Tag Archives: Giornate del Cinema Muto

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.