Charlie Chaplin, whose early masterpiece The Kid played this year’s Giornate opening-night gala, said some very wise things. Among which was the famous dictum that “a day without laughter is a day wasted”. It’s especially glorious to reflect on that idea after a day spent in fits of giggles in the Verdi. Today belonged to Chaplin, to Max Linder, to Suzanne Grandais and Léonce Perret. And more than that, to a rather more grand cosmic joke, played in Pordenone today, which thankfully had results rather more charming that catastrophic.
Yes, the slapstick gods truly smiled on us at the start of the 38th Giornate del Cinema Muto. How else to explain the fact that the industrious town of Pordenone had scheduled both a silent movie festival, and a marching band convention for the same day? Yes, a dozen or more brass bands were stepping around the piazza outside the Verdi reinterpreting pop and rock favourites, all while the afternoon films were playing. Fret not, the Verdi was entirely soundproofed, so there was no interruption to the excellent work of the day’s pianists. But just imagine what Messrs Chaplin and Linder might have made of such a circumstance?
Anyway, enough of my prattle. Welcome home! Today your humble correspondent enjoyed an especially fine afternoon of silent goodness, and she is feeling very buoyant indeed about the week to come.
Where shall I start? How about at the beginning? The first programme today was from the French Stars programme. Allow me to introduce Suzanne Grandais – beautiful, vivacious, and very, very funny. This programme of short comedies in excellent-quality prints included much mademoiselle minxiness. In Le Chrysanthème Rouge (1912), for example, Suzanne plays a demanding damsel who sets her suitors to buying her flowers, only to confess she only likes chrysanthemums, and then when they fetch some chrysanths, that she only likes red ones. A drop or two of claret (not the kind that comes in bottles) is but a small price to pay for a lady’s love, right? Right? And then Le Homard (1913), which was a sparkling crustacean comedy, a lobster-based rom-com to rival Annie Hall, and yet also the perfect companion for the recent British film Bait. As the catalogue points out, all this marital and extramarital mayhem was highly influential on some US counterparts, notably Mr and Mrs Sidney Drew at Vitagraph
And to continue with the comedy, our late afternoon treat was a triple-bill featuring Max Linder, as hilarious as he is handsome, from the excellent European Slapstick programme curated by Ulrich Ruedel and Steve Massa. First, the Hollywood concoction advertised as Max Comes Across, but which was probably Max and his Taxi, combines a little Charlie Chaplin’s One AM, a little Buster Keaton’s Hard Luck and the threat of some Mr Creosote during one gluttonous party scene. The feature attraction was Le Petit Café (1919), directed by Raymond Bernard, a fruity farce largely carried along by Linder’s considerable charm and some French whimsy. But most to my taste was the bonkers haunted-house comedy Au Secours! (1924) directed with great aplomb and bizarre humour by Abel Gance.
But mid-comedy, we paused to wipe up the crumbs of last year’s John M Stahl feast, with a screening of the wonderful Woman Under Oath, accompanied by Stephen Horne (but you knew that was marvellous already) and most excitingly a tantalising reel of the lost film The Wanters (1923), starring Marie Prevost. This was a stunner, with Prevost as a poor girl uncomfortably transplanted into the high life as the new wife of a posh-boy who can’t quite forget her past below stairs. Readers, to your attics. You know the drill by now.
And so to the gala screening of The Kid, which I know will have been wonderful, but I won’t bore you with the reasons why I missed it, and a late-night selection of Scandinavian advertising, more of which to come. *
And with that I bid you goodnight, and good morning, and another day of laughter, whether you are here with us at the Giornate or not. Ciao!
- Intertitle of the day: “Fifteen forks do add a delightful suspense to dinner.” Marie Prevost anticipates the joys of fine dining in The Wanters.
- Split-screen witticism of the day 1: When Linder revealed his unlikely back story as the adopted son of a mountaineer in Le Petit Café, the screen was split between the intertitle text and his own animated li-synching.
- Split-screen witticism of the day 2: Grandais, the crashing waves and her paramour yucking it up at the pictures in Le Homard. She thought he was in the sea, but he wasn’t, of course, he was at the cinema. As he should be.
- You can read more about the festival, and all of the films, on the Giornate website.
- Silent London will always be free to all readers. If you enjoy checking in with the site, including reports from silent film festivals, features and reviews, please consider shouting me a coffee on my Ko-Fi page
*Sono assonnato. Tempo di andare a letto.