Sunday, 20 June 2010
The only thing more remarkable than Max Linder’s stellar film career is the neglect with which he is now treated. Linder was film’s first superstar; once, on arrival at Moscow train station, the army had to be called in to help him leave the station and when it had been falsely reported that he had been that he had been killed on the frontlines in World War I in 1914, France was in mourning.
Despite pioneering many of the comedic techniques that the likes of Chaplin and Keaton would build on, he is now seen as a footnote to Charlie Chaplin’s career. This is despite the fact that Chaplin revered Linder to such an extent that he once wrote on a picture of Linder:
"For the unique Max, the great master - his student Charles Chaplin".
Parisian boulevardier persona, a character who had a penchant for women and the finer delicacies of life.
Given the recent penchant for airbrushing cigars, it is intriguing to watch a film based around the premise of the protagonist smoking his first cigar. Linder’s screen presence is both undeniable and infectious. The audience is drawn to his character in the opening scene, where he receives his cigar, and is completely transfixed on him by the time he has finished smoking his first cigar.
Whereas in previous films there has been an almost hyperactive level of movement from the characters in their respective films (particularly in the Lumiere Brothers’ and Méliès’ work), every single movement of Linder’s is controlled and serves a purpose. For example, the delicate, restrained movement of his legs as he re-enters his building after he has been ‘intoxicated’ by his cigar is carefully constructed and well executed.
There is subtlety to his humour; the extended close up of Linder as he smokes the cigar demonstrates this point. After inhaling his first smoke of the cigar, Linder’s subsequent reactions build up a comic crescendo which allows the audience’s reaction to develop and expand in anticipation of Linder’s inevitable come down.
As with much of Méliès’ work, Linder’s film is extremely enjoyable. Whether Linder is flirting outrageously with a woman in a cafe or stumbling into the wrong apartment, there is an unfiltered joy that you derive from watching this film.
This film is the first example of a motion picture on this list where the actor’s importance usurps the director’s importance. Although the director of the film, Louis J. Gasnier , would continue to make films until 1940, the film will always be remembered for Linder rather than Gasnier. Linder himself would be granted increasing control of his films; by 1911 he had full creative control over his films.
Furthermore, whereas great theatrical performances by the likes of the great Shakespearean actor Richard Burbage would only be recounted by contemporary accounts of their performances, film allows for great acting performances to be captured for time immemorial – thus greatly enhancing the importance of such performances.
Finally, in terms of tracing the genealogy of Linder’s persona, there are elements of both Méliès’ magician and Porter’s French nobleman in his portrayal of a Parisian boulevardier. Yet there is an element of sophistication to Linder’s portrayal that increases the comedic scope for film, which will be further illustrated by the subsequent films of his that we shall look at.