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Le Giornate del Cinema Muto 2019

Posted by keith1942 on October 23, 2019

Catalogue cover – Marion Davies

Once again a international mix of committed cineastes gathered in Pordenone in north-west Italy for the 38th instance of this annual Festival. There were about a thousand here for a week of film from the first thirty five years of cinema. Within this crowd were a select group of ‘Donors’, who support the Festival by attending and contributing financially. Some have been returning year after year since its earliest days in the 1980s.

All guests receive a pass and a Catalogue; the Catalogue, with details of the titles, their provenance and some indication of the content. These came in the Festival bag graced by Marion Davies in Beverley of Graustark (1916), a Ruritanian story screened at the Festival; fans of William S. Hart were able to buy a festival T-shirt featuring this western hero. Donors also received a selection of new writings on the ‘silent era’. This year there were two books from Paulo Cherchi Usai, one of the founder of the Festival. He has also recently finished his work as Senior Curator of the Moving Image Department at the George Eastman Museum. His work and research there has fed in to the two books.

‘Silent Cinema A Guide to Study, Research and Curatorship’, BFI 2019.

This is a revised and much expanded version of his book and which has one of the most thorough accounts of the cinematic process in the founding and development of cinema and which also addresses the issues around the transition from photo-chemical film to digital.

‘The Art of Film Projection A Beginner’s Guide’. George Eastman Museum, 2019.

This promises to be a detailed study of projection of ‘reel’ film in all its aspects; a volume that should be extensively read in Britain.

‘Silver Screen to Digital A Brief History of Film Technology’ by Carlo Montanaro, Translated by Liam Mac Gabhann. John Libbey Publishing, 2019.

The book covers from the silent era up until the new computer based systems.

Paulo Cherchi Usai giving an interview

The volumes are pertinent. Peter Rist, who every year does his calculations, noted that there were 27 features on DCP at this year’s Festivals but only 17 on 35mm, i.e. titles running 50 minutes or longer. The short film programmes were better, about 50/50; 76 titles on 35mm and 78 on digital. The latter were interesting as digital versions and film versions were side by side and the characteristics of each could be both compared and contrasted. So far this has confirmed my preference for the traditional technology.

The opening and closing events of the Festival were digital projections. The opening night offered Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid with Chaplin’s own musical accompaniment performed by the Orchestra San Marco conducted by Timothy Brock; an expert in music for Chaplin’s films who arranged the score. The digital version was fine but this was the version re-edited by Chaplin and some of us would have preferred the original version from 1921.

The closing night offered Alfred Hitchcock The Lodger, A Story of London Fog (1927). On this occasion the Orchestra San Marco was conducted by Ben Palmer with a score composed for the title by Neil Brand. This was a digital rendering of a tinted copy and [as is frequently the case with the format] the tinting was over-saturated, reducing the definition within the image.

The audience included the citizens of Pordenone, who also enjoy the Festival. One of their favoured events is ‘Striking a New Note’, titles accompanied by the Orchestra dell’Instituto Comprensivo Rorai Cappuccini e della Scuola Secondaria di Primo Grado di P. P. Pasolini. [a school celebrating the great film maker; I somehow doubt we have a school in Britain cerebrating Derek Jarman]. The students play recorders with a piano alongside. This year they accompanied ‘Our Gang’ in Dogs of War (1923) and ‘Baby Peggy’ in Carmen, Jr. (1923).

There were also screenings specifically dedicated to the citizens. On the final Sunday the Verdi screened Chaplin’s The Kid this time with the orchestra under the baton of Maestro Gunter Buchwald. There was also an event for the citizens of Sacile where the Festival spent many years whilst the new Verdi was constructed. The Zancanaro Theatre hosted one of the films from the Reginald Denny programme of the Festival; What Happened to Jones (1926). This is an excellent combination of slapstick and farce and enjoyed a score written and composed by Juri Dai Dan with the Zerorchestra Partitura.

Both sets of audiences are fairly well behaved, but, even here at a specifically cinema event we have some ne’er-do-wells. The occasional mobile phone goes off: people actually text in the auditorium: actually light up tablets: and, whilst, one can understand using a phone as a torch in the darkness, some wave it about like a searchlight. The Festival would benefit from m ore frequent and more emphatic warnings; seen only occasionally before events.

A quiet moment for Reception staff

The staff and volunteers of the Festival are very good. One worker in the reception admitted to being worn out after registering all the guests and handling their queries. And, unfortunately, this year the staff at the Verdi had to assist when one unfortunate guest collapsed and had to be wheeled by out by medics: he has recovered. Most of the guests are in a good condition despite the demands of a fairly heavy programme of screenings. The staff receive a special thank you on the last night. Jay Weissberg [Festival Director] admitted it was not possible to list all the staff and volunteers who care for the festival-goers. I suggested perhaps we could have a ‘photo-montage’ of staff. There is already one for the recipients of the Jean Mitry Award, a prestigious honour given en annually. This photo-montage also means that every year we hear Aaron Copland’s beautiful ‘Fanfare for the Common Man. So perhaps readers could consider an equally appropriate piece of music for a ‘Fanfare’ for the hard-working staff.

The Jean Mitry Award is one of the special event s in the Festival. Past years have seen the honour awarded to some of the major luminaries of Silent Film study, preservation and presentation. This year the two recipients were Margaret Parsons who has for a long period organised the film programmes at the National Gallery in Washington DC; and Donald Crafton who wrote and taught key works on early animation.

Also this year one of the students from the David Selznick Film School presented the work for the Haghefilm Selznick Fellowship. This was a 1912 Russian Pathé film, the second part of 1812 (The Retreat From Moscow). This was a fine 18 minute 35mm print with excellent tinting. We watched Napoleon as he suffered the travails of the Russian winter and Russian resistance. Though the real suffering was reserved for the French soldiers, cut down by Cossacks, hacked down by serfs and savaged by wolves.

In between and alongside these events were a series of programmes which I shall return to discuss in greater detail. They included the early films of William S. Hart; the finest exponent of the western in early Hollywood. There was Hollywood star Reginald Denny, not that well-known these days but very popular in the 1920s. We had early stars of French cinema and a rang e of short films from Weimar Cinema. And we had a series of ‘flip-books’ painstakingly transferred to photographs and animated  for projections. All of these enjoyed musical accompaniments both from the orchestras and from a talented team of musicians, mainly on the piano, but supplemented by the violin, accordion, percussion and the human voice.

We also met and chatted to old friends and colleagues: wrapped up well for the start and enjoyed warmer sunshine for the end of the week; and, as space and time allowed, indulged in the excellent Italian cuisine. The whole week offered enough pleasure to return in 2020 when we are promised more Westerns.

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The Mask and the Face / La maschera e il volto, Italy 1919

Posted by keith1942 on August 6, 2019

Savina, Paolo, Marta, Luciano

This film was part of the programme ‘A Hundred Years Ago: 1919’ at Il Cinema Ritrovato. The programmers, Mariann Lewinsky and Karl Wratchko, commented in the Festival Catalogue:

“1919 is the first year of the A Hundred Years Ago strand for which a certain canon exists … [ Stroheim, Gance, Dreyer ..] we decided, as in every year since 2004, to go on a pilgrimage to the archives and view as many films from 1919 as possible.”

So this title from Italy is not a masterpiece though it is a very interesting film. The director, Augusto Genina’ is an important film-maker from the period. The story is adapted by Luciano Doria from a play by Luigi Chiarelli.

“… a three-act play … first staged in 1916 – a resounding success that gave birth to a new national theatrical movement: ‘grotesque theatre’, which staged the exasperation of bourgeois comedy.” (Andrea Meneghelli in the Festival Catalogue).

Apparently the film, the first of several adaptations, plays down the ‘grotesque’ elements.

Savina Grazia (Italia Almirante Manzini) is married to jealous husband Paolo (Vittorio Rossi Pianelli). His possessive actions drive her into an affair with Paulo’s close friend Luciano (Ettore Piergiovanni). Luciano is a lawyer and himself engaged to Marta. Paolo, at a social, boasts that if his wife is unfaithful he will kill her lover, unaware that this is actually Luciano. An important sub-plot, only partially explained, presents a couple of a boat on the nearby Lake Como. The couple never leave the boat and Paolo’s friends believe that

“Her husband is a terrible Othello.”

Paolo’s violence leads to Savina fleeing the house. To maintain face Paulo falsely claims to have killed her as a matter of honour. Luciano, who believes this, defends Paulo against a murder charge and achieves an acquittal. Now the body of a woman is found floating in the lake, decayed beyond recognition; possibly that of the woman on the boat. But everybody assumes that it is the body of Savina. This sets up the story for a complicated but upbeat ending. Here Genina’s ending is more in line with traditional social comedy than the ‘grotesque theatre’.

The film is entertaining and well performed by the cast. The style is fairly conventional for the period but there are some excellent location sequences. This balances some of the interiors which are somewhat theatrical in their staging. The print was in good condition though it was slightly shorter than a recorded length for the original: there were a couple of scene changes that were a little abrupt. But the image quality was fine. There was a nicely appropriate accompaniment by Daniele Furlati.

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The Fifth Nitrate Picture Show

Posted by keith1942 on May 21, 2019

The weekend this year ran from Friday May 3rd to Sunday May 5th. We missed out on a Thursday night treat as the George Eastman Museum was celebrating Julia Roberts and [I am pretty sure] she was never filmed on nitrate. Prior to the weekend, in a first, a cryptic pitch from the Museum hinted at some of the delights:

“There will be at least one Academy Award Winner for Best Picture

A film directed by Alfred Hitchcock

Jon Barrymore will be present on our silver screen

And, we’ll have every genre from mysteries and romance to westerns and film noir to comedy and cartoons! “

On our journey down we produced a list of potential titles. The only success was the Hitchcock title which Peter Rist had seen before and which he knew was a print at the Museum

The programme was announced Friday morning at 8.45 a.m. We were still enjoying a fine breakfast before walking up to collect a programme. Initially I wondered whether this would be a good year but it turned out to be excellent, with both interesting and entertaining films and generally good quality prints. We had enough time to walk in to town and visit the Greenwood Bookshop, a recommended stop for anyone visiting Rochester. We fortunately also had time to visit the Memorial Museum of Fine Art. This featured an installation by Isaac Julien celebrating Frederick Douglas. Douglas is buried in the city. This was a splendid feature. Ten screens, of varying sizes, displayed video films dramatising important events in the life of Douglas. It was very well set out; one could follow key screens and still be aware of the other screens and how the representations moved around these. I only had time for one viewing, [it runs half-an-hour], so I hope it will be seen in Britain at some point.

Friday afternoon started with two talks in the series ‘Keepers of the Frame’. David Russell from the Imperial War Museum delved into the history of that Institution and his own archival experiences to offer insights in to working with nitrate, especially the most important issue of preservation. He downplayed the hazards of the format though he stressed the problems of finding and keeping good copies. Elaine Burroughs followed presenting the James Card Memorial Lecture. She talked about her experiences at the British Film Institute and also with FIAF [International Federation of Film Archives]. She had some startling clips illustrating nitrate’s inflammability. So we enjoyed ‘Mr Ice’ and M/s Fire’; rather like the bout in The Black Dahlia (20026).

The programme of films followed the patterns set in earlier years. So the first session was devoted to shorts.

Battle of Midway (USA 1942), an 18 minute colour print from the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Shot on 16mm Kodachrome it was released in a 35mm Technicolor print. Commander [John] Ford supervised the filming. And well known actors, Ray Milland, Donald Crisp and Jane Darwell read the commentary. This is very much from the US side though it shows the casualties and wreckage of the US forces. There is some fine aerial cinematography. But the tone, as is the wont in US war movies, is stentorian.

Swooner Crooner, (USA 1944), was one of several colour animations, this by Frank Tashlin. This was also from the Museum of Modern Art. Running seven minutes it shows a battery of hens being encouraged to increase egg production. The hens are clearly stand-ins for the female work force in World War II, demonstrating the changes in representations between then and now.

Tulips Shall Grow was another war-time colour animation, (USA 1942), this time from the hand of George Pals. The print and the Technicolor were in fine condition , in a Library of Congress print. The plot involves a young Dutch couple who suffer when the ‘army of Screwballs’ invade. But ‘Mother Nature’ provides a catalyst for resistance and victory over the invaders. These were cartoon variations on thinly disguised allies and Nazis.

‘When Tulips Bloom’

Looking at London (USA 1946). This was a Fitzpatrick Travel Talk, running 10 minutes and in Technicolor, also from the Library of Congress. The film presents London post-war including the effects of the German bombing campaigns. Somewhat scratched the film seems rather bland compared with the documentaries and newsreel from the war years.

Gardens of the Sea (USA 1947) and Landscape of the Norse (USA 1947) , both from the Academy Film Archive, were both documentaries studying places overseas; not one of the strongest suits of US cinema. The Australian coral reefs look good in the title’s Cinecolor and are a pleasure. The exploration of Norway picks up when the film travels to the northern reaches of the country. Both prints were from the Academy Film Archive,.

The Cobweb Hotel (USA 1936) was a delightful animation in colour from David Fleischer provided by the UCLA Film and Television Archive. The sardonic tone as flies battle to escape the malevolent designs of a spider are very entertaining.

Finally The Temperamental Lion (USA 1939) was a colour animation which offered rather conventional plotting. It has been preserved by the Chicago Film Society. Unfortunately it seemed to be a warped print which meant that the focus came and went. This last screening demonstrated the ageing faults that the projection team had to tackle in presenting the titles. All had some level of shrinkage and several had suffered damage to the edges and sprocket holes.

The evening meal break offered both the excellent Museum bar and [an innovation from 2018] food wagons by the entrance. If you were energetic you could also walk to a nearby restaurant, though these are at least ten minutes or more away.

The early evening programme was Luis Buñuel’s L’Age d’Or (1930). The screening was from a George Eastman print which they acquired from the legendary Henri Langlois and it was in reasonable condition. This is an undoubted classic and a fine example of surrealist film. It is longer and more complex than Un Chien Andalu (1929), partly because it has both title cards and recorded dialogue, plus recorded music and effects. Sex, violence, satire, subversion and sardonic humour engage one for just over an hour. I especially like the giraffe flying out a window, the cow on the bed, and a familiar figure with hitherto suppressed biography. The Catalogue recorded the disruptions to the original screening and also a fine example of right wing anger and bile:

“All those who have safeguarded the grandeur that is France, all those, even if they are atheists, who respect religion, all those who honour family life and hold childhood sacred, all those who have faith in a race which has enlightened the world , all those sons of France whom you have chosen to defend you against the moral poison of unworthy spectacles appeal to you now to uphold the rights of the censor.” (In ‘Le Figaro’, December 13, 1930).

If I did not already know the film I would have rush to see it.

The evening ended with The Beautiful Blonde From Bashful Bend (1949). This was the last major title directed by Preston Sturges in Hollywood. The print from the Museum of Modern Art was in good shape and the Technicolor format offered bold and vivid colours. The ‘Blonde’ (Betty Grable) is a western ‘sure shot’ whose main problem is her unfaithful boyfriend Blackie (Caesar Romero). The action tends to slapstick but is done with real panache. The climatic sequence is a lengthy gun battle full of witty visuals. The audience went to bed full of humour.

Saturday morning opened with the 1947 Nightmare Alley. This was a print from the UCLA Film and Television Archive. It was a pleasure to watch:

“The blacks are saturated to give the eerie feeling of night shadows and life on the dark side.”

Generally seen as a film noir the film lacks the flashbacks and confessional mode of the genre. And the femme fatale in this story is an overweening ambition embodied in fake spiritualist Stanton ‘Stan’ (Tyrone Power). In 2018 we had a fine Tyrone Power film, The Razor’s Edge (1946) adapted from the novel by Somerset Maugham. Both these films were directed by Edmund Goulding, a Hollywood talent that deserves greater recognition. This film also has fine black and white cinematography by Lee Garmes. The ‘Variety’ review (October 15, 1947)commented

“Despite the grim realism of its treatment, it has all the shuddery effect of a horror yarn”

The afternoon started with a short film by Arne Sucksdorff from the Swedish Film Institute / Svenska Film Institute, Strandhugg (‘Forays’, 1950). The print was in excellent shape and Sucksdorff’s films offer fine black and white cinematography. Two earlier Picture Show were graced by his work and this 15 minute film offers poetic sequences of the seaside.

 

The feature in this session came from the National Audiovisual Institute of Finland / Kansallinen audiovisualinen institutti: People of the Summer Night / Ihmiset suviyössä (1948) was directed by Valentin Vaala. Vaala made 44 films in a long career but this is reckoned to be his finest. It is adapted from a novel by Frans Eemil Sillanpää’s (1934). Set over one night in a small rural community we watch various relationships and actions among local people; these include birth, death, and conflicts fuelled by alcohol. There also seems to be a implicit gay character. The cinematography by Eino Heino is excellent. The film offers a ‘warm-hearted and sensitive’ evocation of the ordinary but compressed for dramatic purposes.

Late afternoon offered a Cinecolor western, The Nevadan (1950). Cinecolor was a two colour subtraction system, cheaper and quicker to process than Technicolor. Not that many features were filmed in the process which offered especially vibrant orange, red, blue and green.

“Ruggedness and realism, plus the employment of Cinecolor photography, have established several cuts above average westerns the sagebrush sagas produced by Harry Joe Brown and starring Randolph Scott.” (‘Boxoffice’, January 14 1950).

This is typical Scott hero. Upright and stalwart, as he outmanoeuvres and outguns the villains led by George Macready. And there is the young Dorothy Malone, not just a romantic interest, but involved in the action. The print from the Austrian Film Museum had quite a lot of scratches and noticeable splices but the colour was excellent.

Rebecca (1940) ticked an Academy Award winner, a Hitchcock film and a mystery movie. This was a George Eastman print in pretty good condition. There is some fine cinematography by George Barnes and a great score by Franz Waxman. I find that the first part of the film is really good as we encounter [through the eyes and ears of the unnamed heroine) the titular dead character. But once the past is revealed I think the film becomes less interesting and dynamic. The screening included a set of screen tests. Those with Joan Fontaine wearing possible costumes were poor; she had a high temperature and the costumes were clearly inappropriate. But the following two, with Nova Pilbeam and Anne Baxter, demonstrated how apt was the casting of John Fontaine.

The Sunday opened with a classic film noir, Dead Reckoning (1947). This was a Library of Congress print with signs of wear, both on the emulsion and on the sound track. However, it still showed off the qualities of this black and white film. The movie has all the characteristics of a noir thriller; the confessional mode, flashbacks, the world of chaos into which the hero falls, night and chiaroscuro and a femme fatale. But I did not find it had a strong noir feel. This is mainly because the fatale, ‘Dusty’ (Lizabeth Scott] seems more like the scheming female of private eye films such as The Maltese Falcon (1941). And Humphrey Bogart’s ‘Rip’ is in the mould of the same private eye.

The afternoon offered a John Barrymore film, Counsellor at Law (1933), finely directed in an adaptation from Elmer Rice’s play by William Wyler. The print was from the UCLA Film and Television Archives in very good condition. The early sound track apparently needed adjustment from time to time by the projectionists. Rice was Jewish, a socialist and had legal training; all of which fed into the play and the film. Rice also wrote the screenplay and apparently Wyler referred frequently to the original play during production. Barrymore is excellent as a shyster Lawyer George Simon, originally from the Jewish Lower East Side of Manhattan. The film [and play] follow his Machiavellian manoeuvres when a past case returns to haunt him. The pace and the dialogue are crisp and sharp; Isabel Jewell as telephonist Bessie is a delight. And there is one memorable scene when Simon agrees to defend the son of an old Jewish neighbour, Harry Becker (Vincent Sherman). Harry is a communist and in a terrific sequence turns on Simon who he denounces as a class traitor. Even though this is pre-code Harry later dies from injuries sustained from the New York police. Sherman was a target of HUAC in the 1950s, suspected of real-life communism.

Then to Blind Date. I find the mystery rather coy but this year the title was worth a wait, Gone to Earth (1950). The clue was a shot of the wedding cake after Hazel’s (Jennifer Jones) marriage to the Reverend Edward Marston (Cyril Cusack). In the adaptation of a novel by Mary Webb Hazel,

“as she races barefoot across the Shropshire fields, her hair streaming behind her, like some mystic being from a quaint old folk tale …..” (‘Picture goer’ October 21, 1950)

is caught between the religious but liberal Edward and the sexy but brutal Squire ‘Jack’ (David Farrar). Rather than a triangle this is a square, including Foxy, a young vixen [unfortunate not credited]. Jennifer Jones is miscast as this wild country spirit but she gives her performance real panache. Cusack is grave and convincing and Farrar probably had the female audience swooning with desire. Hugh Griffith watches balefully in an oddly bizarre performance as Andrew Vessons, manservant.

‘Whose cake?’

The print was from the George Eastman Museum, a donation by the Selznick family. Fortunately it was the British print not the shorter US version titled The Wild Heart. Watching it fitted the comment in ‘The Spectator’ (September 29, 1950);

“Beautifully coloured, it is as lively a film to look at as I have ever seen, and when the direction deigns to be mobile it is infinitely rewarding.”

The directors were those idiosyncratic romantics, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger.

So this was a rewarding weekend filled full of cinematic pleasures. The organisers and volunteers got a deserved ovation at one point. And, in a habit that is distinctive to George Eastman, the audience were also invited to applaud the projectionists who work overtime to presents these old and often delicate prints. One of the problems they encounter is the shrinkage of prints, a standard difficulty with nitrate. It is reckoned that once pass 1% screening becomes really difficult. However, two of the best looking titles of the Weekend, Strandhugg and Gone to Earth, both had 1.05%. I have noted the origins of the prints and many of these were introduced by members of the particular archive. We also had introduction from George Eastman staff. In previous years speakers have focussed on the history of the print in question. This year they tended to talk about the ‘values of ‘reel’ screenings’; I do prefer the print detail.

 

Punters who would like to see a whole programme of the original cinema format should note that next year the Picture Show Weekend is later, June 4th to 7th 2020. We were advised that Yuri Tsivian is on a mission for the Museum scouring European Archives for Nitrate Prints. Perhaps Sergei Eisenstein, Max Ophuls or Jean Renoir?

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Pordenone’ ‘Verdi’.

Posted by keith1942 on January 13, 2019

Le Giornate del Cinema Muto has offered an entrée into silent film since 1982. I was happy to go along for the first time in 1993 and[ fortunately] I have been able to attend every year since. In the early years we watched almost the entire programme in the old Cinema Verdi.

“From 1985 to 1998, the festival’s venue was the Cinema Verdi in Pordenone, a picture palace from the great post-war era of Italian cinema-going.”

The auditorium seated just over a 1,000 in a ground floor and a balcony. There was a proper projection booth with twin projectors and an ample and large screen. The downstairs seating was fine with good views of the screen from just about all the seats. The same was true of the balcony but the wooden seats could feel rather hard after several titles; cushions were advisable. On either side of the proscenium were two small balconies. It was from these that one of the great accompaniments was heard at the Festival. In the closing scene of Hell’s Heroes (1929) Charles Bickford staggers down the high street of a small western town. He is dying and clutching a small baby that he has saved and carried across the desert. The whole town is in the local church and as Bickford and the baby stagger through the porch, a choir, sited either side of the proscenium, burst into ‘Silent Night’ in the darkened auditorium. Was there a dry eye in the house.

“Following the local authorities’ decision to demolish the Verdi, in 1999 the Giornate moved to the Teatro Zancanaro in Sacile (15 km from Pordenone), a well-equipped modern auditorium behind the older facade of a theatre which has been presenting films since 1911.”

The Zancanaro was a fine venue but seated under 900. And in these years the Festival was expanding; as it had done continuously since its inception. There were additional screening of titles in the nearby Ridotto.; a hall rather than a cinema. The chairs were hard but the screenings were fine. It was there that I witnessed an impressive translation. We had a print on Stiller’s Gösta Berlings saga, 1924) but without English sub-titles. A member of the Festival audience [whose name alas I do not have] sat by the pianist and for over two hours translated the Swedish title cards.

“The Teatro Comunale “Giuseppe Verdi” of Pordenone rises on the ashes of the Cinema Teatro Verdi, closed on June 30, 1999 and subsequently demolished. In October 2007 the festival moved back to Pordenone and to the new Verdi theatre.”

The Festival has continued to have a screening at the Zancanaro on the Friday evening preceding the main programme. In Pordenone most of the screenings are in the new Verdi, with a few screening s[including Saturday morning when the orchestra rehearse for the final gala] in the Cinema Zero.

There were problems with the design of the new Verdi building, an opera and event venue rather than specifically for cinema. Apparently the sight lines were not good for all seats and the projection booth was inadequate. The move, planned for 2006, was delayed for a year. And the Festival has continued in this venue since 2007. The interior of the auditorium has steps by the side doors and there has been a few stumbles and an accident. So a dedicated band of ushers who assist people with torches to their seats. They are fine. Unfortunate some of the actual audience members also use their mobile phones as torches and quite a few of them do not realise that it is better to hold this at knee level rather than wave it about. There are three balconies. The first has some seats cordoned off because they are in front of the projection booth. The upper two are steep. There are quite a few seats on the ground floor and in the upper balconies where the sight lines are not good. I really did prefer the old Cinema Verdi.

ground floor and screen from balcony

The new Verdi seats just under 1,000 and that is the average number of registered guests in the last three years. And there are the local citizens who attend many of the screenings. So the last couple of years has seen queues forming, often 30 minutes or more before the next session stars. Fortunately rain is not frequent in Pordenone and even in October the temperature in the evening is mild. For many the queue if because they wish to sit in particular area. But for major titles it is just to ensure you can sit and watch the film.

There is a small Ridotto or rehearsal hall which is mainly used for the Master classes for aspiring silent film accompanists. But the hall was the venue for a striking commemoration. Celebrating the trail blazing FIAF event of 1981 which offered an in-depth study of early cinema. In this event we watched selection of some of the important material from that occasion, happily still on 35mm.

The Cinema Zero is fine but much smaller. It used to have a ground floor and balcony, the latter with the better sat. It was redesigned a year or so ago. And now there is one rake, with a separation aisle and standard comfortable seats throughout. However, it was just point this that the cinema went ‘all digital’. I remember passing a forlorn and abandoned 35mm projector outside the rear of the building.

Because of its design the Verdi has three floors of lobbies. One with a small coffee bar. It is here that the Festival places small exhibitions coinciding with a particular programme of films. And there are also a set of book and merchandise stalls. A good place for uncommon books and a wide variety of videos.

There is a large screen in the proscenium, 12 metres wide and 6 metres high. For screening sin the silent ratio of 1.33:1 this reduces to 8 by 5 metres. The projection booth in the Verdi is at the rear of the lower balcony and slightly off-centre. I had the chance to visit this and chat briefly to some of the projection team. The booth is fairly cramped. It should be noted that these days about half of the Festival programme is on 35mm prints, the rest on digital formats. So every day the team have a stack of 35mm reels to bring up, store, project and then move for the next batch.

There are two 35mm projectors, Cinemeccanica ZX8000H. Designed for a large screen the have a complete range of frame rates below 24 fps and the team also have a complete set of plates for the different aspect ratios. One year we had a film in academy ratio fired up in standard widescreen when the plates were confused. But this was a rare aberration. The team have a high standard of projection including getting the focal length right nearly always.

The digital projector is a 2k Christie DCP machines. These are fairly widely used projectors. However, 2K DCPs are not really equivalent to 35mm. There is a debate about just where the equivalence between digital and film falls. But all the sites I have visited reckon that 2K is not equivalent. Unfortunately despite the fact that 4K DCP is an available format; and that digital cameras are now available at 6K, most institutions including many archives still mainly use 2K. In addition the Christie only has standard frame rates, 24fps, 25fps and 48 fps. There are agreed specifications for lower frame rates but [like 4K]these have very little availability.

Fortunately the ratio of film to digital has settled over the last couple of years around 50/50, I hope this will continue, However, the omens are not propitious. At a conference in 2018 an archivist from the Austrian Film Archive explained that the master of a new restoration was on tape and the funds were not available for a film master. I wonder, just as we have lost the old Verdi, whether the current far too rapid changeover of formats may not lead to lost films. Thus repeating the sad loss when sound replaced silent.

 

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Early film screenings in 2018

Posted by keith1942 on January 3, 2019

Brüder, Deutschland 1929, Regie: Werner Hochbaum

The Sight & Sound new double issue has a lot of space devoted to the ‘top films of 2018’. Alongside this are lists of commendations of titles from particular territories or genres and one devoted to ‘five silent films to see’. This followed an article on the silent films that were accessible in 2018. There were some I saw and some I missed. But the article, like to list of titles, did not inform the reader of how and where the writer saw the titles. There were some comments on the non-silent Peter Jackson’s ‘rip-off’ from the Imperial War Museum materials. These were rather muted and those in the Silent Cinema London Blog were much more to the point.

In both cases there must be question regarding the format and the screening. In Britain most of the titles from the silent era come round on digital, and 2K DCP at that. No-one in Britain seems to have yet taken the trouble to follow the specifications for frame rates below 24 fps, most common in the silent era. So these titles must be step-printed to some degree.

And 35mm prints are not necessarily better. We had The End of St Petersburg / Konets Sankt-Peterburga (1927) in Leeds from a 35mm print and with a very good musical accompaniment. But the print was a sound version and the image was noticeably cropped because of the change in ratio. Some of the Yorkshire Silent Film Festival screenings were on 35mm but I only caught those in Leeds. Apparently part of the funding for this Festival comes for musical accompaniment. I assume this was the reason for experimentation. In this case the French film Ménilmontant 1926) on film but accompanied by Foley sound effects. This was not only bizarre but ruined the screening of the film. However, I am still able to travel and I was able to enjoy some fine quality films in good 35mm prints and screened and accompanied with due regard as the how films were presented in the earlier era.

The Berlinale had this very fine retrospective of Weimar Cinema. The whole programme was magnificent and even the digital transfers were well done. But the high point for me was:

Brüder / Brothers, Germany 1929 with a passionate accompaniment by Stephen Horne.

The Nitrate Weekend at the George Eastman Museum offered only sound features but included some pretty early prints. The Festival came to a fine climax with

Man of Aran, Britain 1934 with a well preserved print held by the Museum

Le Giornate del Cinema Muto offered what I thought was the strongest programme for several years. One of the real pleasures was series of film adaptation from the novels of Honoré de Balzac. One of the fine titles was;

Liebe, Germany, 1927. This was a well done adaptation of a fine novel with an impressive characterisation of the heroine by Elisabeth Bergner.

Le Giornate offers both 35mm and digital transfers, the latter of varying quality. But we had several of the latter that were very well done. Pride of place must go to;

Lasse Månsson fra skanne / Struggling Hearts, Denmark 1923. Set in the 17th war between Denmark and Sweden this transfer from 35mm looked excellent. The DCP was from the Danske Filminstitut. In other years there have been equivalent transfers from the Svenska Filminstitutet. The Scandinavian seem to have mastered this process.

The great beacon in Britain must be the Kennington Bioscope at the Cinema Museum. If I was richer I would move closer. Late in the year we had their fourth Silent Film Weekend. There was a rich variety of titles and music. My standout was;

Turksib, USSR 1929. The film alternates scenes of idyll with driving montage, well set up by the accompaniment by Costas Fotopoulis.

There were many other fine prints, screenings and accompaniments. So this remains a good time to enjoy early films. However, Britain is not the best place to do this.

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‘The Parade’s Gone by …’

Posted by keith1942 on October 26, 2018

This year’s Giornate del Cinema Muto had the strongest programme for several years. Among the pleasures was this selection of six films:

“To honour the 50th anniversary of The Parade Gone By… we gave Kevin Brownlow carte blanche to select six films he wanted to see at the Giornate.” [Festival Catalogue).

The Programme notes included tributes to the book and to Kevin by a range of l8 luminaries from the silent archival and study areas. The major introduction was by David Robinson who remembered being asked by the Editor at Secker and Warburg to read and offer an opinion on the book. He added the other achievements by Kevin,

“There was much more to come. Winstanley, Hollywood, Thames Silents, Unknown Chaplin, and all the documentaries, Photoplay and all its restorations and productions and new books to go with them. In 1980, with the collaboration of David Gill and Carl Davis, Napoleon … gave back to audiences the long-forgotten thrill of a theatrical and orchestral performance of a “silent” film.

An Academy Award was the least tribute that Hollywood could offer to its great chronicler” (Festival Catalogue).

A more notable honour was the first Jean Mitry Award [1986] along with his collaborator David Gill. And as noteworthy have been the BBC radio dramas chronicling his work on Napoleon and his film Winstanley.

I remember reading the book in the early 1980s and then through the Hollywood series and the Thames Silents discovering the real and proper experience of watching [and listening] to silent film. I later enjoyed the further series The Other Hollywood, though unfortunately it was not given the space and resources accorded Channel 4’s Hollywood. I have on many occasions enjoyed the meticulous restorations of early film, and enjoyed the prints that Kevin has saved for posterity, including at the London Bioscope screenings.

So I waited with anticipation to see the selection that Kevin chose. Happily five of the six were on 35mm. Given the subject of the celebrated book these were all titles from Hollywood Studios. But they offered a varied selection of genres, stars and craft people and of styles and techniques.

The Covered Wagon, 1923 from Famous Players-Lasky, is a seminal example of the early western. The director was James Cruze, whose parents had been part of the Mormon trek into Utah. And the craft team included Karl Brown on cinematography and Dorothy Arzner as editor. The cast included major players and actual cowboys and Indians. This was an epic film though the surviving version is two reels shorter than the original. Kevin notes that

“it was the first western to be taken seriously by historians,”

I was disappointed though to read that

“almost never in the history of western migration did an Indian war party descend upon a circle of covered wagons.” [Quoted by Kevin).

Shot mainly in Nevada and Utah what stood out in the film was the visual presentation and the impressive settings and landscapes.

The Covered Wagon (1923)
Directed by James Cruze
Shown from top: J. Warren Kerrigan, Lois Wilson

 

Captain Blood, from the Vitagraph Corporation of America in 1924, was also shorter than the original by about 2,000 feet. Even so it ran just on two hours with a plot line not dissimilar to the later Warner Bros. Version; both were adapted from the novel by Rafael Sabatini. The studio planned

“a rip-snorting, rapid-fire melodrama that will please any red-blooded audience.”

In fact I thought the film more stately that dramatic. There are some well-staged action sequence. The film used actual square-riggers and miniatures and some of the editing between these made the effects somewhat obvious. And the titles use of ‘Irish colloquialism’ for Peter Blood [originally a Irish physician] seemed quaint. But it worked well overall as it did on release, becoming the highest grossing picture produced by Vitagraph.

 

Smouldering Fires was the one film on a DCP. It was taken from a 16m print in the UCLA Film & Television Archive. The film was produced by Universal-Jewel [the company’s prestige productions] in 1925 and directed by Clarence Brown. Kevin in his notes noted the influence of Maurice Tourneur and Ernst Lubitsch,

“The title suggests a Drury Lane melodrama, but the film turned out to be if not quite a feminist film, at least an intelligent, poignant and beautifully filmed story about a 40-year old woman who inherits a factory from her father.”

The early scenes where Jane Vail (Pauline Frederick, excellent in the part) dominates her factory managers were a delight. Then Jane is taken with a young foreman, Robert (Malcom McGregor) who attracts her attention and then her emotions. Rather predictably Robert then falls for the younger sister Dorothy (Laura La Plante). This part of the drama seemed rather conventional but the three leads are good and we actually get to see an outdoor expedition in Yosemite. O also thought that Tully Marshall as Scotty and Wanda Hawley as Lucy were excellent in their supporting roles. The film also has a nice turn in irony.

Smouldering Fires (1925)
Directed by Clarence Brown
Shown at right: Pauline Frederick

 

The Home Maker was also Universal-Jewel from 1925. The director was a name new to me:

“The director of this picture, King Baggot, was responsible for two of the worst silent pictures I’ve ever seen – Raffles (1925) and Down the Stretch (1927). How can the same man possibly have made one of the best?”

Part of the reason may be the original novel by Dorothy Canfield and the adaptation by Mary O’Hara which follows the book closely. Kevin also notes that Baggot had an alcohol problem which may have affected some of his work. Seemingly not on this picture. Alice Joyce, a fine actress, plays Eva Knapp imprisoned at home with growing children whilst her husband Lester (Clive Brooks in a rather untypical role] is less than successful at his office job. His situation leads to depression and an unsuccessful suicide. But his subsequent incapacity finds Eva going out to work and becoming a higher earner in a department store whilst Lester finds hitherto hidden paternal virtues. Thus the whole family find an improved way of life: one that rests, as we learn, on a dubious moral decision. I agreed with Kevin, as did many of the Giornate audience about the quality and interest of this film. I was, though, less convinced by the situation but the sterling cast certainly make their characters convincing.

The Home Maker (1925)
Directed by King Baggot
Shown from left: Maurice Murphy, Julie Bishop, Clive Brook, Alice Joyce

 

The Enemy from M-G-M in 1927 enjoyed the services of Fred Niblo as director and Lillian Gish as star. The film as it survives is missing the last reel but whilst the end is not necessarily predictable the judicious use of stills and titles is sufficient. Lillian’s Pauli is the daughter of an Professor in Vienna (Frank Currier) ; we are familiar melodrama territory here. Pauli marries her sweetheart Carl (Ralph Forbes) just before he leaves for the front in 1914. Most of the film is set on the home front as shortages increase. Pauli and her father suffer more because he holds pacifist views. The melodrama here is conventional but seeing Lillian Gish actually play a woman reduced to prostitution is definitely a one-off. Technically the film has some splendid sequences with dissolves and superimpositions. The domestic scenes are well handled. But there are probably two many similar scenes of troops marching off to war though, noticeably, the civilians become less and less enthusiastic.

 

Then we had The Mating Call (1928) from Paramount Pictures and also directed by James Cruze. The film was adapted from a novel by Rex Beach. The story offered a rather unusual situation. Leslie Hatton (Thomas Meighan) returns from the Western Front in 1919 to find his sweetheart and wife [as the thought] has had the marriage annulled and re-married. In this complicated situation Leslie gets himself a ‘mail-order wife’; though he actually finds her by going to Ellis Island and selecting a young woman from among the immigrants, Renée Adorée as Catherine. What develops much of the drama is a secret vigilante group who rides round in black hoods terrorising people who are thought to break the conservative moral code of the small town. [They are not the Ku Klux Klan as some reviews suggest]. The direction is good and the two leads are excellent. The vigilantes seem rather cack-handed but they do help develop the drama. Some of the continuity is eccentric, Catherine insists on her parents accompanying her to Leslie’s farm but after one shot of them hoeing a field they disappear.

 

All but two of the titles were new to me. As one expects from Kevin the prints were of good or even outstanding quality. Several of the accomplished team of musicians took turns to provide musical accompaniments. It did seem a worthy tribute to one of the most respected and accomplished ‘keepers of the flame’ of our surviving heritage from early cinema,

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The Kennington Bioscope: 4th Silent Film Weekend.

Posted by keith1942 on September 17, 2018

This short festival was held at the Cinema Museum in London on September 8th and 9th. The volunteers at the Bioscope, working with Kevin Brownlow who unfortunately could not come along, had a programme of interesting [and in some cases rare] early films. Most of the screenings were on 35mm or 16mm: the projectionist reckoned he had worked through 31 reels over the two days and he did this very well.

Saturday:

Where the North Begins (1923) was a Rin-Tin-Tin drama from 1923. This was an early film in the career of this famous canine star. The production actually worked up several sets of filming into a complete 55 minutes narrative. The film made good use of a lot of location shooting in Canada. Rin-Tin-Tin appears as a young puppy lost in the wastes and bought up as part of a wolf pack. Then he meets Gabriel (Walter McGrail) a trapper wounded when his furs are stolen. The Dog is at first aggressive but his ‘heritage’ overcomes this as he recognises

‘His master and friend’.

The film then unravels the plot by Shad Galloway (Pat Hartigan) and his henchman ‘The Fox’ (Charles Stevens) to pin the theft of the furs on Gabriel and to steal his sweetheart Felice (Claire Adams). The human plotting is fairly conventional. But The Dog [or wolf-dog] has some exciting and impressive sequences. He races over snowy landscapes, fights off superior numbers of wolves, wrestles down the villains and in one especially impressive stunt leaps up and through a first floor window. Great out door adventure and canine dramatics. There is a slightly risqué sub-plot, Shad has a ‘housekeeper’, Marie (Myrtle Owen). The film was screened from a 16mm tinted print and looked good.

A German double bill opened with the one-reeler As We Forgive / Wie auch wir Vergeban ((1911). This offered an early role for later ‘diva’ Henny Porten. Her officer husband whilst in Japan has a ‘Madame Butterfly’ affair. This leads to tragic death of their child and a reconciliation at the child’s tomb.

When the Dead are Living Again ./ Die Geliebte Tote (1919) is a German or Austrian film adapted from ‘Bruges-la-Morte’ (‘The Dead [City of] Bruges)’, a short French novel by the Belgian author Georges Rodenbach, first published in 1892. The original novel recounts the obsession of a widower with his dead wife. |He sees a dancer who resembles the wife and becomes obsessed with her: this leads to her death. The film was described as an ‘early Weimar Gothic’. What makes it intriguing is that the same novel was adapted by Yevgeni Bauer in 1915 as Daydreams. This German version seems to have followed the complete novel commencing with the meeting and marriage of the protagonist, a sculptor, and an ending after a period in an asylum. The Bauer version concentrates on the death of the wife and the obsessive relationship with the dancer. Moreover Bauer has the protagonist as a photographer which allows some interesting cinematic touches. What stands out dramatically in both versions is the death of the dancer, strangled with the tresses of the dead wife. However Daydreams is much more effective. In one sequence in When the Dead are Living Again we see the protagonists at a café and it is clear that the dance floor beyond them is a rear projection whereas in Bauer a similar scene uses deep staging and deep focus as well as [for the period] a notable tracking shot.

In the afternoon we had a British picture The Garden of Resurrection (1919) written by and starring Guy Newall. He was a popular leading actor in the period regularly starring with Ivy Duke. Newall was partnered in a production company with George Clark and their films were distributed by the Stoll Company. Here Newall adapted a 1911 novel by E. Temple Thurston. Thurston was a writer of novels, plays and film scripts. He was partly bought up in Eire and he would seem to be part of the dominant Anglo-Irish class. ‘The Garden of Resurrection’ is partially set in Eire. Written in 1911 it shows no awareness of the important political strife of the period. Likewise the film in 1919 has no awareness of the War of Independence then raging.

The two central themes in the film are male self-consciousness and [dimly] racism. A. H. Bellairs (Newall) considers himself the ugliest man in England: hence he has no romance, only his faithful terrier Dandy (played by Newall’s own dog Betsy). However, the romantic interest Clarissa is apparently a half-caste from Dominica in the Caribbean. She is the object of a fraudulent relationship by one Fennell (Lawford Davidson). He has hidden her away [because ‘she is black’] with maiden aunts in Ireland. He plans to suborn her fortune through a fake marriage. Overhearing his plan Newall determines to save Clarissa and journeys to Ballysheen on the southern coasts. The plot stretches coincidence to extreme lengths. So in the course of the narrative we also have Newall encountering a jealous husband; a con artist and blackmailer; an unwanted pregnancy; but finally a satisfactory ending.

The issue of ‘blackness’ in the film is problematic. Given its black and white cinematography Clarrissa’s colour is only apparent through the dialogue. Intriguingly the sign of her ‘blackness’ is a flowered dress which Fennell’s aunts insist she does not wear. At another point in the narrative she wears a veil to hide her visage. The implication of the film, [which may have not been consciously intended] is that a black woman can only hope to catch an ugly white man. The film may have thought that even this was liberal in the post-World War I culture.

The film’s use of Dandy is redeeming for dog lovers. He is an amiable and active canine protagonist. We even get title cards indicating his thoughts: thoughts which his master appears to understand from his posture and expression.

The rest of the afternoon included a presentation on the films of Pearl White, [The Perils of Pauline, 1914 and The Exploits of Elaine, 1915 – 1916). Unfortunately very little of White’s films survive. There followed a romantic comedy from 1924 with Constance Talmadge, Her Night of Romance. Unfortunately this was only available from a DVD.

However, we were back to ‘reel’ film in the evening. This featured one of the outstanding personalities of Silent Hollywood, Mary Pickford. First up was A Beast at Bay, a Biograph one-reeler from 1912 and directed by D. W. Griffith. The 16mm print was a re-issue from the 1920s with new title cards: presumably to cash in on Pickford’s immense popularity. This was classic Griffith territory with Mary menaced by an escaped convict and then saved in heroic fashion by her boyfriend, redeeming an earlier lack of bravado.

The main feature was the 1926 Sparrows, from the Mary Pickford Corporation. This film rather departed from the typical Pickford persona. It was set on a ‘children’s farm’, an scandal issue in the 1920s. Molly (Pickford) has to marshal and protect eight younger children from the miserly and exploitative Grimes (Gustav von Seyffertitz), who is aided and abetted by his slatternly wife (Charlotte Mineau) and son (Spec O’Donnell). The son, given to petty persecutions, is well played as are all the children. The climax of the film involves the children in fleeing across a alligator-invested swamp.

“The similarities to Sunrise are particularly identifiable in the set, a swamp in the Deep South constructed on four acres of studio grounds by Art Director Henry Oliver, utilising 600 real trees, moss, pits filled with burnt cork, sawdust and muddy water, plus a miniature lake.” (Bioscope Notes).

The cinematography by Pickford’s favourite Charles Rosher with Hal Mohr and newly arrived Karl Struss, makes great use of this. And the cast, led by Pickford, though slightly too adult for her part, are excellent. This is exciting stuff. It is also part of Southern Gothic and there are instances where the film looks forward to the later Night of the Hunter (1955).

………………….

Sunday:

The day started with Miss Lulu Betts, a Famous Players-Lasky film from 1921 and directed by William C. de Mille. Little of this film-maker’s work survives, which, on the showing of this title, is a real shame. The film is from a Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Zona Gale. Lulu (Lois Wilson) is the put-upon sister in a middle-class household. Despite their church-going and moral attitudes Lulu is a skivvy for the family: only the elder daughter Diana (Helen Ferguson), herself a little rebel, shows any awareness of this. Circumstances conspire to effect a change in Lulu’s situation. Like Clarissa on Saturday she goes through a false marriage but survives this to find a level of independence and a serious and moral romance.

The film was described as naturalist’ drama’ and it represented the small town life and household with a palpable sense of realism. The plot does tend to melodrama but Lulu’s situation and the settings are fully convincing.

The Silent Enemy (1930)was a paramount production,

“A late Silent film telling the story of Red Indians – ‘Native-Americans’ in today’s parlance – before the arrival of European settlers, acted by a a native cast.

An epic reconstruction of life among the Ojibway tribe, shot on location in the Great Barren lands of Canada.” [Bioscope Notes).

So this was a liberal attempt to present an indigenous point-of-view, though it still reflects the dominant representation of the time. It is also clearly influenced by the trail-breaking documentaries of the 1920s, in particular Grass: A Nation’s Battle for Life (1925). However, in keeping with the tropes of Hollywood, the battle for survival, seeking food and journeying to the great Caribou migration, is dramatised in a conflict between two individual Indians and their opposing strategies. The tribe’s rituals and activities are very well done. And the location work brings a real sense of time and place to the film. The finale offers the mammoth caribou herds and the successful survival of the tribe.

After lunch we enjoyed another Paramount film with another put-upon wife and mother. Dancing Mothers (1926) was directed by Herbert Brenon, an adaptation of play by Edgar Selwyn and Edmund Goulding, soon to be a writer and director in Hollywood. The wife and mother of the film is Ethel Westcourt (Alice Joyce). This lead actor was reckoned to be outshone by the actor playing her daughter ‘Kittens’, Clara Bow. It is true that Bow immediately established her star quality in the film but the character is essentially lightweight. I found Joyce’s performance as the wife/mother who transforms her life and escapes from an oppressive situation impressive. The point at which she emerged in the film was excellent both in acting and appearance.

‘Kittens’ is like her father High Westcourt (Norman Trevor), affluent, self-absorbed and indifferent to the emotional situation of the mother. Westcourt was one of a number of male characters over the weekend who are criticised for selfish and exploitative behaviour. So this well-executed film demonstrates a ‘feminist’ strand in 1920s Hollywood.

Mid-afternoon we had a selection of BFI prints and files of ‘Messing About on the River’. Unfortunately a number have only survived in poor quality prints. The title that stood out was Up the River with Molly (1921) from the Hepworth Manufacturing Company. Molly was another terrier on a boat following the major river. A charming addition to a strong roster of canine stars over the weekend.

The feature film was on 35mm in a good print. It was one of the films by Artistic Pictures acquired by the BFI early this century. The film was adapted from a short story by W. W. Jacobs. Sam’s Boy (1922) is set in the Thames estuary and along the Kentish coast, using actual locations though with fictionalised names. Like other titles from Jacob this is a slightly comic realist story of ordinary people and events. Here an orphaned scamp tries manipulating adults in order to secure a home. Sam Brown (Tom Coventry) of the title is the most religious member of a small sailing ship. Having annoyed his crew fellows with his religiosity and music they play along with the scamp when he targets Sam. The characters are delightfully realised and the location work is a real pleasure. There are only four reels but the hour-long viewing offers low-key drama, irony and a authentic sense of the 1920s.

Turksib is a five reel Soviet documentary from 1929 that survives in several versions. The screening offered a 35mm print of the version prepared by John Grierson including English language title cards. The film’s director Victor Turin was in London and had some involvement in the editing. The film was produced by Vostok-kino which made films for the Eastern Soviet Republics. The subject matter was the construction of the Turkestan – Siberia railroad, covering over 1400 kilometres pass great lakes, over deserts and over mountains. Turin had studied in the USA at MIT and had some sort of work at the Vitagraph film studio. He had made three film since returning to the USSR, two fictional and one documentary.

This project was part of the Soviet first Five Year Plan. Several years discussion and preparation went into the plan at Party and Soviet Congresses, in the Central Committee and in the Soviets of the Union Republics. Two state Departments, Vesenkha and Gosplan, oversaw this major industrialisation project which bought planning into an economy still operating under the market.

The film uses familiar tropes from soviet film; montage, metaphoric images, graphics and associational links. The cinematography uses the striking assemblage of shots, angles, positioning and superimpositions. The overall structure of the film is closer to documentary in the western capitalist industries. Turin considered that the film should have a thematic structure, akin to the narrative structure in fictional film. So the overall presentation is somewhat different from the work of the Factory of Facts or a documentary of the same period directed by Mikhail Kalatazov, Salt for Svanetia (1930). The film was influential amongst British documentary film-makers such as Basil Wright. One can see the cross-overs. The opening reels offer landscapes with people and the more dynamic montage occurs during the vast construction. There are sequences that represent both the indigenous mainly nomadic peoples as well as the army of labour involved in the construction. And there are some slyly comic shots offering a sense of their every-day lives and work. However, the main thrust of the film is this eruption into the sparsely populated and wild landscapes and the conflicts are frequently about man and nature rather than the social relations that dominate in Dziga Vertov’s films. The title was a popular success both in the USSR and abroad. It offers a dynamic portrait of the modernising of these regions still mired in traditional ways of life.

The final film of the weekend was The Golden Butterfly / Der Holdene Schmetterling. A European co-production directed Michael Curtiz (then Michael Kertesz) and starring Lili Damita and Nils Asther. Among the supporting actors was Curt Bois {as a dance master and director). Bois has the distinction of the longest career as a film actor [1907 to 1987) and we had, in addition, a short film in which he featured from 1909. This was German title Patent Glue / Klebalin klebt alles in which two boys play a series of tricks with a powerful glue.

The main feature was nicely done but lack dramatic development. Lillian (Damita) and Andy (Asther) are a potential couple but her ambitions for a stage career come between them. The major problem was not the conventional obstacles [parents, the law, rivals etc.] but the priggish attitude of Andy to Lillian’s ambitions. The finale, where his intransigent attitudes are finally broken down, seemed over-extended.

The film was projected at 18fps but this seemed a slow frame rate and produced a longer running time which probably exacerbated the slow tempo. The print had a some missing elements and late in the narrative we found ourselves with the major production number of the film, involving Lillian’s stage act as the ‘butterfly’. Otherwise the print was in good condition and looed fine.

Overall this was a rewarding weekend and the organisers and the Museum are to be congratulated on the full programme. Kevin Brownlow also deserves a substantial thank you for the provision of prints. When it is becoming increasingly difficult to see early film in original prints this was welcome.

The screenings were enhanced by live music. The Bioscope has an impressive roster of musicians providing accompaniments and they are skilled at supporting rather than overpowering the films. The talented performances at the piano were supplied by Neil Brand, Costas Fotopoulis, Cyrus Gabrysch, Lillian Henley, Meg Moorland and John Sweeney. There were also extensive printed film notes and introductions to all the screenings. A great way to spend a weekend.

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Naming of parts

Posted by keith1942 on October 31, 2017

This is the title of a World War II poem by Henry Reed. A line from that poem ran through my head during the 2017 Le Giornate del Cinema Muto:

‘Which in our case we have not got’.

Reed was referring to parts of a World War II rifle: in my case it was both ‘reel’ films and Soviet films. To be fair I had a good week and enjoyed a lot of the films but I had also moments when I had a real sense of missing …..

To start with the Soviet. I was full of anticipation whilst I awaited the details of this year’s programme because the Festival fell only a few weeks before the anniversary of The Great October Socialist Revolution. This was an event that had more impact on cinema than any other I can think of – the development and realisation of Soviet Montage.

I was to be disappointed. The main programme of Soviet films was ‘Across the Sixth Part of the World: Soviet Travelogues of the 1920s’. In fact we did not get the Dziga Vertov film which clearly inspired the title, though we did get a film that utilised some of the footage shot for that productions. But there was not much montage, apart from some sharp editing by Yelizaveta Svilova in a couple of titles. But neither did we get the political content that was so powerful in the 1920s. The films were in the main interesting and several were extremely well made. But all of them could have been made in the same form if the 1917 Revolution had ended in February instead of October, i.e. with the assumption to power of the bourgeoisie. There were occasional pictures of Marx and Lenin; some political slogans; and in one film workers taking snapshots at dummies of the capitalist class; but no dramatisation of the revolution overthrowing an archaic society and starting the construction of a radically new one.

We did get a 35mm print of Aelita (1924) but this film is more-science fiction than revolution. There are interesting shots of urban life after the revolution but the workers’ rebellion in the film feels like an add-on. In ‘Rediscoveries and Restorations’ we also had An Unprecedented Campaign / Nebuvalyi Pokhid (1931), a film by Mikhail Kaufman dedicated to the Five-Year Plan and Collectivisation. However, it was transferred to digital and I thought not a particularly good transfer: and seemingly transferred at 25 fps [for video?]. Worse it had a musical accompaniment by Anton Baibakov Collective, which appears to be a Ukrainian group. They were clearly in a different world from that in which the film was conceived. The focus was the ‘Holodomor’ or Ukrainian famine of the 32 – 33. As artist they are entitled to present alternative stances. But I have to protest when they selected a film that was made before the event in question. A FIAF handbook opines that films should be screened as close as possible to their original release: that was hardly the case in this instance. Certainly i would have expected the Festival to offer a screening of the film as intended.

The cavalier treatment of the historical Soviet events and films was highlighted by another programme, ‘The Great War’. This imperialist conflict, rightly opposed by the Bolsheviks and other genuine socialists, enjoyed a varied programme, both features and documentaries; all the ones I viewed were presented as they might have been in the years of their release.

Regarding the Soviet issue I found in a comment by Jay Weisberg,

“I had some sly fun with Russia this year …”

He is in fact writing about the Soviet Union, a federation of Socialist Republics. He was introducing two filsm presented on the ‘Red Peril’, in other words, Hollywood dramas that vilify both the Revolution and the Bolsheviks. One, The World and its Woman (1919) recycled that ‘old chestnut’, ‘the nationalisation of women’. If that had existed it was probably preferable to the experience of Hollywood producers and their audition techniques.

Since the centenary can run for a year or more is it too much to hope that next year we could have a serious treatment of Socialist Construction. In which case a prime title would be the Old and New / Staroye i novoye (1929); the film about collectivisation directed by Sergei Eisenstein and one which I have not seen screened for ages. Also the British Film Institute’s National Film Archive has a number of 35mm prints of little seen Soviet titles from this period.

Perhaps in 2018?

Better was ‘Scandinavian Cinema’ which offered lesser known titles from the ‘golden age’. The titles were all very good and even those transferred to digital looked fine. The societies of the time were fairly repressive of women but the majority of these films had strong and independent minded women. I was especially taken with Gypsy Anne / Fante-Anne (Norway 1920). This was an adaptation of  a short story scripted and directed by Rasmus Breistein. Like several of the films  it treated the restrictions on cross-class romances. The turmoil this produced were symbolised in a act of arson. The unravelling of the crime and punishment reminded me of the treatment in Victor Sjöström masterwork Ingmarssönerna (1919).

A substantial programme was titled ‘Nasty Women’. There were five sections within this and I found the title puzzling. Many of the heroines in the films were closer to anarchy than nastiness.  A typical example is the earlier film was Tilly’s Party, a BFI print from 1911. Tilly (Alma Taylor) and her partner Sallie (Chrissie White) cause upsets to their bourgeois household,. There were a whole series of these films in the period and the recurring plots show the two girls repeatedly upsetting rules and decorum. However, the Catalogue, which only arrived on the Wednesday, shed some light on the programme.

“The term “Nasty Woman” has been a feminist rallying cry since October 2016, when Donald Trump interrupted Hilary Clinton by booming into his microphone “such a nasty woman”. ” (Festival Catalogue).

I think we often draw parallels between past and present but I also think this needs to be done with care and attention. Hardly any of the female protagonists in the film acted in any way ‘nasty’. Possibly the closest to the contemporary situation came in the sole feature length Hollywood film, The Deadlier Sex (1920), in which Mary Willard (Blanche Sweet) wreaks a well-deserved but possibly illegal lesson on her capitalist rival Harvey Judson (Marlon Hamilton). The film was very well produced and Blanche Sweet was a pleasure to watch. Unfortunately we did not see any female workers expropriating either of these bourgeois.

We had the third in the series of ‘Beginnings of the Western’ this year ‘early European westerns’. The first two programme featured a number of French films from Gaumont directed by Jean Durand and usually scripted by and starring Joë Hamman, who had direct experience of the US west and the Indian tribes. The film were shot in the Camargue and that lanscape gvae the films a distinctive feel. Several of the films had been transferred to DCP but Coeur Ardent / The Heart of the red Man (1912) was in a tinted 35mm print. The film traces the romance of Coeur Ardent (Joë Hamman) and Sun Ray (Berthe Dagmar). Her father Sitting Bear rejects his daughter’s suitor. In a bid to prove Coeur Ardent a brave and suitable warrior the pair steal cattle from a neighbouring tribe. This leads Coeur Ardent facing a ‘trial’ for his theft. These sequences make good use of the Camargue landscape, especially in the use of  lakes and marshland. Coeur Ardant’s survival in the test means the romance is fulfilled when Sitting Bear recognises the suitor’s bravery.

There were also Italian, Danish and a British westerns from the early period. The Scapegrace (1913) was filmed at the Crick Studio in Croydon. The ‘scapegrace’, Jack Marriott (Reginald Davis) is cut off by his father over gambling depts. He leaves London for Canada and the Yukon Gold Rush. He strikes gold on his claim, befriends bar girl Molly ((Una Tristan) and earns the enmity of  Mexican gunslinger Manoel (J. L. V. Leigh). So the film follows the US convention whereby villains are frequently from ‘south of the border’.  There is gunplay, arson, violence at the claim and a climatic rescue before the ‘scapegrace’ wins Molly and is reconciled with his father. There is some effective location settings,

“with local gravelly heath land standing in for the Yukon.” (Catalogue).

There is a US film with the same title from the same year from the Lubin Manufacturing Company.

‘The Japanese Silent Cinema Goes Electric’ offered to titles from “saundo-ban – films that were shot as silent films, but released with a post-synchronised soundtrack, usually consisting of music score, sound effects and the occasional popular song.” (Alexander Jacoby and Johan Nordström in the Festival Catalogue).

The curators explained how this format was a stage in the on-going struggle in the industry over the role and dominance of the Benshi. A friend noticed that the soundtrack appeared to have slight silent pauses around title cards: he and Johan discussed if this was a deliberate ploy to accommodate Benshi where cinemas retained them: the conclusion is unclear. We had a well-known film by Ozu Yasujiro Tokyo no yado / An Inn in Tokyo (Shochiku, 1935). The 35mm print seemed to have less of these ‘pauses’, perhaps aligning with Ozu’s well-known opposition to the Benshi.

The other title was a welcome discovery, Shima no Musume / The Island Girl (Shochiku, 1933), directed by Nomura Hotei. At the initial screening there was a technical glitch and there were no English sub-titles. we struggled through it and then the Festival organised a follow-up with the English sub-titles: so I got to see the film twice. It was an excellent and powerful melodrama. The main story concerns a romance frustrated by poverty: a situation that crossed over with the Ozu. The sub-plots concerned geisha’s, with the Island girls providing a source for the Tokyo pleasure quarters, The film used a popular song of the time by a popular female singer.

‘Pola Negri’ presented ‘The First Phase of Stardom’, films produced in Germany. Mania. Die Gechichte einer zigarettenarbeiterin / Mani. The Story of a Cigarette factory Girl was made at Ufa in 1918. We had a 35mm print reconstructed with tints from surviving nitrate material. Pola Negri looked a star, both in performance and in scenes of her dancing. She played a working class girl whose beauty and magnetism leads her into the world of publicity and entertainment. She was also potent in the 1918 version of Carmen / Carmen (Gypsy Blood) directed by Ernst Lubitsch. The film was closer to the original novella by Prosper Mérimée than the famous opera. The straight melodrama is less Lubitsch’s forte than his comedies, whilst the cast were never quite as compelling as Negri herself.

Another star was the canine performance of the Festival Toby, a poodle cross. This was an hybrid, part-western, part-thriller, Nel paese dell’oro (Italy, 1914). In the western section Toby is instrumental in rescuing the kidnapped Matilde. In the second half, set in Vera Cruz, Toby rescues the kidnapped son of the family. The conclusion has the bedraggled Toby and son triumphantly returning to the family apartment.

There was also a varied programme of films of ‘Early Cinema’, and the now -regular ‘Canon Revisited’. The latter shaded over into ‘Special Events’. Two of these were 35mm prints from Photoplay Productions: The Crowd , M-GM 1928 and The Student Prince of Old Heidelberg M-G-M 1927. Both enjoyed the scores composed by Carl Davis for the original series in Thames Silents. I was also pleased to catch L’Emigrante (Italy 1915). This was only a fragment, a third of the original release.  What we saw of the journeys in the film involved an elderly man migrating to South America and the exploitation that he encounters; a sort of subject suitable nowadays for Ken Loach.

Many of the films were in original release languages but the Festival has a well tried system with projected digital translations in English and Italian. And all the films had musical accompaniments, some solo or duo musicians, some with larger ensembles. In most cases these add to the screenings, heightening and dramatising aspects of character and plot. Some did tend to over-state the accompaniment which does get in the way of the film to an extent. But the Festival would not be the same without the music.

About nearly two thirds of the screenings were on 35mm, varying in quality but in most cases doing good or adequate justice to the titles. Just over a thirds was on digital formats. This was a variable experience. The International Federation of Film Archives has a number of documents on the Webpages regarding restoration and transfer of archive film, including the use of digital technologies. However, there does not seem to be a set of specifications that Archives should follow. The variation in quality of the Digital screenings at Le Giornate this year suggest that there is a disparate set of practices. Some were excellent,. especially those from the Scandinavian Archives. The best example was a DCP from Det Danske Filminstitut of Victoria Film’s Glomdalsbruden / The Bride of Glomdal ( Norway, Sweden 1926) scripted and directed by Carl Dreyer. The surviving version is incomplete but this copy preserved the distinctive qualities of the original.

However, there were other digital versions where the flat patina common in transfers was obvious. And in most cases the digital formats with tinting seemed over-saturated. I think there needs to be discussion about what exactly is the prime facture needed in transfers to digital. we had a short piece of early film shot on 65mm and transferred to digital. In the introduction we were promised that this would be the ‘cleanest’ version we would ever see. I think it was ‘clean’ but the ‘cleaning’ appears to have removed quite an amount of contrast and depth of field. I have seen early 65mm transferred to digital before and I am sure that it can look better than this.

There is a limitation in the current projection equipment in the new Verdi. Apparently the digital projectors only offer 2K quality and 24 fps. Tinting seems to need more than 2K to be effective and 24fps means step-printing. Several of the digital DCPs were marked in the Catalogue at slower rates of transfer, odd. However, there is real confusion of terms on this issue. FIAF have a glossary of terms on the Webpages but I could not find either ‘step-printing’ or ‘frame rates’.

What was more consistent about the festivals was the organisational and delivery, On the closing night the Festival Director read out a long list of people, staff and volunteers, who had worked before and during the festival. They duly received repeated rounds of applause from the audience – richly deserved.

One of their tasks is ‘policing’ the audience. Mobile misuse seemed down this year. However there is a growing tendency for late-comers to use their gadgets as torches: and many seem unaware that these can be used at knee height thus reducing the distraction. The most serious miscreants were people taking ‘pics’ during screenings. Some were caught by the theatre staff, but some were seated in the m idle of large blocks beyond reach. Perhaps the Festival could issue cattle prods in 2018?

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Le Giornate del Cinema Muto 2017

Posted by keith1942 on September 26, 2017

Impressively this year the Silent Film Festival in Pordenone has the complete programme up on its Webpages over a week before the start, Saturday September 30th. On offer will be a varied and fascinating selection of early films. My friend Peter Rist, who is expert at these sort of things, has sent me the following calculation:

“I have just done a count and of 57 screenings at Pordenone this year, 22 are digital, more than usual; over 38%; still plenty of 35mm though,”

Some of the formats are yet to be identified. But this is creditable, especially in a period when one requires time, money and considerable investigation to see films [as opposed to files] in an appropriative format.

The programmes contain some exciting prospects on film. These is a series devoted to ‘The Beginnings of the Western’: now in its third year these have offered fascinating offerings from the early in a major genre. On the Saturday evening the opening event of the Festival, The Crowd will be the 35mm Photoplay print originally screened in the Thames Silents, and we will enjoy once more Carl Davis conducting his score performed by the San Marco Orchestra. The film is a classic [discussed in ‘Studying Early and Silent Cinema’] with fine direction by King Vidor and some excellent technical work in the Cinematography by Henry Sharp and the Film Editing by Hugh Wynn.  A great cast and some memorable dramatic moments.

Other classic revisited titles include Schatten: eine nächtliche halluzination (Warning Shadows, Artur Robison, Germany, 1923). In many ways this is the definitive expressionist film, intriguing and stylistic memorable.

There are several ‘diva’ titles. One pleasure with be Louise Brooks in Now We’re in the Air  (Frank R. Strayer, US 1927). Pola Negri stars in the 1918 Carmen and Mania. die geschichte einer zigarettenarbeiterin (Mania. The Story of a Cigarette Factory Worker, Germany 1918). And the rare A Fool There Was (1915) with Theda Bari is a happy opportunity. There are a series of programmes on ‘Nasty Women’. These appear to develop from the comic to the dramatic, so we await to see if they are ‘politically correct’.

‘The Swedish Challenge’ includes a title from a master of silent period, Vem Dömer? (Love’s Crucible, 1922) by Victor Sjöström. Ernst Lubitsch has several titles including The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg (1927), another screening with an accompanying orchestra.. And from Japan we have a late silent directed by Ozu Yasujirô, Tokyo no yado (An Inn in Tokyo, 1935). There a number of Italian silents which are new to me and which I look forward to seeing.

I shall wait and see what the DCPs are like in transfer quality. I am disappointed that the British Dawn (1928) is in a digital format since I saw it only last year in a good 35mm print.

The other set of DCPs are from the USSR. This is a disappointment less because of the format than because of the titles. Essentially the programmes offer a series of ‘Soviet Travelogues’. They are likely interesting and include some film work by members of the ‘Factory of Facts’. The only fictional feature is Aelita: this is on 35mm so it will be worth seeing again. But the Festival falls only a few weeks before the centenary of The Great October Revolution. I would have hoped that they could have fitted in at least one of the masterpieces celebrating this key event of the C20th. We are offered a couple of titles on ‘The Red Peril’ which sound politically dubious. A sadly missed opportunity.

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Who’s Guilty?. A lost series rediscovered.

Posted by keith1942 on September 7, 2017

This was one of the most interesting programmes at the 2016 Le Giornate del Cinema Muto. Federico Striuli found a lost fourteen part serial from the teens of the C20th in the archives of Gosfilmofond. He provided extensive notes on the programme in the Festival Catalogue.

Serials were very popular in the USA, and in other territories, in the teens. One of the major players was Pathé Exchange [a subsidiary of the French Pathé]. In 1915 the company had a successful serial Who Pays?, a twelve part series, each episode offered a self-contained story, but featuring a regular cast and a ‘strong social critique’. Who’s Guilty was a follow-up, again with self-contained stories in each episode, a regular cast and an overt social agenda. However, in this series the lead characters were to be victims.

The new project had production problems and after shooting initial episodes, a change of cast and crew. It was completed in 1916 at the New York Studio of the Arrow Film Corporation. The scripts were written by a number of writers; however, there was a newspaper tie-in and these were all credited to a Mrs. Wilson Woodrow [a distant relative by marriage of the US president]. The directors were either Lawrence B. McGill or Howell Hansel and the cinematographer either Eugene J. Cugnet or Henry Cronjager, The two stars in every episode were Tom Moore and Anna Q. Nilsson [Swedish-born] supported by a regular company who varied depending on the episode and the size of the cast.

Ten of the 14 episodes survive, though not all are complete. Indeed nearly every episode has suffered at least minor cuts. Oddly the missing titles are all odd numbers? The films were all two reelers, standard for the time. We watched 35mm prints with Russian titles and a translation into English provided digitally. Quite often the names were different in the Russian versions from those recorded for the original US release. None of the prints had tinting but at this stage of the industry it is quite likely that the originals did.

The structure of the films is, as the title suggests, to raise questions regarding social issues. The key characters, almost uniformly victims in some sense, dramatise this in their personal lives. The films seem to have had a standard opening, [though not all the extant prints retain this], with a long shot of a lake and a title card which offered

“Life is like a lake, throw in a stone …’

No 1. Puppets of Fate. Only one Reel. 252 metres. 11 minutes.

The film was missing the original first reel and the Catalogue supplied the following:

“In the now-missing first reel, it was shown how the doctor had advanced his career thanks to his wife, up until he met the other woman.”

Tom Moore plays Doctor George Bullard, Anna Q. Nilsson his wife Esther and Olivia Handsworth the other woman, Sylvia Sands, a rich widow. Esther falls ill and. at her wish, Bullard carries out an operation. This is an infringement of medical ethics. Bullard sends Sands away at this point. Still Esther dies and the Doctor is left, as are the audience, with the regular last title card, ‘Who’s Guilty’.

Pianist, John Sweeney.

No. 2. The Tight Rain. 525 metres. 23 minutes.

This episode has three other writers credited besides Mrs Wilson; Edfrid A. Bingham, Albert Shelby LeVino and Hervey F. Thew. The Catalogue provided this backgrounds information.

“This episode deals with the disastrous consequences of a thwarted love. The episode contains some sexual implications that caused it to be banned or heavily cut in several states, resulting in many alternate versions, which seem to be confirmed by conflicting synopses in journals. However, this print does not seem to have significant cuts. “

Jack (Moore) the son of factory owner Jeremiah McCall (Arthur Donaldson) is attracted to one of the workers, Amy (Nilsson). McCall engineers her dismissal to end the romance. Amy moves to New York where she works in a fashion house. Jack, purloining $500 from the firm, follows her. Amy is the object of malicious intent by a patron at the fashion house. Inveigled to his apartment, Jack arrives and there is a fight followed by shots. The dying Amy crawls to the body of her dead Jack. The newspapers print a story of a ‘rich man’s son’s suicide’. The plot does suggest promiscuity of some sort. And, typical of the period, Amy has a black maid at her apartment.

The accompaniment was played by Stephen Horne.

No. 4. The Silent Shame. 565 metres. 25 m minutes.

One of several episodes dealing with divorce. The underlying problem was that the laws regarding marriage and divorce in different states varied and could cause problems across territories. Duncan Hilliard (Edward Davis) is married to Eunice (Nilsson) who is a lot younger.

“married at fifteen”.

The strains lead to her developing friendship with Bruce Kingston (Moore). They go away together but Duncan follows, mainly because he needs Eunice’s savings of $50,000. Thwarted he seeks revenge by pretending to arrange a divorce. Eunice and Bruce have a daughter who is thus illegitimate. When Eunice finds out about her situation she leaves Bruce and returns to Hilliard with her daughter.

In Reel 2 Bruce is a successful playwright. His new play will star a young actress Helen, Eunice’s daughter Ardath under a stage name (Nilsson again). Predictably romance develops. Meanwhile Bruce has bought a genuine antique ring as a stage prop, an antique which contains a secret phial of poison. In full melodramatic fashion, when Helen and Bruce realise their true relationships, she takes the real poison onstage, followed by Bruce who sucks the ring and both expire. A full blooded melodrama with a number of conventional plot points.

Pianist José Maria Serraldo Ruiz.

No. 6. Sowing the Wind. Only the second reel. 278 metres. 12 minutes.

In this episode Hugh Scott (Moore) has secretly married the daughter of his boss, Marjorie Turnbull., He loses some valuable bonds and so feigns suicide. In Reel 2 the missing bonds turn up. Hugh is now able to return, however, meanwhile [predictably] his brother Henry has romanced and married Marjorie under the misapprehension that she is a widow. Marital misadventures are a frequent theme in this serial.

Pianist Daan van den Hurk.

No. 8. Beyond Recall. 517 metres. 22 minutes.

This is an intriguing drama about the death penalty but also, as the Catalogue suggests,

‘an indictment against the whole legal system’.

Edwin Martel (Moore) and his friend Leonard (William B. Sherwood) are setting off on a business trip to South America. They leave behind [for the space of about two years] their girlfriends Margaret Graeme (Nilsson) and Elsie. Margaret breaks off her engagement with Leonard whilst Elsie becomes hysterical over Edwin’s departure.

In Reel 2 Elsie commits suicide. Edwin, who has forgotten his case, returns to find the dead body. And in a familiar trope the police find Edwin standing over the corpse. He is arrested and charged with murder. Margaret is the assistant to the New York District Attorney. She takes a particular interest in the case. Edwin is found guilty and sentenced to the electric chair. Now Leonard, who could provide an alibi for Edwin, returns. But it is the day of the execution. Margaret is distraught when Leonard explains.

The film is interesting also because of the detail of the court case. We see the jury verdict as well as the prosecution. And ‘going South’ to Latin America is a frequent and varied plot device in popular US film.

Pianist Daan van den Hurk.

No. 10. A Trial of Souls. 524 metres, 23 minutes.

This drama criticises fathers: Senator Mason, father of Rose (Nilsson) and a journalist Fletcher, father of Tom, an army Captain (Moore). The two men are political enemies: predictably the politician is the nastier of the two. In Reel 1 we see the romantic pair of Tom and Rose in adjoining gardens: he throws her a flower. Then there is a dispute at the nearby army base between the Senator and Fletcher. The Senator is fined $100 for his part in the fracas. Despite the feud Tom and Rose secretly marry, even though Rose is only 17 years.

In Reel 2 the Senator sues Tom for abduction as Rose is under age. A this point Rose’s mother becomes part of the plot, fainting when the Senator initiates the court proceedings. In court Tom’s lawyer elicits the information that Rose is adopted. A flashback reveals that she was placed in the orphanage by the Senator wife’s and another man. The mother faints once more. Tom is acquitted but the marriage declares void. We last see Rose entering a lake, [just like the one that appears after the credits).

The suggestion of extra-marital affair is a common device which at this period tends not to be completely explicit.

Pianist Donald Sosin.

No. 11. The Lost Paradise. 550 metres, 24 minutes. [No main title].

This is another tale of marriage and divorce. The Catalogue notes that the episode was written by two lawyers, William Hamilton Osborne of New York and Warren H. Small, a lawyer with the Arrow Film Corporation. Janet Gordon (Nilsson) marries Marc Lander. It is clear that she doe this under pressure from her father who is in debt to Lander. She finds that Lander is a bully and a louse. Her old friend Tom visits to support her. A fight with Lander ensues and Tom and Janet leave and she moves to Connecticut where Tom works.

In Reel 2 they marry. They have children but Tom’ sister (Mary Moore) is antagonistic. Jane has filed a divorce from Lander in Connecticut. However, this is not valid in New York. Lander sues for ‘illegal cohabitation’. The trial worsens Tom’s poor health and he dies of a heart attack. Worse follows. Jane’s marriage to Tom is not legal and the children are considered illegitimate. Tom’s sister takes his property. And, in one of the most downbeat scenes of this downbeat series, we see the lonely Jane and her tow children.

Pianist Mauro Columbis.

No. 12. Weighed in the Balance. 575 metres, 25 minutes.

This episode was written by the advertising manager of Pathé, P. A. Parsons. The story dramatises the frequently violent industrial disputes in this period. These presumably related to the more general gun problem in the USA: violence against pickets, both by the armed police and by armed vigilantes led to pitched battles outside factories. There are a number of independent and labour-funded dramas on the issue on the teens. And, as Barbara Kopple’s excellent Harlan County, USA (1976) shows,  the problem continued for decades.

Tom Olcott (Moore) at the death of his father has to get a job at the factory where his father was President. This is a drop in income and status, but Tom has to support his widowed mother and his sister {Mary Moore again). At the factory, where he is noted as a promising young workers, he strikes up a friendship with Edna Carr (Nilsson). But he is then victimised by a jealous manager and finally fired. This incident provokes the strike.

In Reel 1 we see the family crisis and then Tom’s job at the factory. He is not only a ‘good’ employee but is popular with his fellow workers. The conflict with the manager Graham takes place on one of those days of entertainment which were part of factory life in this period.

After Tom is sacked the other workers gather in support and the strike commences. The response of the management is that they need,

“100 workers and 25 guards”.

When the workers attempt to stop the scabs the police intervene and support the strike breakers. The workers respond by stoning the police. Now soldiers are called in. When the strikers will not disperse they open fire. There follows this dramatic shot with the bodies of strikers and other civilians lying in the street among the debris. In an ironic touch both Graham and Tom arte shot down: Tom

“a son of the people”.

The last shot shows Edna cradling the dead Tom in the form of a pieta.

This is a powerful and critical narrative. Whilst the film is played as melodrama the violence perpetrated on ordinary working people is clearly represented.

Pianist Daan van den Hurk.

No. 13. The Goad of Jealousy. 545 metres. 24 minutes.

This is a distintive treatment of a familiar and conventional subject. Tom Olcott {Moore] owns a gym and runs training classes. He is knocked out in an accident and at the hospital

meets Nurse Olive Hale (Nilsson). He is also visited by his married friend Minna (Margaret Prussing). Smitten with Olive Tom proposes and they are married. However, in a reverse of the most common plot it is Olive who is jealous and possessive. At one point she listens at a glass door whilst Tom takes a class for Ladies.

In Reel 2, Minna comes to stay because she is suffering abuse from her husband. This

inflames Olive’s jealousy: she has a bout of hysterics and is prescribed a strong medicine.. She sets up a reorder and microphone hidden in her husband’s office so that she can spy on him. She listens in to an innocent conversation between Tom and Minna. But, even more inflamed, she writes to Minna’s husband revealing where she is. The husband arrives and there is a fight between him and Tom. Olive now tells Minna to leave. However, Tom find the secreted recorder. Furious, he leaves the house and rides off: on what I think is an early Harley-Davidson. Whilst he is away Olive takes a large dose of the medicine and on his return Tom finds her body across her bed!

Pianist Neal Brand.

No. 14. The Irony of Justice. Reel 1, 273 metres. 12 minutes.

Only the opening Reel survives. Here we meet Tom Morrissey (Moore) and his sister Mabel (Nilsson). The problem they face are the neighbours, Hinkle Rokeson and his son Henry (Warner Richmond). Tom is tried for a misdemeanour, a prank that went wrong. Years later the family’s spaniel is attacked by the two dogs of the Rokesons’ and killed. This appears to be the only use of this emotional trope in the serial. After burying his dog Tom fights with Henry. Tom wins but father and son conspire

“to get rid of him for a long time.”

Tom is tried and sentenced on the false charge of attempted murder’. Found guilty he serves three years in prison and we see him working at one point on a chain gang. It’s brutal form is visualised when one of the guards knocks down Tom.

In the missing Reel 2 it appears that Henry has designs on Mabel. There is another fracas for which Tom takes the blame: his aim to protect the good name of his sister. Now he endures a twenty year jail sentence.

Pianists Jonathan Best and Meg Morley.

This was a fascinating set of films. As can be seen it addressed quite a range of issues, though certain situations appeared in several forms. In retrospect the series would appear to be fairly subversive, at least with some films. The story of the industrial dispute tends to support the workers, seen as victims. This does reflect a whole cycle of film s of the period that addressed these contradictions. The notably social issue missing is ‘”race’, either in terms of Afro-Americans or Native Americans. And the issue of gender tends to present women as victims rather than as subjects in stories.

The series was thought lost and then turns up in the Russian archive. Russian films of the pre-Revolution period were noted for being downbeat. There are examples of Russian films having ‘happy endings added for overseas releases, and in reverse, foreign films having ‘sadder’ ending sadder for release in Russia. So here we have what must be one of the most downbeat cycle of films from the US mainstream in the teens; and it survives only in Russia. I did wonder if the episodes that did not apparently survive were the less depressing ones?

They all appeared in 35mm prints and just about all the title cards were translated. The prints were worn but reasonably good. The projection rate was given as 20 fps, which seems quite fast for the period. The full two reeks would be 600 metres and 30 minutes of screen time, so it seems likely that none of these survive intact. There were indeed frequent ‘jump cuts’ and what appeared to be absent title cards.

Happily just about every musician at the Festival enjoyed the opportunity to accompany one of these titles including two of the student son the Giornate”s ‘masterclass’.

Note, ‘Working-Class Hollywood’, Silent Film and the Shaping of Class in America by Stephen J. Ross (1998) has a lot of discussion of films about and by Labour. There is a brief reference to Who Pays which also included an episode dramatising a strike, but there are no details,.

 

 

 

 

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