Lyda Borelli, Lillian Gish, Florence Vidor, Stacia Napierkowska. Let’s hear it for the ladies after an exceptionally strong day at the Giornate. My favourite film of the day was a Stahl that surprised us all, so let’s start with the great master of melodrama himself. or do I mean, the master of comedy?
Husbands and Lovers (1924) was one of the few silent Stahls I had seen before, sort of. I had seen a cutdown version of this film, which stars Vidor and Lewis Stone as a married couple, and Lew Cody as their friend who makes up one of those triangles we have learned so much about this week. It’s dedicated to “the tired American wife who has a husband and craves a lover, or some such. The shortened version gave me a bum steer, turning it into a mini-melodrama. This is a sparkling, and very smart marital comedy, much in the same vein as Lubitsch’s The Marriage Circle. In the opening sequence, Vidor does everything she can do for her helpless man to assist with his morning routine, dashing about in her dressing gown. And then the cad has the verve to say she looks frumpy and untidy. Does that mean there was not a hint of tragedy or an outlandish coincidence in sight? No, but it was played for laughs. And the joy of it is the slowly shifting relationship between the three characters, first one way, then another, until a joyous ending. Fantastic cinematography, sharp lead performances and a very adult understanding of what gets lost and goes unsaid in a long-term relationship. Do look out for this if you can. And it goes without saying, it gave us plenty more to talk about at today’s Stahl collegium presentation.
The second big American movie of the say was Fred Niblo’s The Enemy (1927), starring Lillian Gish as a tired Austrian wife waiting for her hubby to come home from the war. One of Stahl’s favourite tropes was present here, or at least in the reconstruction of the missing final reel, but I won’t say which. This was hardship a la Hollywood, and so not quite as grim as it could have been. Gish, too, seemed a bit distracted, but it’s a very effective example of a solidly anti-war film, with the enemy of the title being hate itself. It’s unbelievably poignant to see such messages being delivered with such sincerity, knowing what was to come a few years later. I really enjoyed Frank Currier as Gish’s principled father and especially slapstick comic Polly Moran as her resourceful, if clumsy, maid. This film, which was thought lost for years, was playing as part of Kevin Brownlow’s The Parade’s Gone By strand. Gives one pause to think that we are rediscovering these movies all over again, on the fiftieth anniversary of that great book.
The really excellent thing about this screening of The Enemy was that in the first place it was deftly accompanied by John Sweeney, but also it was preceded by some breathtaking actuality footage of occupied Belgium. History alive before our very eyes. The reality and the romance of it both.
Today was a day for divas, though, with the wondrous Lyda Borelli starring alongside Mario Bonnard in La Memoria Dell’Altro (1914), a captivating drama about the tragic love life of a successful aviatrix – Lyda of course. She’s always so strong, and acted Bonnard off the screen, quite frankly. You’d expect vivid gestural drama, right? And maybe a deeply sexual dance performed in the depths of gloom and degradation? Maybe. But comic byplay with a pair of goggles? Borelli knocked this out of the park right up to and including her contorted death scene. She takes you on an emotional adventure every time. Strong accompaniment too, from the musicians of the Giuseppe Tartini conservatoire in Trieste.
Now, I really must talk about Jacques Feyder’s L’Atlantide (1921), which clocks in at around three hours, and hands on the table, I don’t much like. It’s too slow, too static, too safe, when it could be wild, wicked, terrifying and claustrophobic. But then, there’s the movie, and the moment. And this was quite a moment. In an astonishingly gorgeous restoration (from the camera negative no less), the film gleamed tonight. And with a fascinating live accompaniment by Stephen Horne and Luigi Vitale, we were kept engaged right through to the gloomy finish. I may not feel the need to lobby for a Blu-ray of my own, but this resto premiere was a brilliant example of the silent cinema magic that happens at Pordenone – the care and skill that goes into giving each film its very best presentation. And I did like the owls. A tremendous end to the day.
- Intertitle of the day: “There’s strength in THIS soup.” Yes, but there is no parrot in THIS cage, Barushka. Desperate times call for desperate measures in The Enemy.
- Aspirational workplace of the day: I have been in a few newsrooms in my day. None of them a tenth as opulent as the one in La Memoria Dell’Altro.
- Neologism of the day: Sigh-lent Cinema. Whether the coincidence is too unlikely, the landscape too beautiful, or the restorations credits are too long, or the child actor too cute … we do like a sigh in the Verdi, from time to time.
- Wardrobe wonder of the day: What was keeping Napierkowska’s bosom just covered in L’Atlantide? Hope, or perhaps hashish?
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