Sunday, July 06, 2008

Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna, 28.6.-5.7.2008

Artistic director: Peter von Bagh. Advisory board: Nico de Klerk, Gian Luca Farinelli, Nicola Mazzanti, Mark-Paul Meyer, Peter von Bagh. Festival coordinator: Guy Borlée.
This was another great year for Bologna's Il Cinema Ritrovato, with the sole complaint that the programme was too good. Triple programming of this calibre means permanent agony of choice. I kept focusing on the screenings in Lumière 1, dedicated to silents, as this is the decade of the great harvest of the silent film renaissance that started in the 1970s.
For the sixth time the Festival mounted a "A Hundred Years Ago" programme, curated by Mariann Lewinsky, the festival inside the festival. It keeps getting bigger and better, and the year 1908 was fascinating in film history. I missed the show dedicated to early sound films and the rise of the crime / mystery / detective genre (Nick Carter). Tom Gunning presented the American shows titled "Biograph before and after Griffith" and "Edison and others" (with Vitagraph and Lubin). I missed the show dedicated to Albert Capellani, a director worth rehabilitating, and the show dedicated to Pathé in 1908; the year was a turning-point to the company that started to slow down. The first Italian programme showed the rise of the major companies Ambrosio and Cines, the development of the epic historic genre, samples of early melodrama such as Mario Caserini's L'abbandonata, and funny comedy (Il duello dei paurosi). The second Italian programme was dedicated to catastrophes, both the topical terrible Messina earthquake and the historic Pompei disaster in the first film interpretation of Gli ultimi giorni di Pompei. "Visions impossibles - evolutions of the film trick" was one of the most wonderful programmes of the festival. "Visions sensuelles" was dedicated to the fascination of life and movement, not flinching from the sight of the snake devouring a rabbit. "Visions du réel - visions d'art" included a fascinating attempt to reconstruct aspects of the historic gala premiere of L'Assassinat du Duc de Guise. An especially important entry was the famous L'Empreinte (Le Film d'Art / Paul Henry Burget).
A retrospective that was partly joined with the previously mentioned, was "Forze irresistibili" - "Irresistible Forces: Comic Actresses and Suffragettes (1910-1915)", also curated by Mariann Lewinsky, part of the Pioniere del cinema project curated by Monica Dall'Asta. Equally fascinating, ambitious, and well-prepared, it suffered of being "too much" to the one who also wanted to see all the compilations hundred years ago. I saw the programmes "Women of 1908" and "Suffragists' Intimate, Public and Cinematic Spheres" curated by Madeleine Bernstorff. There were also programmes dedicated to wild British women, the French female comedy series (Rosalie, Petronella, Léontine, Cunégonde), Italian comedies (Lea, Gigetta, Robinette, Gribouillette), and "Mixed Doubles, Close Combat". These anthology programmes would deserve dvd access.
This year's "morning serial" was I topi grigi, fittingly in eight episodes, a truly crazy and weird mystery / adventure story, a vehicle for the strange talents of its director-star Emilio Ghione. Screened in a fine Lumière project print made ten years ago with the original camera negative as the starting point, this was above average among Bologna's morning serials.
Of the tribute to Josef von Sternberg, with Janet Bergstrom and Nicholas von Sternberg I saw samples only. The Salvation Hunters was a rare treat, Sternberg's first film immediately a bold poetic statement. It was a privilege to see An American Tragedy on the big screen, a film worth remembering despite the success of A Place in the Sun. UCLA has done a wonderful job restoring Sternberg's films, but the Paramount tragedy of destroying Sternberg's original nitrate elements should be kept in mind.
The magnificent Lev Kuleshov retrospective I missed, as it was mostly mounted as a parallel programme to the Lumière 1 screenings. Curated by Ekaterina Hohlova, Yuri Tsivian an Nikolai Izvolov, with the collaboration of Ana Olenina, Eugenia Gaglianone and Dunja Dogo, to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Gosfilmofond, the retrospective sets new standards for future Kuleshov appreciation.
In the Ritrovati & restaurati section there was the sensation of I livets vår (1912), starring the three giants of Swedish cinema, Klercker, Sjöström and Stiller in the same film as actors, before they became directors. Julien Duvivier's La Bandera (1935) offered Jean Gabin's first signature role as the fatal man. Herzog Blaubarts Burg (1964), the film of the Béla Barték opera, produced by Norman Foster, was an impressive Michael Powell discovery, exciting in the same way as Hoffmann's Tales and Peeping Tom.
The restored Gamperaliya (Forgotten Village, Sri Lanka 1965), directed by Lester James Peries, was a a fine and sensitive portrait of a lady. The film has been promoted by Pierre Rissient, the miraculous talent-spotter. Todd McCarthy's homage, Man of Cinema: Pierre Rissient (2007), was my favourite of the festival, as it's about discovering how love of the cinema can change life (for artists and their audiences).
The night screenings at the city square, Piazza Maggiore, I skipped, being a morning person. Two exceptions were worth it: Hitchcock's Blackmail, with brand new music by Neil Brand, very Hitchcockian. And the closing gala "Music and Films of the Historical Avantgardes", inspired by the centenary of L'Assassinat du Duc de Guise with its exciting Camille Saint-Saëns score, the first original score of film history. Plus the famous original scores by Max Butting (Lichtspiel Opus 1), George Antheil (Le Ballet mécanique), and Erik Satie (Entr'acte). All conducted by Timothy Brock and performed by the Bologna City Orchestra.
Of the Golden Age of Warner series I saw Wellman's Heroes for Sale, and Curtiz's 20.000 Years in Sing Sing, strong examples of social conscience at the Warner Bros.
Of the Atom Bomb series I saw the excellent double bill of Hiroshima Nagasaki - August 1945 (from the original newsreel footage) and Kaneto Shindo's moving and human Children of Hiroshima.
Of the Scope project Part 5 I saw Man of the West, Anthony Mann's tragic-melodramatic Western in the William S. Hart tradition.
Missed delights: Pagnol (Le Schpountz, Topaze [1951]), the Chaplin tribute & Monta Bell, Ghione (except the serial), Guareschi, and the dossiers (Blasetti, Labarthe, Tosi, Actualités, Local Films, Bernardo).
The success of the festival was also due to its professional management, its warm hospitality, its atmosphere of friendship, and the high standard of the notes in its programme catalogue.

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