m’a fait l’honneur de conduire la maladie, qui sont morts en moins de quatre jours, et qui, entre les mains d’un autre, auraient languiplus de trois mois. » Et, comme Éraste lui répond d’un ton d’ironie cachée, qu’il fait bon avoir des amis comme cela : « Sans doute, reprend-il. Il ne me reste plus que deux enfants, dont il prend soin comme des siens ; il les traite et les gouverne à sa fantaisie, sans que je me mêle de rien, et, le plus souvent, quand je reviens de la ville, je suis tout étonné que je les trouve saignés et purgés par son ordre. »
C’est tout à fait le genre de plaisanterie que nous aimons aujourd’hui, l’outrance dans le grotesque, qui est le fond de toutes les scies d’atelier à la mode. La supériorité de Molière, c’est que, sous ces imaginations fantasques, il y a un fond de vérité : que de gens ont la cervelle ainsi faite qu’ils sacrifient à un préjugé même ce qu’ils ont de plus cher.
Féraudy has only one [important – ed.] scene, that where the apothecary offers his services to Éraste. He stammered with exquisite art. And what an attractive scene that is! I said earlier that there was only one where one recognized the handiwork of Molière. In fact I was wrong: how many others there are in Pourceaugnac, where the author, without achieving that profound comedy that provokes thought, abounds in pleasant sallies and light, playful fantasy! Could there be anything more fanciful than Éraste running to embrace Pourceaugnac and asking him the news of all his family of whom he knows nothing? And this apothecary played by Féraudy! So perfectly convinced of the efficacity of the remedies and medicines; how blind and foolish! What gales of laughter Féraudy excited when he said with an air of conviction “See, three of my children whose sickness he [the doctor] has done me the honor of treating, dead in less than four days, when, in other hands, they might have lingered on for three months”. And how Éraste replies in a tone of disguised irony that it was good to have such friends. “Without a doubt, ” replies the apothecary, “I have only two children left and he takes care of them as if they were his own; he treats them and governs them as he thinks fit, without my being in the least involved, and, more often than not, when I return from town, I am astonished to find them bled and purged on his orders.”
This is absolutely the style of humor that we like nowadays, the grotesque taken to the limit that serves as a basis for all our fashionable, run-of-the-mill works of art. The superiority of Molière lies in the fact that, behind these weird fantasies, there is a basis of truth: that people have brains so made that they sacrifice to their prejudices even those that they hold most dear.”
Another celebrated drama critic, Adolphe Brisson (1860-1925) once described Monsieur Pourceaugnac as “L’Iliade des apothicaires” and it may be that the famous “scène de l’apothicaire” (acte I scène V but sometimes given as acte I scène VII) was originally intended to be included in the “Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre” repertoire of 1900.
For the importance of this scene and this performance by Féraudy, I am much indebted to the article by Thierry Lefebvre, “Les Apothicaires de Monsieur de Pourceaugnac : trois types de représentation (1888, 1921, 1932)” in Revue d’Histoire de la Pharmacie (1989).
Arias from opera sung by popular stars were also a feature. The most important singer on the programme (his name appears just after Bernhardt and Coquelin on the original poster) was the baritone Victor Maurel (1848-1923). He made his Italian début at La Scala in Milan in La Traviata on 4 March 1868 and would become the favorite baritone of Giuseppe Verdi (1831-1901) in his later years. When his “grand opéra â la française”, Don Carlos, was given its Italian première in 1871, it was Maurel who was given the baritone role of Rodrigue rather than Jean-Baptiste Faure (1830-1914), who had first sung the part at l’Opéra in Paris in 1867 and when Verdi produced a second version of his 1857 opera Simon Boccanegra with a new libretto by Arrigo Boito (1842-1918), Maurel was given the title role in preference to the original Italian singer (Leone Giraldone). He also appeared at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden which is where he first played Don Giovanni in Mozart and Da Ponte’s 1787 opera, one of the signature roles that he would play almost every year, somewhere in the world, until 1899.
Maurel returned to France shortly afterwards and founded the Théàtre-Italien there in 1883, inaugurated with his own production of Simon Boccanegra, followed by Verdi’s 1844 operas Ernani, both featuring his pupil, the Russian-born soprano Françoise Jeanne Schütz known as Felia Litvinne (1860-1936). The theatre only survived for eighteen months, due to financial difficulties, and its demise left the singer/impresario feeling bitterly disillusioned:
“L’entreprise du Théâtre-Italien a versé, durant son existence, plus de sept millions dans le commerce parisien. Pour moi, qui y étais entré riche et désireux de m’employer pour le bien de l’art, j’en sortis pauvre et accablé sous le poids d’inimitiés et d’injustices de toutes sortes.
The enterprise of the Théâtre-Italien contributed, during its existence, seven million [francs] to the Paris economy. As for me, I started off rich but wanting to employ myself for the good of art, came out poor and burdened with the weight of enmity and injustice of all sorts.”
Maurel retained his association with Verdi and La Scala and it was this that would bring him international renown. On 5 February 1887 he created one of his most famous roles, that of Iago in Verdi’s Otello, enthusiastically reviewed by The New York Times when it played New York in December 1894:
Maurel’s Iago had not been heard here before last night, nor can it be said that the artist himself was at all well known by the public. It is twenty years since he visited America as a young man with only four years’ experience on the stage. He returns to us with some of the freshness gone from his voice – never a great one – but with his art at its maturity and backed by an authority which few operatic idols possess…[M. Maurel] was a revelation to the public of the resources that go to make the art of a truly great singing actor. His work last night was charged with vitality and significance. His vocal work was full of finesse and his acting was masterly. In a word, he gave a performance which justified his claim to the title of one of the greatest operatic artists of the day.”
On 25 May 1892 he created the role of the clown Tonio in the première of Pagliacci by Ruggero Leoncavallo (1857-1919) at the Teatro dal Verme in Milan under the direction of Arturo Toscanini (1867-1957) but was back at La Scala on 9 February 1893 to create what was probably his most famous part of all, Falstaff in the opera of the same name by Verdi (his last opera) and Boito. The opera, a veritable masterpiece of adaptation by Boito, is drawn from the three Shakespeare plays in which the character appears, The Merry Wives of Windsor and the two parts of Henry IV (all c. 1596-1599) and the plot revolves around the thwarted, sometimes farcical, efforts of the fat knight, Sir John Falstaff, to seduce two married women to gain access to their husbands’ wealth. “Benissimo! Benissimo!”, Verdi wrote to his librettist in 1889, “no one could have done better than you”. It was the first Verdi opera for nearly six years and the performance, directed by Edoardo Mascheroni (1852-1941), was a huge success, ticket prices were thirty times greater than usual on the first night, attended by royalty and celebrities from all over the world and included the composers Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924) and Pietro Mascagni (1863–1945). Applause at the end lasted nearly half an hour and the composer and his wife and librettist were given a tumultuous reception afterwards at Milan’s Grand Hotel. Maurel performed the part in Rome the following month, where the French press criticized him for the fact that he performed before an audience that included the German Kaiser, in Vienna in 1893, at l’Opéra-Comique in Paris (in French) in 1894, at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in 1855 and at various venues during the US tour that followed, and, for the last time, at l’Opéra-Comique in Paris once more in October 1901, by which time the opera had curiously fallen into a certain neglect.
It is uncertain which aria he sang for the “Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre” but it was certainly from Falstaff. Neither the film nor the original cylinder survives and we cannot even be entirely certain that it was ever actually shown, as the only mention is in a programme, where it is simply listed among films promised for the following week. The programme in question would seem to have been produced quite late in the run; it mentions Friday gala performances which were only introduced when interest in the show seemed to be flagging. So presumably the film had been shown, which makes it puzzling that there is no reference to it in any reviews, suggesting that it was not, for some reason or another, a particularly satisfactory film. It does not appear to have figured later among the films taken on tour. A few years later Maurel would make several phonograph recordings, including arias from Don Giovanni, Otello and Falstaff. It seems likely that the short aria “Quand’ero paggio” (When I Was a Page) from Act II Scene II of the latter, which he recorded in 1907 for Fonotipia was also the one sung in the “Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre” film. It is sung by Falstaff to Alice Page, whom he is trying to seduce, recalling his days as page to the Duke of Norfolk when he was young and passionate – an excuse for making unwanted advances – for which, as he puts it, “e non è mia colpa” (I am not to blame). “Se tanta avete vulnerabi polpi” (…if your considerable flesh is weak!), responds Mistress Page although he assures her he was slim in those days. Despite (or because of) its brevity and simplicity, it has always been a favorite aria from the opera.
The cavatina 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, Henry, 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. Henry nevertheless judged that the synchronization was “not too bad for the period”. At the end of the performance, Cossira bows and then leaves the scene with a sly look back at the audience and, after leaving a suitable interval for applause, returns to take a second bow, as though he has been “bissé” (called for an encore). This was a device used several times in different ways during the show, and which one occasionally finds in later films – in Les Amours de la reine Élisabeth (1912) Bernhardt rises from the dead to take a bow – and its purpose was not simply to mimic theatre practice but to produce a sort of audience entrapment, whereby the cinema audience, applauding live, is surprised to see the characters on the screen seemingly responding to their reaction.
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.”
Invocation à Diane sung by Jeanne Hatto
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 lively trio from the second act of 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, with tenors Paul Fougère and M. 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. A monk, Lancelot, played by Fougère, having promised to marry the daughter of his rich uncle Hilarius, played by Soums, to fool him into giving money to the monastery, creates a doll to replace the daughter. He is however outwitted by Hilarius and his daughter, Alesia, when she substitutes herself for the doll and obliges him to marry her. The operetta had opened at the théâtre de la Gaîté in Montparnasse, Paris on 31 October, 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 as well as providing the inspiration for Ernst Lubitsch’s 1919 comedy Die Puppe.
(* indicates lost film)
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 Cousin known as Désiré Pougaud (1866-1928) at the théâtre du Châtelet. There were two solo songs under this general title – Fleur de l’âme, a setting by Joseph Vimel of the untitled Victor Hugo poem “Puisque j’ai mis ma lèvre”, and Pourquoi garder ton coeur ?, a very charming 1886 song by Jean-Baptiste Weckerlin (1821-1910), J. Leybach, and Victor Wilder, but one of 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. A contemporary recording exists for Fleur de l’âme but is in fact a re-recording for the Pathé Céleste, suggesting this may have been the film dropped from the original show but reinstated some time after September. There were also two untitled duets with Pougaud. Neither of these cylinders appear to survive and only one of the films survives in an incomplete version. According to the Gaumont/Pathé archives, who possibly possess a still, both films show Mily-Meyer and Pougaud in the same costumes and in the same garden setting. The extant duet does not seem to be a duet as such – there is no sign of Pougaud doing more than beating time on his hat – and, to judge from the hand gestures, is in fact “La Chanson du tambour-major” from the three-act operetta Les Voltiguers de la 32ème (1880, Théâtre de la Renaissance) by Robert Planquette (1848-1903) with a libretto by Georges Duval (1847-1919) and Edmond Gondinet (1829-1888). This and another operetta produced by Planquette in the same year, La Cantinière, were military comedies produced to cash in on the success of the previous year’s La Fille du tambour-major by Jacques Offenbach (1819-1880), itself influenced by Gaetano Donizetti’s French opera La Fille du régiment (1840). The Planquette operetta is set in a fantasy Napoleonic France where the old wounds of the revolution are being healed by romance and marriage between the soldiers of the grande armée and the members of the ci-devant aristocracy.
Despite a fine cast, the soprano Jeanne Granier (1852-1939), the baritone Jean-Vital Jammes known as Ismaël (1825-1892) and Marie Desclauzas (1841-1912) as well as Mily-Meyer herself, the operetta enjoyed only moderate success in France (seventy-three performances however), but in London, where it played as The Old Guard in an English adaptation by Henry Brougham Farnie (1836-1889), it had, thanks largely to a performance by comedian Arthur Roberts (1852-1933) as Polydore Poupart, a long run at the Avenue Theatre in 1887.
The music, however, seemed to have a life of its own. The entire score was transcribed for piano and singer by the composer Alfred Fock (1850-1921) and also reissued as three piano suites, Bouquet de mélodies sur ‘Les Voltigeurs de la 32ème’ by “Cramer” (music-publishers’ pseudonym). There was a piano transcription of the “Quadrille” from the operetta by Gilles Raspail (died 1889) that ran to four editions 1800-1883 and a setting of this song, “La Chanson du tambour-major” for military band (1886) by Michel Bléger (d. 1897). There were also versions of several other pieces from the operetta transcribed for brass band (fanfare).
Jeanne Granier, in the role of Nicolette, provided the love interest opposite Ismaël as le marquis. The matronly Desclauzas played Dorothée while Mily-Meyer had played le sergent Flambard in the original show, a child drummer boy – the equivalent in the English version was the bugler Patatout – who seems to spend some of the time en travesti as a young girl (a girl playing a boy disguised as a girl). The rendition of the song (if so it is) by the mature Mily-Meyer for the “Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre” in 1900, perhaps in a later transcription, must evidently be a little different from the original, but does seem nevertheless to match fairly closely with the music. Pougaud was once (1895) described by a critic as “ce boute-en-train rempli de malice et de fantaisie qui a nom Désiré Pougaud” (madcap full of malice and fantasy). Pougaud, a songwriter and actor as well as a singer, would later (1916) appear in two films, Chantecoq and L’Instinct directed by Henri Pouctal.
Later in the run of the show and during the tours that followed, Mily-Meyer is advertised generally as singing Chanson en crinoline in the singular and it would seem therefore that one of the solo songs – presumably whichever was missing a couplet – and the two duets were all dropped from the show. There is an extant film, said to have been made for the “Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre” of a young woman singing Après la bataille, which is not a setting of the famous Victor Hugo poem of that name but a rousing patriotic song. The film is shot outdoors with a painted background representing a village. As with the Mily-Meyer Duo, the woman is elegantly dressed and there is no attempt to reproduce a military atmosphere beyond a certain dash in the singer’s movements. A contemporary recording exists, made for the Céleste, of Mily-Meyer belting out this song but she was now forty-eight and is clearly not the woman in the film. Conceivably a younger actress was used and the sound dubbed but this was not done for the Duo, also a young girl’s song, or for any of the other “Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre” films and it seems extremely improbable that they would have done this in the case of Mily-Meyer, who was one of their leading artistes. In all probability, whether sung by Mily-Meyer or by a young woman with a particularly robust voice that greatly resembles that of Mily-Meyer, this was made by Pathé itself, also involved in making “talkies” at this time, and not for the “Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre”.
Amongst the few films in the repertoire that remain missing is the comic song, J’ai perdu ma gigolette sung by Louis Maurel (1859-1936), Maurel was a talented café concert performer but also an actor. He would make an appearance (as himself) in a Georges Méliès film in 1905 (Le Raid Paris-Monte Carlo en deux heures) where several other celebrities appear, including Little Tich, and he would also play small parts in two later films (1917 and 1935). His sister Rosine (1850-1919), also a singer and actress, appeared in three films 1913-1938. This comic song, written by Lucien Delormel (music), René Esse and Félix Mortreuil in 1892 and performed by Maurel at l’Alcazar, does itself survive in a later recording.
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 comic monologues, of which only two survive as films, Le Maître de ballet and Une poule introduite dans un concert. Le Maître de ballet, where he plays an irritable music master who is so annoyed with his pupils that he erupts in a fit of coughing, proved one of the show’s most successful films, partly because it made particularly good use of the accompanying sound. A contemporary recording does also exists for the first of these but, like most of the surviving cylinders, it is a later recording made for the Céleste. The two readily identifiable theatre posters that adorn the ballet master’s walls are both surprisingly English, one being a poster for His Majesty, or, The Court of Vingolia, a two-act comic opera by F.C. Burnand that ran at the Savoy Theatre (famous for the D’Oyley Carte company’s performances of the work of Gilbert and Sullivan) from 20 February-21 April 1897 and the other a lithograph for George Arliss’ The Wild Rabbit, a farcical comedy that played at the Criterion theatre in London from 25 July to 18 August 1899. One German reviewer, when the show was on tour, thought Moy in this role “typical of a vivacious Frenchman” but perhaps he is supposed to be English. Moy was also responsible, according to the Gaumont/Pathé archive site, for a third monologue, Concert arabe, for which both film and cylinder are lost. A recording also exists for another Moy monologue, largely sung after a fashion, J’ai le pied qui remue, but this was more probably a later recording for Pathé and had nothing to do with the “Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre”.
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 counterintuitive – 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 the “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 noses 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 lineup 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 l’Opéra-Comique and later (1915) professeur de danse at the Paris Conservatoire. The Belgian Joseph Hansen (1842-1907), who choreographed 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.” (but to penetrate the spirit of the ballet, to observe the play of expression).
The program also included a performance by Cléo de Mérode who was something else again. Cléopâtre-Diane de Mérode, 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 that year to pursue an independent career. Her reputation as a dancer was often eclipsed by her mythic status as “reine de Beauté” (beauty queen) established notably in a series of photographs by Paul Nadar (1856-1939), son of the more famous Félix Nadar (1820-1910), 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-courtesan 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 (social dancers), 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 filmmaker 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. Fuller was, however, herself to be seen live at the Exposition, in company with a troupe of Japanese dancers, at the art nouveau théâtre de la Loïe Fuller that she had had specially constructed by architect and designer Henri Sauvage (1873-1932).
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 sisters, 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 develop 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”. 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 de 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, 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” (the elegance and fury) of her performance, describing her as “une danseuse étonnante” (an amazing dancer). 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, leans in with more abandon, 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 elaborate ballet suite in Act II. The part of the suite danced was described as a “habanera” but there is in fact no “habanera” in the opera, but rather a “Castillane”, followed by an “Andalouse”, an “aragonaise”, an “aubade”, a “Catalane”, a “Madrilène” and a “Navarrosie”, the object being in other words to represent all the different regions of Spain. First produced by l’Opéra-Comique, 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. The original cylinder does not survive but what Zambelli and Michel Vasquez dance is in fact the “Pas de la Castillane” (correctly identified in other programmes for the show).
The Kerf-Viscusi flamenco and the Zambelli-Vasquez “Pas de Castillane” 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 sculptures. Mille richesses arrêtent retiennent” (silks, porcelains, partitions, lacquers, sculptures. 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, “pas de 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.
The ballet is set in the Japanese coastal resort of Takeno. According to one critic who witnessed the original production, Dalta, supposedly la gitanilla de Tokio (the little gypsy of Tokyo) despite her rather unJapanese name, has in this scene 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.”
Later the hero Taïko (originally danced by Miguel Vasques) gives the beautiful but flighty Dalta (danced by Mauri) a chrysanthemum from the garden of the goddess Iasamami to protect her. She dreams she is being seduced by the evil nobleman Sakouma (originally danced by the choreographer Hansen himself) but on waking turns to Taïko as bells ring out for their betrothal.
There has been a post-colonial tendency to make a great deal of 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 dramatized epics with improvised dialogue, accompanied by an orchestra of six musicians, five grouped around the performers 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 rivaled the Spanish gitanos as the stars of the Exposition.
It is symptomatic of the much greater respect shown to the Indianized 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 Exposition, Cambodian antiquities. These bird-billed monsters, which seem to belong 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 masks, and those heads with ears like bats’ wings, and with that happy, sleeping shadow 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.
C’est au théâtre indo-chinois, dans les jardins du Trocadéro, après des danses frénétiques et farouches des Parsis, qui nous secouent tout l’être d’un grand frisson d’épouvante. Dans les fluidités du clair de lune et avec, derrière elle, un rideau enluminé de couleurs crues où les dieux s’étreignent et s’égorgent en des attitudes tragiques et passionnées, Mademoiselle Cléo de Mérode s’avance d’un pas alenti et alangui, comme en glissant sur des mirioirs.
Un étrange mitre, aux pointes ciselées, aux cornes comme teintes de pourpre, casque lourdement sa chevelure presque bleuâtre, ombre d’une douceur suprème ses grand yeux véloûtés et câlins et l’ovale effilé de son visage puéril. Des serpents d’or et de rubis s’enroulent à ses chevilles délicates, à ses minces poignets, à ses bras. Dans la chap[p]e aux somptueuses et massives broderies qui lui sert de vêtement, elle a l’air d’avoir été parée pour d’expiatoires holocaustes. Et ses ongles démesurés, ses ongles aiguisés et lamés d’or font songer aux griffes d’une sphynge chimérique.
We are at the Indo-Chinese theatre, in the gardens of the Trocadéro, after the strange and frenetic dances of the Parsis, which shake our being to the core with terror. In the fluid moonlight and with, behind her, a curtain lit up in crude colours where gods embrace and slit each other’s throats in tragic, impassioned postures, Mademoiselle Cléo de Mérode advances with a stealthy, languid movement, as though sliding on mirrors.
A strange mitre, with chiseled points and with horns colored purple, heavily encases her bluish hair, shadowing with a supreme softness her great velvety, mischievous eyes and the fine oval of her childlike face. Serpents in gold and rubies entwine round her delicate ankles, her slender wrists, her arms. In the mantle of massive and sumptuous material that serves her as clothing, she has the air of having been adorned with burnt offerings. And her extravagant nails, her sharpened nails and blades of gold put one in mind of the claws some chimeric winged lioness.
– René Maizeroy (1856-1918), Le Théâtre, September 1900
Here, those interested could also view the films shot by Lumière operator Gabirel Veyre, in Cambodia in 1898-1899. The film of Cléo Mérode’s Danse javanaise survives but with no contemporary cylinder. The dance may possibly have been by composer Hippolyte-Joseph Maquet (died 1929), who was most commonly associated with military music but did certainly produce a Danse annamite, described as a “morceau caractéristique” and published both for orchestra and for piano (1896 and 1897). There is however a transcription for piano of Danse javanaise by Paul Vidal (1897) and this piece, played by pianist and accompanist John Sweeney for the restored version shown at the Giornate del Cinema Muto in 2012, seems to fit the film particularly well.
As Van Troi Tran points out in his excellent doctoral thesis Manger et boire aux Expositions universelles de 1889 et 1900 (2010), the “cosmopolitanism” of the Expositions (a phenomenon not dissimilar to that which we now dub “globalization”) really took the form, as arguably it still does, “d’un collage et d’une superposition de représentations locales, régionales, nationales et coloniales” (of a collage or superimposition of representations of the local, national and colonial). The resulting patchwork was genuine enough in its way (as genuine as such aspirations towards “universality” ever are or ever can be). It served the interests certainly, inter alia of colonial expansionism, but also, on a more profound level, contributed to a more long-term process of mutual understanding.
If the Paris Exposition of 1900, like its various predecessors, exalted an image of the cosmopolitan, it also, paradoxically, encouraged the opposite tendency, a kind of politics of nostalgia. If the Expositions reconstructed buildings and scenes associated with different countries, peoples and cultures, they also attempted to reconstruct the past. In 1900 the banks of the Seine were home to “Le Vieux Paris”, conceived by the historian Albert Roblida, a meticulous reconstruction of Paris at different historical periods which extended over an area of 6500 meters where various spectacles were mounted and where a “population”, dressed in costumes of the different epochs, was kept in a constant state of animation throughout the Exposition.
Another show that had been specially prepared for the 1900 Exposition was Danses de naguère et de jadis. It was performed for the first time at the fête de l’Élysée on 5 August 1900 and at least three of the performers involved in the “Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre” were also performing live during the Exposition in this entertainment – Cléo de Mérode, in one of the “Danses françaises”, Carlotta Zambelli, in one of the “Danses modernes”, and Sandrine Violat, who danced the part of a faun in the “Danses grècques”. Choreographed by Laure Françoise Pointet known as Laure Fonta (1845-1915) and Joseph Hansen, it had a composite score by Paul Vidal (1863-1931), based on twenty-eight airs, ancient and modern, ranging from works by Rameau to those of the contemporary composer André Wormser. Produced by the opera singer and theatre director Pierre Samson Gailhard known as Pedro Gailhard (1848-1914) – he and the dancer Emma Sandrini were also lovers – and performed by the ballet de l’Opéra where Hansen was “directeur de chant” (1892-1905) and later “chef d’orchestre” (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 Hansen and Fonta. According to the programme, the entertainment was divided into four sections, “Danses barbares”, which included a “Danse tartare” by Mélanie Hirsch, “Danses grècques”, “Danses françaises”, presumably including the gavotte danced by Cléo de Mérode, and “Danses modernes”, including that performed by Zambelli. In addition to the dancers, the show also benefited, as the programme indicates, from “le concours de la Comédie française” (the participation of the Comédie française) – the actress Julia Bartet appeared and the actor Mounet-Sully declaimed the verse – “et de L’Académie nationale de musique et de danse”, official name of the orchestra of l’Opéra, probably directed for this occasion by Vidal.
The “Danses grècques” were the most elaborate part of the entertainment and proved an immense success. They were not however entirely new for Hansen had already composed Danses grècques, in a much simpler form, for a concert given by Italian-born dancer Emma Sandrini at the St. James’s Hall in London in 1897 and then, in a much extended version, with Gailhard already as producer, for the Fêtes de Gascogne at the Capitole in Toulouse in August 1898, an occasion that Sandrini recalled later as a great triumph:
C’est à Toulouse que j’éprouvai peut-être la plus vive émotion. Mounet-Sully disait, de sa voix superbe, des vers de circonstance. J’étais placée au fond de la scène d’abord immobile comme une statue, je m’animai lentement. Quand j’eus achevé mes danses grecques, les spectateurs innombrables me récompensèrent par d’inoubliables acclamations.
It was at Toulouse that I perhaps felt the most lively emotion. Mounet-Sully declaimed, in his superb voice, the accompanying verses. I was placed at the back of the scene at first, motionless as a statue, then slowly came to life. When I had completed my Greek dances, the innumerable spectators thanked me by unforgettable acclamation.”
-quoted by Thierry Malandain in “Emme Sandrini ou les Danses grècques ” in Ballet à Biarritz No 59 (July-September 2013)
The “Danses grècques” in 1900 very largely repeated the show that had triumphed in Toulouse. 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 dite Julia Bartet (1854-1941), star of the Comédie française and, along with Réjane and Bernhardt, one 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 (1803-1869). Amongst the supporting cast, Sandrine Violat appears as one of the accompanying fauns (the other is Jeanne Régnier). This was followed by a “danse des voiles” (veils) and a “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, now popularly known as “cathares”, set to the music of Ernest Guiraud (1837-1932). Guiraud, best known today as the composer of the famous récitatifs for Bizet’s Carmen and for his completion of the orchestration for Offenbach’s Contes d’Hofmann, was a founding 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, and a range of 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 movement’s own aspirations to universality. In talking of the “Danses grècques”, one critic in Le Figaro on 11 August 1900, the day after the première at the Palais de l’Élysée, emphasizes the amount of work that went into these dances:
Ce sont elles qui ont donné le plus de mal à M. Gailhard et &sgrave; ses collaborateurs MM. Hansen et Vidal, à qui l’on doit cette œuvre de grand art. Ils ont trouvé en Mlle Sandrini une collaboratrice digne de cette belle reconstitution, dont elle a été sculpturalement la grâce et la splendeur. Pour nous montrer ces danses, MM. Gailhard, Vidal et Hansen 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 accompagner.
It was these [the Greek dances] that gave most trouble to M. Gailhard and his collaborators, MM. Hansen and Vidal, to whom one owes this great work of art. They found in Mlle Sandrini a collaborator worthy of this beautiful reconstitution, of which she was sculpturally the grace and splendor. To show us these dances, MM. Gailhard, Vidal and Hansen have looked at all the the Tanagra [figures thought to be the essence of ancient Greek elegance -ed.], 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.”
From the outset Danses de jadis et de naguère was conceived as a kind of “encyclopédie dansante”, in the very apt description given by Thierry Malandain to whom I am indebted for a great deal of the foregoing account. As Malandain rightly points out, there was nothing incongruous about the mélange of ancient and modern or of classical and folkloric. Already in Emma Sandrini’s London recital in 1897, where Hansen’s Danses grècques had had its first outing, there had been a learned commentary by folklorist Bourgault-Ducoudray and Sandrini had performed dances from the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries as well as the Greek dances. Laura Fonta, as we shall see, already combined the two interests in her “choreographic archeology”. So La Gavotte, from this same show, featuring Cléo de Mérode, filmed for the “Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre” and described as “une danse ancienne” would quite naturally find its place among the “danses françaises” even if it in fact had music by a contemporary composer, Marcel Samuel-Rousseau. It could be seen on film at the “Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre” but could have also been seen elsewhere, like Terpsichore, live as part of the entire spectacle. After being performed on 10 August 1900 at the Palais de l’Elysée, it was performed on the occasion of the “banquet des maires” on 22 September in the salle des fêtes and could then be seen by the general public from 11 November 1900 at one of the great landmark buildings of the Exposition, 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.
The gigantesque banquet for the mayors was held on 22 September, to commemorate the anniversary of the proclamation of the republic in 1792, on the initiative of President Émile Loubet (1838-1929) and Premier (président du Conseil) Pierre Waldeck-Rousseau (1846-1904) in the jardin des Tuilieries, where immense tents were erected and 700 ten-meter long tables groaned under a gargantuan repast prepared for 22,965 of the mayors of France (in fact probably something over 22,000 of whom between 20,000 and 21,000 were mayors). After eating, the guests adjourned to the salle de fêtes where the Danses de jadis et de naguère provided the evening’s entertainment, banquet and entertainment lasting in all eighty-five minutes (the time fixed by the President). Frédéric de Vernon (1858-1912) designed a commemorative plaque in bronze that was presented to each of the mayors. A film, probably shot by Jacques Ducom for the Lumières, L’Arrivée des maires, shows the mayors arriving from all over France and Algeria for this occasion while another, L’Arrivée du cortège officiel au banquet des maires shows the arrival of the President. These too, along with other Lumière films taken at the time, would have been shown at the Exposition itself on the Lumières’ “cinématographe géant” in the same and were very probably also shown amongst various views of the Exposition with the “Phono-Cinéma Théâtre” films when they went on tour in 1901-1902.[Note: the music in the video below is not the music composed by Samuel-Rousseau.]
La Korrigane – Caroles du Moyen Age *
The scholarly dancer and choreographer Laure Fonta had re-edited in 1888 the Orchésographie (1589), a treatise on dance by the composer Jehan Tabourot known as Thoinot Arbeau (1519-1595) and also worked on French dances of the seventeenth and eighteenth century. Her important collection, Les Danses de nos pères (The Dances of our Fathers) appeared at around this time. Fonta had started her career at l’Opéra in the “bataillon des francs”, the young girls who earned a franc per evening, eventually becoming a leading dancer and choreographer. Her work as a musicologist had already begun by the 1860s. “Figurez-vous que cette danseuse, avec laquelle j’ai eu l’occasion d’avoir au foyer la plus intéressante des conversations” (Imagine that this dancer with whom I have had most interesting chats in the foyer), wrote one admirer in 1868, “est une personne tout à fait surprenante : en dehors des moments où elle danse, elle est pour ainsi dire une sorte d’archéologue de la chorégraphie” (when she is not dancing, she is, as one might say, a kind of archeologist of choreography).
Cellist, pianist and composer William Marie (1861-1933) was another such “archeologist”. Between 1896 and 1900 he published Contredanses du Directoire, in 1896, a Passepied, a Gavotte, a Menuet, a Pavane and a Suite de danses dans le style ancien, all in 1897, and also Caroles du moyen âge (in fact a suite of dances) and two collections of Carole de Pâques (Easter carols), all in 1900. During the 1900 Exposition, Marie and two of the Mante sisters (Blanche and Louise) evidently performed both the medieval dances (Caroles du moyen âge) and the late eighteenth century dances (Contredanses du Directoire) live in several venues with considerable success.
M. William Marie est parvenu à reconstituer quelques danses du Moyen Age et du temps du Directoire qui ont valu à leurs charmantes interprètes, Mesdemoiselles Blanche et Louise Mante, de l’Opéra, un succès qu’il faut constater. Exécutées dans les fêtes officielles, devant des Ministres, des Sénateurs, des Princes et même des Rois, elles constituent une des manifestations de cet état de moeurs qu’a révélée l’Exposition, où les personnages n’ont garde de danser eux-mêmes, mais où petits et grands paient pour voir danser. « Que fait le Congrès ? – Il danse », disait-on à Vienne en 1815, Que fait l’Exposition ? – elle regarde sauter.
Les principales caroles du Moyen Age, au dire de M. William Marie, sont la Marguerite, la danse au Virlet, la Carole de Pâques, la Tourdion, la Danse marâtre enfin la Danse à la Torche ou Danse aux Flambeaux, dont la tradition est perpetuée encore dans certaines cours d’Allemagne aux occasions solennelles. Combien plus danse-t-on après La Terreur : ce n’est, dans tous les hôtels et les jardins d’où l’émigration a chassé les hôtes habituels, que bals payants où s’empressent tous les ci-devant et toutes les belles. On danse la petite Rosine, la Céleste, la Danse incroyable, combien d’autres contredanses qui, chaque soir, attirent la foule dans les six cent quarante bals de Paris. On danse la Gavotte, on danse la Walse; on en fait même des poèmes.
Walse allemande où couples amoureux,De pas en pas accélèrent la danse,Tournent ensemble et tournent en cadence,
Comme pigeons voltigeant deux à deux.
Cela n’est-il pas de Marie-Joseph Chénier, qui, â regarder danser, oubliait qu’il était régicide ? On oublie bien d’autres à voir Mesdemoiselles Mante.
Demandez plutôt au Shah de Perse !
M. William Marie has managed to reconstitute several dances of the Middle Ages and of the time of the Directoire [1795-1799 – ed.] which have brought their charming performers, Mesdemoiselles Blanche and Louise Mante, of l’Opéra, a success that should be recorded. Executed at the official banquets, before ministers, senators, princes and even Kings, they are one of the manifestations of a habit of mind, revealed by the Exposition, by which celebrities have no care to dance themselves but prefer to watch others dancing. “What does the Congress do? – it dances”, they said at Vienna in 1815. What does the Exposition do? – it watches the dancing.
The principal carols of the Middle Ages are, according to M. William Marie, la Marguerite, la danse au Virlet, la Carole de Pâques, la Tourdion, la Danse marâtre and finally la Danse à la Torche or Danse aux Flambeaux, of which the tradition is still perpetuated in certain courts in Germany on solemn occasions.
How much more one danced after the Terror: it was in the town-houses and gardens from which emigration had chased the usual residents that all the former aristocrats and all the beauties of the day rushed to attend the paid balls. One danced la petite Rosine, la Céleste, la Danse incroyable, and so many other fashionable dances that, every evening, drew crowds to the six hundred and forty balls of Paris. One danced the Gavotte, one danced the Waltz; one even wrote poems on the subject.
German waltz where amorous couples,Accelerating the dance from step to step,Turn together and turn in step,
Like pigeons leaping two by two.
Was this not the work of Marie-Joseph Chénier, who, watching the dancing, forgot he was a regicide? One forgets plenty of other things watching the Mesdemoiselles Mante.
Ask the opinion of the Shah of Persia!
One of the “fêtes” referred to is probably a grand dinner for two hundred that was given at the Élysée palace on 16 June 1900 by President and Mme Loubet, “l’honneur du jury international des Beaux Arts et des Comités de la Société des artistes français et de la Société nationale des Beaux-arts” (the honor of the international jury of Fine Arts and of the Committees of the Society of French Artists and the National Society of Fine Arts). Ministers and senators were certainly present, as were the composer Camille Saint-Saëns and the sculptor Auguste Rodin, but I cannot spot any princes and kings among the guest list. The University world was apparently there “en masse”, a first for the Élysée according to Le Figaro along with the corps diplomatique, the organizers of the Exposition, dignitaries from the world of finance and captains of industry. Marie and the Mante sisters topped the bill with their Danses du directoire for the entertainment at the “charmante soirée artistique” (charming artistic evening) that followed. The reviewer’s comments regarding the increasing tendency, particularly amongst the great and the good, to “watch dancing” rather than to actually engage in it are interesting. This relentless drift towards the passive and vicarious consumption of the arts that has characterized the modern world, and to which the phonograph, the radio, the cinema, the television and the internet have all so signally contributed, was already, it would seem, instinct in the rather voyeuristic ambiance of the Expositions universelles. The Shah of Persia, Mozzaffer-ed-Dine, was in Paris during much of August 1900 and, while his opinion of the Mesdemoiselles Mante is unknown, he visited the Exposition on several occasions and was fascinated by everything to do with phonography, for which he had something of a passion. He may even have met Clément-Maurice:
…Après son petit déjeuner, le Shah a reçu un photographe qui fait de la cinématographie parlante. Il a posé devant l’objectif et a parlé dans l’appareil phonographique en mettant d’accord ses paroles et ses mouvements.
…After breakfast, the Shah received a photographer who worked with the cinématographie parlante. He posed for the camera and spoke into the phonograph machine, matching his words to his movements.”
– Le Figaro, 1 August 1900
For the “Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre”, the Mante sisters performed Marie’s Caroles du Moyen Âge but this is one of the few cases where neither film not cylinder appears to survive. They also performed Marie’s setting of an eighteenth-century dance from the pre-revolutionary period, Danse Louis XV. A similar dance, Danse en costume du temps de Louis XV had been filmed in 1899 by Pathé as part of a series of “danses cosmopolites”, that included Russian, English, Spanish and even Chinese dances, performed by the Cornier-Ménesco (Daniel Cornier and Mlles Medoutchenkoff and Florentiny). In the Marie version, the Mante sisters perform a minuet together, with Louise in the role and costume of the gentleman. They also danced one (or perhaps two) of the Contredanses du directoire, Danse directoire with Louise in the (male) role of “‘Incroyable” and Blanche in the (female) role of “La Merveilleuse”. This may in practice be the same as La Danse des Incroyables, otherwise a lost film. The Danse Louis XV and the Danse directoire both survive although without their original cylinders.
The Danse slave, performed by Jeanne Chasles of l’Opéra-Comique and Achille Viscusi of the Palais de la Danse is unattributed in the programme. It would appear, according to accompanist John Sweeney, to be a variation on the Danse hongrosie from Act 3 of Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s 1877 ballet Lebedinoïe ozero (Swan Lake). Swan Lake did not, in the first decades after its creation, enjoy the fame and prestige that it does today. Although his role would later be overshadowed by that of others (Maris Petipa, Lev Ivanov and Riccardo Drigo) in re-arranging and popularizing the ballet, the man most associated with its early stage history was the Belgian dancer and choreographer Joseph Hansen. Hansen, then maître de ballet at the Bolshoi in Moscow, had presented a new production of Swan Lake on 13 January 1880 for his own benefit performance, for which he arranged a Grand Pas for the ballroom scene entitled “La Cosmopolitana” (based on “The Allegory of the Continents” from Marius Petipa and Ludwig Minkus’ 1875 ballet Les brigands). Hansen’s version of Swan Lake was not appreciated by all. If The Modest Reporter considered that the ballet was “now viewed without boredom thanks to new dances and groups of the corps de ballet”, Mme von Meck, writing to Tchaikovsky, thought it was “ugly and choreographically poor”. However even she approved of the “Danse Hongroise”:
The beautiful music of the Russian Dance was quite lost in this mixture of French and low urban dance, which was simply a conventional ballet solo with Russian characteristics here and there. Best of all was the Hungarian dance, and the public demanded an encore. The theatre was quite full although it was a benefit for the ballet master Hansen and the prices were one-and-a-half times the normal price.”
After four performances of the ballet (the last on 2 January 1883), it was dropped from the repertory altogether until the Petipa-Ivanov-Drigo version of 27 January 1895 but Hansen, as balletmaster to the Alhambra Theatre in London had presented a one-act ballet titled The Swans, inspired by the second scene of Swan Lake with music by the Alhambra’s chef d’orchestre Georges Jacoby.
Hansen was, as we have seen, much involved in the musical arrangements for the Paris Exposition of 1900, along with Pedro Gailhard and Paul Vidal with whom he had been responsible for the show Danses de naguère et de jadis which included La Gavotte danced by Cléo de Mérode for the “Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre”. Hansen was also the choreographer of Le Rêve, danced by Mauri for the show. It seems not impossible that he may have been at least the inspiration for the Danse slave as well. The Danse slave was listed on at least two occasions (during the 1901 tour at Dijon and Troyes) as Danses slaves in the plural, perhaps because, like Tchaikovsky’s Danse hongroise, it is a czardas or courting dance, a nineteenth-century development of the earlier magyar kör, divided into a slow section (lassu) followed by the fast section (friss). According to the Encyclopedia Brittanica, the “individual dancers carry themselves proudly and improvise on a simple fundamental step, their feet snapping inward and outward, the couples whirling. The music, often played by a gypsy orchestra, is in 2/4 or 4/4 time with compelling, syncopated rhythms”. Léo Delibes’ Coppélia, ou la Fille aux yeux d’émail (1870) also contains a famous czardas and there is an extant film of Danse slaves by Paul Nadar from 1896 (copy at the Cinémathèque française).
The dancer and choreographer Jeanne Chasles also appeared in a very mouvementée dance “Le Pas du petit faune” from the one-act ballet of 1899, Le Cygne, a setting of a poem by the prolific Catulle Mendès (1841-1909) by composer Charles Lecoq (1832-1918). This was the role that had first made her a star at l’Opéra-Comique. One enthusiastic contemporary reviewer who attended rehearsals commented:
“L’agilité, la grâce lascive, la hardiesse et la joie de respirer et de vivre de mademoiselle Chasles, dans le rôle du faune, le petit faune hilare et dansant qui conseille à Pierrot d’arrondir le dos et d’agiter comme des ailes ses larges manches de satin blanc.
The agility, the lascivious grace, the bravado and the joy of breathing and living of Mademoiselle Chasles in the role of the faun, the hilarious little dancing faun that advises Pierrot to round his back and flap his great sleeves of white satin like wings.”
– Paul Alexandre Martin Duval known as Jean Lorrain (1855-1906), Poussières de Paris (1896)
“Le Pas de la Sabotière” from the two-act ballet fantastique of 1880, La Korrigane by François Coppée (1842-1908) and dancer and maître de ballet of the previous generation, Louis-Alexandre, also known as Louis Mérante (1828-1887), with music by Charles-Marie Widor (1844-1937), was danced by Rosita Mauri as Yvonette, accompanied in the film by Sandrine Violat and Suzanne Mante. For Coppée, Mauri in this part was “dancing personified”.
To the trials of rehearsal…[she] brought a kind of physical enthusiasm, a kind of joyous delirium. You felt that she loved to dance for nothing, from instinct, for the love of dancing, even in a dark and empty theatre. She whinnied and darted like a young foal she soared and glided in space like a wild bird; and, in her sombre and somewhat wild beauty, there is something of both the Arab steed and the swallow.”
Zambelli also danced the 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 the Pizzicati was, and remained, one of her most famous pieces. The French ballerina Yvette Chauviré (1917-2016), 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 Zambelli 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). There is an earlier film (1898) of Zambelli dancing by Paul Nadar but this does not show her dancing “La Pizzicati”, but possibly executing the Italianate fouettés for which she was known in an earlier success, the “variation du miroir” from Faust an 1848 ballet by Giacomo Panizza (1804-1860) with a libretto by dancer and choreographer Jules Perrot (1810-1892), which Zambelli (as Marguerite) danced with success in 1894 or from Joseph Hansen’s ballet L’Étoile in which she danced Zénaide on 31 May 1897.
The comedy duo from the Nouveau Cirque, Foottit and Chocolat, perform four of their best-loved sketches in two films, each of which is a compilation of two sketches – Entrée des Échasses, comic stilt-walking, followed by Le Policemen and Acrobates sur la chaise (to give it the title the sketch bears in the Lumière catalogue) followed by Guillaume Tell. The British-born clown George Foottit (1884-1921) and the his Cuban-born black partner Chocolat, whose real name was Rafael or Raphaël (sometimes adopting the surname Padilla or de Leios), were at the height of their popularity at this time. They were filmed for what is almost certainly the first time by Émile Reynaud in April 1896, who filmed their sketch Guillaume Tell, a parodic version of the famous Swiss legend, for his “Patomimes luineuses” at the Théâtre optique at the Paris waxworks museum, the Musée Grevin. Guillaume Tell was also among six of their sketches filmed the same year by Jacques Ducom for the Lumières, a session where Ducom also filmed the sketches Acrobates sur la Chaise, where Foottit spanks Chocolat while both are balanced precariously on a chair, and Le Policeman where Chocolat teases George with the dummy of a policemen, later replaced by the real thing.
Foottit and Chocolat continued to perform together at the Nouveau Cirque until 1910, when they split up, as Foottit wished to develop an act with his two sons, Thomas (Tommy), George and Harry. George (senior) and Tommy would both appear, along with dancer and actress Stacia Napierkowska in a 1910 film version of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Le songe d’une nuit d’été). Foottit would also for a time run his own circus but neither artiste had much success without the other. Raphaël (Chocolat) attempted unsuccessfully to establish himself as a theatre actor, but died in 1917, indigent and alcoholic. There has been a recent fictionalized film biography of the Cuban, Chocolat (2016) 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, hugely popular in France, Harry Relph known as Little Tich (1867-1928) who performed the “big boots” act for which he was most famous. Little Tich is occasionally said to have performed a Danse espagnol for the show but I have found no evidence in contemporary sources to support this and it is probably a confusion with a later film. Relph certainly did perform Spanish dances during his career (“the Señora espagnole” was a speciality) and he was a prolific recording artist. A Relph impersonator called Little Pich also made a series of three films for Ferdinand Zecca at Pathé sometime in 1901-1902, which included a version of the “big boots” act, a Danse espagnole comique and a Gigue anglaise comique. In 1907 Little Tich himself made three films for Louis Feuillade at Gaumont, including the “big boots” act once again, a film seemingly called Little Tich et ses Big Boots and known in English as Little Tich and his Funny Feet, and parodies of both Spanish and serpentine dances, the first complete with tutu, chignon and muslin veil, the second a film version of his 1893 stage act “Miss Turpentine”, a parody of the Loïe Fuller act first performed at the Folies bergère just the year before. In 1907 too the “véritable Little Tich” made a 6-7 minute compilation of various acts for Pathé – the three Little Pich films of 1902 had also been available as such a compilation – an English soldier (a horse guard), a danseuse espagnole, his Loïe Fuller dance, and, as a finale, the “big boots” act (“grands souliers”).
Here, at any rate, we are certain that we have the genuine article but the film for the “Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre” is simply entitled Little Tich, suggesting only one film, and all identifiable references in reviews are quite clearly to the famous “big boots” sketch. The film survives but without its original cylinder although various suitable contemporary recordings are available including a piece actually entitled Big Boot Dance (1902), by prolific popular composer Auguste Bosc (1868-1945). There very certainly was originally an accompanying cylinder because the “clicking” of the wooden shoes is specifically mentioned by one contemporary reviewer. The great French cinéaste Jacques Tati once described the “big boots” 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).
This film also appears, exceptionally as far as we know, to have been marketed, not only in France but internationally, after the winding-up of the “Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre” in 1901-1902. A film that appears in the catalogues of Sigmund Lubin in the US, perhaps as early as August 1903 as Little Tich and his Funny Feet (Little Tich et ses Big Boots), and certainly in May 1905, where it simply given as Little Tich, would seem from its description to be this film:
This funny individual will make you laugh until your sides ache. He is funny in all his actions, yet when he puts on his shoes you can imagine the noise he can make when he dances an ordinary clog. The shoes referred to are made of some elastic material which enables Little Tich to bow almost to the floor without bending his legs, the spring in the shoes carrying him down and up again. He places his hat on the floor and, leaning over on the toes of his wonderful shoes, dips his head into the hat and comes up without having to move from the spot or to bend his legs. He is a comical looking sight at best, being made up to suit the part, and he will make you laugh whether you want to or not.”
This would not seem to be the Little Pich film made in 1902 and no other French film of Little Tich is known until 1907. How the film came to be marketed we do not know. The legendary ingenuity of Sigmund Lubin as an unscrupulous duper may well have had something to do with it, but it is also possible that Gaumont was responsible for marketing the film in France.
[Danse Comique] *
Mason and Forbes, described as excentrics américains, performed a comic pantomime sketch set in a photographer’s studio, Chez le photographe. Such scenes, doubtless common on the vaudeville stage, had become a popular subject of films. The 1895 Lumière film Photographe, where a photographer has to cope with a difficult client, would be copied and adapted innumerable times. This film also exists in a second non-catalogued version made by Louis Lumière himself where his brother Auguste plays the client and Clément-Maurice, the cinematographer for the Photo-Cinéma-Théâtre and himself a distinguished photographer, plays the harassed man behind the camera. This sketch by Mason and Forbes is a slapstick clownish affair and is conflated with another gag involving a glass of wine and a gazogene. There was also a sketch film called Le Chapeau récalcitrant, seemingly a lost film.
Frédéric Brunin known as Brunin (1859-1933) from Les Ambassadeurs performed his parody of the famous Louise Willy striptease, Le Coucher de la mariée. Mme Willy was an almost equally respectable pantomime artiste, a pupil of the great mime Charles Aubert. Her first venture into striptease (déshabillé in French) had been Le Coucher d’Yvette, in succession to Blanche Cavelli, at the Eldorado in Nice in 1894 but she had had a particular success in 1895 with Le Coucher de la mariée which was performed at the Olympia in Paris in 1895. Eugène Pirou was the first to make a film version late in 1896 (with Albert Kirchner known as Léar as cameraman) and at one point was so successful that he opened two other venues in Paris and took the show on tour (to the Casino in Nice in 1897).
But all of the major French filmmakers (with the exception of the more provincial Lumière) rapidly followed suit. Pathé, who included many scènes grivoises (bawdy films) in its catalogue, remade the film several times (in 1899, 1903 and 1907). So well known was the piece that this Brunin parody, entitled Le Déshabillé de la mariée, enjoyed considerable success at Les Ambassadeurs during the 1890s. [Note: the video below is incomplete.]
“Cette nudité alla aux nues sans provoquer de remontrances, sans appeler de représailles,” (this nudity was praised to the heights without provoking remonstrances or reprisals) wrote journalist Georges Montorgeuil, “mais non sans que des vocations ne se dessinassent” (but not without providing vocations). Some modern sources cite Danse comique as a lost film made for the Photo-Cinéma-Théâtre, but I have found no contemporary evidence to support this. Many years later (1911) in Eugénie, redresse-toi, Brunin would play for Gaumont the role of a young girl, so tall, thin and awkward, that she is unable to hold herself up straight.
Of the Brunin parody, Alix Chagué remarks in his 2016 thesis, “Cinématographie et travestis”:
Il ne semble pas étonnant que ces films, qui connaissent un grand succès auprès des classes hautes ou bourgeoises, quoiqu’ils fussent pensés comme dangereux pour les moeurs fragiles de la classe ouvrière, aient donné lieu à des parodies. Celle de Brunin se joue à la fois de la longueur du déshabillé, provoqué par l’empilement des couches de vêtements dans l’habit quotidien des femmes, de l’effet de dégonflement du désir à mesure que les artifices sont ôtés (cet effet est accentué par l’aspect du corps de Brunin, trop long et rachitique qui se découvre petit à petit), et enfin de l’ironie de cette scène supposée provoquer le désir, alors qu’elle est jouée par une homme.
It does not seem surprising that these films, which enjoyed great success with the upper or middle classes, although they were thought to be dangerous in the more fragile context of working class life, should give rise to parodies. Brunin’s is marked by the length and bulk of his night-dress, occasioned by the multiple layers of garments generally worn by women, by the effect of a deflation of desire as the garments are removed (accentuated by the tall, rickety look of Brunin’s own body as it is gradually revealed) and finally the irony that this scene, supposedly intended to provoke desire, is played by a man.”
Certainly the scraggly-looking Brunin is no “rose mousseuse, étincelante de jeunesse, radieuse de fraîcheur; semble quelque fée parisienne, quelque papillon qui vient d’éclore” (fragrant rose, sparkling with youth, radiant with freshness; some Parisian fairy, some butterfly that has just closed its wings) – as Louise Willy is described in a review, Le Coucher d’Yvette in Gil Blas, 9 March 1894.
Reception and Tour
The “Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre” opened on April 29, 1900 and was an immediate success with the critics. According to Le Figaro, it was “un spectacle qui marquera dans l’histoire de l’art théâtral” (a spectacle which will make its mark in theatrical history):
On a, en regardant le cinématographe, la surprise d’une netteté et d’une fixité absolument parfaites dans la reproduction des scènes. C’est lâ un progrès qui n’est pas banal et qui est dû en partie â la prestigieuse habileté de et en partie â des perfectionnements inédits apportés â; la construction des appareils.
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.
One is surprised, watching the cinematograph, by the clarity and absolute fixity in the reproduction of the scenes. This is an important advance due in part to the extreme dexterity [of the operator] and in part to new improvements made in the construction.
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.”
Le Figaro even claimed in another article that “le petit théâtre” was “très visité et qui mérite le grand succès qu’il obtient auprès du public” (very frequented and deserving of the success it has enjoyed with the public), but in reality the public proved much more reticent, the attendance was disappointing and the takings were lower than expected. The initial response may have been good – Léopold Maurice mentions that “succès était considérable et la salle toujours pleine” (success was considerable and the room always full) – but this situation seems rapidly to have deteriorated in the face of the many competing attractions available at the Exposition. Decauville raised the price of entry and also at one point arranged gala nights (“soirées mondaines”) on Fridays; in August he was obliged to abandon the second exhibition hall altogether. After two months the profits had not covered the costs of the construction of the pavilion. Decauville complained that they had been victims of unfair competition (citing the Lumière écran géant – giant screen) and attempted (unsuccessfully) to claim an indemnity (150.000 F.) from the organizers of the Exposition. An adjudicating tribunal was terse in its judgement, suggesting curtly: “Ce qu’il fallait, c’était renouveler le spectacle” (what needed to be done was renew the spectacle). There was, as they pointed out, little sense in Decauville’s complaints about competition.
In practice the lack of success was almost certainly largely due to the fact that the synchronisation, remedied now of course by modern technology in the restored versions, was still far from perfect and that the quality of the phonograph recordings was still poor, two facts admitted in some of the more candid reviews where a singer is described as sounding “odd” or even, in one case, like “a slaughtered pig”. Because of the instability of the wax cylinders, rerecording seems to have been necessary. We know for instance that Jeanne Hatto’s “Invocation à Diane” was rerecorded in 1901, probably the reason why it was not available when she attended a performance that year. Lioret’s “Idéal” evidently proved unsatisfactory from this point of view; nearly all the surviving cylinders are recordings made, sometime after September 1900, probably in fact in 1901 when Vrignault replaced Decauville as producer, for the Pathé Céleste, not for the Idéal. The amplification, despite the size and power of the Idéal of the improved sound quality of the Céleste, probably also remained inadequate. These were problems that beset all the early “playback” systems and would not really be resolved (by the Gaumont engineers) until 1907.
This was not however the end of the “Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre”. Marguerite Vrignault’s achievement had not gone unrecognized. At a dinner and soirée organized on 24 May in the salle des fêtes, garlanded for the occasion with baskets of orchids, the Minister of Commerce Alexandre Millerand (1859-1943) and his wife, were present, accompanied by the Presidents of the Senate and the chambre des députés (Armand Fallières and Paul Deschanel) and various of the most significant attractions of the Exposition were presented to an invited audience, including part of the “Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre” repertoire. Vrignault was, according to Le Figaro (25 May) “très félicitée de son initiative” (much congratulated for her initiative). The films, or a selection of them, continued to be exhibited daily in Paris during November-December 1900, in a hall in the boulevard Bonne-Nouvelle and in 1901 Vrignault replaced Paul Decauville as president of the company’s board (conseil d’administration), thus becoming both producer and director of the show.
The Tour: Rouen
She took the show on tour in Madrid, Spain (December-January), then in towns throughout France – Lyon (January-February) Dijon, Troyes, Chalon-sur-Saône (all three in April) and St. Étienne (April-May), Reims (May) and Rouen (October) – as well as in Switzerland (February), Germany (June) and Sweden (September), Félix Mesguich seemingly being the sole operator responsible for the touring version. Some of the costs were evidently met by Vrignault herself (“cela me coûta très cher” – (it cost me dearly), as she later confided to Henry Cossira). The status of the performances at Rouen at the Foire Saint-Roman, in October-November, is a little uncertain (it was still showing daily in Paris) but there is a clear reference to Vrignault’s supplementing her own repertoire with other material, which would become an important feature of the touring shows, much of which would seem, presumably by the grace and favor of the Lumières, to be the films, or a selection of the films, of the Exposition taken for them by Jacques Ducom (1864-1943) under the watchful eye of Gabriel Veyre (Louis Lumière did not much trust Ducom). Le Journal de Rouen reviewed the show on 26 October:
“Tous ceux qui n’ont pas été à l’Exposition pourront s’offrir la vue des principales attractions au Phono-Cinema-Théâtre qui possède une superbe collection de vues cinématographiques du Champ-de-Mars, du Trocadéro et des Invalides ; on y fait une promenade sur le trottoir roulant. Ajoutez à cela, comme intermèdes, de nombreuses scènes amusantes.
All those who have not been to the Exposition will have the chance to see views of the principal attractions at the Phono-Cinema-Théâtre which has a superb collection of cinematographic views of the Champ-de-Mars, the Trocadéro and the Invalides; one can go for a trip on the trottoir roulant [escalator] Added to which, as interludes, several entertaining scenes.”
For this reviewer, at least, it seems to have been the films of Ducom that were the real “star” of the show with everything else reduced to the status of amusing “interludes”. This “superb collection” had already been shown at the Exposition (for the “Cinématographe géant”) in the Galerie des machines, so Vrignault as producer had craftily managed to associate with her own show precisely those items that Decauville had previously identified as their most damaging “competition”. Much later (1967), more than twenty years after the death of Ducom, this same sequence of films would be compiled by Marc Allégret in his fourteen-minute documentary for Les Films de la Pléiade, Exposition 1900, which is really nothing more than an excellent modern presentation, with commentary by Jean Rouch (1917-2004), of the superb films of Ducom.
In Madrid, at the Music-Hall in the Teatro Moderno in December 1900, there were apparently some initial technical problems and we know little of the programme there beyond the fact that Hamlet and Cyrano de Bergerac were shown. The reviewer in El Dia on 24 December provides the details and implies that the show as a whole did include items other than the familiar repertoire:
“With the initial deficiencies observed in the functioning now corrected, the show was last night much more appreciated by the public which applauded with enthusiasm the various numbers of which the show was composed.
The presentation of the Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre was a complete success, with the highest praise being given to scenes from Cyrano de Bergerac and Hamlet.
The phonograph reproduced perfectly the celebrated verses of Edmond Rostand.”
Particularly important runs were those organized by the Cirques Rancy (in Lyon and Reims). For the show at Lyon, which commenced on 20 January 1901 we know that, according to a reviewer in Geneva later in the month, the show played to packed houses there but of the programme we know nothing.
The Ducom views were however very certainly again part of the show when it was at the Victoria Hall in Geneva in February but the less provincial reviews there gave less prominence to them than the reviewer at Rouen had done. Le Journal de Genève wrote on 31 January 1901:
“Le Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre. — Cette attraction, une des plus curieuses de l’exposition, annonce six représentations, qui auront lieu au Victoria Hall, tous les soirs, à partir du samedi 2 février, à 8 heures et demie.
Le Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre emploie tout à la fois les derniers perfectionnements du phonographe et du cinématographe. Au moyen d’appareils construits spécialement pour le Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre, on a réussi à reconstituer, en des visions animées, le jeu des artistes en vogue, leurs mouvements, leurs gestes, leur physionomie, avec leur voix et leurs intonations variées.
La réussite de cette tentative si originale dépasse tout ce que l’on peut en dire. Sarah Bernhardt, par exemple, a été admirablement saisie dans la fameuse scène du duel d’Hamlet, et cette reconstitution est une merveille d’art, en même temps qu’un chef-d’œuvre d’exactitude. De même, Coquelin aîné, dans Les Précieuses Ridicules ; le ténor Cossira, dans Roméo et Juliette, sans parler de ballets, de hors-d’oeuvre et de nombreuses vues panoramiques et animées de l’exposition. Nous ne doutons pas que ce spectacle de famille, nouveau et amusant autant qu’instructif, qui est introduit chez nous par un de nos concitoyens, n’attire un nombreux public, comme à Lyon, où il fait salle comble chaque soir.
The Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre. — This attraction, one of the most curious at the exposition, is to have six performances, at the Victoria Hall, every evening, from Saturday, 2 February, at half past eight.
The Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre combines the use of the latest developments in both the phonograph and the cinematograph. By means of instruments specially made for the Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre, it has succeeded in reconstituting, in moving pictures, the performance of fashionable artistes, their movements, their gestures, their physiognomy, along with their voices and their various inflections.
The success of this highly original attempt exceeds all that one could say of it. Sarah Bernhardt, for example, has been admirably caught in the famous duel scene from Hamlet, and this reconstitution is an artistic marvel as well as being a masterpiece of exactitude. Similarly with Coquelin aîné, in Les Précieuses Ridicules; the tenor Cossira, in Roméo et Juliette, without speaking of the ballets, interludes and many panoramic moving pictures of the exposition. We do not doubt that this family spectacle, novel and entertaining as well as instructive, presented here by one of our fellow-citizens will attract a sizable public, as at Lyon, where it filled the hall every evening.”
This review is a particularly fulsome and admiring one and the same journal in later reviews also mentions Cyrano de Bergerac, L’Enfant prodigue, “la ravissante pantomime de Carré et Wormser joué par Félicia Mallet” (the lovely pantomime by Carré and Wormser played by Félicia Mallet), Ma Cousine, Le Cygne, “une des succès actuels de l’Opéra-Comique” (one of l’Opéra-Comique’s current hits), Les Chansons en crinoline of Mily-Meyer, Terpsichore, La Korrigane, Polin “dans son repertoire” (doing his act), Little Tich, “le désopilant comique anglais” (the hilarious English comic), Foottit and Chocolat and even Le Chapeau recalcitrant, only mentioning amongst the supplementary material, with forgivable chauvinism, “La Village suisse à l’Exposition” (there had been at least three Lumières films of the “dairy” at the Village Suisse), while affirming that the show as a whole “laisse bien loin derrière lui tout ce qui a été fait dans ce domaine” (leaves far behind all that has been done in this domain). The Swiss citizen referred to may well be François-Henri Lavanchy-Clark (1848-1922), who had been, and probably still technically was, the Lumière concessionnaire in Switzerland, for the “nombreuses vues panoramiques et animés de l’exposition” (many panoramic and animated views of the exhibition) are surely once again the films shot by Ducom for the Lumières.
As Jean-Claude Seguin points out (on his invaluable “grimh” website to which I am indebted for a great deal of the contemporary material cited here), Mesguich was himself absent on 2 February, filming the funeral of Queen Victoria in London for the Lumières, so his place must have been taken, for a time at least, by Vrignault herself or by an assistant (perhaps one of the Maurice brothers). According to his memoirs, Mesguich left for London at the end of January and would almost certainly have been at Lyon on 10 February when the nine films he had shot in London were shown there. He was presumably back in Switzerland by the twelfth since Les Obsèques de la reine Victoria were then added to the supplementary material shown with the “Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre” films. It is evident from the reviews, which talk of a prolongation of the stay and of “un programme nouveau” (a new program), that a very considerable effort was made in Geneva, perhaps thanks to the highly experienced Lavanchy-Clark, who had also been the representative of Lever Brothers (Sunlight Soap) in Geneva, to garner maximum publicity – the adulatory reviews themselves are evidence of this – to bring the changes and vary the material really in rather the manner that the Exposition tribunal had sarcastically suggested to Decauville the year before. At the end of the stay, there were even additional sessions at reduced prices. As a result the run in Geneva, lasting some fifteen days, would appear to have provided an unambiguously successful relaunch of the tour.
At Dijon in April, the press was almost equally flattering, even a little suspiciously so. The Le Progrès de la Côte-d’Or announced on 6 April:
“C’est ce soir la première du Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre, au Grand-Théâtre.
Théophile Gauthier, dans un de ses feuilletons dramatiques, exprimait le regret que l’on ne pût conserver la voix et les gestes, le talent des grands artistes. Le rêve de Gautier est réalisé par le Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre, qui unit, comme le nom l’indique, les merveilles du cinématographe à celles du phonographe.
Grâce à cette découverte, on voit défiler, on entend, dans d’excellentes conditions, les étoiles des théâtres et des cafés-concerts. C’est d’abord Félicia Mallet qui mime L’Enfant prodigue ; le fameux Cossira, qui chante le « Lève-toi, soleil », de Roméo et Juliette ; vous l’applaudirez, et, à votre surprise, vous verrez le ténor connu de l’Opéra revenir, sourire et saluer.
Ce sera le duel d’Hamlet, étonnamment réglé avec les classiques attitudes de Sarah Bernhardt, et vous entendrez les cliquetis des épées, qui ne se croisent cependant que sur l’écran.
Et je ne puis vous citer toutes les scènes mieux choisies les unes que les autres, auxquelles il vous sera permis d’assister de tous vos sens, si parfaitement satisfaits
que vous ne saurez au juste si vous êtes en présence d’une copie ou de l’original.
Voyez le programme ; en quelques heures il vous transportera aux Français, à l’Opéra, au Nouveau Cirque, à Londres, etc.
This evening is the première of the Phono-Cinéma-Théàtre, at the Grand-Théàtre.
Théophile Gauthier, in one of his dramatic serials, expressed a regret that one could not conserve the voices and the gestures, the talent of great artistes. Gautier’s dream is realized in the Phono-Cinéma-Théàtre, which unites as it name indicates, the marvels of the cinematograph and those of the phonograph.
Thanks to this discovery, one sees and one hears as they perform, in excellent conditions, the stars of the theatres and café-concerts. First of all there is Félicia Mallet who mimes L’Enfant prodigue; the famous Cossira, who sings “Lève-toi, soleil”, from Roméo et Juliette; you applaud him, and, to your surprise, you see the well-known tenor return, smile and bow.
Then there is the duel from Hamlet, astonishingly executed in the classic style of Sarah Bernhardt, and you hear the click of the swords, which only clash however on the screen.
And I could cite all the scenes, each one better chosen than the last, which you will be able to appreciate with all your senses, to such perfect satisfaction that you will not be able to tell indeed if you in the presence of a copy or the original.
Look at the programme; in a few hours it will transport you amongst the French, to the Opéra, to the Nouveau Cirque, to London, etc.”
A further review in the same journal the following day makes it clear that, here too, the “vues panoramiques et animées” (panoramic and animated views) of Jacques Ducom and other supplementary topical material (including Mesguich’s films of the funeral of Queen Victoria, also formed an important part of the show. Otherwise the review reads again rather like a publicity hand-out.
Il y avait très belle salle au Grand-Théâtre, samedi, pour le premier des spectacles donnés en notre ville par le Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre. Les vues panoramiques et animées de l’Exposition sont évidemment très intéressantes ; ce voyage aux Invalides, au Petit et au Grand Palais, aux Serres, sur la Seine, etc., etc., qui rappelle aux visiteurs de la grande Exposition et leur renouvelle de si beaux-moments non encore oubliés, mais déjà loin, dans la hotte aux souvenirs ; ce voyage est certainement une source de plaisir.
Aussi d’un grand intérêt les obsèques de la reine Victoria, dont les journaux ont raconté la triste magnificence.
Très agréables également ces visions artistiques des Danses Slaves, Ballet du Cid, de Cléo de Mérode, des Danses Directoire[s], de Terpsichore, visions à qui, pour donner l’illusion de la réalité, il ne manque vraiment que la variété des couleurs.
La Zambelli, Cléo de Mérode, Mlles Mante, et tous ces êtres gracieux qui défilent sur l’écran, en des mouvements réels, harmonieux, donnent des sensations artistiques d’un grand charme. Tout particulièrement impressionnants, vous trouverez encore la pantomime de L’Enfant prodigue, par Félicia Mallet ; et surtout encore le duel d’Hamlet par la grande Sarah (Hamlet) et Pierre Magnier (Laerte).
La partie comique est très joyeusement remplie par les intermèdes de Footit et Chocolat, de Little Tich et des Mason et Forbes, que vous croiriez en chair et en os devant vous.
Mais où le Phono-Cinéma est tout à fait merveilleux et dépasse tout ce qu’on peut supposer, c’est lorsque le cinématographe est combiné avec le phonographe. Vous verrez et entendrez Coquelin dans Les Précieuses [ridicules], avec Mlle Esquilar et Mlle Lerwick ; Mlle Mily Meyer, dans sa Chanson en crinoline ; Coquelin en Cyrano ; Mlle Hatto dans Iphigénie, et surtout Cossira dans la cavatine de Roméo.
La combinaison de la voix, du geste, de l’expression du visage est presque parfaite. La trépidation est presque nulle, le nasillement de la voix également. Vous croyez être à l’Opéra ou sur les scènes où jouent et chantent les grands artistes pour ainsi dire immortalisés. L’illusion est complète.
Aussi est-ce un succès considérable que le Phono-Cinéma obtiendra en notre ville pendant le court séjour qu’il nous promet.”
There was a good turnout at the Grand-Théâtre on Saturday for the first of the shows to be given in our town by the Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre. The moving pictures and panoramas of the Exposition are obviously very interesting; the trip to the Invalides, to the Petit et to the Grand Palais, to the Serres [Greenhouses], on the Seine, etc., etc., which recall visits to the great Exposition and revive the wonderful moments spent there, not yet forgotten but already distant amongst their memories; this trip is certainly a source of pleasure.
Also of great interest is the funeral of Queen Victoria, the sad magnificence of which has been recounted in the press.
Very enjoyable too are the artistic visions of the Danses Slaves, Ballet du Cid, Cléo de Mérode, the Danses Directoire[s], Terpsichore, visions which, to give the illusion of reality, are in a variety of colors.
La Zambelli, Cléo de Mérode, Mlles Mante, and all these other gracious beings who appear on the screen, in real and harmonious movement, provide an artistic sensation of great charm. You will find most particularly impressive the pantomime of L’Enfant prodigue, by Félicia Mallet; and above all the duel from Hamlet by the great Sarah (Hamlet) and Pierre Magnier (Laertes).
The comic part is joyfully supplied by the interludes of Foottit et Chocolat, of Little Tich and of Mason et Forbes, whom you could imagine before you in the flesh.
But where the Phono-Cinéma is completely wonderful and surpasses anything one could imagine, is when the cinematograph is combined with the phonograph. You will see and hear Coquelin in Les Précieuses [ridicules], with Mlle Esquilar et Mlle Lerwick; Mlle Mily Meyer, in her Chanson en crinoline; Coquelin in Cyrano; Mlle Hatto in Iphigénie, and above all Cossira in the cavatina from Roméo.
The combination of voice, gesture, facial expression is perfect. There is no juddering, no nasalisation of the voices. You could believe yourself at l’Opéra or at the venues where the great artists perform and sing, here, so to speak, immortalized. The illusion is complete.
The Phono-Cinéma should enjoy considerable success in our town during the short stay that is projected.”
There is no known Lumière film of the Palais de l’Horticulture and “Les grandes Serres” (greenhouses) along the banks of the Seine, the contribution of the Société nationale d’horticulture de France to the Exposition, so these films were perhaps provided from different sources, according to what the host exhibitors had available.
After Dijon the show moved on to Troyes and it is the account in the press of the visit to this show at the Cirque piège, that same month, that gives the best idea of all of how all the various elements of this touring show were now organized. The notice is more a less a simple announcement of the programme, in two parts, each part consisting, more or less half and half, of films from the Exposition and topicalities and the original “Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre” repertoire.
“Les Invalides – Le Petit Palais – Le Grand Palais – Les Serres – La Seine – Palais des nations étrangères – Pont de l’Alma – Vieux Paris – Trocadéro – Le Champ-de-Mars – L’Algérie – La Tunisie – La tour Eiffel – Palais de la Navigation – Palais des Eaux et Forêts – Globe céleste – Le Château-d’Eau – Palais de la Métallurgie – Pavillon bleu – Le Tour du Monde.”
Many of these venues could be seen or glimpsed in the films of Ducom but the list includes, apart from “les grandes Serres”, many features not available amongst them and evidently a very impressive repertoire of views had been put together by this time, quite possibly from several different sources.
This was followed, in the first part, by eight or nine of the “Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre” films:
L’Enfant prodigue, pantomime, musique de Wormser, par Mlle Felicia Mallet. – Danses slaves – Roméo et Juliette (Ch. Gounod), M. Cossira, de l’Opéra. – Brunin, [Le Déshabille de la mariée] dans son répertoire. – Duel d’Hamlet : Mme Sarah Bernhardt ; Laërte, M. Pierre Magnier. – Ballet du Cid, dansé par Mme Zambelli, de l’Opéra. – Les Précieuses ridicules : Coquelin aîné, rôle de Mascarille ; Mlle Esquilar Modelon ; M. Karwick, Cathos. – Foottit et Chocolat, du Nouveau-Cirque.”
The second part commenced with the various films in Mesguich’s series Les Obsèques de la reine Victoria:
“Les obsèques de la reine Victoria : Le Char funèbre. A cheval ; le roi Edouard VII, l’empereur Guillaume, le duc de Connaught. les rois de Grèce et de Portugal, les princes étrangers.”
This was similarly followed by seven of the “Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre” films:
“Cyrano de Bergerac, Coquelin aîné. – Little Tich, intermède comique. – Danse Directoire (William Marie), dansée par Mlles Mante, de l’Opéra. – Le Chapeau récalcitrant — Mlle Mily-Meyer (Chanson en crinoline) – Terpsychore [sic], ballet du Palais de la Danse. – Mason et Forbes (excentrics américains), Scène chez le photographe.”
At Chalon-sur-Saône, that same month, the notices were brief and the previewer for the Courrier de Saône-et-Loire (13 April) seemed less than overwhelmed by the coming spectacle, concentrating mainly on the advantages of the Parnaland camera and the Céleste phonograph (in use since September) and on the fact that a larger screen seems to
have been used (shades of the Lumières’ “cinématographe géant”) and that the films were unusually long. A later review (17 April) indicates that, here too, there were also “vues animées de l’exposition” (animated view of the Exposition).
Le Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre, qui a remporté un si légitime succès à l’Exposition de 1900, doit donner au théâtre de Chalon une série de représentations.
Les débuts auront lieu le 16 avril et jours suivants.
Le Phono – Cinéma – Théâtre n’est, au fond, qu’un cinématographe agrandi. Il en a tous les agréments, mais pas tous les inconvénients. Ainsi, la trépidation, ou scintillement, est réduite à un minimum supportable. Une des particularités de cette installation, c’est que les projections durent fort longtemps ; les personnages sont en grandeur naturelle et paraissent se mouvoir comme sur une scène ordinaire.
Les ballets, où l’on nous montre les premiers sujets de l’Opéra de Paris, par exemple, sont bien la plus jolie partie d’un programme très complet.
A toutes les représentations on entendra également et on verra jouer Mme Sarah Bernhardt et M. Coquelin aîné.
The Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre, which enjoyed such a well-deserved success at the 1900 Exposition is to give a series of presentations at the theatre in Chalon for several days starting on 16 April.
The debuts will take place on April 16 and following days.
The Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre is basically just an enlarged cinematograph. It has all the amenities, but not all the disadvantages. Thus, the staggering, or juddering, is reduced to a bearable minimum. One of the peculiarities of this installation is that the projections last a very long time; the characters are life size and seem to move as on an ordinary stage.
The ballets, where we are shown the first subjects of the Paris Opera, for example, are indeed the prettiest part of a very complete program.
At all performances, we will also hear and see Ms. Sarah Bernhardt and Mr. Coquelin, aîné play.”
At the end of the month, the show moved on to the Grand Théâtre at Saint Étienne (the opera house), moving for a further week (1st-8 May) to the Eden-Théâtre. The show was reviewed several times by Le Stéphanois and Le Mémorial de la Loire et de la Haute Loire but these reviews merely repeat, almost word for word, the same accounts given elsewhere. It is not clear whether the views of the Exposition or of Queen Victoria’s funeral were included in the programme (the reviews do not mention them) but the initial choice of venue suggests otherwise; as Vrignault’s confidence grew in the course of the tour, she appears to have sought out swankier venues where her own repertoire would be sufficiently appreciated and no supplementary material would be necessary. Whether the move (necessitated by the commencement of the opera season) to a more downmarket venue altered matters we do not know but one review in the Le Mémorial de la Loire et de la Haute Loire (8 May) does confirm the established strategy employed elsewhere both of changing the repertoire in the course of each run and of arranging special events:
“Les représentations du Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre se continuent tous les soirs avec le même succès. L’assistance encore plus nombreuse de jour en jour applaudit chaleureusement ce spectacle à la fois artistique et amusant. Nous savons gré à la Direction de nous avoir fait chaque jour la surprise de nous donner des numéros nouveaux. Le Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre devant terminer ses représentations vendredi soir, nous ne saurions trop engager les retardataires à venir entendre et applaudir nos artistes célèbres.
Jeudi matinée à 2 h. ½. Les élèves des écoles conduits en groupe à cette matinée seront admis à toutes les places au prix de 0 fr. 25 ; entrée gratuite pour le personnel enseignant les accompagnant.
The presentations of the Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre continue every evening with the same success. The attendance, more numerous every day, warmly applauds this show that is both artistic and entertaining. We have the Management to thank for the fact that it has surprised us each day with new pieces. The Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre has to terminate its run on Friday evening and we cannot too strongly recommend latecomers to come and hear and applaud our famous artistes.
Thursday matinée at half past two. Groups of school children will be admitted at a flat rate of twenty-five centimes, entry is free for the personnel accompanying them.”
The show was at another of the Cirques Rancy in May, this time at Reims. The dates overlap with those of the run in Saint Étienne, indicating that, by this time, two separate teams were operating. Again it is possible that Vrignault herself acted as operator for one or that one of the Maurice brothers was used. Vrignault may also by this time have secured the services of Jacques Albert Berst (a few years later to be Pathé’s general manager in New York) who certainly assisted Mesguich when the “Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre” returned to Paris in December. If the show at the opera house in Saint Étienne had dispensed with supplementary material, one notes that, here at Reims, “une reconstitution complète des merveilles de l’Exposition de 1900” (a complete reconstitution of the wonders of the 1900 Exhibition) was again a significant part of the programme. The show was previewed in L’Indépendent rémois on 30 April :
Le Phono Cinéma Théâtre, l’un des plus grands succès de la rue de Paris à l’Exposition universelle, fait en ce moment son tour de France. Il annonce une série de représentations au Cirque de Reims, où la première aura lieu vendredi prochain 3 mai.
Ainsi que son nom l’indique, le Phono Cinéma Théâtre est une ingénieuse combinaison des deux merveilleuses inventions de la fin du XIX* siècle, le cinématographe et le phonographe, et la directrice et créatrice de cette attraction sans precedent, Mme Vrignault est parvenue à donner à ces visions animées l’apparence de la vie même. On entend et l’on voit les artistes absolument comme s’ils paraissaient sur la scène, et lorsque les spectateurs émerveillés applaudissent chanteurs, danseuses ou mimes, les artistes reviennent saluer le public. L’illusion est aussi complète que possible. Ce qui achève de caractériser le Phono Cinéma Théâtre, c’est que son programme ne comprend que des artistes de premier ordre : Sarah Bernhardt, Coquelin aîné, Cossira et Mlle Hatto de l’Opéra, Mély [sic] Meyer, Félicia Mallet, Polin, Little Tich, etc. Toutes les étoiles des grands théâtres et des grands music halls de Paris défileront devant nous en une seule représentation qui dure de deux heures à deux heures et demie. Et par surcroît on nous offre une reconstitution complète des merveilles de l’Exposition de 1900. Avec de pareils éléments, le succès des représentations du Phono Cinéma Théâtre ne saurait être douteux.
The Phono Cinéma Théâtre, one of the great successes of the rue de Paris at the Exposition universelle, is at present on tour in France. A series of performances have been announced at the Cirque [Rancy] de Reims, the first to take place next Friday, the 3 May.
As its name indicates, the Phono Cinéma Théâtre is an ingenious combination of two marvelous inventions of the end of the nineteenth century, the cinematograph and the phonograph and the director and creator of this unprecedented attraction, Mme Vrignault has managed to give to these animated pictures the appearance of life itself. One hears and one sees the artistes absolutely as they appear on the scene and when the amazed spectators applaud the singers, dancers or mimes, they return to bow to the public. The illusion is as complete as possible. What particularly characterizes the Phono Cinéma Théâtre is that its programme only includes artistes of the highest order: Sarah Bernhardt, Coquelin aîné, Cossira et Mlle Hatto of l’Opéra, Mély [sic] Meyer, Félicia Mallet, Polin, Little Tich, etc. All the stars of the great theatres and music halls of Paris appear before us in one single show lasting between two and two and a half hours. What is more this is a complete reconstitution of the marvels of the Exposition of 1900. With such elements, the success of the Phono Cinéma Théâtre is beyond doubt.”
Later notices in the same journal, once the performances had begun, are noticeably somewhat fainter in their praise, repeating the tendency for interest to fall off that seems to have bedeviled the show throughout. One review (4 May) talks of it being “parfait…..les tableaux sont variés, bien choisis et gracieux….de bon goût et attrayant. On ne peut désirer mieux” (perfect…the scenes are varied, well chosen, gracious…tasteful and attractive. One could not wish for more). Another (5 May) contents itself with recommending it as a family show, especially suitable for children who “apprennent à reconnaître les plus célèbres artistes français de cette époque” (learn to recognize the most famous French artists of the age). Nevertheless the show had a handsome fifteen-day run at Reims even if by the end (review of 15 May), Coquelin as Cyrano was having to compete with views of the French President’s review of the navy at Toulon (10 April 1901), probably the Lumière films of that occasion. In fact these Lumière views of President Loubet in Toulon, if so they were, seem to have been added to the repertoire of supplementary material as they would be mentioned again a little later in the tour.
Karlsruhe and Stuttgart
From 14-19 June 1901 the “Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre” began a brief tour of Germany at the Stadtgarten-Theater in Karlsruhe. “Durch der Verbindung des Phonografen mit dem Kinematografen wird man zugleich hören und sehen” (With the combination of the phonograph with the cinematograph, one can see and hear at the same time) was the now familiar slogan and here also half-price family matinées were offered. From 24-29 June it was in Stuttgart in the Festsaal (salle des fêtes) of the Liederhalle (rehearsal and concert hall for the Stuttgart Liederkranz choir). For Stuttgart we again have a printed programme and the pattern is almost precisely the same as in Troyes in April, divided into two parts, with vues panoramiques et animées de l’Exposition, perhaps accompanying the first part as at Troyes, and Mesguich’s films of the funeral of Victoria, perhaps accompanying the second part, and to which (although not mentioned in the programme) were added the films of President Loubet’s naval review in Toulon, and then ten films from the “Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre” repertoire in each part, very conceivably constituting a programme of over two hours in length altogether. The reviewer in the Nene Tageblatt gives due weight to this supplementary material before discussing the “Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre” films. In fact what is notable about the review is the balanced and intelligent discussion of the entire show, even if this reviewer, unlike others, seems to place greater value on the spoken word – the review of Moy’s Maître de ballet is striking – than to the dance programme that contains arguably the most impressive of the films.
“A large part of the programme consists simply of cinematographic pictures, to start with interesting views of the Exposition universelle de Paris and the life and bustle that prevailed there, then the pomp and circumstance of the funeral of Queen Victoria of England, as well as the naval review conducted by the French President, Loubet. One of the most interesting pictures was the representation of the tragédienne Sarah Bernhardt in the famous scene of the duel with Laertes. The very sharp play of facial expressions and the clearly audible clash of the swords give this performance great dramatic effectiveness. Maître de ballet Julius Moy is absolutely delightful, shown in rehearsal on the piano – exactly typical of a vivacious Frenchman, when he gets into trouble, jumping up repeatedly from his seat in anger, arguing and gesticulating and finally running away in a rage. We also encounter the famous Parisian actor Coquelin aîné, who includes in a conversational scene a very special singing performance in a booming French voice, Mme Cossira [recte Hatto – ed.], who sang a well-known aria from Iphigenia in Tauris. The various ballets and dances are extremely attractive and the eye is drawn to the delightful grace and elegance of the premier dancers of l’Opéra de Paris. The presentation of a series of scenes from the pantomime L’Enfant prodigue also had a great dramatic impact. The variety numbers caused a great deal of pleasure: Little Tich, Mason and Forbes, Foottit and Chocolat etc., full of funny eccentricities. In brief, the audience enjoyed the originality of the performances in this compilation, which have never been seen before. Even if the phonograph is still a long way away from reproducing the human voice in a pure and unadulterated manner and the flickering cinematographic image, especially where it conjures up dense, hastily moving groups of people on the canvas wall, is somewhat hard on the eye, these performances remain of interest and a visit to the show can be recommended as of special interest to all.”
–Phonographische Zeitschrift (1901), pp. 159-160.
The final leg of the 1901 tour took the show to Stockholm in Sweden, where it played for over a month (1st September-14 October) at the Olympia-Teatern under the title “Den odödliga teatern” (Immortal Theatre), a full account of the programme was listed in the press. For a sophisticated Swedish audience, there were no views of the Exposition or scenes of Queen Victoria’s funeral, but a selection of the “Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre” repertoire – Hamlet, Les Précieuses ridicules, L’Enfant prodigue, Chanson en Crinoline (Vieille Chanson en crinoline par Mily Meyer), La Korrigane (La Corrigane), Roméo et Juliette (Air de Roméo et Juliette), Cyrano de Bergerac, Danse directoire, Ma cousine and La Gavotte (Danse ancienne par Cléo de Mérode). None of the monologues or comic sketches, except that of Little Tich and one other, perhaps Moy’s Maître de ballet, were included and neither of these were mentioned in the published programme. The Olympia-Teatern was more in the nature of an opera house than a variety theatre and here the more serious aspects of Vrignault’s repertoire received something of the appreciation they deserved.
Vrignault herself figures prominently. Not only does the programme credit her as director but the entire show is described, as the review notes with a tinge of skepticism, as “Mme Vrignault’s Création” followed (in Swedish) by what had clearly now been chosen as the motto for the show – “Konsten skall odödliggöras” (Art shall be immortalized). She also gave a short lecture before the show. The review in Venska Dageblat on 2 September was very long and earnest and very clearly written by someone who knew both the works and the performers. It emphasized the aspect of “immortalizing” performances, dear to Marguerite Vrignault and Sarah Bernhardt, but only occasionally touched on in other reviews and, while it is not entirely uncritical – Cossira “sounded a bit odd” – it heaps unreserved praise, tinged with some not unfriendly irony, on Vrignault, about whom he (or she) seems remarkably well informed. The review ends with a flourish by comparing her to the great Swedish theatre director of the day, “teaterkungen” (theatre king) Albert Ranft (1858-1938).
The Immortal Theatre
“The Olympia Theater has become “the Immortal Theatre”….. since “the immortal theater” really exists within its walls. It is, as you have seen in the newspapers, Mme Vrignault’s great creation. “Art shall be immortalized”. That is, the dramatic and lyrical art or, more correctly, the dramatic and lyrical presentation plus the ballet will not disappear with the respective artists’ departure from the earthly scene, but live on to the full. Sarah Bernhardt dies in forty or fifty years’ time, having become a grandmother and created half a dozen roles of ingénues and boys, but her art lives on. You still get to see and hear her.
How? That is Mme Vrignault’s creation … which, by your leave, it may not really be, because the newspapers have been talking for a very long time about a combination of cinematograph and phonograph, whereby you could simultaneously see and, so to speak, hear the pictures. But here in Stockholm we have never before witnessed this phenomenon, which, when produced so excellently as was the case yesterday, is very entertaining, especially as the pictures had a peculiar allure.
To see Sarah Bernhardt perform the fencing scene in “Hamlet” is certainly very enjoyable. And how well everything is arranged! You hear the clashing of the blades, a sound normally made offstage behind a curtain. Even more fun was to see and hear Coquelin, one of France’s and the world’s foremost actors, in Molière’s Les Précieuses ridicules, in which he, as the servant turned gentleman, sits and cackles for the ladies – “votre oeil en tapinois” etc. – as well as in Cyrano de Bergerac itself, where he performs the fencing scene from the first act, while declaiming the verse. Yes, it was Coquelin’s lively and brilliant mimicry and the voice with its strangely comical timbre, the “trumpet voice”. Better cinematographic and phonograph numbers cannot be imagined.
The programme was very rich. There were several excellent ballet numbers. A long ballet from Palais de Dance at last year’s Exposition universelle which included some magnificent singing to tambourine music. In another number, Cléo de Mérode appeared, beautiful and graceful as always – and as always with her hair parted in the center. As for the pantomime L’Enfant prodigue, which we have seen here in Stockholm with Mrs. Linden in the title role, the most important scenes were given, with Félicia Mallet in the role of young Pierrot, a role she created in Paris [in 1890], still performing this role at the age of forty [actually thirty-seven -ed.].
One of Paris Opera’s singers performed an aria. The song sounded a bit strange, but the artiste’s comportment should be studied by our scenic artists. And little Mily Meyer – one of Paris’ operetta stars, a little doll with a thin, clear voice – sang, dressed in crinoline, an old-time song and did it in a colossally funny way.
There were also a couple of pure variety numbers. Little Tich from Drury Lane in London danced quite desperately and received much applause. The illusion was completed when the performing artists came forward to bow to the audience at the applause.
The audience was very numerous, in all parts of the theatre and including some very distinguished people, and seemed to take pleasure in the event…. “The Immortal Theatre” is surely doing its best to provide first-class variety. To be alone in immortality is to die a little.
The performance began with a short lecture by Mme Vrignault. She is well turned-out and seems to be in fine fettle. She also has every reason to be happy with herself. Never has an impresario been as calm as she. There is no fear that anyone will break their contract or get jealous and make a fuss. And never has an impresario been so versatile. She has brought together opera and operetta artists, dramatic artistes and dancers; she could reasonably bear comparison with director Ranft.”
The reviewer’s account of Vrignault may be somewhat exaggerated for artistic purposes but, in essence, it is not unreasonable. During the year in which she had been both producer and director of the “Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre”, she had turned its fortunes artistically, although whether she had recovered her costs is unknown, and, by dint of artful and imaginative
programming and forceful marketing strategies, had made a real success of the tour, of which the long and successful run in Stockholm was both for the show and for Vrignault personally a kind of apotheosis. There were, according to Svenksa Dagbladet (4 October), plans for a trip to Göteborg and even for a tour of Russia, but it is doubtful if anything came of these:
Mme Vrignault’s intention is to take her show to Russia at the end of the month, and has planned to give performances in Göteborg until then but, as she has not for the time being been able to find an appropriate venue in Göteborg will give a further week of presentations at the Olympia-teatern.”
The Société Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre was finally dissolved on 26 November 1901 but even this did not deter Vrignault. By December the “Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre” was back in Paris at the Isola Brothers’ Olympia theatre, where Mesguich and Jacques Brest continued to present the show in November-December. Mesguich recalls in his memoirs a mishap that occurred at this time that illustrates the difficulties involved in what was still a relatively primitive playback system and the degree to which it relied on the experience and ability of the operator:
“À notre retour à Paris… c’est à l’Olympia, sous la direction des frères Isola, que nous présentons désormais le programme du Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre.
Cela ne va pas toujours sans difficulté. Je me souviens notamment, qu’un soir. j’étais enfermé dans ma cabine, au premier étage, tandis que M. Berst était placé avec son phono à l’orchestre. La salle se trouvait plongée dans l’obscurité, lorsqu’une main malveillante coupa le fil de transmission acoustique qui me permettait de suivre à distance, au moyen d’un récepteur, la marche du cylindre. Sans interrompre la séance, je réussis néanmoins à terminer ma projection dans un synchronisme parfait, et personne ne s’aperçut que l’opérateur avait été subitement frappé de surdité.
On our return to Paris…..we presented the programme of the Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre at the Olympia, under the direction of the Isola brothers.
There were occasionally problems. I particularly remember one evening, I was enclosed in my cabin, on the first floor, while M. Berst was positioned with his phonograph in the orchestra pit. The hall was plunged into darkness when some mischievous hand cut the wire for the acoustic transmission which allowed me to follow the progress of the cylinder at a distance, by means of a receiver. Without interrupting the showing, I nevertheless succeeded in finishing my projection with perfect synchronisation and nobody noticed that the operator had been suddenly stricken with deafness.”
Second Tour: Amsterdam
In 1902 Vrignault embarked on a second tour, whose extent remains uncertain but which continued until at least July 1902 when the last known performances were given in Salzburg, Austria. It was at the Salle Odéon in Amsterdam in the Netherlands on 4 January. For this show, a programme exists. While the pattern remains more or less the same as for the first tour, this would have appeared to have been a relatively short stay (the last notice is on 6 January), so, although there were still vues panoramiques et animées de l’Exposition, there is no mention of the topicalities (not really so topical any longer) to accompany the otherwise unchanged “Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre” repertoire (some fourteen films). A reviewer in Het nieuws van den dag on 6 January 1902 makes an interesting comparison between the novelty of the “Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre” and the fashionable contemporary developments in cabaret-theatre and is also one of the few to be brutally frank about the quality of the sound and the fact that the reproduction was still far from perfect.
The Amsterdam Odéon would play host to both speaking and silent arts, to art which seeks to be new. First the “Überbrettl” theatre, today the Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre. The first is a café chantant with a mise en scène, fine artistes and in a style of the past seeking powerlessly to be that of the future – the latest in theatre….an attempt to unify life and reality in image and sound. A good deal of preparation had been done for the Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre, with special provision of musicians from Amsterdam and with a lecturer to discuss the laws of phonetic [presumably “phonographic” – ed.] phenomena “to be recorded and preserved in formulae”. What was to be seen, from a cinematographic point of view, was good but no better than at the Circus Oscar Carré or the Circus Flora [respectively Dutch and US-based travelling circus troupes that presumably also exhibited films – ed.] although with occasionally rather more thrills. The characteristic of the Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre is its choice of subjects, for example Sarah Bernhardt’s duel scene from Hamlet or Les Précieuses ridicules of Coquelin aîné and Mmes Esquilar and Kerwich, a dance by Cléo de Mérode, L’Enfant prodigue, pantomime, Cyrano de Bergerac, duel scene with Coquelin aîné. Particularly good were Terpsichoré, from the Palais de la Danse, Mily Meyer in her Chanson en crinoline, etc.
The phonetic [phonographic – ed.] section is marked by a great austerity. The imitation of the clashing of swords in the duel scenes was done very naturally and well. The introduction of the “captured” sound of the voices and songs has similarly been preserved, tremulous and stifled, rather resembling the sound of a slaughtered pig.
Phonetics [Phonography – ed.] is still a work in progress with the Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre. This does not alter the fact that the show is still worth seeing.”
Growing out of the avant-garde German literary world, the Freie Litterarische Gesellschaft in Munich (1899-1899) and the Freie Buhne (Free Stage) in Berlin, “Überbrettl”, loosely modeled on Rodolphe Salis’ famous Paris cabaret, Le Chat noir in Montmartre (1881-1897), was a form of literary cabaret (litterarische Kabarett), said to be the first in Germany, created by Ernst von Votzogen in 1901 in his Buntes-Theater in the Alexanderstrasse in Berlin. It inspired a “Cabaret movement” that became hugely influential amongst the avant-garde in the German-speaking world, including on the “Schall und Reich” (later Kleine Theater Unter den Linden) of Austrian-born theatre producer Max Reinhardt (1973-1943). Whatever comparison might be made between avant-garde theatre and the “Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre” repertoire gets rather lost here, as the reviewer moves on to discuss the films in much more banal and familiar terms, but the fact the Odéon had evidently previously hosted “Überbrettl” and had prepared what sounds like a rather pretentious lecture, although evidently not much to this reviewer’s taste, to precede the “Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre” are evidence of a somewhat changed profile for Vrignault’s show during this second tour, both in the choice of venues – places associated with the most fashionable cultural developments – and in the presentation of the repertoire.
Munich and Vienna
Later that same month, the show was in Munich, Germany in early January at the Kaim-saal, home of the Kaim orchestra (now the Munich Philharmonic) for which Gustav Mahler wrote his fourth and eighth symphonies (1899-1906). It opened on 3 February at the Danzers Orpheum in Vienna, a theatre only recently opened (1900) by Hungarian impresario Gabor Steiner (1858-1944) which combined operetta with variety acts. Here the profile of the venue was more popular but still very much in the forefront of cultural developments. Steiner had opened with the operetta Venus auf Erden, the first work by Paul Lincke (1866-1946), “father” of the Berlin operetta, an opera which had transferred from the Apollo Theater in the Friedrichstraße where it had opened in 1897. Here the “Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre” had a very long run, still being advertised in the Illustriertes Wiener Extrablatt as late as 25 March. At the beginning of the run, following a press screening, a preview appeared in the Neues Wiener Tageblatt on 4 February 1902:
The Speaking Shadow Play
Director Gabor Steiner has obtained for the February programme at the Orpheum a new sensation which deserves to rank amongst the marvels of modern variety and has thereby acquired the most noble of spectacles. Mme Marguerite Vrignault who refers to herself as “Creator of the Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre” on her visiting-card, gave a special screening yesterday afternoon for the press, whose representatives were able to see and hear the best products of this new and ingenious invention. For if the figurants in cinematographic images are silent shadows, the Phono-cinéma confers on them the gift of song and they speak so clearly and sing their roles so exactly that you begin to really believe they are living human figures, so perfect is the illusion. But one does not hear only the beautiful voices, piquant songs and long monologues declaimed by the heroes of the theatre; the invention of the very elegant Mme Vrignault, Parisienne of charm and chic, also reproduces all the sounds produced in the scene that appears on the screen. Two duelists cross swords and you can hear the clash of blades, in time, strongly or weakly according to the force employed by the two adversaries. A ballet-master, angry with the awkwardness of his pupils, gets fussed and starts to cough; one hears the cough and the scraping in the throat of the irritated master, who has mislaid his handkerchief. A comedian works with boots in wood and one hears the familiar sound of the clicking of the wooden shoes on the hard pavement. All this is wonderfully deceptive and immediately captivates the audience. The first film presented to us yesterday, the Danse directoire, surprises by the precision with which the dancing couples interpret the music; the cinematographic image again follows every movement of their ankles and toes; the sway and balance of the women’s bodies, enveloped in perfumed robes, was true to nature and one had a perfect living image of a half-fantastical, half-elegant danse directoire before you. One discovers the wit of the Phono-cinéma in the second view, that of the duel scene from Hamlet with Sarah Bernhardt in the title role. The different stages of the combat and the pauses are recorded with great virtuosity [How one records a pause with great virtuosity is not explained – ed.] – but the surprising feature of this exercise is the clearly audible sound of the steel blades. The third view shows Coquelin aîné and two partners in a scene from Les Précieuses ridicules. First Coquelin declaims the verse, then he finally sings a longer version to the ladies. The higher registers of the song are painful for the great artiste – that is evident – and, at the same time, you can clearly hear to what extent the song has become choked and thin in the throat of the actor. A very charming view is that of Cléo de Mérode dancing with her toes touching the floor exactly in time and charming too is the Chanson en crinoline executed – in the film naturally – by Mademoiselle Mily Meyer, the trimmings and colors being reproduced incredibly well. Jules Moy, the Maître de ballet and Little Tich, eccentric comic represent the comic element in the series of views. There is a lot of hearty laughter at the antics of the obsessive ballet master. Little Tich is even stranger, a variety number that brings the Phono-cinéma to life. At the evening performance the “speaking shadow play” performed to a full house with resounding success.”
Here several things tend to confirm the high notions that Vrignault now held of her work. After “The Immortal Theatre” in Stockholm in 1901, the show had acquired a new title “The Speaking Shadow Play”. Vrignault now had visiting-cards proclaiming her as “créatrice du Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre”. She addressed a special showing for the press and evidently, as she had done in Stockholm, impressed them with her style and comportment; in this case the charm offensive of the press screening seems very much to have conditioned the tone of constant, unabashed and well-nigh interminable hyperbole that characterizes the review. It is, however, of interest, for the very detailed account of the reviewer’s reaction to the innovation of sound which display a fascination with details that would hardly warrant notice for a more blasé modern audience. It was also part and parcel of an unremitting campaign that Vrignault had waged for two years to gain recognition for her work (still often stubbornly accredited by modern commentators to the cinematographer) and she can be forgiven certain harmless vanities and affectations acquired en route.
In July 1902 the “Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre” was at impresario Charles Müller’s Elektrischer Aufzug in Salzburg, a remarkable new building that had been constructed (1889-1891) on the Monchsberg overlooking the city by banker Karl Leitner (born 1891). The advance publicity in the Salzburger Volksblatt (3 July), with its talk of “shadowplay” and “living” images, and its share of compliments to Mme Vrignault, largely repeats the language of the other reviews during this second tour. It makes one rather surprising comparison, suggesting that a Phono-Cinéma “playback” of French singer Yvonne Guilbert, who had apparently performed there live shortly before, would have been better than her “real-life” performance (“die Wiedergabe der Yvette Guilbert durchs das Phono-Cinema viel besser gefallen hätte, als der naturgetreue Vortrag”). The show opened on 10 July and there is a reference in a later review (18 July) to supplementary material, “der Serpentintanz der Mdme. Vrignault”, possibly the uncatalogued Lumière film Danse serpentine (1899), probably shot in Italy, which became available at about this time in a splendid color version, and also to the intention of holding outdoor performances that had apparently been prevented on this occasion by inclement weather.
No more is heard of the “Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre” after July 1902. The relative unsuccess of the “Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre” was only relative; “À la fermeture de l’Exposition”, Vrignault claimed in 1933, “de tous les établissements de la rue de Paris, le Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre fut le seul à ne pas faire faillite !” (At the close of the Exposition, of all the establishments in the rue Paris, the Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre was the only one not to go bust) and this does not alter the fact that it was, for its time, an absolutely stunning achievement. This makes the long history of its subsequent desuetude particularly shameful and its recent restoration and revival long overdue. In 1933, for the inauguration of Marignan, a new Pathé-Natan cinéma-palace on the Champs Elysées, Félix Mesguich, by then in his sixties, unearthed the original films and cylinders as well as the Céleste phonograph used for the “Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre” and a first attempt at restoration was made by French director Roger Goupillères (1896-1988). The writer Henry Cossira, son of the tenor Émile Cossira who appeared in the show, interviewed Vrignault, collected materials and wrote an account in that year, sadly premature, of the “resurrection” of the films. In practice further long years of needless neglect followed and it was not until very recently that virtually the entire collection of films was “rediscovered” and the films were finally restored, with some newly-discovered additions from other sources, by the Cinémathèque française in 2010-2012.
Sadly, Marguerite Vrignault did not continue to make films. Known after her marriage in 1905 to Ange Chenu as Marguerite Chenu, she became a member of L’Union des Femmes de France, an organization founded in 1881 by philanthropist Emma Koechlin-Schwartz (1838-1911) of which her sister Marie had been a very early member. This was not, as it might sound, an early feminist movement in the manner of the later Union of the same name (1944), but simply one of the predecessors of the Red Cross (1940), dedicated to the care of the “blessés ou malades (sick and wounded) de l’armée française”. Marguerite gave talks on behalf of the organization and, in 1916-1917, toured the United States, Brazil, Québec and Japan. During her stay in Brazil, her talks were certainly accompanied by a film show, consisting presumably of films made during the war by the Section photographique et cinématographique de l’armée (SPCA). 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”.