Giornate journal 2020: Pordenone post No 6

By Friday night of Pordenone the cracks are usually beginning to show: sleep deprivation, caffeine addiction and FilmFair splurge-shopping. Are we holding up better or worse in this Limited Edition year? Hydrating, taking regular screen breaks and a minimum of 30 minutes of exercise a day? No, me neither. In fact I am just warming up, and I could handle a silent movie show every night please, for at least a month.

Day Seven

A showstopper of a masterclass today, as the multi-instrumentalists assembled: Gunther Buchwald, Stephen Horne and Frank Bockius. Another double book presentation too, and the announcement of the Jean Mitry prize, but all roads lead to Mary Pickford here on Silent London. And A Romance of the Redwoods, courtesy Cecil B DeMille and Jeanie MacPherson in 1917.

This proved to be a highly entertaining, if narratively unlikely western, with Pickford as a naïve but plucky orphaned easterner who travels west to live with her respectable Uncle John who has joined the Gold Rush. But poor John has been killed by the Natives and his identity has been stolen by an unscrupulous bandit “Black” Brown (Eliott Dexter).

There are some hairy moments here, with Pickford attempting to step into the role of homemaker for a villain… but somehow, the chemistry makes itself known enough for us to imagine them as a couple, and in the end, Pickford will pull off an audacious trick to keep her man safe from the hangman’s noose. This one really is an all’s well that ends well kind of deal. He doesn’t deserve her, and in another manner of words, she really doesn’t deserve him.

The point is that Pickford’s personality makes mincemeat of any plot qualms: all we can see is that she is good, and brave and suddenly in love, and with the requisite halo-esque backlighting, we’d follow her anywhere. it’s funny too, and DeMille makes a thrilling spectacle even of this largely predictable western drama.

A note too for the saloon sequences here. DeMille doesn’t neglect his extra players – and Pcikford’s introduction to the bar crowd was memorably, and wittily staged. As if DeMille knew he was following Pabst’s Abwege from last night!

Nice, light-touch restoration from the George Eastman House here, and great accompaniment. Piano from Donald Sosin and vocals from Joanna Seaton to enliven the bar scenes.

The cinematography though – lots of directional light and no filler. Visually this was an *intense* experience. I loved it, despite that, but wow.

• Intertitle of the day: “With the dawn came primitive hunger”. Pickford is nothing if not relatable. Admit it, you’re craving a Moderno breakfast right now aren’t you?

• Prop of the day: Pickford’s itsy-bitsy-teeny-weeny pearl-handled gun had me in stitches. Surely someone has giffed the adorable moment when she practises shooting this glorified popgun?

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Musidora: Who? What? When? Where?

As I talked about Musidora in my Philip French Memorial Lecture last month, here’s a little more about the French filmmaker, in a short piece that first appeared in Sight and Sound magazine two years ago, in September 2019, following the retrospective of her work at Il Cinema Ritrovato. “It is vital to be photogenic … Continue reading Musidora: Who? What? When? Where?


Young cinema

This week, I had the honour of delivering the Philip French Memorial Lecture at the Cinema Rediscovered festival in Bristol. Due to the strange times that we are living in, the lecture was livestreamed as well as being held in person at the Watershed Cinema. My task for the lecture was to talk about the … Continue reading Young cinema

2 thoughts on “Giornate journal 2020: Pordenone post No 6”

  1. Pamela: This is still pretty early in the history of artificial ‘Lasky’ lighting, pioneered by DeMille. So complaining about the lack of ‘filler’ seems somewhat anachronistic. Given how little control they had over Klieg lights, some of Wyckoff’s/DeMille’s/Buckland’s visual effects in REDWOOD strike me as pretty impressive. But you’re right about how well the packed saloon scene is choreographed. Makes the genteel ones of later decades look rather stagey. But couldn’t help wondering about that covered birdcage Mary brings west, which we never see uncovered…

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