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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Gaumont Treasures Disc-3 / L'ENFANT DE PARIS (1913)

KINO offers a well-deserved intro to Léonce Perret, a prolific, all but forgotten, French actor/director who retains a whiff of name recognition for helming Gloria Swanson’s lost silent MADAME SANS-GÊNE/’24.* But his heyday appears to have come a decade earlier when he was producing scores of shorts & features, many strikingly advanced for the period. L’ENFANT DE PARIS/CHILD OF PARIS from 1913 is a 2-hr feature, structured in discrete chapters like the serials of fellow Gaumont megger Louis Feuillade. The story follows the trials of a plucky little girl who loses her parents; runs away from her boarding school; is kidnapped & forced to work for a heartless shoe cobbler; becomes a national cause célèbre when her father returns, alive and a national hero; escapes with the help of a sympathetic hunchback . . . You get the idea. Perret himself plays one of the villains and acts in a declamatory style, as do most of the cast, often ‘breaking the fourth wall’ to confide in the audience. The best perf comes from 20 yr-old Maurice Lagrenée as Bosco, the sympathetic hunchback who rescues the girl. And while the flow of the film suffers from Perret’s cavalier attitude toward story logic & continuity, and from running the narrative almost entirely thru letters, notes & pneumatiques, his use of composition, camera angles, mise-en-scène & daring lighting design trump most of his faults. (And the location footage of pre-WWI Paris & Nice is priceless, a lost world come to life.) Perret’s pluses & minuses are the same in LE MYSTÈRE DES ROCHES DE KADOR from 1912. But here, in a stunningly fresh print, a deliciously silly story idea adds to the fun. The fast moving four-reeler has Perret trying to steal a young woman’s fortune by drowning her & her beau, knocking them out on a beach & letting the tide finish the job. They survive, but the girl is now catatonic until her doctor films a recreation of the events, restoring the girl to her senses at a screening! More sloppy storytelling from Perret, but the self-referential use of film is quite an intellectual leap for the day, as advanced as the camera work. (Georges Specht shot both pics and may well have been just as important as Perret.) A useful bio on Perret is on here, too.

DOUBLE-BILL: The KINO Gaumont Treasures Series are eye-popping essentials. Just don’t try to swallow them all at once.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *The Swanson film may be lost, but that doesn’t stop IMdB readers from giving it a top critical score of 7.1. Lesson: Take ALL ImdB Film Scores with a big grain of salt.

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