James Sibley Watson 1894 - 1982
James Sibley Watson - Lot in Sodom (1933)
By the time we had given up on a film entitled The Dinner Party as being too difficult and were ready to begin work on Lot, two new members had been added to our group, Remsen Wood and Alec Wilder. Remsen wanted to use our equipment in making a sound film of objects moving in time to the music of Stravinsky's Fire Bird. In return he agreed to help us with Lot, and help us he did. It was through him and his friends at Kodak Park that we obtained a sound on film recorder. He kept our new optical printer working, made valuable suggestions, and, most important of all, he helped Melville with the difficult task of synchronizing our film with its sound track -- the musical score composed and conducted by Louis Siegel and played by students from the Eastman School, among them the oboist Mitchell Miller. Though crudely recorded, this music gives to portions of the film an impact and a meaning that would be badly missed if the projector's sound system were to break down. The same can be said of the Wilder score for Usher.
Alec helped us no end in the recruiting of actors. He knew how to coax exactly the right expression from performers of both sexes. Hence he was in constant demand to direct any of our scenes that depended on facial expression. Not only that: When on the set, he could put the whole crew in a good humor. It was a gift.
Quite early in our work on Lot we engaged a friend of Melville's, Steve Kraskiewicz, to help in setting up the scenery and in making such things as the miniature walled town of Sodom that is approached through mists at the start of the film and is destroyed by fire near the film's end. It was Steve who brought us our leading Sodomites, two uninhibited and extremely handsome young men from the Polish community; also, from the same source, the beautiful girl who appears repeatedly in different guises in the sequence where Lot cajoles the Sodomites with a description of the delights of married life.
The part of Lot was played by Friederick Haak, a follower of the stage who had once acted professionally. He not only did his own elaborate make-up, applying the grease paint and the beard of twisted rope, but he helped Melville costume and paint the faces of the male actors and extras. The ladies of the cast preferred to make up their own faces with final touches by Melville.
In the biblical story, there are two Angels, and Lot has two daughters. In our film, for reasons of economy, there are only one Angel and one daughter, played respectively by Lewis Whitbeck, Jr., and Dorothea Haus. The Angel was in Rochester recently looking much as he used to except for white hair.
The one person who plays in both films is Hildegarde Watson. At the start of Usher, she plays a silent star of the twenties, but at the end, in skull-like make-up, she rushes upon her brother, bearing him to the floor, a corpse. This arduous scene required three takes!
In Lot she plays the part of a human creature among grotesques and monsters. The final sequence in which she looks back at the conflagration and is turned to salt is probably the only part of the story that is familiar to all -- and her acting of it sends them.