Sunday, July 03, 2011

Too much of the good thing in Bologna

It's getting more and more impossible to pay justice to the bulging programme of Il Cinema Ritrovato which expanded now into a fourth parallel venue. There was literally an embarrassment of riches as unique introductions and showcases of labours of love kept overlapping.

Howard Hawks was this year's top-billed American director whose early work was screened in its entirety followed by examples of new restorations and rarities from his later career. I got to see at last the risqué puma comedy The Cradle Snatchers (1927) and the spoof detective story Trent's Last Case (1929). Brilliant Sony Columbia prints were screened of films such as Twentieth Century (1934) and Only Angels Have Wings (1939). The banner movie of the year was Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) whose punchlines worked like a dream for the jam-packed audience at the Piazza Maggiore which felt hot even at midnight.

The "A Hundred Years Ago" project curated by Mariann Lewinsky, one of the most impressive film retrospectives ever, had to be restricted last year to Europe only, and now for practical reasons even famous European subjects (Asta Nielsen, Léonce Perret... ) had to be omitted as in 1911 films were getting longer. Among the semi-feature films the electrifying Calvario starring Lydia De Roberti was suggested by Lewinsky to be the precursor of the whole Italian diva school. The most impressive show was the one dedicated to the thrillers with showcases of great pantomime and striking imagery. The "A Hundred Years Ago" project has been an unprecedented opportunity to follow the growth of the art of the cinema. It has also presented a rewarding challenge to our brotherhood of film archives to take stock of our early cinema holdings.

Last year the "A Hundred Years Ago" project spawned the first part of a first ever extensive retrospective of Albert Capellani, the great French film pioneer. Among the seven shows this year were some of his greatest films such as Germinal (1913) in a marvellous new colour restoration by La Cinémathèque française. For me the big discovery was the Victor Hugo adaptation Quatre-vingt-treize (1914), which I had never seen before, now also in a brilliant new restored colour version from La Cinémathèque française. One could feel the wind of history blowing in this inspired, tragic epic about the French Revolution.

In her remarkable blog entry "Capellani trionfante" Kristin Thompson commented: "Those festival guests who missed the Capellani films missed, in my opinion, the rewriting of early film history. He is not simply another important silent filmmaker to be placed in the pantheon. Film by film, this year and last, I kept comparing what I was watching with what D.W. Griffith had made that same year. In each case, Capellani’s film seemed more sophisticated, more engaging, and more polished." (Observations on Film Art, 14 July 2011).

Another inspired retrospective, curated by Kim Tomadjoglou, was dedicated to Alice Guy, the film pioneer, in six shows. Alice Guy was among other things the first (and still only?) woman to own a film studio: Solax in the U.S.A. Alice Guy's status as an early film director has sometimes been contested, and in one sense understandably because she started so early that the job description did not yet exist. From that standpoint the most remarkable film in the tribute was Alice Guy tourne une phono-scène (1905). It leaves no doubt about who's calling the shots, and it is also invaluable as an early record about production in a professional film studio.

There was a consistent touch of grandeur in the Piazza Maggiore open air night screenings. The Orchestra del Teatro Comunale played in two live cinema events. In the first of them Timothy Brock was the conductor with inspired arrangements for two well-known films. The music for the Lobster colour restoration of Le Voyage dans la Lune (1902) was from Jacques Offenbach's homonymous operetta. For Nosferatu (1921) the music was based on Heinrich Marschner's boldly romantic opera Der Vampyr. Both music decisions were for me the best ever for these movies.

With the Orchestra del Teatro Comunale Gabriel Thibaudeau conducted his beloved score for The Phantom of the Opera (1925) with the coloratura soprano Gerda Findeisen performing the jewel aria from Charles Gounod's Faust which provides the metatext for the score. Another definitive performance of a famous movie.

On the piazza a restored America, America (1963) concluded a tribute to Elia Kazan. The 4K restoration of Les Enfants du paradis (1945) worked like magic. Besides Gentlemen Prefer Blondes the most electrifying piazza experience was another 4K restoration, that of Taxi Driver (1976); the projection for all DCP's being still in 2K. As always, it was impossible to assess restorations in the piazza circumstances. I was previously familiar with the new Taxi Driver restoration, but on the piazza it was unrecognizable.

There were many remarkable restorations to admire in cinema circumstances, however, such as Shoes (1916) directed by Lois Weber and restored by EYE Film Institute Netherlands. I could not believe my eyes when Le Quai des brumes (1938), a film with extremely demanding lighting effects, was screened in a brilliant new La Cinémathèque française 2K restoration

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