Le Giornate del Cinema Muto 2014: Pordenone post No 6

Bailey's Royal Punch & Judy show in Halifax (1901)
Bailey’s Royal Punch & Judy show in Halifax (1901)

Two Barrymores today, two appearances from Little Tich and too much, as usual, to recount here. But like the hard-working Cupid in La Rose Bleue (Léonce Perret, 1911), I’m going to give it my best shot. So if you’re sitting comfortably …

In a move designed to cure, or provoke, homesickness in weary British bloggers, this morning we were treated to 90 minutes of Edwardian Entertainment courtesy of Bryony Dixon and Vanessa Toulmin. Accompanying the 40-odd shorts and fragments on piano, percussion voice and everything in between were Stephen Horne and Frank Bockius on stellar form (Horne’s witty use of a kazoo, yes kazoo, in a telephone sketch was priceless). This was a peek at England in its Sunday best and some more outlandish costumes. It was all fun, fun, fun with trips to the seaside, the Punch and Judy show, fireworks, the cinematograph, barrel jumping, the fun fair, the panto and many wonderful processions showcasing our forefathers and mothers’ considerable talent in the fields of costume design and formation dancing – and not just Morris troupes and maypoles. It’s enough to make one crave a stick of rock and a trip to the illuminations. Certainly my northwestern heart leapt at a panorama of Blackpool. And who could resist the sight of a row of Mutoscopes on Morecambe beach with the sign “Look at this and get a laugh”. The perfect solution for those of us who want to watch the flicks all day without depriving ourselves of vitamin D.

If you really want sunshine at this time of year, a trip to Greece is in order, and Oi Peripeteiai Tou Villar (The Adventures of Villar, 1924), the oldest film ever restored by the Greek Film Archive, was a sketchy comic caper, doubling as a sun-dappled tour of Athens. Larky nonsense, but great shots of the Acropolis etc. And now I can say I have seen a Greek silent movie, which is sure to wow the folks down at the Rose and Crown on my return.

The Toll of the Sea (1922)
The Toll of the Sea (1922)

But if you want something really gorgeous … the second Dawn of Technicolor compilation had many diverting treats inside, culminating in The Toll of the Sea (1922). This was an exceedingly picturesque melodrama, a reboot of Madame Butterfly in which Anna May Wong plays a young Chinese woman in love with an American. But the bond of love and “marriage” is held more sacred by her than him … Oh and it all ends in sadness and sacrifice and another word beginning with S. Not before Wong’s sumptuous wardrobe and elegant garden (complete with peacock!) have been given the full Technicolor treatment, though. The sweetest of sorrow and the sugariest of eye candy.

Le Merveilleux Eventail Vivant (1904)
Le Merveilleux Eventail Vivant (1904)

And the Quality-Street colours continued through the afternoon with a short programme of hand-coloured films by George Méliès, some of which (Jeanne d’Arc, La Légende de Rip Van Winkle) featured live narration our esteemed host, festival director David Robinson. Blink and you missed it, but Little Tich appeared on the very tippiest of toes at the start of Le Raid Monte Carlo-Paris en Automobile (1905), reminding all assembled of his earlier turn in the Edwardian Entertainment programme.

The Méliès programme was preceded by 15 minutes of material from photographer and film-maker Paul Nadar: scraps of film showing dancers, street scenes and Nadar himself practising his fencing moves. I was particularly taken by the fragments of scenes taken and printed on paper: tiny, halting movements that were replayed a handful of times for the audience, like (don’t hate me) Victorian Gifs. Genuinely haunting, with sublime accompaniment by John Sweeney.

Back to Hollywood though, and Lionel is my favourite Barrymore, this much has become apparent. This morning he was excellent as a guilty man tormented by the sound of sleigh bells reminding him of his dastardly deed in what else but The Bells (James Young, 1926) a lurid story set in rural France, notable also for an appearance by Boris Karloff as a travelling mesmerist – shades of Caligari once more. Hard to forget the scene in which Barrymore plays cards with the ghost of the man he murdered, staking the coins he offed him for, nor the courtroom nightmare, with Karloff extracting a confession under mental duress.

Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1920)
Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1920)

But John outgothicked his brother later in the evening, with a splendid showing of the 1920 Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. The house was packed to capacity, and the audience around me visibly squirmed at the ghoulish and quite frankly revolting goings-on on-screen. An actor as expressive as John Barrymore will always thrive with a double-role and scenery doesn’t get chewier than this. It’s hard not to think that Barrymore is having a ball, here. Why not? We were too. According to my sources, accompanist Philip Carli has masterminded this revelatory Barrymores retrospective and after having guided us through The Bells at 9am, he was back on duty at the keys for this evening – thrilling music for a thrilling film.

Impromptu duet of the day: I found this clip of Donald Sosin and Stephen Horne on the San Francisco Silent Film Festival’s latest blogpost from the festival. I felt it my duty to share it with you, what with the cockney accents and all.

Hot new Pordenone trend: Queuing for evening screenings

Intertitles (plural) of the day: I do love the classy, moralistic art titles for Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde:

  • My blog from the first day of the Giornate is here.
  • My blog from the second day of the Giornate is here.
  • My blog from the third day of the Giornate is here.
  • My blog from the fourth day of the Giornate is here.
  • My blog from the fifth day of the Giornate is here.
  • For more information on all of these films, the Giornate catalogue is available here

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