Saturday, October 20, 2018

Fanny och Alexander 1–5 (the long version, the director's cut) (2009 digital restoration) / Fanny and Alexander (DCP)


Fanny och Alexander. Helena Ekdahl (Gunn Wållgren): "See, now I'm crying. It's over with the old, fine life, and the terrible, shitty life is falling over us. That's how it is". / "Ser du, nu gråter jag. Det glada, fina livet är slut, det hemska, skitiga livet kastar sig över oss. Så är det." With her best friend Isak Jacobi (Erland Josephson). Foto: Arne Carlsson © AB Svensk Filmindustri. Photo and caption: Stiftelsen Ingmar Bergman.

Fanny och Alexander. Ismael Retzinsky (Stina Ekblad): "Perhaps we are the same person, perhaps we have no borders, perhaps we move into one another, flow through each other, magnificently without limits. You carry dreadful thoughts, it almost hurts to be near you, but it is tempting at the same time. Do you know why?" / "Kanske är vi samma person, kanske har vi inga gränser, kanske flyter vi in i varandra, strömmar genom varandra, obegränsat och storartat. Du bär på förfärliga tankar, det är nästan plågsamt att vara i din närhet, samtidigt är det lockande. Vet du varför?" Alexander Ekdahl (Bertil Guve). Foto: Arne Carlsson © AB Svensk Filmindustri. Photo and caption: Stiftelsen Ingmar Bergman.

Fanny och Alexander. The children see in the housemaid Justina their only ally in the bishop's house. Bergman would direct Andersson one more time in The Blessed Ones four years later. / Barnen ser till en början pigan Justina (Harriet Andersson) som sin enda bundsförvant på biskopsgården. Bergman skulle regissera Andersson ytterligare en gång fyra år senare i De två saliga. Fanny Ekdahl (Pernilla Allwin), Justina (Harriet Andersson), Alexander Ekdahl (Bertil Guve). Foto: Arne Carlsson © AB Svensk Filmindustri. Photo and caption: Stiftelsen Ingmar Bergman.

Fanny och Alexander. Gunnar Björnstrand (Filip Landhal) who had a small role was diagnosed during the filming with a emerging demantia. Fanny and Alexander turned out to be his last film role. / som hade en minimal roll, var under inspelningen sjuklig med en begynnande demens. Fanny och Alexander skulle bli hans sista filmroll. Foto: Arne Carlsson © AB Svensk Filmindustri. Photo and caption: Stiftelsen Ingmar Bergman.

Fanny ja Alexander
    SE/FR/DE © 1982 Svenska Filminstitutet. PC: Cinematograph / Svenska Filminstitutet / Sveriges Radio TV 1 / Gaumont /  Personafilm / Tobis Filmkunst. P: Jörn Donner, Daniel Toscan du Plantier. D+SC: Ingmar Bergman. DP: Sven Nykvist – 1,66:1 – Eastman Color. PD: Anna Asp, Susanne Lingheim. Cost: Mari Vos-Lundh. Makeup: Anna-Lena Melin. Cecilia Drott ja Kjell Gustvasson (wigs). M arrangements: Daniel Bell. ED: Sylvia Ingemarsson. S: Björn Gunnarsson, Lars Liljeholm, Bo Persson. Production manager: Katinka Faragó.
    SOUNDTRACK LISTING: Main theme:
– Robert Schumann: Quintett Es-Dur, op. 44, 2. Satz: In modo d'una Marcia (1842). – Perf: Marianne Jacobs (piano), Freskkvartetten.
– Robert Schumann: "Du Ring an meinem Finger", lyr. Adalbert von Chamisso, perf: Christina Schollin (vocals), [Käbi Laretei as Aunt Anna (piano) tbc].
– Benjamin Britten: Suite No 2 for Cello Solo, perf. Frans Helmerson (cello).
– Benjamin Britten: Suite No 3 for Cello Solo, perf. Frans Helmerson (cello).
– Frédéric Chopin: "Marche funèbre", op. 35, perf.: Stockholms Regionmusikkår, cond. Per Lyng.
– "Finska Rytteriets marsch" [The March of the Finnish Cavalry in the Thirty Years' War] (1618-1548), trad. arr. Daniel Bell, perf. Käbi Laretei (piano).
– "A Hebrew Song from the 17th Century", perf. Stina Ekblad (vocals).
– Etc. See complete listing beyond the jump break.
    C: THE EKDAHL HOUSE.  Gunn Wållgren (Helena Ekdahl, grandmother, née Mandelbaum), Jarl Kulle (Gustav Adolf Ekdahl), Mona Malm (Alma Ekdahl, Gustav's wife), Angelica Wallgren (Eva Ekdahl, Gustav and Alma's daughter), Maria Granlund (Petra, Gustav and Alma's daughter), Emelie Werkö (Jenny, Gustav and Alma's daughter), Kristian Almgren (Putte, Gustav and Alma's son), Allan Edwall (Oscar Ekdahl), Ewa Fröling (Emelie Ekdahl, Oscar's wife), Bertil Guve (Alexander, Oscar and Emelie's son), Pernilla Allwin (Fanny, Oscar and Emelie's daughter), Börje Ahlstedt (Carl Ekdahl), Christina Schollin (Lydia Ekdahl, Carl's wife), Sonya Hedenbratt (Aunt Emma),  Käbi Laretei (Aunt Anna), Majlis Granlund (Miss Vega), Svea Holst (Miss Ester), Kristina Adolphson (Siri), Siv Ericks (Alida), Inga Ålenius (Lisen), Eva von Hanno (Berta), Pernilla August (Maj), Lena Olin (Rosa), Patricia Gélin (statue), Gösta Prüzelius (Dr. Fürstenberg), Hans Strååt (priest), Carl Billquist (Jespersson, policeman).
    THE BISHOP'S HOUSE. Jan Malmsjö (Bishop Edvard Vergérus), Kerstin Tidelius (Henrietta Vergérus), Hans Henrik Lerfeldt (Elsa Bergius), Marianne Aminoff (Blenda Vergérus), Harriet Andersson (Justina), Mona Andersson (Karna), Marianne Nielsen (Selma), Marrit Ohlsson (Tander), Linda Krüger (Pauline), Pernilla Wahlgren (Esmeralda), Peter Stormare (young man who helps Isak with the casket), Krister Hell (young man who helps Isak with the casket). 
    JACOBI'S HOUSE.  Erland Josephson (Isak Jacobi), Stina Ekblad (Ismael Retzinsky), Mats Bergman (Aron Retzinsky), Viola Aberlé (Japanese woman),  Gerd Andersson (Japanese woman).
    THE THEATRE.  Gunnar Björnstrand (Filip Landahl), Heinz Hopf (Tomas Graal), Sune Mangs (Mr. Salenius), Nils Brandt (Mr. Morsing), Per Mattsson (Mikael Bergman), Anna Bergman (Hanna Schwartz), Lickå Sjöman (Grete Holm), Ernst Günther (Rector Magnificus), Hugo Hasslo (singer).
    Swedish premiere of the theatrical version: 17 Dec 1982.
    Swedish telepremiere of the long version: 17 Dec 1983 SVT1.
    Helsinki premiere of the theatrical version: 21.1.1983 Adlon, Gloria, released by Adams Filmi – vhs of the long version: 1992 Suomen Kunnallispalvelu Oy – VET 90644 – K16
    The theatrical version 5215 m / 191 min
    The long version according to sources: 312 min, 326 min – actual duration of the copy screened 322 min (the durations of the acts below are of the ones screened):
    2009 digital restoration / Svenska Filminstitutet.
    The long version on 2K DCP from Svenska Filminstitutet / Bergman 100 with English subtitles.
    Screened at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Bergman 100), 20 Oct 2018
    15.30 Fanny ja Alexander 1. Prolog / Prologue / Prologi + Första akten: Familjen Ekdahl firar jul / The First Act: The Ekdahl Family Celebrates Christmas / Ensimmäinen näytös: Ekdahlin perhe viettää joulua / 96 min + intermission 20 min
    17.30 Fanny ja Alexander 2. Andra akten: Vålnaden / The Second Akt: The Wraith / Toinen näytös: Haamu + Tredje akten: Uppbrottet / The Thid Act: The Breakup / Kolmas näytös: Hajoaminen 79 min + intermission 30 min
    19.15 Fanny ja Alexander 3. Fjärde akten: Sommarens händelser / The Fourth Act: The Summer's Events / Neljäs näytös: Kesän tapahtumat 60 min + intermission 15 min
    20.30 Fanny ja Alexander 4. Femte akten: Demonerna / Fifth Act: Demons / Viides näytös: Demonit + Epilog / Epilogue / Epilogi 87 min

"Tid och rum existerar icke; på en obetydlig verklighetsbakgrund spinner inbillningen ut och väver nya mönster." (August Strindberg: Ett drömspel, 1902)

"Time and space do not exist; on an insignificant basis of reality, the imagination spins and weaves new patterns." (August Strindberg: A Dream Play, 1902)

To my knowledge the long version of Fanny and Alexander has been screened theatrically in Finland only once before, in our first complete Ingmar Bergman retrospective at Cinema Orion in 1986. There has never been a print of the complete version in Finland, and the only theatrically projectable format in Sweden in 1986 was 16 mm.

We ended our Bergman Centenary retrospective with Fanny and Alexander, his farewell film. After it, Bergman continued his creative work for over 20 years in theatre, in television, and, most prominently, as a writer. Fanny and Alexander opened for Bergman a fountain of memories and ideas from which he continued to draw until the end of his life. His achievement as a writer was so outstanding that he is presently considered one of Sweden's greatest authors.

Most happy in our Bergman Centenary tribute we were to highlight his three longform works produced to be telecast in the television series format. However, they are at their most rewarding when viewed in a cinema in a single screening. All remain thrilling and original, and seen now they look better than ever: Scenes from a Marriage, Face to Face, and Fanny and Alexander. All are somewhat disappointing in their truncated, shortened "cinema" versions.

I lived in Stockholm when Fanny and Alexander had its premiere there both in its theatrical release in December 1982 and its telepremiere exactly one year later, in December 1983. I remember the disappointment in 1982 of the theatrical version which, however, received rave reviews. The characters were not up to Bergman standards, there were one-note figures among them, and complexity was missing. Performances failed to grow to a familiar Bergman level, with the fascinating exception of the marvellous veteran Gunn Wållgren in her first role in a film directed by Bergman. Fanny and Alexander are title characters, but we learn nothing about Fanny and even Alexander remains passive. The hissable villain of the piece, Bishop Vergérus, seemed like a tired cliché compared with Bergman's previous tormented priests and crusaders.

In 1983, watching the director's cut as a television series, I had to revise my opinion. Fanny and Alexander was something different, something that Bergman had not essayed in the cinema before, with the exception of The Magic Flute. (And in the theatre he had done similar things since his early days in the children's theatre). Fanny and Alexander is a mystery play, dream play, a fairy-tale, and a variation of 19th century melodrama. It has affinities with the grand romances of Selma Lagerlöf such as Gösta Berling's Saga, splendidly filmed by Mauritz Stiller (the great fire sequence is a direct connection between Stiller and Bergman). It has also affinities with Charles Dickens's serial novels. Bishop Vergérus is the Devil incarnate in a cloak of religious authority, pretending to teach the language of love.

The lavishness of the spectacle is in itself of the essence, as are the dimensions of visions, demons, ghosts, magic and illusion. Maybe I should have perceived this also in the short version. But, as often, the short version fails to maintain the voltage, the rhythm and the fine web of continuities of characters, motifs and movements. The short version is often the boring one while the long version is thrilling. Yes, Fanny and Alexander belongs to Bergman's entertainment films, but in the best meaning of the word: he is bringing the best of certain dimensions of the talents of the cast and crew to the widest possible audience.

Seeing films next to one another connections emerge. Two days ago we screened Estonia's most beloved film, Spring (1969), whose events also take place among the children of the Belle Époque. Both are about the beauty of life just before start of the Age of Extremes, yet neither is naive about the violent undercurrents of life.

The revelation of the movie and its essence as the last will of Ingmar Bergman as a film director is in the last act, Demons. It ends with the grandmother reading aloud August Strindberg's foreword to The Dream Play where the writer states that time and space do no not exist. According to Strindberg, characters split, double, multiply, evaporate, condense, dissolve and merge, and one consciousness rules: the dreamer's.

The Jewish tradition had fascinated Bergman for a long time, and in the last act we see Erland Josephson's finest performance in a Bergman film when he as Isak Jacobi reads to the children a tale from an old Jewish book, translating from Hebrew to Swedish. It is a tale of a young man on an endless highway, searching for the destination, the meaning of life. But he only discovers a mountain covered by a vast cloud, formed of the fears, hopes and dreams of people. And that cloud streams down the mountain forming springs and rivers. Although presented as a Hebrew tale I believe it has been written by Bergman.

I had forgotten than in this act there is also Bergman's most powerful account of anti-semitism when Bishop Vergérus attacks Isak Jacobi with the most despicable insults. Erland Josephson had reservations about the stereotyped character of Isak Jacobi, but within Fanny and Alexander's fairy-tale world the character makes good sense.

I do not know whether anyone has commented on the potentially Jewish backstory of Fanny and Alexander. Their grandmother Helena Ekdahl's birth name is Mandelbaum.

In the final episode we are also introduced the character of Ismael the androgyne. Bergman was ahead of his time in featuring a character whom we would now call genderqueer / non-binary / transgender. Getting acquainted with the mysteries of life, Alexander, at 10, in a latent phase of development, gets an insight that sex and gender are more complex than they may seem. "Perhaps we are the same person".

In his essay "Call Me Ishmael" (Canadian Forum 41, November 1983, reprinted in the book Ingmar Bergman: New Edition, 2013) Robin Wood sees in the Ismael sequence the final key moment in Bergman's oeuvre. "The brief scene in which Ishmael and Alexander join forces is given powerful erotic overtones: Ishmael encloses the boy in his / her arms, and together they will the death of the stepfather, the overthrow of patriarchal oppression (the enactment of Alexander's secret, unspeakable wish) that makes possible not only Alexander's freedom but Emilie's – her independence, her acceptance of the theater management. When Ishmael invites Alexander to write his own name, the name he finds he has written is Ishmael's. The pre-pubescent male child becomes identified with the symbolic figure of androgyny; the woman becomes active and autonomous; Bergman identifies himself with all three. At last a Bergman film has achieved a triumphant happy ending – a triumph qualified but not disqualified by the brief intrusion of the stepfather's ghost" (p. 250–251).

Sven Nykvist's colour cinematography is at his most exquisite in Fanny and Alexander. The 2009 digital restoration has been conducted with great taste and elegance. The warm colours are glowing but never glaring. All four seasons are conveyed in vibrant colours. It is a feast for the eyes. This screening was in all ways a fitting way to close an Ingmar Bergman retrospective.

OUR PROGRAM NOTE EDITED BY SAKARI TOIVIAINEN FROM LASSE TERONEN AND YWE JALANDER:

Isak Jacobi's tale in Fanny and Alexander (Ingmar Bergman, 1982)


Fanny and Alexander: Isak Jacobi (Erland Josephson) tells the tale from an old Hebrew book.

Fanny och Alexander: Ingmar Bergman directs Erland Josephson.

You are journeying along an endless highway together with many other people.

Wagons drawn by big horses rattle past, forcing the wanderers and the herds of cattle to the sides of the road or down into the deep ditches.

The road leads across a stony plain where nothing grows. The fiery sun burns from morning to evening, and nowhere can you find any coolness or shade. A scorching wind is blowing; together with all the people, the carts, and the cattle, it stirs up huge clouds of dust, which chokes your mouth and blinds your eyes. You are driven forward by a strange anxiety and you are tormented by a raging thirst.

Sometimes you ask yourself or one of your fellow travelers about the goal for your pilgrimage, but the answer is uncertain and hesitant.

Suddenly you are standing in a wood. Night is falling and all is quiet; perhaps you hear the sleepy cheeping of a bird, perhaps you bear the sighing of the sunset wind in the tall trees.

You stand in astonishment, full of your anxiety and your distrust. You are alone. You are alone and you hear nothing because your ears are stopped up by the dust of the road. You see nothing because your eyes are inflamed by the merciless glare of the sunlight. Your mouth and throat are parched by the long journey and your cracked lips are tightly pressed around curses and harsh words.

So you do not hear the ripple of flowing water; you do not see the flashing stream in the dusk. Blinded, you stand beside it and do not know it is there. Like a sleepwalker you make your way along between the pools. Your unseeing skill is remarkable and soon you are back on the noisy highway in the burning shadowless light among the bellowing cattle, the furiously driven wagons, and the embittered people.

With a look of surprise you say to yourself: Here on the highway I feel safe. In the wood I was all by myself; in the wood it was lonely and horrible.

But the evening reflects its clear eye in the dusk of the wood. The water ripples tirelessly as it flows through the woods, becoming brooks, rivers, and deep lakes.

"Where does all this water come from?" the youth asked.

"It comes from a high mountain," replied the old man. "It comes from a mountain whose peak is covered by a mighty cloud."

"What kind of cloud?" the youth asked.

The old man replied: "Every man bears within him hopes, fears, longings. Every man cries his despair aloud. Some pray to a particular god, others utter their shouts into the void. This despair, this hope, this dream of deliverance, all these cries accumulate during thousands and thousands of years; all these sacrifices, all these longings collect and condense into a vast cloud round a high mountain."

"Out of the cloud rain streams down over the mountain, forming the brooks, the streams and the rivers, forming the deep springs where you can slake your thirst, where you can bathe your face, where you can cool your blistered feet."

"Everyone has at some time heard of the springs and the mountain and the cloud, but most people remain on the dusty highway for fear of not reaching some unknown destination before evening."

Fanny and Alexander, 5. Act: The Demons (Ingmar Bergman, 1982)

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Kevade / Spring (2006 digital restoration) – in the presence of Riina Hein


Kevade / Spring, starring  Riina Hein (Teele) and Arno Liiver (Arno).

Kevät / Vesna / Våren
    SU–EE 1969. PC: Tallinnfilm. P: Kullo Must. D: Arvo Kruusement. SC: Kaljo Kiisk, Voldemar Panso – based on the novel (1912) by Oskar Luts. CIN: Harry Rehe – b&w – scope. S: Harald Läänemets. AD: Linda Vernik. Cost: Krista Kajandu. Makeup: Rostislav Nikitin. M: Veljo Tormis. ED: Ludmilla Rozenthal.
    C: Arno Liiver (Arno), Riina Hein (Teele), Aare Laanemets (Toots), Margus Lepa (Kiir), Ain Lutsepp (Tõnisson), Leonhard Merzin (teacher Laur), Endel Ani (sacristan Julk-Jüri), Kaljo Kiisk (bellringer Lible), Rein Aedma (Imelik). Osissa: Kalle Eomois (Kuslap), Raul Haaristo (Vipper), Heiki Koort (Peterson), Heido Selmet (Visak), Tõnu Alveus (Lesta), Silvia Laidla, Ervin Abel, Evald Tordik jt.
    Tallinna premiere: 5.1.1970. Restored 2006.
    Telecast in Finland: 10.10.1972, 27.3.1979 TV1.
    2K DCP from Eesti Filmi Instituut with English subtitles.
    In the presence of Riina Hein.
    Screened at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Estonia 100), 18 Oct 2018

Revisited Kevade which I first saw five years ago in our Centenary of the Estonian Cinema series, also curated by Jaak Lõhmus. There is little to add about this cult movie, the most beloved Estonian film. It is a journey back in time to the Belle Époque, the period before the Age of Extremes, of which Estonians have suffered more than most. It is an account of young people on the verge of adulthood. Their characters are being formed, their future unknown.

The special distinction of this screening was the presence of the very star of the film, Riina Hein. Riina Hein and Arno Liiver were voted as the most beloved film couple of the century in the Centenary Gala of the Estonian Cinema in 2012.

Besides acting in the Oskar Luts / Arvo Kruusement trilogy Spring (1969), Summer (1976), and Autumn (1990) Riina Hein has been active as a film producer, director, screenwriter and editor, with 46 films, the best-known of which is the documentary My Estonia (2005).

It was wonderful to have Riina Hein introducing the beloved film. She was radiant, and it was incredible that it was 49 years since she starred in Kevade. She charmed us unconditionally.

The digital restoration (2006) was the same as five years ago, only then we showed it on 35 mm, now on a DCP with English subtitles.

OUR PROGRAM NOTE BY JAAK LÕHMUS BEYOND THE JUMP BREAK:

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

The Call of the Heart: John M. Stahl and Hollywood Melodrama (ed. Bruce Babington and Charles Barr) (a book)


Cover image: John M. Stahl directs Claudette Colbert in Magnificent Obsession.

The Call of the Heart: John M. Stahl and Hollywood Melodrama. Edited by Bruce Babington and Charles Barr. East Barnet: John Libbey Publishing Ltd. Distributed worldwide by: Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 2018. 276 p.

John Libbey introduction: "The profusion of research on film history means that there are now few Hollywood filmmakers in the category of Neglected Master; John M Stahl (1886–1950) has been stuck in it for far too long. His strong association with melodrama and the womans film is a key to this neglect; those mainstays of popular cinema are no longer the object of critical scorn or indifference, but Stahl has until now hardly benefited from this welcome change in attitude."

"His remarkable silent melodramas were either lost, or buried in archives, while his major sound films such as Imitation of Life and Magnificent Obsession, equally successful in their time, have been overshadowed by the glamour of the 1950s remakes by Douglas Sirk. Sirk is a far from neglected figure; Stahl's much longer Hollywood career deserves attention and celebration in its own right, as this book definitively shows."

"Drawing on a wide range of film and document archives, scholars from three continents come together to cover Stahls work, as director and also producer, from its beginnings during World War I to his death, as a still active filmmaker, in 1950. Between them they make a strong case for Stahl as an important figure in cinema history, and as author of many films that still have the power to move their audiences."


"The book assembles comprehensive data on Stahl's career, and on the forty feature films he directed, half of them silent; of these silents, half have been found to survive, already inspiring film festival screenings and alerting scholars afresh to Stahl's historical importance. The editors supply a wealth of introductory and linking material, providing a context for essays on each of the surviving films by an international range of writers: Jeremy Arnold (US), Tim Cawkwell (UK), Ed Gallafent (UK), Adrian Garvey (UK), Pamela Hutchinson (UK), Lea Jacobs (US), Richard Koszarski (US), Lawrence Napper (UK), Tom Ryan (Australia), Neil Sinyard (UK), Imogen Sara Smith (US), Tony Tracy (Ireland), Michael Walker (UK) and Melanie Williams (UK)."

"Bruce Babington is Emeritus Professor at Newcastle University, and has published widely on Hollywood, British and New Zealand cinema."

"Charles Barr has taught in England, the U.S. and Ireland; his main publications are on Britisch cinema and on Alfred Hitchcock." (John Libbey introduction)

AA: This year a revival of John M. Stahl has taken place in the double retrospective at Bologna's Il Cinema Ritrovato (the sound films) and Pordenone's Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (the silent films).

The new John M. Stahl monograph, published last week in Pordenone and edited by Bruce Babington and Charles Barr, makes sense of the career of the director-producer-screenwriter as a whole, including valuably about his films believed lost. The book is of such a consistently outstanding quality that it's worth reading from cover to cover, not just picking essays on well-known titles.

In a discussion of a little known film such as A Lady Surrenders (1930, the director's first film for Universal) one can discover a statement which amounts to a definition of the artist:

"Stahl's greatest gifts as a director were the restraint and unforced sympathy he brought to melodramas, the tact and sincerity that allow nuance to emerge from formulaic or contrived plot twists. You can start to see this at work at moments in A Lady Surrenders, especially in the ending, with the germ of rueful self-knowledge Isabel shows in her exit, leaving her husband with the recovered Mary. There are also glimpses of the subtle beauty that marks his films, which eschew showy camera movements but contain moments of stirring loveliness. Here, there are effects of morning sunlight or heavy rain done with a naturalism and delicacy that freshen the settings, and long close-ups that are powerful precisely because they seem disinterested and manipulative. There is something in Stahl's straightforwardness that deepens even flimsy characters and plots, an eye always patiently on the lookout for what is real". (Imogen Sara Smith, p. 149).

Before this year I had seen only five John M. Stahl films, and only after seeing his Back Street two years ago I started to realize that he is a master. Indeed, Stahl had seemed pale in comparison with Douglas Sirk. I initially saw Stahl's Magnificent Obsession and Imitation of Life in 16 mm prints, which may have contributed.

Now in some essays of the book I find statements about Sirk which I find simplifying. Two years ago I revisited several Sirk films for the third time, and had to confess that each time his work seems different than I remembered. Sirk's films are mysterious onions with multiple layers. Perhaps after this year's John M. Stahl revival a fair comparison between Stahl and Sirk might be essayed.

From the sober The Lincoln Cycle to the wild early melodramas to the sophisticated comedies of the 1920s, from the consistent Universal cycle of the 1930s to the diversity of the 20th Century-Fox productions of the 1940s, all Stahl's films are covered in chapters of their own, with well-researched introductions to the main periods of his career.

Many new prints of the silent films were produced, and restoration and reconstruction was performed for the Pordenone tribute. The essays are based on pre-restoration versions of films. For instance Lea Jacobs in her superb essay on Memory Lane refers to missing intertitles in the ending. In the print we saw in Pordenone those intertitles had been reinstated.

About the preceding surviving Stahl film, Husbands and Lovers, Imogen Sara Smith has reservations. She sees the account of male insensitivity "mostly played for laughs, and brushed away with an unconvincing happy ending". For me this film was one of the most rewarding of the silent Stahls. I see in it a film in which the wife Grace (Florence Vidor) is always portrayed with dignity, but both her husband (Lewis Stone) and her lover (Lew Cody) make fools of themselves. Her lover, a playboy, must transform into marriage material. The self-revelation of the husband is more painful and profound. He has to endure multiple humiliations before he can propose to Grace again. The emotion in the film for me is honest and deeply felt.

One of the longest essays is by Michael Walker on Leave Her to Heaven, Stahl's best-known film, yet in many ways untypical for him. In his illuminating study Walker discovers a hidden affinity with Douglas Sirk's Written in the Wind.

Bruce Babington and Charles Barr have edited this book from the contributions of fourteen authors. The book is a page-turner, a smoothly moving anthology, a difficult feat, but evidently this John M. Stahl team was moved by a common spirit.

Barr himself discusses Only Yesterday, the film whose ending was for him the moment of a Stahl revelation. Myself, I was not so impressed when I saw the film ten years ago, but now I realize I need to revisit it. This book makes me want to see all Stahl's films.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Desmet Collection 2018: Neighbours (curated by Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi)


When Mary Grew Up (US 1913) di James Young. Photo: EYE Filmmuseum, Amsterdam

Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM)
Language: English
Grand piano, ukulele, song: Nick Sosin
Viewed at Teatro Verdi, Pordenone, 6 Oct 2018

Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi: Neighbours

"Some themes are truly timeless and universally recognizable. Benjamin Franklin is credited with the aphorism “Love thy neighbor, yet don’t pull down your hedge.” In his poem “Mending Wall”, published in 1914, Robert Frost writes, “Good fences make good neighbors.” (Franklin meant it in a joking way, while Frost was being bitingly ironic.) A good number of films in this selection take these words very literally."

"Almost all of them (with the exception of Park Your Car, featuring neighbours getting along so well that they decide to invest together in a shared car) are about the well-known neighbourly irritations: the noise, the messiness, or simply the unpleasant characters of those living next door. Of course the classic topic of “falling in love with the boy or girl next door” is not forgotten either."

"What is noticeable in this year’s selection is that almost all the films end up being comedies, albeit of different sorts. Also, music seems to form an undercurrent; three films are directly about overhearing the neighbours playing a musical instrument, allowing a nice insight into the firm and functional presence of (loud) music within early silent cinema."

"Visually speaking, it is interesting to note that the theme of neighbours seem to inspire a universally acknowledged cinematography: many of these films either have the camera pan up and down, or left and right, or the frame is split vertically (and sometimes horizontally) in order to show the neighbours simultaneously on both sides of a garden fence, balcony, apartments, or even different floors of a building."

"A number of other films that would fit the topic were not used this year because they were already screened in earlier editions; such as Le acque miracolose (1914), where Gigetta Morano gets pregnant with the special “help” of her upstairs neighbour, who also happens to be her doctor, and Cunégonde trop curieuse (1912), where her constant spying on her neighbours in the apartment building drives  everyone mad."
Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi (GCM)

Max Linder in Mes voisins font danser (Repos Impossible) (Noisy Neighbors / My
Neighbors Are Giving a Dance) (FR 1908) di Max Linder?, Louis Gasnier?. Photo: EYE Filmmuseum, Amsterdam.

MES VOISINS FONT DANSER (28 mm Pathé-Kok: Repos Impossible) (US: Noisy Neighbors; GB: My Neighbours Are Giving a Dance) (FR 1908)
regia/dir: Max Linder? Louis Gasnier? cast: Max Linder. prod, dist: Pathé Frères. uscita/rel: 6/1908. copia/copy: 35 mm, 61.60 m (orig. 70 m), 3’04” (18 fps); senza didascalie/no intertitles. fonte/source: EYE Filmmuseum, Amsterdam. Preservazione effettuata nel 2000 dall’Immagine Ritrovata a partire da un Pathé-Kok 28 mm gonfiato a 35. / Preserved in 2000 at the Immagine Ritrovata laboratory from a 28 mm positive Pathé-Kok film print, blown up to 35 mm.

"Max has a splitting headache and tries to take a rest. However, his upstairs neighbours are having a crowded party, complete with loud music and singing. Max is desperate and bangs on the ceiling for them to stop, but instead they all start stamping on the floor, bringing the ceiling crashing down in Max’s apartment."

"The print is a blow-up from the 28 mm Pathé-Kok release, and as such carries the re-release title Repos impossible. Like many upstairs-downstairs neighbour films, this comic short contains a pan movement to reveal the neighbours upstairs, who at the end of the film spectacularly tumble down into Max’s bedroom. According to Raymond Chirat and Éric Le Roy, the film is directed either by Louis Gasnier or Max Linder himself."
Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi

AA: Inspired mayhem in a catastrophe comedy based on the hyperbole principle. Max Linder at his wildest. The visual quality: what can be expected from a heavily used blow-up from 28 mm.

THE LITTLE BOYS NEXT DOOR (Twee kleine nietsnutters) (GB 1911)
regia/dir: Percy Stow. prod: Clarendon Film Co. copia/copy: 35 mm, 341 ft, 5′ (18 fps); senza didascalie/no intertitles. fonte/source: EYE Filmmuseum, Amsterdam (Desmet Collection).

"This British film, held in the Desmet Collection, has always been known as Two Naughty Boys, by James Williamson. There were many comedies made around this time featuring naughty children in a variety of simple scenarios, generally misbehaving in the way that children do, with an anarchic glee. It was a popular genre in the 1900s and just into the 1910s, and could trace its origins back to the Lumières’ L’Arroseur arrosé (1895), in which a boy plays a trick on a gardener by standing on a hose-pipe to cut off the water, releasing it when the gardener squints down the tube to detect the blockage."

"In this film, two quite young boys race around a parlour, diving under furniture and carpets to evade an irate grown-up before the scene shifts to the garden, where the boys’ attempt to retrieve a lost shuttlecock somehow leads to an epic hose-pipe fight. Comparing the age of the boys to those in Williamson’s earlier film, Our Errand Boy (1905), starring his sons Tom and Stuart Williamson, leads me to think this is actually a Clarendon film of 1911, The Little Boys Next Door. The boys are much smaller and younger-looking, it fits Percy Stow’s anarchic style, and the storyline from the contemporary synopsis fits well."
Bryony Dixon

AA: Also this film escalates into an all-out battle mode from its Lumièresque premises. An appetite for wholesale destruction is evident in early cinema.

LES BOTTINES DU COLONEL (FR 1910)
regia/dir: ? scen: M. Lamsoon [Eugène Salomon]. cast: M. Grégoire (Colonel Ronchon), M. Tramont (Paul), Mlle. [Hélène] Maïa (Jeanne), M. [René] Bussy (orderly). prod: Éclair A.C.A.D. copia/copy: 35 mm, 182.70 m (orig. 205 m), 8’58” (18 fps), col. (imbibito/tinted); did./titles: FRA; titolo di testa mancante/main title missing. fonte/source: EYE Filmmuseum, Amsterdam (Desmet Collection). Preserved in 1991 at Haghefilm from an internegative.

"Paul is in love with his next-door neighbor Jeanne, the daughter of Colonel Ronchon. They communicate through the adjoining balcony, but one day Paul accidentally drops a note in the Colonel’s boots, left outside to air. As he warns Jeanne, they both go out of their way to remove the Colonel’s boots to retrieve the note before he notices."

"The print credits the actors only by their surnames, together with the theatre troupes they belonged to at the time. Two of the performers appear to have been killed at the front during WWI: M. Grégoire of the Théâtre Cluny, who plays Colonel Ronchon, and Tramont (apparently not the actor Émile Tramont but a performer who only went by the one name), whose death on the battlefield in 1916 is confirmed by a belated obituary published in 1918 in Les Annales du théâtre et de la musique."
Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi

AA: The Colonel's Boots. A chase comedy about tricking the Colonel to remove his boot to retrieve a hidden love letter. Visual quality: obscured by heavy tinting.

Julia Swayne Gordon, Flora Finch, Clara Kimball Young
When Mary Grew Up (US 1913) di James Young
Photo: Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research

WHEN MARY GREW UP (Een meisje dat een jongen had moeten zijn) (US 1913)
regia/dir: James Young. cast: Clara Kimball Young (Mary [Dutch print: Marie]), E.K. Lincoln (John Benson [Dutch print: Johan Hammond]), Flora Finch (la domestica/the maid), Julia Swayne Gordon (la zia/Mary’s aunt), Wally Van (il ragazzo del droghiere/grocer’s boy), Max Koster? (poliziotto/policeman), James Young? (autista adirato/irate driver?). prod, dist: Vitagraph. uscita/rel: 28.1.1913. copia/copy: 35 mm, 958 ft (292 m; orig. 1000 ft), 14′ (18 fps), col. (imbibito/tinted); did./titles: NLD. fonte/source: EYE Filmmuseum, Amsterdam (Desmet Collection). Preservazione effettuata nel 1992 presso Haghefilm da un internegativo. / Preserved in 1992 at Haghefilm from an internegative.

"Mary is an irrepressible teenager whose rambunctiousness drives her guardian aunt to distraction. When the family maid locks her in her room, she dons boy’s clothes and climbs out the window, getting into trouble when she’s caught by neighbour John Benson, stealing his apples. Attitudes change though when he discovers the pretty girl hidden underneath the mannish attire, and Mary seconds the flirtation, but clearly on her own terms."

"“If all comedies could be as captivating as When Mary Grew Up, reviewing would be a joy indeed,” crowed the critic for the New York Dramatic Mirror (5 February 1913), and few would gainsay his remarks, for the film is an absolute delight (it hasn’t been screened at the Giornate since 1987). It could just as easily have fit into last year’s “Nasty Women” programme, as Clara Kimball Young’s Mary is the sort of delicious spitfire whose headstrong pursuit of instant gratification knows few limits. When Mary Grew Up is yet further proof of the 23-year-old Kimball Young’s superb comic timing, and while she became a noted dramatic actress under Lewis J. Selznick’s guidance, one can’t help but feel a sense of loss that she, like Norma Talmadge, was pushed to jettison laughter in favor of d-r-a-m-a. As Moving Picture World (8 February 1913) wrote, “There is not a dull moment in this fine comedy.”"

"Be sure to notice the school pennants decorating Mary’s room, all of which attest to her strong-minded sense of female solidarity. There’s one for Belmont College for Young Women in Nashville, Tennessee (which merged the same year with a nearby school to become Ward-Belmont College); Western High School, founded in 1844 and the oldest public all-girls high school remaining in the U.S.; and Agnes Scott College, an all-women’s institute of higher learning founded in 1889 in Decatur, Georgia."
Jay Weissberg

AA: "Nasty woman" indeed, and also with an affinity with Ossi Oswalda in Ernst Lubitsch's Ich möchte kein Mann sein. Clara Kimball Young is a fireball in this Vitagraph comedy. Visual quality ranges from a duped look to beautiful.

Gontran et la voisine inconnue (FR 1913)
Photo: EYE Filmmuseum, Amsterdam


GONTRAN ET LA VOISINE INCONNUE (Gontran en zijn onbekende buurvrouw) (FR 1913)
regia/dir: ?. cast: René Gréhan. prod, dist: Éclair. copia/copy: 35 mm, 167 m (orig. 202 m), 8’22” (18 fps), col. (imbibito/tinted); did./titles: NLD. fonte/source: EYE Filmmuseum, Amsterdam (Desmet Collection).  Preservazione effettuata nel 1990 presso Haghefilm da un internegativo. / Preserved in 1990 at Haghefilm from an internegative.

"Gontran (René Gréhan) is so obsessed with playing the piano that he completely neglects his wife Arlette (or Alida as she is called in the Dutch intertitles). She moves to a house within hearing distance and begins to take piano lessons. Gontran is entranced by the music and starts courting this mysterious and talented neighbour from behind the garden fence, much to her satisfaction.
Gréhan (dates unknown) seems to have been a very prolific stage actor in the early 1900s at various theatres, including the Grand Guignol,“where five or six times an evening he switches between both tragic and comic roles with equal ease” (according to Film-Revue no. 13, 1913). Employed by Pathé as early as 1906, he moved to Éclair and was featured as the comic character Gontran between 1910 and 1913, when he was compared to Max Linder: “As played by Gréhan, (…) Gontran is an anxious, overconfident bourgeois type not unlike Max — and his polished style of performance and facial appearance (large eyes, hair parted in the middle, and thin moustache) do remind one of Linder.” (Richard Abel, The Ciné Goes to Town: French Cinema, 1896-1914). In the United States, the series was first released using the Gontran name, but was changed to “Nutty” between 1913-14."
Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi

AA: Gontran and the Mysterious Neighbour. Gontran starts to romance a mysterious neighbour on the other side of the fence who turns out to be nobody else than his own wife. A comedy of remarriage: music first separates, then unites them. Funny and Linderesque as Elif states.

Totò senz'acqua (1911) with Totò (Émile Vardannes).

TOTÒ SENZ’ACQUA (Toto sans eau / US: Toto Without Water) (IT 1911)regia/dir, scen: Emilio Vardannes. cast: Emilio Vardannes. prod: Itala Film. uscita/rel: 9.8.1911. copia/copy: 35 mm, 140.70 m (orig. 151 m), 5’08” (24 fps); did./titles: FRA. fonte/source: EYE Filmmuseum, Amsterdam. Preservazione/Preserved: 1991, Haghefilm.

"The water is cut off in Totò’s apartment building, so he volunteers to go to the water company and demand an explanation. However, by the time he gets there his house starts flooding, since he’s forgotten to close the tap and the pipe has been repaired in the meantime. Luckily his neighbours manage to reach him by phone and make him come home as quickly as possible."

"Émile (or Emilio) Vardannes (born Antonin Bénevént, 1868? – 1951) was a French actor who entered films in Italy in 1909. In 1911, Turin-based Itala Film cast him in the Totò series, for which he’s often credited as director, scenarist, and main actor. His international popularity was swift, with Moving Picture World (11.08.1911) commenting on Toto Without Water: “Toto is something of a favorite and his antics in this picture will not reduce his popularity in any degree.” In 1912 Vardannes switched to Milano-Films, where he was featured in the “Bonifacio” comedy series into 1913, and then continued a rich career in both dramatic (Hannibal, in Cabiria) and comic roles into the sound era. The film was first released in France as Toto sans eau in 1911, but was reissued in 1914 when, according to Aldo Bernardini and Vittorio Martinelli (Il cinema muto italiano. 1911), it was re-edited."
Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi

AA: Another comedy of hyperbole. First the comic possibilities of water shortage and then those of a mighty flood are milked to the utmost. So many early comedies appealed to our "Nero complex" to quote André Bazin's expression about the catastrophe genre. The satisfaction of total destruction. From a duped source full of scratches.

La Vengeance du sergent de ville (FR 1913) di Louis Feuillade
Photo: EYE Filmmuseum, Amsterdam


LA VENGEANCE DU SERGENT DE VILLE (De Wraak van den politie-agent) (FR 1913)
regia/dir: Louis Feuillade. cast: Paul Manson (Monsieur Brême [Dutch print: Brasem], il proprietario/apartment owner), André Luguet (suo figlio/his son), Yvette Andreyor (sua nuora/his daughter-in-law Marcelle), Louis Leubas (poliziotto/the policeman), Renée Carl. prod, dist: Gaumont. uscita/rel: 31.1.1913. copia/copy: 35 mm, 255 m (orig. 265 m), 13’33” (16 fps), col. (imbibito/tinted); did./titles: NLD. fonte/source: EYE Filmmuseum, Amsterdam. Preservazione effettuata nel 1991 presso Haghefilm. / Preserved in 1991 at Haghefilm.

"Newlyweds move next door to a policeman (Louis Leubas) who delights in playing the horn whenever he pleases. This gets on everyone’s nerves, especially the young bride (Yvette Andreyor), who soon becomes hysterical from the noise. The doctor prescribes a peculiar cure; she must be provided with a substitute policeman she can torture as she wishes, for up to 8 days. The family brings in a life-size doll, the spitting image of the neighbour. The cure proves to be very efficient, and Mrs. Brasem’s health improves. Curious to know why she’s no longer complaining, the policeman drills a hole in the wall, and on seeing the doll, decides to take his place. Although the very last metres appear to be missing, this film is a must-see as one of the more bizarre examples within the “neighbours” theme. Some sources indicate Suzanne Grandais as among the cast, but it is hard to establish the source of this information, and she is nowhere to be seen." Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi

AA: A Policeman's Revenge. A funny farce directed by Louis Feuillade about a music-loving policeman. His instrument is a natural horn with which he dominates / terrorizes the surroundings. The house is shaking when he blows his horn. The neighbours' outlandish survival strategy is to acquire a life-size voodoo doll of the melomaniac. An ok print.

Park Your Car (1920) starring Snub Pollard.

PARK YOUR CAR (Auto-manieakken) (US 1920)
regia/dir: Alf Goulding. scen: Hal Roach. cast: Harry [“Snub”] Pollard, Marie Mosquini, Hughey Mack, Sunshine Sammy Morrison, Ernie Morrison Sr., Sammy Brooks, Earl Mohan, Vera White. prod: Hal Roach, Rolin Film Co. dist: Pathé Exchange. uscita/rel: 19.12.1920. copia/copy: 35 mm, 853 ft (260 m; orig. 1 rl.), 8’57” (24 fps); did./titles: NLD. fonte/source: EYE Filmmuseum, Amsterdam (Zaalberg Collection). Preservazione: 2008, presso Haghefilm./Preserved in 2008 at Haghefilm.

"Sometimes neighbours get along just fine, as in Park Your Car. Here the problem comes when Snub Pollard and Hughey Mack think they can save money by buying a car together – only the vehicle they get isn’t quite what they bargained for."

"Snub Pollard (1889-1962) is still one of the most recognizable faces of silent comedy. His screen character was that of a goofy goon with a long, droopy Fu Manchu moustache. But not in Park Your Car. This short is a rare example from a brief period in 1920 when producer Hal Roach decided to change Snub’s look. Having had great success moving Harold Lloyd from the grotesque Lonesome Luke to a young everyman with glasses, Roach thought he’d try the same thing with Pollard. The problem was the Pollard films were anything- for-a-laugh gag fests in the Mack Sennett tradition, and without the upper lip hair Snub got lost in the shuffle. So after being clean-shaven in a few entries like Cash Customers and The Morning After (both 1920) the moustache returned."

"Pollard was a graduate of the Australian children’s troupe Pollard’s Lilliputians, and began his film career in 1913 working for Universal and then Essanay, where he connected with Hal Roach. When Roach set up his own production company, Snub was hired to be second banana for his star comic Harold Lloyd. In 1919 he was given his own one-reel series, and he spent the 1920s as a star for Roach and Weiss Brothers Artclass Pictures."

"Snub always got a lot of help from his friends in his comedies, and on hand in Park Your Car is his usual leading lady Marie Mosquini. His large buddy is Hughey Mack, former stalwart from the Vitagraph Company, who would move into support in features, and become a favorite of director Erich von Stroheim for pictures such as Greed (1923), The Merry Widow (1925), and The Wedding March (1927)."
Steve Massa

AA: Without realizing that this is a Hal Roach production I noticed the motif of a car coming apart, familiar from Max Davidson and Laurel & Hardy comedies, among others. Nobody could milk as much fun from the theme of a disintegrating car as Hal Roach. In this Snub Pollard comedy the motif is still primitive but already very funny. Also the gag of the hen picking the seeds from the garden is familiar from Roach's later Pass the Gravy. Alf Goulding has a touch for action comedy. The characters are elementary, without strong individuality, but they are full of life, and their happy ensemble acting provides plenty of laughs. Visual quality: from duped to fair.

Desmet programs curated by Elif Rongen belong to my top favourites in Pordenone, and my only complaint is that there are not more of them. With Max Linder, Clara Kimball Young, Gontran, Totò, and Snub Pollard this selection is also a very nice cross-section of silent comedians.

In Old Kentucky (1927) (2018 restoration Library of Congress)


In Old Kentucky (1927). Drawings feature James Murray and Helene Costello, and Stepin Fetchit and Carolynne Snowden.

Ritorno alla vita / Old Kentucky [Swedish title]
US 1927
regia/dir: John M. Stahl.
scen: A. P. Younger, Lew Lipton; dalla pièce di/based on the play by Charles T. Dazey (1893).
didascalie/titles: Marian Ainslee, Ruth Cummings.
photog: Maximilian Fabian.
mont/edit: Basil Wrangell, Margaret Booth.
scg/des: Cedric Gibbons, Ernest [Ernst] Fegté.
cost: Gilbert Clark.
asst dir: David Friedman.
cast: James Murray (Jimmy Brierly), Helene Costello (Nancy Holden), Wesley Barry (“Skippy” Lowry), Dorothy Cumming (Mrs. Brierly), Edward Martindel (Mr. Brierly), Harvey Clark (Dan Lowry), Stepin Fetchit [Lincoln Perry] (Highpockets), Carolynne Snowden (Lily May), Nick Cogley (Uncle Bible), [Sidney Bracy], Jiggs the dog.
prod: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures.
dist: M-G-M.
uscita/rel: 29.10.1927.
copia/copy: 35 mm, 6154 ft (orig. 6646 ft), 78′ (21 fps); did./titles: ENG.
fonte/source: Library of Congress Packard Center for Audio-Visual Conservation, Culpeper, VA.
    The title song featuring prominently in the narrative since the overture, is Stephen Foster's "My Old Kentucky Home" (1852).
    Not released in Finland.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto
    Grand piano: Philip Carli
    Viewed at Teatro Verdi, Pordenone (John M. Stahl), 13 Oct 2018

Imogen Sara Smith (GCM): "In 1927, Stahl left Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to become an executive of the independent Tiffany Pictures, renamed Tiffany-Stahl Productions, and while acting as a producer there took a three-year hiatus from directing. His last film for M-G-M, In Old Kentucky, thus also became the last silent film he directed. It seems an unusual project for him, a departure from the female-centered melodramas and light comedies for which he was known in the 1920s. The source was an 1893 stage melodrama by Charles T. Dazey, which it is impossible to resist calling a warhorse, both for its equestrian subject matter and the frequency with which it returned over the decades, both on stage and screen. (Louis B. Mayer had already produced an adaptation, directed by Marshall Neilan, in 1919, and a later version in 1935 would star Will Rogers.) These various films diverge widely, and each took great liberties with the play: Stahl’s version, adapted by A.P. Younger, focuses on the aftermath of World War I, and culminates in a Kentucky Derby race that manages to simultaneously heal the fortunes of a ruined horse-breeding family and the psyche of the war-damaged son and heir, played by the tragically troubled actor James Murray."

"The Bronx-born Murray was allegedly an unknown extra when director King Vidor discovered and cast him as the lead in The Crowd (1928), a performance that brought him immortality but which is invariably linked to the observation that his own sad fate echoed the film’s downbeat arc. Though his widely admired work in The Crowd led to other starring roles, a drinking problem seemingly tied to deep insecurity soon derailed his career; alcoholic and destitute, Murray drowned in 1936, whether accidentally or as a suicide. (In a sad coincidence, screenwriter A. P. Younger committed suicide in 1931.) If the account of Murray’s discovery is true, this would suggest that In Old Kentucky was made after, though released before, Vidor’s film. Though this film does not approach the level of The Crowd, the role of Jimmy Brierly also draws on Murray’s raw emotional intensity and foreshadows his personal self-destructiveness. Before going off to war, Jimmy is a carefree, golden youth; when he returns, he is a drunken, dissolute gambler who shuns or quarrels with all his loved ones."

"That his transformation is the result of combat trauma (“shell shock,” in World War I parlance) is never made explicit, but comes across strongly in Murray’s performance, redolent of self-loathing buried under a self-medicated haze. It is reinforced by the narrative link between Jimmy and Queen Bess, a prize racehorse contributed to the war effort by the Brierly patriarch; the two meet amid the rain, mud, and murk of the trenches, and much later the scarred and battered Queen Bess is recovered by the now-impoverished Brierlys and entered in the Kentucky Derby. Not surprisingly, this plot was met with considerable derision when the film came out: Variety’s review was so hostile (“inconceivably asinine in story and with kindergarten technique”) that M-G-M pressured them into a second review, with only slightly more favorable results. Even warmer reviews generally took for granted that the plot was ludicrous and the film’s success was in spite of it."

"Another element of the film that drew attention at the time and remains of interest is the substantial amount of time devoted to African-American actors Lincoln Perry, better known as Stepin Fetchit, as the ne’er-do-well Highpockets, and Carolynne Snowden as his long-suffering fiancée, Lily May, who works as a maid. These black characters are mainly treated as comic relief, much of it offensive to modern viewers, but given the extremely poor standards of such roles, they are presented sympathetically and allowed space for performances that, at least occasionally, feel natural and affecting. Snowden’s close-ups are so peculiarly touching that her recurring role as the butt of white laughter feels even more cruel (a familiar face, she would go on to play small roles, often as a singer or dancer, in well-known films like A Day at the Races, Murder at the Vanities, and Roman Scandals), and the eternally controversial Perry’s performance is more sly and rascally, less exaggeratedly slow-witted than the later style that would become notorious. This was his breakthrough film, and Stahl would cast him in three productions at Tiffany-Stahl. There was even talk of his directing Perry and Snowden in a film with an all-black cast; this never happened, though the director’s interest in African-American characters would return with greater nuance in Imitation of Life (1934)."
Imogen Sara Smith (GCM)

Synopsis from the AFI Catalog: "Disillusioned by his experiences in the World War, Jimmy Brierly returns, a gambler and a drunk, to his family of Kentucky horsebreeders. He finds poverty threatening the estate, all the horses having been contributed to the war effort. Then a famous racehorse, once owned by Mr. Brierly, that Jimmy rode in the war is by coincidence repurchased. Entered in the Derby, it recoups the family fortune."

AA: The Kentucky Derby is the site of thrilling sequences featuring the beloved racehorse Queen Bess. After the World War all hope seems lost in the final derby, but Jimmy the gambler (James Murray) covers the registration fee, and Queen Bess, a war veteran like Jimmy, is "a mudder", and when a torrential rain breaks out, Queen Bess wins the race.

The depiction of African-Americans is painful to a modern viewer. True, Stepin Fetchit's harmonica solo (in a silent film) is a stunningly emotional show-stopper for everybody. But in general the African-Americans are seen as stupid and childish people. This dates this film fatally.

Like in The Child Thou Gavest Me, war trauma is a key theme. Both Jimmy and Queen Bess have experienced permanent damage.

The whole family has suffered terribly because of the war. The family is so badly in debt that the performance of Queen Bess is crucial. In normal conditions the horse would not be fit to participate, but the rain and the mud change everything.

The story is closer to the conventional mainstream than Stahl's best films. The performances are again excellent. The feeling of sadness and loss is genuine, including among the black characters.

The physical production is handsome.

Philip Carli provided a vigorous piano interpretation, not forgetting the title song that brings everyone to tears in the overture.

Maximilian Fabian's cinematography is dynamic.

The visual quality is beautiful in this excellent Library of Congress restoration.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Memory Lane (2018 restoration by Library of Congress)


Memory Lane starring Eleanor Boardman.

La fidanzata rapita / Morsiamen ryöstö
US 1926
regia/dir: John M. Stahl.
scen: Benjamin Glazer.
sogg/story: John M. Stahl, Benjamin Glazer.
photog: Percy Hilburn, asst. Eddy Fitzgerald.
mont/ed: Margaret Booth.
scg/des: Cedric Gibbons, Arnold Gillespie.
asst dir: Sidney Algier.
unit mgr: Charles R. Condon.
cast: Eleanor Boardman (Mary), Conrad Nagel (Jimmy Holt), William Haines (Joe Field), John Steppling (il padre di Mary/Mary’s father), Eugenie Forde (la madre di Mary/Mary’s mother), Frankie Darro (scugnizzo/urchin), Dot Farley, Joan Standing (domestiche/maids), Kate Price (donna in cabina telefonica/woman in telephone booth), Florence Midgley, Dale Fuller, Billie Bennett, [Ruby Lafayette, Myrtle Rishell, Earl Metcalf, Marguerite Steppling, Thelma Salter].
prod: John M. Stahl Productions; pres. Louis B. Mayer.
dist: First National Pictures.
uscita/rel: 17.1.1926.
copia/copy: 35 mm, 6741 ft (orig. 6825 ft), 81′ (22 fps); did./titles: ENG.
fonte/source: Library of Congress Packard Center for Audio-Visual Conservation, Culpeper, VA.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM).
    Grand piano and song: Donald Sosin.
    Viewed at Teatro Verdi, Pordenone, e-subtitles in Italian, 12 Oct 2018

Lea Jacobs (GCM): "Memory Lane is in many ways the undiscovered gem of the Stahl silents. An affectionate but gently satirical evocation of American small-town life, a sentimental but restrained form of melodrama, and a brilliant experiment with aperture framings, it can take its place among Stahl’s best films. On the evening of her wedding to Jim (Conrad Nagel), Mary (Eleanor Boardman) is confronted by Joe (William Haines), a former beau who has been out of town for a year. "

"Mistakenly dragooned to drive the car for the newly married couple, Joe quarrels with the groom and speeds off with the bride. They spend the night miserably in the car after running out of gas and the next morning Mary returns to the groom. Some years later, Joe visits the couple and their baby. Mary is repulsed by his coarse, vulgar demeanor and decides she made the right choice, but her husband realizes that Joe has put on an act to ensure the happiness of the woman he still loves."

"The film was criticized by Variety for the slightness of the plot, but it was praised for the same qualities by others. The New York Times described it as “an amusing, smoothly running small town comedy,” in which the plot unfolded, “with a gentle appreciation for subtlety.” Film Daily noted: “‘Memory Lane’ is as subtle and pleasing a bit of entertainment as anyone would want. It has a simple little story that probably wouldn’t get very far without the unusually fine treatment given it by director Stahl.” The simplicity of the plot for which Stahl is both blamed and praised in the case of Memory Lane stands in sharp contrast to the complex plots and histrionics of the early melodramas, such as Sowing the Wind and The Child Thou Gavest Me."

"The film is one of three that Stahl made with screenwriter Benjamin Glazer, and the only one to survive. Fine Clothes, released in August 1925, was adapted from Ferenc Molnár’s farce Fashions for Men (Úri divat), which Glazer had translated and directed on Broadway. The Gay Deceiver, released through M-G-M in October 1926, was based on the comedy Patachon by Maurice Hennequin and Félix Duquesnel, as adapted by Achmed Abdullah under the title Toto for the New York stage. Memory Lane, the final Stahl/Mayer production released through First National in January 1926, was from an original script credited to Glazer and Stahl. Glazer may also have influenced the casting of Memory Lane. He had provided the story for Hobart Henley’s flapper comedy Sinners in Silk (M-G-M, September 1924), which had Eleanor Boardman and Conrad Nagel in major roles, and thus presumably would have known their work. The subtlety of the film commented upon in the trade press shows the influence of the two previous farces made with Glazer, and more generally of the genre of sophisticated comedy on Stahl’s work. Indeed, in an article on Stahl written in 1924, Whitney Williams of the Los Angeles Times asserted a similarity between Stahl and Lubitsch, classifying them both as exemplars of a “Viennese school” of direction: “Whenever it is possible a light situation is utilized, albeit the lightness may be far more subtle than a heavy dramatic situation.”

"Mary sneaks out of her family house and meets Joe on the night before her wedding to Jim. The tone is nostalgic and sad rather than comic. As they pass the old schoolhouse they reminisce about their first meeting and about growing up together. Their conversation is interspersed with cut-aways to a group of boys singing on the village green. Fragments of the song lyrics are quoted in the intertitles. The first is “When You Were Sweet Sixteen,” James Thornton’s 1898 hit and a barbershop quartet standard. The second is the ballad “Memory Lane,” by Buddy De Sylva (lyrics) and Larry Spier and Con Conrad (music):"

I am with you, wandering through, memory lane.
Living the years, laughter and tears, over again.
I am dreaming yet, of the night we met, when life was a lovely refrain.
You were so shy, saying goodbye, there in the dark.
Only a glance, full of romance, and you were gone.
Though my dreams are in vain, my love will remain.
Strolling again, memory lane with you.

"Mary tells Joe she would have waited forever for him, but he did not ask, and now it is too late: she feels obliged to carry through with her promise to marry Jim. She embraces him and they part.
The film shifts into a light comic register, with the device of having Jim mistake Joe for the driver. After a quarrel develops between the men, Joe impulsively drives off with Mary, leaving Jim to walk back to town. The elliptical and amusing evocation of an innocent but potentially scandalous night is typical of the “lightness” associated with Lubitsch and what the Los Angeles Times reviewer saw as the “Viennese school” of direction. Joe, outside the stopped car, tries to signal to Mary within that they are out of gas. They gesticulate and try to speak to each other without words. He re-enters the car and confirms that they are out of gas and miles from anywhere. A side view of the car shows Joe in the front seat and Mary in back, framed through separate windows. She puts her head down and begins to cry. Cut to the interior of the Bradley living room, where Jim sits waiting with Mary’s parents. Her father, distraught, refuses a cup of tea proffered by Mary’s mother. She also puts her head down and begins to cry. Cut to the car, a view through the rear window showing that the couple are now both in the back seat. Mary continues to cry and leans her head on Joe’s shoulder. Cut to a town gossip on the phone, and then to a shot of exterior telephone wires alight with multiple calls. Cut to the car, where we see Mary and Joe asleep in the back seat. Fade to black."

"Percy Hilburn’s cinematography is elegant throughout, but is most notable in the film’s middle sections. The sequence of the wedding makes use of aperture framings as Joe, in tears, watches the wedding through the front window of the house, while Mary also cries within. Later, there are varied framings through the windshield, windows, and door of the car that contains Joe, Jim, and Mary. Stahl also organizes terrific compositions in depth in the relatively confined space of the car. It is a mark of Stahl’s skill as a director that the ending returns, in an ironic mode, to the nostalgia of the opening (and to the title song). The film’s final act clearly points to the director’s continued investment in melodrama and sentiment as well as his interest in sophisticated comedy."
Lea Jacobs (GCM)

AA: Like Husbands and Lovers, John M. Stahl's Memory Lane is a triangle story where the other man is the best friend of both husband and wife. This film is different, but both are intriguingly serious beyond the light and entertaining surface.

Love is a play with fire.

Husbands and Lovers is an example of the cinema's obsession with the cancelled wedding. In Memory Lane only the wedding night is cancelled. Due to a series of accidents, the husband Jimmy (Conrad Nagel) is expelled from the bridal car which runs out of gas in the middle of nowhere. It is pouring with rain, and so it happens that the wife Mary (Eleanor Boardman) spends the night in the arms of her best friend Joe (William Haines).

It is a scandal from the viewpoint of outsiders, and we see an amusing trick shot of hot telephone wires burning like fire.

The three friends, Mary, Jimmy and Joe, handle it with tact and good judgement. This is not a tale of jealousy. Joe would do nothing improper with Mary. Jimmy knows they wouldn't.

Meanwhile, Joe has always loved Mary and always will, and Mary knows this. But the choice has been made, and Jimmy's love has an even more profound character, and they all realize this. The fact that Jimmy can put the humiliation of the wedding night behind him is a proof of that character.

The final twist is Joe's boorish behavior as a crude upstart when he reappears in his home town three years later. Mary and Jimmy are startled, but Jimmy guesses that Joe is putting on an act to finally estrange Mary from him.

We have learned to know John M. Stahl as a talented director of women and children. Here he proves also an excellent director of babies in the funny sequence of the first birthday party of the little one.
The male performances of many of Stahl's best films of the thirties are strikingly wooden, but in his silent films they are complex and interesting.

An amusing coincidence: two wives of King Vidor's starring in Husbands and Lovers (Florence Vidor) and Memory Lane (Eleanor Boardman).

Donald Sosin provided an inspired musical interpretation, making good use of the title song "Memory Lane".

Luminous cinematography by Benjamin Glazer and a brilliant restoration from Library of Congress.

The Home Maker (UCLA restoration from 16 mm)


The Home Maker starring Alice Joyce as Eva Knapp.

US 1925
regia/dir: King Baggot.
scen: Mary O’Hara.
photog: John Stumar.
cast: Alice Joyce (Eva Knapp), Clive Brook (Lester Knapp), Billy Kent Schaeffer (Stephen), George Fawcett (Dr. Merritt), Virginia Boardman (Mrs. Prouty), Elaine Ellis (Molly Prouty), Maurice Murphy (Henry), Jacqueline Wells (Helen), Frank Newburg (Harvey Bronson), Margaret Campbell (zia/Aunt Mattie Farnum), Martha Mattox (Mrs. Anderson), Alfred Fisher (custode/janitor), Alice Flowers (Miss West), Mary Gordon (Mrs. Hennessy), Lloyd Whitlock (Mr. Willings).
prod: Universal-Jewel.
uscita/rel: 22.11.1925.
copia/copy: 35 mm, 7755 ft, 86′ (24 fps); did./titles: English.
fonte/source: UCLA Film & Television Archive.
Restauro a cura di Robert Gitt che ha utilizzato una copia 16mm “Show-At-Home” della collezione Hampton. / Restored by Robert Gitt using a 16 mm Show-At-Home print from the Hampton Collection.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto
    Grand piano: José Maria Serralde Ruiz
    Viewed at Teatro Verdi, Pordenone, 12 Oct 2018

Kevin Brownlow (GCM): "The director of this picture, King Baggot, was responsible for two of the worst silent pictures I’ve ever seen – Raffles (1925) and Down the Stretch (1927).  How can the same man possibly have made one of the best?"

"The Home Maker seems to me a forgotten classic. It was recommended to me by Bob Gitt , then at UCLA. He had recently restored another of my favourite silents, The Goose Woman (1925) – and had just finished work on this. I watched it on a flatbed viewer –the harshest test for any film – and I quickly realized I was watching King Baggot directing like King Vidor. How did this happen?
Baggot was one of the remarkable number of Irish-Americans attracted to the picture business. Born in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1879, he went into real estate with his father and also played semi-professional baseball. He was active in amateur theatricals and was one of the earliest stage personalities to move permanently into pictures. This was in 1909, when actors preferred to be anonymous. He was the first to make a public appearance under his own name – a mob stormed the railroad station when he and co-star Leah Baird arrived at his hometown. He was one of the top stars of the period 1910-1916, playing in more than 300 pictures. He came to England in 1913 to make Ivanhoe for director Herbert Brenon – a fellow Irishman.  He began directing in 1915 and wrote and directed many of the films he played in. Perhaps his most famous production was Tumbleweeds (1925), William S. Hart’s elegiac tribute to the Old West."

"Although everyone liked him, he was a heavy drinker, and when he made a return to the stage in 1919 he was assigned a special assistant. I met this fellow [Frank Blount], who was actually a cameraman, paid simply to keep him sober. Perhaps it was the alcohol that made his work so wildly unpredictable? Baggot directed his last film in 1928, but continued, like so many early directors, playing bit parts until his death in 1948."

"He owed his film career to Carl Laemmle, who turned the IMP company into Universal Pictures, turning out inexpensive pictures on an assembly line for the undemanding audiences of the Midwest. These cheap pictures were called Red Feathers and Bluebirds. Universal later invested in spectacular epics to try to capture the big theatres.  Films like The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) were known as  Super-Jewels. But sometimes equally interesting were the Universal-Jewels, such as Clarence Brown’s Smouldering Fires and Baggot’s The Home Maker, both made in 1925. They were given extra time and money and unusual care and affection, and some have survived with a higher reputation than the epics."

"Admittedly, the 1924 novel by Dorothy Canfield was an exceptional book, and Mary O’Hara’s adaptation stays close to the original, but it was still possible – just possible – for a film company to ruin a fine book. There is, however, an intelligence apparent throughout this picture which does credit to all those who worked on it."

"Of the critics,  the all-important Mordaunt Hall of the New York Times seriously objected, “I could not abide the leading character’s weakness.” Otherwise, Screenland called it “terrific”, and Photoplay “intelligent, sternly realistic”, although Variety judged “Too much delving into child psychology when the picture definitely gets on the wrong track”. And Picture Play wrote: “Interesting picture, ruined by too much baby talk.”"

"When I interviewed Clive Brook in the 1960s, he showed me a photograph of Alice Joyce signed “Memoranda of a most pleasant engagement”. And yet not once does he refer to The Home Maker in his unpublished autobiography. I did ask him about King Baggot (“Oh yes, such a nice chap”) and Alice Joyce (“very impressive and very difficult”), but I knew nothing of the distinguished film they both worked on. Alice Joyce, incidentally, was married to director Clarence Brown."

"Historian Richard Koszarski, an expert on Universal, wrote that The Home Maker was one of the few dramatic works of the 1920s to argue unequivocally for the abandonment of stereotyped sex roles and to criticize the structure that prescribes such behaviour."

"Lester Knapp (Brook) is fired from his job in the office of a department store, and in order that his wife, Eva (Alice Joyce), can benefit from his insurance, he tries to commit suicide. He is crippled and confined to a wheelchair, so Eva has to become the breadwinner. She finds work far preferable to domesticity, and does so well she is quickly promoted. Lester equally enjoys being a house-husband, and because he pays so much attention to the children, they are far happier than before."

"As the slogan on the poster put it: “IT WILL START A RED-HOT DISCUSSION.”"

"According to Sally Dumaux’s book on King Baggot, the story is very similar to an IMP picture of 1910, Bear Ye One Another’s Burdens, which featured Baggot and Florence Lawrence."

"Nicola Beauman of Persephone Books, who reprinted Dorothy Canfield Fisher’s novel in London in 1999, was deeply impressed by the film. “I sat there with my mouth open. I thought it amazing how well they had adapted the book. And that child [Billy Kent Schaeffer] – how on earth was he directed?”"

"Billy Kent Schaeffer also appeared in The Hills Of Kentucky (1927), a Rin-Tin-Tin melodrama in which he was directed to give a more routine performance. Jacqueline Wells was renamed Julie Bishop when she grew up."

"When sound arrived, Universal gave orders for most of its 35mm silent negatives and prints to be destroyed – I have seen a letter which listed the titles to be saved. The Home Maker was not among them."

"In an unintended tribute to the output of the silent era, Variety said, “There are moments when The Home Maker almost reaches the heights of greatness. Unfortunately, the general impression … is only that of one more average feature picture.”"

"I suggest we all keep looking for more of those average feature pictures.
" Kevin Brownlow (GCM)

AA: A rewarding discovery and the biggest surprise in Kevin Brownlow's anniversary celebration tribute.

When Lester Knapp (Clive Brook) is fired and when he becomes crippled after a failed suicide attempt, the family happiness starts to blossom.

The Home Maker is a tale of "a blessing in a curse".

Despite being an invalid, Lester proves an excellent family father at home.

Most importantly, the true talents and qualities of his wife Eva (Alice Joyce) start to emerge as soon as she is free from home chores and able to start a career of her own. She proves superior in her job career. Everybody, especially the children, are happy until it turns out that Lester is recovering from his paralysis.

The doctor is invited but Lester persuades him to keep quiet of his improved condition. This is against the doctor's ethics. "No doctor can do him any good" is his final verdict.

"Who is the home maker?
The one on guard?
Or the one who goes to battle?"

Bob Gitt has performed some wizardry with a battered 16 mm source. A watchable print has emerged from a very special and intriguing film.

Ett farligt frieri / A Dangerous Wooing (2010 Desmet print from Svenska Filminstitutet)



Ett farligt frieri: Folkkomedi i fyra akter efter Bjørnstjerne Bjørnsons berättelse med samma namn / Vaarallinen kosinta
SE 1919
regia/dir: Rune Carlsten.
scen: Rune Carlsten, Sam Ask; dal racconto di/based on the short story by Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, “Et farligt frieri” (1856).
photog: Raoul Reynols, Carl Gustaf Florin.
scg/des: Gustaf Hallén.
cast: Lars Hanson (Tore Næsset), Gull Cronvall (Aslaug), Theodor Blich (Knut Husaby, il padre di Auslag/Aslaug’s father), Hjalmar Peters (Thormund), Kurt Welin (Ola, il figlio di Thormud/Thormund’s son), Hugo Tranberg, Gösta Cederlund (i fratelli di Auslag/Aslaug’s brothers), Hilda Castegren (la madre di Tore/Tore’s mother), Uno Henning, Torsten Bergström (corteggiatori/suitors).
prod: Filmindustri AB Skandia.
uscita/rel: 26.12.1919.
copia/copy: 35 mm, 1277 m (orig. 1339 m), 62′ (18 fps); did./titles: SWE.
fonte/source: Svenska Filminstitutet, Stockholm.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM).
    Grand piano: Mauro Colombis.
    Viewed at Teatro Verdi, Pordenone (The Swedish Challenge 2), 12 Oct 2018

Magnus Rosborn & Casper Tybjerg (GCM): "In 19th-century Norway, the wealthy farmer’s daughter Aslaug has grown up to become a beautiful young woman, desired by most young men in her village. Night after night, her father and brothers have a hard time trying to keep all the young suitors away from her. Aslaug has eyes only for Tore, a poor crofter’s son and therefore an unworthy spouse in her father’s eyes. Following Aslaug’s refusal to accept a marriage proposal from a wealthy farmer’s son, she is sent up to the summer pasture on the mountain above the farm, but this does not stop Tore from visiting her. When Aslaug’s father and brothers catch him on the way home from a secret meeting with her, they beat him up and over-confidently defy him to try again: if he can get past them next Saturday night and reach the high pasture, the girl will be his. Since the only path is well-guarded, Tore decides to try to reach his goal by scaling the sheer cliff-face instead."

"A Dangerous Wooing is the second of two Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson adaptations made by the production company Skandia in the summer of 1919 in order to compete with their rivals Svenska Bio – the other one being John W. Brunius’s Synnöve Solbakken (A Norway Lass, shown in last year’s Giornate program). At first glance, the two films may seem very similar – they both take place during the same time period, they both star the tremendously popular Lars Hanson, and their exteriors were in both cases shot on location in the scenic Norwegian countryside. A Norway Lass, however, is a serious drama, while A Dangerous Wooing is better described as a light comedy with action sequences."

"Nevertheless, it shares the three characteristics most often associated with “Golden Age” films: it is a prestige production, it is based on an acclaimed literary work, and it makes effective use of Nordic nature as something more than a backdrop. Indeed, A Dangerous Wooing presents one of the era’s most evident examples of nature being integrated into the story: here, a mountain wall literally stands between the hero and the girl he loves. Its final image (very brief because of print damage) references one of the versions of the painting Brudeferd i Hardanger (The Wedding Party in Hardanger) by Adolph Tidemand and Hans Gude, one of the most famous Norwegian artworks."

"The Swedish critics gave the film good reviews, writing that Rune Carlsten in his directorial debut had succeed in fashioning a cheerful and spirited movie with wonderful scenery, even if there were some complaints that the fight scenes had been given too much room. From a modern-day perspective, the gender roles in A Dangerous Wooing can seem stereotypical even compared to other films from the same era. It is difficult to find a more obvious depiction of passive female sexuality than Aslaug just sitting on her mountaintop, waiting while the men fight over her down in the valley. Still, the situation is given a certain archetypal depth by having her sing the haunting “Det var en lørdag Aften,” a poignant Danish folk song well known in Norway as well, about a girl waiting in vain for her faithless lover one Saturday night. What A Dangerous Wooing may lack in complex plotting and depth of characterization, it certainly makes up for in technical craftsmanship; the efficient editing stands out, especially in the fight scenes and the suspenseful cliff-hanging finale.
Carlsten, who also appeared as an actor in many movies, would continue to skillfully direct films up in the 1940s. Of his other surviving silent films the most notable ones are the wacky, very entertaining farce Robinson i skärgården (1920) and the artistically impressive August Strindberg adaptation Let No Man Put Asunder (Högre ändamål, 1921) – two films which both need proper restorations to be able to meet new audiences."

"About the restoration: In 1965 a duplicate negative was made from a nitrate print. Supplemented with new full-length intertitles made from the original text cards, a Desmet print was struck from the negative in 2010, using the tints in the original but decomposing nitrate print as reference. This new version received its restoration premiere in Oslo the same year, during the centennial commemorations of Bjørnson’s death."
Magnus Rosborn & Casper Tybjerg (GCM)

AA: As Magnus Rosborn and Casper Tybjerg state, Ett farligt frieri is similar to Synnöve Solbakken, also based on a Björnstjerne Björnson story, also starring Lars Hanson as the premier, also shot on locations among the magnificently scenic Norwegian mountains.

In this film the mountains are a truly central element, and Ett farligt frier is indeed a Bergfilm. In the mountain pasture Aslaug is spending her summer as a shepherdess, and all suitors aspire to reach her there, blocked by a firm front of Aslaug's sturdy male family members.

There is no chance for Tore (Lars Hanson) to get onto the path that leads to Aslaug. That he realizes having been brutally beaten by the family patrol.

Tore and Aslaug now communicate through horns, singing and other sound signals.

Finally Tore decides to scale the steep and dangerous mountain bare-handedly. It is a thrilling action high point, similar to the rapid-shooting sequence in The Song of the Scarlet Flower, which had premiered in April in 1919. The trial proves the premier's manhood. And even though Tore comes from a poor family, now Aslaug's father is convinced, as well. "This boy is worth having".

Original art titles bring a charming flavour. Folk songs are quoted in the intertitles.

This is like a folk tale, attractively made, but without the dark and complex currents of The Song of the Scarlet Flower.

A fair print, visual quality adequate, not brilliant, with a tinting too heavy to my taste.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

The Enemy (with a representation of the missing final reel)




Viholliset / Hjärtan som lida
US 1927
regia/dir: Fred Niblo.
scen: Willis Goldbeck, Agnes Christine Johnston; dalla pièce di/based on the play by Channing Pollock (NY, 1925).
adapt: Willis Goldbeck.
did/titles: John Colton.
photog: Oliver Marsh.
mont/ed: Margaret Booth.
scg/des: Cedric Gibbons, Richard Day.
cost: Gilbert Clark.
asst dir: Harold S. Bucquet.
cast: Lillian Gish (Pauli Arndt), Ralph Forbes (Carl Behrend), Ralph Emerson (Bruce Gordon), Frank Currier (Professor Arndt), George Fawcett (August Behrend), Fritzi Ridgeway (Mitzi Winkelmann), John S. Peters (Fritz Winkelmann), Karl Dane (Jan), Polly Moran (Baruska), Billy Kent Schaeffer (Kurt).
prod: M-G-M.
première: 27.12.1927 (New York).
uscita/rel: 18.2. 1928.
copia/copy: 35 mm, 7693 ft (orig. 8189 ft), 93’ (22 fps); did./titles: ENG.
fonte/source: Library of Congress Packard Center for Audio-Visual Conservation, Culpeper, VA.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM).
    Grand piano: John Sweeney.
    Viewed at Teatro Verdi, Pordenone, e-subtitles in Italian, 11 Oct 2018.

Kevin Brownlow (GCM): "What always surprises me is the number of outstanding silent films still confined to the vaults. Yes, The Enemy is missing its last reel. That is indeed sad, but why deny us the pleasure of seeing the previous eight?"
 

"For The Enemy is that rarity, a truly pacifist film, almost an M-G-M version of Isn’t Life Wonderful? A friend was showing me a tape of silent-era censor cuts from Finland when a close-up of Lillian Gish appeared – it had such an intensity that I was determined to see more of whatever film it came from. It turned out to be The Enemy, directed by Fred Niblo – whose career was on the wane after his dazzling success with Ben-Hur (1925). Furthermore, the film survived in the old M-G-M vault, ignored  merely because of that missing reel."

"The Enemy is a fine, sincere piece of work, but it remains a movie – exquisitely put together, but still a movie. Its characters are stereotyped. There is no time for anything deeper. Titles go to the heart of the matter – slogans, admittedly, but effective nonetheless, as you hardly ever see films of this period dealing with this controversial subject."

"The great June Mathis, who had written The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921), produced two drafts, which were found unsatisfactory, and Willis Goldbeck wrote the final script."

"Lillian Gish, who played the lead, didn’t think much of it, or Annie Laurie. “Mother was ill, so I let the studio do them. I just played my part. Nurses and doctors were constantly in the house. My only thought was to get to the studio as late as possible and leave as soon as possible. I remember little of The Enemy. I couldn’t tell you the story if my life depended upon it.”"

"Pauli Arndt (Lillian Gish) and her grandfather, a teacher (Frank Currier), are peaceful inhabitants of Vienna. Pauli marries a student, but the next day he must leave for duty at the front. During his absence, her grandfather loses his job and he and Pauli become destitute. Pauli finds she is pregnant. After giving birth, she becomes a prostitute in order to buy milk for her child. Her husband is reported missing in action, and Pauli’s misery increases…"

"Motion Picture Magazine said, “This is frankly a propaganda picture, but one that you’ll welcome as its aim is to stop the next war. It is ragged, repetitious and sometimes extreme to the point of absurdity, but it is a powerful picture and if you’re half the pacifist I am you’ll be stirred by it.”
Robert Herring, Close Up’s critic, thought the film had some “slight quality” because it was surprisingly anti-war. “Gish has a baby and when it dies, she screams out that she is glad her child at least will not be food for the guns. I thought this surprising in a London cinema. War, ‘legalised murder,’ is the real enemy, and the film deals with the overthrowing of values it causes.”"

"The critics tended to unite in their opposition to the ending – i.e., the last reel. “A happy ending has been tacked on,” said Close Up, “which completely destroys all that has been previously said about war.”"

"John Colton, a former newspaper man, the co-author of the Broadway hit Rain, and Thalberg’s closest friend, was brought in to write the titles."

"“Highbrows will condemn it for its lowbrow ending and lowbrows will condemn it for its highbrow beginning,” said Welford Beaton in Film Spectator. “But even with the manhandling that ignorant supervision gave it, The Enemy is a picture which you must see. There are many shots in it which indicate that Niblo is a student of foreign technic [sic]… He opens the picture with a succession of dissolves which effectively plant its atmosphere, and then with incident and symbolism he tells his story rapidly but clearly. Newspaper headlines superimposed on the whirring wheels of a multiple press tell graphically the sweep of the world war…. Some of his intimate scenes are beautiful and touching, splendid examples of intelligent direction. The wedding of Miss Gish and Forbes is one of the high spots of the picture. It is a superb bit of simplicity in a majestic setting.”"

"When in l986 it was given one of its rare screenings by the Society for Cinephiles at its annual Cinecon, it was described as being very interesting, and reminiscent of Frank Borzage’s The Mortal Storm (1940): “… a beautiful MGM print, tantalizing but frustrating – the last reel missing.”"

"The script survives, so Warner Bros., who have inherited the picture, should be able to reconstruct the ending with titles and stills, and make this refreshingly angry picture, with its vitally important message, widely available."
Kevin Brownlow (GCM)

AA: Twenty years ago I was for two years a temporary director of the Finnish Board of Film Classification (VET), appointed by the government for a transitional period during which we prepared a change to the legislation to end film censorship.

I had the privilege to get familiar with the history of film control and stumbled upon a showreel of "old cuts" from the period before VET (before 1946) when the film industry itself was in charge of the film control like it still is in the US, England and Germany.

There were three copies of an unforgettable cut of a silent film starring Lillian Gish in a film that I had not seen before. The cut scene was the one in which Gish prostitutes herself to obtain food for her baby, similar to Die freudlose Gasse. I presumed the scene might be from The Enemy and alerted Kevin Brownlow who kindly replied that this is not a lost film. The Enemy survived as an incomplete print albeit with this cut scene included, so it was not a lost scene, either.

It was very moving to see the film today, and an impressive film it is. Like Kevin Brownlow states in his program note above, this is an angry film about war, powerful in the same way as Frank Borzage's anti-Nazi stories.

The Professor's predicament, his violent marginalization when he refuses to endorse militarism. The abrupt change of atmosphere at the dinner table when war is declared and the English friend immediately becomes an enemy, brutally beaten. The Mater Dolorosa tragedy of Pauli (Lillian Gish), comparable to Way Down East. The breadlines. The callous exploitation of the grain speculator.

But also the dignity of the finale. Who is the real enemy? "That enemy is hate". The irony of the multiple endings, finishing with children playing war. "When I'm big I'm going to be a soldier".

A beautiful print in which the final reel is represented with a montage of photographs and texts.