Saturday, February 20, 2016

Joe Hamman, the Frenchman who invented the western (Part 2)

An anecdotal location...

The producers have done a terrific job which enabled us to go in turn to almost all the key places related to Joe Hamman, Paris and Camargue, of course, but also to Normandy.

When we arrived in Normandy, with my assistant Corentin Baeumler and our main character Jacques Nissou, spiritual heir to Joe Hamman, the time was greatly awaited. We dropped our bags in a small hotel between meadows and rivers, near Pourville, near Dieppe. Immediately, we started turning sequences that were planned before Hamman’s last home in the village and by the sea. But rain started to fall, then the sky began to melt, and finally the entire universe spilled tears on us!

We were soaked and had to stop photographing because we risked our camera faltering and our technical equipment to break. We took refuge in a restaurant to get warm and eat. When we returned to our hotel, a little later, it was our surprise to have to brave the roads which were semi-buried under mudslides to reach our hotel which was completely submerged under water!  A lake that we had to face to find our room, luckily located upstairs. So we put on new dry clothes and dried our equipment and headed for shelter. To recover from all that water, Jacques Corentin  and I drank some good whiskey to the health of Joe!

Director's words:

The contribution of Joe Hamman in western ...

No other genre but westerns at this point is directly related to the invention of cinema.

Cinema "was invented" at the end of the Old West ... and epic Western, the Wild West areas, typical characters (Indians, cowboys Cows, bandits of this conquest) became the fundamentals of cinema, which took on its own account of this new odyssey.

Western and film were made for each other ... and they work wonderfully well together.

When Thomas Edison developed his Kinetoscope (first known method for recording moving images), he filmed the show of his friend Buffalo Bill, before filming the show in its entirety. Thus the first visible Indians in cinema, are real Sioux of the Pine Ridge Reservation, some of them had participated in the defeat of General Custer at the Little Big Horn and, thereafter, participated actively in the Wild West Show of Buffalo Bill.

The theaters of the cities of the East Coast were fond of little scenes evoking the great West and adventurers. The greatest heroes (real or manufactured) of the Wild West themselves took the stage to hold their own role in front of decorated box seats: Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane, Texas Jack, Robert Ford, and of course the greatest of all these showmen, the famous Buffalo Bill.

When the cinema fell into place and the Edison technicians began to realize the first films, stage directors and actors left the stage to go film in parks and forests near the cities. The result was pretty poor: landscapes that were unsuitable, actors who were afraid of horses, accessories and theater costumes that looked wrong ...

Of course at the time, everything from the first western illusion: in "The Great Train Robbery" Edwin S. Porter, staged ideas that allowed him to overcome the obvious shortcomings. The last shot of the film where the actor Bronco Billy Anderson fires his gun facing the camera caused more cardiac arrests at the time of several projectionists!

Despite the fact that they have everything on site, Americans curiously merely ignored this kind of filmic statement for their account of the conquest of the West and the absolute human adventure that it meant to capture. It is in the West, the adventures lived for real, while in the East they were playing in plays and where the films were made, it was just fantasizing this Wild West and the unknown.

To have the taste and smell of the west was enough for the happiness of citizens. cinema primarily addressed this to the public.

The documentary focuses more particularly on a period situated in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Cinema was learning to walk; the invention progressing in each film.

Three years after the first western (1903), Joe Hamman attacked the genre on his return from the United States. It was a "good western school" since he worked with Buffalo Bill in his show, and lived with the Indians of Pine Ridge and experiencing adventures by their side.

Returning to France, his trunks were filled with authentic costumes of cowboys and Indians bought, collected and exchanged for.

His expertise on a horse and the quality of accessories and costumes he had managed to procure during his stay in the United States would be the basis for the first European westerns that were not shot in Germany or Italy, but rather in France!

After a first attempt in the quarries of Arcueil that did not meet our French Cowboy Joe Hamman’s desires, he found his happiness in the Camargue. This vast and savage territory was very suitable as an American desert…

The Marquis Folco de Baroncelli, a strong personality, a committed man who led an impressive fight for the preservation of their language, for its culture and its region, who invited Joe Hamman to use his cattle herd ... It was an extraordinary discovery for Joe...

John Hamman is Joe ...

Joe Hamman therefore saw a unique experience: he shared many months with the Sioux of Pine Ridge. That is to say, he ate, drank, slept, and lived like them. He even participated in an attempted horse robbery with a group of Indians of this reserve. It took time to watch, but even more, to discover them. He became attached to this world more than he imagined. Images offered to him by the Sioux, remained etched forever in his memory... and in some wonderful paintings he painted in their camp.

[To be continued on February 27th]

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