Not to brag*, but I recently returned from the San Sebastián International Film Festival. There I saw people falling over themselves to catch a glimpse of Penélope Cruz or Kristen Stewart. That’s cool, but I do like it here at Pordenone where the mere sight of Léontine’s name on a title cart can cause someone in the Verdi stalls to whoop so loud that I was wondering who it was from the second balcony.
This bit certainly isn’t a brag, but my day job followed me to Pordenone this week, and I was tapping away at my laptop in my hotel room, writing about H****y W*******n when I suddenly realised I only had a minute to spare to get to the Verdi for the next session, the session I really didn’t want to miss: the return of Nasty Women, curated by Maggie Hennefeld and Laura Horak. Readers, I dashed to the Verdi and what I saw there was enough to wipe such horrid thoughts from my mind. Joyously anarchic, gleefully disruptive, messy, wild and endlessly hilarious antics, perpetrated by women on an unsuspecting world. Alice Guy-Blaché’s pregnant Madame with her escalating cravings, Léontine vandalising the petit bourgeoisie of a whole town, the housemaids on strike and marching through the streets, Cunégonde trying to keep tabs on her man … I loved all these gigglesome, radical short comedies. Up to and including the wonderful La Peur des Ombres with its shadowplay, sophisticated splitscreen and good-natured gurning – it rips a classic DW Griffith actioner into shred and sprinkles it around like confetti. Would love to think Weber saw it before making Suspense. This sort of thing should be available on the NHS: National Hilarity Service.
In truth my morning belonged to the women of the silent screen (I had to miss the westerns for more of the four-letter word work) as I had luxuriated in the presence of Mistinguett immediately after breakfast. While I liked La Glu, I loved this morning’s double-bill of Fleur de Paris (1916) and Chignon d’Or (1916), both mini features running at around three-quarters of an hour each. In the first, La Miss plays Margot, a young woman who falls precipitously into poverty after spending too much of her weekly wage on a ticket to the music hall to see … Mistinguett. Yes, our star plays a double-role and poses frequently in front of some beautiful belle epoque posters of her languorous self. And she’s charming. Although the story is slight, it is pleasingly metatextual and reminiscent of many of the games we saw Musidora play in her retrospective at Bologna this year. The second film was my favourite, and also recalled Musidora, only in as much as it was plotted like a serial: action beats, a jewel theft, frequent dips into the demi-monde. Mistinguett plays an actress (herself? Basically) who goes full method researching a role as a sex worker. Cruising the local saloons she bumps into a rather dishy Harry Baur, who is, you guessed it, a Count slumming it for kicks. Circumstances conspire to keep them in ignorance of each other’s identities for as long as possible, and it’s all utterly delightful. If only for Mistinguett playing it nice and sleazy in her street walker garb and the divine Parisian location shooting.
Today I also learned that “Mistinguett” is still used as a nickname for spirited young ladies in France. How marvellous. Hat-tip to Lies Lanckman for that one – she’s not here, sadly, but she is now in spirit. Her and all fellow Mistinguetts!
Today was a school day all round. I spent the afternoon learning all about the history of cinema, Or the history of French cinema. Or perhaps they are the same thing. This afternoon’s Films on Film programme was un petit peu patriotic and also something of a fete des saucissons as across three different films we learned all about the great Frenchmen who had invented the contraptions that led to our enjoyment of cinema. Thrilling in its own nerdy way, even if, as my companion Kate Saccone pointed out, the clip of the Lumière workers leaving the factory at the end of a long lecture on French cinema technology was our first sight of a human woman. To be fair, the most fascinating snippet in this section was the sight of Pathé “hens” not just hand-colouring film but using a magnifying glass and a mirror to cut the stencils in the first place. The hidden labour of cinema.
Talking of history lessons, I can now say that I have seen an Estonian silent film. Or two. I saw the boisterous political allegory Karujaht Pärnumaal (Bear Hunt in Pärnu Country, 1914), and as much of what seemed like a very promising and sensitive war film, Noored Kotkad (The Young Eagles, 1927) as time would allow.
I didn’t stay to see Fen Dou (Struggling, 1932), the evening’s Chinese drama, as I had seen it at the wonderful Hippfest previously – I adored it then and compared it to Borzage. You see such gems on the silent film circuit. We are truly blessed,
And with that I bid you goodnight, sweet dreams and adieu, from the Giornasty del Cinema Muto.
*I mean, really, what else are these daily blogposts but a massive bragging session? Sorry.
- Intertitle of the day: “My teacher taught me to dot my Is.” William S Hart has a way with words. And punctuation. And bullets. Hat-tip to Mark Fuller and Liz Cleary for this gem from The Sage Brush Country.
- Intertitle translation of the day: In Chignon d’Or I am sure that “gigolette des faubourgs” became “suburban little tart”. It’s not wrong, it just has a strange ring to it. Any road, the French just sounds better.
- You can read more about the festival, and all of the films, on the Giornate website.
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