The divine Greta Garbo, queen of the close-up, is celebrated in a special event at the Royal Festival Hall in March. One of her full-length Hollywood features and the only remaining reel of another, will screen with orchestral accompaniment by the Philharmonia Orchestra . The really good news is that they will be playing scores by the maestro Carl Davis.
The feature film is The Mysterious Lady, in which Garbo stars as a Russian spy who falls in love with the man she is supposed to be stealing secrets from, a soldier played by Conrad Nagel. It’s one of my favourite Hollywood romance, filled with glamour, lavish sets and smouldering passion from the two sultry leads. This will be shown alongside the single recovered reel from The Divine Woman, a drama based loosely on the life of Sarah Bernhardt and directed by Victor Sjöstrom. Garbo’s co-star in this is Lars Hanson – you may remember their chemistry from Flesh and the Devil.
You don’t have to be a Giornate regular to know that everything old is new again … but it helps. So, as the Pordenone Silent Film Festival celebrates its 35th birthday, we welcome a new era, with Jay Weissberg taking over as director. A change of course or more of the same? There is only one way to find out …
Greta Garbo is immortal, and an opening night gala featuring a lush Carl Davis score for a classic Hollywood silent feels like a timeless choice also. Tonight’s screening of the shamelessly romantic The Mysterious Lady (1928) ticked all the boxes for a wandering Cinemutophile yearning for a home from home in northern Italy. It is a beautiful film, just the right side of presposterous, with Greta Garbo as a Russian super-spy seducing Austrian officer Conrad Nagel and falling in love in the process. How inconvenient, especially for her lecherous boss, Boris, played by Gustav von Seyffertitz. The score, conducted by the maestro himself, was a Hollywood number through and through – thrilling to the too-perfect romance between the leads and unabashedly ramping up the intrigue. Touching too, that one of my all-time favourite silent films, A Propos de Nice (1930), played before the main feature in a gesture of sympathy and solidarity with the the people of the French Riviera, who suffered a terrible attack earlier in the year. It looked sublime on the Verdi screen, needless to say, and especially so with John Sweeney’s sparkling accompaniment
War and Peace is nearly at an end (the raunchy BBC TV adaptation, that is). But don’t despair – Tolstoy up your life with Greta Garbo and John Gilbert. Hollywood’s hottest ever on-screen couple ™ starred in the sumptuous Anna Karenina adaptation Love (Edmund Goulding, 1927), which is showing at the Royal Festival Hall this month.
Yes, the Royal Festival Hall – with the Philharmonia orchestra (featuring violinist Vadim Repin) playing a brand new score for the film written by Aphrodite Raickopoulou. You may remember that she wrote a very lush, romantic score for a similarly grand screening of Faust a few years back.
The even better news is that tickets for this event now begin at £5 – which is unbeatable value really. This screening is the premiere of the new score and will kick off the 2016 UK-Russia Year of Language and Literature here in London. The film and score will then embark on a world tour, taking in Russia, Japan and South Korea. But you’ll see it here first in London.
Love, a Carmen Zgouras production, screens at the Royal Festival Hall on Thursday 25 February 2016 at 7.30pm.
If HG Wells could fix it for you to travel back to the silent era, you surely would, right? And while no doubt it would be enlightening to talk shop in the studios and editing rooms of 1920s Hollywood, it’s arguable that the real action would be in the nightclubs and hotel suites. Take it from me, the catering would be … interesting.
Many of you will know Jenny Hammerton and Nathalie Morris. Jenny Hammerton works as a film archivist, and runs the wonderful Silver Screen Suppers site on the side. She’s researching a forthcoming book of recipes from classic film stars, you see. Nathalie Morris works at the BFI as an archive curator, and also blogs about food: the Food on Film site recreates meals from movies. She is working with Jenny on a different book, along the same lines, but dedicated to the most important meal of the day – the cocktail hour.
Such a noble pursuit deserves all our support, of course, so myself and a few other selfless souls tripped up to Nathalie’s flat on the weekend to sample some cocktails and canapés. As the evening was undertaken in the name of research, not simple fun, here is what we learned.
We may remember Greta Garbo and Gloria Swanson as health freaks, but they let their hair down occasionally, culinary speaking. Garbo layered bacon over healthsome cottage cheese and rye bread to create a rather unwieldy canapé. Swanson deviated from the ways of brown rice for, what else, tempting bites topped with caviar.
Edith Roberts‘ sweetcorn fritters require a LOT of lard for deep-frying. Fear not, though, as our group couldn’t quite choose between the lighter veggie versions and the lardy originals in the final analysis.
Solid and unexciting to look at, they may have been, but Charles ‘Buddy’ Rogers’ potato and nut croquettes were seriously savoury – with a rich seam of nuts down the centre. Unexpectedly toothsome.
Zasu Pitts is an idiosyncratic one. We all loved her omelette with hot spanish sauce. But the Greed star cheated us of any actual spice in that sauce – hot in name only. And there was baking powder – yes, baking powder – in the omelette.
The parties thrown by Marion Davies may have gone down in Hollywood legend, but her cheese patties were unlikely to get anyone hot under the collar – tasty yes, but rather chunky and bland for a canapé. Perhaps they were just there to soak up the booze?
This is a guest post for Silent London by David Cairns, a film-maker and lecturer based in Edinburgh who writes the fantastic Shadowplay blog. The Silents by Numbers strand celebrates some very personal top 10s by silent film enthusiasts and experts.
It’s impossible to tot up a list of “the greatest” or even “my favourite” lost films, since they are by definition lost and impossible to assess, at least without using supernatural powers or outright lying. These are just 10 that produce in me a particularly sharp pang of longing.
1) The Drag Net(1928). Since Josef Von Sternberg’s Underworld reinvented the gangster movie as romantic tragedy, and still stands up as a rip-roaring urban fantasy comparable in its antisocial mayhem to a Grand Theft Auto game with love scenes, the fact that the second silent crime thriller he made, refining his take in the genre, is not known to survive anywhere, is heartbreaking.
Sternberg was particularly targeted by the vicissitudes of fate in his career. Weirdly, those of his films whose destruction was ordered, such asThe Blue Angel (by the Nazis), The Devil is a Woman (by Spain’s Guardia Civil) have survived, whereas The Case of Lena Smith exists only as a tantalising 10-minute fragment. A Woman of the Sea may have been destroyed on the orders of its producer, Charlie Chaplin, but a second print remains unaccounted for …
2) Similarly, while the British courts ordered FW Murnau’s Nosferatu destroyed for copyright infringement, the unauthorised adaptation of Draculasurvived, but nearly all his earlier movies are lost, including Der Januskopf(The Janus-Face, 1920), an unauthorised adaptation of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Why this matters: the star was Conrad Veidt (seen looking angst-ridden in a few grainy stills), the screenplay was by Caligari scribe Hans Janowitz, and Bela Lugosi had a smaller role. Plus, you know, it’s Murnau. Doing a horror film.
Several of Murnau’s German silents are completely lost or survive only in tiny pieces. 4 Devils, his last Hollywood film, is also MIA.
3) Another German in Hollywood, Ernst Lubitsch, suffered a major loss when The Patriot(1928) vanished from the earth. This is particularly appalling since the film won best screenplay (Hans Kraly) at the 1930 Academy Awards. Also, the star of the film is Emil Jannings. The movie is far enough removed from Lubitsch’s usual brand of movies that it might be hard to know exactly what we’re missing, but the trailer for this one surivives and the vast, expressionistic sets haunted by Lubitsch’s restless camera make this look like one of the most impressive films of the silent era. Sob.
4) The Divine Woman(1928) is, of course, Greta Garbo. Her director is fellow Swede Victor Sjostrom (or Seastrom) and her co-star is Lars Hanson. And there are nine minutes of this in existence to make you yearn for the rest all the more desperately. What we can see in the clip (which turned up in Russia after Glasnost) suggests a rather more boisterous Garbo than we’re used to seeing, throwing herself at Hanson and yanking him about by the hair in an affectionate but rather rough fashion. Another 71 minutes of that, please.
5) The Mountain Eagle(1926). Its own director thought this one was rubbish, but as he was Alfred Hitchcock I’d still like to see it. It was his second directorial effort. A recent restoration of his first, The Pleasure Garden, has revealed it to be a better film than we all thought. Who knows what a rediscovery of the followup might reveal?
Greetings! I’m just back from spending a week at the 31st Giornate del Cinema Muto in Pordenone, Italy. Between sipping espresso and circling my favourite films in the schedule, I spoke to some of my fellow travellers about their experiences of this wonderful week of silent cinema. You’ll find full coverage of the festival on Silent London by clicking here, but in the meantime, enjoy this short podcast.
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.
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.
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…
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.
For full details of these and all other films in the festival, the Giornate catalogue is available as a PDF by following this link.
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.
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).
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.