The Brits are coming! Where have I heard that before? Hmmm… Anyway, it seems there is a UK invasion of Pordenone this year, with what looks like a bigger than usual home crowd in attendance already. And a British movie on the first day! After a journey that involved a plane, a train, an automobile, and a bus, I am part of that merry band. Jubilations, I even made it into the Verdi for the first film of the festival, which doesn’t always happen.
And that film was … 3 Days to Live (Tom Gibson, 1924). This was a pacey, if hokey melodrama, hinging on some awful foreign types manipulating the stock market in San Francisco and driving good men to suicide. Yes, it was not very 2017. It was more like 1917, or earlier, racial politics wise (see 1915’s The Cheat, for example), and definitely not a classic, though it had effective moments. A series of three closeups of a woman’s tapping feet, twisting hands and mobile face when she was waiting for her boyfriend to ask her father that question, was one. Another was a set of dissolves between empty rooms in an abandoned house. In such highlights we might detect the hand of youthful assistant director, editor and title writer Frank Capra. Or perhaps not – will we ever know?
I had to miss most of a package of early French Westerns. Yes, French Westerns. Just when you think you have seen it all … I did see Le Revolver Matrimonial (Jean Durand, 1912) thought. This was sweet ersatz Americana trifle in which Arizona Bill woos wealthy Maud (un homme in drag) and must lasso a sympathetic pastor to seal the union. There’s romance for you.
The Scapegrace (Edwin J Collins, 1913) finished the set. This was a British two-reeler though, and I expected Brian Aherne on his hobby horse a la Shooting Stars, but realism prevailed, to a point. This was a sprightly if slightly directionless drama in which black sheep Jack flees to the Yukon to escape his gambling debts and mend his ways. He finds, gold, a girl and forgiveness from his father so all’s well that ends, you know. And The Scapegrace was a Cricks studio production so that makes Croydon the wild frontier … I guess.
I couldn’t resist L’Autre Aile (Henri Andréani, 1924), an aviation melodrama with costumes by Paul Poiret, especially when it came preceded by newsreels of French aviatrices. This was so nearly something amazing, but hampered by a rather meandering plot. Still those gowns were something else, and the flying scenes were very impressive, plus we had some very successful Impressionistic double exposures, with relentless propellors spinning, spinning … with John Sweeney at the keys this was a treat for the senses. I also loved the melodramatic conceit behind this one. A mourning woman throws herself into a new life as an aviator to forget the grief she feels when her aviator lover dies … in an air crash. Plenty of spectacle and high emotion on screen, and gorgeous designed intertitles by a mysterious (to me) Sach too. Plus a young Charles Vanel.
On to the evening shows and 1917’s The Butcher Boy reminded us of the grace and hilarity of Roscoe Arbuckle at his best, and Buster Keaton, even on his first appearance in front of a camera. Shame about a faltering pace and some lapses in taste during second half, but the first 10 minutes of this is a pure delight, and we welcomed spirited accompaniment tonight from Donald Sosin, Günter Buchwald and Romano Todesco.
For unadulterated silent cinema greatness, we turn to tonight’s gala screening. King Vidor’s hyper-emotional The Crowd (King Vidor, 1928). An unforgettable experience even on the small screen, but unbeatable on the Verdi’s giant square, with Carl Davis conducting the Orchestra San Marco di Pordenone playing his brilliant score alongside. This film is one of the greats, inspiring everything from Bicycle Thieves to The Apartment, and provoking great shock and sympathy in the Verdi tonight. The tricks of scale that Vidor plays in this film (the trick staircase when John’s father dies, the towering office block, the vast maternity ward) become overwhelming on the big screen. By contrast, the scenes from this fraught, but all-too believable marriage are almost unbearably intimate blown up to this size. Intelligent performances and Vidor’s sensitive direction are key to this … When Mary tells John his dinner is in the oven, I defy you not to well up. And that’s without all the scenes of [redacted] and [redacted]. The early Coney island scenes are as brilliantly joyful as anything in It or Speedy too. And Mary posing by Niagara Falls is romance itself. The Crowd contains multitudes.
Yes, I wanted to watch the late film, but it’s bedtime for this bozo. Sunday morning’s programme here at the Giornate looks Not To Be Missed.
- Intertitle of the day: “Full throttle … drive her to hell!” Good riddance to a love rival and plane saboteur in L’Autre Aile.
- Temperance tip of the day: When our wayward hero was tempted by the demon drink in The Scapegrace, a gutsy girl named Molly simply shot the glass out of his hand.
- Chatup line of the day: “Gee, but you’re a great, big, goodlookin’, some-account man!” says a nameless flapper to our man in The Crowd.
- I refuse to spoiler The Crowd for anyone, but … if you have seen it, I wrote a piece in the March 2017 issue of Sight & Sound about that incredible ending.
- Visit the Giornate del Cinema Muto website