Saturday, October 13, 2012

Live cinema concert A Woman of Affairs, composer and conductor Carl Davis with FVG Mitteleuropa Orchestra

Destino. US 1928. PC: M-G-M. D: Clarence Brown; SC: Bess Meredyth, based on the novel The Green Hat by Michael Arlen; intertitles: Marian Ainslee, Ruth Cummings; DP: William Daniels; ED: Hugh Wynn; AD: Cedric Gibbons; gowns: Adrian; ass D: Charles Dorian; C: Greta Garbo (Diana Furness), John Gilbert (Neville Holderness), Lewis Stone (Hugh Trevelyan), Johnny Mack Brown (David Furness), Douglas Fairbanks Jr. (Jeffrey Merrick), Hobart Bosworth (Sir Morton), Dorothy Sebastian (Constance), Fred Kelsey (detective), Agostino Borgato (coroner); 35 mm, 8191 ft, 91' (24 fps); print source: Photoplay Productions, London. English intertitles. Teatro Verdi, Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone (Special Events), e-subtitles in Italian, 13 Oct 2012.

Score (incorporating themes from “Sonnet de Pétrarque” no. 123 by Liszt) composed and conducted by Carl Davis; performed by FVG Mitteleuropa Orchestra.

Score commissioned by Thames Television for Channel 4; performed by arrangement with Faber Music Ltd., London, on behalf of Carl Davis.

The Live Cinema presentation of A Woman of Affairs by arrangement with Photoplay Productions. Originally produced by David Gill and Kevin Brownlow.

Performance realized with the support of Banca Popolare FriulAdria-Crédit Agricole.

Prologue of the screening: Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. interviewed by Kevin Brownlow [for Hollywood, 1980?]

Kevin Brownlow: "Michael Arlen’s novel The Green Hat, published in 1924, was an international sensation, thanks to its startling subject matter. Set in Mayfair, it portrayed London society as though the writer longed to be a part of it, while despising it all."

"Hollywood could hardly ignore it; it sold far too well. There was also a stage version. Will Hays, however, had placed it at the head of his list of banned books and plays because it concerned a girl described as a nymphomaniac whose husband suffers from syphilis. That very word appeared in print."

"The property languished at Fox, where Howard Hawks was to have done it in 1926. The next company to attempt it was M-G-M. Meanwhile, a fan magazine said Blanche Sweet had met Michael Arlen and that her husband, Marshall Neilan, would be directing the film in Paris and London for First National. It is highly unlikely that Hays would have allowed him to make it – he was an unpredictable director who liked to work off the cuff. In any case, Neilan succeeded in wrecking the deal."

"M-G-M were not allowed to call the picture The Green Hat. Characters’ names had to be changed and even the story altered. Writer Bess Meredyth, who had successfully rewritten Ben-Hur, and who had scripted Garbo’s previous film, was assigned to this one, and in an eerie coincidence, was involved in a car crash. Clarence Brown, who had made the first Garbo and Gilbert sensation, Flesh and the Devil, was chosen to direct. He suggested the new title – “the only title I ever thought up”."

"Although Michael Arlen preferred Bebe Daniels, Garbo was chosen to play the heroine. It proved her favourite role, Diana Merrick being more complex and admirable than the temptress she usually played. John Gilbert was cast as her lover. But their affair had cooled and Gilbert had no desire to play with her. Garbo had to persuade him. And even when he had consented, the coolness remained."

"Gilbert and Garbo were not on speaking terms, reported Picture Play: “The love scenes had to be, as usual, fervid. They would look ritzily and disdainfully at each other when they entered the set. But immediately the camera would start clicking, they would set their mind to the important business at hand, which during the greater part of the estranged period, called for hectic and languishing embraces. Then off the set they would go in opposite directions, with their noses in the air.”"

"Douglas Fairbanks Jr., then 18 years old, who played Garbo’s dissolute brother, acted as their go-between, carrying notes from one to the other. “I used to read them,” he confessed. “They were both so angry it was sad. I thought they still loved each other.”"

"The love scenes lacked the fire of Flesh and the Devil, and John Gilbert seemed unusually restrained. Perhaps this was due to Clarence Brown’s direction. “Gilbert’s part in the film, as you may remember, is the part of a weak man, dominated by his father,” said Brown. “I quite naturally thought that Gilbert might object to the short footage which he had in the picture. Because in comparison with the footage given his co-star, he had but a small percentage of the film. I proposed that I add something to his part, making it a bigger and more manly role."

"Gilbert went right up in the air. He said, ‘I’d rather you didn’t touch my part a bit, Clarence, for if you do, I’m afraid we might weaken our story. My character is a weak character and he’s got to be handled that way. Footage doesn’t matter. I’d rather play the part of a butler in a good picture than have every foot in a film that’s a flop.’”"

"Brown recalled that Gilbert suddenly changed his style in the middle of the picture, demonstrating what he was going to do in his first sound film. “He was speaking his titles with a lot of flamboyance.”"

"No doubt Brown calmed him down. But there was another reason for his strangely muted performance. He had been attacked in an article in Vanity Fair by Jim Tully, “the hobo writer”, which had deeply injured him. His daughter, Leatrice, wrote that from that moment her father’s intensity and confidence on the screen had gone: “What is more surprising is that it never appears again. Jack, after 1928, is a different actor altogether.”"

"Louise Brooks remembered the gossip of the time. Garbo was jealous of Dorothy Sebastian, who was carrying on an affair with the director. And it was generally understood that the plot of The Green Hat was based on the death of Olive Thomas, who had supposedly committed suicide in the Hotel Crillon in Paris when she discovered that her new husband, Jack Pickford, had syphilis."

"M-G-M remade the story in 1934 as Outcast Lady, directed by Robert Z. Leonard, with Constance Bennett and Herbert Marshall. Unusually, a film had been released earlier that year called Riptide, written by Edmund Goulding and directed by him and Robert Z. Leonard, starring Norma Shearer and Robert Montgomery and bearing strong similarities to The Green Hat." – KEVIN BROWNLOW

The Music

Carl Davis: "The score is based on a Liszt piano piece, “Sonnet de Pétrarque” no. 123, a setting of a poem by Petrarch, from the composer’s “Années de pèlerinage”. I used it in an episode of the Hollywood television series devoted to the scandals, when an extract from A Woman of Affairs showed Garbo loosening her ring in the love scene with John Gilbert. That piano piece became the basis for the whole film."

"It is scored for 18 players – but I used no percussion, to make it softgrained, to go with the lighting. When it’s not Liszt, I tried to make it sound sophisticated to replicate the atmosphere of England at that period. The performance at the Giornate will mark the first time I have personally conducted the score publicly." – CARL DAVIS

AA: Greta Garbo and Clarence Brown at their best. This interpretation of the bestselling novel grows into a tragic view of "the lost generation". The brother (Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.) drinks himself to death. The sister (Greta Garbo) burns herself to death. She is introduced as a reckless driver, and in the conclusion we see her final ride holding a queen of spades playing card in her hand.

In his best movies Clarence Brown was really good (as was also evident in The Goose Woman screened during this festival; I skipped it, having seen it before).

The Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. - Greta Garbo interplay as brother and sister is impressive. As Kevin Brownlow says above, John Gilbert is different than usually, more serious and laid back.

Everybody blames Diana (Greta Garbo) for the suicide of her husband David (Johnny Mack Brown). Neville knows that "Diana is never a coward". When Neville (John Gilbert) finally reveals the truth, that Diana has in fact been protecting the honour of David's memory, it's the last straw for Diana: "You have taken me the only gracious thing I have done".

A Woman of Affairs is a showcase of the mature stage of storytelling in the silent cinema. The performances, the looks, the objects, the cutting: there is a real flair, and an aching impact in this movie.

A wonderful score by Carl Davis inspired by Liszt, and a great performance by FVG Mitteleuropa Orchestra.

The print is excellent; one scene seems like it might be a black and white duplication of a toned or tinted sequence.

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