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The 4th Nitrate Picture Show

Posted by keith1942 on June 1, 2018

This Festival was held between May 4th and May 6th at the George Eastman Museum in upper New York State. The Eastman Museum is now one of the few places where one can see 35mm film prints on the stock that was once the standard for cinema, the flammable and luminous nitrate. The Museum’s Dryden Theatre was crowded for most of the weekend with archivists, critics and fans enjoying the distinctive image that the format offers.

Prior to the actual Festival, on the Thursday evening, we had a treat with a screening of Hamlet (1948) from a Library of Congress print. Lawrence Olivier’s film adaptation of one of Shakespeare’s major masterpieces is a fine piece of work. He and his supporting cast are excellent. The play has been cut from its original length, but Olivier is a master of adaptation. The art design and cinematography are great to watch even though the technical standards of the period were more limited than now. The sound is equally well done and includes in the opening of the drama Olivier voicing the ghost of the dead king. The print showed up well on the nitrate stock. The frequent chiaroscuro looked good and the cast and their lighting had that silvery quality found on early stock.

As in previous years the actual programme was only unveiled on the Friday morning. This is one aspect of the Festival with which I have little sympathy. So we walked into Rochester centre to wander round the excellent second-hand bookshop there [Greenwood Books]. I watch the weight of my cases before I leave England because I know I shall succumb to the temptations in an extensive film section together with a wide range of other subjects.

The afternoon included two presentations. One was the annual James Card Memorial Lecture presented by Paul C. Spehr from the Library of Congress. James Card was the first curator of film at George Eastman and founded the collection there. Appropriately Paul talked about the history of archive collection at the Library of Congress. This has been a varied and at time haphazard affair. Early films were deposited [but not uniformly] on paper prints. And these were forgotten and only saved from decay in the 1940s. Even then whilst there was a copyright acquirement on film there was not a mandatory policy of collection. It is only in the last few decades that a mandatory deposit of film has become effective. So the Library’s collection, augmented in the 1990s by that of the American Film Institute, has some great films preserved but also lacks some key titles.

I should add that I retuned from Rochester via Washington DC. The Library of Congress has a memorial Mary Pickford Theater in it’s Madison building. I was fortunate that this was in a week in which one of the archive prints was screened, 711 Ocean Drive (1951). t is a delightful but small cinema on the third floor. And, as is usually the case, we veiwed a good 35mm print.

The first set of screenings at George Eastman were short films on nitrate. The programme commerced with Symphony of a City / Människor I stad (1947). This film, directed by Arne Sucksdorff, presented a day in Stockholm and the film won the Best Short Subject (One reel) at the 1949 Academy Awards. It was the Academy Award print that we viewed. We had enjoyed a Sucksdorff film in 2017, but that was a rural and night-time drama. This was a poetic treatment of the city, very much in line with the cycle of ‘city symphonies’ of the 1920s and 1930s. The film was in good condition with a rich contrast in the black and white imagery.

Father Hubbard’s Movietone Adventures: Lost Lake (1944). The ‘glacier’ priest’ was a member of the Jesuit Order who became famous for his explorations in Alaska from the late 1920s. He was a featured in several Fox Movietone shorts, a newsreel series that began in 1928. It used the Fox Movietone optical sound-on-film system. This later episode used Cinecolor, This was a subtractive two-colour system, one of a number of processes in the early development of colour on film. In this film Father Hubbard goes looking for a lost lake under an Alaskan glacier. With his companion the priest wends his way over ice and through crevasses, the latter seemed a rather dangerous route for exploration. Cinecolor produced fair results in bright colours like red but did not re-produce the whole colour spectrum. Whilst the expedition and commentary were conventional the print itself, from the Academy Film Archive, looked vibrant.

Lowell Thomas’ Movietone Adventures: Along the Rainbow Trail (1946). Another from the C20th Century Fox series, this time in brilliant Technicolor. Lowell Thomas was a long-time broadcaster who regularly narrated Fox Movietone shorts, He was also famous for his ‘discovery of T.E. Lawrence and, later in his career, his involvement in the development of Cinerama. The film includes ‘riding’ the rapids on the San Juan River in Colorado and then a hike to an impressive natural formation known as the Rainbow Bridge. Thomas’s narration is fairly conventional for the period but the landscape, especially the great red cliffs, looks impressive in Technicolor.

Our Navy (1918) was the only silent film in the programme and it was a pleasure to hear Phil Carli providing a lively accompaniment at the piano. This George Eastman Museum print was tinted and toned and in fair condition. There were some impressive shots of Dreadnoughts at sea but essentially it was a conventional display of the US navy and the film-maker’s patriotic zeal.

Let’s Go to the Movies (1949) was the first in a series by the Academy of shorts designed to celebrate the art and craft of motion pictures: we had a later film from the series in 2017. This film celebrated Hollywood films from the 1920s to the then present. There were clips of important films and stars, all designed to impress audiences at a time when the studios were facing severe problems.

The pick of the programme was Len Lye’s Trade Tattoo (1937) in a print from the Museum of Modern Art. Only six minutes in length this is fine example of the work of this talented animator. Made for the General Post Office, officially the film was an advertisement for the role of the service in trade. In Lye’s hands it became a dazzling tapestry of colours, full of symbolism and metaphor.. Lye worked from existing film stock, turning the footage into a montage of bright coloured fragments. The sound track offered vibrant dance music from the Lecuona Cuban Band. The nitrate print was in fine condition and provided one of the highlights of the weekend.

The Friday early evening screening is traditionally a foreign language print and we were treated to an early Ingmar Bergman film, Sommarlek / Summer Interlude (1951). The US release had a changed title of ‘Illicit Interlude’, rather anachronistic: the Swedish title with ‘karlek’ suggests ”dear-play’. Much of the film presents a youthful romance in flashback. The main character, Marie (Maj-Britt Nilsson) is a star ballet dancer. Between flashbacks we see rehearsals, the ballet and post-ballet sequences of a performance of ‘Swan Lake’, [more on ‘play’). Her flashbacks concern a summer romance that ends tragically and the flashbacks are motivated by a diary record of the summer. However, the films ends with an upbeat finale in the present as Marie lays to rest the ghosts from her past. I think it is the first Bergman film with recognisable authorial narrative and characterisations. The majority of sequences were filmed in an archipelago over water and islands, and the dappled woods, sun-lit rocks and changing water hues were a real pleasure on nitrate. The print was from Kansallinen auidovisuaalinen instituutti {KAVI Finland]. The Brochure included several contemporary reviews of which my favourite was from the ‘New York Herald Tribune’:

“Some of the action and nuances of dialogue are a bit daring by American movie standards but the whole thing is played in such a frank and open-hearted manner that it never gives offence.” (Otis L. Guersey, October 27, 1954).

The late film, starting at 10 p.m. was the 1938 Holiday, directed by George Cukor for Columbia Pictures and starred Cary Grant with Katharine Hepburn. The two leads and supporting cast were good but I was not convinced by the script. The Cary Grant character, Johnny, is supposedly a free-thinking individual immune from desires for wealth and status. The original play by Philip Barry seems to have had a darker tone,

“divorcee and infidelity, chronic drunkenness, self-destructive tendencies. (Patrick McGilligan, ‘George Cukor’, 1991).

All these crises are played down with comic eccentricity. Partly for this reason I found the Grant character unconvincing. Katherine Hepburn, who had played the role of Linda on Broadway, worked better for me. The film itself is well produced in terms of design and cinematography. The print from the UCLA Film and Television Archive was reasonably good. It was also tinted in a sepia tone, a rare technical finish. And the film did look good in the screening.

Saturday morning saw only one film, The Razor’s Edge (1946). This was adapted , fairly faithfully, from a novel by Somerset Maugham.

“The novel’s title comes from a translation of a verse in the Katha Upanishad, given in the book’s epigraph as: “The sharp edge of a razor is difficult to pass over; thus the wise say the path to “enlightenment” is hard.” (Wikipedia).

The protagonist Larry has suffered a trauma through the death of a friend in World War I. He rejects the standard US pursuit of wealth and status to seek meaning in life. Along his odyssey he finds an answer in ancient Indian mystical philosophy: a point where the novel crosses over with James Hilton’s ‘Lost Horizons’. The other main character provides foils for Larry’s ruminations and values.

The film starred Tyrone Power as Larry. The protagonist suited Power’s persona, which whilst often swashbuckling is also frequently divided psychologically. I found him more convincing as a social outsider than Grant’s Johnny. His main foil is a New England snob, Elliott, who is also a Roman Catholic; played with a fine acerbic tone by Clifton Webb. Herbert Marshall was engaging as the writer (Maugham) though his commentary was much reduced from the book. The Indian visit seemed more like the Buddhist Monastery in the film of Lost Horizons (1937). But the film does retain much of Maugham’s cynical characterisation, despite the mysticism. Opposite Tyrone Power are the young Anne Baxter, Sophie  [sympathetic] and Gene Tierney as Isabel [manipulative and unsympathetic]. Tierney enjoyed some of the best sequences in the film with a character that shared some traits with Ellen in Leave Her to Heaven (1945). The film was directed by Edmund Golding, an underrated director in Hollywood. He works well with actor and made several titles with Power. And he works well with the cinematography. There are frequent finely executed tracking shots which give the film an continuing flow as years and settings change. There was also good production design and a generally suitable score. This was Gene Tierney’s fourth appearance in a Nitrate Picture Show programme; [Leave her to Heaven, Laura (1944) and Night and the City (1950). Who is the unpublicised fan at the Museum? The official explanation was given that because Tierney worked at C20th Fox she benefits from the extensive Fox Archive at UCLA. The flaw in the argument is that this well-preserved print came from the Academy film Archive.

Then lunch. This year the Museum bar was augmented by food trucks out front. Fortunately whilst there was quite an amount of rain over the weekend it was absent in the meal breaks.

After lunch we enjoyed a print from the Narodni filmy archiv in Prague, Mlhy Na Blatech / Mist of the Moors (1943). This was a rural drama on fairly conventional lines.

“One of the most important components of the film is the nature, which ceases to be a mere stage for its plot – it serves almost as an autonomous plot agent.” (Festival Brochure).

This was true. The characters did not generate much concern for me, but the landscapes certainly held one’s attention . There were sequences where these landscape, with trees, hillocks and ponds showed up well on nitrate and shots of the lake covered in mist..

There followed an early Anthony Mann western, Winchester ’73 (1950). This is not Mann’s finest work but James Stewart, displaying the psychotic side of his character that was bought out in Mann’s films, is excellent. The film manages to include a shooting completion, Indians and cavalry, a bank robbery and an exciting finale. There are some fine landscapes and at the end an intense struggle between brothers on a steep cliff. It was some years since I had seen the film and I was surprised how much ammunition was expended in this struggle. One of the pleasures of the film is a cameo by Dan Duryea as Waco Jonny Dean, smoothly villainous. The one female part, with Shelley Winter as Lola, is not well written. The print came from the Library of Congress. It looked pretty good but did suffer from some warping which affected the focus.

The day ended with a real treat, a nitrate print of the marvellous Powell and Pressburger film, The Red Shoes (1948). I remember Ken Brownlow in a broadcast comparing silent film to ballet: this sound film is a tour-de-force of movement and colour. Apart from the brilliant ballet shot with great skills by Jack Cardiff, there are the pleasures of the acting/dancing with a terrific performance as a Svengali impresario by Anton Walbrook. The print was quite worn and the shallow focus was more noticeable than I remember. But the Technicolor was vibrant and the recurring tones set off the melodrama. In fact the projection relied on two prints, partly from a George Eastman Museum print, and for the final two reels a personal copy belonging to Martin Scorsese. The rationale for the change was a slight sound problems. I did think that the final two reels were of slightly better quality.

Sunday morning is usually the slot for a film noir, a genre which, with its chiaroscuro, suits the palette of nitrate. This year we had Cry of the City, a 1948 RKO film directed by Robert Siodmak. The film’s lead was Richard Conte as petty gangster Martin Rome. He is hospitalised and trying to avoid a murder rap. His nemesis, Lieutenant Candella, is played by Victor Mature.

“The principals are two men who had the same start in life – they were both of Italian parentage, came from poor families, and lived in the same rundown district; one made easy money the wrong way, the earned a small salary and did it the hard way …” (quoted in the Festival Brochure).

This is a conventional plot line, typical for crime stories of the period. The weakness is the casting of Victor Mature as Italian/|American, which he is palpably not. However he is good as a humane cop. Conte is standout as the gangster, exuding his regular charisma. The noir elements are only partially there. We have the victim hero, the world of chaos and the flashbacks. But there is not really a femme fatale though Rome does have an obsession that leads to his doom. The black and white cinematography by Lloyd Ahern is excellent and was striking in a good nitrate print.

The afternoon film was a Soviet musical, a rarely seen genre. The director was Eisenstein’s assistant from the silent era Grigoriy Aleksandrov; he made several film in this genre; the most famous Volga – Volga (1938) was a personal favourite of Joseph Stalin. Moscow Laughs (Vesolye Rebyata, 1934) offers a plot which centres on an a musical shepherd who is mistaken for a famous visiting conductor. The film opens in Odessa and there are some well done set-ups and a fine travelling shot on a local beach. There is a splendid sequence where the animals invade a local bourgeois reception creating chaos: the sequence offers almost surreal incidents. Later the ‘conductor’ takes his orchestra to a Moscow theatre. The latter stages are rather hammy and a little clunky. This is not socialist realism: more like a embryo effort for a new genre.

“When the Muscovites produce a film which does not mention Dnieprostroy, [a reference to a major hydroelectric construction under the Planned economy], ignores the class struggle and contains no hint of editorial Marxism, it immediate becomes one of the great events ODF international cinema. “New York Times quoted in the Festival Brochure).

In fact the class struggle is in the film, but in a minor key. The review demonstrates how little comprehension US critics often bought to Soviet films. I did speculate that the chaos created by the animals in a mansion of the bourgeoisie was not only class revenge but a subtle critique of the downplaying of political struggle in socialist realism.

The print’s distinction was that the film was restored in 1958 on surviving nitrate stock, making it the most recent film on nitrate seen at the Festival. The restored print apparently followed the original closely but some of the sound track was re-dubbed. The print came from Österreichischen Filmmuseum [Austrian Film Museum] who have quite a collection of Soviet prints.

This bought us to the ‘Blind Date’ screening. With even more coyness than over the programme the title of this film is only revealed as it runs on-screen. To tantalise the audience a single still is included in the Brochure as a clue. I have consistently failed to guess any of these correctly. In fact, this year’s was a second attempt. The still had appeared in the Brochure of the 2nd Nitrate Picture Show, but not the film as it was replaced by Ramona (1928), a wonderful screening with live music by Phil, Carli. In fact, this turned out to be nearly as memorable.

There was a ripple of response when the shot/still appeared in an early scene, a hole waiting repair on an upside down curragh used by The Man of Aran, Robert Flaherty’s famous docudrama from 1934. This is an epic portrait of a small isolated community on the edge of the Atlantic. We saw the central family fighting the rough seas, fishing for giant sharks, and laying out sparse potato patches on the inhospitable terrain. This was a fine demonstration of the virtues of nitrate. The roaring seas, the glistening foam, the sun-lit cliffs and shadowed rocks all looked magnificent. It was a high quality print of a striking film. The print was gifted to the George Eastman Museum by the Flaherty estate in 1964. It would appear that this was a print that had not experienced the variable treatment in exhibition and looked really fine.

The Festival Brochure includes details of the prints including the shrinkage. It is now reckoned that nitrate prints have a longer shelf life than acetate prints, whilst comparatively digital dies in childhood. But nitrate prints do shrink over time; it is reckoned that once shrinkage reaches 1% projection becomes extremely difficult or impossible. However, Len Lye’s Trade Tattoo had a shrinkage 1.15% and looked fine when projected. This is one of the difficulties faced by the projection team who also work with Projectors that contain safety features in case of fire. So there was frequent applause for the team during the Festival. We also had digital sub-titles for several films but I thought the Museum has not yet mastered the technology as on several occasions the English titles went out of sync with the foreign dialogue. Not a serious problem.

We had a full and rewarding weekend. Next year’s Picture Show will be on May 3rd to May 5th. This means it will fall on several important birthdays, notably that of Karl Marx. I suggested that a good title for next year would be Fame is the Spur (1947), a film by the Boulting Brothers which includes a rare feature, a photograph of Marx on the wall of a Manchester bookshop. Or there is May 3rd, the birthday of Mary Astor. It would be great to have a nitrate print of The Maltese Falcon (1941) or even Red Dust (1932).

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The Nitrate Picture Show 2017

Posted by keith1942 on May 28, 2017

May 5th to 7th 2017 saw the third Nitrate Picture Show at the George Eastman Museum in New York State. Around 500 enthusiasts from all round the world turned up to see and enjoy early films in their original format. Rarely seen now because of the safety hazards, nitrate has a distinctive palette, a luminosity when light falls on objects, a distinctive contrast with chiaroscuro and a vibrancy in Technicolor. As before we enjoyed ten programmes, nine of them features. The films were introduced, mainly by the archives supplying the prints. And the George Eastman staff and projection team worked tirelessly round the clock so that the Festival ran fairly smoothly. All the films were projected in the Dryden Theatre, spacious, good sightlines, an impressive front curtain and Century projectors with safety fittings in the booth.

As in previous years the titles in the Picture Show were only released on the Friday morning. I am not sympathetic to this approach. Paolo Cherchi Usai, the director, explained that the purpose of the Festival is to watch nitrate film rather than particular titles. However, I have several friends who find this problematic; partly because they may already have seen some films and seen them in nitrate prints. In addition the quality of the prints varies, not surprisingly, since the age of these ranges from 70 years to over a 100. Apart from the wear and tear of exhibition the film suffer shrinkage; and the rate is provided in the Picture Show brochure. Still this year’s programme was worth the trip.

The opening programme on Friday afternoon offered seven short films. The earliest was a silent with piano accompaniment by Philip Carli: sadly the only silent in the programme.

In a Roman Garden    Donald MacDonald, US 1913. Museum of Modern Art, New York    Running time: 12 minutes. “This copy has 38 splices. As customary for films of the early era, each projection print was assembled by splicing together different shots. Shrinkage: 0.95%. Produced by the Powers Motion Picture Company in New York, this costume drama of religious subject is the earliest film shown so far at the Nitrate Picture Show.”

The main character Marcus, was an epicurean. He was taken with a young dancer on whom forced attentions. However, he was soon under her charms and her religion, Christian.

The film made extensive use of a lake as a setting. There was tinting extant on the print, especially blue for evenings. This was not great filmmaking but fascinating. The plot, involving decadent Romans and a Christian maiden, reminded me of the skeleton plot for The Robe.

En Kluven Värld / A Divided World, Arne Sucksdorff, Sweden 1948. Svenska Filminstitutet (Swedish Film Institute), Stockholm. Running time: 9 minutes. “Donated to the Swedish Film Institute in 2003 by a private collector, the print is in wonderful condition, with only nine splices. Shrinkage: 0.75%. Arguably the greatest by the Swedish master of shorts. Arne Sucksdorff, A Divided World is a hauntingly beautiful, poetic depiction of animal hierarchy in a forest somewhere in Sweden on a winter night.”

This was indeed a delight. I have seen Sucksdorff’s films before and he is idiosyncratic. The films at first appear as documentary but often, like this short film, they are akin to fantasy. The film presented a winter nighttimes landscape where animals, including s ferret, a rabbit, a fox and an owl searched the terrain. The depiction reached a rather macabre climax. The black and white moonlit images looked great, but this was studio rather than actual settings. The film also made good use of natural sounds with more dramatic accompanying music.

Together in the Weather George Pal, US 1946. Library of Congress, Culpeper, VA. Running time: 7 minutes. “The copy is in overall good condition. Shrinkage: 0.7% One of the most beloved (and edgiest) “Puppetoons” by the famous Academy Award–winning Hungarian-American master of stop-motion puppet animation.”

I am more familiar with George Pal’s science fiction features but in the 1940s he made a series of animated short films under the generic title ‘Puppetoons’. This title involved a romance between two animated weather vanes; as the introduction suggested the story had quite an adult feel for the 1940s. The well presented puppets looked great in Technicolor.

The Kidnapper’s Foil, Melton Barker, US 1930.. Library of Congress, Culpeper, VA. Running time: 17 minutes. “The print is generally in good condition, with twelve splices and some perforation and edge damage. Shrinkage: 0.7% A unique treasure of our shorts program, this early example of truly independent, amateur small-town filmmaking is the original that inspired Barker to travel the United States for forty years, remaking the same film with local children.”

Neither film nor print was memorable but it did seem unique: a slice of genuine ‘Americana’.

The other short films were Movies are Adventure, Jack Hively, US 1948, Academy Film Archive. Pá Ski Med Pwer Og Kari, Skiing with Per and Kari, Norway 1948, Nasjonalbiblioteket. Something You Didn’t Eat, James Algar, US 1945, Museum of Modern Art – a war time animation.

The first feature film was on Friday evening.

Bakushū/ / Early Summer, Yasujirō Ozu, Japan 1951. National Film Center, The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo. Running time: 124 minutes.

This was a fine example of Ozu’s filmmaking. It was fairly typical of his later films, though not quite as minimalists as some: there were a couple of tracking shots used. There were a lot of familiar faces both in front of and behind the camera. Setsuko Hara played the lead as Noriko Mamiya. Aficionados of Ozu tend to have an almost obsessive delight in this actress. She was excellent but I was also struck by Chikage Awashima playing her close friend and confidant Aya Tamura. Aya was less of a traditionalist and the scenes where they discussed their different situations were a delight.

The Cinematography by Yûharu Atsuta was also a delight. However, the print was slightly warped and the focus, especially when deep staging was in use, was not consistent.

Early Summer (1951)
Directed by Yasujiro Ozu
Shown: Setsuko Hara (as Noriko), Chikage Awashima (as Aya Tamura )

The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer, Irvin Reis, US 1947. Academy Film Archive, Los Angeles. Running time: 95 minutes. “The print is in very good condition, though it does have significant curl. Shrinkage: 0.6%.”

I had seen this film before. It stars Cary Grant and Myrna Loy: two fine actors who looked out of their comfort zone in this film. A teenage Shirley Temple was not in their class. The print did look good, but I wished that a better film had survived on nitrate.

Anchors Away George Sidney, US 1945. British Film Institute, London Running time: 143 minutes “Generally in good condition, the print has a few visible light to medium scratches (both emulsion and base) and slight nicks at the edges. Heavy edge wave throughout the print; perforations, however, are undamaged. Shrinkage: 0.35–0.55%.”

I was surprised to find the the film runs over two hours, it had never seemed that long. Gene Kelly dances superbly, especially with the ‘little girl dancer’ and played his usual ne.er do well character saved by the ‘good woman’. Sinatra was surprisingly innocent but has a couple of fine numbers. Dean Stockwell was no more objectionable than the average Hollywood ‘cure’ kid. José Iturbi was a better conductor than actor. And Kathryn Grayson had a great voice but it was in a different register from Kelly’s: I wondered wishfully what the film would have been like with Judy Garland. However the ‘Jerry the Mouse’ sequence was superb and technically masterful. Kelly’s films do tend to have sequences with children, presumably to humanise him. The print looked great but the second reel was slightly sploggy. Presumably the M-G-M sent a master across for the British Labs and experts there were divided if this was the print or a projection bulb. The film confirmed how good Technicolor looks on nitrate.

In the afternoon we had two Czech films.

Źhavý Jicen / Hot Throat, Jiří Lehovec, Czechoslovakia 1939. PNárodní filmový archiv (National Film Archive), Prague. Running time: 12 minutes. “The National Film Archive received this nitrate print from the estate of the film’s director in March 2004. The print is in excellent condition. Shrinkage: 1.3% An industrial short produced by Pražská železářská společnost (Prague Ironworks Company) in 1939, the film contains footage from the shorts Výroba oceli (Steel Production, 1939)—today presumed lost—and Poklady země (Treasures of the Earth, 1939), both directed by Karel Kohout.”

The introduction explained that the film was made at the time that the Third Reich was dismembering Czechoslovakia. Thus, whilst the film was overtly an industrial documentary, covertly a sub-text obliquely presented a nationalist stance. This appeared to have been achieved mainly through the music. This was extremely martial: if I had not known about its resonances I would have been puzzled as to the significance.

Seréna / The Strike, Karel Steklý, Czechoslovakia 1947. Národní filmový archiv (National Film Archive), Prague. Running time: 77 minutes. “The print is in very good condition. It was deposited with the National Film Archive at some point before 1952, and is probably the print of Siréna that was screened in 1947 at the 8th Venice International Film Festival where the film won the Grand International Award. Shrinkage: 0.8–0.95%”. “a dignified and an even more brilliant counterpart, with its proletarian story about the working-class Hudcový family. It is an intense, extensively detailed, and often riveting picture about the bitter cycle of existence for the poor, a picture of misery and grief, warmed only by the rays of human love and hardened by the hate that compels one to clench their fists and come to blows—perhaps even wrongly.” – Jan Žalman, Kino, May 9, 1947.”

This was a powerful depiction of a C19th strike with on one side the working class mining community and on the other the bourgeois owners and their lackeys among the government and military elites. The brochure drew a comparison with the British The Stars Look Down (1940). I thought this misplaced. The British film is a melodrama which focuses on a working class leader, played by Michael Redgrave. This film was much closer to the slightly earlier German film Die Weber / The Weavers (1927), an adaptation of a play from 1892. Both films dramatically present the exploitation and concurrent oppression of the workers. In both cases a strike leads to confrontation with the authorities, violence and the wreaking of the bourgeois mansion. This version presented the confrontations with dramatic flair and powerful cuts as the conflict developed.

Phantom of the Opera Arthur Lubin, US 1943. Print from David W. Packard. Running time: 92 minutes. “Occasional curling and brittleness throughout the print. Despite the overall stiffness of the base, the copy has an excellent look on the screen, with saturated colors and minimal scratches. Shrinkage: 0.65–0.75%. “Phantom of the Opera” is far more of a musical than a chiller, though  this element is not to be altogether discounted, and holds novelty appeal.”

The film certainly lacked the disturbing and scary features of the earlier version: only the more recent musical (2004) is inferior. The film makes use of a number of operatic [or operetta] sequences, but these were rather flat. Claude Rains in the title role had some promising scenes but was never properly exploited. And the romantic hero and Police Inspector were played more for laughs than frights. It did, though, look great. The Technicolor was vibrant and the contrast, especially in the sequences below the Opera House, was excellent.

In the evening we enjoyed a special treat

Alexsandr Nevskij / Alexander Nevsky, Sergei M. Eisenstein and Dmitriy Vasilev, Soviet Union 1938. Österreichisches Filmmuseum (Austrian Film Museum), Vienna. Running time: 108 minutes “At some point in the 1960s, this became the 324th print to enter the collection of the Austrian Film Museum, likely a donation of the Soviet embassy in Vienna. The print is in excellent condition. Shrinkage: 0.8–1%. “In Nevsky, the white robes of the Teuton Ritter were associated with the themes of cruelty, oppression and death, while the color of black, attached to the Russian warriors, conveyed the positive themes of heroism and patriotism.” (Sergei Eisenstein, ‘The Film Sense’, 1942).”

The Introduction suggested ‘Socialist realism’, for me a complete misnomer. Whilst the film falls into the period when that form was dominant the film is not realist, and whilst there are convertional characters their treatment transforms them. The film is famous for the battle on the ice at the climax, but all the way through the nitrate print added luminosity to the armour and the decoration, and finally the ice bound, lake. Eduard Tisse’s cinematography was, as ever, magnificent. And the film enjoyed a pioneering score by Sergei Prokofiev, though, unfortunately, the aged soundtrack did not do this full justice,

I was pleased to see that the Brochure added a note of approval by Uncle Joe:

“It is necessary to show historical figures correctly and strongly. You directed Alexander Nevskij. It came out very well. The most important thing is to maintain the style of the historical period.” – Joseph Stalin in conversation with Sergei Eisenstein, Moscow, February 1947.”

Before the closed we had another short film. A warning about its content reduced the audience, presumably including vegetarians and vegans and those with sensitive stomachs.

Le Sang des bêtes / Blood of the Beasts, Georges Franju, France 1949. La Cinémathèque française, Paris. Running time: 22 minutes.  “Donated to La Cinémathèque française by André Joseph, editor and first assistant of Georges Franju, cofounder of the Cinémathèque, the print is in great shape, with very few scratches or splices. Shrinkage: 0.6%. A haunting documentary classic that details the daily operations of Paris slaughterhouses.”

One of the outstanding documentaries, though it makes no concessions to ‘good taste’ or audience sensibilities. This shocking approach is part of the film’s project. Not a great print but it looked fine.

Ironically this screening was followed by the reception provided by the Museum for the guests at the Picture Show. There was a plentiful supply of meats on offer including beef, but not [as far as I could tell] horse meat.

Night and the City, Jules Dassin, UK/US 1950. UCLA Film and Television Archive, Los Angeles. Running time: 111 minutes. “This very special pre-release print of the noir classic runs ten minutes longer than the UK cut and a full fifteen minutes longer than the most widely known US cut. The print is in excellent condition. Shrinkage: 0.9–1.15%.”

This is a noir classic and contains some fine location shooting in London by Max Greene. The art direction for the interiors and sets was skilfully done by C. P. Norman. And the editing by Nick de Maggio and Sidney Stone was fluid and keeps the pace of the film tight. Jules Dassin orchestrated this team with fine direction. The same applied to the cast. Richard Widmark gave a standout performance as Harry Fabian, verbose and flashy but vulnerable and ultimately tragic. The supporting cast was a sheer pleasure: Googie Withers (Helen Nosseross) was hard and cynical whilst husband Francis L. Sullivan (Philip Nosseross) was weak under the calculating bonhomie; Herbert Lom as a wrestling impresario Kristo was impressively threatening and Stanislaus Zbyszko   completely convincing as a classic Greek wrestler Gregorius. Smaller parts were equally well played, as, for example by Maureen Delaney  as Anna O’Leary , a sympathetic black-marketer.  Then there was Gene Tierney (Mary Bristol). Someone at George Eastman is obviously a fan; we have had one of her movies in each of the three Picture Shows, previously Laura in 2016 and Leave Her to Heaven in 2015.

The longer print was intriguing though the additional footage was not obvious. My New York friend reckoned that the final wrestling match was shorter in the US version. As far as the UK version goes I thought there were possibly a couple of extra lines of dialogue, otherwise difficult to tell. But it was a sharp print. The chiaroscuro looked great and the London scenes, especially along the river, were worth a trip to see.

 Spellbound, Alfred Hitchcock, UK 1945. Library of Congress, Culpeper, VA. Running time: 111 minutes.”This print was submitted for copyright deposit at the Library of Congress by David O. Selznick. It includes a very special effect at the end of the film—blink and you will miss it! There is very little scratching, and the black-and-white emulsion has retained all of its luster. Shrinkage: 0.5–0.6%.      “This writer has had little traffic with practitioners of psychiatry or with the twilight abstractions of their science, so we are not in a position to say whether Ingrid Bergman, who plays one in her latest film, Spellbound, is typical of such professionals or whether the methods she employs would yield results. But this we can say with due authority: if all psychiatrists are as charming as she—and if their attentions to all their patients are as fruitful as hers are to Gregory Peck, who plays a victim of amnesia in this fine film which came to the Astor yesterday—then psychiatry deserves such popularity as this picture most certainly will enjoy. For Miss Bergman and her brand of treatment, so beautifully demonstrated here, is a guaranteed cure for what ails you, just as much as it is for Mr. Peck.”

Seventy years on these psycho-analysts has little in common with that proposed by Sigmund Freud. But Ingrid Bergman is captivating. Whilst Gregory Peck tends to the wooden, in this case, as an amnesiac, it works well. There is a delightful supporting role with Michael Chekhov as Dr. Alexander Brulov. And the most realistic exit from an elevator you could hope to see.

The standout sequence is that designed for the film by Salvador Dali, though it demonstrates why he was not a fully-paid up Surrealist. The ‘special effect’ at the end was a shot in Technicolor. This nicely rounded off the print. Though its visual qualities did not show off nitrate’s characteristics to full effect. there were some fine close-ups of Ingrid Bergman, but no tear to match the much talk-about drop in Casablanca screened in  2015.

So to the final film and the ‘Blind Date’ of the Festival. This screening is kept secret till the audience see the opening credits of the film. The Brochure contained a single still, a puzzle to ponder over from Friday to Sunday. Our little group narrowed it down to 1940s European; variously German, Italian or French. The shot contains cobbles and a drain, not objects in which we had many cinematic references. We were only warm, the title emerged as Finnish.

Lovoton Veri / Restless Blood , Teuvo Tulio, Finland 1946. KAVI, Kansallinen audiovisuaalinen instituutti. (National Audiovisual institute) Helsinki. Runing time: 91 minutes.            “Opinions on Restless Blood are quite abruptly divided…”

My sense of the audience was that the division in the Dryden Theatre was between people who found it slightly amusing or interesting and a [possibly] larger number who were baffled by why the film was selected. It is basically a melodrama involving family and sexual relationships, with the film dominated by the star Regina Linnanheimo as Sylvi: an impressively over-wrought performance. The script was not well judged and the technical aspects offered low production values and some really skimpy cinematography: some of the close-ups were seriously inadequate.

In his introduction to the film, avoiding any hard information, Paolo Cherchi Usai suggested we were about to see an ‘auteur’ who has been overlooked and forgotten and needed to be re-discovered. This was auteur not in the usual sense of familiar style and themes but ‘auteur’ in the sense of an obsessive focus on certain characters and situations. A friend who has seen some films directed by Tulio in the 1930s thought those were better; this title did not inspire me to find out.

I think this demonstrates the problem with ‘secret’ programmes. The reliance on other’s tastes and criteria. Happily most of the programme justified that, this film was an unfortunate exception.

Alongside the screening there were several illustrated talks.

‘Motion Picture Show on a 1905 Projector’.

This was a 35mm print run through a 1905 Lubin machine from the Archive. The print was hand-cranked and the exhibition was really interesting. It was not, given the guests were filing round to look at the projection closely, a nitrate print. it was an Edison short, The Land Beyond Sunset from 1912. I had seen this film before, at my first ever visit to Le Giornate del Cinema Muto. However, I would have liked to be able to have sat down and watched the whole film: maybe in future such an event could end with a re-screening of the print?

We also had ‘Keepers of the Frame’: Hisashi Okajima from the National Film Center in Japan. He has a long involvement in this key archive. He talked about his experiences and the ravages that have destroyed much of the Japanese film heritage. These included the earthquake in 1923, fire bombing in World War II and then a fire in the archive in 1986.

Alexander Horwath gave ‘The James Card Memorial Lecture’. He is director of the Ősterreichisches Filmmuseum [Austrian Film Museum]. Quoting from Walter Benjamin he talked about film as a ‘heritage’, emphasising the act of projection and viewing as the focal centre. He also offered two short films on nitrate: ‘Death Mills’ produced in 1945 by the victorious allies for screening to German civilians. This was footage, mainly of the death camps, that presented the Holocaust in direct and bleak images. it seemed to contain some of the footage that was also sued in Resnais. masterly Night and Fog (Nuit et brouillard 1956). The second was Rouen, martyre d’une cité (1945). The latter showed the wartime damage to the city. The contrasts between the films was emphatic, though I had reservations about the comments on this contrast. I think there is a discussion to b had about audiences, images and values in these examples.

There was also a documentary on archive work on the Thursday evening: I missed this having an early night. But apparently in the discussion people were using the terms – ‘film’, i.e. nitrate and acetate; and ‘file, i.e. digital. This seems to me a really useful distinction but I doubt the industry could be persuaded to take it on board.

Overall a very worthwhile weekend. Some fine movies, some really fine prints, and an opportunity to see something that is becoming another vanishing species: not because it is ephemeral, having a far longer shelf life than digital, but through lack of attention in the industry. There is debate about the issue of shrinkage. This year’s highest ratio was Night and the City, at 1.5%: this was the outstanding print of the Festival. Shrinkage presumably creates projection difficulties but the prints can still look great. There was a recurring focus problem on one projector, slight but affecting the depth of field.

Next year’s Picture Show will be on May 4th to 6th. This means that once more the opportunity arises of celebrating the birthdays of Max Ophuls and Orson Welles with a print; I gather the organisers are looking, especially for Orson’s.

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