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The Bride of Glomdal / Glomdalsbruden, Norway 1926

Posted by keith1942 on February 14, 2018

This film, written, directed and edited by Carl Th. Dreyer, was screened in the ‘Scandinavian Cinema’ programme at the 21017 Le Giornate del Cinema Muto. The programme was one of the highlights of the Festival and this was a title that stood out. Unfortunately we did not see the entire and original film. Morten Eghom’s notes in the Festival Catalogue explained:

“In many description of The Bride of Glomdal it is assumed that the film is relatively complete, but at the premiere in Oslo the film’s length was 2525 metres. Whereas the surviving material in 0nly 1250 metres. The surviving version, though coherent and logical, differs considerably from what appears in the original Norwegian title list. Probably a re-editing took place around the time of the Danish premiere on 15 April 1926.”

The plot and the characters of the film certainly worked and provided an interesting narrative filmed with Dreyer’s usual style and grace. The titular character is Berit Glomgaarden (Tove Tellback) who lives with her father Ola (Stub Widberg). Berit’s childhood friend and current sweetheart is Thore Braaten (Einar Sissener) whose family occupy a poorer farm than that of Glomgaarden. There is an economic and class divide between the couple and an actual divide, a river, which figures importantly in the plot.

Ola is a widower and plans to marry Berit to Gjermund Haugsett (Einar Tweito) from a relativity affluent farm. Initially this arranged marriage is opposed both by Berit herself and and Gjermund. But as the action develops Gjermund comes to favour the match and develops a serious antagonism to Thore.

This turns into a fight at an open-air dance near the village. This is a beautifully presented sequence in a meadow overlooking the river. The couples dance under the sky and a fiddler provides the music. It is Gjermund who interrupts Berit and Thore as they dance. And the two men have to be separated by the villagers.

Despite the mutual affection of Berit and Thore Ola is adamant that his daughter should marry Gjermund.

‘No beggar should ask for daughter of Glomdal’.

The conflict grows more divisive. Ola takes Berit to the Haugsett farm but she rides off. Berit has a fall crossing the river to Thore’s side. She ends up injured and cared for at the Braaten farm, unable to be moved. Ola now disowns his daughter,

‘I have no daughter’.

The point is emphasised by him dumping Berit’s trunk of belongings at that farm.

Whilst Berit and Thore are now together the dominant values hold sway. Berit does not feel that she can marry Thore without the approval of her father. At the same time she ‘does not trust herself’ in such close proximity to Thore. The film here develops a sensuous feel in the embraces and kisses of the young couple.

But following the path of virtue Berit moves to the house of the Vicar of the village. Meanwhile Thore approaches Ola and ‘honestly’ asks for the hand of his daughter. Ola remains adamant. It is suggested that the lack of a wife and mother at the farm is a factor in his intransigence. It is the vicar who comes to the rescue and Ola finally accedes to his daughter’s wishes.

However, one last dramatic conflict remains. On the day that the bride sets out to the ceremony and the house of her husband to-be Gjermund re-appears. He waylays the party at the river crossing by sabotaging the boats. Thore falls in the river and is wept downstream by the current. A distraught Berit follows his progress on the bank. Finally, and exhausted, he is able to near the bank and Berit assists him from the river. The film ends as the young bride arrives to celebrate her nuptials as the villagers crowd round the church. A long shot provides a graceful camera tilt up the church spire, ending on an iris.

Morten Egholm explained the source of the film,

“The film is based on a novel of the same title by the Norwegian author Jacob Breda Bull (1853 – 1930), and is a classic example of the ‘Norwegian Village’ film, in which contemporary love stories take place in sunny Norwegian villages. Since the actors only had the summer off from their respective theatre contracts, Dreyer for the first and last time in his career decided to be looser in the preparations for a film – the shooting was virtually improvised from day to day, without a script. A list of individual scenes was made, though, including some narrative elements from Bull’s novel ‘Eline Vangen’, since Dreyer felt that the novel ‘Glomdalsbruden’ didn’t contain enough story elements.”

The film’s love story also fits into the wider Scandinavian cinema of the period, sharing a number of themes and tropes with the other films in the programme. So there is the class division which frustrates the desires of the young couple. We have another strong-willed and independent heroine who comes into conflict with traditional mores. And the conflicts lead to violence. The distinctive aspect of the film is the physical relationship. Egholm describes the couples’ scenes at the Braaten household as ‘erotic’ [possibly more so in the longer version] and Berit certainly displays a physical passion. But she works within the mores of the community, something some of the heroines resist.

The pleasures of this film include the beautifully realised naturalism and use of natural locations. The several river sequences are impressive. However, it seems that the original longer version would have offered more of this. Morten Egholm comments,

“By comparing some production stills from an illustrated version of the novel with the Norwegian title list and the Norwegian and Danish printed film programmes, it becomes clear that much footage is missing, especially the sequences from ‘Eline Vangen’ giving a more nuanced depiction of Thore and his family. ….

A number of lyrical nature sequences were probably also cut. Dreyer himself stated, “I have realised that the poor peasant’s son in the film is depicted in rough surroundings, whereas the rich farmer’s daughter is surrounded by gentler nature.” This use of nature as a social contrast … is not very obvious in the existing film, possibly because of its shortening after the premiere.”

The contrast is there though and it also works as a gender contrast. But Thore seems less developed as a character than Berit. Gjermund is allowed a limited sympathy, but this is dissipated as the film and his malevolence develop. The actors in these roles, like the supporting cast, are another excellent aspect of the film.

The film was one of the titles screened from a DCP. However, this was a quality transfer. The digital version had many of the cinematic qualities enjoyed by ‘reel’ films. It was the best set of digital files that I saw at the Festival. The Catalogue notes that the surviving film was transferred at 17 fps. However, the Verdi Theatre projectors apparently only run at 24fps or faster. I suspect that in fact the transfer relied on digital step-printing. Given the rhythms that Dreyer and his cinematographer, Einar Olsen, offer this was not noticeable. The screening enjoyed a fine accompaniment by John Sweeney.

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Il Fiacre N.13 / Cab no. 13, Italy 1917.

Posted by keith1942 on December 21, 2017

This film was screened in the ‘Cineteca Italiano 70’ programme at the 2017 Le Giornate del Cinema Muto. This was a series in four episodes, running for a total of 170 minutes. Carlo Montanaro, in the Catalogue, provided some background.

“Not many Italian silent films structured in episodes have survived, though a good many were made … Most of them were based on foreign models, particularly French, and some were direct reworkings. One such case is Il Fiacre . 13, from the novel of the same title by Xavier Henri Aymon Perrin, Count of Montépin,  a highly prolific and much-loved author whose books were vehicles for the depiction of social inequality, narrating stories of love, death, betrayal, blackmail and redemption.”

The film certainly fitted this description. It bore a strong resemblance to the plotting of the classic French serials of the teens. The villains were affluent and/or aristocratic. However, the issue of social inequality was limited as the characters were divided into virtuous and evil rather than representing classes as such.

Episode One – Il delitto al Ponte di Neuilly / Murder at the Neuilly Bridge

This first in the series was banned in Italy but seen abroad. Presumably a story in which someone is falsely charged, found guilty and guillotined was felt to question ‘legitimate’ authority. In this episode we meet key characters, Duke George de Latour (Vasco Creti), whose devious plans and actions in order to obtain the family estate and fortune motivate most of the action. Claudia Varny (Elena Makowska) assists George: she is the most interesting and dynamic character in the film. As interesting in many ways is Gion Giovedi (Alberto A. Capozzi, also co-director), an Apache, a member of a violent criminal underworld and a stock character in silent films. And there is the coachman who drives the fatal cab, (Umberto Scapellini).

Episode Two – Gion Giovedi.

An innocent man is sent to the guillotine for a murder at the bridge where, unbeknown at the time, a baby is kidnapped. These events intertwine with the ducal fortune and, in particular, the machinations by Claudia. The  murder and the kidnapping remain the central events propelling action and investigation throughout the series.

There are numerous development and new characters. Most importantly we meet Berta, the daughter of the innocent victim of the guillotine, and in a powerful sequence she swears vengeance on his tomb. We meet a young doctor, Etienne, who will be an important link between characters, including René. The latter, a friend of one victim visits the cemetery to inspect the mausoleum to the deceased Duke and meets Berta and thus  becomes an investigator into the crimes.

Episode Three – La filial del ghigliottinato / The Daughter of the Guillotined Man.

Carlo Montanaro describes this as

“the grimmest episode, where evil seems to prevail …”

It was also the shortest episode. As the crimes of George and Claudia start to come to light Berta is kidnapped to prevent exposure. Meanwhile René inveigles himself into Claudia’s villa. At a grandiose party he uses a theatrical tableaux to confront Claudia with her past. A really dramtic sequence.

Episode Four – Giustizia! / Justice.

The title tells all, but the drama continues. Berta is rescued from a burning house. Characters’ past and their hidden family relationships are revealed. The virtuous are rewarded and the wrongdoers punished. The latter offers a slight ambiguity. The nemesis of Claudia develops real pathos a she is parted from a beloved daughter.

Montanaro comments on the overall plot:

“the narrative is an unending series of dramatic revelations where events are carefully illustrated and explained by intertitles, which, as with all the films of this type, bear witness to the style of the material’s direct literary origins.”

So despite the numerous and dramatic changes and turns of events in the film I was never lost in the development of the plot. Rather as with other literary works, [e.g. ‘Jane Eyre] ‘ the long arm of co-incidence is stretched to the point of dislocation ‘. There are a number of flashbacks filling in plot information. And numerous conventional tropes: apart from tableaux’s, fires, kidnapping, secret assignations., a cemetery: there are  overheard plots in bars, a duel, incriminating letters, important paintings, hidden documents, and significant jewels.

As Montanaro also notes much of the power of the film derives from the performances, especially those of Alberto Capozzi as Gion Giovedi and Elena Makowska as Claudia. I also thought that their characters were the most interesting in the script. Gigetta Morano plays Berta, and she is the most charismatic of the virtuous characters.

The film has a range of settings: some of the interiors are sumptuous but it was the smaller scale sets and some of the exteriors that struck me as particularly well done. The cinematography by Giovanni Vitrotti is a key contributor to the generally fine visual presentation. There are often interesting camera angles, especially high angle shots looking down on characters. And there are some excellent tracking shots for the period. The film has a lot of effective tinting.

In all we had 3,500 metres of 35mm at 18 fps. This film was screened in two parts. Donald Sosin provided the accompaniment for Episodes one and two and Mauro Colombis provided the accompaniment for Episodes three and four

 

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The Girl from the Marsh Croft / Tösen Frän Stormyrtorpet, Sweden 1917.

Posted by keith1942 on November 21, 2017

 

This film was screened in the ‘A Hundred Years Ago: fifty films of 1917 in 35mm’ at Il Cinema Ritrovato 2017. It demonstrates how Swedish cinema in the late teens was a trailblazer for artistic cinema and this was one of the most accomplished titles in the programme . It was directed by Victor Sjöström and it was in many ways typical of his work, with the redemption of a key character after a fall from  grace. There were some parallels with his later masterpiece Ingmarssönerna (1919). It was also typical of Swedish cinema of the period focussing on a romance that was inhibited by class and moral prejudices.

The film was the first adaptation in Swedish cinema of a story by Selma Lagerlöf [Ingmarssönerna was also adapted from one of her novels]. This famous and popular author won the Nobel prize for Literature in 1909  “in appreciation of the lofty idealism, vivid imagination and spiritual perception that characterize her writings”. Her works were a staple of Swedish filmmaking in the 1920s. This title was adapted from a tale in a collection of short stories. It seems that there are six other later film adaptations, including [intriguingly] a German production directed by Douglas Sirk. They would have to be very well done to surpass this version.

Lagerlof’s story is really a novella with six parts. The narrative opens in a court room where Helga, daughter of a poor family, is taking a paternity case against a wealthier famer in whose service she conceived. The case is never bought to a conclusion because, despite her determination to receive acknowledgment and support, she cannot stand by and watch the man who fathered her child commit perjury. Before the court case it appears that Helga has been the recipient of moral indignation but her unselfish act in the trial changes many attitudes among the village folk. Helga and her parents live in a croft on a hill above the village and close the forest. Here is she is visited by Gudmund, the son of a relatively affluent farmer, who was at the courthouse and was impressed with Helga’s virtuous conduct. She is offered service caring for his disabled mother.

Meanwhile Gudmund is courting Hildur, the daughter of the most affluent farmer in the village. They become engaged but Hildur, a relatively unsympathetic character, insists that Helga’s service is ended before she will marry Gudmund. Helga returns to the Marsh Croft, though she continues to work of Gudmund’s parents with washing and sewing.

Following a stag night in the city the drunken Gudmund is involved in a brawl. It appears that he may be responsible for the death of a participant. Thus Gudmund also falls from grace and is faced with a moral choice akin to that made earlier by Helga. It is the resolution of this trauma that also bring resolution to t the romantic drama.

Lagerlof’s novella is narrated in a third person, providing the dialogue of the characters but with their actions and inner thoughts described by the narrator. As the Nobel citation suggests there is a particular emphasis on the spiritual and moral aspects. But the story is also imaginative as the writer describes in detail the interior and exterior settings. The croft and it environs are especially well presented. And Lagerlöf spends time describing particular actions such as the wood chopping that both Helga and Gudmund perform.

The Swedish film version follows the plot fairly closely. However, since we watch the charterers they are far more personalised than in the written version . And the film uses only some of the narrative comments relying on performance to suggest the moods and feelings of the characters. The prejudices in the village community seem slightly starker in the film: only a select number of the inhabitants demonstrate a change of heart after Helga’s virtuous act.  The film presents particular actions as sequences in close detail as in the book: the sequences of chopping wood are important and the wedding preparations are also shown in full detail. The film does omit one interesting facet of the book: Lagerlof’s novella makes use of a traditional rural ritual involving ashes and a sense of home which is left out of the film. As with the novella the illegitimate child is rather conveniently left aside.

Sjöström with cinematographer Henrik Jaenzon makes a fine job of the filming. As is the case in Swedish cinema of the period the use of landscape is excellent, including both lakes, forests and mountains. The camera shows us both the village and its court house and the farm of the Hildur family which is effectively contrasted with that of Helga’s, high up and alongside the forest. The settings, both interior and exterior, are carefully crafted and the furnishings and objects delineate the characters. So the rich hustle and bustle of the wedding sets the scene for Gudmund’s confession. At another point a shot of Helga as she prepares the coffee for the visit by the Hildur family emphasises the social contrasts.

There is frequent deeps staging, well served by the deep focus available at the period. In one sequence Gudmund father, set back in the frame. watches his son, set forward, as he searches for an incriminating object. The Production Design by Axel Esbensen and Art Direction by Axel Esbensen enables the blending of locations and sets effectively.

Helga is played by Great Almrof, a popular and busy actress of the period. She is really convincing as the young woman with a strong moral sense and behaviour. Lars Hansen, in one of his early roles, is equally effective as Gudmund, a character who displays the impetuosity and exuberance that was the common characterisation played by Hanson. The pair were teamed together again in Maurice Stiller’s equally fine Song of the Scarlet Flower / Sången om den eldröda blomman (1919). The supporting cast are good as well. Karin Molander does well with the unsympathetic part of Hildur: we saw her again later in the week in Stiller’s Thomas Graals Best Film / Thomas Graals Bästa Film (1917).

The Catalogue entry, by Jon Wengström, noted that

‘The film was a critical and commercial success, not least in the US where more than forty prints were distributed. The “National Board of Motion Picture review” in January 1919 praised the film for its “excellent photography, unusual acting, exceptional technical handling” and its excellent moral effect”.

 

 

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The Woman Disputed, United Artists 1928.

Posted by keith1942 on September 19, 2017

The film stars Norma Talmadge as Mary Ann Wagner, the prostitute with the conventional ‘heart of gold’. She is wooed by two army officers Gilbert Roland as an Austrian Lieutenant, Paul Hartman and Arnold Kent as a Russian Captain Nika Turgenov. The scenario was adapted from a story by Guy de Maupassant, ‘Boule de Suif’. This was possibly De Maupassant’s most famous story it has had numerous adaptation on film. The French title, one version of which is ‘Dumpling’, is the name in the short story of the French prostitute. This film has changed the setting from the Franco-Prussian war of 1870 to World War I and the Austrian / Russian front. Predictably it has also changed the ending of the story.

The film was directed by Henry King and Sam Taylor [according to King] directed three scenes that were reshot, including a new ending [though I doubt they ever considered using De Maupassant’s]. . The cinematography was by Oliver Marsh. And the key member of the production was William Cameron Menzies, credited with Set Design. The film, a 35mm silent print, was screened as part of the programme of his film work at Le Giornate del Cinema Muto 2017.

Paul meets Mary in the street at night as he runs from the police. James Curtis describes the moment in the Festival Catalogue.

“Momentarily stunned, he grimaces in pain, then notices a pair of legs in a darkened doorway. The camera tilts up to reveal Mary Ann Wagner, her makeup exaggerated after the manner of a cabaret dancer, her battered hat and polka-dot blouse advertising the fact that she is open for business.”

Mary assists Paul and later contacts his friend Nika who will establish his innocence. However. Mary is questions by the police and consequently loses her rooms. So she is accommodated by Paul at his apartment. This however is chastely done. Both Paul and Nika are smitten by Mary and we see their wooing over several weeks; the most delightful scenes feature the preparation and consumption of meals. However, Mary is most attracted to Paul and their planned union is cemented by Paul presenting Mary with his mother’s wedding ring. Nika is outraged by the preference for Paul.

War erupts. The battles we see are waged over the town, Lemberg [Lvov]. When the Russian army occupy Lemberg we come to the part of the plot taken from the DE Maupassant story. In this case the Russians are searching for a spy and seize several men and Mary on the road out of town. Nika is in charge of the investigation and Mary [as in the story] is pressurised by the men, including a priest, to grant Nika’s desires. She finally succumbs.

However, retribution is swift. As the Austrians retake the town Nika is fatally wounded by a shell. Paul finds both Nika and Mary in a partially ruined church. And Nika, with his dying words, exposes Mary’s fall from grace. Paul is now devastated. However, the Austrian spy, one of the trio of hostages, is able to reveal the nature of her sacrifice. James Curtis describes this dramatic tableaux, somewhat different from that of De Maupassant.

“the final shot presenting Talmadge’s magdalen from a balcony as a grateful army kneels at her feet, an absurdist conceit made credible by the star’s soulful performance – possibly the finest of her career – and the artful culmination of a near-perfect mise-en-scene.”

Paul, of course, is among the troops and as he too kneels the promise of a fulfilled union ends the film.

As Curtis notes, this is a fine performance by Talmadge, moving from the insouciant through romance to the sacrificial. Roland is convincing as the romantic hero whilst Arnold develops from romance to malevolence with aplomb. There is a good supporting cast and the priest [one of the trio of hostages- Michael Vavitch] is especially unctuous as he sermonises Mary. The film has some excellent cinematography with occasional expressionist touches.

What does stand out is the design of the production. Curtis notes in the Catalogue;

“The extant drawings for this sequence [the encounter between Paul and |Mary] show that Menzies effectively directed it; the set-ups are virtually identical to his visualisations. The Woman Disputed is a full of complex imagery – breakfast on a balcony with the city bustling below, the attack on Lemberg, a travelling shot past the massive columns of a church interior, the battlefield crossing of an Austrian spy through the great jumble of gnarled trees and barbed wire.”

Curtis also attributes the expressionist touches to Menzies and notes that this was when Hollywood was absorbing the impact of the great German films , in particular F. W. Murnau and Karl Freund’s The Last Laugh (1924). The latter two were among those actually recruited by Hollywood from the German film industry. The film was released in both silent and sound versions, apparently both running at 24 fps. The sound version offered a musical score including a song specially written for the film, ‘Woman Disputed I Love You’. However, at Pordenone we enjoyed a piano accompaniment by Gabriel Thibaudeau, which I reckon was most likely superior. The print was just over 200 feet shorter than the original and offered English title cards.

This was the happy final 35mm feature screening before the evening event with a live orchestra, The Thief of Bagdad (DCP – 1924).

 

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Kindred of the Dust, USA 1922

Posted by keith1942 on April 9, 2017

This film was directed by Raoul Walsh and produced by the short lived R.A.Walsh Company. This was one of the businesses in which Walsh attempted independent productions before returning to Fox in the mid-twenties: he had left in 1920. The film was part of the programme at Le Giornate del Cinema Muto 2016 celebrating the Production Design of William Cameron Menzies. Walsh had recruited him from Famous Players. They were to work together again on The Thief of Bagdad (1924) with a far more lavish production budget.

The film was screened from a 35mm print from the George Eastman Museum. The print was 7,205 feet; 200 feet shorter than the original release. It was projected at 20 fps.

The scenario was an adaptation of a popular novel by Peter B. Kyne,. Kyne was a successful novelist with a number of film adaptations. The most famous was ‘Three Godfathers’ (1913) of which there to have been ten film adaptations. The famous version is that directed in 1948 by John Ford and starring John Wayne. But the most memorable version is Hells’ Heroes (1930, William Wyler) screened at the 1994 Pordenone. That occasion was memorable for the addition of a [surprise] rendition of ‘Silent Night’ for the final tear jerking moments.

Kindred of the Dust is set on the Pacific Northwest coast in logging terrain. It stars Walsh’s wife Miriam Cooper as Nan [of the Sawdust Pile]. She and Donald Mckaye (Ralph Graves) are childhood friends and remain so as adults. Donald’s father Laird of Tyee (Lionel Belmore) owns the logging company. Thus Nan and Donald’s budding relationship is inhibited by the class divide. The differences are symbolised in the film by the Mckaye mansion and Nan’s family home outside of which sits the metaphoric ‘sawdust pile’.

Donald goes east to college and Nan leaves town and works as a singer. When she returns she has an illegitimate child: sparking off the town gossips. When Donald returns these factors inhibit a new relationship. Donald’s conflict with his father leads to him working at a rival logging company. He suffers an accident and is nursed by Nan. They marry but the Laird continues his opposition: it is only when a second child, a grandchild arrives, that he, Donald and Nan are reconciled and become the ‘kindred of the dust’.

The film is full of stock melodramatic situations and actions. The romance between Nan and Donald suffers one problem after another. One notable scene concerns Donald’s return. He is embroiled in a fight with a rough neighbour of Nan’s, a black man. An unusual situation for this period.

The Catalogue review by James Curtis includes the following:

Kindred of the Dust was a real old-fashioned melodramatic story, ” wrote Miriam Cooper, “full of tough, straightforward heroines, mean, vicious villains and long-suffering heroines. My costumes in the picture tell the story, all grubby homespun and calico. After reels and reels of hardship and fighting you are convinced that nobody can ever be happy. Then, gee whiz, the heroine – me, of course – has a baby and everything turns out all right.”

It is only towards the end of the film that the narrative make use of timber industry and landscape. After his accident Donald returns as a foreman. There is an engine failure at the log slide. Donald rescues the Laird from the river, including some spectacular underwater shots. And this leads to the final reconciliation .

The film was accompanied by Gabriel Thibaudeau on the piano.

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Janko the Musician / Janko Muzykant, Poland 1930.

Posted by keith1942 on April 5, 2017

This was one of the titles in the ‘Polish Silents’ programme at Le Giornate del Cinema Muto in 2016. This was the first sound film made in Poland but the Vitaphone discs are lost, so only this silent version survives. The sound version  still relied on intertitles for dialogue and the track contained music, songs and some animal noises. The film was presented from a 35mm print 2561 meters in length; the catalogue proposed 18 fps. However the film was timed at 93 minutes and I do not think it overran by much. Moreover 18 fps for a sound/silent film seems rather slow and at that frame rate it would have run over two hours. There were a couple of discrepancies regarding frame rates for the Polish titles: I assume that on closer inspection they settled for 23 or 24 fps. The print was worn but the image quality was pretty good. There seemed to be some unintended ellipsis in the plot so I assume there were missing scenes or sequences.

The film was adapted by Ferdynand Goetel from a novella by Henryk Sienkiewicz [of ‘Quo Vadis’ fame]. In fact the script extended the original story considerably; the second part of the film was a complete addition. The director, Ryszard Ordyński, was a regular in the industry and this was his fifth title.

Janko (Stefan Rogulski) is a young village boy with a passion for music. When we first see him in the film he is making his own homemade violin. He lives with his mother (Tekla Trapszo) and he also has a pet blackbird. However, he is tempted by the sight of a professionally made violin in the mansion of the local landowner. Caught he is sent to a Correctional Institution where the boys are disciplined and made to work at making wicker chairs. This opening section is finely filmed by cinematographer Zbigniew Gniazdowski. The film has a lyrical feel, the landscapes  lovingly photographed and with some very effective pans, tracks and superimpositions. Gniazdowski uses well-placed  dissolves to take the narrative forward. Apparently the original novella was a grimmer and more realist depiction of rural life. We do see an overbearing overseer ordering women workers, including Janko’s mother. And Janko’s treatment by the landowner and magistrate is heavy handed. But we are closer to melodrama than literary realism in this film version. In the novella a whipping leads to Janko’s death, so the rest of the film is the addition.

Whilst Janko is in the Correction Centre his mother leaves the village, releasing Janko’s pet blackbird. A young man now, Janko (Witold Conti) escapes from the Correction Institution but finds his mother gone though his blackbird returns. Janko sets off to the city where the blackbird leads to his striking up a friendship with two ne’er-do well’s (Adolf Dymsza and Kazimierz Krukowski). They form a musical trio which prove a success in a local bar-cum-restaurant. Janko’s increasing popularity brings him to the attention of a Professor of music (Wieslaw Gawlikowski) and his pupil, singing star Ewa (Maria Malicka). A rival for her affections, Zaruba (Aleksander Źabczyński), attempts to eliminate Janko by accusing him of the escape from the Correction Centre. Zaruba turns out to be the landowner who was responsible for Janko’s incarceration. But Janko’s friends rally round and he is acquitted, able to end the film in partnership with Ewa.

“The second part of the film introduces the sort of characters beloved by Polish musical comedies of the 1930s: noble rogues, driven by an honourable code despite living on the edge of the law.” (Adam Uryniak in the Festival Catalogue).

He adds that these actors for these characters were part of the popular Warsaw cabaret scene.

Filming ‘Janko’

I found the second part of the film less compelling than the first. The urban setting and the studio interiors lacked the visual charm of the countryside. And whilst the whole film is melodrama, the latter stages seemed to have more stock characters and situations. However the cinematography continued to make effective use of camera movement and dissolves, though there was little superimposition.

The screening was accompanied by Günter Buchwald and Frank Bockius with piano, violin and some percussion. And they included at least one song featured in the sound version of the film.

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The Mysterious Lady, M-G-M 1928

Posted by keith1942 on December 3, 2016

mysterious_lady_04

This film provided the opening night attraction at the 35th Le Giornate del Cinema Muto. We enjoyed Greta Garbo in a fine Photoplay 35mm print. And with Carl Davis conducting the Orchestra San Marco di Pordenone playing his 1980s score for the film. A presentation fit for the nearly 1,000 film fans filling the Teatro Verdi.

Mark A. Vieira praises the film in the Festival Catalogue:

“Greta Garbo’s sixth American film provides a fine introduction to the Garbo of the silent era. It shows how silent-film technology was evolving, even as sound film encroached. it is also a landmark in the evolution of the Garbo image. In 1928 she was not remote, stately or tragic. She was vital and sexualised. The post-adolescent with the sleepy stare was creating a sensation. There had never been a vamp with a heart, a mind, and a conscience.”

The production and Garbo as lead performer are both excellent. Other aspects of the film are more conventional. The plot was developed from a novelette by Ludwig Wolff, War in the Dark. Essentially it is a war time spy story with Tania Fedorova (Garbo) torn between her Russian spy master General Boris Alexandroff (Gustav von Seyffertitz) and a young Austrian officer Captain Karl Heinrich (Conrad Nagel). M-G-M employed at least six writers over six months producing a final screen treatment. Even then the plot remains predictable and lacking the subtlety of the best spy dramas. It is clear that none of the characters have actually watched or read spy stories, otherwise they would have known what was coming and presumably avoided the perils.

Whilst Garbo is luminous Conrad Nagel is romantic but not inspiring. And his character is certainly juvenile. Leaving Vienna by train Karl is carefully warned about spies and security and he still sleeps soundly through eight hours of the train journey. You can surmise what occurs.

The romance is assisted by some of the motifs placed in the plot. So Karl first sees Tania at the Vienna Opera House during a performance of Verdi’s Tosca; setting up suggestive themes that echo later in the film. We have two border crossing with their particular associations. And all the paraphernalia of spy stories, with secret papers and pre-arranged set-ups.

The film does supply great scenes between the romantic couple. Benjamin Christensen, who worked on the script, supplied one sequence:

“Tania walks over to a, little table where she lights a candle in a beautiful old French candlestick. George [changed to Karl] is playing the piano again, but stealthily his eyes follow her. This strange adventuress seems more and more interesting to him. And the melancholia which rests upon her seems to enhance this woman’s strange charm.”

Niblo, Garbo and Nagel.

Niblo, Garbo and Nagel.

This sequence is one of the many well served by the technology and craft of the production. Mark Vieira records that:

“This career landmark [for Garbo] is seldom mentioned but it was due to a technical innovation, panchromatic film. Before this, orthochromatic film had been the standard. “Ortho” could not see red and saw too much blue; lips went dark and blue eyes turned white. Garbo was beautiful but ghost-like. “Pan” saw the full spectrum, so the black & whit image showed the actual values of the subject.”

And this technical advance was, in this film, in the hands of a fine cinematographer and Garbo’s favourite lighting cameraman:

“The improved rendering of Garbo’s skin, lips, and eyes was more than helpful; it was stunning. In scene after scene, William Daniels used pan film and incandescent lights to paint glowing images of a performer whose presence was so unusual that even co-workers had difficulty describing it.”

The great pleasure of the screening was watching scenes like the one described. The sequence in the darkened mansion set round the piano was lustrous and Garbo looked as fine as in any of her films. In fact, some in a preview audience found this over the top and some shots were cut from the final print version. So the photograph of the production set-up used on the cover of the Catalogue with Nagel, Garbo, Daniels and director Fred Niblo is a shot that is not seen in the final scene. But it does demonstrate nicely the craft of the period and the mood musicians who accompanied the stars.

mysterious_lady_05

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A Florida Enchantment USA 1914

Posted by keith1942 on May 13, 2016

florida enchantment

I saw this film as part of a programme of films titled ‘Queer Cinema Before Stonewall’ at the Film Society Lincoln Center. I had not been aware of the title before but apparently it is fairly well known. Vito Russo discusses it in The Celluloid Closet (1981). It turned out to be an entertaining and intriguing screening.

The film was directed by Sidney Drew who also starred. I had seen two of his films before at the 2014 Il Giornate del Cinema Muto, Boobley’s Baby and A Case of Eugenics (both 2015). The film is based on a C19th novel and theatrical adaptation [the latter now lost].

Lillian Travers (Edith Storey), a northern heiress takes a visit to Florida along with her fiancée Dr. Frederick Cassadene (Sydney Drew). The ‘enchantment’ arises when Lillian eats a seed that she finds in an old chest. The seed’s magical properties turn Lillian into a man, Lawrence. The film then exploits Lawrence’s actions especially ‘his’ vamping of the women in the social circle. Later in the film Lillian gives Frederick a seed and he turns into a women.

So the plot involves cross-dressing, gender and sexual re-orientation and possibly bi-sexuality. Russo makes the point that

“In both cases it’s a male view of the sexes that dominates the impersonation.”

In the lead role Edith’s cross-dressing and male impersonation is quite subtle and delightfully ironic, However, Drew’s impersonation is over-the-top and full of ‘eye-rolling’ actions.

Moreover, in the conventions of the period, Lillian’s black maid, who also undergoes a transformation, is a black-face actor, also with an amount of eye-rolling action. The full implications of these transformations are avoided with Lillian waking from a dream and all the unconventional behaviour safely tucked away. Though presumably Freud or a disciple, if they saw the film, would have had a field day of analysis.

The Giornate Catalogue for 23014 commented on Drew’s film work

‘Although they wrote and directed their films together, in interviews Drew gave his wife his wife credit for the tone of the material’.

This was Lucille McVey, his second wife, who seems to have married in July 1914. She is not credited in any source I have seen for this film except as part of the cast as ‘Mrs Sydney Drew’. However, Drew’s first wife, Gladys Rankin, also wrote plays, rewrote their vaudeville acts and worked with Drew at Vitagraph. And the writing credits include one Marguerite Bertsch. What is interesting is that all three films that I have seen feature issues that are generally seen as ‘women’s issues’: a baby, eugenics and the cross-dressing in this film. So whilst A Florida Enchantment does seem to feature a male viewpoint the basic plot tends to subversion of masculinity. It would be nice to pin down the contribution of these women.

The screening used a 16mm print which had a pretty good image. The filming was typical of the period. The settings were recognisably studio sets though there were some nice location shots. It was in the ‘second’ screen at the centre, a well appointed auditorium, spacious and comfortable. This meant however that there was no musical accompaniment and we watched the film in full silence. The film ran jus over 60 minutes. I did think that it ran slightly faster than the norm. Afterwards the manager advised me that they did not have a variable speed projector and had to run the film at 24 fps. IMDB gives the length as 1500 metres, which at 16 fps, the likely speed for that period, would give 80 odd minutes. However, I suspect that the running speed was not 24 fps as the film did not seem to be 8 fps faster. Perhaps it ran at 18 fps or 20 fps; the former is a standard setting on 16mm projectors.

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The Jew of Mestri / Der Kaufmann von Venedig Germany 1923

Posted by keith1942 on April 20, 2016

Henny Porten as The Lady of Belmont

Henny Porten as The Lady of Belmont

This film, part of the celebrations for the 400th anniversary of England’s premier playwright, was screened at the Barbican on April 10th. I have just read J. G. Ballard’s ‘High-Rise’ so I was struck by the brutalist architecture of this complex. Inside, for Screen 1 in the main building, one enters a vast cavernous hall: it feels like the sort of entertainment space one would find in Lang’s Metropolis (1926). The cinema itself is down in the lower basement. It is spacious with a notable rake and, happily, has good quality 35mm projection. The print we viewed was from the UK National Film Archive and is a copy of the version prepared for release in the USA, shorter than the original German version.

The film was directed by Peter Paul Felner who also wrote the screenplay with Pietro Aretino. The source is not Shakespeare’s play but an earlier version which was also a source for Shakespeare’s tragedy. This is a story by Giovanni Fiorentino, in his collection of tales, Il Pecorone, which appeared in 1558. Felner seems to have worked some of the Shakespearean version in to the film but judging by the characters and plot it is closer to that of Fiorentino. The opening credits is for Fiorentino’s work but there is also a reference to Shakespeare’s ‘The Merchant of Venice’. There are parts of the film that are close to the Shakespeare play and others that differ.  The characters appear to have the names used in the Fiorentino version: but the original German language titles may have been different. The collected plays include ‘The Merchant of Venice’ under the comedies, and parts of this film are played in that tenor.

The casting is variable. Henny Portman is The Lady of Belmont [Portia] and she is not exactly the type for this women who has so many suitors. She is better when disguised as the young lawyer {Balthazar] for the trial scene. Harry Liedtke is Giannetto (Bassanio) and Carl Ebert is Ansaldo (Antonio), they are passable rather than engaging. The stand-out performance is Werner Krauss as the Jew of Mestri, Mordecai. He combines the angry responses to prejudice with the growing malevolence directed especially against Ansaldo.   Lia Eibenschütz  as Rachele [Jessica, the Jew’s daughter] is also very good.

Fiorentino’s version and this film appear to provide greater emphasis on the manner in which the Jew is the subject of prejudice and mistreatment. In Shakespeare’s play Shylock is already prejudiced against Antonio. But in this version there is an important sequence when Mordecai sends his wife to collect debts owed to him by Giannetto. She finds Giannetto passing with friends, including Ansaldo. They roundly abuse her. As a consequence she suffers what appears to be a fatal heart attack. In the following sequences Mordecai mourns his wife and vows vengeance. Thus we get the Bond with Ansaldo and the ‘pound of flesh’.

There is more space devoted to his daughter Racele than in the play. She is wooed by Lorenzo (I missed his name in this version) who is something of a fancy man. Mordecai meanwhile has arranged a union with the son of a friend. So there is drama round Racele’s unwillingness to join this union.

The trial sequence is very close to that in Shakespearean’s play and it is followed by the re-union of Giannetto with The Lady of Belmont, of Ansaldo with the Lady’s assistant and confidante and of Lorenzo with Racele. We again see Mordecai in the streets, bitter and frustrated by the loss of his suit, his monies and his daughter. The final moment of the film also differs from the Shakespeare play. In a powerful final shot we get a close-up of Mordecai [an iris shot], which can be read different ways depending how you interpret Krauss’s characterisation. I tended to see this as sympathetic. The longer German version may generate a different feel

One of the cachet’s of the film is that it was filmed on location in Venice. It is well served by the excellent cinematography by Axel Graatkjær and Rudolph Maté. One thing I noted that was that the crowd scenes in the streets of Venice were running slightly faster than the rest of the print. This could have been a different cranking rate in exteriors, but it seemed quite consistent across sequences. So I think it was shot to run slightly faster in order to generate drama.

I found the trial sequence impressive. There is a volatile crowd of onlookers, who become excited and vocal. In front of this the young lawyer, Mordecai and Ansaldo play out the famous dramatic scene.

The print we enjoyed was of pretty good quality. It was projected at 19 fps, running for 78 minutes. This would be about 1700 metres. However, Wikipedia suggests that the original version was at least two reels longer, about 220 metres: IMDB has even longer at 2800 metres. It is possible as there were parts of the film that seemed undeveloped. This is true regarding the death of Mordecai’s wife, some of the street sequences, scenes on the ‘Il Ridotto’ involving the Jewish financial community, the plotting of the affair between Racele and Lorenzo and also some of the plotting around the wooing of the Lady of Belmont. It may be that what is missing includes scenes that are closer to Shakespeare.

We also enjoyed an excellent accompaniment by Stephen Horne. He likes to accompany with multi-instruments: so we had the piano keyboard and strings; a flute, an accordion, a xylophone and a hand-held harmonium.

 

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Hippodrome Festival of Silent Cinema 2016

Posted by keith1942 on March 9, 2016

This annual event runs this year from March 14th until March 20th. Among the programmed presentations are two films screening from 35 mm prints with live musical accompaniment.

On the Friday evening we have Exit Smiling Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures 1926.

Exit smiling

The film has seven reels and runs for 71 minutes. It is a comedy drama starting off in a bank with an innocent teller discharged through the machinations of his rival in romance. The film then becomes a backstage comedy with a second-rate theatrical company touring small towns, The two aspects of the plot come together in the finale. The star is Beatrice Lillie, who was already a success on London’s West End and Broadway. Lillie was successful in revues, on radio and on record. However, this was her only mainstream leading film performance. She was reckoned to have an ‘eccentric persona’. So whilst Lillie is the star she is not the romantic lead in the film. But she is its comic heart.

The film was written directed by Sam Taylor. One of his more famous films was Harold Lloyd’s Safety Last (1923). The film also enjoyed the talents of Cedric Gibbons on the set designs: a craft person whose work graced M-G-M right through the studio period. The film will also enjoy an accompaniment by Neil Brand, one of the most talented of the regular silent film musicians.

On the final Saturday there will be Stella Dallas Samuel Goldwyn, Inc. 1925.

Stella-dallas-lobby-1925

This is an eleven reel film running 110 minutes. The source is one of the great woman melodramas, originally a 1923 popular novel by Olive Higgins Prouty. It was also successful in several stage versions and later as a popular radio series. And there is a sound film version from 1937 with Barbara Stanwyck in the title role. This film features Belle Bennett as Stella. Bennett worked right through the teens and twenties including starring in  another great literary melodrama East Lynne (1925). Both films dramatised the mother who sacrifices herself for her child. Lois Moran plays the daughter, whilst the absent father is played by Ronald Coleman. He was one of the very popular romantic leads of the period.

The production team is also a stellar affair. The director was Henry King whose fine list of titles includes Tol’able David (1921). The script is by Frances Marion, whose writing included the scenario for one of the greatest woman pictures of the decade The Wind (1928). And the cinematography was by Arthur Edeson, whose most famous film was Casablanca (1942).

The film has one of the most emotional finale’s. So the accompaniment will need to match this. Fortunately this is another fine regular silent film musician Stephen Horne.

Two very fine and worthwhile screenings.

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