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Il Cinema Ritrovato27th Edition 2013

Posted by keith1942 on July 15, 2013


This year’s festival organised in Bologna by the Fondazione Cineteca di Bologna was a crowded week of archival film material. There were programmes of both silent and sound films spread across five venues and enjoyed in part or whole by about 2000 visitors.

One strand, now running since 2003 was The Time Machine, A Hundred Years Ago. Glorious 1913. This was curated in her own inimitable fashion by Marian Lewinsky. It included a range of films – short actualities and short and long fictional narratives. There were contributions from a range of national archives. The short actualities covered a varied range of topics – street scenes, the Mexican War, Greek antiquities, the Niagara Falls [a frequent cinematic sight] and a longer information film, Our Friend the Police. The last title indicated its content, which was produced by the Manchester Police Force. There were several delightful early comedies from the French auteur Léonce Perret. He both starred in and directed these films and they offered a distinctive and delightful Gallic humour. Longer films included the 1912 Italian Quo Vadis? This was an early example of the then new Italian epic running for 94 minutes. There was also Victor Sjöström’s early socially conscious masterpiece Ingeborg Holm. We had a marvellous performances from the early divas Asta Neilsen in Engelein and Lyda Borelli in Ma L’amo mio non Muore. The majority of these programmes were screened in 35mm with their original frame rates and many enjoyed tin ting, hand colouring or stencil colouring techniques.

The Quiet Don

The Quiet Don

One of the real surprises of the festival were a series of early Russian and Soviet films featuring the female star and director Ol’ga Preobraženskaja. Unfortunately her work as an actress only survived in fragments, though Plebej, an adaptation of Stringberg’s Miss Julie from 1915 and directed by Jakov Protazanov, looked very promising. A contemporary review praised her performance as the ‘volatile, sensitive countess’. The bulk of the programme were films that she directed with her partner Ivan Pravov. These were impressive, especially given that the work has been overlooked for a long time. In the 1920s she worked [predictably even in the progressive Soviet Union] on a number of films for children. One of these, Kaštanka (1926) adapted from a story by Chehkov, was a really fine canine film about a boy and his lost dog. Another Fed’kina Pravda (1925) adapted a classic Ukrainian tale of two boys from different sides of the track whose fates dramatise social inequality. Two films, Anja (1927) and Baby Rjazanskie (1927) focussed on central women characters. Whilst Tichij Don (1930) was an early adaptation of the famous Soviet novel And Quiet Flows the Don. Preobraženskaja and Pravov’s work lacked the distinctive montage style associated with the most famous Soviet filmmakers. However, they were popular drama, often with distinctive techniques in filming, and offering a seemingly realist portrait of aspects of life in the 1920s.

Gloria Swanson in Manhandled

Gloria Swanson in Manhandled

The featured early director was Allan Dwan, who worked in Hollywood from 1911 to 1961. His early one-reelers were mainly westerns. What immediately struck me was his tendency to use distinctive framing and a developing command in the use of landscape: both aspects, which may have influenced John Ford. This programme included two films that he directed for Douglas Fairbanks Sr., A Modern Musketeer (1917) and The Iron Mask (1929). There were also two films he directed starring Gloria Swanson. Zaza (1923) had Swanson and H. B. Warner rather miscast in an adaptation of a classic French melodrama. The other Manhandled (1924) was a department store melodrama and made perfect use of the star’s persona. Her Chaplin imitation in this film reappears in the later Billy Wilder classic Sunset Boulevard (1950), as does her co-star from Zaza H. B. Warner. And there was full-bodied Hollywood melodrama East Side, West Side (1927); this is a rag to riches story, which manages to include romance, heartache, the ‘American dream’ and a pretty good facsimile of the Titanic sinking.

One popular strand was Silent Hitch, the full nine restored silent films directed by Alfred Hitchcock. These were all screened from 35mm prints with piano accompaniments. This was an exciting opportunity and the fine grain prints looked good. However, I did wonder why we had to travel to Italy to see the 35mm prints whilst at home in England it seems only possible to see these on DCPs.

Another familiar filmmaker was Charlie Chaplin. This is the latest phase of the ongoing Chaplin Project, restoring the complete 81 titles that Chaplin made across his long career. This year we had the Mutual comedies. These had all been transferred to DCPs. I noted that the Catalogue information was restricted to the number of reels. The equivalent screenings in 2012 had information both on the frame rate for projection and running times. In fact the Cineteca is one of the few venues where the new FIAF frame rates for early film appear to have been implemented. And there certainly were digital projections at this year’s festival where the screening used the historically determined frame rate. I could not get a direct clarification of the change but I assume the explanation is that only some of the Film Archive have so far implemented the FIAF specifications and that we are in an equivalent period to the arrival of sound, when film speeds are something of a lottery. This is rather sad given the scholarship that has gone into unearthing information and the technical effort into screening films as they would have when originally seen.

The Morieux Collection Exhibition

The Morieux Collection Exhibition

One event that did recreate the nearly cinema experience was in the courtyard of the Cineteca. There were two evening screening of films from The Morieux Collection, a Belgium archive based on a fairground mechanical theatre. There was an accompanying exhibition of Archive materials. The films were projected from surviving carbon arc projector provided by Cineservice. Watching the carbon arc projection is a rare pleasure, and it is a light source which has strong illumination and distinctive colour projection. There was a ripple of excitement in the packed courtyard as the projector ‘fired up’. And we then watched a delightful selection of short black and white and coloured films with musical accompaniments.

Of course there was a lot more in the festival programme. But a really important part of the early film programmes are the musicians who provide the accompaniment. Generally this is of a very high standard and adds immeasurably to the screenings. There were certain performances where I was really struck by the accompaniment and its interaction with the film.

Gabriel Thibaudeau provided a very lyrical accompaniment to a 1915 tragic Italian melodrama Tragico Convegno. Antonio Coppola was equally lyrical for a 1913 programme, which included In Peril of the Sea. Maud Nelissen was spot on for a programme of the early Allan Dwan westerns. A new accompanist for me, Matti Bye, provided a minimal but evocative accompaniment for Ingeborg Holm. And the Hollywood drama East Side, West Side enjoyed the playing of Donald Sosin and the singing of Joanna Seaton. It was all very memorable.

It was a very crowded and for me exhausting week. But it was full of memorable films, some of which I have waited years to see. I wait with anticipation the 2014 programme, which presumably will address the centenaries of both World War I and the start of Chaplin’s film career.

Stills courtesy of the Fondazione Cineteca di Bologna.

2 Responses to “Il Cinema Ritrovato27th Edition 2013”

  1. […] for the first time, there were ‘kids screenings’ – great! The films themselves ranged from early in the silent era to fairly recent […]

  2. […] Il Cinema Ritrovato27th Edition 2013 […]

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