Jul 30, 2008

Paul Strand, newsreel stringer

Postscript to the OFS blog's May 31 posting about the film Boxing Form (1924) and the 1923 Dempsey-Firpo fight pictures.

Walking Off the Big Apple (friend of the show) reported (off-line) that one of the cinematographers filming the Dempsey-Firpo fight at the Polo Grounds in New York was acclaimed photographer Paul Strand. (Source: the Aperture monograph
Paul Strand: Sixty Years of Photographs, 1976.)

In 1923, when the fight took place, Strand had already made his innovative experimental film
Manhatta (1921, with Charles Sheeler). For more than a decade, Strand the still photographer /artist helped pay his bills by shooting newsfilm for several of the major newsreel services. (Manhatta, once the most rented film in the Museum of Modern Art's circulating collection, will presently be restored by MoMANY. Maybe then we'll have a better idea of its running time; I've read scholarly essays and reference books listing its duration variously as 6, 7, 8, 10, and 11 minutes. Don't believe everything you read in the newspaper.)

I've not been able to determine which company promoter Tex Rickard hired to film the Dempsey-Firpo fight. The movie that was released (mostly in violation of federal law) extended the 4-minute bout into nearly 10 minutes by showing preliminary training scenes and slow-motion replays. It also included a brief shot of the movie camera stand.

One of the YouTube versions of the 1923 fight, posted by elgrandecaudillo, contains this shot (as well as newly added Korean subtitles). Tough to spot Paul Strand among the 6 or 7 cameramen seen in this low-low resolution rendition of what was once a 35mm nitrate film. (That's assuming of course that this cutaway shot is from that event and not a stock footage insert -- as they so often are in these things.) There were also other cameras and operators placed closer to the ring during the bout.

I also recently learned that the animator Quirino Cristiani, who made the world's first feature-length animated films, in Argentina, also made an animated version of the famous fight in 1923, simply titled
Firpo-Dempsey. Presumably lost, the movie would have been in the mode of an animated newsfilm, a hybrid form rarely discussed. A prior example of this was the lost Der Große Boxkampf Dempsey – Carpentier (Germany, 1921) done by animator Leopold Blonder and released commercially by Arnold Fanck’s Berg- und Sportfilm GmbH.

Come to think of it, the maker of the actual documentary --
The World's Heavyweight Championship Contest Between Jack Dempsey and Georges Carpentier (1921) -- was Fred Quimby. And he went on to a long career as executive producer of MGM cartoons.

(The Academy gave 8 Oscars to a guy whose best work was the "Tom & Jerry" series??)