Le Giornate del Cinema Muto 2021: Pordenone Post No 8

At the start of this festival I missed a date with An Old Fashioned Boy, but you can bet your last Euro I wasn’t going to pass up a rendez-vous with Casanova. Tonight, the final night of this very precious Giornate, belonged to Ivan Mosjoukine, his magnicifent eyebrows and the show-stopping music of Günter Buchwald.

But there was a full day to wait for night to fall and our voyage to Venice to commence. The market was in town, bigger than ever and thronged with shoppers today but the sun was beating down on Pordenone and it was the perfect morning for a stroll and a coffee, especially as the films did not begin until 2.30pm.

Which is when the tireless Neil Brand bounced right back into the orchestra pit to accompany Don Quickshot of the Rio Grande (George Marshall, 1923) with the vim and vigour we expect, and this kind of film thrives upon, musically speaking. Al Hoxie plays the quixotic cowboy getting into scrapes here, in a welcome restoration (the previous version had all the action scenes removed – cripes) of an enjoyable frontier romp. Nothing here really rocked my world, but I did enjoy a violent sequence with Hoxie thwacking a passing posse of baddies one by one with a massive thumping stick as they rode by. Not Marshall’s finest comedy western, by any means. Sure that is Destry Rides Again, starring James Stewart and Marlene Dietrich.

Der Juxbaron (1927)

Marlene Dietrich, you say? That Weimar star who famously claimed never to have made any silent films? Pull the other one, Marlene. We saw her this afternoon in Der Juxbaron (The Imaginary Baron, 1927, directed by Willi Wolff, and produced by Ellen Richter and her production company – it’s the only one of her films not to feature the woman herself. This was great fun, even if it dawdled on its way out of the door. A one-man-band of no fixed abode is hired by a posh couple to pretend to be their rich friend Baron von Kimmel for reasons that do not need explaining here, and he is played, beautifully, by Reinhold Schünzel. Dietrich plays a gold-digging missy with a monocle (!) who finds the Baron “a person of value” and winds up engaged to him before discovering the terrible truth. A special treat here was the accompaniment, by Daan van den Hurk and this year’s masterclass student Alice – who even sang! It’s all based on a stage farce and it was, like many Wolff/Richter films a series of well-staged setpieces, and it was utterly joyous and very, very silly.

However, a knotty moral question has arisen regarding Ellen Richter. In some of her films, including the ones we have seen this week, she plays a woman hounded by a mob – remember Superstition and the stoning? There’s a feminist subtext there, in the form of witch-hunts. And as she was a Jewish actress we can speculate that she and the people she worked with could have felt a particular topical resonance too. The  1920s was a time when members of the far right would disrupt and interrupt Jewish performances. So it has been posited that when we “joined in” with the morality society’s attack on Ninon’s revue in Moral on Thursday night, we might have been complicit in re-enacting an anti-semitic attack.

It’s an uncomfortable thought. More than. I’d say on balance we can breathe easy on this one. If there was ever a shred of sympathy for the hypocritical moral guardians, or a hint of distaste for the wise and charming Ninon, I’d feel differently. We were lampooning the attack (which might not in itself be a firm moral stance to take) but we certainly weren’t endorsing it. Perhaps that’s just me, and the people around me – we were all a little shy about starting to join in, and about jeering/rattling/stamping too loud. No one seemed to be getting carried away. Something to think about though, and your mileage may certainly vary on this one.

There have been several films in this year’s Giornate that have loud and clear messages that are objectionable, almost because they are so baldly stated, but sometimes it is a little more complex than that, and we can do well to examine our own responses to the film as much as the text itself. There’s always a little salt in the sugar when we’re thinking about culture made for popular consumption 100 years ago or more. What would people in the 22nd Century think about the films of 2021, I wonder?

In fact, in the catalogue notes for Casanova (Alexandre Volkoff, 1927), Günter Buchwald wondered “what are the implications of Casanova in this ‘Me Too’ moment?”. I must confess that for me this film is such a fantasy, so far removed from real life as to make that question, often a very urgent one, feel redundant in this case. This beautiful film is a pageant of seduction, sorcery, sedition, subterfuge, swordplay, sensory overload and … um, what else begins with S that isn’t sex? Because sex there is, in Mosjoukine’s smouldering face, in the high bosoms of his lovers, and in every kiss he places on their exposed shoudlers. But there’s more too, a rich tapestry of location (Venice to Austria, St Petersburg, and back again), and picaresque frolics.

Casanova was a fitting conclusion for a festival that has provided more than the usual quotient of costume balls, nightclubs, carnivals, parties and wild debauches. There are frame tints and a stunning colour sequence set on the water at the Venice carnival, but in fairness this is exactly the kind of ‘black-and-white’ film that a person could recall seeing in colour. Günter Buchwald’s music (played by the Orchestra San Marco, conducted by the man himself), provided all the colour that we couldn’t see: a rainbow of hues and all the filigree and grandeur that such a clever, lavish spectacle required. Bravo.

If you made it to Pordenone this year, then thank you for joining us and making this feel like the real thing. If you couldn’t, we understand, and we can’t wait to see you in the Verdi next year, or as soon as you can make it.

Thanks to Jay Weissberg and his astonishing team for staging this masked Giornate in the most difficult circumstances. Now, more than ever, it feels like home. Ciao!

Vocabulary Lesson of the Day

Der Juxbaron’s intertitles taught me the German word Spritztour, which is spin, or jaunt, in English. In Italian, I think it must be Giornate.

Bad Dating advice of the Day

“For 10 million Marks a man can have bad manner … he’s still a catch.” Thank you for that Der Juxbaron.

Topical Intertitle Quote of the Day

“The inviolable mask inaugurated the reign of ephemeral equality”. Here’s hoping, Casanova

Intertitle of the Day

“Look at your lovely, realistic masks… If I didn’t know I was at the fencing club, I’d think I was among real bums.” Der Juxbaron nails the late-night scenes at the Posta.

Try Not to Get Something In Your Eye

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