Tag Archives: Giornate del Cinema Muto

Le Giornate del Cinema Muto 2012: Pordenone post No 8

A Woman of Affairs (1928) Photograph: Photoplay productions
A Woman of Affairs (1928) Photograph: Photoplay productions

I couldn’t possibly imagine a more heartwarming finale to my first Pordenone trip than Saturday night’s midnight show of The Boatswain’s Mate (Horace Manning Haynes, 1924), with our own Neil Brand on the piano. This vigorously witty, quintessentially British comedy is a neat three-hander starring Florence Turner, Johnny Butt and Victor McLaglen, as a pub landlady, her buffoonish admirer and an out-of-work soldier. I loved it when it showed at the British silent film festival in Cambridge, and the Giornate crowd lapped it up too. The humour of the film comes not just from three strong comic performances, but from the pen of Lydia Hayward, who as with the other films in this strand, adapted the scenario from a WW Jacobs short story. Here though, her pithy intertitles are augmented with cute line drawings that underline – or comically undercut – the text. A 25-minute, 88-year-old gem of British cinema.

But I am getting ahead of myself. The final day of the Giornate began in the unfamiliar, but very comfortable, surroundings of Cinemazero, while Carl Davis rehearsed the FVG Mitteleuropa Orchestra in the Teatro Verdi for that evening’s gala screening. We assembled for a double-bill of late Thanhouser features, with all the tightly plotted melodrama that entails. A Modern Monte Cristo (1917), transplanted the classic tale’s theme of long-simmering revenge to California, as a shipping magnate frames his love rival for a crime and lives to regret it. Fifty-six minutes of storms, shipwrecks and Machiavellian machinations later, the assembled audience were thoroughly awake and heartily entertained. The wronged hero (played by Vincent Serrano) bore a passing resemblance to George Clooney I felt, and the heroine was played vivaciously by Gladys Dore as an adult and long-time Thanhouser actor Helen Badgley as a child.

Badgley returned, this time as a boy, alongside Jeanne Eagels in the second film of the morning, Fires of Youth (1917), which appeared to be an early pilot for the reality TV show Undercover Boss. Misunderstood foundry owner Pemberton (Frederick Warde) disguises himself in order to live and work among his staff, to regain the spirit of his long-forgotten childhood. As a bonus, he learns to appreciate his workers – and give them the payrises and safe working conditions they have long petitioned for. Or at least I think that’s what happened. Due to a mixup, the intertitles were unexpectedly in French and so no translation was available. A sweetly moralistic, but energetically played film, although this substitute print was abruptly abridged towards the end. Special mention here must go to Bruno, an “aspirant” from the Pordenone accompaniment masterclasses, who played beautifully and sensitively for both films – even more of an achievement considering the surprise switch.

Anna Sten
Anna Sten

Stephen Horne provided the music for the next screening, one of the most hotly anticipated British films in the Giornate: Herbert Wilcox’s highly enjoyable The Only Way (1926), an adaptation of a long-running play that was itself a free-ranging take on Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities. Theatrical giant John Martin-Harvey made a fine Sydney Carton: understated in the drunk scenes and powerfully charismatic in the courtroom. It’s a shame that he was so much older than his opposite number Charles Darnay, which rendered the crucial mistaken identity aspect of this grand story rather ludicrous.

A return to Teatro Verdi – for what? A sound film? Rest easy, this was the silent (but with recorded musical soundtrack) Italian release of Anna Sten’s German film Stürme der Leidenschaft (Storms of Passion, Robert Siodmak, 1931). Tempestuous it was indeed, with Emil Jannings as a released convict, Sten as his wandering wife and Siodmak rehearsing his noir moves in a precociously hot-headed drama. Sten sang, quite well in fact, but with her highlighted hair, slinky satin wardrobe and sultry pout, she came across best as a silent hybrid of Marlene Dietrich and Claudette Colbert. Steamy stuff: the perfect prep for watching Greta Garbo and John Gilbert circle each other lustily later that night.

A Woman of Affairs (1928) Photograph: Photoplay productions
A Woman of Affairs (1928) Photograph: Photoplay productions

Before the gala’s main feature came many speeches, thank yous and prize-givings, culminating in the unadulterated joy of Pierre Étaix and Jean-Claude Carriere’s 1961 short Rupture. All by itself, this virtuoso comedy proved Étaix to be, in festival director David Robinson’s words: “the last of cinema’s great silent clowns”. If you don’t;know Étaix’s work, read more here, and take any opportunity you can to see his wonderful films.

Finally, Garbo and Gilbert took to the stage, introduced in a short film clip by one of the film’s other stars, Douglas Fairbanks Jr and accompanied by Carl Davis’s hearty score. Doomed romance, barely repressed sexual passion, treachery, sublimated homosexuality, alcoholism and reckless driving: A Woman of Affairs (1928) had it all. Garbo here is elegant, seductive and a million miles away from the grubbiness (and greasy kohl) of Die Freudlose Gasse; Gilbert is dapper and heartbroken; Fairbanks Jr handsome and unhinged.

Yes, it’s a little over-the-top, and there was more than one dramatic tracking shot too many, but this was silent Hollywood at its starry, crowd-pleasing, beautiful peak. If you didn’t swoon just a little, you weren’t, I would contend, paying proper attention. Not my favourite film of the festival, but well worth the applause.

So that’s it for the 31st Giornate del Cinema Muto – it’s been utterly intoxicating, a feast of cinema and cinema appreciation. Will I return next year? Just you try to stop me.

Unsolicited advice of the day: Would you take makeup tips from Emil Jannings? Both he and John Gilbert admonished their lady-friends (Anna Sten and Dorothy Sebastian) for daubing on too much “lip rouge”.  Hmmm…

Giornate stats

  • Eight days in Pordenone.
  • 47 hours, 37 minutes and 12 seconds of silent cinema watched.
  • 18 cups of caffé espresso.
  • Eight blog posts.
  • Four Aperol spritzes.
  • One frico.
  • For full details of these and all other films in the festival, the Giornate catalogue is available as a PDF by following this link.
  • My previous reports from the festival are here.
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Le Giornate del Cinema Muto 2012: Pordenone post No 7

Anna Sten in Provokator (1927)
Anna Sten in Provokator (1927)

The choices we make in life define us, and this morning I got up bright and early for Viktor Turin’s Provokator (1927), but gave early Selig feature The Ne’er-do-Well (1916) a miss. Did I do right to choose Anna Sten’s anguished student and her revolutionary chums over Kathlyn Williams and the adventures of the rich and beautiful? I don’t know. Provokator, which marks Sten’s cinema debut, was occasionally stirring, but mostly on the pedestrian side, though a raid on the revolutionaries’ den was rather fine, boosted by terrific accompaniment from Gabriel Thibaudeau and Frank Bockius.

Walter Summers
Walter Summers

Where I may have erred is in choosing such a downbeat opener on a day that was to close with GW Pabst’s heartbreaking social critique Die Freudlose Gasse (1925). However, I am getting ahead of myself. My afternoon was perked up considerably by the patriotic hubbub around Walter Summers’ lovely postwar tearjerker A Couple of Down-and-Outs (1923), introduced by the producer’s grandson Sidney Samuelson, who was seeing the film for the first time. What could be a very harrowing tale is handled with care, as Rex Davis’s Danny finds unlikely allies when he rescues his war horse from a foreign abattoir: manipulative, but charming with it.

The audience groaned in unison at the start of the next screening, as another tranche of German animated shorts kicked off with a toothpaste advert featuring the “tooth devil” cracking open a poor vulnerable gnasher with his drill. It was, as before, a diverting and diverse hour. In the name of commerce, all kinds of unlikely objects have been animated: detergent, rolling pins, matchboxes, kettles and even, in a sweet but fussy stop-motion ad for aspirin, a silent-film star and director (Im Filmatelier, 1927). Günter Buchwald at the piano followed with apparent ease the rapid changes of subject-matter, media and mood – as when a promo film for a department store dwelt proffered a new suit as a suicide-prevention measure (Der Hartnäckige Selbstmörder, 1925).

Asta Nielsen in Die Freudlose Gasse (1925)
Asta Nielsen in Die Freudlose Gasse (1925)

I have a date with Greta Garbo in A Woman of Affairs (1928) on Saturday, but I spent Friday night with both Garbo and Asta Nielsen in the elegant but emotionally gruelling Die Freudlose Gasse (1925), giving a beautiful face to the seedy economic exploitation of women in 1920s Vienna. Both the lead stars are fantastic, and supported by a cast of wonderful character actors including Valeska Gert as a pixie-faced madam. Pabst’s direction veers between sober restraint and wild bouts of inventive, unchained camera excitement. This new print is not quite complete, but mostly crisp, with deep tinting, most especially effective in a fire scene towards the end.

Accidentally profound statement of the day: “The joyless street is long,” exclaimed I, when I read in the catalogue that Die Freudlose Gasse clocks in at 151 minutes long in its present state. It ran for closer to three hours at the Berlin film festival, apparently, but that was based on a projection speed of 16fps, as opposed to the Giornate’s 19fps. Phew.

  • For full details of these and all other films in the festival, the Giornate catalogue is available as a PDF by following this link.
  • My previous reports from the festival are here.

Le Giornate del Cinema Muto 2012: Pordenone post No 6

Jenseits der Strasse (1929)
Jenseits der Strasse (1929)

An exceptionally strong and varied day at the Giornate: Soviet montage, German arthouse, a British drama, Dickens in Danish, early sound films and a big, fat two-strip Technicolor feature in the evening.

Anna Sten took centre-stage on Thursday morning in two very different films set in pre-revolutionary Russia. In The White Eagle (Yakov Protazanov, 1928) she plays a governess, working for a governor who orders soldiers to fire on a crowd of protesting workers. Sten is horrified, and while her boss has largely ineffectual pangs of remorse, she decides to take matters, and a pearl-handled revolver, into her own hands. Protazanov called the film a “low tide” but it’s actually very stirring and although it’s not Sten’s finest performance, by all accounts she had a strong working relationship with the director. It’s an engrossing film, which compares chains of command to chains of oppression and explores guilt and revenge in interesting ways. For example, the way the governor’s peers avoid him as soon as they learn he may be the target of a terrorist attack, while the Bolsheviks refuse to single out one victim for their vengeance.

The White Eagle is largely extant, but exists only in an incomplete print. We have even less of Merchants of Glory (Leonid Obolenskii, 1929), which is a shame, because it’s a strange, invigorating number, loosely based on a play by Marcel Pagnol and Pierre Nivoix. Henri Bachelet is a military hero, who died a noble death and is lionised by his family and community, so much so that his father is urged to transform his popular sympathy into political clout by running for office – and his wife marries a rich factory owner and sidesteps into a life of luxury. Only his quiet cousin (Sten) remains unchanged by Bachelet’s posthumous fame, and through her eyes we see injustices such as the way that wounded soldiers are treated by the regime they fought for. Wouldn’t the political bigwigs be surprised to learn that Bachelet was a communist sympathiser?

In the telling of this tale, Obolenskii gives us a sumptuous ball, battle scenes and even dance numbers. The finale, in which Bachelet, who has unexpectedly been found alive and well, defaces his own portrait and is attacked by his father’s friends, must have been magnificent, but is sadly almost all missing and relayed by still frames for the most part in this print.

The two Stens made for a strong morning, but my highlight was a lyrical German film that came between them, called Jenseits der Strasse or Harbor Drift (Leo Mittler, 1929). A beggar nabs a pearl necklace from a puddle, and promises to share the profits on its sale with a new-found drifter pal, all the while a prostitute plans to take it, and sell it herself … Impressionistic, oddly noirish, tragic and ultimately dark-hearted, this is a real find. The film has been championed for a few years now by Stephen Horne, who accompanied it beautifully on piano, flute, accordion and zither. The recent discovery of the film’s previously missing reel makes this gem ripe for restoration, and a wider audience.

Sarah Bernhardt in Hamlet Photograph: Cinémathèque Française/Gaumont Pathé Archives, Paris
Sarah Bernhardt in Hamlet Photograph: Cinémathèque Française/Gaumont Pathé Archives, Paris

After lunch there was a chance to see The Unwanted (1924), a new find from the hand of Walter Summers. I had seen it in London, so skipped it, but was pleased that the film’s strengths (the Venetian opening, mountain scenes and burst of battle towards the end), played well on the big screen at the Teatro Verdi.

Lille Dorrit (1924), was a sumptuous Danish adaption though necessarily a simplification of Dickens’ weighty classic. A winsome Amy Dorrit (Karina Bell), a sprightly Maggy (Karen Caspersen) and an eccentric, avuncular “father of Marshalsea” (Frederik Jensen) combined with gorgeous sets – and benefited here too from a crisp, bright print. Dickens fatigue has not yet set in here and with beauties such as this one, it will be kept at bay a fair while longer.

The Viking (1928)
The Viking (1928)

The evening’s fare was a story of the sublime and the ridiculous. The Phono-Cinéma–Théatre programme of aearly sound films from the 1900 Paris Exposition, recently discovered in a French archive and beautifully restored, was a hotly anticipated treat. Hand-coloured short films of famous performers from Cléo de Mérode to Little Tich to Sarah Bernhardt delighted the auditorium. In fact, Bernhardt performing the duel scene from Hamlet may well be the highlight of the festival for me – a film I have heard about for years, but never expected to see. You can read more about the night on the excellent Illuminations blog here. Special mention must go to John Sweeney for the accompaniment, taken from the original scores and working both in tandem with the wax cylinder soundtracks or instead of them. The dance shorts were a standout in this regard, including splendid Mérode’s Javanese and Slavic routines.

What to say about The Viking (1928)? Kitsch, unintentionally hilarious, and resplendent in the reds and greens of two-strip Technicolor, this was the very definition of a guilty pleasure. I’d like to say I was laughing with it, rather than at it, but it would be a fib.

  • For full details of these and all other films in the festival, the Giornate catalogue is available as a PDF by following this link.
  • My previous reports from the festival are hereherehere and here.

Le Giornate del Cinema Muto 2012: Pordenone post No 5

Le Giornate del Cinema Muto
Le Giornate del Cinema Muto

The fairies that adorn the Giornate posters are not fairies, but vengeful butterflies. In La Peine duTalion (1906), which concluded this afternoon’s gorgeous programme of early cinema, the dazzlingly costumed scamps take rather lighthearted revenge on a butterfly collector for all the times he trapped their friends and pinned them to a cork. Mystery solved!

There were many more treats in that programme, including Méliès’ clown caper Automaboulisme et Autorité (1899), valiantly (I shall say no more) accompanied by Gabriel Thibaudeau and Frank Bockius, an extravagant serpentine dance (Danse de l’Eventail, 1897) and a loopily charming comedy about a girl so tall she can’t stand upright (Eugenie, Redresse-toi, 1911). The butterflies fluttered out of the Corrick Collection, along with the familiarly lurid delights of Dreams of a Rarebit Fiend (1906), a vividly coloured but sadly damaged L’Enfant Prodigue (1909), and a real crowd-pleaser: the cunning canine stars of Les Chiens Contrebandiers (1906).

Automaboulisme et Autorité (1899) Photograph: Cinématheque Française
Automaboulisme et Autorité (1899) Photograph: Cinématheque Française

A rare pleasure, the discovery of a precious Yevgenii Cherviakov film starring the luminous Anna Sten (in Buenos Aires) is a moment to be treasured. And although we only have a few reels of Moi Syn (My Son, 1928), transferred rather basically to DVD, it was enough to show us that the only director Dovzhenko admitted as an influence was a prodigiously talented film-maker. This is a poetic piece, with a devastating opening, as after a series of close-ups (which characterise the film), Sten turns to her husband and says, indicating the newborn in her arms: “This is not your son.” There is a fire, a lecture on childcare, and an infant funeral to follow but not in that order. Impressionistic, but frank, and subtly accompanied today by Neil Brand, Moi Syn is unforgettable even in its present state. I dearly hope the rest will be restored to us soon.

The Spoilers (1914)
The Spoilers (1914)

Another landmark film, but of a very different kind, Selip Polyscope’s trailblazing feature The Spoilers (1914) was a diverting two hours. A gold mine, and a community, in peril; a maverick and his gal to the rescue; the Bronco Kid; corrupt politicians … there was perhaps an excess of plot, even for the running time, but who cares? Kathlyn Williams as Cherry Malotte, a good-time girl made good, stole the show, particularly in her outrageous costumes.

Less enjoyable was Familientag im Hause Prellstein (1927), an UFA Jewish comedy, directed by the notorious Hans Steinhoff. This convoluted tale of debt, divorce and double-dealing fizzled out after its opening 20 minutes or so.

Still, reports from La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc (1928), screening in the cathedral with a new score by Touve Ratovondrahety, were excellent, and the day’s action in the Teatro Verdi concluded with Manning Haynes’ lovable coastal comedy The Head of the Family (1922).

What we didn’t learn today: Helen in The Spoilers was “wrapped in a woof of secrecy”. Whatever that is. Answers on a postcard or in the comments field below, please.

  • You can read Nathalie Morris’s excellent report from the festival for the BFI website here.
  • I have also written an article for the Guardian film website about Méliès’ Les Aventures de Robinson Crusoé – it’s here.
  • For full details of these and all other films in the festival, the Giornate catalogue is available as a PDF by following this link.
  • My previous reports from the festival are hereherehere and here.

Le Giornate del Cinema Muto 2012: Pordenone post No 4

Zvenyhora (1927)
Zvenyhora (1927)

If it’s Tuesday then it must be Dovzhenko. My fourth day at the Giorante began a little later than the others, with a screening of Zvenyhora (1927), a bewildering film of great splendour, which the Ukrainian director described as his “most interesting picture”. This symbolic hymn to national pride, myth and destiny gave him the chance, he believed: “to expand the screen’s frame, get away from clichéd narrativity, and speak in the language of vast generalisations”. That either sounds like heaven or hell to you I am sure, and while I find the film impossible to summarise, I thought it was magnificently photographed, never dull and mostly incomprehensible. Like the other Dovzhenkos I have seen, I am sure it will linger in the mind. Mention must also go to John Sweeney’s thunderous, passionate accompaniment on what the festival programme so enticingly calls the “pianoforte”.

Annie Bos
Annie Bos

“Nelly and Adolf hurry to tell all to the insurer” – does that intertitle give you a suggestion of the, erm, lack of similar grandeur and high drama in De Bertha (1913)? This was a half-hour caper about insurance fraud, shipping and the new-fangled telegraph starring sweet-faced Annie Bos, known as the “Dutch Anna Nielsen”. It was a happy recent discovery for the EYE Film Institute and while it is a smartly told tale, with pretty tinting and a likeable leading lady, it was far too soapy and unexciting for me after the previous film. Pity.

A longish lunch called, before returning to the Teatro Verdi for a trio of star voyages from 1906: the French original, Voyage Autour d’une Etoile, an abridged reshoot of the same with different actors and sets, and an Italian remake, Un Viaggio in una Stella, all by the same director, with subtle differences. There was great inventiveness on display, plus masses of good humour and dancing, and I could have happily watched variations on this theme for hours – before splicing together a supercut of the best moments from each.

Die Weber (1927)
Die Weber (1927)

We were back on the hard stuff with Friedrich Zelnik’s 1926 Die Weber, AKA “the German Potemkin” – though this magnificent story of textile workers kicking back against their brutish boss (Paul Wegener) was more like a German Strike, and my, was it soul-stirring. Dynamic hand-drawn intertitles, a vigorous ensemble, and wonderful direction (a poignant sequence with a hungry boy and a rocking horse, frenetic mob scenes), made this an exhilarating hour and a half. Spectacular accompaniment from Günter Buchwald and Frank Bockius, including some rousing revolutionary singing, fair took our breath away.

Pola Negri in The Spanish Dancer (1923)
Pola Negri in The Spanish Dancer (1923)

Having calmed our radical fervour with a quick drink over the road, we took our places for a double-bill that promised pure joy – and delivered. First, a rerun of Saturday night’s world premiere of the restored Méliès film Les Aventures de Robinson Crusoé (1902) with Paul McGann once again delivering the commentary (more on this anon). Then, a screening I was particularly looking forward to: Herbert Brenon’s 1923 romance The Spanish Dancer, starring Pola Negri, Adolphe Menjou, Wallace Beery, Kathlyn Williams and chums. What I didn’t know was that silent film musician Donald Sosin had spent many months planning an accompaniment for the movie, which would involve a group of musicians including Günter Buchwald on guitar. Sadly, Sosin is currently unwell and unable to attend the festival, so Buchwald, Stephen Horne and a few others, put together their own music, at late notice, but based on some of the plans that Sosin had made. It was fabulous. The film is classic Hollywood at its ludicrous best, with giant, gorgeous sets, sequined costumes and massive crowd scenes. Negri is wonderful, especially as this is a role that allows her to dance, and fall desperately in love – her two specialities – as a gypsy fortune teller whose beauty and kindness plunges the Spanish court into disarray. And the richness of the accompaniment, with gypsy guitar, percussion, and romantic strings, did it true justice – I hope Sosin would have been pleased. A memorable screening for sure, and do, “I beseech you”, catch The Spanish Dancer when it screens at the London film festival next weekend.

Favourite intertitles of the day: It’s a tie, between “I’ve accidentally killed myself” in Saved by the Pony Express (1911), starring Tom Mix, and “Damn that bunch of knitters” from Die Weber.

Best argument for vegetarianism of the day: Jäger in Die Weber opines something along the lines of: “What need have we to eat meat, when we could devour the manufacturers instead? They swim in grease up to their necks already.” Quite. And who could fail to agree when they had just seen Grandpa choking as he chewed on a stew made of the family dog?

For full details of these and all other films in the festival, the Giornate catalogue is available as a PDF by following this link.

My previous reports from the festival are herehere and here.

Le Giornate del Cinema Muto 2012: Pordenone post No 3

Monday at the Giornate closed with a brace of comic features featuring forgotten stars: Raymond Griffith’s civil war caper Hands Up! (1926) was preceded by Boris Barnet’s gentler Soviet comedy The Girl With The Hatbox (1927). Both were a pleasure, of course, but for me, the east was victorious in this particular battle.

Coming before both films was a modern silent, the slight but charming Le Petit Nuage (2012), a tale of impetuous romance in Paris made by Renée George, who was the lighting best boy on a little-seen confection of nostalgia called The Artist, released late last year. Anyone remember that one? Anyway, wonderful to see the ripple-effect work its magic, as the star of George’s film also has her own silent project in progress. Soon we’ll all be at it.

Affinities (1922)
Affinities (1922)

Working backwards through the schedule on a day when I will admit I was a little sidetracked, the programme of restored fragments produced by the Haghefilm/Selznick School fellowship 2012 won the hearts of the audience with its rare and strange beauty. The glimpses of Colleen Moore in 1922’s Affinities showed her at her winning best, although the film’s sexual politics seem terrifyingly retrogressive. There was two-strip Technicolor aplenty here: a documentary called Sports of Many Lands (1929) entranced with images of surfers on Waikiki’s deep blue ocean waves and race horses speeding down rich green furlongs. There were musical numbers, mysterious robots and dancing girls too. More, please.

There was a devil of a lot of Dickens on offer today, with the first session of the morning partnering a raucous but the most part feebly acted 1914 Martin Chuzzlewit, with the rare treat of our own Maurice Elvey’s slick, engaging modern dress Dombey and Son from 1917. Lucie Dutton says it best on Twitter (and there are more where these came from, Lucie is tweeting up a storm from the festival):

What to say of the diverse comedies collected in the Oh, Mother-in-Law! programme? Not nearly as offensive as it sounds, these shorts were often laugh-out-loud funny, with Louis Feuillade’s race film La Course des Belles-Mères (1907) and a wicked Italian number called Finalement Soli (1912) the standouts for me.

What we learned today: Defensive weapon, writing desk, modesty screen, rodent impersonator … the many and varied uses of a hatbox, as demonstrated by Anna Sten in The Girl With the … Hatbox.

Drink of the day: And every day if I get my wish: the feted Aperol Spritz.

For full details of these and all other films in the festival, the Giornate catalogue is available as a PDF by following this link.

My report from the first and second days of the festival are here and  here.

Le Giornate del Cinema Muto 2012: Pordenone post No 2

The Goose Woman (1925)
The Goose Woman (1925)

One would only expect to see the most ardent silent cinephiles here at the Giornate, but even within the geek elite assembled in Pordenone there are distinctions to be drawn. For instance, do you love silent cinema enough to be present and correct at a 9am screening of a rarely shown “experimental” Pudovkin film? On a Sunday?

Anna Sten in Earth in Chains (1927)
Anna Sten in Earth in Chains (1927)

Well I was there, though my fellow festival-goers may wish mention my hotel’s proximity to the Teatro Verdi as a mitigating factor. And for my euros, Prostoi Sluchai/A Simple Case (1932) was worth the early start. A moral parable, slightly more convoluted than the title suggests, it condemns disloyalty to the Socialist cause, here represented by a shell-shocked husband committing adultery. The lyrical opening, some extreme montage to represent machine-gun fire in the battle scenes and an abstract sequence of decay and regrowth all stood out. Not an easy film to take in, perhaps, but one that repays the effort.

Sunday’s second Soviet film came much later in the schedule and was one of my highlights of the day. To kick off the strand of the programme that celebrates Anna Sten, the Hollywood star who never quite was, we were treated to the emotionally gruelling Earth in Chains (Fyodor Otsep, 1927). Sten is beautiful, just radiant, in this exceptionally ugly tale of exploitation. The film’s epic themes of injustice and oppression make it seem much longer than its 80-minute running time, which was, for once, a good thing.  Some heavy metaphorical inserts and a mawkish ending aside, this film consistently impressed and I am keenly anticipating more from Sten this week.

It was a more obvious pleasure to take in some Italian scenery this morning, while watching Idillio Infranto (1933), a short, poetic-realist tale of doomed romance and corruption in the Puglian hills (and more of the same in the big, bad city). The folksiness of the film was echoed by the recorded score for instruments and voices that was always highly strung and mostly excellent.

Idillio Infranto (1933)
Idillio Infranto (1933)

On a high from the Italian film, I returned from lunch hugely excited to see The Goose Woman (1925), which I missed at the London film festival last year. Louise Dresser plays an alcoholic former opera star who pretends to have witnessed a crime in order to get some attention from the newspapers. It’s a terribly sad story, inspired by a real murder case, and the film often awkwardly mixes comedy in the drama when perhaps it could have been played straight. It’s beautifully shot, with delicate lighting, emphasised by tints on the film. Dresser is fantastic in the lead role, though, and though this film also has a rather sugary finale, this Hollywood gem directed by Clarence Brown is a very happy rediscovery.

The most bizarre segment of the day was undoubtedly the morning’s programme of German animation. Yes there was a Lotte Reiniger film in there (Die Barcarole, 1924), and some similar cutout work from contemporary Toni Raboldt, but this was a diverse batch indeed. Many of the shorts were in actuality adverts or propaganda films, promoting goods from sausages to perfume, life insurance to war bonds. One of the strangest was a mixed-media, hand-tinted work by Walter Ruttman that employed the story of Adam and Eve to sell fresh flowers. It’s a love story, I suppose. Many of the films were funny, most intentionally so, and a few of them were wildly politically incorrect or just plain odd. A brantub of surprise packages.

Jackie Coogan as Oliver Twist
Jackie Coogan as Oliver Twist

The evening entertainment was a double-shot of Oliver Twist: the pacey 1922 Hollywood version starring Jackie Coogan and Lon Chaney was accompanied, though I didn’t see it, by a shorter Hungarian version titled Twist Oliver (1919). For the night owls there was another of Manning Haynes’ precious WW Jacobs adaptations: Sam’s Boy (1922), but so far, I think I’m more of a lark

Silent cinema in-joke of the day: Yesterday it was Marion Davies mimicking her Hollywood pals, today the intertitle in Frank Lloyd’s Oliver Twist introducing a “Mr Brownlow” drew a very rowdy chuckle on the top balcony.

For full details of these and all other films in the festival, the Giornate catalogue is available as a PDF by following this link.

My report from the first day of the festival is here.

Le Giornate del Cinema Muto 2012: Pordenone post No 1

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Here in Pordenone the weather is warm and the days are long, which makes the Giornate del Cinema Muto, now in its 31st year, an Indian summer of film and music.

This is your correspondent’s first trip to the grand-daddy of international silent film festivals and although I have only been in town for a few hours, I am inclined to believe the hype. This town in northern Italy has definitely been bitten by the silent cinema bug. The billboards, shop windows and even pavements are adorned with hand-tinted fairies, in eye-popping shades of cerise, blue, orange and green. The customers sipping caffe espresso in the cafes bend their heads over the 190-odd page festival catalogue, revealing the loops of pastel ribbon around their necks that hold their precious pink passes.

With eight days of silent cinema programmed, taking in everything from Louis Feuillade to GW Pabst, Laurel and Hardy to Anna Sten, starting at nine in the morning and continuing late into the night, this is a film enthusiasts’ paradise. It’s a rich diet, too, and some of the sessions will test the spectators’ endurance as much as they dazzle the eyes, but therein lies the challenge: how to see everything that you want to see, discover some unexpected gems, sleep (but not in your seat at the Teatro Verdi) and eat three squarish meals a day? It’s tricky. And if one were fool enough to try to blog from the festival too, utterly impossible.

But God loves a trier, so here goes nothing.

This is the first in a selection of posts I hope to share from my trip to the Giornate. I want to give you a flavour of the festival, and keep you up to speed with the treasures on show here. Anything more comprehensive may just be a promise I can’t keep.

My first day here was mostly spent in queues, at airports and ticket offices in London and Venice. However, I did arrive in time for a programme of early Charles Dickens adaptations, most of which were familiar to me as they may be to you, but as in the case of The Death of Poor Joe (1900/1) discovered this year in the BFI archives, some are only recent acquaintances. Thanhouser’s The Old Curiosity Shop (1911) benefits from a particularly winsome, though terribly young, Little Nell in the form of “Thanhouser Kid” Marie Eline. The same company’s boisterous, and very funny, romp through Nicholas Nickleby, made in the following year, was another highlight of the afternoon. We were also treated to four episodes from The Pickwick Papers and Biograph’s The Cricket on the Hearth (1914). Rest assured, this won’t be the last we hear from Dickens.

ImageSaturday night’s opening gala was a double-bill of an old favourite and a lost-and-found treat. George Méliès is very much in vogue, and the full version of his The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (1902) has been discovered, in all its hand-tinted splendour and restored by the Cinematheque Française. Made just a few months after The Trip to the Moon, Crusoe is, as the director and star himself said, more of a “cinematographic play” than a series of “fantastic tableaux”. Colour is used here to tell the story, rather than to dazzle, but the sets, particularly the shipwreck scene and a thunderstorm, are fantastic. The effect of seeing living actors, with their clothes and skin painted on, interacting with Méliès’ theatrical studio sets is as exhilaratingly hyper-real as anything James Cameron has thrown at us. Paul McGann delivered the director’s own commentary, which combined narrative exposition with an advertisement of the film’s strengths and special effects. Maud Nelissen’s score for a quartet added panache, pace and a smattering of sound effects

The gala centrepiece was King Vidor’s delightful The Patsy (1929) starring Marion Davies and Marie Dressler, with an orchestral score from Nelissen. The house was in fits, particularly during the famous sequence in which Davies impersonates Mae Murray, Lillian Gish and Pola Negri. An in-joke for this crowd perhaps, but it’s wonderful to see the silent stars still playing to the gallery in the 21st century.

Highlights from the 2011 Pordenone Silent Film Festival

Le Giornate del Cinema Muto 2011
Le Giornate del Cinema Muto 2011

A postcard from this year’s Giornate del Cinema Muto in Pordenone – by guest blogger Ellie Groom.

Hello Silent London readers! I’m Ellie from the Kine Artefacts blog. Last week I travelled to Pordenone for the 30th Giornate del Cinema Muto, and have been asked to provide a few highlights. More than 150 silent films were screened across eight days, so picking favourites was no easy feat, but here goes …

2011 was a year full of significant rediscoveries and restorations of seemingly lost classics. Serge Bromberg and Eric Lange of Lobster Films presented the digitally restored version of the hand-painted print of Méliès’s Le Voyage dans la Lune (1902). Famously, the restoration was over a decade in the making, and came complete with a controversial modern score by Air, which caused one disgruntled festivalgoer to exclaim, “It’s a disgrace!” Opinion is split on whether Lobster Films should have presented a more traditional soundtrack (and the film was screened again later in the week with Donald Sosin at the piano), but nothing could have detracted from the bold and beautiful colours of Méliès’s sci-fi wonderland.

The three surviving reels of Graham Cutts’s The White Shadow (1923) had film fans queuing all the way across the piazza, desperate to see the work of a young assistant director called Alfred Hitchcock. The shadow of Hitchcock loomed large over the screening, though the real star of the piece had to be American actress Betty Compson, who deftly hopped between the dual roles of twin sisters, one virtuous and the other flighty, in love with a man unaware that he has two paramours. Watching the film was a frustrating experience as it cut out at the most dramatic point. Someone, please, find those last three reels!

As is well known, next year silent film fans in the US will be able to see Abel Gance’s Napoléon (1927) in all its glory. However, Kevin Brownlow was on hand in Pordenone to give a stirring history of his plight to restore the epic biopic. Brownlow’s lecture was part of the Collegium: an education initiative whereby a dozen young film researchers are invited to Pordenone to partake in dialogues with eminent film historians and archivists. If, like me, you are interested in becoming a Pordenone Collegian then keep an eye on their website – applications will open in the new year. No formal experience is required, just enthusiasm for silent cinema.

While names such Hitchcock and Méliès will always draw a crowd, it should be noted that several other finds made their way to Italy, which may have been more obscure but were no less astonishing. RW Paul’s The Soldier’s Courtship is a delightful and invaluable rediscovery from 1896 – arguably making it one of the earliest instances of fiction on film. It was thrilling to see so many festival goers enraptured by less than a minute and a half of film depicting a simple story of a couple’s attempt to grab some privacy.

There was a strong emphasis on restoring the colours of silent film. As most Silent London readers will be aware, while silent films were shot on black and white film stock, large amounts of them were tinted, toned, stencilled and hand-painted. The festival screened several examples of digital restoration and the Desmet process of turning hand-coloured films into colour prints, as well as rare examples of prints that have been tinted using dye, just as the original distributors would have done. One particularly fascinating example was a tinted fragment from Der Rätsel von Bangalor (1918), which although just five minutes long was screened seven times, each time from a print restored using a different method – including one that had been submerged in food dye!

Lastly, the festival drew to a close in style, with Victor Sjöström’s The Wind (1928), accompanied by Carl Davis conducting his own score with the FVG Mitteleuropa Orchestra. This silent classic starring Lillian Gish was screened with Davis’s score in Pordenone in 1986, and so its triumphant return was a fitting finale for the festival’s 30th anniversary.

So, there you have it: a whistlestop tour of Pordenone 2011. I didn’t have time to highlight the other wonderful screenings such as New Babylon (1929) with Dmitri Shostakovich’s original score, the film of Ernest Shackleton’s Antarctic expedition, South (1919), accompanied by a commentary from the explorer’s diaries, read by Paul McGann, or Walt Disney’s Laugh-o-Grams (quick plug: I’ll be discussing those next week on my blog). Never mind … there’s always next year.

Thank you Ellie.