Saturday, October 30, 2021

Kalle Kinnunen & Jukka Mäkelä: Valkokankaan valtakunta: elokuvamoguli Jukka Mäkelän tunnustukset [The Empire of the Screen: Confessions of the Movie Mogul Jukka Mäkelä] ( a book)

Helsingin Kirjamessut / Helsinki Book Fair, Program Arena Esplanade, Saturday, 30 October 2021, Teos Publishing House: discussion with Kalle Kinnunen (left) and Jukka Mäkelä (center) on the book: Kalle Kinnunen & Jukka Mäkelä:  Valkokankaan valtakunta: Elokuvamoguli Jukka Mäkelän tunnustukset [The Empire of the Screen: Confessions of the Movie Mogul Jukka Mäkelä], hosted by Antti Alanen (right). Photo: courtesy Tero Koistinen.

Kalle Kinnunen & Jukka Mäkelä: Valkokankaan valtakunta : elokuvamoguli Jukka Mäkelän tunnustukset [The Empire of the Screen: Confessions of the Movie Mogul Jukka Mäkelä]
    Kinnunen, Kalle , author, interviewer, 1977–
    Mäkelä, Jukka , interviewee, 1952–
    317 pp + 16 pp illustrations; 22 cm
    Published: Helsinki : Kustannusosakeyhtiö Teos 2021
    Printed: Estonia : Mediazone OÜ
    Photo sources: Jukka Mäkelä archives
    ISBN 978-952-363-134-2 hardbound

The Mäkelä family has been prominent in Finnish film exhibition, distribution and production since 1920, and its saga has been covered in distinguished books: Kari Uusitalo's biography of Väinö Mäkelä, the founding father, and the memoirs of Mauno Mäkelä, the canny film producer.

Peter von Bagh directed a tv series called Fennadan tarina [The Fennada Story; Fennada was the name of the Mäkelä film production company], and Taru Mäkelä has made a documentary called Saalis : tarua ja totta Mäkelän suvusta [The Catch : Truth and Fiction about the Mäkelä Family; the title refers to the passion for hunting and shooting running in the family].

Valkokankaan valtakunta [The Empire of the Screen], the new book by Kalle Kinnunen and Jukka Mäkelä is the most devastating of them all. Its unique strength is an inside view into Jukka Mäkelä's coming of age in a film family. The towering figures of the two previous generations were highly present in Jukka's childhood and youth.

The great dramatic core of Jukka Mäkelä's story is the founding of the Finnkino company in 1986, which meant a total transformation of the Finnish film business in a series of multiple mergers and reorganizations involving 31 film companies. Finnkino still remains the central film company in Finland, but the Mäkelä family's involvement ended in 1994 when the company was bought by Rautakirja / Sanoma, further sold to Swedish, British, Chinese, and most recently to American owners. The feat of renovation and redevelopment was achieved by the Mäkeläs, the yield scored by their successors.

As a film producer Jukka Mäkelä was among the last to have worked with giants of the old guard such as Edvin Laine, Mikko Niskanen and Rauni Mollberg. He also met the young guard when they were only starting, people such as Renny Harlin and Markus Selin. I was not aware before reading this book that Jukka Mäkelä's ties were this close since the beginning with Mika and Aki Kaurismäki.

On a personal note, my experience of the Mäkeläs has always been positive. In Tampere in 1976 when we established the film society Solaris, its venues were Hällä and Häme, belonging to Kinosto, the Mäkelä family business, run there by Kirsi Mäkelä. When I started at the Finnish Film Archive in 1985, I got introduced to the old guard of the Finnish film business in the nick of time – by autumn 1986 it was already the young Finnkino team that was calling the shots, and this modern team had a positive attitude to film culture, including Midnight Sun Film Festival and Love & Anarchy the Helsinki International Film Festival. At the Finnish Film Archive we admired Finnkino's positive outlook and commitment to the Finnish cinema. Every Finnish film was guaranteed distribution in Finnkino's cinemas.

The last big Finnish film production of the 1980s was Talvisota / The Winter War. It was a huge hit domestically, but its international breakthrough failed to materialize. It premiered on the 50th anniversary day of the winter war, on 30 November 1989. World history intervened: the Fall of the Wall had just taken place on the 9th of November. At the Berlin Film Festival in next February the topic of the Finnish war film seemed marginal and obsolete.

Valkokankaan valtakunta is the self-portrait of a classical man of the cinema: born into cinema, breathing cinema, veins pulsing with cinema. The approach is subjective, Kalle Kinnunen editing copious notes of his interviews with Jukka Mäkelä. It belongs to the Herodotus school of "relata refero", "telling what I was told", λέγειν τὰ λεγόμενα ("legein ta legomena"). It is an invaluable document of the insider view of Jukka Mäkelä.

The book is also a courageous and harrowing saga of work orientation escalating into insanity. The Finnish term is "työhulluus" ("work madness"), a word stronger than mere "workaholism".

But the book is also a honest account of alcoholism proper, this national disease of ours in Finland, rampant among film people and creative folks. It is a tragic tale of loss, including loss of relationships, loss of positions and a loss of health. It is a tale of survival and overcoming alcoholism.

The traces left by Jukka Mäkelä's team in the Finnish film industry have been durable, both in the continuity of Finnkino and the legacy of Finnish film production.

Monday, October 11, 2021

Sidney Gottlieb and Donal Martin (ed.): Haunted by Vertigo (a book)

Sidney Gottlieb and Donal Martin (ed.): Haunted by Vertigo : Hitchcock's Masterpiece Then and Now. Herts (UK): John Libbey Publishing Ltd. Distributed worldwide by: Indiana University Press. 2021. 241 p. British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data: ISBN: 0 86196 742 1 (Paperback).
    Sidney Gottlieb: Introduction
    Mark W. Padilla: Reading Hitchcock's Vertigo Through the Myth of Io and Argos
    Janet Bergstrom: Hitchcock After Murnau: The Influence of Perspectival Shooting in Vertigo
    Mark Osteen: Versions of Vertigo: They Wake Up Screaming
    Charles Barr: Hitchcock and Vertigo: French and Other Connections
    Barbara Straumann: Fatal Resemblances: Cross-Mapping Hitchcock's Vertigo with Nabokov's Lolita
    Christine Sprengler: The Sounds and Sights of Vertigo's Afterlife in Art: Chamber Made Opera's Phobia (2003) and Jean Curtan's The Vertigo Project (2018)
    Robert Belton: Incidental Meaning and "Hidden Hitchcock" in Vertigo
    Ned Schantz: The Hospitality of Scottie Ferguson
    Steven Jacobs: Hitchcock and the Tourist Gaze: Vertigo and the Monuments of San Francisco
    Sidney Gottlieb: The Variety of Gazes in Vertigo
    Laura Mulvey: The Metaphor of the Beautiful Automaton Reanimated: Artifice, Illusion, and Late Style in Vertigo

In my guest bag at Le Giornate del Cinema Muto on Saturday, 2 October, I found a copy of a book I instantly started to read: Haunted by Vertigo, edited by Sidney Gottlieb and Donal Martin. I jumped to Janet Bergstrom's piece on Hitchcock after Murnau, because I had met Bergstrom the evening before having travelled on the same bus from Aeroporto Marco Polo to Pordenone, and I had shown her the travel reading I had just finished – Tony Lee Moral's wonderful book Hitchcock and the Making of Marnie (Scarecrow Press, 2005).

A lot has been written about Vertigo, and there are two books about Vertigo even in Finnish (by Peter von Bagh and Heikki Nyman). This, the newest contribution to Vertigo studies, may be a bit uneven, but at least four pieces I find outstanding.

The Murnau influence in Hitchcock's cinema is a familiar theme for everybody who has read books about the master of suspense, but Bergstrom in her chapter pursues the matter further than anybody before, based on primary sources, archival documents and rarely quoted interviews and illustrations. Bergstrom's piece is also extremely illuminating on Weimar cinema. For the first time I truly understand the revolutionary meaning of Murnau's perspectival shooting and forced perspective and the impact he made in Hollywood. Hitchcock happened to be at the Neubabelsberg studio to witness first hand Murnau creating his magic, and the experience made a lifelong impression on him. This article is a film historical detective story.

Charles Barr conducts a parallel feat with Vertigo's French influences, analyzing the whole story of the Clouzot / Hitchcock connections, also the full legacy of Boileau and Narcejac in detective fiction and the cinema. His piece goes also deep in the question of Hitchcock's reception as a major artist: belittled in his native Britain, and revered in cinephilic France. Some of the parallels are amusing: Le Corbeau by Clouzot / The Birds by Hitchcock, the humoristic warnings "soyez pas diaboliques" in Les Diaboliques, and "no one, not even the manager's brother, is allowed into the theatre after the start of each performance of Psycho". An intriguing passage is devoted to the screenwriter Alec Coppel, who in 1949 wrote a film directed by Edward Dmytryk called Obsession, which may have been an inspiration for Boileau, Narcejac, Clouzot and Hitchcock.

During the Me Too revolution and the rebirth of the "male gaze" discourse of the 1970s, also Vertigo has been subjected to reassessments. Sidney Gottlieb, one of this book's editors, focuses on this in his article on the variety of gazes in Vertigo. The result is unexpected and hardly supportive of a simplified "male gaze" discourse. Gottlieb finds in the diegesis of Vertigo at least ten kinds of gazes, such as: an interrogative look, the look of recognition, an observed look, looking beyond the physical world of the present, the look elsewhere, a tranced or traumatized gaze, downward looks, an averted look, and a reciprocated or mutually engaged look. Might I add the most important one: the look of the camera / the director / the spectator.

To top it all, there is a new essay by Laura Mulvey, the author of "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema" (in Screen magazine in 1973), probably the most quoted work of film scholarship in the world. Mulvey distanced herself from simplified interpretations long ago, but sometimes a polemically one-sided text can be more fruitful than a carefully balanced one, and the Mulvey thesis continues to be extremely rewarding. For instance Sidney Gottlieb would not have written his piece without the Mulvey provocation. Mulvey herself has recently revisited the theme in Afterimages: On Cinema, Women and Changing Times (2019), and her essay in this Vertigo book is a version of a chapter in that one.

The most moving passage in the Vertigo book is by Mulvey. "Eve (Eve Marie Saint) and both Tippi Hedren's characters, in Marnie and The Birds (1963), are designed, as it were, to attract the male gaze, both erotic and investigative, that I analyzed in 'Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema'. I only now realize, in retrospect, that Vertigo's particular significance for the essay was probably due to the film's self-reflexivity. I now see the film as an actual reflection on the very Freudian concepts of voyeurism and fetishism that I was attempting to analyze. Hitchcock had already, that is, visualized my argument: voyeurism, a key structure, according to Freud, of human sexual pleasure, had been unprecedentedly harnessed by the cinema's luminous screen, and projected onto a particular and spectacularly luminous figuration of femininity" (pp. 221–222).


Sunday, October 10, 2021

Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, 40th Anniversary Edition, 2021 Pordenone

Poster of the 40th Pordenone Silent Film Festival. Max, der Zirkuskönig (AT 1924) with Vilma Bánky and Max Linder. Photo 12/7 e Art/Vita-Film. Graphic design by Calderini – Marchese.

The 40th Anniversary Edition of Le Giornate del Cinema Muto took place in turbulent times. The world is in a precarious state due to the topical energy crisis, the multi-year corona pandemic and, most fatally, the chronic climate crisis. The world of the cinema has never experienced such a devastation as the pandemic, but in October 2021 there are signs of a return to the normal in our profession.

I am an Pordenone regular since 1988, but never have I felt such a warm atmosphere of friendship and happiness as now. This is what we have been missing for two years. This feeling I had not only at Teatro Verdi and the Bar alla Posta, but also at the hotel, at the bars, cafés and restaurants and at my morning lifeline, L'Edicola del Corso di Biscontin Omar supplying daily editions of The New York Times, Financial Times and Le Monde.

I recently finished reading a marvellous book, Musicophilia (2007) by Oliver Sacks. From this book I learned a word, neurogamy, which means "the union of nervous systems", or, literally: "the marriage of nervous systems". To me the word is new, but it is very old, it comes from Classical Greece, and it refers to the power of music to create a community in concerts, festivals, ceremonies, sacred events, olympics, military bands, weddings, funerals, dances, and so on.

This power goes deeper than consciousness, deeper than the unconscious even. It reaches the most atavistic core of our being, something that exists before birth and arguably even after death (for a while). Music listened alone is great, but a community experience is of a different order.

This year I have learned more powerfully than ever how much neurogamy is true also in the cinema. Fed up with online viewing I have enjoyed first restricted cinema screenings, even press screenings that I usually stay away from, and then live festival experiences of Il Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna and now Le Giornate del Cinema Muto in Pordenone. The warmth, the commitment and the immediate experience of the audience both in the screenings and in the dialogues surrounding them are of the essence. The films come fully alive only thanks to us.

Viva Le Giornate!

Saturday, October 09, 2021

Film concert Casanova (1927) (2016 super HD restoration La Cinémathèque française) composed and conducted by Günter A. Buchwald, performed by Orchestra San Marco, Pordenone (GCM 2021)

Alexandre Volkoff: Casanova (FR 1927) starring Ivan Mosjoukine (Giacomo Casanova), Diane Karenne (Maria Mari) and Suzanne Bianchetti (Catherine the Great). Photo: IMDb.


(Casanova; US: The Loves of Casanova; GB: Prince of Adventurers), FI: Casanovan lemmenseikkailut
regia/dir: Alexandre Volkoff.
scen: Norbert Falk, Alexandre Volkoff, Ivan Mosjoukine. photog: Nicolas Toporkoff, Fedote Bourgassoff, Léonce-Henri Burel.
asst photog: Sammy Brill.
asst dir: Georges Lampin, Anatole Litvak.
scg/des: Alexandre Lochakoff, Edouard Gosch, Vladimir Meingart.
art dir: Noë Bloch.
cost: Boris Bilinsky, made by maisons Léon Granier, Karinsky et Cie.
consulente storico/history advisor: Constant Mic [Constantin Micklachewsky].
prod. mgr: Simon Barstoff, Léonide Komerovsky, Constantin Geftman, Victor Sviatopolk-Mirsky, Grégoire Metchikoff, Ivan Pavloff.
cast: Ivan Mosjoukine (Giacomo Casanova), Diane Karenne (Maria Mari), Suzanne Bianchetti (Catherine II), Jenny Jugo (Thérèse), Rudolph Kleine-Rogge (Pierre III), Rina de Liguoro (Corticelli), Nina Kochitz (Comtesse Vorontzoff), Olga Day (Lady Stanhope), Paul Guidé (Prince Orloff), Albert Decœur (Duc de Bayreuth), Carlo Tedeschi (Menucci), Raymond Bouamerane (Djimi), Dimitri Dimitrieff (Lord Stanhope), Devar (Comte Mari), Boris Orlitsky, Aslanoff (amici di/friends of Casanova), Michel Simon, Paul Franceschi (sbirri/henchmen), Madame Sapiani (Barola, la domestica/Casanova’s maid), Laura Savitch, Nadia Veldi (le figlie di Barola/Barola’s daughters), Victor Sviatopolk-Mirsky, Alexis Bondireff, Pachoutine (ufficiali nemici/enemy officers), Isaure Douvan (Doge), Constantin Mic, Maryanne (donne nell’osteria austriaca/women in the Austrian inn), Sammy Brill (carceriere/jailer), Castelucci (pescatrice veneziana/Venetian fisherwoman), Wrangel (dama di corte/lady-in-waiting).
supv: Louis Nalpas.
prod: Ciné-Alliance, Société des Cinéromans-Films de France.
dist: Pathé Consortium Cinéma.
uscita/rel: 22.6.1927 (Empire, Paris); 13.9.1927 (Cinéma Marivaux, Paris).
Finnish premiere: 8.1.1928 (Arkadia, Edison, Bio-Bio, released by Adams-Filmi)
copia/copy: DCP, 159 min (4K, da/from 35 mm, 3600 m, 158 min, 20 fps, col. [imbibito/tinted, pochoir/stencil-colouring]); did./titles: FRA.
fonte/source: Cinémathèque française, Paris.
    Score by: Günter A. Buchwald
performed live by: Orchestra San Marco, Pordenone
Conductor: Günter A. Buchwald
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM), Pordenone. Corona emergency security: half programming, half capacity, COVID certificate required, temperature measured, hand hygiene, face masks, distancing.
    Teatro Verdi, e-subtitles in English and Italian, 7 Oct 2021.

Restauro in super HD effettuato nel 2016 a partire da un interpositivo ininfiammabile ricavato da un negativo nitrato originale. La scena colorata “au pochoir” è stata restaurata in 8K presso i laboratori Eclair utilizzando un copia diacetato d’epoca.
    The super HD restoration was carried out in 2016 from a positive safety intermediate, based on the original nitrate negative. The stencilled scene was restored from a diacetate print of the era (8K, performed at Eclair Laboratories).  

Marita Gubareva (GCM 2021): "Alexandre Volkoff’s Casanova is a prime example of the large-scale spectacular European co-productions that began to appear in the second half of the 1920s to counter American competition. The film involved French, German, and Italian talent, led by Russian émigrés from the Montreuil colony near Paris, notably director Alexandre Volkoff, actor Ivan Mosjoukine, costume designer Boris Bilinsky, and set designer Alexandre Lochakoff."

"Much of this lavish costume film was shot on location, in Venice during the Carnival, and between Strasbourg and Grenoble (for the scenes set in Austria and Russia). Its sumptuous décor left no one unimpressed, and while some contemporary viewers lamented the filmmakers’ excessive attention to “material detail”, others, such as Jean Arroy, praised them for their “laudable effort at historical exactitude” and willingness to “reconstruct every splendour of the period”. It was only decades later, towards the end of the 20th century, that the film was fully appreciated for what it is: a “brilliant pastiche” (Walter Goodman), a playful and stylish variation on the myths and stereotypes of the period."

"First of all, Casanova plays with three mythical perceptions of 18th-century Venice: as the “capital of pleasure” and “city of decadence”; the “mysterious republic”, with the secret procedures of its legendary Council of Ten; and, of course, “the city of Carnival” – a world of theatre, masks, and make-believe. To these three sources of spectacular and somewhat predictable images (all present in Philippe Monnier’s influential book Venice in the Eighteenth Century, first published in 1908), the film adds a touch of orientalism, a tribute to the trend of decorative exoticism created earlier by Diaghilev and perpetuated by Russian filmmakers well into the 1920s. The result is an enchanting fairytale world, with its “serenades, casinos, gondolas for singing, and convents for loving” (Maurice Rostand, La Vie amoureuse de Casanova, 1924)."

"The film treats the famous Venetian, Giacomo Casanova (1725‒1798) in a similar manner. Loosely based on his memoirs, it adapts the story to genre requirements, while playing with the various myths around Casanova. Working on the script, Volkoff and Mosjoukine could have used the first unabridged French edition of Casanova’s memoirs (its first volumes had just been published) and the Russian edition of selected chapters, printed in Berlin in 1923. In fact, some of the film’s intertitles and images reproduce almost literally passages from critic and writer Marc Slonim’s foreword to the Russian edition. The scriptwriters used the memoirs as a source of situations and characters, to be freely reinterpreted in the spirit of an adventure film. Casanova’s long-prepared and laborious escape from the Piombi prisons was reduced to a spectacular leap. His encounter with Catherine II, only briefly mentioned in the memoirs, was romanticized and transformed into a comic episode, ending with an elopement. While the historical Casanova preferred travelling in comfortable carriages and fought his duel with Count Branicki with pistols, the film Casanova is galloping and fencing."

"Casanova had already been transformed into a swashbuckler by the Romantics in the 19th century (Alfred de Musset imagined him “rhyming for a marquise, fighting for a dancer; a terrific swordsman, and on top of it all, an honest, noble, and generous character”), but the film’s treatment is more tongue-in-cheek, somewhat in the spirit of Guillaume Apollinaire’s “comic parody” Casanova (1918). Casanova’s “noble” Romantic qualities are counterbalanced here by those of a picaro. He is both a noble hero and an unscrupulous rogue; a chivalrous protector of the helpless, like Zorro (a character much admired by Mosjoukine, who claimed to have seen Douglas Fairbanks in the role “at least 10 times”), and Harlequin the trickster, who charms, entertains, and fools his audience. The ambiguity is maintained in the level of Mosjoukine’s acting: contemporary reviewers noted that he played his part with a mixture of pathos and irony, and with “just the right amount of laughter underlying the seriousness”."

"As a result, in spite of the apparent simplification called for by the genre, Casanova’s character in this film is anything but banal. Ivan Mosjoukine, then at the height of his film career, was certainly perfect casting for Casanova. A cutting from a German newspaper, preserved in Volkoff’s archive at the Cinémathèque française, shows the actor’s profile placed against that of an old Giacomo Casanova. The similarity is striking. Both were tall, had an aquiline nose, and were attributed by their contemporaries with an expressive (“ardent”) glance. Mosjoukine was also known as a generous person who loved partying, and, according to Jean Mitry, unlike Rudolph Valentino he was perceived as a successful seducer in life, not only on the screen. In his biography of Mosjoukine, published the same year as the film’s release, Jean Arroy claims that he “must have particularly loved Casanova, this genius who squanders his marvellous talents and thinks of nothing but love”."

"Casanova was first screened in Paris in 1927 and was a great success with the public. Critics worldwide acclaimed it as one of the most spectacular productions of the time, “magnificently mounted, splendidly directed, finely acted and beautifully photographed” (The Bioscope, 14.7.1927). Forgotten after the arrival of the talkies, the film was rediscovered in the 1980s, when Renée Lichtig restored it from three badly damaged and incomplete versions from different archives.
" – Marita Gubareva (GCM 2021)

The music 

Günter A. Buchwald (GCM 2021): "The restored version of Casanova is now 159 minutes. While watching the film in its entirety, some challenging questions arose for the scoring: How can I musically entertain a public for such a long time? How can I compose a score for a movie which is overwhelmingly visual in its acting, decor, costumes, tragedy and comedy, and locations, not to mention the rapid editing and quick-changing moods?"

"Should the music follow all this breathtaking suite of scenes? And, last but not least: what are the implications of Casanova in this “Me Too” moment? How do I see this person myself? Casanova the 1927 film is a wonderful movie, a fireworks display of the joy of life, while Casanova the person is, in comparison with all other men, the most sensitive towards women. Menucci, a slimy coward; Peter, the czar, a brute; the Duc of Bayreuth, a rapist; etc. But all in all: Casanova is a comedy!"

"Musically, almost everything is exposed like the pearls of a necklace in the first 4 minutes of the Overture. There are 5 themes: 1st Movement, action, speed, Italy; 2nd, Casanova, almost a comedian, always dancing on the edge of a sword; 3rd, a Hollywoodian love theme; 4th, the timpani in ¾ bar, the turmoil, Italiana mixed with the Neapolitan Canzone, known as “Carnevale di Venezia”; and 5th, Peter, the czar, as an example of all kind of craziness and aggression."

"These 5 themes appear throughout the whole movie, not as a one-to-one Leitmotiv but as musical material for eternal variations. That’s why I call my opus “Symphonic Variations”. I am thankful to many composers: Claudio Monteverdi, Antonio Vivaldi, André Campra, Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky, Johann Strauss Jr., Sergei Prokofiev, whose influence you may discover with little hints. My single secret: I once again learned that “less is more”, that reduction is an essential creative means, and the single challenge was how to stretch it to 159 minutes. The overture was composed within a day; the remaining 155 minutes needed 2 years.
" – Günter A. Buchwald (GCM 2021)

AA: I did not visit the closing gala of Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, out of respect for the restoration and Günter A. Buchwald's score. I was exhausted after high pressure at a distant work week at the KAVI office during the Festival. I was also aware of an early wake-up call, a morning flight and all day travel which would take me home 24 hours later.

Instead, I read Marita Gubareva and Günter A. Buchwald's program notes and reminisced upon the previous (1988) glorious La Cinémathèque française restoration which we were quick to screen in the 1980s at Cinema Orion. Later I was happy to meet the restorer, Renée Lichtig (1921–2007), Jean Renoir's editor during his late period before handling the great Cinémathèque restorations, also a regular at Le Giornate del Cinema Muto.

I appreciated the final gala choice of Le Giornate of the famous Venetian Giacomo Casanova, donning masks in the Carnevale di Venezia sequence, like we did at the Teatro Verdi auditorium.

As Buchwald comments, Casanova needs to be reassessed from a Me Too perspective. Casanova is a libertine, a Rococo figure and an Enlightenment figure. Harassment would be out of character, on the contrary, Casanova loves women and protects them from danger, but he leaves behind a trail of children out of wedlock.

Casanova is sometimes juxtaposed with Don Giovanni, but there are essential differences. Casanova only has affairs with women he loves. He is a picaro, a wanderer, and affairs happen, but he does not collect them. Casanova is gentle with women, and women desire him as much as he does them. There could be no "catalogue aria" for Casanova. Don Giovanni, instead, is a pathological case, a sex addict, a narcissist, indifferent to the identity of the woman he beds.

I claim this although I know that Mozart and Da Ponte met the historical Casanova and took him as the model for their opera Don Giovanni. Casanova himself may have been present at the premiere. But the historical Casanova was much more selective and considerate than Don Giovanni.

A Casanova lifestyle has become widespread for both men and women since the sexual liberation of the 1960s. In today's precarious conditions young people, without safety to settle into marriage, try to live a life of "eternal youth" as long as they can.

Casanova has been a favourite character in the cinema, but I believe that there is only one film masterpiece about him: Il Casanova di Federico Fellini (1976). Among Alexandre Volkoff and Ivan Mosjoukine's achievements two were truly extraordinary: La Maison du mystère and Der weisse Teufel, and also Kean is a great film.

But their Casanova is for me a piece of light entertainment, splendid but superficial, without the wit and depth of Mozart, Da Ponte or Fellini.

Friday, October 08, 2021

Max, der Zirkuskönig / Le Roi du Cirque / King of the Circus (premiere of 2021 Lobster Films restoration)

Édouard-Émile Violet: Max, der Zirkuskönig (AT 1924) starring Max Linder as Count Max de Pompadour. Photo: IMDb.

Édouard-Émile Violet: Max, der Zirkuskönig (AT 1924) starring Max Linder as Count Max de Pompadour. Photo: La Cinémathèque française.

Vilma Bánky. Photo: Paul (Pal Funk) Angelo. From: La Petite Mélancolie.

Édouard-Émile Violet: Max, der Zirkuskönig (AT 1924) starring Max Linder as Count Max de Pompadour. Photo: La Cinémathèque française.

Sirkuskreivi [The Circus Count] / Der Zirkuskönig / Clown aus Liebe
Le Roi du Cirque [the title on the 2021 restoration]
Il domatore dell’amore; US: King of the Circus; GB: Circusmania)
regia/dir: Édouard-Émile Violet, assisted by Max Linder.
scen: Max Linder. photog: Eduard Hösch, Jószef [Joseph/Josef] Bésci.
scg/des: Alexander Ferenczy, Franz Meschkan.
cast: Max Linder (Count Max de Pompadour), Vilma Bánky (Ketty), Eugen Burg (lo zio di Max/Max’s uncle, the Marquis de Pompadour), Viktor Franz (l’inquilino del piano di sotto che cerca di dormire/Max’s downstairs neighbor trying to get some sleep), Eugen Günther (Max’s valet John), Julius von Szöreghy (il direttore del circo, padre di Ketty/Ketty’s father, the circus director), Fred Boston (Ketty’s partner Emilio), Walter Corty (The clown), Kurt Labatt, Hans Lackner, Ilona Karolewna, H. Eckbauer (trapezista/trapeze artist), Maria West (donna al/woman at the Palais Montmartre).
prod: Vita-Film AG.
v.c./censor date: 3.9.1924 (DE).
uscita/rel: 12.9.1924 (Rotterdam: Cinema Royal, Cinema Thalia), 19.9.1924 (Berlin: Deulig-Palast Alhambra), 26.9.1924 (Austria), 19.2.1925 (Paris: Aubert-Palace).
Helsinki premiere: 12 Jan 1925, at Astoria and Civis, distributed by Ab Maxim Oy.
dist: Quittner, Zuckerberg & Co. (AT), Etablissements Louis Aubert (FR).
copia/copy: DCP, 64 min (da/from ??, orig. 1613 m / 1700 m, ?? fps), b&w, alcune scene imbibite/some tinted scenes; did./titles: FRA.
fonte/source: Lobster Films, Paris.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM), Pordenone. Corona emergency security: half programming, half capacity, COVID certificate required, temperature measured, hand hygiene, face masks, distancing.
    Musical interpretation: Neil Brand at the grand piano and Frank Bockius alla batteria.
    Viewed at Teatro Verdi with e-subtitles in English and Italian, 9 Oct 2021.

Lisa Stein Haven (GCM 2021): "Variety appears to have been the first to announce, in June 1923, that René Hervil and Max Linder had been signed by Ernst Szücs of the Vita-Film studios in Vienna to make a circus film titled Clown aus Liebe. Linder’s film would effectively open the studio at Rosenhügel, which hosted its inauguration on 1 December, the day after Linder’s delayed arrival. Szücs and company were delighted to have signed Linder, and expected great things for Austrian films due to the attention from around the world that Linder would bring them, yet the star’s tardy appearance in Vienna proved to be a bad omen, and journalists soon divided themselves between detractors and sycophants. Felix Fischer, a detractor, wrote in Neues Wiener Journal that by 19 January 1924 not a metre of film had been shot: “Once, a scene was almost shot,” reported Fischer. “In it, his partner [Vilma Banky] has to stretch out her hands against him. She did it for four hours, but when he was finally satisfied with her pose, she developed a cramp in her arms, and the filming had to stop again.” In the same journal a few days later (24.1.1924), Fischer amended some of what he had written, admitting, for one thing, that progress was indeed being made on the film, with 10,000 metres having been shot to date. Fischer also reported that Édouard-Émile Violet had arrived about 14 January to replace Hervil, who had a heart attack that demanded his return to Paris. Whether or not Linder was the cause was not specified; it’s also unknown whether any of the material Hervil shot was retained in the final film."

"Other writers (the sycophants) came out in strong support of Linder and against Fischer. A writer at Der Filmbote [Film Messenger] (26.1.1924) argued that Linder had been too long in the film business to postpone filming by “chicanery.” Das Kino-Journal (26.01.1924) seconded this writer’s assertions, noting that “the hysteria described in the article [Fischer’s] is not to be found in Max Linder, but in the author, who was in the unusual position of writing an original report for his readers, which made him nervous as a result of the rarity of such an activity for him.”"

"The press went quiet on the subject of Linder and his Vita-Film adventures until 23 February, when Linder and his wife Ninette were reported to have attempted suicide the night before by taking too many Veronal pills. Once recovered, and to counteract whatever bad press this incident might evoke, on 21 March (and in the following days) Linder called in both the public and the press to kibitz on his lion-taming scene in the film. The fact that several long articles on the spectacle hit the press that week suggests that Linder was successful in diverting attention away from his own personal problems and back to the film in progress."

"In many ways, Max, der Zirkuskönig (as it was released in Austria) harks back to a formula Linder used in many of his shorts for Pathé: the ne’er-do-well son of a prominent aristocratic family is given an ultimatum, in this case to marry or be disowned. He finds a girl, but not the right one, and must impress her father with some talent he doesn’t have by either learning it or pretending to have done so – convincingly. Besides Linder, the film featured Hungarian actress Vilma Banky, just one year away from bigger stardom in America. Circus animals, props, and performers (Fred Boston and Walter Corty) were provided by the Hagenbeck circus."

"With the film completed about 10 April, it was soon screened for the press in three different locations:  in Vienna at the Haydn Kino on 23 May, in London at the Scala on 12 June, and in Paris at the Empire on 9 July. Its official premiere took place the night of 12 September at the Cinema Royal in Rotterdam. Film-Kurier (17.09.1924) provided a fair and unvarnished account of the film and its star: “This Max Linder, who can almost be considered a historical phenomenon today, is still amusing. … What captivates about Linder time and again is the virtuosity with which he can turn his body into an instrument of comical effects. … His art of performance is not rooted like that of a Chaplin in a deep human pity for the pariahs of this earth, nor in a hatred against the figure to be embodied, … but he has fun with the ridiculousness of the figure, which is at most sometimes elevated to a mild irony.” As is often the case with one’s native country, the French were less kind, with one critic remarking that “Max Linder appears to us as brilliant as he has always been, but this very invention is sometimes exercised to the detriment of the subject. There are too many scenes that have nothing to do with the action. … Max Linder is always above his films.” (L’Intransigeant, 28.2.1925)"

"There would be no second Linder film at Rosenhügel. It had become clear by the end of the shoot that the experience had not been a good one for Szücs or his studio. In fact, Variety announced (23.9.1924) that Vita-Film was bankrupt, only a year after opening its doors with the most advanced and modern equipment in the film business. This would be Max Linder’s final film. Despite his attempt to fulfill a long-held dream of marriage, children, and a happy home, he took the life of his young wife and then his own just a short time later, on 31 October 1925.
" – Lisa Stein Haven

The restoration  

Serge Bromberg (GCM 2021): "For decades Max, der Zirkuskönig has been one of those legendary films thought lost forever, alongside The Patriot (Lubitsch), The Four Devils (Murnau), The Way of All Flesh (Fleming), Humor Risk (the Marx Brothers), Her Friend the Bandit (Chaplin), Hats Off (Laurel and Hardy), and the full version of Greed (Stroheim)."

"In 1993, the Cinémathèque Royale de Belgique undertook a first attempt at reconstruction using elements known at the time. But digital technologies were still a long way off, and the very incomplete result was so difficult to watch that the film only gained the reputation of a minor and still unprojectable work."

"25 years later, the new reconstruction initiated and carried out by Lobster Films – for which the identification and collection of the elements will have taken almost 10 years – is a major event. It brings together 11 different sources, from Great Britain, The Netherlands, Austria, Spain, Sweden, Ukraine, Argentina, etc., many of which were unknown a quarter of a century ago, in order to give back to the film a sense of continuity and completeness. The CNC played a large part in supporting this project."

"Some shots come from first-generation prints, and now look almost perfect. Others are true survivors after dozens of generations, sometimes in 16 mm. They are like ghosts, spooky visions of their original appearance. But at least they are here, and the technologies and patience of the restorers have returned them to life."

"Of course, some shots are from the A negative (domestic) and others from the B negative (export). We have had no choice. We are aware of the questions raised by this reconstruction, but if our aim is to get as close to a complete film as possible, then this is the situation at hand, until perhaps a complete copy is found somewhere. When a boat sinks, you don’t choose the color of your life jacket!"

"No original titles have survived in French or German, so we also had to select and translate the intertitles as closely as possible from various languages, where local humor was often added."

"One of the most complex and acrobatic restoration projects is now completed. This film, lost for nearly a century, will re-premiere in Pordenone in 2021. Max Linder, the “King of the Circus”, is finally back, in his circus act. A cheerful, magnificent film, long awaited…"

"Most of all, many thanks to all of our predecessors in this endeavour, and to all the archives around the world who have helped us locate or access surviving material.
" – Serge Bromberg

AA: Watching Max Linder's last movie I was reflecting on the career of the comedy king. It started in 1905, and Linder soon became one of the screen's international superstars. Max became a model for none other than Charles Chaplin, and also, in his own country, for Maurice Chevalier, René Clair and Pierre Étaix.

Linder used to find good female leads, and Vilma Bánky in Max, der Zirkuskönig is a case in point. She has an intelligent and mature presence in this European star film made before her Hollywood breakthrough in The Eagle (with Valentino, directed by Clarence Brown) and The Winning of Barbara Worth (with Ronald Colman and Gary Cooper, directed by Henry King).

Max Linder represented the opposite of the predominant trends of early film comedy: the catastrophe approach of the wild and crazy André Deed (appearing as Boireau, Cretinetti and Gribouille) and the director Jean Durand. Max Linder's comedy was based on the contrast of the dignity of his character and the embarrassing situations in which he lands. His success with this concept was his major inspiration to Chaplin.

I have seen the 1993 restoration of Max, der Zirkuskönig, and I am happy that Linder's final film now makes complete sense (or nonsense). Technically, it is a patchwork of highly disparate materials, sometimes brilliant, sometimes bordering on the unwatchable, but what matters most is that there is a compelling inner drive. The restorers succeed in conveying the flow, the surge, the inner music of Max's comedy.

The storyline: from aristocrat to alcoholic, and from alcoholism to acrobatics.

The greatest sequences include the home lessons at acrobatics, the flea circus and the lion taming climax. Max is in great physical shape in this final film.

Max Linder would deserve a major reappraisal, and the restoration of Max, der Zirkuskönig provides a cornerstone to such a project.

Neil Brand and Frank Bockius provided a virile and rousing score that tapped into the inner dynamics of Max Linder's psyche.

Thursday, October 07, 2021

Han seongsimui him / The Power of Sincerity

한 성심의 힘 / Han seongsimui him / The Power of Sincerity (KR 1935). The bridge has been built thanks to common dedication. Photo from: dcinside com

한 성심의 힘 / Han seongsimui him / The Power of Sincerity (KR 1935). The boy dies in the arms of his father and his best friend after a sacrifice to the common good. Photo from: dcinside com

Korea Prog. 3 Silent Films in the Age of Sound Films
한 성심의 힘 / HAN SEONGSIMUI HIM (KR 1935)
[Il potere della sincerità/The Power of Sincerity]
regia/dir: ?.
cast: Sim Yeong, Kim Yeon-sil.
copia/copy: 35 mm, 2081 ft, 23 min (24 fps); did./titles: KOR/JPN.
fonte/source: Korean Film Archive, Seoul.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM), Pordenone. Corona emergency security: half programming, half capacity, COVID certificate required, temperature measured, hand hygiene, face masks, distancing.
    Daan van den Hurk at the grand piano.
    Viewed at Teatro Verdi with e-subtitles in English and Italian, 7 Oct 2021.

Sungji Oh, Jay Weissberg (GCM 2021): "This silent short film was produced by the motion picture department of the Japanese Government-General of Korea for the purpose of encouraging tax payment. At the start, an idealistic young man (played by Sim Yeong) preaches to a group of industrious villagers on the benefits of paying taxes. Doing so, he tells them, means a bridge can be built over the river. Local bigwig Mr. Kwon (wearing the traditional Tanggeon headgear) doesn’t want to part with his money and is especially put out when the idealist donates his land for the common good. Kwon’s workers leave him to cultivate fields that will put money directly into their pockets, and even the miser’s son, Hak-ryul, is ashamed of his father’s avoidance of paying taxes. When the boy breaks open his own ceramic bank to bring coins to pay his family’s obligations, Kwon chases after him, and his son falls to his death. In recompense, his grieving father pays for the construction of the bridge."

"Sim Yeong had a successful theatre career prior to appearing in the film Soo-il and Soon-ae (1931). Kim Yeon-sil, who had debuted in 1927 and played various lead characters, including Gye-soon in Crossroads of Youth (1934), later defected to North Korea and continued acting there. The Power of Sincerity was acquired twice from Gosfilmofond of Russia, first in 1998 and then in 2006.
" – Sungji Oh, Jay Weissberg

AA: A public information film advocating the cause of paying taxes! And successfully. Nobody who sees this movie can fail to become a happy taxpayer and an opponent of tax havens and paradises.

The film achieves its goal by way of inspiration, commitment and enthusiasm. The wide, mighty river is dangerous to cross. It is necessary to build a powerful bridge. It is not possible without a demanding communal effort.

From a simple case study and rallying cry this movie grows into a vision of society itself. Again, this film is naive without being naivist.

I detect echoes here to the Nordic talkoo tradition. This film reminds me of a Finnish home movie about The Akkaansilta Bridge, an engrossing tribute to the esprit de corps.

Geomsa-wa yeoseonsaeng / A Public Prosecutor and a Teacher

Yun Dae-ryong: 검사와 여선생 / Geomsa-wa yeoseonsaeng / A Public Prosecutor and a Teacher (KR 1948) starring Kim Dong-min (Prosecutor) and Lee Yeong-ae (Teacher). Poster photo from: Danielle Crepaldi Carvalho (São Paulo, Brazil): Filmes, filmes, filmes! (e outras cositas mais)  Impressões sobre filmes, óperas, espetáculos teatrais e afins.

Yun Dae-ryong: 검사와 여선생 / Geomsa-wa yeoseonsaeng / A Public Prosecutor and a Teacher (KR 1948) starring Lee Yeong-ae (Teacher). Photo: Korean Film Archive, Seoul.

Lydia Jakobs: Pictures of Poverty : The Works of George R. Sims and Their Screen Adaptations. John Libbey Publishing, October 2021.

KOREA Prog. 3 Silent Films in the Age of Sound Films
[Il pubblico ministero e l’insegnante/A Public Prosecutor and a Teacher]
regia/dir: Yun Dae-ryong.
adapt: Yun Dae-ryong, dal romanzo di/based on the novel by Kim Choon-gwang.
photog: Park Hu-yeong.
cast: Lee Yeong-ae (insegnante/Teacher), Kim Dong-min (pubblico ministero/Prosecutor), Lee Up-dong (detenuto in fuga/Escaped Convict).
copia/copy: DCP, 62 min, sd; did./titles: KOR, narr. Sin Chul (byeonsa).
fonte/source: Korean Film Archive, Seoul.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM), Pordenone. Corona emergency security: half programming, half capacity, COVID certificate required, temperature measured, hand hygiene, face masks, distancing.
    Viewed at Teatro Verdi with e-subtitles in English and Italian, 7 Oct 2021.

Sungji Oh (GCM 2021): "First released on 5 June 1948, the silent film A Public Prosecutor and a Teacher reflects the reality faced by Korean filmmakers at that time. After liberation in 1945, the Korean film world was left in a state of disarray. The only equipment and facilities available were those left behind by Japanese filmmakers, and it was impossible to obtain raw film stock. In addition, the dominance of the Central Motion Picture Exchange (CMPE), a direct distributor in Korea of U.S. films, made the position of Korean cinema even more precarious. From liberation to August of 1948, around 15-16 feature films, 3-4 cultural films, and 5-6 documentaries and news films were produced in South Korea; silent films accounted for more than half of these, and many were shot on 16mm. One of the reasons that silent films were still produced was the shortage of sound-equipped film projectors in most Korean cities. According to one critical newspaper article (published in the Kyunghyang Shinmun [Kyunghyang Daily News], 1 January 1948), “This is nothing more than a series of mediocre 16 mm or 35 mm sound or silent films. In addition, the haphazard range of themes and contents leaves no room for any artistic system or trend.”"

"In 2000, the Korean Film Archive digitally restored the 16 mm original print of A Public Prosecutor and a Teacher donated by the Korean Film Council – featuring the voice of Sin Chul, the country’s famous last byeonsa."

"The plot is simple, but moving: A young teacher (played by Lee Yeong-ae) befriends a poor schoolboy, then leaves to get married. Years later, she gives shelter to an escaped convict, but her husband misconstrues her intentions. He threatens her with a knife, and accidentally stabs himself to death. Fortunately, the prosecutor on the case turns out to be her former student, who has never forgotten her kindness to him. With his help, she is found not guilty. He takes her to his home and shows her a book she gave him, which he has kept all these years."

"Despite the film’s technical flaws and incompleteness, it was designated a national cultural treasure in September 2007 for its historical and social value – a 16 mm silent film accompanied by a byeonsa, showing the reality of the Korean film world after liberation. However, given that A Public Prosecutor and a Teacher was produced in the era of sound films, it is ironic that the film was recognized partly for its anachronistic production and screening methods. It was remade as a sound film in 1958 by the same director, Yun Dae-ryong.
" Sungji Oh

AA: Paradoxically, for me, the most memorable movie of the 40th Anniversary Edition of Le Giornate del Cinema Muto was a Korean silent film called A Public Prosecutor and a Teacher, made as late as 1948 on 16 mm, immortalizing the voice of the last byeonsa Sin Chul on the soundtrack in this edition made later.

The voice of Sin Chui, the crying byeonsa, made all the difference. It was a voice from beyond, echoing primordial, universal oral traditions of poetry and storytelling. A testimony of sorrow and pain, but also of an innate spirit of goodness and love, in the wavelength of Immanuel Kant: “Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe, the more often and steadily we reflect upon them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.

In the last pre-pandemic edition of Le Giornate two years ago I visited what I found the best ever live benshi performance, Ichiro Kataoka's interpretation of Chushingura (1910). This Sin Chui experience is the second time that makes me fully realize the power of the benshi.

It makes me think of the current renaissance of the spoken word, such as Amanda Gorman's inaugural poem "The Hill We Climb" at the swearing-in of U.S. President Joe Biden in January 2021.

The byeonsa performance belongs to the most ancient traditions. The dirges from the depths of history, the lament of Sumer and Ur, the oral genesis of Homer and Aesop, in Finland the Karelian itkuvirsi tradition of wailing women and the entire Kalevala and Kanteletar legacy. A wealth of connections is evoked. Charles Dickens (a legend also for his readings) and Victorian England about which I'm currently perusing Pictures of Poverty (2021) by Lydia Jakobs, having received a copy in my festival guest bag. Leo Tolstoy. The Biograph shorts of D. W. Griffith, distinguished by Sunday school storylines and a sophistication and sincerity of expression.

In Finland I am reminded of the fondest childhood memories of the Nobel laureate F. E. Sillanpää (1888–1964) who told about the great narrators of the 1890s, first in magic lantern shows, soon blending into early cinema. The beloved narrators were what one came for, regardless of what was playing, even regardless, or because of, a prominent lisp, for instance when the explicador felt it necessary to comment an incident like "nyt ne pussaa" – "now they kiss". The impressions of these performances lasted a lifetime.

In this category is also the Sin Chui experience in A Public Prosecutor and a Teacher. It is naive but not naivist. It has pathos, but it is not pathetic. These are tales of extreme injustice, and a grandeur of spirit to match.

The source print of the DCP is awful and wobbly, but the flow of the film experience is more compelling.

Phil-for-Short (GCM 2021, Nasty Women Prog. 2: Genders of Farce)

Oscar Apfel: Phil-for-Short (US 1919) with Evelyn Greeley (Damophilia Illington) and Charles Walcott (Professor Illington). Photo: Library of Congress / Kino Lorber.

Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM), Pordenone. Corona emergency security: half programming, half capacity, COVID certificate required, temperature measured, hand hygiene, face masks, distancing.
    John Sweeney at the grand piano, Teatro Verdi, e-subtitles in English and Italian, 7 Oct 2021.

Nasty Women: Prog. 2: Genders of Farce

regia/dir: ?. cast: Dranem (il marito/the husband). prod: Pathé Frères. uscita/rel: 3-9.1.1913 (Omnia Pathé, Paris). copia/copy: DCP (orig. 215 m), 11’31”; senza did./no titles. fonte/source: Gaumont-Pathé Archives, Saint-Ouen, Paris.

regia/dir: Oscar Apfel. scen: Clara Beranger, Forrest Halsey. photog: Max Schneider, asst. Nelson H. Minnerly. cast: Evelyn Greeley (Damophilia Illington), Charles Walcott (Professor Illington), James Furey (Pat Mehan), Jack Drumier (Donald MacWrath), Ann Egelston (Eliza MacWrath), Hugh Thompson (John Alden), Henrietta Simpson (Mrs. Alden), Charles Duncan (Mr. Alden), Ethel Grey Terry (Angelica Wentworth), Edward Arnold (Tom Wentworth). prod: Oscar Apfel, World Film Corporation. dist: World Film Corporation. uscita/rel: 2.6.1919. copia/copy: DCP (orig. 5742 ft), 81’50”; did./titles: ENG. fonte/source: Library of Congress National Audio-Visual Conservation Center, Packard Campus, Culpeper, VA.

“All great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice,” declared Karl Marx, “the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.” When power loses all semblance of legitimacy but remains as entrenched as ever, it cannot fail to become farcical. The historical rule of farcical repetition goes double for gender. Rigid norms and damaging stereotypes appear wildly ridiculous when they lose their unquestioned, hegemonic authority. Silent film comedies cashed in on the zany unraveling of traditional gender roles, with mixed results. Examples range from Alice Guy’s Les Résultats du féminisme (Gaumont, 1906) and The Suffragette’s Dream (Pathé, 1909) – in which men nurse babies and “crochet for dear life” – to Her First Flame (Bull’s Eye, 1920) and What’s the World Coming To? (Hal Roach Studios, 1926). In these films, gender anarchy is both outrageously extreme and inescapably temporary. Their conservative endings cannot contain their carnivalesque midsections.“

““The second time as farce” could be the tagline for Le Ménage Dranem (Pathé, 1912), a comedy about the topsy-turvy consequences of feminism. On the one hand, the film reads as the pathetic revenge fantasy of a henpecked husband whose browbeating wife condemns him to the thankless labor of “dry nurse” (no match for the bovine nursemaids in La Grève des nourrices). Monsieur Dranem cooks, cleans, and sews “like an elephant threading a needle,” while his militant wife gambols around in pantaloons, smokes pipes, drinks pints, plays cards in the park, and assaults her cowed spouse. As summarized by Ciné-Journal, Madame “emprunte au sexe fort tous ses défauts, sans ses qualités” (“borrows from the stronger sex all its faults without any of its qualities”). On the other hand, once the genie is out of the bottle (so to speak), the binds of assigned gender roles will never look or feel the same again, which should be apparent by the absurd return to normalcy pictured at the end of the film.“

“Farce saturates every frame of Oscar Apfel’s Phil-for-Short (1919), a rollicking burlesque about improbable romance between a cross-dressing spitfire and an avowed “woman-hater,” who are both Greek professors at a co-ed college in New Jersey. Many American silent films envisioned queer romances between a woman-hater and a disguised girl or tomboy: The Snowbird (Metro, 1916), The Tomboy (Fox, 1921), The Wild Party (Paramount, 1929), and Apfel’s own follow-up, The Trail of the Law (Producers Security Corp., 1923), starring Norma Shearer. But Phil-for-Short was censored (of all things) for being “too nice”! Variety condemned it as a “a sissy play, too nice for our boys; we want them to be manly,” they quoted, after a local screening attended by a Boy Scout troop in Wilmette, Illinois. There are several effeminate male characters in the film, including notorious “woman-hater” John Alden (Hugh Thompson). But perhaps they should have been more worried about Damophilia (Evelyn Greeley), the title character, who is also a Sapphic dancer, temporary cross-dresser, ancient Greek polyglot, daytime farm laborer, and mischievous trickster. She goes by the nickname Phil (for short), because “Wouldn’t you rather be called phil than damn?” Her full name, Damophilia, comes from a poem by Sappho, ancient Greek lyrist from the Isle of Lesbos, whose homeland is, of course, also the etymology of “lesbian,” and who has symbolized female homoeroticism since the Hellenistic period.“

“References to Sap(p)ho were ubiquitous in silent cinema: there were no less than 20 film adaptations of Alphonse Daudet’s novel Sapho produced between 1896 and 1920, according to queer film historian Kiki Loveday. Film and dance scholar Mary Simonson argues that ancient Greece functioned as “an imagined space through which early twentieth-century Americans, especially white middle- and upper-class American women, could access particular experiences and claim particular rights – the right to education, to bodily liberation, to full political engagement.” These dual implications of Sapphism – same-sex eroticism and classist gatekeeping – encircle Phil-for-Short’s libidinal tensions. Exchange economies of the sexual and marital marketplace make room for play and delimit what’s socially possible within this wily narrative, where Sappho and misogyny freefall toward the altar together.“

“Co-written by the prolific silent film scriptwriter Clara Beranger (see also Miss Lulu Bett in the “American Women Screenwriters” series), Phil’s dialogue is frothy, cutting, and hilarious: “I knew I could make you love me if I could get you mad enough.” And: “Oh, my husband’s all right – but he’s not vital.” The film’s farcical plot revolves around cheeky innuendo and situational disguise, both of which frequently thematize sexual misunderstanding and gender misrecognition. For example, a motif of blurry point-of-view shots captures Alden’s confused perspective after Phil steals or hides his glasses. But even when he can see what’s right under his nose, he repeatedly fails to detect its meaning: from Phil’s gender identity to the shape-shifting exuberance of female desire. As supposedly translated from ancient Greek, “The man who takes an eel by the tail or a woman at her word soon finds that he holds nothing.” Or, more to the point, “every woman will make a fool of some man at least once.” We quite agree.
“ – Maggie Hennefeld, Laura Horak

AA: I did not visit this screening but I copy here Maggie Hennefeld and Laura Horak's program notes of Phil-for-Short, a film that I liked very much when it was previously shown at Le Giornate (in 2004 in Sacile). A comedy ahead of its time, anticipating Katharine Hepburn in her 1930s films with George Cukor, George Stevens and Howard Hawks, and going further than Bringing Up Baby or any other film of theirs.

Wednesday, October 06, 2021

Film concert Erotikon (Gustav Machatý, 1929) – music by Andrej Goričar and Orchestra of the Imaginary, Ljubljana

Gustav Machatý: Erotikon (CS 1929) with Luigi Serventi (Jan), Ita Rina (Andrea) and Olaf Fjord (George). Fotografia di Vilém Ströminger. ⓒ Dilia – All rights reserved.

Gustav Machatý: Erotikon (CS 1929) with Ita Rina (Andrea). Fotografia di Vilém Ströminger. ⓒ Dilia – All rights reserved.

Gustav Machatý: Erotikon (CS 1929) with Olaf Fjord (the seducer George Sydney) and Ita Rina (Andrea, the railway guard’s daughter).

Gustav Machatý: Erotikon (CS 1929) with Ita Rina (Andrea)

Gustav Machatý: Erotikon (CS 1929) with Ita Rina (Andrea) and Olaf Fjord (George).

regia/dir: Gustav Machatý.
scen: Gustav Machatý, Vítězslav Nezval.
photog: Václav Vích.
scg/des: Julius von Borsody, Alexander Hackenschmied, J. Machoň.
cast: Ita Rina (Andrea, la figlia del casellante/the railway guard’s daughter), Karel Schleichert (casellante/railway guard), Olaf Fjord (il seduttore/the seducer George Sydney), Theodor Pištěk (Hilbert), Charlotte Susa (Gilda, sua moglie/Hilbert’s wife), Luigi Serventi (Jan, Andrea’s husband), L. H. Struna (carrettaio/carter), Milka Balek-Brodská (ostetrica/midwife), Bohumil Kovář (ferroviere/railwayman), Beda Saxl (proprietario della sartoria/owner of the bespoke tailor’s establishment), Vladimír Slavínský (sarto/tailor), Bronislava Livia (cliente del salone di bellezza/beauty salon visitor), Václav Žichovský (proprietario del negozio di pianoforti/owner of the piano shop), Jiří Hron (uomo nell’ufficio postale/man in the post office), Willy Rösner (wrestler in a pub).
prod: Geem-Film.
dist: Slaviafilm.
uscita/rel: 12.7.1929 (gala, Elite, Karlovy Vary), 3.1.1930 (Hvězda, Radio, Skaut, Prague).
copia/copy: 35 mm, 2441 m, 89 min (24 fps), sequenze imbibite/tinted sequences; did./titles: CZE.
fonte/source: Slovenska kinoteka, Ljubljana.

Score by: Andrej Goričar
performed live by: Orchestra of the Imaginary: Andrej Goričar (piano, conducting), Jakob Bobek (clarinet), Jan Gričar (saxophone), Matej Haas (violin), Ana Julija Mlejnik (violin), Valentina Mosca (viola), Milan Hudnik (cello)
Music score commissioned by the Slovenska kinoteka

Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM), Pordenone. Corona emergency security: half programming, half capacity, COVID certificate required, temperature measured, hand hygiene, face masks, distancing.
    Viewed at Teatro Verdi with English subtitles and e-subtitles in Italian, 6 Oct 2021.

Michal Bregant (GCM 2021): "There are at least two authors of Erotikon: the poet Vítězslav Nezval (1900‒1958) and the director Gustav Machatý (1901‒1963), though the poet’s contribution remained anonymous, as he was unwilling to be seen as betraying his position within the radical modernist art movement. Machatý had no such qualms, and it was he and cinematographer Václav Vích who conceived the film’s stylistically progressive nature. For decades, Erotikon has been celebrated as a rare example of an internationally successful feature embodying a fusion of modernist form and mainstream narrative. The first 15 minutes contain all the elements required for a film of this type – dramatic scenery, multilayered subtexts, sensual tension, carefully sculpted characters – the building blocks of any successful drama."

"Ever since its release, broadminded critics have praised the film’s audacity for openly showing a woman experiencing orgasm, yet few have interrogated the scene within its narrative framework. The man is the alpha, dominant element, and it’s he who gives her this moment of sexual pleasure, reinforcing the traditional distribution of roles. Perhaps the time has come to ask whether this problematic acceptance of her image as object of desire and victim has been overlooked because the scene is so masterfully shot and edited."

"Erotikon attracted the attention of bourgeois audiences by showing something that the “old” generation would view as provocative: it was made for those who imagined the smell of mothballs in their parents’ closet. The film as a whole endorses a set of values prevalent among progressive films at this particularly intense moment of European film history. A truly cosmopolitan drama, it’s adorned with props such as oriental curtains and a toilette set, elegant locations like a piano shop and a bespoke tailor’s establishment, and dramatic moments connected with infidelity and amorous entanglements. As just one of the film’s many clichés, it ends with a departure for Paris. To ensure his message was clearly conveyed the director-producer utilized a linear story, so that audiences in 1929 would fully understand its psychological nuances, just like viewers today, who also appreciate the film’s moderately avant-garde style."

"Andrea, the female protagonist played by Slovenian actress Ita Rina, has her roots in the world of Emile Zola. Her beauty, charm, and sex appeal are in total contrast to the hopelessness of her home life; no matter how much her father cares for her, she has no future in this small, lonely place. Everything that happens to her is predetermined by her social background, which also becomes an excuse to deny her psychological depth. Her seducer George equally behaves according to prescribed social rules, projecting an air of charm and gentlemanly decency when he comes to stay at the railroad guard’s house because he missed the last train, though audiences feel he exudes a more pungent odor than simply his eau de cologne, named “Erotikon”. The railway guard’s daughter will become a victim of this well-dressed predator: what happens next is neither the result of romantic momentum nor the kind of iconic love scene that might take place during a rainy night. Instead, the film positions us as witnesses to a rape – Zola, adapted to the tastes of late-1920s moviegoers."

"The camera’s sophisticated eye gets into the body and mind of both the man and the woman in this short-term relationship, but the male gaze dominates here, as it does throughout the rest of the film. In the beginning, Andrea discovers her sexual desire alone in her room. We are there with her, never to leave her: the viewer will closely witness all the dramatic shifts of her narrative, but without much understanding or empathy. She has no privacy, and is just an object of desire, though, unlike Buñuel’s, not particularly obscure. Wherever she travels, the viewer’s gaze follows her, but rarely takes her perspective. Later in the story, when George, her one-night stand, feels weak and trapped in his feelings, he is still powerful. The modernization of Zola is seen on the surface of the narrative, in settings and costumes, and partly in the social roles."

"When we look at the roles of the protagonists from a distance, we can see a paradoxical gender symmetry. At first George is presented symbolically as a traveler, and Andrea as the naïve innocent. Later Andrea becomes a kind of traveler herself, visiting a large town to give birth. Traveling back to her father’s house, she faces another rapist, but this time she is saved, and seems to find the right track for the rest of her life. Now, who else could derail her fragile existence other than the first, fatal love of her life? Here begins the drama of accommodation: she finds herself in a new world, and has to deal with unfamiliar class rules, which offer her the only way out from her past."

"The release of Erotikon could not have happened at a worse time, since silent film distribution in early 1930 was practically guaranteed to fail. In 1933, sound versions of the film in two languages (Czech and German) were released, with dubbed dialogue instead of intertitles, and a musical score by Erno Košťál which is now missing. A new release of the reconstructed version, with a musical score by Jan Klusák, premiered in Prague in 1995."

"Except for Erotikon, Machatý’s production company Geem-Film did not make any deep impression. As a producer he made two films in 1919 (Teddy by kouřil, which he also directed, is lost), and then in 1927 two more. But after Erotikon, Machatý dived into a new production (again in cooperation with Nezval), and in 1932 he directed his masterwork, Extase (Ecstasy), another variation of a sexually driven narrative focused on a female protagonist (Hedwig Kiesler/Hedy Lamarr).
" – Michal Bregant

The music 

Andrej Goričar (GCM 2021): "There was always something that drew me towards Erotikon, though I can’t definitively place a finger on it. Maybe it’s the delicate scenes, like the one with the droplet sliding down the window, akin to a bygone lovers’ night that shall never come again. Maybe it’s because the most important things in the film are stated by silence itself? It sounds contradictory, but I’m not talking about the absence of decibels when I refer to silence. I’m talking about the inner silence or sound of the silent film. At any one point it is completely quiet, loud, or screaming, all the while it never actually gives off physical sound. It’s probably the same phenomenon as painters “hearing” colours and composers “seeing” sounds. The secret of my affection towards Erotikon might also lie in the following quote from the former director of the Slovenian Cinematheque, Silvan Furlan: “Just like actors have to breathe a soul into the characters, directors have to lend to the film. In Erotikon, both have succeeded”"

"My aspiration while writing the score for Erotikon was to imbue the music with a soul as well – not to judge or explain, only to experience. On many occasions in the past while I was improvising for Erotikon on the piano, I let myself go with the movie and the darkness of the hall. In moments like that, when the soul is most daring, wonderful things can happen. I picked one of those performances – the one at the Isola Cinema Festival in Izola, a little Slovenian town by the Adriatic Sea, as the starting point for my new ensemble score (it seems like the summer night breeze and the scent of the sea always do the job). This was a starting point in terms of the pace, mood, and spirit of the music. After that I selected the instruments. Nothing can be more passionate than a string quartet, more naïve than a clarinet, more melancholy than a saxophone, or more delicate than a piano. Or maybe the characteristics should be swapped? They certainly could. If there are moments in time that I realize that not everything is as it appears to be, they are certainly when I play or compose for silents. Later on I had a lot of fun with actual composing. Here the credit goes to the incredible musicality of this silent film."

"So, it is all about silence. Music always starts from silence. Silence is the constituent part of the music. Music then always ends back in silence. That is, if it ends at all; that is, if we don’t hear it in a silence.
" – Andrej Goričar

AA: Gustav Machatý made a powerful impression in Nordic cinema. Extase was one of Ingmar Bergman's "primal shocks", and he also liked Nocturno. In Finland, Extase was a big favourite of Teuvo Tulio, as was Erotikon. "The Station Master" plot of Erotikon was shared by Tulio in films including The Cross of Love and Sensuela. We screened Erotikon in our "Tulio's Influences" series in 2002 at Cinema Orion.

"The Station Master" narrative derives nominally from Aleksandr Pushkin's sober vignette in Ivan Belkin's Tales, but there is a world of difference with its film melodrama lineage. I would like to know where that tradition started, perhaps with Aleksandr Ivanovsky's Stantsionny smotritel (1918) starring Vera Orlova. For Tulio, a decisive influence was Gustav Ucicky's Der Postmeister (1940). Erotikon was not released in Finland, but Tulio may have seen it abroad, probably in Sweden.

Erotikon may be Machatý's finest film. As Michal Bregant observes above, it was created during the late golden period of silent cinema. Machatý and his cinematographer Václav Vich tell the tale with eloquent visuals. The forces of nature are behind it all. The plot may be conventional, but the cinematic storytelling is sophisticated with complex webs of looks. The chess game sequence (see the first photo above) is a case in point. Looks tell everything.

Erotikon does deserve re-examination in the age of Me Too. Andrea becomes a victim of a rape attempt on a desolate winter road by a coachman. At the last minute she is rescued by Jan who risks his life to save her and is in turn saved by Andrea who volunteers to blood transfusion at the surgery room.

The first encounter of Andrea and George is not a rape. George is a man of the world and Andrea an inexperienced village girl. George takes advantage of her but does not force himself on her. It is a case of "seduced and abandoned" because when Andrea gets pregnant, George is not there to protect her.

Their relationship is complex. It is a case of mutual attraction and seduction, and their love survives even George's unmanly behaviour which he regrets and for which he apologizes. What Andrea and George recognize in each other at first sight is their exceptionally high sexuality with which they struggle to get in terms. They try to resist it until they cannot.

Machatý stages their love scenes with passion and poetry. The storm. The barking dog. The train. The whisky. The perfume called Erotikon. The rain. The superimposition of close-ups when Andrea and George recognize their mutual sexual potential for the first time... almost at first sight. The looks of desire. The key and the lock. Andrea's rapturous dream. The slow kisses, the sucking of the finger. The quiet, unhurried progress to ecstasy. George clearly knows what he is doing in bed. "I know you'll never come back".

From ecstasy to agony: Andrea's childbirth scene conveys pain and suffering, and infinite sorrow and misery as the child is stillborn. Andrea has no money and is thrown into the street in shame when she is still weak and hardly able to walk. Simultaneously her father, for whom she has meant everything, is being crushed by regret and longing, as in Pushkin's vignette.

For me, Erotikon is far from being a case of the "male gaze". Rather, it is unreservedly on Andrea's side. In this movie, she is we. We identify with Andrea, and see George as a callous seducer, not without contradictions, perhaps unable to control his passions, but not someone to root for.

Ita Rina gives a brilliant and radiant performance as Andrea: sensitive, forceful and intelligent. This is a Bildungsroman of a young girl's harsh life lessons that could crush anybody. Andrea survives and becomes stronger.

Erotikon becomes a triangle tragedy like the first feature film directed by Machatý, The Kreutzer Sonata (1927) based on the long story by Leo Tolstoy.

Andrej Goričar and the Orchestra of the Imaginary provided a sensitive, passionate and rousing music interpretation to this memorable evening.

Exhausted after high pressure and long hours at distant office work and Teams meetings during the festival, I fell asleep for a part of the screening but caught up afterwards with online viewing.

Fool's Paradise

Cecil B. DeMille: Fool's Paradise (US 1921) with John Davidson (Prince Talat-Noi), Mildred Harris (Rosa Duchene) and Conrad Nagel (Arthur Phelps).

Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM), Pordenone. Corona emergency security: half programming, half capacity, COVID certificate required, temperature measured, hand hygiene, face masks, distancing.
    Musical interpretation: Gabriel Thibaudeau and Frank Bockius.
    Viewed at Teatro Verdi with e-subtitles in Italian, 5 Oct 2021.

(Haar verleden vergeten)
regia/dir: William J. Humphrey.
scen: Elizabeth R. Carpenter.
cast: Harry [T.] Morey (il contadino/the farmer [E. L. Lee]), Carolyn Birch (sua moglie/the farmer’s wife [Minnie]), Gladden James (malvivente/the criminal [Jim Colby]), Mary Maurice (moglie dell’uomo assassinato/wife of the murdered man). prod: Vitagraph.
uscita/rel: 26.8.1915.
copia/copy: incompl., 35 mm, 268 m [879 ft, orig. l. 1,000 ft], 13’06” (18 fps); ; did./titles: NLD.
fonte/source: Eye Filmmuseum, Amsterdam.

Olivia Hărşan, María Hernández, John Jacobsen (GCM 2021): "The writer Elizabeth R. Carpenter, sometimes credited as E. R. Carpenter, sold stories and scenarios to a variety of film companies, including Vitagraph, Kalem, Selig, Edison, and Lubin. Piecing together her biography before 1913, when Reel Life magazine (30.09.1913) hinted that she was already an established author, is challenging. Her first known published short story, “The Dean’s Checkmate”, won the New York Evening Telegram’s weekly Prize Story Contest (the story appeared in the paper on 13.01.1910), and a cheque from the Triangle Film Corporation now in the Cinémathèque française’s Harry E. Aitken Collection, dated 23.11.1912, as payment for a scenario titled “A Chase for a Fairy” (no film with this name is known), suggests her success began earlier than previously assumed. By the next year she had sold stories to the Reliance Film Company, and the name “E. R. Carpenter” also appeared regularly in the press during this time in association with stories she sent to the Photoplay Clearing House, an organization that corrected, marketed, and sold scripts."

"William Lord Wright’s “Photoplay Authors” column in the New York Dramatic Mirror makes mention of Carpenter several times, quoting her in 1914 boasting of selling an average of more than three scripts per month. She also reported she was selling more synopses than finished scripts, as they paid just as well and took less time to write. Her popularity in 1914 was such that her name appeared on posters for Vitagraph’s Widow of Red Rock, and in 1915 Motion Picture News, when reporting on the Sidney Drew comedy she wrote, Rooney’s Sad Case, praised her for her versatility (11.12.1915). The New Jersey-based Carpenter disappears from the public eye in 1919, after her last known screen credit, World Pictures’ The Quickening Flame, for which she wrote the story."

"The year 1915 was undoubtedly the busiest of Carpenter’s career; she is credited with 11 known films, including The Good in the Worst of Us. Identified at the 2014 “Mostly Lost” workshop in Culpeper, Virginia, the film was partly shot in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, and presents a snapshot of melodrama in the early silent era, which, as Jane Gaines notes in Pink-Slipped (2018), owes a great deal of its development to women screenwriters."

"With The Good in the Worst of Us, the melodramatic elements at play – misunderstandings, the importance of trust, and the restoration of peace and virtue through death – drive the plot forward as a woman escapes the criminal she lives with, then marries a farmer and leads a contented life. The past returns when the criminal threatens her after robbing a house and murdering a man, making her reluctantly steal her husband’s money to help him. The farmer discovers her aiding the crook’s escape, and the crook is shot by the police, culminating in the film’s plot twist. Carpenter’s scenario successfully plays with audience expectation, withholding information from us and the farmer/husband until the very end, when it’s revealed that the wife’s intentions were pure, thus restoring peace and reuniting the family."

"Director William J. Humphrey (1875-1952) was first known for his portrayals of Napoleon on stage, which led to Vitagraph hiring him in 1908 to play Bonaparte and other historical figures. By 1910 he was also directing for the company, remaining with Vitagraph until 1917, when he began working for other studios. In 1919 Moving Picture World reported that he had set up his own production company, the Humphrey Picture Corporation (22.02.1919), though its one announced film, Atonement, was released as a Pioneer Film production. Humphrey continued acting long after he stopped directing and writing.
" – Olivia Hărşan, María Hernández, John Jacobsen

(Paradiso folle)
regia/dir: Cecil B. DeMille.
scen: Beulah Marie Dix, Sada Cowan, suggerito dal racconto di/suggested by the short story by Leonard Merrick, “The Laurels and the Lady” (1896).
photog: Alvin Wyckoff, Karl Struss.
mont/ed: Anne Bauchens.
cost: Clare West [Mitchell Leisen, Natacha Rambova].
asst dir: Cullen Tate, Karl Struss.
cons: Florence Burgess Meehan.
cast: Dorothy Dalton (Poll Patchouli), Mildred Harris (Rosa Duchene), Conrad Nagel (Arthur Phelps), Theodore Kosloff (John Roderiguez), John Davidson (Prince Talat-Noi), Julia Faye (Samaran, moglie principale/his chief wife), Clarence Burton (Manuel), Guy Oliver (Briggs), Kamuela C. Searle (Kay), Jacqueline Logan (Girda), George Fields (a Mexican), Pal (Chum, il cane/the dog), John Brown (orso lottatore/wrestling bear).
prod: Jesse L. Lasky, Famous Players-Lasky Corp.
dist: Paramount Pictures.
première: 16.12.1921 (Criterion Theatre, New York; 11,000 ft).
uscita/rel: 19.3.1922 (8,681 ft).
copia/copy: DCP, 109 min (da/from 35 mm, imbibito/tinted); did./titles: ENG.
fonte/source: Library of Congress National Audio-Visual Conservation Center, Packard Campus, Culpeper, VA.

Leslie Midkiff DeBauche (GCM 2021): "Oh, to have been in the room when Beulah Marie Dix (1876‒1970) and Sada Cowan (1882‒1943) transformed Leonard Merrick’s quiet short story “The Laurels and the Lady” into Cecil B. DeMille’s spectacle, Fool’s Paradise. Merrick’s protagonist Willy Childers was an inept, consumptive poet, hopelessly in love, stuck in a dusty South African backwater, who languishes, experiences momentary happiness, and dies. Dix and Cowan swapped Willy for Arthur Phelps, also without literary talent, but notably an oil speculator in the boomtown of El Paso, Texas. While Willy’s English mother sent him to South Africa’s mining country to try to spark some proper ambition in him, Arthur is a can-do American whose eyesight was damaged fighting on the battlefields of France in World War I."

"While Willy’s love object is Rosa Duchene, an actress who comes to South Africa to perform in La Dame aux Camélias, Arthur’s Rosa Duchene is a ballerina devoted to her art and to flirting. She arrives in nearby Hope City to portray Hans Christian Andersen’s Snow Queen, stealing men from their lovers and turning their hearts to ice. Willy never actually meets his Rosa, though Arthur does: in France, in Texas, and in Siam(!). Then, there’s Poll Patchouli. In South Africa she owns a shop which sells “bad scent.” On the Texas-Mexico border, Poll dances with more abandon than form in a cantina owned by the jealous Roderiguez, who throws a mean knife."

"It was originally reported that Olga Printzlau and Sada Cowan were adapting the Merrick story for DeMille, but Printzlau’s name soon disappeared, and the magazine Camera (11.3.1922) informed readers that Cowan adapted the original text while Dix wrote the scenario. We’re currently unable to ascertain whether one or both writers added a flying carpet, an exploding cigar, a dog named Chum, a pit full of crocodiles, and a happy ending."

"Three changes Dix and Cowan made to Merrick’s popular story demonstrate their mastery of Hollywood cinema’s narrative form. First, they deployed World War I strategically. A short, simple scene on the lawn of a French hospital early in the film economically sets the story’s time and introduces its main character. A shrapnel wound has damaged Arthur’s eyesight, but his stay at the convalescent hospital provides the opportunity to meet Rosa Duchene, sparking the narrative’s trajectory. As a wounded doughboy, his heroic credentials are established from the start."

"Contemporary audiences would have recognized the troubles of a disabled veteran returning home, and topicality was an efficient and conventional tool for Dix and Cowan to use as they constructed a plot which became progressively zany. Tapping into World War I also encouraged a particularly ideological sense-making: this young American may be down now; he may be infatuated with a fickle, French beauty; but he will succeed (by getting rich), and will come to recognize Poll’s greater worth (she can sew buttons onto his shirts). After all, Americans helped to win the War, and Arthur had the gumption to ask Rosa for her handkerchief as a keepsake."

"Second, about two-thirds of the way through the movie, Dix and Cowan send Arthur – whose sight has been restored – to Siam to woo Rosa. She is there to study ancient religious dances and to play the coquette for Prince Talat-Noi. The exotic destination isn’t as random as one might imagine: DeMille was friends with writer-lecturer Florence Burgess Meehan, considered an expert at the time on all things Siamese, and she became a consultant on the film. What happens to Arthur in Siam dovetails with what he suffered in France: if the Great War nearly robbed him of his sight, Siam bestows greater insight. Siam also provides a contrast, setting post-war America in sharply modern relief. The first images in Fool’s Paradise show El Paso’s bustling, multi-ethnic Main Street, where women drive motorcycles while their babies ride in sidecars, and oil derricks stand sentry, promising wealth beyond measure. Siam looks more traditional. There, women wash clothes in the river, mahouts guide their elephants along a path, and the scalloped domes of buildings evoke an orientalist fantasy (which looks especially stunning in a currently unpreserved color print at the George Eastman Museum). Unsurprisingly, the production ran over-budget: a tantalizing article in Exhibitors Trade Review (24.12.1921) states the film was presented at 11,000 feet when it premiered at New York’s Criterion Theatre, which, if accurate, makes one wonder exactly what was in the now-lost 2,319 feet."

"Although played for racist laughs, in El Paso a Black man can shine shoes one day and strike it rich the next; a Native American woman can sit outside her tent smoking a pipe, nonplussed as men shove a piano through the open tent-flap. Conversely, in Siam society has performed the same rituals and danced the same formalized steps for a very long time. Arthur disdains its ancient customs, and after saving a literal sacrificial lamb, he exclaims, “You fellows have some idea of Sport!” Siam is beautiful, but Texas, though rough, is ready for a young man who will now quit writing terrible poems and get about the work of building a dynamic, democratic country."

"Dix and Cowan’s third significant addition to the scenario is humor. Here, too, they demonstrate skill and wit. It is no accident that Poll Patchouli steals the show. In fact, all the female characters are plucky and competent. Dix and Cowan write them as imaginative, determined, and good at their jobs – and they all do have jobs. Poll, though, is the funny one. Watch the taxidermy ducks fly when she imitates Rosa’s curtain call. After Arthur leaves her for Rosa, Poll warns Chum, his dog, “You’d better go with him  – or he’ll quit you, too – for a French Poodle!” Beulah Marie Dix and Sada Cowan added action, fun, and scenes of both fire and ice to this now Americanized plot. The ads as well as title credit were correct when they advised viewers that Leonard Merrick’s story “The Laurels and the Lady” only “suggested” Fool’s Paradise.
" – Leslie Midkiff DeBauche

AA: Fool's Paradise was screened 30 years ago in Le Giornate del Muto's double DeMille retrospective. I failed to see it then and now finally caught up.

In that retrospective the big discovery was the realistic Cecil B. DeMille in several stark straight dramas with a social conscience.

But equally prominent was the Cecil B. DeMille of the grand spectacles with a genuine appetite for extravaganza, phantasmagoria and exoticism. CB DeMille belongs also to the heirs of Méliès and to the lineage of the cinema of attractions in huge setpieces showcasing the dancer Rosa Duchene (Mildred Harris, also remembered as the first wife of Charles Chaplin) and revealing ancient cults of Siam, known today as Thailand).

The tale of the war-traumatized Arthur Phelps (Conrad Nagel) comes to Frank Borzage territory, but the contrast to the genuine transcendence of Borzage and the blatant showmanship of DeMille could not be bigger. Equal to both is the fairy-tale approach, the faith in the miracle cure, and the insight in blindness: the blind one can see, and the one with good eyesight can be blind in the most profound fashion.

We have everything: beautiful women in elegant dresses, handsome men, art titles, casual diversity in New Mexico, oil boom towns, alligator ponds, melodramatic excess and stylish overacting.

And even a sense of humour. The male lead is un poète maudit, and he must travel half the world to realize that he has no talent. Love is blind, until finally Arthur realizes that true love was at his fingertips all the time. As for the love object, Poll Patchouli (Dorothy Dalton), she states that "only a great love can eat the things I cook".

The DCP has been created from a marvellously beautiful colour print. DeMille is a master of surfaces, and in this presentation surfaces are made to matter. An evening of splendid entertainment.

Gabriel Thibaudeau and Frank Bockius rose to the occasion with their inspired and energetic musical interpretation, rewarded with a standing ovation.

A memorable quote: 

"If we give life a promissory note, the interest is likely to be more than we can pay".