Saturday, July 03, 2010

Il Cinema Ritrovato 2010

As a parallel to last year's Frank Capra retrospective Il Cinema Ritrovato showed a retrospective of all John Ford's surviving silents (most of them are lost) and many of his early sound films. With topical relevance, the retrospective began in Peshawar and the Khyber Pass, where Victor McLaglen arrives to stop the Holy War against the West in The Black Watch (1929), almost meeting his match in the princess (Myrna Loy) of the Afghan mountain rebels.

With introductions by Joseph McBride we had a unique chance to learn more about "the John Ford movie mystery". Ford was proud to be a "journeyman director", and indeed he could do a risqué pre-Code comedy with a George Cukor approach (The Brat, 1931) as well as a straight Tom Mix adventure story (North of the Hudson Bay, 1923). Yet his unique vision was evident from the beginning (Straight Shooting, 1917), and already in 1919 he did a remarkable "end of the West" movie (The Last Outlaw).

We got to see early appearances by John Wayne and Ward Bond (Salute, 1929), and in the prison movie Up the River (1930) the first feature film roles of Spencer Tracy (already confident) and Humphrey Bogart (still seeking).

The surviving scenes of Mother Machree (1928) are valuable in assessing Ford's great theme of motherhood. The most highly expected film of the retro was Pilgrimage (1933), a drama of deranged mother love. It has been rarely seen because no film screening print exists, and even in Bologna it was shown on HDCam SR. The highlight of the retro was the premiere of the new Timothy Brock score for 3 Bad Men (1926) performed by the Orchestra del Teatro Comunale on the Piazza Maggiore. It was a memorable occasion to go deep into the John Ford legacy, and yet I agree with McBride that Ford matured into a great poet first in 1939, after 90 films.

An inspired "A Hundred Years Ago" series was mounted for the eighth time, and Mariann Lewinsky was the curator. However, the supply of available prints had become so overwhelming by 1910 that the selection was now restricted to Europe. There the Film d'Art tradition flourished, prestige directors started to be identified, non-fiction grew in prestige, as well, and the golden age of the Italian comedy series started. All major Italian companies had their own comedy series with stars such as Cocò, Tontolini, Fricot, Robinet and Jolicoeur. The ultramicroscope was introduced to science films, and the valse apache became a continental fashion. In one of the most memorable shows we got to witness how even early cinema, whether fiction or non-fiction, could be colour-driven.

A remarkable spinoff of the "A Hundred Years Ago" project was the first part of the retrospective of Albert Capellani (1871-1931), the first ever extended tribute to the great pioneer of French cinema. His versions of Les Misérables and Germinal (both 1913) are highly regarded, and a highlight of last year's Bologna festival was L'Assommoir (1909). Now we got to examine Capellani as a director of stars such as Stacia Napierkowska, his sense of visual beauty in L'Arlésienne (1908), and his personal touch in fairy-tale films (Le Pied de mouton, 1907, with effects by Segundo de Chomón). The most memorable show was a compilation of Capellani's thrillers. Several of the thrillers will be worth revisiting, most excitingly L'Épouvante (1911) which displays real visual inspiration. In Mistinguett's diva vehicle La Glu (1913) the story of the femme fatale ruining the lives of four men is over the top but Capellani's mise-en-scène is always sober.

The most magnificent restorations were screened at night on the Piazza Maggiore. It is, however, impossible to give a fair assessment of the quality of a restoration in the special circumstances of an open air show. The opening gala presentation was The Leopard (1963). The restoration was made from the original Technirama camera negatives (horizontal 35 mm) scanned in 8K and restored in 4K. The result looked truly gorgeous. Soirée Lumière (Lumière!) was produced in 2009 at the Institut Lumière in a digital format, and the wonderful selection of a hundred films was wittily hosted by Thierry Frémaux. The 2K restoration of Boudu sauvé des eaux (1932) looked bright and sharp from the distance, but a friend who had a closer look commented on the video-like quality with the vibration missing from Jean Renoir's plein air comedy. Another friend who has seen it in Paris applauded the nitrate look of the restoration, and yet another friend commented on its unconvincing nitrate imitation look. Seen on the Piazza was also Metropolis (1927), restored in 2010 by Martin Koerber, Anke Wilkening, and Frank Strobel. I like this already legendary restoration. The recently found 16 mm Buenos Aires footage adds a fascinating aspect to the mythic film. The original Gottfried Huppertz score, according to which the film was shot and edited, makes better sense than ever. Frank Strobel conducted the Orchestra del Teatro Comunale and confirmed his growing reputation as a master of his field.

On the last night Bologna was so sultry that even Frenchmen and Italians were groaning. Things were put into perspective by Pierre Schoendoerffer's La 317ème section (1965, restored by La Cinémathèque française) where we saw the really lethal heat and humidity of the Vietnam jungle.

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