Thursday, June 30, 2016

King of Jazz (2016 digital restoration in 4K by Universal Pictures)




Il re del jazz. US 1930. D: John Murray Anderson. SC: Harry Ruskin. Cinematography: Hal Mohr, Jerome Ash, Ray Rennahan. ED: Robert Carlisle, Maurice Pivar. AD: Herman Rosse. M: Milton Ager, Harry De Costa, George Gershwin, Billy Rose, Mabel Wayne, Jack Yellen. C: Paul Whiteman and His Band, John Boles, Laura La Plante, Jeanette Loff, Glenn Tryon, William Kent, Slim Summerville, Merna Kennedy, The Rhythm Boys featuring Bing Crosby. P: Carl Laemmle Jr. per Universal Pictures Corp. [The film was not released in Finland]. DCP. 100′. B&w .
    Two color Technicolor1,2:1
    DCP from Universal Pictures
    Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna
    Universal Pictures: The Laemmle Junior Years
    E-subtitles in Italian by Sub-Ti Londra
    Cinema Jolly, 30 June 2016


James Layton and David Pierce (Bologna catalog): "After years of being available in only poor quality and incomplete copies, Universal has digitally restored King of Jazz closer to its original form. Using the original soundtrack negative as a guide, the new restoration aims to recreate the film’s 1930 general release. The two-color Technicolor camera negative (cut for a 1933 reissue) was scanned at 4K resolution and then blended with additional footage from multiple dye-transfer prints. A small amount of missing footage has been reconstructed with stills over the original audio. For the first time in close to 85 years, audiences will be able to see and hear King of Jazz in a form more faithful to its original length, running order and visual quality."

"King of Jazz was one of the most ambitious musicals ever to emerge from Hollywood. Universal’s super production brought together Paul Whiteman, leader of the country’s top dance orchestra; John Murray Anderson, director of spectacular Broadway revues; a top ensemble of dancers and singers; sparkling early Technicolor; and a near unlimited budget. The end result was a unique mixture of the stage and screen – with no plot and nearly no dialogue – presenting an unparalleled cinematic interpretation of jazz music and stage spectacle."

"At the time Paul Whiteman was at the peak of his celebrity, having recruited the country’s premier roster of jazz performers, including a young Bing Crosby on vocals. The rotund orchestra leader signed with Universal for an extraordinary $200,000, but the studio struggled to find an appropriate story. After two stalled attempts to make the film, first as a biopic, then as a backstage drama, Universal eventually settled on the revue form. With Flo Ziegfeld unavailable, the studio approached the next best: John Murray Anderson, the man behind the innovative Greenwich Village Follies series on Broadway. Anderson – who had no prior experience with film – enlisted a host of exceptional stage talent to realize his vision for the film, and teamed them with Universal’s contract stars. At a total expense of $2 million, the film stood no chance of returning its costs. It performed poorly in the US – where musicals were no longer in demand – but found its audiences internationally, raking in $1.2 million."
– James Layton and David Pierce


AA: One of the greatest restoration projects of recent years, a dream come true for lovers of the film musical. King of Jazz was a case of une folie de grandeur of Universal Pictures, a giant musical spectacle released at a moment when the market was over-saturated with musicals, a half a year after the stock market crash. Commercially King of Jazz was an expensive flop, but the result was also a lasting achievement, a fascinating anthology of American popular music, although the lapses of taste and judgement are also monumental, starting with the title of the film.

King of Jazz is one of the foundation works of the grand revue format of the Hollywood musical, still followed by MGM in Ziegfeld Follies fifteen years later in which comedy sketches and huge production numbers alternate in the same way. In the beginning Paul Whiteman opens his scrap book – which turns out to be the very movie we are watching.

King of Jazz is all Technicolor, an important achievement in the development of the two colour Technicolor film. A special feature is a Technicolor animation right at the start, full of crazy transformations. Paul Whiteman "in darkest Africa" is there crowned King of Jazz.

The players in Paul Whiteman's orchestra are introduced, as are the chorus girls. Between popular music numbers are also passages of classical music ("Danza degli spiriti beati" from Gluck's Orfeo ed Eurydice). A magnificent wedding fantasy is among the first production numbers. Among The Rhythm Boys we detect Bing Crosby in his first film performance. His strong screen presence is already evident. The imagination sometimes borders on kitsch, and sometimes indulges in it. There are straight overhead shots of a complex choreography executed in the same way that Busby Berkeley would soon cultivate into a form of art. Paul Whiteman's face transforms into a Mélièsian moon. Before becoming a Howard Hawks regular Walter Brennan was a vaudeville veteran among many other things; he was also a war veteran. He had also made a fortune in real estate and lost most in the Great Depression. Here he toils in several numbers.

"Rhapsody in Blue" had been commissioned by Paul Whiteman from George Gershwin, and perhaps the most valuable asset of King of Jazz is the performance of this great composition by the original band.

King of Jazz climaxes with "The Melting Pot of Music". "Melodies of all nations" form a new rhythm: jazz. There are tributes to music from Britain, Italy, Scotland, Spain, Russia, France, etc. There is a special effects passage about the magic cauldron which leads to the grande finale of melting metal, and kaleidoscopic visions – leading to the birth of jazz in the reign of the king, Paul Whiteman.

Impressive, and offensive. No Africa, no New Orleans in the melting pot of jazz. It cannot be said that King of Jazz totally ignores the black origins of jazz. There are references to Africa and the black man in the "Rhapsody in Blue" sequence and the animation in the beginning. But when a film is called King of Jazz with such a huge cast of musical talent, and not a single black artist participates, it is deplorable.

The two colour Technicolor of course has its limitations. The colours are red and green, no blue. This famously creates a problem with "Rhapsody in Blue".

The restoration is marvellous, and visually the film is a great pleasure to watch.



La provinciale / The Wayward Wife




Rakkauden harhapoluilla. IT 1953. D: Mario Soldati. Based on: dal racconto omonimo (1937, in L'imbroglio) di Alberto Moravia. SC: Giorgio Bassani, Sandro De Feo, Jean Ferry, Mario Soldati. Cinematography: G. R. Aldo, Domenico Scala. ED: Leo Cattozzo. AD: Flavio Mogherini. M: Franco Mannino. C: Gina Lollobrigida (Gemma Foresi), Gabriele Ferzetti (professor Franco Vagnuzzi), Franco Interlenghi (Paolo Sartori), Nanda Primavera (madre di Gemma), Marylin Buferd (Anna Letizia Sartori), Barbara Berg (Vannina), Alda Mangini (contessa Elvira), Renato Baldini (Luciano Vittoni). P: Attilio Riccio per Electra Compagnia Cinematografica. 35 mm. 115’. B&w.
    Camera operator: Giuseppe Rotunno
    Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna
    Mario Soldati, a Writer at Cinecittà
    Print from CSC – Cineteca Nazionale
    E-subtitles in English by Sub-Ti Londra
    Cinema Jolly, 30 June 2016


Emiliano Morreale (Bologna catalog): "According to Soldati, it is his best film. At a time in which he was busy producing genre cinema (Walter Chiari comedies; pirate movies), he managed to complete a project from a few years earlier: the first film adaptation of a novel by Alberto Moravia, whom Soldati had known since childhood. The screenplay, written together with Giorgio Bassani, reworks the novel’s narrative though a complicated flashback structure. Beginning with a striking initiating event, the film narrates the life of an unsatisfied middle-class woman from differing points-of-view, adopting the perspective of various characters who, each in their own way, fail to comprehend her. It is another great portrait of a female character, which transposes Moravia’s realism into the classic suspense-mechanism typical of Soldati’s films. In so doing, it joins an elite company of ‘modernist’ melodramas of the period: the first films of Antonioni, certain works by Vittorio Cottafavi, Antonio Leonviola, Claudio Gora and Mario Monicelli. The modernism of its narrative structure is complemented by an elaborate style dominated by lengthy sequence-shots, a sophisticated use of music and a depth of field that places Gemma and her ‘narrators’ on the same plane, making it impossible to judge one without simultaneously judging the other. As Jean Cocteau stated at the time: “The film as a whole is part Maupassant and even part Marcel Proust; but the filmmaker’s skill and the economic use of dialogue and gestures saves the operation. Every second exhibits a power without recourse to tricks or expediencies, a mastery before which we should all bow down”. Perhaps the film also contains Gina Lollobrigida’s best dramatic performance." – Emiliano Morreale

AA: Alberto Moravia had written screenplays and contributed to them since 1940, but La provinciale is the first film adaptation based on a story by him. It is a story of Gemma Foresi (Gina Lollobrigida), a woman from the provinces languishing in a marriage with a scientist. The non-linear screenplay takes us soon to the climax of the drama, and then a series of flashbacks and flashbacks within flashbacks illuminate us how it all started.

A woman pianist in the corner apartment practising Beethoven provides musical continuity to the story.

With a long establishing shot and some expressive panning we get acquainted with the world of the narrative. G. R. Aldo and Domenico Scala are in charge of the cinematography. Giuseppe Rotunno was in this phase working with the best of them as camera operator. The camera movements in La provinciale are expressions of a high level of cinematic thinking. The visual intensity of the film is remarkable.

The performances are first-rate, and Emiliano Morreale's suggestion that this film perhaps contains Gina Lollobrigida's best dramatic performance is easy to believe.

In the beginning there is a love affair of youth, but it has to stop. Paolo Sartori (Franco Interlenghi) is the Count's son. Gemma's mother then reveals that Gemma is the Count's illegitimate daughter. Gemma gets married with professor Franco Vagnuzzi (Gabriele Ferzetti) as a substitute. The marriage is very one-sided. "I am for you for that one thing only", complains Gemma.

A refugee from socialist Romania, Elvira (Alda Mangini), who claims to be a countess, provides some diversion, but slowly it turns out that she is really a hostess for "discreet meetings" with selective gentlemen. Gemma has misunderstood the discreet meetings at first as true relationships based on affection. The spidery Elvira gradually transforms into a blackmailer who even infiltrates into Gemma and Paolo's household while they are on vacation in Switzerland.

In Switzerland, from reactions of students, Gemma for the first time understands that Franco really is an outstanding, internationally recognized scientist working on cosmological research. There are interesting spatial 3D representations of the cosmos in Franco's study.

Having returned from Switzerland and meeting at home Elvira who has moved in without permission Gemma has had enough. But even Gemma's violent reaction is not sufficient. Franco, having heard the full story, throws Elvira's belongings to the street and asks her to get out. There is a breath of fresh air and a crescendo on the Beethoven piano piece.

There is some affinity with Madame Bovary in this story but there are also crucial differences. Gemma is not sexually neglected, on the contrary. And her husband is not provincial, on the contrary. Rather, La provinciale resembles some stories by Anton Chekhov, such as Poprygunya / The Grasshopper where a gentle doctor is married to a woman who fails to rise to his wavelength.

La provinciale is a quality production and a well made film, but I have my reservations about the story. Without having read Moravia's original story I suspect that the limitations stem from it.

Il ventaglino (episodio di Questa è la vita) / [The Fan] (an episode of Of Life and Love)


IT 1953. D: Mario Soldati. Based on: dal racconto omonimo di Luigi Pirandello. SC: Mario Soldati, Giorgio Bassani. Cinematography: Giuseppe La Torre. ED: Eraldo Da Roma. AD: Peppino Piccolo. M: Carlo Innocenzi, Armando Trovaioli. C: Miriam Bru / Myriam Bru (la ragazza madre), Andreina Paul (signora borghese), Pina Piovani (popolana), Mario Corte (Ninì), Giorgio Costantini (soldato), Antonio La Raina (venditore ambulante). P: Fortunia Film. [The film was not released in Finland]. 35 mm. 14’. B&w .
    Pirandello's short story was originally published in 1903. It is a part of his project Novelle per un anno (1894–1937), comparable to A Thousand and One Nights and Decamerone. Pirandello finished 246 stories, published in 15 volumes. Il ventaglino was published in 1922 in the collection Scialle nero (Novelle per un anno I). Besides Questa è la vita Pirandello's stories have also been filmed by the Taviani brothers (Kaos).
    Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna
    Mario Soldati, a Writer at Cinecittà
    Print from CSC – Cineteca Nazionale
    E-subtitles in English by Sub-Ti Londra
    Cinema Jolly, 30 June 2016

Emiliano Morreale (Bologna catalog): "The most famous episode of Questa è la vita, the episodic film based on novellas by Luigi Pirandello, is Luigi Zampa’s La patente starring Totò. However, Soldati’s little ‘one-act’ written together with Giorgio Bassani, is also worthy of mention. Like all the novelists of his generation, Soldati had been influenced by the Sicilian writer and had even had an unfortunate encounter with him on Ruttmann’s Acciaio. In this film, he turns the novella into a concentrate of his own themes, from the detailed observation of class relations to the malicious female characters and the nostalgia for the Belle époque. Above all, however, he employs his free-roaming gaze to its fullest extent in a virtuoso play of little figures and camera movements." - Emiliano Morreale

AA: The episode takes place in a park in hot Rome. Myriam Bru plays the 20 year old mother of a little boy. The country girl has been seduced and abandoned, and now she is in Rome with no place to go. She has left her man because he had asked her "to be nice to a gentleman friend. My milk dried of rage". She is too proud to beg, but her little boy must have something to eat. From an old woman she gets a piece of bread. The boy of a rich mother takes the bread and throws it into the fountain. The rich lady compensates for it with two coins. With them the woman buys a paper fan.

A well made production. A moving performance by Myriam Bru. Beautiful cinematography by Giuseppe La Torre. An enchanting score by Carlo Innocenzi and Armando Trovaioli; there is also a melismatic song (Roman? Sicilian?) backed by a guitar, and a military band. There is an atmosphere of great beauty for a story of injustice and desperation so great that the young mother contemplates jumping into the river with her son. The class divide between the rich and the poor is severe. Mario Soldati brings all this together with sophistication.

A print so brilliant that it looks like it might have been struck from the original negative.

Anno uno 9 [A]: 1895-1995-2016: Latest Updates on the Lumière Brothers

Autruches

1896. Cinema anno uno – Lumière!
1896. Year One of Cinematography
Programma 9[A]: 1895-1995-2016: Ultimi aggiornamenti sui Lumière
Programme 9[A]: 1895-1995-2016: Latest Updates on the Lumière Brothers

Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna
Dominique Moustacchi (CNC) presenta il Work in progress sul catalogo Lumière
♪ grand piano Maud Nelissen
There are no intertitles in the films
Cinema Lumiere – Sala Officinema/Mastroianni, 30 June 2016

Béatrice de Pastre and Dominique Moustacchi (Bologna Catalog): "In view of the celebrations for cinema’s centenary in 1995, an international project to reconstruct and restore the entire output of the production company A. Lumière et fils was undertaken in France by the Centre National de la Cinématographie. In collaboration with the University of Lyon II, this wide-ranging project, which started with elements belonging to archives throughout the world, led to the identification of 1408 views (of which only 19 are considered lost) and the publication of a catalogue, La Production cinématographique des frères Lumière, edited by Michelle Aubert and Jean-Claude Seguin and published by BiFi, Editions Mémoires de cinéma, 1er siècle du cinéma."

"Twenty years later, in an era characterised by the global sharing of information online and the internationalisation of cataloguing standards, what is the current state of knowledge on the earliest productions in the history of the cinema?"

"For the CNC, the Institut Lumière and the Cinémathèque française, the commemoration of the 120 anniversary of this exceptional material marks an opportunity to continue this work, reprising the indexing of the films according to current cataloguing standards, and, above all, to study the so-called ‘out-of-catalogue’ films: a corpus of about 600 views that principally comprise those that were indicated as never having been marketed. Comparing them with the ‘catalogue’ views allows us to reflect both on the distribution of images – why was one view preferred over another? – and on the production of ‘series’ like Arroseur et arrosé or the various Entrées d’un train en gare. Moreover, these unpublished images allow us to adopt new cultural and ethnographic approaches to reading the films."
– Béatrice de Pastre and Dominique Moustacchi

[Toboggan aquatique] / [Water Slide]
fuori catalogo n. [4006], Alexandre Promio, [FR 1896]. - AA: a modest print, scratches.

Water toboggan (montagnes russes sur l’eau). Catalogue Lumière. Vue N° 98. “Cette vue représente la scène bien connue du bateau qui descend rapidement sur des rails et se précipite dans un bassin rempli d’eau ; débarquement des passagers.” - Graphie originelle du titre : Water-to-bogant.- Sur une bouée suspendue à une barrière, il est inscrit “H.HEIDISLAND”, qui pourrait peut-être suggérer le nom d'un parc d'attraction. En raison de ce terme que l'on peut rapprocher des nombreux lieux portant le nom “Island” aux alentours de New York, cette vue est classée aux États-Unis.- Le numéro originel 98 et le titre de cette vue sont absents du Catalogue des vues - Première liste (n° originels 1 à 358), paru en [mai] 1897. Il en est de même dans la liste en anglais (n° originels 1 à 358) de la firme Philipp Wolff for Films, parue en août 1897 dans la revue The Photographic Dealer (Londres). Dans le catalogue anglais (paru vers septembre 1897 puisqu'incluant les n° originels 1 à 619) de la firme H. Jasper Redfern (Sheffield), le numéro 98 apparaît sans titre. À notre connaissance, ce n'est que dans le Catalogue des vues - Listes 1 à 4 réunies que le titre et le numéro sont présents pour la première fois.- Une première version non cataloguée de ce sujet, tournée lors de l'Exposition nationale suisse de Genève, a été programmée le 14 juin 1896 à Lyon (France) sous le titre Le Water Tobogant (Exposition de Genève) (Lyon républicain, 15 juin 1896). Opérateur: inconnu. Date: [printemps 1896] - [1er mai 1897]. Lieu: [États-Unis]. Eléments filmiques: négatif Lumière - 4 copies Lumière - 1 copie Edison. Pays: États-Unis. Lieu: parc. Genre: distraction. Objet: manège.

Water toboggan (montagnes russes sur l’eau) / [Water Slide (Roller Coaster on Water)]
n. 98, US 1896. - AA: Two Lumière versions of a favourite subject of the earliest cinema. We had seen yesterday the American Mutoscope version of Shooting the Chutes probably shot by William K. L. Dickson. Scratches.

Autruches. Catalogue Lumière. Vue N° 4. “Promenade des autruches dans une allée du Jardin des Plantes, à Paris.” Une autruche et deux ânes, attelés à des charrettes, puis deux chevaux, un dromadaire et trois éléphants promènent des enfants. - Erreur dans le sujet du Catalogue des vues pour Cinématographe : la vue n'est pas tournée au jardin des Plantes.- Une autre prise non cataloguée du même sujet, tournée au même moment, révèle le recours à des prises multiples lorsque la vue semblait insatisfaisante. En effet, dans cette vue non retenue, un homme retient un petit garçon qui tente de traverser le champ au moment où l'autruche entre dans le champ (le même petit garçon d'ailleurs saluera l'opérateur à la fin de la vue cataloguée). Nombre de vues contiennent quelques présences importunes, mais ici la relation de ces deux vues est telle qu'il est permis d'imaginer que l'opérateur a décidé sans attendre de reprendre une vue devant ce léger contretemps. La volonté de laisser la vedette à l'autruche semble évidente. Opérateur: inconnu. Date: [juin 1896] - [12 juillet 1896]. Lieu: France, Paris, jardin d'acclimatation. Projections: Programmée le 19 juillet 1896 à Lyon (France) sous le titre Paris. - Au jardin d'acclimatation : l'autruche (Lyon républicain, 19 juillet 1896). Eléments filmiques: négatif Lumière - 1 copie Lumière. Lieu: parc. Genre: distraction. Sujet: animal, enfant. Séries: Promenades au jardin d'acclimatation de Paris.

Autruches / [Ostriches]
n. 4, Paris, FR 1896. - AA: A good print.

[Autruches, II] / [Ostriches, II]
fuori catalogo n. [4506], Paris, FR 1896. - AA: A fair print.

Scène d’enfants. Catalogue Lumière. Vue N° 94. “Deux enfants jouant dans un jardin avec un chien et un chat.” Opérateur: [Lumière]. Date: [printemps 1896] - 23 août 1896. Lieu: France, Lyon, Monplaisir, maison Koehler. Personnes: Marcel Koehler et sa petite soeur Madeleine, assise. Projections: Programmée le 23 août 1896 à Lyon (France) sous le titre Enfants, chiens et chat (Lyon républicain, 23 août 1896). Eléments filmiques: négatif Lumière - 1 copie Lumière - 1 copie Edison. Lieu: domicile. Personnes identifiées: Madeleine Koehler, Marcel Koehler. Genre: distraction. Sujet: animal, enfant. Séries: À Monplaisir.

Scène d’enfants / [A Scene with Children]
n. 94, [Lumière], Lyon, FR 1896. - AA: A fair, darkish print.

[Enfants jouant avec chat et chiens] / [Children Playing with a Cat and Dogs]
fuori catalogo n. [4587], [Lumière, 1896]. - AA: A closer view.

Enfants pêchant des crevettes. Catalogue Lumière. Vue N° 45. “Des enfants traînent leurs filets sur la plage à mer basse : les fillettes, les jupes relevées, rivalisent d’entrain avec les garçons dans cet exercice.” - Un des personnages porte un panier sur lequel est inscrit “Shrimp” [crevette].- Une vue supplémentaire et non cataloguée représente le même sujet. Opérateur: [Alexandre Promio]. Date: [juillet 1896] - [9 août 1896]. Lieu: [Grande-Bretagne]. Projections: Programmée le 7 novembre 1896 à Nîmes (France) sous le titre Les Pêcheuses de crevettes (La Chronique mondaine, littéraire et artistique, 7 novembre 1896).Programmation d'Enfants s'amusant sur la plage le 20 septembre 1896 à Lyon (France) (Lyon républicain, 20 septembre 1896). Eléments filmiques: négatif Lumière - 3 copies Lumière. Genre: distraction. Sujet: enfant. Séries: Premier séjour d'Alexandre Promio (1896).

Enfants pêchant des crevettes / [Children Fishing for Shrimp]
n. 45, [Alexandre Promio], GB 1896. - AA: Scratched.

[Enfants pêchant des crevettes, II] / [Children Fishing for Shrimp, II]
fuori catalogo n. [4514], [Alexandre Promio, GB 1896]. - AA: Better visual quality, easier to see detail.

Via Roma. Catalogue Lumière. Vue N° 281. Circulation dans la rue. Opérateur: inconnu. Date: [12 mars 1896] - [20 décembre 1896]. Lieu: Italie, Naples, via Roma. Projections: Programmation de La Plaza de San Fernando en Nápoles [La place de St-Ferdinand à Naples] le 10 janvier 1897 à Séville (Espagne) (El Noticiero sevillano, 10 janvier 1897). Eléments filmiques: négatif Lumière - 1 copie Edison. Genre: villes et paysages. Objet: voiture hippomobile.

Via Roma
n. 281, Napoli, IT 1896. - AA: Low contrast.

[Circulation via Roma à Naples] / [Traffic on Via Roma in Naples]
fuori catalogo n. [4011], Napoli, IT [1896]. - AA: Reverse direction. Better definition of light. Duped.

[Toulouse: Place du Capitole, II]
fuori catalogo n. [4017], Toulouse, FR [1896]. - AA: Traffic with streetcars. A fair print, with flicker.

[Les Bains Pane de Mexico] / [The Pane Baths in Mexico]
fuori catalogo n. [4559], Gabriel Veyre, MX 1896. - AA: Divers.

35 mm. Da: CNC – Archives français du film

AA: Quoi de neuf sur les Lumière? A screening of comparisons of different takes of the same subject, and samples of Lumière films hors catalogue.

The captions are copied from the Catalogue Lumière website.

Remember Last Night?


Remember Last Night? In the middle: Robert Young and Constance Cummings

Una notte d’oblio. US 1935. D: James Whale. Based on: dal romanzo The Hangover Murders di Adam Hobhouse. SC: Harry Clork, Doris Malloy, Dan Totheroh, Murray Roth. Cinematography: Joseph A. Valentine. ED: Ted Kent. AD: Charles D. Hall. M: Franz Waxman. C: Edward Arnold (Danny Harrison), Robert Young (Tony Milburn), Constance Cummings (Carlotta, sua moglie), George Meeker (Vic Huling), Sally Eilers (Bette, sua moglie), Reginald Denny (Jake Whitridge), Louise Henry (Penny, sua moglie), Arthur Treacher (il maggiordomo), Gustav von Seyffertitz (prof. Karl Jones). P: Carl Laemmle Jr. per Universal Pictures Corp. [The film was not released in Finland]. 35 mm. 81 min
    US © 1935 Universal Pictures
    Print from Universal Pictures
    Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna
    Universal Pictures: The Laemmle Junior Years    E-subtitles by Sub-Ti Londra
    Cinema Jolly, 30 June 2016

Dave Kehr (Bologna catalog): "James Whale followed The Bride of Frankenstein with this equally mordant black comedy, although the sympathy he found for Boris Karloff’s lonely monster finds no equivalent in the director’s attitude toward his characters here, a group of aggressively alcoholic New York socialites who awake after a wild bash to find a corpse among their number, and no memory of how the murder (or anything else) occurred. Whale seems to be deliberately deconstructing The Thin Man, offering another cocktail-swilling, crime-solving couple (Robert Young and Constance Cummings), though they never seem quite as delightful to the audience as they do to each other. Casually racist, openly contemptuous of their servants (it is perhaps the British butler played by Arthur Treacher who represents Whale’s point of view, muttering sarcastic asides as soon as his employers turn their backs on him), and appallingly self-involved, Young, Cummings and their friends (among them Reginald Denny, one of Universal’s biggest stars of the 1920s, returning to his old studio in a character part) seem like caricatures of capitalist decadence. As “The New York Times” reviewer wrote, “Probably it was not the intention of Universal Pictures to offer the photoplay as an argument on behalf of temperance, but the halfwit behavior of the roisterers in the film should commend itself to the W.C.T.U. as an example of the horrors of drink”."

"The film is dominated by a gigantic set representing the Long Island weekend home of the central couple, a mansion that seems to rival the Radio City Music Hall both in scale and its superb Art Deco design. Whale makes his characteristic careful use of the set’s interconnected spaces, with his camera gliding through walls as it follows the actors from room to room and between floors. When Gustav von Seyffertitz turns up as a hypnotist – his skills will be needed to pry memories from the characters’ befogged brains – Whale slips into witty self-parody, with a swirl of shadows and canted camera angles that evokes the gothic style of Frankenstein."
– Dave Kehr

AA: I only saw 30 minutes of this Bologna screening due to an overlap with an Anno Uno screening, but I have seen this film before more than 20 years ago when we screened a retrospective of the detective film curated by Risto Raitio. We then screened William K. Everson's 16 mm print.

There is little to add to Dave Kehr's remarks above. Surprisingly, in this 1930s mainstream film there is no sympathetic identification figure – or, even more radically, no identification figure at all.

The period: the Great Depression. We follow the Long Island jet set partying like there is no tomorrow. But there is one, and in the morning Vic, the host of the party, is found as a corpse, dead from a gunshot. Everybody has been drinking too much, and they literally "don't remember anything". Everybody has a hangover. And Vic's death is just the beginning of a series of murders.

The police arrives – with charges of disturbing the peace, drunken driving, and resisting the officer. When the police learns about the murder, the homicide unit (Edward Arnold) arrives, but the complicated chain of crimes is solved by Tony and Carlotta Milburn (Robert Young and Carlotta Cummings) in Thin Man style.

This is a story of deaths, but there is no life in the party, either. Instead, there is a sense of futility. The joy is heartless, hollow, and soulless. The racism and the contempt towards servants come naturally.

Judging by the 30 minutes I saw, a brilliant print.

The Kiss Before the Mirror



The Kiss Before the Mirror. Nancy Carroll (Maria Held) and Frank Morgan (Paul Held).

Il bacio davanti allo specchio. US 1933. D: James Whale. Based on: dalla pièce Der Kuss vor dem Spiegel di Ladislaus Fodor. SC: William Anthony McGuire. Cinematography: Karl Freund. ED: Ted Kent. AD: Charles D. Hall. M: W. Franke Harling. C: Gloria Stuart (Lucy Bernsdorf), Walter Pidgeon (l’amante di Lucy), Paul Lukas (Walter Bernsdorf), Frank Morgan (Paul Held), Nancy Carroll (Maria Held), Donald Cook (l’amante di Maria), Jean Dixon (Hilda). P: Carl Laemmle Jr. per Universal Pictures Corp. [The film was not released in Finland]. 35 mm. 68'. B&w.
    US © 1933 Universal Pictures
    Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna
    Print from Universal Pictures
    E-subtitles in Italian by Sub-Ti Londra
    Universal Pictures: The Laemmle Junior Years
    Cinema Jolly, 30 June 2016

Dave Kehr (Bologna catalog): "James Whale’s classic Universal horror films will always overshadow his extensive other work for the studio, but his non-horror work is no less personal and often more formally inventive. The Kiss Before the Mirror is perhaps his most radical film, taking both cinematic and theatrical stylization to the edge of abstraction. In the extraordinary opening sequence, a married woman (Gloria Stuart) arrives at the home of her lover (Walter Pidgeon) and begins to disrobe, as her husband (Paul Lukas), mad with jealousy, spies through a window, a revolver in his pocket. Whale films these events as an elaborate, dreamlike dance of sexuality and death, precisely matching camera movement, blocking and dialogue delivery to the swooning rhythms of a tango."

"The play on doubles and reflections suggested by the title continues both as a visual motif (mirrors reflect mirrors, within studiously symmetrical shots) and as a narrative strategy: no sooner has Lukas’s best friend, a celebrated attorney (Frank Morgan), agreed to defend him on a charge of murder, then does the attorney discover that his own wife (Nancy Carroll) has been unfaithful to him, and he is drawn into an identical emotional maelstrom. Morgan’s performance in the courtroom scenes is spectacularly and appropriate histrionic; when he applies the same melodramatic excess to more private moments, the films suggests that his great show of pain is only a pretense, meant to cover a possessive, misogynistic rage – a cover that Morgan’s junior associate, a ‘lady lawyer’ coded as a Lesbian and played with a no-nonsense attitude by Jean Dixon, penetrates immediately. The camera work, by Karl Freund, includes a spectacular example of that rara avis, a perfectly executed 360-degree pan. Deployed during the courtroom scene as Morgan delivers his impassioned defense to the jury, the circular shot completes the film’s sense of claustrophobia and entrapment, of lives doomed to endless repetition."
– Dave Kehr

AA: I saw The Kiss Before the Mirror for the first time.

James Whale is today best known as a director of Universal horror (Frankenstein, The Old Dark House, The Invisible Man, Bride of Frankenstein), but he always fought against being typecast as a horror director. His other high profile films included Journey's End and the first, Pre-Code, film adaptation of Waterloo Bridge – WWI stories both. Whale himself was a war veteran who had also been a prisoner of war on the Western front. In his films for Universal Whale had the backing of Carl Laemmle, Jr. until his last major works, the 1936 film adaptation of The Show Boat (starring Irene Dunne, Paul Robeson, et al.), and The Road Back, a peace time sequel to All Quiet on the Western Front.

The Kiss Before the Mirror and Remember Last Night?, both screened in Bologna today, are among James Whale's most personal films. Most of Whale's films were released in Finland, but not these two. I think both were favourites of William K. Everson. Whale did not want to make a war film, but I find a peculiar sense of urgency in his horror films which might be traced down to a need to work out war traumas.

Much of the film, including the stunning opening sequence, is purely visual, backed only by music, with a Viennese mélange to remind us that we are in Vienna, and the sensual tango theme of the movie. The cinematography by Karl Freund is marvellous with spellbinding camera movements and long takes. The mirror motif is haunting in the present tense and as a pathway to the past in flashbacks. The 360° pan was a signature device of James Whale. Some claim it was invented by him but that I find hard to believe. If memory serves, it was already used in the panorama effects of the earliest cinema, for instance in the Paris World Fair views. Whale used the 360° pan memorably in Frankenstein; and in the "Ol' Man River" number in The Show Boat a similar pan also appears. Here it is used electrifyingly as the defense lawyer Paul Held (Frank Morgan) is about to give his shocking speech.

But The Kiss Before the Mirror is also a filmed play with a dialogue full of irony, dry wit, and shocking revelations. "There is murder in the heart of everybody", declares Paul Held. "The greater the love the greater the hate". The dialogue is theatrical; the courtroom sequence is theatrical by definition. Giving his stunning speech Paul Held is so over-involved in it that he is completely exhausted.

This is a case of non compos mentis, of being not of sound mind while committing murder. Committing a crime of passion the perpetrator is not of sound mind and can therefore be acquitted. This is the legal surface level of the narrative. On a deeper level it is about the insanity of being possessive of another human being. On these terms, getting married you get in mortal danger. Love becomes dangerous. Therefore there is a profound sense of unrest in the film.

Another subtext is forbidden love. There is the official facade life and the true, secret life of freedom in passion.

The assistant attorney Hilda Frey (Jean Dixon in a brilliant performance) is an outsider in this world of possessive relationships, exhilaratingly free from the obsessions of the others. She might be James Whale's alter ego.

Some of Alfred Hitchcock's films made later have affinities with The Kiss Before the Mirror, especially The Paradine Case. John Williams in Hitchcock's films resembles Frank Morgan here. The 360° pan was used memorably by Hitchcock in Vertigo, another story of lethal possessiveness.

A brilliant print.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Henry Miller's "films in my life" in his essay on The Golden Age


Lya Lys in L'Age d'Or

[...] Five or six years ago I had the rare good fortune to see L'Age d'Or, the film made by Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali, which created a riot at Studio 28.  For the first time in my life I had the impression that I was watching a film which was pure cinema and nothing but cinema. Since then I'm convinced that L'Age d'Or is unique and unparalleled. Before going on I should like to remark that I have been going to the cinema regularly for forty years; in that time I have seen several thousand films. It should be understood, therefore, that in glorifying the Buñuel-Dali film I am not unmindful of having seen such remarkable films as:

    The Last Laugh (Emil Jannings)
    Berlin
    Le Chapeau de paille d'Italie (René Clair)
    Le Chemin de la vie
    La souriante Madame Beudet (Germaine Dulac)
    Man braucht kein Geld
    La Mélodie du Monde (Walther Ruttmann)
    Le Ballet mécanique
    Of What Are the Young Films Dreaming (Comte de Beaumont)
    Rocambolesque
    Three Comrades and One Invention
    Ivan the Terrible (Emil Jannings)
    The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
    The Crowd (King Vidor)
    La Maternelle
    Othello (Krauss & Jannings)
    Extase (Machaty)
    Grass
    Eskimo
    Le Maudit
    Lilliane (Barbara Stanwyck)
    A nous la liberté (René Clair)
    La tendre ennemie (Max Ophuls)
    The Trackwalker
    Potemkin
    Les Marins de Cronstadt
    Greed (Erich von Stroheim)
    Thunder Over Mexico (Eisenstein)
    The Beggars' Opera
    Mädchen in Uniform (Dorothea Wieck)
    A Midsummer Night's Dream (Reinhardt)
    Crime and Punishment (Pierre Blanchard)
    The Student of Prague (Conrad Veidt)
    Poil de carotte
    Banquier Pichler
    The Informer (Victor McLaglen)
    The Blue Angel (Marlene Dietrich)
    L'Homme à la barbiche
    L'Affaire est dans le sac (Prévert)
    Moana (Flaherty)
    Mayerling (Charles Boyer & Danielle Darrieux)
    Kriss
    Variety (Krauss & Jannings)
    Chang
    Sunrise (Murnau)
              nor
    Three Japanese films (ancient, mediaeval and modern Japan) the titles of which I have forgotten
              nor
    a documentaire on India
              nor
    a documentaire on Tasmania
              nor
    a documentaire on the death rites in Mexico, by Eisenstein
              nor
    a psychoanalytic dream picture, in the days of the silent film, with Werner Krauss
              nor
    certain films of Lon Chaney, particularly one based on a novel of Selma Lagerlöf in which he played with Norma Shearer
              nor
    The Great Ziegfeld, nor Mr. Deeds Goes to Town
              nor
    The Lost Horizon (Frank Capra), the first significant film out of Hollywood
              nor
the very first movie I ever saw, which was a newsreel showing the Brooklyn Bridge and a Chinaman with a pigtail walking over the bridge in the rain! I was only seven or eight years of age when I saw this film in the basement of the old South Third Street Presbyterian Church in Brooklyn. Subsequently I saw hundreds of pictures in which it always seemed to be raining and in which there were always nightmarish pursuits in which houses collapsed and people disappeared through trap-doors and pies were thrown and human life was cheap and human dignity was nil. And after thousands of slap-stick, pie-throwing Mack Sennett films, after Charlie Chaplin had exhausted his bag of tricks, after Fatty Arbuckle, Harold Lloyd, Harry Langdon, Buster Keaton, each with his own special brand of monkey shines, came the chef d'œuvre of all the slap-stick, pie-throwing festivals, a film the title of which I forget, but it was among the very first films starring Laurel and Hardy. This, in my opinion, is the greatest comic film ever made - because it brought the pie-throwing to apotheosis. There was nothing but pie-throwing in it, nothing but pies, thousands and thousands of pies and everybody throwing them right and left. It was the ultimate in burlesque, and it is already forgotten. [...]

Excerpt from Henry Miller's essay "The Golden Age" in: The Cosmological Eye, Norfolk, CT: New Directions, 1939. ISBN 0-8112-0110-4

When Henry Miller (December 26, 1891 – June 7, 1980) says he saw his first film at seven or eight years of age that would mean that he had been going to the cinema since 1898 or 1899.

La Maternelle / Children of Montmartre


La Maternelle: Rose (Madeleine Renaud) with babies.

Äidin kädet / Moders händer. FR 1933. D: Marie Epstein, Jean Benoît-Levy. Based on: dal romanzo omonimo (1904) di Léon Frapié. SC: Marie Epstein, Jean Benoît-Levy. Cinematography: Georges Asselin. AD: Robert Bassi. M: Édouard Flament, Alice Verlay. C: Madeleine Renaud (Rose), Paulette Élambert (Marie Coeuret), Henri Debain (il dottor Libois), Mady Berry (Madame Paulin), Edmond van Daële (papà Paulin), Alice Tissot (la direttrice), Sylvette Fillacier (Madame Coeuret), Aman Maistre (Monsieur Antoine). P: Jean Benoît- Levy. 35 mm. 98’. B&w.
    Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna
    Print from CNC AFF
    Marie Epstein, Cinéaste
    Original version with simultaneous translation through headphones
    Introduce Mariann Lewinsky and XXX (a Frenchwoman speaking in Italian)
    Cinema Lumiere – Sala Officinema/Mastroianni, 29 June 2016


Chiara Tognolotti (Bologna catalog): "La Maternelle, co-directed with Jean Benoît-Levy, is the best-known film of Marie Epstein’s directorial work. The movie explores the relationship between a young woman, Rose (Madeleine Renaud), and a little girl, Marie, a child at the kindergarten where Rose works who is emotionally scarred by her mother’s abandonment. Like the films she worked on with her brother Jean, Marie Epstein plays with the themes of femininity and motherhood in contrast with erotic passion; even if she was not a declared feminist, her work is marked by a special attention and sensitivity to female characters and, as a result, by a feminine point of view not common in French film at that time."

"There are two core aspects of the film. The first is the focus on a desire other than an erotic desire, which normally characterize narrative film storylines: the explosion of a child’s and feminine point of view within the picture constituted something new in comparison to the tenets of classic narrative film and an attempt to break away from the leading themes of mainstream European cinema of the 1930s. The second is the embryonic ‘architecture of vision’ established by Marie Epstein. Embryonic because posing vision as an explicit issue is missing in her work. There is, however, an emergence of the moment of vision as such, which can be seen in the documentary-pedagogical tendencies of much French cinema of the 1930s and comes to light, on the one hand, with the use of stylistic devices developed by the première garde and, on the other, is shaped by the original forms of representing a unique subjectivity and desire. In this sense, we can recognize in La Maternelle a pervasive attention to the movement of looking and the construction of the ‘vision that makes the film’, which undoubtedly is not an insignificant part of reflection on cinematic vision."
– Chiara Tognolotti

AA:  Like every cinephile I follow checklists of recommended films because it is not possible to see everything. A very special checklist is the one by Henry Miller in his essay "The Golden Age" in 1939. His list is a mix of well-known classics and little known titles, all worth checking out. A recent discovery for me has been Three Comrades and an Invention, a Soviet comedy screened last year in Pordenone. Miller was right about it. I still need to see, among others, Of What Are the Young Films Dreaming (À quoi rêvent les jeunes films, directed by Henri Chomette and Man Ray). Not to speak of The Tower of Lies, the Lon Chaney - Norma Shearer - Selma Lagerlöf film he mentions, but alas! a film believed lost. Today I saw for the first time La Maternelle, a deeply moving and unique film that has really been worth waiting for.

The film is based on a distinguished novel by Léon Frapié which I have not read but the film adaptation by Marie Epstein and Jean Benoît-Levy is evidently one of the happy instances of a fine novel being adapted into a successful film. Frapié's novel belongs to the realistic and even naturalistic tradition of Victor Hugo and Émile Zola. Sources say that it is based on the true experiences of the author's wife Léonie Mouillefert. The novel takes place in Ménilmontant; the film is set in Montmartre. (Or is it?)

La Maternelle is the story of Rose, a young academic woman from a well-off family. When the family goes bankrupt and the father dies Rose's fiancé vanishes. Facing hunger Rose seeks work but is considered over-educated. Thus she decides to hide her degrees and seek a humble servant's position at a Maternelle (a preparatory district school and day care center for children from two to six) in the poor Ménilmontant district. Rose is the one who is closest to the children, a surrogate mother to the children who are neglected at home.

The group scenes with children are excellent and convincing. Even more extraordinary are single major performances, especially by the uncredited performer of Marie, the daughter of a prostitute. The scene of Marie observing her mother at work at a saloon is heart-breaking. At school Marie is traumatized. Rose takes special care of Marie but is disciplined by the management for that. By accidentally displaying her expertise in a test arranged by a visiting researcher Marie is exposed and threatened by a move but the children want her to stay. Marie's mother has disappeared, and Marie has seen the man who took her away.

Rose and the school doctor Libois are attracted to each other, and there is a proposal: "voulez-vous... ?" Their moment of "privacy" is observed by everybody. Marie is jealous, and her feeling of solitude and marginalization is powerfully conveyed. She attempts suicide by drowning, and is rescued by a sailor. Rose and the doctor take steps to adopt Marie. Her smile reappears.

La Maternelle follows the structure of the classical narrative but its realistic and even frankly naturalistic texture of life is a world apart from the sanitized approach of mainstream cinema.

The narrative is about forming a couple and a family, but the romantic aspect of the couple is secondary. The primary themes are about childhood, helping neglected ones, and professionalism. The main love affair is between Rose and the children at la Maternelle.

The camerawork by Georges Asselin is dynamic with close-ups of the main characters and group views of the children of the Maternelle, expressively conveyed by forward and backward tracking shots.

This is an early French sound film, and sometimes it is difficult to make sense of the dialogue. La Maternelle is one of those films in which people are constantly singing which for me is believably realistic.

The visual quality of the print is good.

Takový je život / So ist das Leben / Such is Life (2016 digital restoration Národní filmový archiv etc.)


Valeska Gert and Theodor Pištěk in Takový je život / So ist das Leben / Such is Life. Please click to enlarge the image.

Sellaista on elämä [Finnish tv YLE TV1 1971] / Telle est la vie / [Così è la vita]. CZ/DE. Year of production: 1929. Year of premiere: 1930. D+SC: Carl Junghans. Cinematography: László Schäffer. AD: Ernst Meiwers. C: Vera Baranovskaja (la lavandaia), Theodor Pištěk (il marito), Máňa Ženíšková (la figlia), Wolfgang Zilzer (il corteggiatore), Jindřich Plachta (il sarto), Manja Kellerová (la moglie del sarto), Eman Fiala (il pianista), Valeska Gert (la cameriera), Uli Tridenskaja (amica della lavandaia), Betty Kysilková (cassiera). P: Star-Film, Carl Junghans-Filmproduktion. DCP. B&w. 63 min
    Restored in 2016 from a 35 mm safety print and a 35 mm safety internegative at the Hungarian Filmlab under the supervision of the Národní filmový archiv. Digital restoration of this film was kindly supported by a grant from Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway and co-financed by the ministry of Culture of the Czech Republic.
    Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna
    DCP from: Národní filmový archiv
    ♪ Grand piano Maud Nelissen – alla batteria: Frank Bockius
    Introduce Gian Luca Farinelli, Volker Schlöndorff & Jeanne Pommeau
    Ritrovati e restaurati
    Czech intertitles with English subtitles
    Cinema Lumiere – Sala Officinema/Mastroianni, 29 June 2016

Jeanne Pommeau (Bologna catalog): "Carl Junghans’s film captures the tragic story of an aging laundress, whose drudgery and toil support a licentious and abusive alcoholic husband. Following the wave of social realism in European cinema, the film tries to be true to life, refusing embellishment or sentimentalism. In this way, it distinguished itself from the other films produced during this period in Prague. German social cinema and the cinematic expression of Soviet cinema (some shots are only two frames long) influenced Carl Junghans and are not only present in the style of the film itself, but also in the casting which included personalities who had already played in decisive films that influenced its genesis. The choice of Vera Baranovskaja as the main character is a reference to the sacrifice and the moral integrity of Pudovkin’s Mother. The performance of Valeska Gert, who plays a waitress liberated from the usual confinement of female repertoire, is essential not only for the characterization of the waitress, but also to associate the film with avant-garde ideas and aesthetics and to set it apart from mainstream productions."

"A few weeks after its initial release in Berlin’s Ufa-Theater, some shots, considered too obviously sexually explicit and indecent, were censored in Czechoslovakia: a customer touching the manicurist’s knee, the lovers’ scene, a man carrying his bedpan, a doctor proposing a price for an abortion, a drunken husband heading to the toilet."

"So far, no original print of the silent version has been found in the world. A 1950’s print – made from a print dating most likely from the first release in Germany in 1930 that included all the censored sequences – was the best source available for the digitization. The Czech intertitles, produced in the 1950s probably for a sound version, are more concise than in the original Czech version that did not survive. All the other existing film materials have been made from this print. We were determined to preserve its integrity throughout the digitization process." – Jeanne Pommeau

AA: Revisited after 45 years a classic of Czech and German Neue Sachlichkeit, a refined and moving film about poverty and the working class, with affinities with Die freudlose Gasse, Mutter Krausens Fahrt ins Glück, Jenseits der Strasse, Phil Jutzi, Gerhard Lamprecht, Werner Hochbaum, Slatan Dudow, et al. The associative and lyrical montages also bring to mind contemporary French masterpieces such as Rien que les heures and Ménilmontant.

The film is divided into chapters with headlines such as: 1. The Daily Wages, 2. The Day of Rest, 3. Blue Monday, 4. The Day of Feast, 5. The Day of Woe, 6. The Day of Destiny, and 7. The Day of Grief. The headlines are accompanied with proverbs such as "sloth is the mother of sin" and "misfortune seldom comes alone". The proverb concept was adopted by R. W. Fassbinder in his tv series Berlin Alexanderplatz, set in the same period.

Such Is Life is a naturalistic, at times even animalistic, film based on crisp and sober observation. The cinematography by László Schäffer is first-rate. The editing by the director Carl Junghans himself is sharp and intelligent. Beyond naturalism, the film also displays a robust Formwille, complete with homages to Eisenstein (a statue montage). It also has a strong cast, including Vera Baranovskaya, famous from Pudovkin's Mother. Moreover, Such Is Life belongs to the films where there are no bit parts: all characters are colourful and meaningful.

The incredible Valeska Gert (1892-1978) was introduced in the screening by Volker Schlöndorff who made a fine portrait documentary on her: Nur zum Spass, nur zum Spiel (1977), covering her career from Pabst (Die freudlose Gasse, Tagebuch einer Verlorenen, Die 3-Groschen-Oper) and Renoir (Nana) to Fellini (Giuliette degli spiriti) and Schlöndorff himself (Der Fangschuss). And that was just the film part of her career.

The husband (the great Theodor Pištěk, also a production manager for the film) is the sloth who gets fired when he is late from work. The daughter, too, is fired from her job as a manicurist when she resists advances from a "gentleman" customer. Valeska Gert is the saloon girl with a thick skin to whom the husband escapes, spending the family's household money on her. In Pudovkin's Mother Baranovskaya played the victim of oppression who rises against her condition. Such Is Life is a melancholy film which ends in her submission, injury, and death.

The last chapters are lyrical, elegiac, and tragic. Only the wind blows over her, and she is gone. The close-ups of the members of the funeral service are expressive. Their faces and eyes are soulful. It is an unforgettable portrait gallery. Such is life. There is no "The End" title.

In this purely visual movie the pictorial quality of the DCP is often very good. A fine job of restoration of an important film.

Forough Farrokhzad: Let Us Believe in the Beginning of the Cold Season


And this is I
a woman alone
at the threshold of a cold season
at the beginning of understanding
the polluted existence of the earth
and the simple and sad pessimism of the sky
and the incapacity of these concrete hands.

Time passed,
time passed and the clock struck four,
struck four times.
today is the winter solstice.
I know the season's secrets.

The wind is blowing through the street,
the beginning of ruination.

I am cold,
I am cold, and it would appear
That I will never be warm again
I am cold and I know
that nothing will be left
of all the red dreams of one wild poppy
but a few drops of blood.

I shall give up lines
and give up counting syllables too.
and I will seek refuge from the mob
of finite measured forms
in the sensitive planes of expanse.
I am naked, naked, naked,
I am naked as silence between words of love,
and all my wounds come from love,
from loving

Will I once again
comb my hair with wind?
will I ever again plant pansies in the garden
and set geraniums in the sky
outside the window?
will I ever again dance on wine glasses?
will the doorbell call me again
toward a voice's expectation?

I said to my Mother, It's all over now.
I said, Things always happen before one thinks;
we have to send condolences
to the obituary page..

Time passed,
time passed and night fell
over the acacias's naked limbs,
night slithered on the other side
of the window panes,
and with its cold tongue
sucked in the remains of departed day.

Where am I coming from?
how loving you were when you..
carried me to love's meadows
through an oppressive darkness
until that whirling smoke, the last gasp
of fiery thirst, settled down
upon the field of sleep.

And those cardboards stars
circled about infinity.
why did they call sounds speech?
why did they welcome the glance
into the house of vision?
why did they carry caresses
to virginity's timid hair?
look how here
The soul of a person who uttered words
and whom a glance caressed
and whose shying away caresses calmed
has been nailed to the scaffold
of beams of misgivings
and how the tracks of your five-finger branches
which were like five words of truth
have remained upon her cheeks.

What is silence, what is it,
what is it, O dearest one?
what is silence but unspoken words?
I am bereft of speech,
but the sparrows' language
is the language of life, of flowing sentences
of nature's celebrations.
the sparrows speak of
spring, leaves, spring,

The sparrows speak of
breeze, fragrance, breeze.
the sparrows' language dies in a factory.

Who is this, this person headed
for the moment of oneness
over the highway of eternity
and who winds her ever present watch
with the mathematical logic of division and reduction?
who is this, this person
for whom the rooster crowing
is not the day's first heartbeat
but the smell of breakfast time?
who is this, this person
who wears love's crown
and is withering in her wedding clothes?

Greetings, O alienation of loneliness,
I'm relinquishing the room to you
because the black clouds always
are prophets of new messages of purity,
and in the martyrdom of a candle
is an incandescent secret which
the last and longest flame well knows.

Let us believe in the beginning
of the cold season.
let us believe in the ruins
of the gardens of imagination.
look, what a heavy snow is falling

Perhaps the truth was in those two young hands,
those two young hands
buried beneath the never-ending snow.
and next year, when spring
sleeps with the sky beyond the window
and her body exudes
green shoots of light,
branches will blossom, dear dearest one.

Let us believe in the beginning
of the cold season.

From: Lonely Woman: Forugh Farrokhzad and Her Poetry, by Michael C. Hillmann. (Three Continents Press, Washington, D.C., 1987). ISBN 0-934211-11-6, ISBN 978-0-934211-11-6.
Pages 126-127
Copyright © 1987 by Michael C. Hillmann. Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc.

Khaneh siah ast / The House Is Black

Forough Farrokhzad (1935-1967), poet and film-maker.

Making The House Is Black. Forough Farrokhzad is the third from left, standing in the middle, her hands behind her back, behind the camera crew.

خانه سیاه است / La Maison est noire / Das Haus ist schwarz / [La casa è nera]. IR 1962. D: Forough Farrokhzad. SC: Forough Farrokhzad. Cinematography: Soleiman Minassian. ED: Forough Farrokhzad. C: Forough Farrokhzad (voce narrante), Ebrahim Golestan (voce narrante). With: Hossein Mansouri. PC: Golestan Film Studio. 35 mm. 21 min
    The narration: from the Old Testament, the Quran, and poems by Forough Farrokhzad
    Farsi version with French subtitles
    Print from CNC – Archives françaises du film
    Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna
    Golestan Film Studio, between poetry and politics
    Introduce Ehsan Khoshbakht
    Cinema Lumiere – Sala Scorsese, 28 June 2016

Chris Marker (quoted in the Bologna catalogue): "February 13, [1967] at 4:30 pm, Forough Farrokhzad died in a car accident in Tehran. She was one of the greatest contemporary Persian poets, and she was also a filmmaker. She had directed The House Is Black… Grand Prix at Oberhausen, and beyond that practically unknown in Europe, and the film is a masterpiece. She was 33… equally made of magic and energy, she was the Queen of Sheba described by Stendhal. For her first film, she went straight to the most unwatchable: leprosy, lepers. And if was needed the gaze of a woman, if is always needed the look of a woman to establish the right distance with suffering and hideousness, without complacency and self-pity, her gaze still transformed her subject, and by bypassing the abominable trap of the symbol, succeed in binding, besides the truth, this leprosy to all the leprosies of the world. So that The House Is Black is also the Land Without Bread of Iran, and the day that French distributors will admit that one can be Persian, we shall notice that Forough Farrokhzad had given more in one movie than lots of people with easier names to remember." – Chris Marker, “Cinéma 67”, n. 117.

AA: Forough Farrokhzad (1935-1967) was an Iranian poet who created poems of five volumes' worth during her brief life. In Finnish her poems have been translated by Jaakko Hämeen-Anttila in Vain ääni jää [Only the Sound Remains], a collection of Iranian poetry. The title of Abbas Kiarostami's The Wind Will Carry Us is taken from a poem by Farrokhzad.

In 1958 Farrokhzad met the writer and film-maker Ebrahim Golestan, and they became partners, although Golestan was married. She participated in the Golestan film productions and studied film-making in Britain.

In 1962 Farrokhzad moved to Tabriz where the leper colony Behkadeh Raji functioned as a self-supporting, independent village. During the 12 days of filming of The House Is Black Farrokhzad was attracted to a child of a couple affected with leprosy and later adopted the child, Hossein Mansouri.

The Golestan Film Studio launched the Iranian New Wave, Farrokhzad contributed from the start as an editor, and The House Is Black was one of its first films. The House Is Black was ranked 19th on the Critics' 50 Best Documentaries of All Time poll in Sight & Sound in 2014.

There is little to add to Chris Marker's words above. When a leprosy patient looks at herself in the mirror it is an assault on the cult of external beauty in the cinema. This is a film about a terrible illness, disfiguring skin and body, causing invalidization and blindness. Farrokhzad's approach is simultaneously medically unflinching and humanistically poetic. The commentary mixes fact (leprosy is contagious, leprosy can be cured), religion (the Psalms: "I sing thy name, Eternal One", "Oh, that I had the wings of a dove"), and Farrokhzad's own poems.

An association I have while thinking about The House Is Black is Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. Both question what we take for granted in the cinema. The House Is Black is a challenge to our habit of looking superficially.

Golestan Film Studio, between poetry and politics (four shorts)


Tappeha-ye Marlik / The Hills of Marlik. The ancient statue is playfully placed by Golestan.

Golestan Film Studio, tra poesia e politica
Golestan Film Studio, between poetry and politics


Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna
Introduce Ehsan Khoshbakht
Cinema Lumiere – Sala Scorsese, 28 June 2016

Ehsan Khoshbakht (Bologna catalog): "Time to celebrate the first Iranian independent film studio, which during its 10-year run managed to produce some of the most remarkable entries (both documentary and fiction) in the history of Iranian cinema. One man is responsible for this enterprise: the filmmaker, producer, writer and translator Ebrahim Golestan; a figure of special importance to Iranian culture, without whom the notion of an Iranian art cinema would have been an unlikely prospect."

"If Golestan’s literary oeuvre has been widely discussed, his contribution to cinema remains underrated and the films largely inaccessible. Though Brick and Mirror, a pioneering work of Iranian New Wave, came to be seen as a misunderstood masterpiece, the documentaries were left largely unseen."

"Born in 1922 in Shiraz, Golestan began his encounters with the cinema at an early age, being taken to screenings by his newspaper-owner father. Initially he became a journalist, and joined the Communist Party of Iran, but, disillusioned with the Party’s treatment of the current affairs, retreated to literature. He wrote novels, and translated Ernest Hemingway and Mark Twain into Persian."

"Owning an 8 mm Bolex as a teenager, Golestan soon graduated to 16 mm and practiced his craft by producing news footage, often commissioned by American networks."

"In 1958, commisioned by oil companies, Golestan founded his studio. Instead of hiring professionals, he scouted for young talent, training them for various tasks. This small, dedicated group included cameraman Soleiman Minassian, actor/assistant-director Zackaria Hashemi and soundman Mahmood Hangval. Probably the most famous of his employees was Forough Farrokhzad, studio’s editor and occasional actress, who also directed the haunting documentary The House Is Black."

"However, tragedy struck: in 1967, Farrokhzad, with whom Golestan shared more than a professional relationship, died in a car accident. Shortly after, Golestan abandoned his film studio and left Iran to settle in the UK. It was only in 1971, when he made a short return, that he made what turned out to be his last cinematic work."

"In retrospect, Golestan’s films seem as fresh and powerful as ever, freely ranging between prose poetry and anthropology; from political metaphor to philosophical allegory. In their rich and colourful universe, the past and present live side by side, often overlooking each other’s presence until the camera’s observant eye reconciles them by means of poetic inspiration. Along with the repeated acts of excavation and digging – for oil, objects and history – seen in Golestan’s films, the works are themselves a search for the roots of an old tree called Iran." – Ehsan Khoshbakht

Yek atash / A Fire
یک آتش / [Un fuoco]. IR 1961. D: Ebrahim Golestan. SC: Ebrahim Golestan. Cinematography: Shahrokh Golestan. ED: Forough Farrokhzad. C: John Sherman (voce narrante). PC: Golestan Film Studio. 35 mm. 23 min
    English version
    From: University of Chicago Film Studies Center
Ehsan Khoshbakht (Bologna catalog): "In the spring of 1958 an oil well in the southwest of Iran caught fire. Golestan took his small crew to the location and filmed the process of extinguishing the conflagration. Later, Forough Farrokhzad, fresh from an educational course on the use of archival footage in the UK, edited the film which combined her poetic sensibilities with Golestan’s more symbolic approach. The result stands in sharp contrast with, for instance, Werner Herzog’s treatment of the same subject matter in Lektionen in Finsternis (Lessons of Darkness). Golestan develops a folkloric narrative, a celebration of collective work by ordinary people, while Herzog gives us an operatic tale of individualism. Golestan looks at the situation from the inside, whereas for Herzog the process of filming becomes another epic adventure in an exotic place which stands beyong language. Golestan is not interested in the steely will of men but offers an anecdotal, poetic depiction of the lives interweaved with the disaster. After all, fire was sacred in ancient Iran and fire was also the form in which God appeared to Abraham (Ebrahim)." – Ehsan Khoshbakht
    AA: An epic documentary on extinguishing a massive oil well fire. The pits, the cement, the water, the pipeline. Giant jets of water are not enough. The fire must be stopped with multiple explosions. There is a focus and a power of observation in the documentary. There is a sense of the sublime in the vision of the thunder and the fire. There is a celebration of everyday courage in the account of the laconic professionalism of the experienced fire brigade.

Khaneh siah ast / The House Is Black
خانه سیاه است / [La casa è nera]. IR 1962. D: Forough Farrokhzad. SC: Forough Farrokhzad. Cinematography: Soleiman Minassian. ED: Forough Farrokhzad. C: Forough Farrokhzad (voce narrante), Ebrahim Golestan (voce narrante). PC: Golestan Film Studio. 35 mm. 21 min
    Farsi version with French subtitles
    Print from CNC – Archives françaises du film
Chris Marker (quoted in the Bologna catalogue): "February 13, [1967] at 4:30 pm, Forough Farrokhzad died in a car accident in Tehran. She was one of the greatest contemporary Persian poets, and she was also a filmmaker. She had directed The House Is Black… Grand Prix at Oberhausen, and beyond that practically unknown in Europe, and the film is a masterpiece. She was 33… equally made of magic and energy, she was the Queen of Sheba described by Stendhal. For her first film, she went straight to the most unwatchable: leprosy, lepers. And if was needed the gaze of a woman, if is always needed the look of a woman to establish the right distance with suffering and hideousness, without complacency and self-pity, her gaze still transformed her subject, and by bypassing the abominable trap of the symbol, succeed in binding, besides the truth, this leprosy to all the leprosies of the world. So that The House Is Black is also the Land Without Bread of Iran, and the day that French distributors will admit that one can be Persian, we shall notice that Forough Farrokhzad had given more in one movie than lots of people with easier names to remember." – Chris Marker, “Cinéma 67”, n. 117.
    AA: See my separate blog remark on The House Is Black.

Tappeha-ye Marlik / The Hills of Marlik
تپههای مارلیک / The Elements / [Le colline di Marlik]. IR 1964. D: Ebrahim Golestan. SC: Ebrahim Golestan. Cinematography: Soleiman Minassian. ED: Ebrahim Golestan. M: Morteza Hannaneh. C: Brian Spooner (voce narrante inglese), Ebrahim Golestan (voce narrante persiana). PC: Golestan Film Studio. 35 mm. 15 min
    English version
    From: University of Chicago Film Studies Center
    Ehsan Khoshbakht (Bologna catalog): "A 3,000-year-old site in the north of Iran is simultaneously excavated by archaeologists and fertilized by farmers. Another example of Golestan’s documentary work about classical elements, in which the past touches the present, and there is a clear continuity among the forms of human life detected by the camera, as it breathes life into dead objects."
    "While watching the film, it’s impossible not to recall Les Statues meurent aussi (1953), with both films drawing converging lines between man, art, and death, and sharing a both poetic and political approach to history. Technically, it appears that Golestan has adopted some of the ways in which the Marker/Resnais/Cloquet team detach statues and other objects from their surroundings, to display them against a purely cinematic black background, giving the statues the sense of volume they need. Golestan pays scrupulous attention to sound, as quite often the music – an excellent contribution by Morteza Hannaneh, one of the most serious Iranian composers of his era – goes silent in order to amplify the sound of brushes caressing a broken piece of pottery." – Ehsan Khoshbakht
    AA: The hills of Marlik are being fertilized by farmers, and archeologists excavate ancient statues of fertility imagery (females with prominent breasts and vaginas, males with full erections). There are samples of stark stylization which render the distinction of "ancient" and "modern" meaningless (see image above). The samples of ancient forging are spellbinding. There is a genius in the editing of the look. A vision of "time without time".

Ganjineha-ye gohar / The Crown Jewels of Iran
گنجینههای گوهر / [I gioielli della corona dell’Iran]. IR 1965. D: Ebrahim Golestan. SC: Ebrahim Golestan. Cinematography: Soleiman Minassian. ED: Ebrahim Golestan. M: Hossein Dehlavi. C: Ebrahim Golestan (voce narrante). PC: Golestan Film Studio. 35 mm. 15 min
    Farsi version, screened without subtitles.
    From: University of Chicago Film Studies Center
    Ehsan Khoshbakht (Bologna catalog): "Commissioned by the Central Bank of Iran to celebrate the collection of precious jewels kept in the treasury, this film remains Golestan’s most visually dazzling film, embellished with terrific camera movements. Some of the most iconic landscape photography in the history of Iranian cinema can be found within a minute after the opening credits, in which peasants of various ethnicities and tribes are quickly reviewed, all posed in a graceful manner, like kings without being kings. Like a work of musical composition, a simple act of ploughing is spread across shots of various size and angle, creating an intimate visual symphony. And then appears one of Golestan’s allegorical match-cuts: a farmer seen on the horizon before a cut to a diamond on a dark background – the farmer is the jewel. As in his previous commissioned films, Golestan manages to subvert the subject by being openly critical of the Persian kings. The theme of the commentary is in clear contrast with what is shown: colourful images of jewels in rotation while Golestan’s voice is heard, describing the decadence and treachery of past kings." – Ehsan Khoshbakht
    AA: A vision of an immense – infinite – treasure, the theme of the crown jewels opens up to all kinds of meanings, most importantly, about the treasure of Iran itself and its people. A quick and witty montage. This print is turning red, and this masterpiece would be eminently worthy of a beautiful colour restoration.

AA: The Golestan Film Studio show: four jewels about fighting the elements, fighting a disease, and displaying treasures of a culture with an ancient tradition.

Anno uno 8 B: Films by Paul Nadar (2013 restorations in 4K by La Cinémathèque française)

[Mademoiselle Zambelli de l'Opéra] (1898). Photo: La Cinémathèque française. Le Giornate del Cinema Muto 2014. Please click to enlarge.

1896. Cinema anno uno – Lumière!

1896. Year One of Cinematography
Programma 8 / Programme 8: B: Films by Paul Nadar

Introduce Céline Ruivo
♪ Grand piano John Sweeney
There are no intertitles in the films.
Cinema Lumiere – Sala Officinema/Mastroianni, 29 June 2016

Films by Paul Nadar, 1896-1898

Bologna catalog: "In 1896, Paul Armand Tournachon, known as Paul Nadar, son of photographer Gaspard-Félix Tournachon, known as Nadar, shot his first films with a cine-camera that ran non-perforated 35 mm film (a spiked-roller perforated the film as the camera operated). The cine-camera is preserved at Cinémathèque française together with another model (which utilised 58 mm film, absent from this body of work). The 35 mm version was demonstrated to the board members of the Musée Grevin on the 12th May 1897. Nadar was supposed to succeed Émile Reynaud and his Théâtre Optique but the board members were not enthused by the results of the screening (“The noise of the mechanism renders it absolutely unusable”, the board’s minutes of the 17th May 1897 record). Subsequently Paul Nadar used a cine-camera for 35 mm film with Edison perforations. The films we are presenting were shot with both the 1896 cine-camera and the later one in the standard format. Several original films made by Paul Nadar, together with his two cameras, were acquired by the Cinémathèque française from Nadir’s widow on the 7th February 1950."

[Danses slaves]. C: sorelle Rappo

[Danses russes]. C: sorelle Rappo

Les Deux Gosses. C: Marthe Mellot e Hélène Reyé

[Paul Nadar pratiquant l’escrime]

[Paul Nadar lisant “L’Écho de Paris” à la terrasse d’un café]

[Mademoiselle Zambelli de l’Opéra]. C: Carlotta Zambelli

[Danse du papillon]. C: Bob Walter

[Scène de rêve]


[Rue Royale]


[Place de La Concorde]

FR 1896-1898. D: Paul Nadar. 35 mm. 288 m / 10’. Col. Da: Cinémathèque française (coll. Olivier Auboin-Vermorel)
Restored in 2013 in 4K by Cinémathèque française, from negatives and positives of vintage prints

AA: I blogged about the Paul Nadar films at Le Giornate del Cinema Muto in 2014.