Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Le Giornate del Cinema Muto 2018: afterthoughts


"Madamina, il catalago è questo... " Photo: Memory Lane by John M. Stahl starring Eleanor Boardman.

Festival: 37. Le Giornate del Cinema Muto / Pordenone Silent Film Festival, 6–13 ottobre 2018. Associazione Culturale "Le Giornate del Cinema Muto". Direttore: Jay Weissberg. Locations: Teatro Verdi and Cinemazero, Pordenone.

Catalog: 37. Le Giornate del Cinema Muto 2018: Catalogo / Catalogue: Pordenone: 6–13 ottobre 2018. Bilingual: Italian and English. Edited by Catherine A. Surowiec. Pordenone: Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, 2018. 275 p.

The visual presentation of Le Giornate del Cinema Muto has never been more stylish and elegant than this year. There was a "de luxe" touch down to the smallest detail. This event elevates everything on the agenda.

As for the substance, there is a unique sense of continuity in Le Giornate del Cinema Muto since 37 years. The event is a special form of presentation of film history, the 37 volumes making sense as a whole. With a sense of more than film history: art history, world history, philosophy of history.

The journey of discovery continues. Many times Le Giornate has changed our view of film history in a major way. This time maybe not in a major way, but instead in several minor ways.

Of the world historical connections the centenary of the First World War was commemorated for the last time. In Friuli these memories are particularly painful, and there was an atmosphere of tragic dignity in the Note dal fronte memorial programme. Shell shock resonances were present in the John M. Stahl retrospective (in The Child Thou Gavest Me, In Old Kentucky, and even in The Lincoln Cycle 1918 rerelease version). Also in the combat scenes of Captain Blood there was a sense of urgency which surpassed mere entertainment expectations.

An important change in print access seems to be taking place. New copies of important films seem to be premiered in this festival with such a critical mass that they can enable a reassessment of an artist. Pordenone prestige is being used to the benefit of all for producing many important new copies.

Also the Kevin Brownlow anniversary tribute was based on newly made or restored copies. The tribute was profoundly moving. We are all children of Kevin Brownlow. The Parade's Gone By was now being celebrated, the 50th anniversary of his book published in 1968. For me, the Kevin Brownlow revelation came later. His Napoleon revival and the Hollywood: The Pioneers series were my eye-openers to the full grandeur of silent cinema.

It was a thrill to see in Kevin's Pordenone selection rare copies of The Covered Wagon, Captain Blood (1924), and The Enemy. The surprise selection was King Baggot's The Home Maker, fascinating in the John M. Stahl context. I skipped this time Smouldering Fires, although a new special Robert Gitt restoration was on display. And The Mating Call I need to catch another time.

The silent John M. Stahl retrospective was an opportunity of rediscovering a major period of the neglected master. These films have not been available for retrospectives before. Even the writers of the magisterial new John M. Stahl monograph had never seen a comprehensive display before. We started to make sense of Stahl's development from the sober The Lincoln Cycle to the wildly incredible early melodramas to the sophisticated comedies of the 1920s. My favourites included The Lincoln Cycle, Husbands and Lovers, and Memory Lane. Bruce Babington and Charles Barr had edited a book, published at the festival, The Call of the Heart, with a roster of fourteen authors who also contributed the illuminating program notes.

In the Nordic series curated by Magnus Rosborn and Casper Tybjerg I was happy to see at last deservedly famous films such as Dunungen and Ett farligt frieri. I passed this time Prästänkan (reportedly screened in a new fantastic print) and will have to find a way to see Troll-elgen another time. Outside this series, in the Riscoperte e restauri cycle, there was also a deeply moving Victor Sjöström discovery, Judaspengar, a film that had been believed lost.

My four favourite titles of the festival were The Lincoln Cycle, Das alte Gesetz (a candidate for the most important restoration of 2018), Judaspengar, and Elif Rongen-Kaynakçi's delicious Neighbours compilation.

Post festum I finally got to read the catalogue. If possible, the quality of the writing keeps getting better because the collective wisdom about the cinema's silent period keeps growing. I was thrilled to read Jay Weissberg on Honoré de Balzac movies, Marcello Seregni on Mario Bonnard, and Dave Kehr and Jay Weissberg on John H. Collins at Edison. I'm looking forward to seeing also the films as soon as possible – I promessi sposi and other important restorations and discoveries that I missed. The catalog is excellent reading with a high value in its own right.

Paolo Cherchi Usai's "The Canon Revisited" continues as a philosophically important project of reassessment of films we believe we know. This year's opportunity to revisit Assunta Spina, L'Atlantide (launching a new brilliant restoration), Körkarlen, The Last of the Mohicans, and Neobychainye priklyucheniya Mistera Westa v strane bolshevikov I passed, knowing that these films we also keep screening or (Feyder, Tourneur) should be screening.

Of films I love I skipped this time Le Joueur d'échecs; I love the Henri Rabaud score which was played by a full orchestra. Neither did I see now Forbidden Paradise, although it was presented in a new MoMA restoration. Der Hund von Baskerville (1929) I need to catch another time.

Some of the traditional fortes of Le Giornate were absent this year, but I hope the festival will keep committed to:
– early Westerns
– comedy series
– more well-curated early cinema compilations such as Neighbours.

Always worth mentioning: the high quality of the musical interpretations and translations help make the best sense of films, whether in brilliant prints or fragmentary reconstructions.

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