Le Giornate del Cinema Muto 2012: Pordenone post No 2

The Goose Woman (1925)
The Goose Woman (1925)

One would only expect to see the most ardent silent cinephiles here at the Giornate, but even within the geek elite assembled in Pordenone there are distinctions to be drawn. For instance, do you love silent cinema enough to be present and correct at a 9am screening of a rarely shown “experimental” Pudovkin film? On a Sunday?

Anna Sten in Earth in Chains (1927)
Anna Sten in Earth in Chains (1927)

Well I was there, though my fellow festival-goers may wish mention my hotel’s proximity to the Teatro Verdi as a mitigating factor. And for my euros, Prostoi Sluchai/A Simple Case (1932) was worth the early start. A moral parable, slightly more convoluted than the title suggests, it condemns disloyalty to the Socialist cause, here represented by a shell-shocked husband committing adultery. The lyrical opening, some extreme montage to represent machine-gun fire in the battle scenes and an abstract sequence of decay and regrowth all stood out. Not an easy film to take in, perhaps, but one that repays the effort.

Sunday’s second Soviet film came much later in the schedule and was one of my highlights of the day. To kick off the strand of the programme that celebrates Anna Sten, the Hollywood star who never quite was, we were treated to the emotionally gruelling Earth in Chains (Fyodor Otsep, 1927). Sten is beautiful, just radiant, in this exceptionally ugly tale of exploitation. The film’s epic themes of injustice and oppression make it seem much longer than its 80-minute running time, which was, for once, a good thing.  Some heavy metaphorical inserts and a mawkish ending aside, this film consistently impressed and I am keenly anticipating more from Sten this week.

It was a more obvious pleasure to take in some Italian scenery this morning, while watching Idillio Infranto (1933), a short, poetic-realist tale of doomed romance and corruption in the Puglian hills (and more of the same in the big, bad city). The folksiness of the film was echoed by the recorded score for instruments and voices that was always highly strung and mostly excellent.

Idillio Infranto (1933)
Idillio Infranto (1933)

On a high from the Italian film, I returned from lunch hugely excited to see The Goose Woman (1925), which I missed at the London film festival last year. Louise Dresser plays an alcoholic former opera star who pretends to have witnessed a crime in order to get some attention from the newspapers. It’s a terribly sad story, inspired by a real murder case, and the film often awkwardly mixes comedy in the drama when perhaps it could have been played straight. It’s beautifully shot, with delicate lighting, emphasised by tints on the film. Dresser is fantastic in the lead role, though, and though this film also has a rather sugary finale, this Hollywood gem directed by Clarence Brown is a very happy rediscovery.

The most bizarre segment of the day was undoubtedly the morning’s programme of German animation. Yes there was a Lotte Reiniger film in there (Die Barcarole, 1924), and some similar cutout work from contemporary Toni Raboldt, but this was a diverse batch indeed. Many of the shorts were in actuality adverts or propaganda films, promoting goods from sausages to perfume, life insurance to war bonds. One of the strangest was a mixed-media, hand-tinted work by Walter Ruttman that employed the story of Adam and Eve to sell fresh flowers. It’s a love story, I suppose. Many of the films were funny, most intentionally so, and a few of them were wildly politically incorrect or just plain odd. A brantub of surprise packages.

Jackie Coogan as Oliver Twist
Jackie Coogan as Oliver Twist

The evening entertainment was a double-shot of Oliver Twist: the pacey 1922 Hollywood version starring Jackie Coogan and Lon Chaney was accompanied, though I didn’t see it, by a shorter Hungarian version titled Twist Oliver (1919). For the night owls there was another of Manning Haynes’ precious WW Jacobs adaptations: Sam’s Boy (1922), but so far, I think I’m more of a lark

Silent cinema in-joke of the day: Yesterday it was Marion Davies mimicking her Hollywood pals, today the intertitle in Frank Lloyd’s Oliver Twist introducing a “Mr Brownlow” drew a very rowdy chuckle on the top balcony.

For full details of these and all other films in the festival, the Giornate catalogue is available as a PDF by following this link.

My report from the first day of the festival is here.

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