Giornate journal 2020: Pordenone post No 1

There is nothing like watching a film in Pordenone, the collective joy of sharing a discovery or a fabourite classic, with hundreds of fellow silent film enthusiasts in the Teatro Verdi. This year’s Giornate del Cinema Muto Limited Edition, also, will be nothing like that. We will be dialling in online, streaming films in our separate spaces, alone. But that is not to say I haven’t been anticipating it with relish. I have been counting down the days.

This year I will not be blogging the collective experience of sharing the silents in the Verdi, of discussing them over coffee and spritzes in the Posta. My experience of the festival will be different to yours, very different in some cases. This is my Giornate journal and it won’t be like the ones I have written before.

Day One
It’s a silent film fan’s nightmare. I am late for the Giornate! When the first programme was broadcast on Saturday afternoon I was not at home with my projector poised, I was … at a film festival in Europe. Lucky me, I was on the jury of the Athens International Film Festival this year, a festival that took place IRL, in the open-air. So as Pordenone began I was in an outdoor cinema in the National Gardens in Athens, handing out prizes and then watching Christian Petzold’s gorgeous water-nymph romance Undine.

It felt appropriate then, that I settled down the next morning in my hotel room with my laptop to discover the first program was called The Urge to Travel. These international shorts were a balm to the soul. Actual travel, I discovered this week, is still a little overwhelming (if luxurious), but here we flew from Krakow to Cairo to London in moments, in fine company, conjured by pianist José María Serralde Ruiz and of course by Jay Weissberg’s upbeat and charming introduction. There are many places online to stream silent movies, but the combination of this stunning archival images of places from around the world, and first-class musical accompaniment – well it was the very essence of Pordenone. The Giornate, jarred.

My favourite? Hard to pick. I loved the Norwegian motorcycle tour Over Besseggen på Motorcykkel (1932), with fascinating fjords and derring-do, which appeared to be in aid of selling cigarettes. Also, the street-level views of New York in 1911 felt a world away from Mannahatta and were really something to see.

The first day also offered a feature film, 1923’s Penrod and Sam (William Beaudine), a heartwarming movie about children, with music by Stephen Horne.

Screening in a restored print from the Library of Congress, this film, adapted from a novel by booth ‘Magnificent Ambersons’ Tarkington, proved to be a highly diverting tale of boyhood hi-jinks and lessons learned. Its charms were mostly derived from the spirited youthful cast (Beaudine showing as in Sparrows a mastery of direction juveniles), and a talented canine (dog lovers, prepare yourself and fetch a handkerchief), and not so much in matters of plot. In his introduction, Jay Weissberg compared the film to Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, and although it covers less ground, this is also a series of key episodes in a child’s life at heart, illustrating the often painful process of growing up, just in comic miniature form.

A delightful film, and beautifully accompanied, it left me with just one poignant thought – that this sort of caper is exactly, exactly the kind of film that comes alive when watched with a crowd. The laughter and tears might be heard “as deep down as China and as far back as the alley”.

One day – soon!

• Intertitle of the day: “–I got eighty-six cents – couldn’t y’sell me – just where his grave is –? A tearjerker from Penrod and Sam.

• The perils of catchup: not just my glitchy hotel wi-fi, but the fact that while although you can watch the live Zoom post-film discussion belatedly, you won’t be able to put your questions live to the scholars, archivists and musicians assembled there. An incentive to clear your social calendar!

• Visit the Giornate website for more information.

• 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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