Handë: Das Leben und die Liebe eines Zärtlichen Geschlechts (Hands: The Life and Loves of the Gentler Sex). 1928. Germany. Directed by Stella F. Simon, Miklos Bandy. 35mm. German intertitles. 13 min.
Stella F. Simon was a widowed mother of three when she moved to New York City to study photography at the Clarence H. White School of Photography from 1923 to 1925. A year later, she went to Berlin to study filmmaking, where she encountered both the modernist photography movements associated with Bauhaus and the German cinematic avant-garde. In this experimental short, which Simon made with the German-Hungarian Miklos Bandy (although not credited as co-director, she has been recovered as such in recent years), a ballet of human hands weave, wave, undulate, and caress. A complex abstract film with a hint of a three-act melodramatic love triangle—there’s a “he” and a “she,” a coquettish flirt, another male, a party where all four are present, an attempted suicide, and a reconciliation—Handë is evocative and sensual, and has been reread through a feminist lens by scholars such as WFPP contributor Jennifer Wild. The film’s recorded modernist score, by Marc Blitzstein, was added in 1936 at the request of RCA and MoMA, where the film screened at least twice (in 1936 and 1939) in honor of the Museum’s new Film Library, run by British film critic and curator Iris Barry. Simon continued to work as a still photographer into the 1940s; this is her only known film experiment.
Soleil et ombre (Sol y sombra; Sun and Shadow). 1922. France. Directed by Musidora, Jacques Lasseyne. Screenplay by Musidora, from a short story by Maria Star. Produced by Musidora. Edited by Nini Bonnefoy. With Musidora, Antonio Cañero, Simone Cynthia, Paul Vermoyal, Miguel Sánchez. 4K digital restoration courtesy the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, from two 35mm prints at the Cinémathèque française. French intertitles; English subtitles. 53 min.
Though she is remembered primarily for portraying Irma Vep in the serial Les Vampires, Musidora’s work behind the scenes is finally obtaining some visibility, thanks to the San Francisco Silent Film Festival and the Cinémathèque française. Screening for what is likely the first time in New York City, the restored version of Soleil et ombre, although slightly incomplete, is a renewed reminder of Musidora’s multifaceted career, not only as a talented actress, but also as a director, producer, screenwriter, and, later, as an archivist at the Cinémathèque française. The second of three films created by Musidora set entirely in Spain (another film, Vicenta, was at least partially set there), Soleil et ombre was shot on location in Andalusia. It follows a tragic love triangle between a bullfighter (Antonio Cañero, a real-life bullfighter and Musidora’s off-screen lover), a local peasant girl named Juana (Musidora), and a flirtatious foreign tourist (also Musidora). At once a stark drama and a historical document of bullfighting in action (in scenes that can be difficult to watch today), Soleil et ombre was edited by Nini (Eugénie) Bonnefoy, whose life and film career requires further research.