Reubens (1948)

Toronto Film Society presented Reubens (1948) on Monday, November 10, 1952 as part of the Season 5 Main Series, Programme 3.

Monday, November 10, 1952    8.15 p.m. sharp
Royal Ontario Museum Theatre

A Phantasy    Canada   1948-1952   8 mins

PRODUCTION and ANIMATION:  Norman McLaren, 1948
MUSIC – composed by:  Maurice Blackburn, 1952
MUSIC – performed by:  Bert Niosi

This surreal abstract film falls into three sections, or movements, the first taking place on the ground, the second in the air and the third again on the ground.  In the first movement various motifs or themes are introduced, which are again picked up and developed in the third movement.  Six spheres, evolved in the first movement, become the sole subject matter–or “dancers”–of the second movement, which consists of a simple type of ballet using the floor-plan choreography or traditional ballet as a basis of interest.

Norman McLaren’s visuals were made by photographing a pastel drawing about 1½ feet by 2 feet in size.  By the application of colored chalk and pastel, the drawing was gradually changed and animated while shooting progressed.  (This was the same method used in La Poulette Grise.)  Small flat paper or metal cut-outs, rendered to look three-dimensional like the rest of the picture, were employed for the moving objects.

The music was written for three saxophones and synthetic sound, with the synthetic sound performed by photographing cards bearing sound-wave patterns.  The soprano, alto and tenor saxophones, all played by Bert Niosi, were recorded separately and eventually combined with each other and with the synthetic sound during the final re-recording of the sound track.  The film represents the first time synthetic sound or graphic sound has been used in combination with traditional instruments.

Members will recall Mr. McLaren’s talk at the Discussion Group last Season when he screened some of the sequences which were to become this film.

The Living Stream   Sweden   1951   25 mins

PRODUCTION:  Arne Sucksdorff
for:  the Economic Co-operation Administration

Scheduled for the first Exhibition Meeting of the season, The Living Stream was postponed until the print originally screened was available.  A Marshall Plan film illustrating the inter-dependence of the Scandinavian countries, it is a departure for this brilliant documentary director.  Use of sound and silence, superb photography and intimate close-ups again mark his style.

Critic and film No. 3:  Odd Man Out   Great Britain   1948   35 mins

PRODUCTION:  British Film Institute
ANALYSIS:  Basil Wright

Basil Wright, the famous documentary film director (Song of Ceylon) and the most astute of film critics analyses the dramatic construction of Odd Man Out, drawing particular attention to key motivation points in the story.  Reference is also made to editing, camerawork and sound effects.

The last and most ambitious film made in a series designed as an experiment in furthering film appreciation in film societies, the idea cries for additional films and could well be extended to analyses of classics of the silent period.

INTERMISSION     10 minutes

Rubens (1948)

DIRECTOR:  Henri Storck
SCRIPT:  Paul Haessaerts
MUSIC:  Raymond Chevreuille

Not only is Rubenstour de force of film-making (with some interesting innovations) but also it opens up completely new vistas in the use of film for the study and analysis of the visual arts.

Henri Storck is without question one of the major artists of world documentary.  He has been identified with the production of avant-garde and documentary films since 1929.  In 1931 he enlarged his experience by working in France with Grémillon and Vigo (he was assistant on Zéro de Conduite and played a small part in the film).  He then returned to Belgium and produced and directed a number of documentaries, of which the most important were BorinagesLes Maisons de la MisèreEaster Island (shown by the Society in 1950-51) and more recently a film on the Belgian surrealist painter Paul Delvaux (The World of Paul Delvaux, shown last Season).  – Basil Wright

The much-talked of and undeniably important film essay, Rubens introduced a new and important didactic technique:  it represents the entry of the history of art into the domain of the cinema.  It is a work of unusual breadth and ambition.

The art historian, Paul Haesaerts brought a critical point of view to the screen and did not pretend to be objective.  He presents us with one view of Rubens and, in order to situate the man in the evolution of art, attempts to measure his stature by a series of comparisons.  By means of a brilliant use of the camera and cutting, a split screen for comparisons, superimposed diagrams for interpretations, Haesaerts and Storck explore the paintings, point out the themes, emphasize the constants, and reveal the Baroque movement which is the soul of Rubens’ art. – Edited from Films on Art – Unesco 1949

Irish Film Society

Following are quotations from a letter from the Honorary Secretary of the Irish Film Society of Dublin, which we think will interest members:-

“Yours is our first communication from Canada; glad you are operating so successfully.  We have shown most of the films in your list including all the Norman McLarens available.  Fiddle De Dee is a great favorite and we have shown it again and again.  You are very fortunate to have McLaren so close at hand.  We have not seen Newfoundland Scene and the other Canadian films you suggest; we will certainly contact the Canadian Embassy about them.  It is difficult to answer your question regarding The Quiet Man.  I like Ford and found the film most enjoyable.  I was actually there when it was being shot.  It is, of course, a glorious farce and so outrageously ‘stage Irish’ as to be recognizable as such.  It was a great box-office success here; audiences rocked with laughter except the self-consciously national who feared the outside world would take it seriously.  A company has since been formed here and Ford is coming back to make another film.  As you probably know we have no film industry here, producing only a few documentaries each year.  The Government is now considering a plan for a film industry that I have placed before them.  It is surprising you are not producing feature films in Canada.  Surely after your experience in documentary, you could compete even to a small extent with Hollywood.  Apart from artistic and patriotic considerations, it would have great international and economic advantages.”

The Secretary goes on to discuss No Resting Place, a feature made in Ireland by Paul Rotha.  He did not like it and felt that “Rotha lacked experience in scenes involving synchronized dialogue.  Cutting was slow and awkward and characterization slightly phoney.  As an admirer of his documentaries I expect and hope Rotha will become more accustomed to dialogue in time.  I must add that his picture of wandering, impoverished, quarrelsome ‘tinkers’ is quite accurate.  They are a source of great worry to the farmers and others that happen to be close to their temporary resting places.”  (An earlier statement pointed out that “the story has no basis in fact from our point of view and was most unreal.”  He adds that the film was well received in Britain and praised by Mr. Churchill.  Your Current Film Editor, who must admit to not having ben in Ireland, cannot refrain from adding that he saw No Resting Place in New York, found it most moving and seemingly quite realistic, certainly more so than The Quiet Man, and thought the acting of Eithne Dunne of the Abbey Theatre quite unforgettable.

We received a copy of the Irish Society’s Annual Report which gives a comprehensive and absorbing account of their activities.  We are placing it on the Bulletin Board at the Exhibition Meeting on November 10th.


A film sincerely concerned with love and goodness in these perilous times is a rarity; when it is presented with humor, taste and intelligence it’s practically a miracle.  It is, in fact, Miracle in Milan, in which the great Vittorio de Sica abandons the realistic form of Shoeshine and The Bicycle Thief, but not their social implications and deep compassion for humands.  This is a warmly comic and poignant fantasy, laced with ironic satire, highly imaginative yet firmly rooted in human experience and aspiration.  As usual de Sica gets wonderful results with a semi-non-professional cast.  If you missed this at the International Cinema, watch for its possible second run at the Studio.  If you share my conviction that most movies talk far too much and that a film where possible should make its points visually, you’ll find The Thief a very interesting experiment because it’s a sound film without a word of dialogue.  Some of it is unnecessarily slow and repetitive; a film of this sort should be much faster paced with a greater variety of scene, character and incident; but it has several highly effective sequences and a creditable performance by Ray Milland and is worth seeing if you’re interested in movie technique.

George G. Patterson



Canadian Film Societies face the same problem each season: important French films become available, but the simple little phrase “without English titles” relegates them to the use of Quebec societies and French study groups only.  The ideal films which stand on their visuals alone are few; even early sound films such as Le Million and L’Atalante require explanations of some sequences in order that non-French speaking members may not feel themselves on the outside.  The number of films where a translation of the sound track can be adequately handled in programme notes is limited.  One case of a successful running commentary over the microphone is memorable–the Indian Trade Commissioner’s presentation of an Indian feature three years ago.  But none of these more or less cumbersome methods can be applied successfully to a film where the dialogue is essential to the characters.  Three alternatives face us–either we pass up these important French films, we finance a course in French for members, or else we discover a method of subtitling!

The performance of Une Partie de Campagne with subtitles on filmstrip was one step towards the eventual solution of the problem.  The history of this experiment goes back two years when one of our members suggested putting subtitles on filmstrip and projecting them simultaneously with the film.  The method was first tried out when we were able to copy the English titles off the New York print of Zéro de Conduite when we were using it.  With the use of a viewer, the exact length and position of the subtitles were noted in a cue sheet, and a filmstrip prepared to accompany an untitled print, purchased for the use of other societies.

The volume of work increased with the Partie experiment, and a number of improvements were made over the previous one.

First came the translation.  It was apparent from the beginning that the film is not the type where a subtitle can appear every few minutes to provide a clue as to what is being said.  Nearly all the lines are important.  As a continuity sheet of the dialogue in English was impossible to secure, the only way to get a complete translation was to run the film sentence by sentence forward and back, making certain that at no time the projector picked up dust that would scratch the new print.  The next step involved the condensation of the dialogue into simple, direct and concise subtitles.  The problem was to express entire sentences in a few words which had to fit into one, tow, or at most three lines which would be projected at the bottom of the image.  Three members worked 40 hours on the translation and condensation over a period of several weeks (thus totalling, till now, 120 woman hours of labour!)

After the titles were formed, they were checked against each scene, to make certain the audience would have time to read the subtitle as well as look at the picture.  Some sentences were split into short phrases to be brought on as they are spoken.  This enables the audience to read the exact line as it is spoken, is useful for surprise and comic effects and helps to emphasize the visual.  For instance the words “SHE LOVE ME – a little – much – passionately – not at all” were not all placed on one frame, but on five, each adverb to appear separately at the time it is spoken.

On the completion of the first major step, a surprise envelope arrived from New York–the sub-titles off the American print!  One of the directors of the University of Toronto Film Society had sat through the New York showing twice, copying the subtitles in the dark!  It is a tribute to the skill of Miss Cécile Gilson who so kindly translated for us that her titles were almost identical to those of Mr. Herman Weinberg; moreover where they did differ, it was felt that hers were more suitable for film society audiences.  However on finding that the N.Y. print had not deleted some of the titles which we felt might crowd the visuals, we replaced a few.

Next came the setting up of the titles for photographing.  Many tests were made in order to improve on the Zéro de Conduite lettering.  Different weights of paper, types of lettering and carbon were tried, to obtain even, black, sharp letters.  The lines were centred on measured-out camera areas and spaced to not exceed 25 in width and 3 in depth, the set-up so arranged to facilitate quick reading.  An I.B.M. Electromatic with elite type was used; the titles were typed without a ribbon on tracing paper over extremely black carbon onto 24 lb. long white sheets.

350 titles were shot on a Photorecord automatic camera using High Contrast Positive stock.  Blank frames were shot for long pauses in the dialogue.  After they were processed, the six rolls were spliced together into a continuous roll of about 25 feet in length.  Four blank frames were left at each splice, so that in the future, if the strip has to be unspliced, it can be put together again without going out of frame.  With the filmstrip processed as a direct negative, it was necessary to opaque the frame lines.

Finally what might be called a dress rehearsal was given at the University of Toronto Film Society the ay before the T.F.S. showing.  At this time the subtitles were projected below the screen.  Here they could all be read, provided a head were not in the way!  Thus was discovered the reason subtitles are not placed in an area blocked out below the image–a method suggested by a member recently.  Another drawback to this method is that the eye has too great an area to scan.

At the T.F.S. showing it was decided to eliminate craning of necks by superimposing the titles which they were designed to do.  Unfortunately they were not sufficiently bold to be read at a glance at any time, and in the sequences where the print was light, they could not be seen.  However a very exciting discovery was made.  It appears that when subtitles are superimposed on a film projected by an arc machine, they appear yellow on the image–a finding which should lead to tremendous improvements over the white lettering printed directly onto films.

It is expected that with continued experiments subtitles will be easily read on either the black or white areas of the image.  Improvements necessary before other societies can successfully use Une Partie de Campagne with subtitles have commenced.  With a few deletions made, the titles will be re-typed on a larger bolder face using an Electromatic and then re-shot.

Details regarding the equipment necessary to achieve the correct light intensity and picture size should be included in this report.  To match the Museum arc projectors, with their 3 inch lenses, it was necessary to use a filmstrip projector with a 1000 Watt lamp and a 7 inch lens.  A motion picture projector with a 750 Watt lamp and a 2 inch lens requires a filmstrip projector with at least a 300 Watt lamp and 5 inch lens.  As the filmstrip projector we used did not have a shutter, the gate was masked to take in the subtitles area, so that the movement of the titles did not show as they changed.

Let us conclude with the beautiful thought that in Egypt films may be subtitled in as many as 4 languages simultaneously.  Fortunately these are not superimposed!  Two languages on the left, two more on the right are shot from slides with a live or recorded narrator’s voice in a fifth language.  It would be interesting to know how many operators it takes to put on such a presentation!


RE LENGTH OF Nanook of the North:  Several members have suggested that Nanook was a much longer film when shown originally.  Checking on the present-day running time (at sound speed) and old figures (at silent speed) reveals the probability that no footage has been removed from the film.  The present running time of 55 mins., when converted to silent speed, is roughly equivalent to the 86 mins. of the older days.  There is a possibility that 84 ft. (3½ mins. at silent speed) is missing.

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