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Archive for the ‘Japanese film’ Category

The 34th Giornate del Cinema Muto

Posted by keith1942 on October 16, 2015

 

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This year’s festival ran from October 4th until the 11th. The weather was rather below par: cloudy most days, though we did get more sunshine towards the end of the week. But the content was well up to standard, though it was not one of the really great years: given the commitment to new or restored screenings, this is inevitable. But there were an awful lot of pleasures.

One of the stand-out events of the week was the screening of Chuji Tabinikki / A Diary of Chuji’s Travels (Japan, 1928). This was a cross between a Samurai and Yakusa films and originally ran for six hours; but only a 111 minutes survive, mainly from the second and third parts of the film. It was screened at an earlier Giornate, but this time we watched a restoration with tinting. We also enjoyed a Benshi, Ichiro Kataoka [the Japanese narrator of early cinema] with live accompanying music from the Otowaza ensemble. It helps to have seen the film before because the fragments from Part 2 need some explanation. However later sequences have beautifully set and filmed scenes in a Sake Brewery, with the protagonists surround by vast barrels  between which they and the camera work. Then there is the finale of the film. This is a long bravura sequence, with Chuji’s band fighting off the police and his mistress guarding the ageing warrior.

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We had another restored film from an earlier programme Les Misérables (France 1925-26). This was directed by Henri Fescourt and is the longest screen version that I have seen of the novel. It is fairly faithful to the book and has an excellent cast. The film offers finely presented exteriors, though the interiors are not  quite as good. The weakest part is the Paris insurrection and barricades, where the later version  by Raymond Bernard is superior. It is an epic production running over six hours. The accompaniment for the whole screening was performed by Neil Brand, a performance a impressive as the film.

For me the best programme of films was Other City Symphonies. Generally shorter films, there were a number of fine examples which fell between documentary, poetic and essay films. De Steeg / The Alley (Netherlands 1932) was a study of a poor neighbourhood in Rotterdam. Another film from the Netherlands was Pierement / Barrel Organ (1931) which followed this instrument around a working class area. There was the well produced A Day in Liverpool UK 1929) sponsored by the Council and extolling the ‘virtues’ of the great city. And there was the first film  by the long-lived but now deceased Manoel de Oliveira Douro, Faina Fluvial / Labour on the Douro River |(Portugal 1931) this was possibly the most poetic of the films. There was one substantial documentary Weltstadt in Flegeljahren. Ein Bericht Űber Chicago / Chicago / A World City in its Teens. A Report on Chicago (Germany6 1931), running 74 minutes. This made fine use of the cinematography, both in conjuring up the urban architecture but also in placing the people in evocative positions. Generally these films were observational, though there were few sequences that appeared staged.

'The Alley'

‘The Alley’

Despite the title Russian Laughter was a programme of Soviet films. KinoKariera Zvonaria / A Bell-Ringer’s Film Career (1927) was a delightful two-reel comedy. As the title suggests the plot involves a film crew and their tale is told with real visual wit. Dva Druga, Model I Prodruga / Two friends, a Model and a Girlfriend (1928) was another engaging comedy. The ‘model’ was in fact a labour-saving machine and the humour revolved both around the machinations of an NEP villain and some less than socialist bureaucrats. Gosudarstvennyi Chinovnik / The State Official (1931) had appeared t the Giornate before but was interesting to revisit. More than most films it dramatised the politics of Socialism in One Country, with its plots by subversives and little attention to social relations. There was Serdtsa I Dollary / Hearts and Dollars (1924). The film was incomplete and appeared to be influenced by  the far superior The Adventures of Mr West in the Land of the Bolsheviks (1924). But apart from that I was non-plussed. It was either an avant-garde production  of extreme experimentation or there was something odd with the archival treatment. The plot was clearly out of sequence [decades before Jean-Luc] and event the title cards numbers were out of sequence. Clarifications appreciated.

The featured director was Victor Fleming. I enjoyed the familiar Mantrap 1926). This is Clara Bow’s best role on film, which is presumably why Kevin Brownlow used a film still in the titles for his great Hollywood series. There were two early films featuring Douglas Fairbanks, offering excellent humour. And there were two new titles for me, To the Last Man (1923) and Wolf Song (1929). Both has excellent photography and some beautifully realised scenes out in the wild west. The former had Richard Dix in a typical role: the latter the young Gary Cooper, looking quite beautiful. His co-star, Lupe Velez responded with the most palpitating bosoms I can remember seeing for  a long time.

The canine performance of the week – one of very few this year – was a Border Collie, Jean, in Ramona (USA 1928). The actual film was rather lacking in drama, apart from one great scene with Dolores del Rio in the title role. The talented dog graced innumerable scenes and displayed an uncanny ability to select the key position in the frame at any time. However, the film was less careful: parted from her mistress Jean only re-appeared in the final scene, quieting my worries. However, her journey there was missing from the plot.

'Ramona ', with Jean well placed in the foreground.

‘Ramona ‘, with Jean well placed in the foreground.

A slightly odder programme was Italian Muscle In Germany. These were films made in Germany featuring Italian actors: ‘muscle men’. The most entertaining was Mister Radio (1924). The star was Luciano Albertini. The film was set in an Alpine setting and utilised rock climbing and mountainous locations. The mountaineering was the most bizarre I have ever seen on film, the Everest climbers would have been petrified. And the film cut between actual locations and studio constructions. As long as one did not take it seriously it was very entertaining. The Invincible / Der Unȕberwindliche (1928) was a rather limp sequel. Familiar locations appeared but with little connection to the plot; presumably the crew just loved these sets.

Special events included Ernst Lubitsch’s delightful Romeo und Julia im Schnee / Romeo and Juliet in the Snow (Germany 1920). This feature looked great as well. And to end the week we had a digital version of The Phantom of the Opera (USA 1925) with Lon Chaney. This has a violent but terrific ending, rather unusual for Hollywood at the time. And a real treat – Hal Roach’s The Battle of the Century (1927). This long-lost Laurel and Hardy has a splendid second reel involving [apparently] 3,000 pies. Let your imagination work.

BATTLE_05

I missed a number of screenings as I was recovering from an operation. And some of the features are best passed over in silence. Also I want to address the tribute to African-American Bert Williams separately. There were some Latin-American short films and features. However the main offering from Mexico, El Automóvil Gris / The Grey Automobile (1919), a crime story in 12 episodes, was restored and presented on digital. I had seen the films before, un-restored, however my memory was that they looked a lot better on 35mm. The DCP lacked definition and the tinting had an odd palette. About half the Festival was delivered on digital formats. Some of these were excellent, but  a number were not. So it is frustrating to watch digital when 35mm prints are available. Moreover, even when 4K is used in the process, many of these films are presented in 2K DCPs. The latter do not appear to have equivalent definition  or contrast to 35mm.

If some of the source material was of lower quality the music was not. We had most of the regular accompanists performing and two new members. Predominately the music was excellent and mainly avoids the pitfall of over-powering the films. This Festival was also the last with David Robinson as director. So he received a well-deserved Tribute and applause from the Giornate audience.

 

Posted in Festivals, Japanese film, Silent Comedy, Soviet Film, Westerns | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

Taki No Shiraito / Taki the Water Magician also White Threads of the Waterfall, Japan 1933.

Posted by keith1942 on May 20, 2015

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I was fortunate to see a 35mm print of this film at the 2001 Giornate del Cinema Muto, courtesy of the Japan National Film Center. The film was screened in a programme Light from the East: Japanese Silent Cinema, 1896 – 1935: as with China silent films in Japan were produced until well into the 1930s. This is one of only two silent films directed by Mizoguchi Kenji to survive from the silent era. This despite his film career beginning a decade earlier in 1923. The print we saw ran for 101 minutes and included English sub-titles.

Mizoguchi is generally reckoned one of the great directors of Japanese Cinema: depending on your taste and criteria he can outrank Naruse and Ozu. He is a definite stylist, and his films are noted for the often delicate mise en scène and, increasingly in his career, notable sequence shots. A recurring theme in his films is the oppression of women: he shares with both Naruse and Ozu a penchant for strong female characters. However, he is closer to melodrama than either Naruse or Mizoguchi. In his greatest films there is a welling up of emotion at crucial points in the narrative.

The Catalogue explained the type of melodrama in this film:

The Shimpa melodrama, comparable to the European diva film of the 1910s, with stories revolving around a female protagonist (played by an oyama, a mole female impersonator), was one of the first film genres to take shape in Japan. The enormously successful Shimpa productions of Nikkatsu (founded in 1912) constituted the first generation of Japanese feature films. This genre languished, old-fashioned and forgotten, throughout the 1920s, until Kenji Mizoguchi took it up again in the early 1930s, with a series of great melodramas with major actresses such as Isuzu Yamada and Takako Irie. Takako Irie was not only the star but also the producer of three Mizoguchi films [including this one].

In Taki the Water Magician the diva parallels only work up to a point. The central protagonist, Taki, is a strong woman but she is also characterised by a strong devotion and spirit of self-sacrifice for her student lover. In the film Taki is a music-hall artist, a milieu that [like Taxi Dancing] often shaded over into prostitution. Over the course of the film Taki, at expense to her own interests, finances the studies of her lover. In a turnaround, common in melodrama, she become involved in criminality and then a court case where her now qualified lover is the prosecutor.

Audie Bock comments on Mizoguchi’s female characters:

“Mizoguchi’s ideal women is one who can love. This love consists, however, of a selfless devotion to a man in the traditional Japanese sense.”

One plot line in several Mizoguchi’s films is the sister who sacrifices herself for her brother: and he actually had an older sister Suzu, who supported him early in his career. Certainly this characterisation applies to a strong degree to Taki.

The film is also beautifully produced and directed. And viewers enjoy recurring settings and staging.

 

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