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Snow White Bathing Beauties

Project: Research project

 Post-doctoral research project that studies technological advances in film photography in the 1910s and 1920s, and links these developments to the quest for comedy effects.

The project contains four components that have separate names, although they all might have been called 'snow white bathing beauty'.


1) Screen Dance studies the life, work and films of Ernest Belcher and highlights his role in the transposition of dance to film - from his performance in dance films with synchronized music in the 1910s to his role as "Ballet Master of Movie Land" in Hollywood films of the 1920s and 1930s. More particularly, the project studies the dynamics of his cooperation with King of Comedy Mack Sennett for ballet scenes in slapstick comedies made between 1919 and 1929. The project investigates Belcher's search for movie-fit bodies and faces, his efforts to coordinate the speed of moving with the speed of filming, and his explorations of cinematic special effects to complement dance-safe environments. But most importantly, it studies the comedic capacity of ballet dance in slapstick comedy, and wonders what is at stake when a trained ballerina enters a court of jesters.


2) The Original Snow White or Cinema-to-graphics.

This part of the project looks into the interactions between, on the one hand, Snow White as folk-tale figure brought to life in (animation-) films and, on the other hand, the dehumanizing effects of industrialization with its demands of efficiency, discipline, and control that govern the film industry in the 1920s. The project studies motion pictures that combine live action with cartoon figures and animation effects, and questions the concept of 'the original' through the series of interpretations of the oral tale of 'Schneewittchen'. The mass-medial reproduction, then, is linked to the gradual replacement of people by models and machinery in the film industry.

Exemplary for this evolution are the motion studies that served as frame-by-frame model for the character of Snow White in Disney's animated feature film of 1937. Incidentally, the young girl who improvised the movements that ended up modeling the cartoon figure is Marjorie Belcher, daughter of ballet master Ernest Belcher (whom I study in Screen Dance).


3) Girls Everywhere

Restoration project of 4 of the originally 8 slapstick comedies produced by Mack Sennett Comedies in a series of Bathing Girl pictures containing Technicolor sequences, released by Pathé between December 1927 and March 1929. Carole Lombard is featured in 6 shorts, in roles ranging from anonymous bathing beauty to female lead. I am the initiator of this project and act as film historian (with an eager interest to look behind the scenes at the restoration work). Aim is to have the shorts ready for Technicolor's centennial in 2015.


4) Lost Shots

Project that re-imagines lost shots based on written reports. For every early film rediscovered, more material is reported lost. In addition, a lot of early films are no longer screenable and available only as words on paper in production papers, press reviews or censor reports. More specifically the Technicolor tableaux scenes mentioned in the Girls Everywhere section and other sequences featuring the Mack Sennett Bathing Beauties are frequently missing from copies. To reactivate these words as images, I restage missing footage based on the original production papers housed in the Margaret Herrick library of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Beverly Hills. In concordance with the actual restoration project, the restagings allow to test various ways to recreate the typical two-color look with today's digital tools. 


StatusIn execution