Sunday, June 26, 2011

Shoes (2011 digital 2K restoration from EYE Film Instituut)

Lois Weber: Shoes (US 1916) starring Mary MacLaren (Eva Myer / Emma Meyer).

Lois Weber: Shoes (US 1916) starring Mary MacLaren (Eva Myer / Emma Meyer).

US 1916. D+SC: Lois Weber. Op.: Stephen Norton, King Gray, Allen G. Siegler;
    Cast: Mary MacLaren (Eva Myer / Emma Meyer); Harry Griffith (il padre); Jessie Arnold (Lillie); William Mong (Charlie);
    P: Universal Bluebird Photoplays. 35 mm. 1191 m. 57‘ a 18 fps. [Catalogue: B&w.] [Actually the print is tinted.] Nederlandse tussentitels.
    From: EYE Film Instituut Nederland. [Digital 2K restoration from EYE Film Instituut supervised by Annike Kross.]
    Sunday, 26 June 2011, Sala Officinema / Mastroianni (Bologna, Il Cinema Ritrovato). Grand piano: Maud Nelissen. Presentano Annike Kross e Mariann Lewinsky.

Catalogue: "As Universal’s top director in the mid-1910s, Lois Weber wrote and directed a series of ambitious features on highly topical, deeply contentious social issues such as drug addiction, capital punishment, and contraception. Shoes, made the same year as Weber’s better-known film Where Are My Children?, paints a bleak portrait of urban poverty, tracing its particular effects on women. Eva, the film’s protagonist, is a shop girl whose meager earnings support her parents and three younger sisters. Standing on her feet all day without adequate breaks, Eva quickly wears out the thin soles on her boots, but her family’s impoverished circumstances do not permit her to replace them. A pair of boots on display in a shop window she passes on her way to work everyday becomes an emblem of Eva’s deprivation and longing. Surrounded by merchandise in the store where she works, and in the larger commercial district she travels through, Eva is unable to participate in the consumer economy her labor supports. Progressive-era reformers worried openly about the fashion tastes and spending habits of underpaid female workers like Eva, as well as the sexual economy spawned by wage inequities between young men and women. Yet even as Shoes shares many of the alarmist concerns voiced by contemporary reformers, its use of cinematic techniques fosters an unusual empathy with Eva’s plight, pointing to the unique role that cinema might play in discussions of contemporary social issues. Woven throughout the film are moments when we are encouraged to share Eva’s viewpoint, to understand what it means to work hard, to feel ashamed of one’s circumstances and fearful about the future, and to long for one potent symbol of escape – a new pair of shoes." Shelley Stamp""

"The restoration of Lois Weber’s Shoes is based on three different source materials: Two tinted nitrate copies from the collection of EYE Film Instituut Nederland (1150 m and 85 m) and one safety print from a shortened sound version called Unshod Maiden from 1932 (280 m), held by the Library of Congress. The nitrate prints are affected by bacteria resulting in many white spots all over the images and severe nitrate deterioration. In the short sound version, the left edge of the image is cut off by the soundtrack. However, this print contains some short but important scenes, especially in the crucial last reel of the print. These are now reinserted to the film in order to reconstruct the most complete version. The edited material is then scanned for digital restoration. The images are stabilized and most of the bacterial spots are removed to allow a calmer viewing experience. The only available intertitles were the ones in the Dutch print. These are translated and digitally recreated, using the font of the Dutch titles as a reference. Finally, a black and white negative is recorded back to film, from which the new color print is struck, using the Desmet method, simulating the tints of the nitrate print." Annike Kross

AA: Lois Weber's Shoes was shown in Pordenone in 1991 in the tribute to the NFM, but I may have missed it then. Now there is a restored version made with loving care at the EYE Film Instituut, the successor of the NFM, supervised by Annike Kross.

There are redundant explanatory titles at least in this Dutch version. The strength of the movie is, however, in its passages of laconic imagery and stark composition. The motif of the shoes is as powerful as the motif of the bicycle in Ladri di biciclette.

Shoes is a powerful and vibrant movie on poverty. It is also one of the most poignant movies on prostitution.

Mary MacLaren's performance in the leading role is fresh and original.

The look into the broken mirror is one of the most memorable images.

The 2K digital restoration looked fine on the Sala Officinema / Mastroianni screen, and the tinting is successful. There is a before / after restoration comparison at the end of the print of the restored version.

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