On a blissfully sunny Monday in the town we’d really rather you didn’t call “Porders” we saw films which taught us that money makes the world go round, and films that transported us to the far side of the globe. Come take a trip …
The Who’s Guilty? strand continues to entertain – we’re all hooked. Although I was worried that Anna Q Nilsson kept getting married and kept suffering as a result and would never learn. A case in point was today’s first film, the second reel of Sowing the Wind (1916). However, things took a turn for the modern in Beyond Recall (1916) as an extravagantly costumed Anna Q took a job (really!) in the District Attorney’s office and did her very best to save the life of Tom Moore, wrongly accused on circumstantial evidence of murdering his girlfriend. The DA ignored her arguments, so unfortunate Moore was sent to the chair, grimly illustrating some still-relevant troubles with sexism in the workplace and the fate of poor people in the justice system. Anna Q can’t catch a break.
I missed this morning’s Polish adventure, The Call of the Sea (1927), which I may have cause to regret … but I had other matters to attend to, and I was back in the Verdi shortly afterwards to see a programme of short films from the Desmet collection on the theme of filthy cash. I hugely enjoyed this selection, including a sweet Italian chase film, Butalin Troppo Onesto (1912) in which a working-class man chases a rich man all over town to return some dropped notes. A nice touch from Gabriel Thibeaudeau on the piano to pause his fingers while Butalin waited for a train to pass by before he could proceed – a side of drama with our slapstick. A hilarious, but also pointed French film, Victime de Créanciers (1906), had a lot of fun with a poor chap beset by creditors even in the most private spaces of his home, and Segundo Chomon’s Le Roi des Dollars combined sleight of hand with trick photography gorgeous tints to illustrate the lure of golden coins, running through one’s fingers or vomited from the mouth. The finale, Gratis (1911), caused havoc in a town economy by continually misplacing a “Gratis” sign: the townsfolk pouncing on apparently free cab rides, biscuits, breakfasts, suits and even a baby (or the nurse feeding it)!
I also had to miss Algol: Tragödie der Macht (1920), an outrageous piece of German Expressionism that is still haunting my dreams since I saw it at the Barbican two years. Then, as here, it had the benefit of Stephen Horne’s multifaceted accompaniment. I did see a snatch of it and it looks so spiffing you really must have a picture. So, voila!
After last year’s splendid strand, I was very much looking forward to more City Symphonies at Pordenone this time around and the first tranche did not disappoint. I was more taken with Sao Paulo, a Symphonia da Metropole (1930) than many others, who felt that at 90 minutes it far outstayed its welcome. But I loved its deep dive into the city’s habits, its nifty title cards, and elegant, restrained use of split-screen and other superimposition tricks. And as our words so often betray us, I loved the way that explicitly it seemed to want to give the city a straightforward PR boost, hymning the many municipal splendours of the streets and institutions, but it kept circling back to the country’s colonial past and current proud independence. I also very much liked a sparkling tribute to the spas of Budapest from 1935 – all the films benefited hugely from Günter Buchwald’s sublime accompaniment on piano and violin. We’re so lucky with the music here.
Before dinner, two dollops of oddness from the Danske Filminstitutet, celebrating its 75th anniversary. First, Ildfluen (The Firefly, 1913), a frankly flawed and silly film, painting Gypsy Travellers as callous brutes – saved to some degree by a very fetching stage act (the “firefly” descends on a rope, into chiffon flames, with vivid tints giving the impression of stage lighting effects) and a fantastic set-piece rescue featuring a bomb with a burning fuse, two innocents in a tower and a hero shimmying to safety on some telephone wires. This was followed by a real curio, Stumfilmens Stjerner (Stars of Silent Cinema, 1925): a collage of clips of silent stars acting in various films, all stitched together with no discernible plan. Someone should really have handed round paper and pencil and offered a prize to the person who spotted the most actors.
Tonight big movie was bound to be a showstopper, a Hollywood dazzler from the William Cameron Menzies strand, starring John Barrymore and Camilla Horn as czar-crossed lovers in pre-revolutionary Russia. It’s 1914, Barrymore is a sergeant in the Russian army, of lowly peasant stock and Horn the bitchy princess who catches his eye. The sets are beautiful, the history is more shaky – this is Tempest (1928). It is the film within a film from The Last Command, effectively, and although this film doesn’t stir the soul or the passions like that one does, Barrymore is rather fab in it and it is consistently striking to look at. Excellent shadows and reflections and sharp, revealing compositions. You feel that everything down the rat scurrying across Barrymore’s cell floor was planned and intended and rehearsed until it was just right. And the accompaniment from Philip Carli and Frank Bockius was expertly matched to such gorgeous material.
And after all that, you could watch the real thing, as Esfir Shub’s Padenie Dinasti Romanovykh (The Fall of the Romanov Dynasty, 1927) closed the day. You see both sides of the picture here in Pordenone. Join me tomorrow for even more?
Intertitle of the day: “From a young woman’s caprice, a poor man’s chance … the devil makes a delicious salad.” The opening card of Beyond Recall (1916) is just perfect.
Silent comedy cameo of the day: Did you spot John Bunny in Ida’s Christmas? I didn’t, but others very much did …
Intertitles (plural) of the day: It has to be the dynamic, and beautifully illustrated cards for Sao Paulo, a Symphonia da Metropole. Even if some argue that a City Symphony shouldn’t have any, or at least as many as this one …
Most unlikely moniker of the day: Surely Orville O Dull is a pseudonym? He directed the delightful sound short Glorious Vamps (1930) – a historical take on relations between lustful women and overawed men, with Cleopatra, Carmen, Salomé et al taking their turns – that played before Tempest. It was his final film as director, although he lived until 1978.