Kinomatograph in Paris

Source: Max Brod, extracts from ‘Kinomatograph in Paris’, Der Merker vol. 3 no. 1 (February 1912): pp. 95-98, reproduced in part in Hanns Zischler, Kafka Goes to the Movies (Chicago/London: University of Chicago Press, 2003), pp. 47-51, translation by Susan H. Gillespie

Text: On the very evening that we had set aside as a night off, after so many nocturnal exertions, for a modest meal in the four walls of our hotel and early to bed, we chanced upon a doorway on the boulevard, decked out with little electric light bulbs and a not exactly energetic barker, whose cap, however, bore a title that attracted us more magically than all his words could have. Omnia Pathé … So here we are stood at the source of so many of our enjoyments, once more at the center of a business whose rays shone so powerfully over the whole world that one would almost rather not believe in the existence of a center – a feeling, by the way, that was typical for our Parisian mood; for powerful central firms, (like Pneu Michelin, Douçet, Roger Gallet, Clement Bayard, etc.) besiege the heart of the newcomer with surprising force. We again dispensed with the night off (damned city!) and went in.

It is hard for one darkened hall to differentiate itself from other darkened halls. But for us, who are always firmly set on finding in everything Parisian something special and better than anyplace else, we are soon struck by the spaciousness – no, that’s not it yet – then, that people are disappearing through a dark doorway in the background and a cool draft seems to regulate this continuous movement of the audience – no, that’s how it is at home, too, uninterrupted showings, an entrance and an exit door – but now we feel we are on firmer ground. This freedom of people to be able to position themselves anywhere there is room, even in the aisle between the rows of benches, even on the ramp next to the apparatus, is something decidedly republican, any police force other than the Parisian police would not approve of it. Equally republican, we must admit, is the freedom of the many columns in the hall to be allowed to disturb the audience’s view in whatever way they please …

A girl in the uniform of a soldier in an operetta, on the cap, this time, the ambiguous inscription “Omnia,” accompanies us to our seats, sells us an (according to good Parisian custom, inexact) program. And already we are under the spell of the blindingly white, trembling screen in front of us. We nudge each other. “Say, the show is better here than at home.” Naturally, after all, in Paris everything has to be better.

[Brod describes some of the film programme, including travel films]

We saw, indeed we saw a great deal – by analogy to the Comédie, which puts eight acts on stage almost without intermission. We saw the doctor visit the poor sick child and turn around melodramatically several times in the doorway, with a distinctly pitying expression. We saw the mercifulness of some English king or other, hand-colored, sandwiched between some theatrical armor and a ruin (which had been created from a burned-out suburban cottage), enjoying life.

[…]

At the end , after the usual revolver shots, chases, fisticuffs, came the news. Naturally she was not absent – the one you now see on all the advertisements, candy boxes, and postcards in Paris: Mona Lisa. The picture opened with the presentation of M. Croumolle (everyone knows that it means “Homolle,” and no one protests against the perfidious way they are going after the gray-haired Delphi scholar). Croumolle is lying in bed, his stocking cap pulled down over his ears, and is startled out of sleep by a telegram: “Mona Lisa Stolen.” Croumolle – the Delphi scholar, if you please, but I am not protesting, I was laughing so hard – dresses himself with clownlike agility, now he puts both feet into one leg of his pants; now one foot into two socks. In the end, he runs into the street with his suspenders trailing, all the bystanders turn around to look at him, even those who are far in the background and evidently not in the pay of Pathé … It is a longing that ever since the emergence of the cinema lives on in me with the force of my early childhood wishes – I would like just once, by chance, to turn a street corner where such a staged cinematographic scene is taking place. What wouldn’t it be possible to improvise there! And in any case, what a sight! But to continue. The story is set in the hall of the Louvre, everything excellently imitated, the paintings and, in the middle, the three nails on which the Mona Lisa is hung. Horror; summoning of a comical detective; a shoe button of Croumolle’s as red herring; the detective as shoeshine boy; chase through the cafés of Paris; passers-by forced to have their shoes shined; arrest of the unfortunate Croumolle, for the button that was found at the scene naturally matches his shoe buttons. And now the final gag – while everyone is running through the hall at the Louvre and acting sensational, the thief sneaks in, the Mona Lisa under his arm, hangs her back where she belongs, and takes Velázquez’s Princess instead. No one notices him. Suddenly someone sees the Mona Lisa; general astonishment, and a note in one corner of the rediscovered painting that says, “Pardon me, I am nearsighted. I actually wanted to have the painting next to it.” … Croumolle, poor man, is released.

[…]

Then, in addition, the Journal Pathé. And so that everything quite resembles a newspaper, the title page and “Year III” are solemnly projected beforehand. We see demonstrations against inflation in France, which look like they have been arranged by Pathé; everyone is grinning in the direction of the audience. …

Comments: Max Brod (1884-1968) was a Czech author, best known as the friend and literary executor of Franz Kafka. His essay ‘Kinomatograph in Paris’ describes a visit to the Omnia Pathé cinema in Paris made by Brod and Kafka on 10 September 1911. The Mona Lisa was stolen from the Louvre on 21 August 1911. The Pathé film company rapidly issued Nick Winter et le vol de la Joconde (Nick Winter and the Theft of the Mona Lisa) the following month, as a title in its ‘Nick Winter’ detective series. Théophile Homolle (parodied in the film as Croumolle) was the director of the Louvre. Brod and Kafka had visited the Louvre the day before to witness the scene of the crime. The painting was recovered in 1913. The Omnia Pathé luxury cinema was the first cinema in the Pathé circuit to be in opened in Paris, in 1906.

Links: Copy of full original article (in German) at Hathi Trust

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