Recently on European Film Gateway, that goldmine of early cinema, I came across this intriguing short film:
The film was directed by Marcel Fabre (Marcel Perez – currently the subject of this Kickstarter), the popular cinematic clown Robinet; he played this character in about 150 films between 1910 and 1915, often also directing. Although he plays Robinet in Amor Pedestre, this film seems to be an outlier in his work, because it’s an experimental film that tells a story about an adulterous affair purely through shots of the characters’ feet and lower legs.
As you can expect from a five-minute film, the story is simple. Robinet is out walking and takes a fancy to a woman wearing an elegant coat and heels.
Shining her shoes, he slips a note asking him to meet him later on:
When the note falls out of her shoe at home, the woman’s husband is outraged, and challenges Robinet to a duel:
The husband, he of the striped pants, appears to best Robinet, but Robinet gets the last laugh as he and the woman walk off together. And then the last shot of the film:
Rather suggestive for the time! The camera lingers on the footwear and garments of the characters, not in a fetishistic way, but as markers of social class and fashion. In an essay at the website Fashion in Film, Christel Tsilibaris writes about the central role of the woman’s shoe in Amor Pedestre:
The lady’s shoe holds a very special position within the film. It is not only a sign of the wearer’s gender and social class, it is also the central element of the plot, the very reason for which passions are ignited. When Robinet slips his amorous note into the young lady’s shoe, it is her feet that he is praising. And since the bare foot of the female character is not visible, the seductive powers are transferred to the footwear. Her shoe hence becomes a powerful object of attraction that pushes Robinet into acts of erotic demonstration that were quite audacious at the time.
Dislocating the familiar
Much of the film’s appeal to me comes from the way it makes something commonplace (feet, legs) strange and noticeable by changing their framing and context. Amor Pedestre is expressively choreographed and contains some wonderfully dynamic shots:
Some of the early film theorists (and later ones) were fascinated by the way cinematic close-ups broke up and abstracted the body; however to my knowledge close-ups of the face have been the main focus of such thoughts and indeed in film, so Amor Pedestre’s approach is startling in its novelty. The film may portray a narrative, but it’s a very innovative and unusual in its approach.
Amor Pedestre and Futurism
According to both the film’s listing on European Film Gateway and on Cineteca Milano’s site, Amor Pedestre was inspired by the play Le Basi by Futurist-in-chief Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, in which only the actors’ feet were visible to the audience. In fact the influence was in the other direction; Marinetti’s play was staged a year later, in 1915, and was inspired by Amor Pedestre. Fabre does not seem to have had any links to the Futurist movement, but was rather expressing ideas about motion and contemporary life that were in the zeitgeist. In Italian Silent Cinema: A Reader, Giovanni Lista refers to Amor Pedestre, writing:
A clear and definite stance [on the part of the Futurist artists] with regards to cinema was becoming ever more cogent: independently of Futurism, in fact, several films were pioneering or adopting expressive or promotional solutions that one would have associated with the Italian avant-garde movement.
Restoration & music
The film was beautifully restored by the Fondazione Cineteca Italiana in 2009; the digital video is nice quality and a very stable image. Again The Thing provided my soundtrack, since there is no soundtrack on the uploaded film.
And in honour of the FIFA World Cup, I present football coverage from a century ago. The Národní filmový archiv (Czech National Film Archive) has made available this reportage on the football tournament for the Silver Cup:
Června is June, so the timing is almost perfect! (Of course, the Czech Republic did not qualify for the FWC this time …)
Love the stripes. A little bit PSV-ish?
I always like seeing just how formal the general level of dress was in this era. We have the immaculate styling of Jogi Löw, but apart from coaches, I can’t imagine anyone wearing a suit and hat to a football match!
And Viktoria Žizkov are the victors; the other team is not named. I just checked Wikipedia and not only does Viktoria Žizkov still exist, their home kit is still the stripes! Sadly, they played their last match of the 2013-14 season on June 4th – it would have been cool if an exact centenary match had occurred. Their fortunes have changed, too; they got relegated to the second tier of the Czech league after the 2011-12 season.
Update 07 July: I didn’t connect this to the FWC pre-match player announcements when I posted it, but a few days after publishing this post, I was linked to these two articles: Why so angry? Why footballers cross their arms before the match (02 Jul) and Who won the World Cup of Arm-Folding? (03 Jul). Clearly, this is a meme a century in the making.
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Amor Pedestre. Dir. Marcel Fabre. Torino: Ambrosio Films, 1914.
Fotbalový turnaj o Stříbrný pohár | Football Tournament For a Silver Cup. Žizkov, Prague: Ponec František, 1914.