Intolerance (1916)

Home Cinema Ritrovato 2020 #1: Have fun, honey bunch

Finally, east London has a world-class archive film festival. Almost.

Il Cinema Ritrovato has shifted a little in time and (virtual) space this year, for reasons I am sure you all understand. The postponed festival is now going ahead in Bologna, Italy, IRL but in late August rather than late June. However, for reasons that are slightly more obscure, I am not there. I am at home in east London, with a laptop, a projector and a white wall. And high hopes. I have very high hopes.

Although I am very sad not to be taking part in the living breathing festival this year but I am determined to make the most of my streaming pass. I intended to clear the week of work as much as possible, but the very second that the first virtual event began, I found myself in an actual cinema, in Soho, for a press screening. Still, the clever people at Ritrovato allow 24 hours for you to catch up with each screening, so as soon as I got home, I was ready to get started.

As you’ll see, I am dividing my screenings along the only lines that count round here. I tend to run omnivorous when I am in Bologna, but silents first, always.

The silents

First off, we went behind the scenes in Hollywood 1916, to the making of DW Griffith’s Intolerance, and specifically the Babylon sequence. Jean-Pierre Berthomé and Emmanuel Charon’s documentary Babylon in Hollywood is a work-in-progress still, which is quite apt for a film about film construction, but is none the less quite revelatory. Those giant sets loomed over Hollywood for months before anyone quite knew what they were there for. And of course they were confusing. As the documentary explains and then illustrates beautifully with computer-aided recreations and still photographs, the walls of Babylon were a kind of trompe l’oeil: although they looked solid they were in sections, with gaps that were hidden by Billy Bitzer’s clever camera placement. So now you know. Watch this space …

The second item of the day was some actual silent cinema, courtesy of Italian comic stars Ferdinand Guillaume and Nilde Baracchi. The films were Tontolini è Triste (1911) and La Nuova Cameriera è Troppa Bella (1912).

The first of these comic shorts was a welcome and swiftly applied dose of laughter as medicine. Poor Tontolini is depressed and the only medical advice he receives (from “Doctor Concise”) is to have fun. The theatre and the circus fail to lift his mood, but when he goes to the cinema and sees his own slapstick tomfoolery up there on the screen – well, Tontolini is no long sad. The effusive joy with which Tontolini and his fellow cinemagoers laugh it up at the pictures, well if you could bottle that you’d make a fortune.

Now, you know that I don’t claim to be able to speak Italian, but I would translate the title of the second film as The New Housemaid is Too Beautiful. Huh? The English title here baldly states The New Housemaid is Too Much of a Flirt. Put the blame on Mame, right. Truthfully, the household is disrupted when the pert young Ms Baracchi, in her Robinette persona, starts work, with the lust-struck men of the house (including Marcel Perez, apparently) hopelessly distracted. What to do? Cool them down with the hosepipe. Maid and Mistress conspire to give the Romeos the cold shower they need in this sprightly comedy, enhanced by some lovely stencil tints.

Daisy Kenyon (1947)

The talkies

Other cinematic affairs called me in the evening, so I only had time for one talkie today. What better way to finish this first, short but substantial day of viewing than with Joan Crawford in Otto Preminger’s Daisy Kenyon (1947)? I always think of this as a Crawford film, it’s true, but it is playing here in the Henry Fonda For President strand, and it was informative to focus on the quietest point of this love triangle (and a horribly messy, adult affair it is too).

He’s rather wonderful to be honest, snarling “Honey bunch, I’m not hostile” at his flashy love rival Dana Andrews, and elsewhere giving a good account of grief and guilt. It’s a delicious script. and Crawford gets most of the best lines, but Fonda sure knows how to speak his. He even gets to say: “I’m going to kiss you like nobody was ever kissed!” And like he means it too. You have to watch the film a few times really, just to see exactly how the balance shifts in his direction. But it does.

My only question is, in light of Tontolini’s adventures above, when Crawford and her pal sneak off to the cinema to snub Fonda for the evening, which of the two advertised films did they watch? Mr Lucky, starring Cary Grant, or The Woman in the Window with Edward G Robinson? Now one is more of a classic than the other, I grant you, but in case you didn’t know, I’m a Grant girl, through and through, so I know which one I would pick. Just call me Mrs Lucky, because we have a date with Cary Grant tomorrow, and I am all of a flutter.

• Visit the website of Il Cinema Ritrovato for more information.

The full streaming lineup is available here. I am watching what I can, in and around work and life … but there will be plenty I miss (weep).

• 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.

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