August 14, 1921
NEW YORK TELEGRAPH
Not even in the good old pre-war days when Germany was looked upon as a
possible business and social companion, were there so many foreign film
producers as we have had with us this Summer. Every boat brings an influx of
foreign competitors, all of them prepared to exploit their motion pictures.
After meeting most of them and classifying them as to their place in this
great cinema world, we are forced to admit Abel Gance brings an agreeable
personality not often found in this drab workaday hemisphere, where the
pursuit of gold so often robs a man of his native charm.
Of course Mr. Gance comes to us from Paris with the halo of a playwright
and poet. He is not essentially a motion picture producer, combining rather
his film perquisites with his reputation as one of France's rising young
dramatists. In the course of four months he has succeeded in establishing
himself in New York in a manner that most foreigners would consider a feat in
four years. But that is due to the Gance personality--which is a tangible
thing--a force no one can gainsay after meeting the maker of "J'Accuse."
In was in fact "J'Accuse" that first brought Abel Gance to America.
That he came for three weeks and remained four months speaks well of our
country. His purpose originally was to place "J'Accuse" on the market. This
he succeeded in accomplishing by virtue of a contract with United Artists.
Still he lingers, impelled this time by a desire to see a Broadway
presentation of his picture, when it opens at the Strand later this month.
After seeing "J'Accuse" and Mr. Gance's treatment of the war, a subject
that has perhaps suffered from clumsy interpretation more than any event in
recent years, one instinctively knows there is something in this young French
producer that is not ordinary. He thinks in a plane not usual in our best
motion picture circles, and he understands the spiritual power of the cinema.
His idea is to portray on the screen what the eye cannot see--to put it more
simply, to give people something to think about and not to have their mental
labors performed for them.
These things he told me over the luncheon table with the aid of his
efficient secretary, Pierre. At times lapsing into his own French tongue he
told something of his early life in Paris. His love of literature was born
with him, and at the age most boys were devouring their "Nick Carter" dime
novels he was reading Shakespeare, Goethe, Corneille and Hugo. Some times he
dipped into Ibsen and Tolstoi, broadening out his literary foundation day by
day until he acquired a speaking acquaintance with all these famous writers.
A familiarity with these authors one would not think would inspire a
youth to leave home, still about this time young Gance ran away to Brussels.
He hadn't any money and he had to eat. A chance to become an actor was
offered him and he accepted it, not because it appealed to him but because
gentlemen as well as ladies must live. This little flier before the
footlights gave him an opportunity to keep in touch with the drama. As it
turned out later it became an excellent preparatory school for what was to
The young Frenchman about this time changed his mode of mental attack
and feasted on the philosophers, choosing Nietzsche, Confucius, Schopenhauer
and others of this school for his daily diet. And Mr. Gance hasn't forgotten
his philosophers; he talks about them quite as intelligently as he does about
motion pictures, uniting the two in an amazing fashion, although we do not
usually think of Schopenhauer and motion pictures as having any relative
About this time motion pictures appeared on the horizon and he accepted
a job to write scenarios. Mr. Gance said when he began to make pictures to
the tune of a time clock he found the same difficulties that we have here--
a demand that all screen stories have a happy ending regardless of logic.
His only hope was that one day he would have a chance to produce a film
without all these obstacles, and finally one day along came Louis Nalpas, at
that time manager of the Film d'Art, France's most important film company,
with the very chance he wanted.
At the end of three days Mr. Gance was ready to produce "Mater Dolorosa"
from his own scenario. That it is one of the most successful films ever made
in Europe and shows the young man was born with a dramatic instinct that
needed only a little cultivation to encourage, a little experience to bring
out his latent talent as a producer.
Of course, he has followed "Mater Dolorosa" with other productions, and
while making pictures as he believes they should be made he has taken time to
write two stage plays. One is a mystery play, "La Dame du Lac," a drama of
the Middle Ages. The other "La Victoire de Somothrace," a tragedy, in five
acts will be produced at the Comedie Francais. To the Frenchman having a
play produced at the Comedie Francais is like an American having an opera
accepted at the Metropolitan Opera House--it has the same significance.
A contest held by the Comedia, a Paris newspaper, shows how Mr. Gance
stands in his own home town. The purpose of this contest was to determine
the most popular pictures in Paris. "The Cheat" received seventy-six votes,
Chaplin seventy-two and then came four of Mr. Gance's pictures, "J'Accuse,"
"The Tenth Symphony," "Mater Dolorosa" and "The Zone of Death," proving it is
not a case of one production that induces the admiration of France's output
of Gance pictures.
Although Mr. Gance has received a very cordial invitation to remain in
New York and produce his next three--"Ecce Homo," "The End of the World" and
"The Kingdom of Earth"--he evades this issue very politely by remarking he
loves America but hasn't decided yet whether or not he will make pictures
here. He is young, only 30, and yet with a future that impresses his
admirers as being one of the pivots that will turn the tread of film art in
the proper direction. He is ambitious, he is eager and he is enthusiastic--
this with his personality and his ability should make it possible for him to
achieve what he desires--a chance to redeem the screen from the banalities of
life, to show things as they are, and use some of the terrific power he says
he knows the motion picture offers. It has always been his plan to develop
social idea--a psychological situation--doing this gives him a field in the
broad area of the cinema possibilities almost untouched. After hearing him
talk and seeing "J'Accuse" it is no fulsome praise to say he will do those
things--he is doing them. He is taking the weak and heretofore undeveloped
side of pictures, the spiritual, mental side, and giving them the attention
they should have if the new art is to endure.