The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg

Le Giornate del Cinema Muto 2017: Pordenone post No 8

Can you believe it? It seems like only a week ago I’d never seen a French western or become intimately acquainted with The Island Girl. Our “week of miracles” is over, but the last programme delivered a fitting send-off.

When it’s the final day of the festival, the Teatro Verdi is required for orchestra rehearsals, so the Pordenauts have a change of scenery – we troop a scant 10 minutes up the road to the local arthouse cinema, Cinemazero. Little did I know, this morning, that it would be a journey to the dark side, and also from (not quite) sublime to the ridiculous.

ANNA-LIISA (FI 1922) Credit:  National Audiovisual Institute, Finland
ANNA-LIISA (FI 1922) Credit: National Audiovisual Institute, Finland

The Finnish film in the Scandinavian strand today was Anna-Liisa (1922), a rather harrowing adaptation of a stage play. The subject was infanticide, and by implication, rape. “Quiet and timid” Anna-Liisa is engaged to sweet Johannes and about to make it official – she’s spinning the thread for her wedding dress, he wants to publish the banns – but the mother of local boy Mikko is having none of that. She remembers helping Anna-Liisa to dispose of the evidence of the “bond” that exists between the girl and her son. Very, very not pleasant, and somehow not quite as dramatic as one might expect from the material, but nicely done, if occasionally awkwardly staged, and gorgeously accompanied by Gabriel Thibaudeau.

SEVEN FOOTPRINTS TO SATAN (US 1929) Credit: Cineteca Italiana, Milano
SEVEN FOOTPRINTS TO SATAN (US 1929) Credit: Cineteca Italiana, Milano

Daan ven den Hurk was at the keys for the next film, which was an entirely different kettle of flying fish: Benjamin Christensen’s Seven Footprints to Satan (1929) was a surreal hoot from start to finish, populated by dwarves, monkey men, heavily browed housekeepers and an escaped gorilla. All of them simply having a James Whale of a time. It is best summed up here by the estimable Mark Fuller:

Think Thelma Todd and Creighton Hale in a house of horrors, beset on all sides by the henchmen and handmaidens of Satan and the fruit of the feverish imaginations of all concerned. This was a grab-bag of characters and tropes from several different horror movies, most of which had not been made yet.

Another game of two halves after lunch, as the final film in the Scandinavian plunged us into the depths of heartbreak and horror, with yet another tale of an illegitimate child and a suffering mother. I rather enjoyed the Wuthering Heights vibe of Danish film Moraenen (1924), with the sins of the father revenged by the following generation. Although the use of “weak-minded” man as a murder proxy was a little uncomfortable, the acting was more subtle than might be expected. Essentially the drama here followed through on the premise of Anna-Liisa. Music plays a hugely important role in the story, and so it was fitting that we had such excellent, vivid and powerful accompaniment by Stephen Horne and Elizabeth-Jane Baldry playing skilfully upon the piano, harp, accordion, flute, voice and also, the heartstrings of he audience. I was engrossed in the misery, and when the lights went up I discovered that my eyes were a little moist.

THE DEADLIER SEX (US 1920) Credit: Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Film Archive

This drama was followed by the culmination of another of my favourite strands here at the 36th Giornate, Maggie Hennefeld and Laura Horak’s Nasty Women, starring the unquenchably energetic ladies of silent cinema. The Deadlier Sex (1920) was a cheerful comedy starring Blanche Sweet: Wall Street rivals play out their differences in the countryside, after she has him kidnapped, first to punish him, then to test his mettle. Add a growling Boris Karloff and some very witty titles to the mix and this was an hour of gleeful cheekiness. More please.

Which brings us to a gala more joyful than most. Yes, I know we are strictly anti-auteur, but imagine you had to pick the work of two directors to charm a newbie into loving silent cinema … Got it? Georges Méliès and Ernst Lubitsch, right? So after Jay Weissberg thanked all the fabulous team at the Giornate and toasted this “gathering of friends” we settled down for a newly discovered Méliès, Le Rosier Miraculeux (1904), the simple tale of an enchanted rosebush. Nothing less, but certainly a little bit more.

THE STUDENT PRINCE IN OLD HEIDELBERG (US 1927) Credit: The Museum of Modern Art, New York
THE STUDENT PRINCE IN OLD HEIDELBERG (US 1927) Credit: The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Let me count the ways in which I loved the closing gala, The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg (1927). We could be here for another week or more. Beautifully pitched behavioural comedy such as in this masterwork by Ernst Lubitsch is so rare to come by. I could have watched Ramon Novarro and Norma Shearer circle each other for days. Let alone genial Jean Hersholt, so endearing as the prince’s tutor and best friend. I laughed and longed and cared so much for these people that the bitter ending didn’t disappoint. Vintage comedy it may be, but these people felt real to me and yes, it couldn’t have ended any other way. In case anyone ever asks you, this is how silent cinema storytelling is done …

But my tale is over for another year. I hoped you’ve enjoyed these posts, but it’s been a pleasure for me. Bring on the next Giornate – hope to see you there!

  • Intertitle of the day Numero Uno: After this card appeared, an American lady behind me said “Intertitle of the day!” and I am inclined to agree. “Glowing sun, I hate you!” hissed the misanthropic patriarch in Morænen.
  • Translation of the day: “It’s been a good week.” I tip my hat to the pithily perfect Frank Dabell, on stage at the closing gala.
  • Intertitle of the day Numero Due: “On bugger, such love!” Excuse my Finnish, that’s a line from Anna-Liisa.
  • Catch up with all my Pordeone Posts here.
  • The brilliant Paul Joyce at Ithankyou has also been blogging the Giornate – you can read his fascinating posts here.
  • As has the wonderful Alison Strauss of Hippfest.
  • Visit the Giornate del Cinema Muto website
  • Hold on tight for 2018:

5 thoughts on “Le Giornate del Cinema Muto 2017: Pordenone post No 8”

  1. I’ve really enjoyed reading your recaps, Pam! It seems like a strong programme this year – I’m sorry to miss out. Hopefully I’ll catch you in Bologna or Pordenone next year 🙂

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