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).
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.
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 here, here, here and here.