Mikhailovsky Ballet’s “Le Corsaire” at Segerstrom, “Cinerama’s Russian Adventure” on video

Mikhailovsky Ballet in “Le Corsaire”
Mikhailovsky Ballet in “Le Corsaire”

“Le Corsaire,” a tale of romance between a pirate and a slave girl, is an age-old staple of the ballet repertoire. It was inspired not by the Verdi opera of the same name but a poem written by Lord Byron in 1814. The Mikhailovsky Ballet production of the ballet, opening Friday at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa (playing through Sunday Nov. 20) is Konstantin Sergeyev’s version first staged in the 1970s and revised in the ‘90s.

The ballet has a long and glorious history as you might suspect. Sergeyev, who revived a many a classical ballet in the Soviet era, was influenced by the 19th century choreography of Marius Petipa and others. The first “Le Corsaire” ballet, created by choreographer Giovanni Galzerano, premiered in Milan 190 years ago—two decades before the Verdi opera. The Mikhailovsky (Maly) Ballet itself dates to 1933.

By the way, if one of the dancers looks like a Yank, he is—Julian MacKay, who hails from Montana, trained at the Moscow State Ballet Academy before joining the company earlier this year. He’s already an award-winning dancer and has taken part in several international galas.

Mikhail Messerer, Ballet Master in Chief of the Mikhailovsky Theatre, began as a dancer, training at The Bolshoi Ballet School. As it happens, the school is featured in the newly restored travelogue “Cinerama’s Russian Adventure” (released this week on Blu-ray and DVD from Flicker Alley). The Bolshoi itself is seen performing excerpts from “Giselle,” “The Nutcracker” and “Othello.” There’s a fair amount of time devoted to Russian folk dance or “character dance” as well, by the acclaimed Moiseyev Dancers (in traditional costumes, natch).

“Russian Adventure” (1966) was shot over an eight-year period. There’s an extended visit to the Moscow State Circus with its acrobats and its top clown Oleg Popov; we also see the Kremlin, the modern Moscow subway system, an antelope round-up, a bulldozer toppling trees in Siberia, a mischievous bear, and a whale hunting expedition (complete with an overly graphic slaughter). The famed State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg is oddly ignored. Bing Crosby exudes a folksy, inviting charm as the narrator, though Theodore Bikel would have been a more logical choice.

“The Best of Cinerama” (also on Blu-ray and DVD from Flicker Alley), like “Russian,” is presented in Smilebox Curved Screen Simulation to replicate its original three-panel look. This 1962 compilation includes the eye-catching roller coaster ride from “This is Cinerama,” newly restored, and scenes from other “Cinerama” travelogues that galavant around the globe. Among the copious bonus features on both releases are theatrical trailers, restoration demos, and facsimiles of the original souvenir program booklets.

Mabel Normand rediscovered, silent films lost, found and accidentally preserved

Mabel Normand & Mack Sennett, with Edgar Kennedy (3rd row left), in a 1913 film.
Mabel Normand & Mack Sennett, with Edgar Kennedy (3rd row left), in a 1913 film.

“The most important thing in my life was a girl,” film comedy pioneer Mack Sennett truthfully observed in his myth-filled autobiography. Sadly, the girl’s own legacy has been largely tarnished and obscured by scandal, rumors and lies. Timothy Dean Lefler’s “Mabel Normand: The Life and Career of a Hollywood Macap” (available from McFarland & Co. in paperback) is an honest attempt to rediscover the girl from Staten Island who became a celebrated silent film comedienne before life in the fast lane caught up with her at age 37.

Lefler’s bio of the star best known for her short films with Charles Chaplin and Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle is full of unexpected stories: Mabel’s days as a teenaged fashion model, the afternoon she raised $12,500 in liberty bonds by selling kisses, risking life and limb at the behest of a reckless Sennett, her comeback with Hal Roach Studios, even her testimony to the coroner in the William Desmond Taylor murder scandal that wrecked her career, despite her innocence. In short, this book is a good way to spend some quality time with Mabel.

For comedy connoisseurs, “Found at Mostly Lost” (on DVD from Undercrank Productions) offers 11 rarities unearthed at the Library of Congress’ annual identification workshop. Famous? No. Mostly funny? Yes. Such lesser known silent comics as Snub Pollard, Hank Mann and Monte Banks rule the roost here, but the arguable highlight is William Frawley (yes, Fred Mertz!) in his probably film debut, a 1927 sound short in which he does his vaudeville act. The films are accompanied by Philip Carli, Ben Model and Andrew E. Simpson.

Model likewise supplies the musical scores for Vol. 4 in his “Accidentally Preserved” series (also on DVD from Undercrank). Unlike the previous volumes of obscure silent shorts in this wonderful series, this one is a showcase for the 9.5mm format—the home video of the 1920s. These forgotten gems come from the USC Hugh M. Hefner Moving Image Archive (yes, that Hugh Hefner, who’s funded many a film preservation effort) and feature Colleen Moore and Warner Baxter in a fragment of a 1922 film, D.W. Griffith star Mae Marsh, comics Glenn Tryon and Bobby Ray, and others.