I Am Max: A Max Linder Docudrama Film
Silent film fans all over the world have lauded their favorite on-screen comedians, particularly enjoying the works of legendary comedians such as Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Harold Lloyd. While each of these comedians had a distinct sense of style and impacted the film industry in a number of ways, there is one name that is often overlooked: Max Linder.
Hailing from France, Linder was an actor, director, screenwriter, producer and top-notch comedian during the silent film era. His “Max” persona onscreen was one of the first recurring characters in film. Moreover, Linder has often been cited as the first international film star.
Rejecting his family’s vineyard business, Linder fell in love with the theater and quickly garnered awards for both tragedy and comedy. He soon became a contract player in the Bordeaux Theatre des Arts, performing in both comedic and dramatic plays. Later, Linder would apply for work at the Pathe Freres in Vincennes, securing bit parts in slapstick comedies.
Between 1905 and 1907, Linder would appear in dozens of short comedy films in supporting roles. His first appearance as “Max” was in The Skater’s Debut (1907), in which he performs a rendition of the “windmill routine” by spinning his cane around, predating Chaplin’s The Rink (1916). Thanks to the universality of silent films, by 1910, he would become one of the most popular film actors in the world and the highest paid entertainer of the day.
Tragically, Linder suffered from mental illness, an inflated ego, and difficulty in coping with the pressures that celebrity brought. He died at age 42, committing suicide with his wife, leaving behind an infant daughter, Maud, and the comedies that audiences all over the world enjoyed. Though Linder was a mentor to Chaplin, his name is seldom remembered when reflecting upon the great silent film comedians.
In response, Producer and Director Edward Porembny seeks to tell Linder’s story through I Am Max, a docudrama about the life and career of Linder. Over time, Porembny and his team have established international relationships with Prune Berge of the Max Linder archives, and the Library of Congress in addition to various archives in Moscow, Tokyo, Los Angeles, Cuba, and across all of Europe. According to Porembny, “They are coming from various different countries across the globe and are adapting what they know the best to create something completely new about Max.”
Porembny’s work is also supported by the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum in Fremont, California, which has provided a wealth of archival footage including Linder films and the actuality footage (silent film-era establishing street scenes and behind-the-scenes shots) that is helping to bring the story to life.
Porembny is also employing various creative techniques to depict Linder’s life. To further help audiences feel that they are discovering Linder’s life as it happens, his team is adding dialogue and color to archival footage and to Linder’s movies, re-using this historic footage in a new way. They are staging interviews with actors portraying those closest to Linder to accent the illusion, in an effort to present Linder’s life as artfully and creative as the man himself. The best part? They are even using a Bell & Howell 2709B hand crank camera from 1922 to shoot brand new footage. In short, this project employs an innovative approach to celebrating an innovative man.
The following institutions are already supporting the project, in addition to Porembny’s active crowdfunding campaign:
- AMP Polska (Poland)
- Canal +, Cine + (France)
- CNC (French Film Institut) (France)
- Creative Media Bruxelles and Creative Media TV Broadcasting (Bruxelles)
- IDA (USA)
- Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum (USA)
- PISF (Polish Film Institut) (Poland)
- Politechnika Warszawska (Poland)
- Portrait & Campagne (France)
- RTBF (Belgium)
- TVP (Poland)
- University of Jeruzalem
- Wide House (sales company/distributor) (France)
At this point, Porembny and his team have set up a crowdfunding campaign page with various perks available to contributors in an effort to secure the funds that will help them put the finishing touches on the film. Funds will be used for the film’s production efforts, including filming additional footage, as well as the digitization, colorization, and sonification of the original footage.
While Porembny’s primary goal is to craft a fitting tribute to Linder, his project also has another purpose: “In a time during which social media can make anyone a public figure, we hope our film provokes a larger discussion – especially among young people – on healthy public lifestyles, social values and priorities, the dangers of a self-destructive lifestyle, and alternatives to suicide.”
If you are a Linder fan or new to his work, consider exploring his films and contributing to the I Am Max campaign.
Photos courtesy of I Am Max campaign.
–Annette Bochenek for Classic Movie Hub
Annette Bochenek pens our monthly Classic Movie Travels column. You can read all of Annette’s Classic Movie Travel articles here.
Annette Bochenek of Chicago, Illinois, is a PhD student at Dominican University and an independent scholar of Hollywood’s Golden Age. She manages the Hometowns to Hollywood blog, in which she writes about her trips exploring the legacies and hometowns of Golden Age stars. Annette also hosts the “Hometowns to Hollywood” film series throughout the Chicago area. She has been featured on Turner Classic Movies and is the president of TCM Backlot’s Chicago chapter. In addition to writing for Classic Movie Hub, she also writes for Silent Film Quarterly, Nostalgia Digest, and Chicago Art Deco SocietyMagazine.