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We are all Mad about Max!

Max Linder is one of the many exceptional French artists, directors, creators, actors, from the silent era, who is sadly unknown by the majority of Americans.

On the occasion of a special series at FIAF, MAD ABOUT MAX : THE FILMS OF MAX LINDER, Florence Almozini interviewed Serge Bromberg from Lobster Films, who, alongside Eric Lange, just finished restoring several Max Linder titles, and Delphine Selles, programmer at FIAF and curator of the series.

Florence Almozini:  Serge, your company Lobster Films just restored his three films, BE MY WIFE, THE THREE MUST-GET-THERES and SEVEN YEAR BAD LUCK. Can you talk about the reseach you had to undertake to find the material needed for these restorations?

Serge Bromberg : The untimely death of Max Linder in 1925 cast a shadow over 20 years of success, leaving only a one-year-old young girl to take care of his films. A few years later, sound arrived, and silent films lost all their value.

Of course, the Pathé productions have been preserved at Pathe, which owned the negatives, and in the French Archives. The films had also circulated in small gauges, for home projection. But this was only the shadow of Max.

His three American feature films suffered a much worse fate. Released in the US as five-reelers, they have been shown in Europe in condensed versions (sometimes about 20% shorter), and when the U.S. rights expired in 1934, the American distributor asked M. Crozes, executor of the Linder rights, what they should do with the (original camera) negative. Crozes knew little about cinema, and had the lower-quality European duplicate negatives in Europe : he asked the U.S. to destroy the negatives which he believed of no value.

This is why today, besides Seven Years Bad Luck, which survived in a French nitrate print discovered in the René Charles collection (with some cuts), the other two films were considered missing. A few clips resurfaced in the ‘50’s, which allowed Maud Linder to release “Pop goes the Cork,” a compilation film including the complete film along with two clips from the other two films, in awful image quality.

The new world of archives today promotes the circulation of information and collaborations between institutions. The story of these three restorations, all starting from the original 35mm material and never seen before, is a product of the good faith of various archives, new technologies, and an enormous amount of time dedicated to research, building the collection, sharing expertise, and working on the frame-by-frame restoration.

F.A : Delphine, you curated this program for FIAF. How difficult was it for you to find the screening material? What is most exciting for you in presenting this program?

Delphine Selles : Marie Losier, the long-time film programmer at FIAF, always wanted to program Max Linder films, so before she left she initiated the series, which was a perfect way to finish the year and start the holidays. It turned out to be a good idea in more than one way because I learned shortly thereafter that Serge was restoring Max Linder’s feature films. At that point we had found the shorts that his daughter Maud Linder and Editions Montparnasse had re-edited, but it was difficult to get our hands on the feature films (and for good reason, as Serge explained!). Older versions of Three Must Get Theres and Seven Years Bad Luck, as well as excerpts of Be My Wife, existed on DVD, but it was difficult to track down good prints. Between the work of Serge at Lobster Films, Maud Linder, Editions Montparnasse, more people will be able to discover Max Linder’s work. These films will tour in some U.S. cities this winter, and a U.S. release on DVD is also due next year, so that’s good news for American audiences.

F.A. : Serge and Delphine, do you each have a favorite Max Linder film to recommend to the public?

D.S : It’s hard to tell which one of his films I like best. I have a soft spot for The Three-Must-Get-Theres, partly because I loved Dumas’ The Three Musketeers, so maybe it brings me back to my childhood. This film never stops making me laugh, and neither does Seven Years Bad Luck. Like the vast majority of people I saw Chaplin’s films and the Marx Brothers’ films before I ever knew that Max Linder existed, and it was quite a surprise to see that they were all so greatly inspired by Linder.

S.B : The Three Must-Get-Theres, considered the masterpiece of Linder’s career, only survived as a condensed 16mm print, carelessly created by the Reichsfilmsarchiv (Archives of the German Reich) from the Gerhard Lamprecht collection in 1942. The original source was destroyed in a bombing during World War II. Today’s print originates from a reconstruction by the Deutsce Stiftung Kinemathek, created in 1995 from incomplete German, Dutch and Russian prints, all of which derived from four reels of the European negative (the original was five reels). The print was cleaned up by Lobster Films in 2010, and the only original surviving intertitles, in German, have been re-adapted to English based on the style of the day and other related documentation. A new score was composed by Maud Nelissen.

Seven Years Bad Luck was copied from the original 1925 French nitrate print which is now in the Lobster collection (Paris). It was enhanced by a few shots taken from a 16mm original Kodascope print, which is why some shots seem out of focus from time to time. Unfortunately nothing else remains.

As for Be my Wife, which is the rarest of all the films, it is a small miracle that two incomplete prints were found, one in Milan (at the Cineteca Italiana), and one in France (Lobster collection again), that completed each other. The two prints were reassembled and restored digitally in 2K. English titles were translated from the surviving French and Italian titles.

It is really a miracle that those three films did survive, and we are very proud that the theatrical premiere of these new restored versions will take place in New York, at the French Institute Alliance Française (FIAF), as fresh and crazy as it was in the first days of its release.     

The program takes place at FIAF from Dec 3rd to the 17th. It will then tour the country with stops at Cinema Art Center in Huntington, the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC, and more venues to be announced.