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.
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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TL;DR: book news, see below. True confession: in 2019, I fell in love with some flipbooks. It was at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco, where so many good things happen, and the flipbooks in question were animated and projected on the big screen. I saw them many hundreds of times their real size, but … Continue reading Discovering lost films in fin-de-siècle flipbooks: Léon Beaulieu and Georges Méliès
This is a guest post for Silent London by writer/director Alex Barrett. You can watch The Cheaters as part of the London Film Festival until 1pm on Wednesday 14 October. Following on from the excellent livestreams they’ve been presenting on their YouTube channel throughout the lockdown period, the fine folks at the Kennington Bioscope have … Continue reading LFF Review: The Cheaters (Paulette McDonagh, 1929)
The last night of Pordenone is always bittersweet – the fun is over for another year. There are bags to be packed and it’s time to make one’s journey home, marathons and rail strikes permitting. The same melancholy accompanied the closing of the 39th Limited Edition, but there’s a note of triumph too. The online … Continue reading Giornate journal 2020: Pordenone post No 7