Sunday, October 12, 2014

Pordenone: The 33th Giornate del Cinema Muto, 2014

John Barrymore, Dolores Costello, John Drew Barrymore, Dolores Barrymore (1934). Photo: Wikipedia.
The 33th Giornate del Cinema Muto offered a solid programme of new discoveries and classics rediscovered in new versions or special screenings.

EARLY CINEMA. Last year, the multi-year The Corrick Collection screening series came to an end, fondly remembered. This year there were several exciting and well curated special programmes of early cinema, new proofs that this is a really good period to enjoy the foundation films. More than before we know what they are and how to screen them. Especially exciting was the Paul Nadar collection of films from the master pioneer of photography. A set of Georges Méliès films in colour has been restored in 4K, both programmes by La Cinémathèque française. There was a special programme of early films of winter sports and Alpine climbing focusing on the founder of the mountain film, Frank Ormiston-Smith, including his The Ascent of Mont Blanc (BFI National Archive). A great treat was the jubileum show of the Associazione Italiana per le Ricerche di Storia del Cinema (AIRSC) focusing on the Josef Joye collection with a delightful Nordisk bonus of Kærlighedens Styrke (1911, August Blom) with a memorable evocation of its original multi-colour glory. The show of Treasures from the Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum, Waseda University presented early Japanese jidai-geki films saved from the verge of destruction. Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi (EYE Film Institute) had curated an inspired show called Driven! The Desmet Automobile Show showing the passion of the cinema for motorcars and velocity in the age of Futurism. From England, Edwardian Entertainment was an especially magnificent curated show (by Vanessa Toulmin and Bryony Dixon, live music by Stephen Horne), to be compared with Pordenone's unforgettable Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre screening in 2012. Tonbilder from the Neumayer Collection offered German treasures of early sound films from before WWI, highlights from the opera and the music hall. These shows are precious in the way they document the joy of life during la Belle Époque in the respective countries.

Edwardian Entertainment and the Tonbilder collection are also valuable for the study of the history of performing arts, also for schools and universities. The same can be said of the fascinating show of Multiagitprop: Silent Ukrainian Animation, with inspiring ideas of graphic art, to be recommended for schools of art and design.

From CANON REVISITED 6  I revisited Regeneration, Raoul Walsh's always surprisingly naturalistic debut feature film. Mauritz Stiller's Sir Arne's Treasure was for many the highlight of the Festival. Fritz Lang's Die Nibelungen I saw for the first time in the magnificent 2010 restoration by Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung in colour. Vsevolod Pudovkin's Storm Over Asia was screened in a long silent print in celebration of Österreichisches Filmmuseum. Sergei Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin was seen in an unusual version, a German Nadelton sonorized print without intertitles whose strength is that it is one of the original documents of Edmund Meisel's remarkable score. We also saw G. W. Pabst's irreverent take on the aftermath of the Russian Revolution, Die Liebe der Jeanne Ney, inspired by Ilya Ehrenburg.

THE BARRYMORES was the big discovery programme of the Festival, dedicated to "the Royal family of Broadway", the Drews and the Barrymores (Georgiana Emma Drew was the mother of Lionel, Ethel, and John Barrymore). My favourite was Beau Brummel, starring John Barrymore: the most profound, the most self-reflexive of his films I saw, based on the story of the original dandy, excelling in mirror scenes in meditation about appearance and substance. Here the hamming was of the essence. It is a story of "two kings", the official one and the spiritual one, as is The Beloved Rogue, a travesty of the life of François Villon, for once a writer whose life was truly as exciting as his work. Another "illustrated classic" was When a Man Loves, Manon Lescaut Hollywoodized, but starring John Barrymore with his future wife Dolores Costello - their granddaughter is Drew Barrymore. The Bells was screened because of Lionel Barrymore in the starring role, but the most magnetic performance was that of Boris Karloff, already at his best.

The RUSSIAN LAUGHTER series presented pleasant discoveries from Yakov Protazanov as a comedy director. The earliest entry was Protazanov's sole surviving pre-Revolutionary comedy One Plays - the Other Pays (1913), a doubly naughty erotic comedy. The Chambermaid Jenny (1918) is an attractive romantic comedy starring the real-life couple Olga Gzovskaya and Vladimir Gaidarov. The Case of the Three Millions (1926) is a NEP era satire on swindlers set on the Crimea. Ranks and People (1929) is a portmanteau film based on short stories by Anton Chekhov, a quality production missing the subtlety of Chekhov.

The newly restored The Good Bad Man (starring Douglas Fairbanks, produced by D. W. Griffith, directed by Allan Dwan, shot by Victor Fleming) was among the most delightful discoveries of the Festival. The Chinese fantasy The Spider Cave (1927) restored in Norway was one of the most bizarre treats in the programme. Jazz Age was brought to life by Colleen Moore in Synthetic Sin spoofing the entire Jazz Age obsession about sin. Harald Schwenzen's Pan (Norway 1922) displayed in a beautiful restoration both the sublime of the nature in a true Knut Hamsunian spirit but also Hamsun's problematic Nietzschean Übermensch concept.

There were many musical highlights during the festival, starting with a Vitaphone prelude at the opening gala at Teatro Verdi focusing on favourite tunes by Giuseppe Verdi such as Beniamino Gigli singing "Bella figlia dell'amore". When a Man Loves (Manon Lescaut) was seen in a beautiful UCLA Vitaphone restoration with an original score by Henry Hadley - not Puccini yet very effective. The closing gala was dedicated to the centenary of the Tramp. The mayor of Pordenone had reminded us of the sad fact that in our period of mass exile the figure of the tramp is now more topical than in generations. Charles Chaplin's City Lights was screened in a very moving film concert conducted by Günter A. Buchwald.

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