Sunday, October 11, 2009

Evento speciale: Alice's Wild West Show

Virginia Davis, 1918-2009
Alice's Wild West Show
US 1924. PC: Disney. D, P: Walt Disney; AN: Walt Disney, Rollin “Ham” Hamilton; CAST: Virginia Davis (Alice), Tommy Hicks; ca 850 ft, 9'30" (24 fps), (tinted); from: UCLA Film and Television Archive, Los Angeles. E-subtitles in Italian, grand piano: Neil Brand. Viewed at Teatro Verdi, Pordenone, 10 Oct 2009.

From the GCM Catalogue: "Seventeen years ago to the day, on 10 October 1992, the Giornate presented the opening entry in its “Walt in Wonderland” retrospective: a screening of the silent films of Walt Disney. Much of that 1992 retrospective was dominated by the Alice Comedies, Disney’s first successful series of films, launched in 1923, in which his cartoon characters had interacted with “Alice” – played by an irresistible 4-year-old charmer named Virginia Davis. As an added attraction, the Giornate in 1992 brought Virginia herself to Pordenone as a special guest.
As so often happens, the festival not only celebrated history that year, but made some history of its own. Virginia Davis in person proved every bit as charming and irresistible as she had been 70 years earlier, and – after decades of neglect – was rediscovered by an international audience. Returning to her home in California after the festival, she suddenly found herself in demand for personal appearances, film screenings, and Disney conventions. A new generation of fans took Virginia, and the Alice Comedies, to their hearts. Reveling in this new attention, Virginia blossomed all over again – and, in turn, enriched the lives of all who were fortunate enough to meet her.
Virginia Davis died in August 2009, at the age of 90. Her passing is a sad occasion, but it marks the end of a full and joyful life. Her rediscovery and recognition as Walt Disney’s first star was belated, but it was sweet and gave a great boost to her spirits.
As a special tribute, tonight the Giornate presents Virginia’s own personal favorite of her Alice Comedy appearances: Alice’s Wild West Show. This film was presented at the 1992 festival, but has since been upgraded with this sparkling new restoration. Virginia commented more than once that she especially relished this film because it gave her a chance to play what she really was: a tomboy. Swaggering around in her cowboy hat and holster belt, spinning tall tales of her escapades in the Wild West, cheerfully thrashing the daylights out of the neighborhood bully, Virginia in this film is clearly having the time of her life.
And the film holds other delights as well. Alice’s Wild West Show was the fourth Alice Comedy produced in Hollywood, when the Disney studio was still a tiny organization, with only Walt himself and one other artist to handle the painstaking, time-consuming work of animation. As a result, we can see Walt’s own hand at work in the animated scenes of this film – a distinction that would disappear from Disney films after 1924.
At the same time, since screen time devoted to animation was rationed in the early Alices, Walt compensated with charming live-action framing stories. This one, featuring Virginia and other young actors, some of them simply neighborhood kids, is one of the most enjoyable. And the combination scenes, depicting Virginia in a cartoon world, demonstrate Walt’s endless fascination with technical challenges. As Virginia rides atop an animated stagecoach and tangles with animated bad guys, we’re treated to quite sophisticated effects, achieved with a bare minimum of resources.
Tonight, as we enjoy this little film, the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco is welcoming its first visitors to an elaborate overview of Disney’s life and career that acknowledges Virginia as Disney’s first leading lady. Walt in Wonderland, the book published in 1992 by the Giornate to celebrate Disney’s silent films, is poised for a new revised and expanded edition. It’s exciting to contemplate these present and future developments – but it’s also a good time to pause and remember the delightful little girl who was there when it all started. – Russell Merritt, J.B. Kaufman."

A brilliant print of a wonderful film full of life and a sense of play.

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