About the Film:
On October 9, The Little returns to its roots.
We are bringing back to our screen the first film that ever graced it: Cyrano de Bergerac, the silent film produced in 1923. But we’re not just dragging this out of the attic. The Little has commissioned an entirely new score from one of our finest collaborators, the Andrew Alden Ensemble. They will be here on the ninth to accompany.
The Andrew Alden Ensemble is a contemporary and electronic chamber music group from Boston. They produce textual scores for film and perform them in front of a live audience to transform the picture with new sounds and experiences. In previous years at The Little, they’ve presented Nosferatu, Night of the Living Dead, and The Lost World. They are, in a word, fantastic.
In adopting Cyrano de Bergerac to the silent cinema, director Augusto Genina and scenarist Mario Camerini faced the contradictory task of "opening up" the play to take advantage of its spectacular 17th century settings and its possibilities for action; while at the same time retaining as much as possible the beloved poetic language of Rostand's original theatrical work.
The dialogue appears on screen in intertitles - more of them than is usual, but what glorious words! The grandeur of costume, setting and action is captured not only in impressive staging and sensitive performances but also through the filmmakers' bold decision to present almost the entire work in the highly stylized and beautiful Pathé Stencil Color process.
The Colorization Process:
Pathé Stencil Color was introduced about 1904 and resembled natural color photography far less than it did painting-in-motion, which it basically was. In Paris, the film was projected frame by frame onto a ground glass screen, where Mme. Thullier, the most famous stencil-color artist, selected the colors and traced, one color at a time with a device called a Pantograph, the area of each frame of film chosen for each of up to four colors. The Pantograph was essentially a mechanical linkage, at the other end of which was a knife which cut away the area of a stencil the size of the actual 35mm frame to be colored. These colors were then printed by a process similar to silk-screening successively through each of the four stencils upon a bland-and-white print of the film. Because the film was colored one shot at a time and each positive print was then spliced together shot by shot, different color palettes could be used for successive shots, yielding incredibly rich and varied results in this superb reproduction.
Three years were devoted to coloring Cyrano de Bergerac, so that this 1922 film was not fully released until 1925! And because only a limited number of hand-colored prints were available the film did not receive the wide circulation necessary to establish its well-deserved place in the public memory as an outstanding classic of the screen.