Friday, October 07, 2011

Borderline (1930)

(Pool Films, GB 1930). D+SC: Kenneth Macpherson; cast: Eslanda Robeson, Paul Robeson, “Helga Doorn” [H.D.], Winifred Bryher, Gavin Arthur, Robert Herring; 35 mm, 5485 ft, 61’ (24 fps); from: George Eastman House, Rochester, NY. English intertitles. Viewed at Teatro Verdi, Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone, with e-subtitles in Italian, grand piano: Günter A. Buchwald, drums: Frank Bockius, accordeon and double-bass: Romano Todesco, 7 Oct 2011.

Roland Cosandey (GCM Catalogue): "Borderline (1930) was rediscovered after an unusual oblivion that lasted some 50 years. Little by little, thanks to the complex body of collaborations and influences involved in its making, Kenneth Macpherson’s film has found a place in the picture of a historical avantgarde of multiple directions: that of the “little magazines”, of which Close Up (1927-1933), published by Macpherson, Winifred Bryher, and H.D. (Hilda Doolittle) under the company name of Pool, was one of the most sophisticated, not just through its specialization on cinema; “Imagism”, which inspired Borderline through the intermediary of the American poet H.D.; psychoanalysis (Hanns Sachs was close to the group); “Neue Sachlichkeit”, via Eisenstein and G.W. Pabst; cultural internationalism (Pool’s influence extended from Switzerland to Paris, Berlin, Moscow, Boston...); anti-racism (Borderline was Paul Robeson’s third screen appearance, in this case alongside his wife Eslanda); and amateurism (the other actors and extras are from the “family”: H.D. and Bryher are joined by the poet and critic Robert Herring, and Gavin Arthur, astrologer, occultist, and pioneer gay activist…)."

"Today, this film from nowhere, made in landscapes near Montreux, where the trio who constituted Pool were then living, little shown at the time, and generally regarded as of forbidding obscurity – a criticism of which H.D. warned in the dithyrambic pamphlet which she devoted to it – figures in the British and Swiss cinematic patrimonies and encompasses American literary studies as well as genre studies. The origin of the copy shown in Pordenone is a 35 mm nitrate positive deposited with George Eastman House in 1958 by Norman H. Pearson, thanks to whom the papers of H.D. and Bryher, now at Yale University, constitute the principal source for our knowledge of Borderline."

"But we have not finished with this film: one day it will be necessary to undertake a careful examination of the original negative, which is apparently conserved by the Cinémathèque Suisse." – Roland Cosandey

AA: This truly strange film has a sketchbook character. It is an experimental film also in the sense that the film-makers have perhaps not themselves quite known what they were doing. An essay film in the literal meaning: trying out things. They just did it, shot sketches of faces and objects, melancholy brooding, desolate rooms, lyrical nature images. A storyline emerges about the adversity of the black protagonist Pete Marond (Paul Robeson) whose woman leaves him and who is evicted from the town because he beats his insulter. The anti-racist theme of the movie is sadly topical in Europe today. There is a parallel storyline of a violent white man who kills his woman. For an one hour long experimental film the structure is rather shaky. In the conclusion there is a close-up of a handshake between a white and a black man, and a shot of the black and white keys of the piano. This print has a duped look. The music trio gave a sensitive experimental performance that brought new and appropriate dimensions to the experience.

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