Gaumont Treasures Vol. 2 1908-1916 (a J!-ENT DVD Review)
October 24, 2011 by Dennis Amith
An amazing collection of short films from French silent cinema ala 1908-1916. The fact that we are getting the opportunity to watch these early gems from Gaumont’s silent era is fantastic and I can only hope that Kino considers doing a third volume. I have nothing but praise for this DVD box set and anyone who loves watching the history of cinema, especially the earlier silent years of French cinema, will definitely enjoy this set! Highly recommended!
© 1909-1919 Gaumont. 2009 Gaumont Video EDV. 2011 Kino International Corp. All rights reserved.
DVD TITLE: Gaumont Treasures Vol. 2 1908-1916
DATE OF FILM RELEASE: 1908-1916
DURATION: Emile Cohl (190 Minutes), Jacques Feyder (205 Minutes), Jean Durand (203 Minutes)
DVD INFORMATION: Black and White, Full Frame (1:33:1)
COMPANY: Kino International/Kino Lorber
RATED: NOT RATED
RELEASE DATE: 2011
During its second decade of existence, the Gaumont Film Company continued to prove itself an indomitable force in cultivating and advancing the fledgling art of cinema. It was also a place of great technical innovation. Included in this collection are some of Gaumont’s revolutionary experiments in color (the Trichromie process) and synchronized sound (the Phonoscenes). DVD 1 showcases the work of animator Emile Cohl, DVD 2 focuses on Jean Durand (who specialized in slapstick and innovated the “French Western”), and DVD 3 highlights the romantic comedies of Jacques Feyder, while paying tribute to some of French cinema’s lesser-known pioneers.
DVD 1: EMILE COHL
Includes Fantasmagoria (1908), The Puppet’s Nightmare (1908), The Living Fan (1909), Comic Mutations (1909), The Twelve Labors of Hercules (1910), Petit Faust (1910), Bébé’s Masterpiece (1910), and more!
DVD 2: JEAN DURAND
Includes Calino Wants to Be a Cowboy (1911), Onésime Goes to Hell (1912), Onésime, Clockmaker (1912), Onésime Loves Animals (1913), Zigoto Drives a Locomotive (1912), The Railway of Death (1912), Burning Heart: An Indian Tale (1912), Under the Claw (1912), and more!
DVD 3: JACQUES FEYDER AND THE EARLY MASTERS OF FRENCH CINEMA
Includes Heads…and Women Who Use Them (1916, Jacques Feyder), The Barges (1911, George-André Lacroix), La Marseillaise (1912, Etienne Arnaud), Child’s Play (1913, Henri Fescourt), Feet and Hands (1915, Gaston Ravel).
The Gaumont Film Company, the oldest film company in the world.
Created in 1895 and headed by Leon Gaumont, he marketed Georges Demeny’s invention which would be known as the “Bioscope” and Demeny’s partner, Etienne-Jules Marey, was the inventor of the chronophotography cameras. These cameras were able to study movements by shooting a whole series of photos within seconds.
The following year, Gaumont would introduce a camera that would utilize 58mm roll film and many used it for scientific uses.
But the French film company is known for producing short films since 1897 in order to promote its camera-projector. And through Gaumont, Leon Gaumont’s secretary Alice Guy-Blanche would become the first female director in motion picture history but also one of the first directors of fictional film. But while Alice Guy-Blache was in France working for Gaumont, she would utilize screenplays written by Louis Feuillade in 1905 and allowed him to direct his own films. And the company would have another director and actor named Leonce Perret work on numerous short films for the company.
In 1910, Alice Guy and her husband Herbert Blache would move to the United States and partner with George A .Magie to form the Solax Company, which was the largest pre-Hollywood studio in America in 1910. Feuillade would take her position as artistic director for the company and Perret would become a fixture as a director for Gaumont.
These three individuals were great contributors to the French film company and would be featured in the first Kino DVD box set “Gaumont Treasures 1897-1913”.
But there were other contributors to Gaumont during those earlier years between 1908-1916. They were Emile Cohl, Jean Durand and Jacques Feyder and the three would be next to be featured in Kino International’s “Gaumont Treasures Vol. 2 1908-1916” DVD Box set. But Kino also included other filmmakers who worked for Gaumont – Romeo Bosetti, Georges-Andre Lacroix, Etienne Arnaud, Rene Le Somptier, Henri Fescourt, Gaston Ravel including three more films by anonymous filmmakers.
The first disc is dedicated to Emile Cohl, a cartoonist and animator who is known as “The Father of the Animated Cartoon” and also has his roots in the “Incoherent Movement (a short-lived French art movement) which would take current art which were re-interpreted via a satirical irreverence but also a style which many would deem as surreal.
A member of the artistic circle known as the Hydropathes, a group united by modern ideas and their passion towards poetry, Cohl was known for creating bizarre but vibrant expressionist art during his younger years. But when he approached his 50th year, by 1907, motion pictures became big throughout the world and Cohl would eventually work for Gaumont.
But in America, when animation was used for the Vitagraph film “The Haunted Hotel”, when shown in Paris in 1907, many wanted more animated films. So, in 1922, Cohl who studied various animated films began to learn the techniques of animation and sure enough, Emile Cohl would create “Fantasmagorie”, which is considered as the first fully animated film. The two minute film would feature 700 drawings, featured in reverse and the film would be a tribute to the Incoherent movement that Cohl was once a part of more than 20 years ago.
Similar to Alice Guy, Cohl also left to America to create more films but many of his work after Gaumont were destroyed in fires (note: Many films at the time were filmed on nitrate which was susceptible to catching on fire). Fortunately, a good number of Emile Cohl’s work at Gaumont did not perish in fires but while some are in better condition than others, the first DVD in the “Gaumont Treasures Vol. 2 1908-1916” includes the following short films from Emile Cohl. The following is curated by Pierre Philippe and features original music by Bernard Lubat.
- Fantasmagoria (1908, 2 min.)
- The Puppet’s Nightmare (1908, 2 min.)
- Drama at the Puppets’ House (1908, 3 min.)
- The Magic Hoop (1908, 5 min.)
- The Little Soldier Who Became a God (1908, 4 min.)
- The Boutdebois Brothers (1908, 2 min.)
- Transfigurations (1909, 6 min.)
- Let’s Be Sporty (1909, 5 min.)
- Japanese Fantasy (1909, 1 min.)
- The Happy Microbes (1909, 4 min.)
- Modern Education (1909, 3 min.)
- The Living Fan (1909, 4 min.)
- Spanish Clair de Lune (1909, 4 min.)
- The Next Door neighbors (1909, 4 min.)
- Crowns (1909, 5 min.)
- Delicate Porcelains (1909, 3 min.)
- Monsieur Clown Among the Lilliputians (1909, 4 min.)
- Comic Mutations (1909, 3min.)
- Matrimonial Shoes (1909, 5 min.)
- The Enchanted Spectacles (1909, 5 min.)
- Affairs of the Heart (1909, 4 min.)
- Floral Frameworks (1910, 5 min.)
- The Smile-o-Scope (1910, 5 min.)
- Childish Dreams (1910, 5 min.)
- En Route (1910, 6 min.)
- The Mind of the Cafe Waiter (1910, 5 min.)
- Master of a Fashionable Game (1910, 4 min.)
- Petit Chantecler (1910, 7 min.)
- The Twelve Labors of Hercules (1910, 7 min.)
- Petit Faust (1910, 5 min.)
- The Neo-Impressionist Painter (1910, 6 min.)
- The Four Little Tailors (1910, 7 min.)
- Art’s Infancy (1910, 4 min.)
- The Mysterious Fine Arts (1910, 5 min.)
- The Persistent Salesman (!910, 8 min.)
- A History of Hats (1910, 5 min.)
- Nothing is Impossible for Man (1910, 6 min.)
- Mr. Crack (1910, 5 min.)
- Bebe’s Masterpiece (1910, 4 min.)
- Music-mania (1910, 5 min.)
The second filmmaker featured in “Gaumont Treasures Vol. 2 1908-1916” is writer/filmmaker Jean Durand.
Jean began his career in 1908 with Pathe but switched over to Gaumont where he took over the series “Calino” after Romeo Bosetti left. While working with Gaumont, Durand started to focus on comedy but also American-style Westerns. He would surround himself with a group of popular French actors at the time who were known as the “Les Pouittes” (including his wife and leading lady Berthe Dagmar)and would continue to create silent French Westerns with actor/director Joe Hamman to the end of the Silent Film era in 1929.
Although known for his French Westerns, he is also known for creating short film series “Calino”, “Zigoto” and “Onesimus” to name a few which were comedy or western driven but also known for using large animals such as elephants, lions, camels, snakes, dogs and more. And at Gaumont, Durand would direct 168 films.
For “Gaumont Treasures Vol. 2 1908-1916”, the following short films are curated by Pierre Phillippe and features music by Patrick Laviosa.
The following Jean Durand short films are featured in Disc 2:
- Calino’s Baptism (1911, 3 min.)
- Calino Wants to be a Cowboy (1911, 6 min.)
- Zigoto and the Affair of the Necklace (1911, 8 min.)
- Calino the Love Tamer (1912, 6 min.)
- Zigoto’s Outing with Friends (1912, 5 min.)
- Oxford vs. Martigues (1912, 4 min.)
- Onesime Goes to Hell (1912, 7 min.)
- Calino, Station Master (1912, 6 min.)
- Onesime, Clockmaker (1912, 5 min.)
- Onesime vs. Onesime (1912, 8 min.)
- Zigoto Drives a Locomotive (1912, 6 min.)
- Onesime Gets Married… So Does Calino (1913, 7 min.)
- Onesime: Calino’s Inheritance (1913, 11 min.)
- Onesime Loves Animals (1913, 6 min.)
- Onesime, Trainer of Men and Horses (1913, 13 min.)
- Onesime and the Heart of a Gypsy (1913, 7 min.)
- Oneisime, You’ll Get Married…or Else! (1913, 7 min.)
- Onesime’s Theatrical Debut (1913, 10 min.)
- Onesime’s Family Drama (1914, 7 min.)
- The Railway of Death (1912, 17 min.)
- Burning Heart: An Indian Tale (1912, 13 min.)
- Under the Claw (1912, 25 min.)
The third and final filmmaker featured is Jacques Feyder and the early masters of French cinema.
Feyder is a Belgian screenwriter and filmmaker who worked in France, USA, Britain and Germany. During the 1920’s and 1930’s, he was known for his style of poetic realism in French cinema.
Jacques Feyder joined the Gaumont Film Company in 1914 and became an assistant director to Gaston Ravel, by 1916, Feyder received his opportunity to direct films, although for a short while as he had to serve in the Belgian army from 1917-1919. But after the war, he was able to return to cinema in which he made his mark as one of the most innovative filmmakers at the time for French cinema. The films that he brought him attention was L’Atlantide (1921) and Crainquebille (1922). But also known for directing Greta Garbo in her last silent film, “The Kiss” (1929).
The films featured on “Gaumont Treasures Vol. 2 1908-1916” are his three short films from 1916: “Heads…and Women Who Use Them” (36 min.), “Friendly Advice” (16 min.) and “Biscot on the Wrong Floor” (15 min.).
The second filmmaker featured on the third disc is Romeo Bosetti, an Italian who was known for making French films. Bosetti’s directorial debut was in 1906 and featured on this DVD is his 1909 7 min. short “The Long Arm of the Law”.
The third filmmaker featured is Georges-Andre Lacroix. Lacroix began making shorts for Gaumont in 1911 and featured in this third disc is his 1911 10 min. film “The Barges”.
The next filmmaker to be featured is Etienne Arnaud, a French filmmaker who worked with Emile Cohl at Gaumont for the 1909 film “Shot of the moon”. Featured on this DVD is his 10-min. short “The Barges”.
Rene Le Somptier is filmmaker who made his first short film “Poum a la chasse” with his father in 1908. He would go on to make his first full length film in 1918 titled “La sultane de l’amour”. Featured on this DVD is Somptier’s 17-min. short “A Drama in the Air” from 1913.
The sixth filmmaker to be featured is Henri Fescourt, a French filmmaker who began his career in 1912. Featured in this DVD is his 1913 12 min. short film “A Drama of the Air”.
Next is Gaston Ravel, a French filmmaker who worked on a number of other filmmakers films by taking on other tasks. So, he co-directed several films while working at Gaumont. He also was an actor in a few of them. Featured on the DVD is Ravel’s 1915 17 min. short “A Drama of the Air”.
The next three and final films featured on the third DVD are films in which the filmmakers are anonymous. They include the 1912 13 min. short “A Factor Drama”, the 1912 13 min. short “The Pavements of Paris” and the 25 sec. “The Fairy’s Farewell”.
The third DVD features music by Patrick Laviosa, Ben Model and Didier Goret.
VIDEO & AUDIO:
For those who are new to Gaumont films from the early 1900’s, it is important to note that many of these films are over a 90-100+ years old and during that time, many of the films were not taken care of. Mainly put into canisters and are forgotten, because many were shot in the flammable nitrate, many were destroyed by fire or literally disintegrated.
Those that have survived, fortunately many have just white speckles and occasional flickering, some are in worse shape with maybe one or two showing negative damage and major blackening. But for the most part, picture quality for these shorts is very good and if you’re a silent fan, it’s hard to complain because Kino International did a wonderful job in putting together these rare gems of early French cinema. And those very few shorts with damage, you either watch them or you don’t. The fact that they have been salvage to the point where you can make it out is better than not having them. And unfortunately, nearly 90% of silent films created are lost/destroyed.
As for music, music has always been subjective with silent film fans. The good news is that you get variety with each short, the bad news is if you are one of the people who could care less about the music. Fortunately, I enjoyed the music selections for these shorts and I’m glad they are not re-used over and over with every episode. Granted, there are a few that are reused, some from the first volume. But considering the cost to create a different piece for so many shorts, I can understand why certain scores were re-used.
While these are shorts, there are some English subtitles. For example, during scenes where a written letter is shown. The letter is translated via English subtitles. So, viewers will understand the context of the film.
The following special features are included in “Gaumont Treasures Vol. 2 1908-1916”:
- Jean Durand 1882-1946 – (12:17) Featuring a mini documentary written by Pierre Philippe and recounts the career of filmmaker Jean Durand including photographs and video from his career at Gaumont.
- Phonoscenes – Early synchronized-sound musical shorts for “Anna qu’est-ce que t’attends?” (2:20), “Chemineau Chemine” (2:34) and “Le Mouchoir rouge de Cholet” (3:00).
- Gaumont in Actualities – (13:11) A Collection of clips featuring rare behind-the-scenes of Gaumont Studios.
- Trichromie Films – (12:06) Excerpts of Gaumont’s full-color film process using Trichromie film (shot in black and white with red, blue and green filters). Featuring films from 1913-1919.
“Gaumont Treasures Vol. 2 1908-1916” comes with a slipcase.
If you are a silent film fan, you have to love Kino for their dedication in bringing fans films that are literally the origins of cinema.
As they have done for American cinema with “Edison: The Invention of Movies”, “The Movies Begin” showcasing European pioneers including the Avant-Garde DVD box sets (to name a few), these films are not only historic but for cinema fans who are appreciative of the early history of cinema, these are great collectibles.
With the release of the first Gaumont Treasures DVD box set, viewers were treated with many early shorts from three pioneers of French cinema and because Gaumont is still one of the oldest, surviving film companies in the world, there is a lot of history and many filmmakers that made many short films during the silent era.
So, here were are with “Gaumont Treasures Vol. 2 1908-1916” featuring three more of Gaumont’s talented filmmakers but also featuring a film with a few others filmmakers who directed Gaumont films between 1908-1916.
I’ve often been asked if these box sets are worth it. For me, the opportunity of having the chance to watch these films that are over or nearly 100-years old is a blessing. As a silent film fan, nothing disappoints me more but to find out that many silent films are lost. And the fact that we have a good number of early Gaumont shorts presented in very good condition is amazing.
But where the last volume showcased the beginning of the cinematic process, this second volume starts to incorporate more storytelling but also the beginning of animation in French cinema.
With Emile Cohl’s films are entertaining, I’ve shown one friend and he found them to be a bit boring as he is more of a casual viewer who was expecting animation something along the lines of “Steamboat Willy” and early Disney. This is not that type of animation. If anything, it was Emile Cohl learning how to use frames of drawn sheets, putting them on reverse and animating them.
At times, he would create hybrid films with live actors and animated characters. For example, “The Magic Hoop” is an endearing tale of a girl who’s hoop is broken and a man uses magic to repair it. But then the film goes into a tangent by showcasing animation. Some may like it, some may not as it takes away from the live actor storyline. But one must remember that this was the early beginning of animation and for many, it was a technological advancement for entertainment.
Possibly one of my favorite shorts from Cohl was a story of three men who look into a machine’s peep hole for a bit of animated future storytelling of what their love will look as they grow older. And of course, you see a beautiful drawing of a woman slowly change to something horrid or ugly. And of course, some of these men are not at all happy with what they see.
But of course, some shorts may seem a bit repetitive but its how Emile Cohl grows each year with his animation and his willingness for experimenting which makes this first DVD quite intriguing, historically educational but as far as entertainment goes, its subjective to the viewer as some shorts may not be as accessible as others to the casual viewer.
Needless to say, Emile Cohl’s work was a big hit when he was younger, but also when he was older as an animator.
Which leads to the next DVD featuring Jean Durand. Durand’s short is definitely much more accessible but also amazing in the fact that you wonder how these talents would lay next to a lion, cougar or animal that would seem as if they would easily rip your head off. Even today, you will not see to many talents be that close to a deadly animal, no matter how trained they are.
So, you get a good balance of crazy slapstick and also adventure/Western films ala American-style with Durand’s short films. If anything, the second is possibly the most liveliest, upbeat shorts in this set. Literally everything that is Calino and Onesime-related are fun to watch and typically involve a variety of topics.
Actor Ernest Bourbon does a wonderful job playing the amusing Onesime and Clément Mégé as Calino. Examples of these characters include “Onesime Gets Married… So Dies Calino” in which both men compete for space in a church, space in the banquet hall, etc.
In “Calino’ Wants to be a Cowboy”, Calino does what he can to become a cowboy (including destroying everything in his way).
In “Onesime, Clockmaker”, Onesime receives a letter that he has inherited a fortune but because he is a lazy (and not-so-smart) man, he must wait 20 years before he can receive any of it. So, he wonders if he can advance time by advancing the speed of a clock.
But these shorts are not all about two comedic characters. You also have “Oxford vs. Martigues” featuring a man who is being chased while Oxford is taking on Martigues in a rugby match through the city streets.
For “The Railway of Death”, two men compete in who can get to an area of where gold was discovered. First person who arrives there gets to claim the area.
So, for the second volume, you get a good diverse number of short films, but primarily, you will find comedy-driven shorts in this collection for Jean Durand.
With the third disc, we do get a few films from Jacques Feyder as well as a few other Gaumont filmmakers. Similar to a concept of a compilation album, the third DVD is more like a Gaumont compilation in which the viewer can get a taste of a variety of shorts from different filmmakers.
With Jacques Feyder, we get films that are more relationship-based. For “Heads…and Women Who Use Them”, it’s rather an interesting film as women are arguing over a professional escort for married women. When he’s with one woman, he gives them a lot of attention but when he moves on to the next woman, the other women he was with start to get jealous when they don’t get the attention from him. And he is growing tired of it.
In “Biscot in the Wrong Floor”, actor George Biscot has Charlie Chaplin-esque flair as a Biscot, the drunk tenant who keeps finding himself sleeping in the wrong room. A fun, upbeat short film.
Romeo Bosetti’s “The Long Arm of the Law” is an interesting short as a police officer is known for helping people by elongating his arm. And just to think, a hero with the ability to use his long arm for good, a story that is many years before the Marvel’s Mr. Fantastic and DC’s Plastic Man.
Georges-Andre Lacroix’s “The Barges” revolves around family and relationships. Living on the barge is an older couple and their daughter. The father wants her daughter to take over the barge but she wants to get married. But because the father is quite hard-headed about someone taking over the barge after he’s gone, he realizes that his argument with his daughter may have pushed her away and he may have lost her.
While the previous films on the third disc dealt with relationships and a police officer who can stretch out his arm, Etinne Arnaud created “Le Marseillaise” (which is the French national anthem) based on Claude Joseph Rouge de Lisle, the French Army officer during the Revolution who wrote the words and music that would later become the French national anthem.
Rene Le Somptier’s 1913 film short film “A Drama of the Air” focuses on a blacksmith who wanted to create a weapon for the revolutionary war but instead, the blacksmith would work on a project to create a flying machine. He creates an airplane and invites a young man to fly with him. Of course, everyone who knows them are worried about man’s first ride through the air.
Possibly the most interesting part about this short film was that at this time, there were controversies of who flew the first airplane. The Wright Brothers claim they rode the first airplane (the Wright 1903 Flyer 1) in 1903, while Brazilian Santos Dumont who flew his 14-Bis plane for the The Fédération Aéronautique Internationale in France. Not to say the film was being polemic of France’s stake on airplane flights vs. the Wright Brothers but nevertheless, it was an interesting short film to watch.
Henri Fescourt’s “Child’s Play” revolves around a stubborn and spoiled child named Delphine, daughter of a wealthy man who owns a nearby factory and a young girl who always gets what she wants. One day while playing ball, she loses it and a boy finds it and starts to play with it. But she accuses the boy who is an apprentice of the factory of stealing the ball. When the parents leave for vacation and leave the maid to watch over them, what happens when Delphine and her younger relatives leave their play area and venture to play inside a dangerous factory alone? But when Delphine gets into bad trouble that may kill her…who can save her?
Gaston Ravel’s “Fear and Hands” is a love story that features only the man and woman’s hands and feet as they go through love, a breakup and rekindled love.
Overall, “Gaumont Treasures Vol. 2 1908-1916” is a DVD box set that gives you so much in terms of classic silent short films from France from 1908-1916. There is nothing to complain about as picture quality for the majority of all shorts are in very good condition, complete and while debatable and definitely subjective, I personally enjoyed the music for these short films.
With that being said, knowing that many people are discovering silent films via Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin, can one easily migrate towards these short films. I say “yes” because I have. But it all comes down to one’s appreciation of silent films. For example, for the first “Gaumont” volume, I would tell people if they get any viewing satisfaction of watching people’s personal home videos or people they are not familiar with on YouTube. If so, then watching life’s moments from that era may appeal to you. There were a lot of those experimental films back then, especially in the beginning use of cinema.
The stories were not deep, the technology was not perfect but for historical purposes and people who love watching things from an era over a hundred years ago, it can easily be quite entertaining and amusing. But it’s not for everyone.
The good news with “Gaumont Treasures Vol. 2 1908-1916” is that you are getting more developed stories. While you still get the experimentation via animation in the first disc featuring Emile Cohl, you are getting more stories featured in the shorts from Jean Durand, Jacques Feyder and other Gaumont filmmakers.
And while Jean Durand has created many videos on Onesime and Calino, there is so much yet that need to be explored and shown on video as Durand made plenty of shorts with these two characters. Including Zigoto. But I’m not sure how many of those are available on video or are destroyed. The good news is that there are a good number of them included in this set.
As for the third volume, these filmmakers featured also have a good number of short films in their oeuvre, so not sure how many of those are in-tact and how many of them are lost. It would have been great to have more shorts featured for the other filmmakers but it makes you wonder if they are being reserved for a possible third volume of “Gaumont Treasures”.
In conclusion, I have nothing but praise for this DVD set. The fact that we are getting the opportunity to watch these early gems from Gaumont’s silent era is fantastic and I can only hope that Kino considers doing a third volume. Sure, I would have loved more shorts offered for each of the other filmmakers featured on the third disc but for what is offered in “Gaumont Treasures Vol. 2 1908-1916”, I’m quite satisfied.
If you are a fan of French cinema and want to know its cinema origins, you can’t go wrong by picking up both volumes of “Gaumont Treasures”.
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