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Posts Tagged ‘Il Cinema Ritrovato’

The President/ Præsidenten, Denmark 1919

Posted by keith1942 on September 12, 2019

Screened at the 2019 Il Cinema Ritrovato, The Catalogue places this film in the programme of 1919; one of the titles already familiar to many in the audience.

“1919 was the year of the directorial debut of the man who was to become the greatest international name in Danish cinema.  Carl Th. Dreyer had worked for Nordisk Films Kompagni for six years, first as a script consultant and writer of intertitles, then as a scriptwriter. He had worked on some 20 projects and had also tried his hand at editing.” (Dan Nisen).

After this apprenticeship Dreyer had many of the skills required to take up direction with this his first feature. Dreyer adapted the story from a novel by the Austrian  writer Karl Emil Franzos. Nissen explains that,

“Dreyer had worked on the script  and had cut away all the political and social material from the novel, which dealt quite  a lot with class structure and the political situation in Austria.”

The former aspect means the film is predominantly a personal drama. I found the plotting rather more conventional than the later features by Dreyer. But the design, visualisation and performances are of the same recognisable quality.

“What interested Dreyer was the story of three men of different generations, failing to fulfil their responsibility toward women of a different class, bearing their children.”

The film opens with Karl Victor (Halvard Hoff) and his farther Victor von Sendlingen (Elith Pio). They are at the gates of a ruined castle, once the domain of the Sendlingen family. The father tells his son;

“I die a wretch.”

In a flashback he explains how his own father made him marry a r girl whom he had made pregnant.

“no good ever comes from such an alliance.”

and he makes his son swear never to marry a commoner.

The films now moves forward three decades and Karl Victor is the President [senior judge] of the town tribunal. He is highly respected. This is demonstrated by a celebration I have never seen awarded a judge on film; the town people march in a torch lit procession to the unveiling of a bronze head of Karl Victor. His best friend is a lawyer, Berger. To Him Victor confesses that he cannot try an upcoming case because the accused is his illegitimate daughter, Victorine. He fathered her in a relationship with the governess of the children of his uncle. When he proposed to marry the pregnant young woman his uncle reminded him of the oath extracted by his father. Later, as a young woman, Victorine worked as a governess and was herself seduced by the young son of the family. She is now on trial because her baby died and she is accused of infanticide.

Berger unsuccessfully defends Victorine. Under sentence of death she is secretly released by Victor who flees the town with his daughter and two faithful servants. Three years later Berger comes across Victor, now under an assumed name.

Victorine is to be married. After the wedding Victor returns to his old t won and offers himself for trial. His successor refuses the offer on the grounds that it would undermine faith in the judiciary. Returning to the ruined family castle Victor jumps / falls to his death.

I have e not read the original novel but the plot presented by Dreyer is interesting among other ways in comparison with the film by Alfred Hitchcock from 1929, The Manxman. This film was adapted from a novel by Hall Caine. There are quite a few differences in the plot from the Dreyer work, but it shares the situation of a young woman on trial for infanticide and with the judge the man involved in her pregnancy and situation. The Hitchcock goes for the full-blooded melodrama of a confrontation in the court room. Dreyer, by contrast, adopts a far more restrained presentation, with the secretive escape. The Manxman’s sequence take place in the full light and public glare of the court room. The Dreyer has the quartet, surreptitious leaving by night, in scenes full of shadows and dark corners.

This seems to me to fit into the characteristics way that Dreyer treats people and their situations. He focuses on the way that people face the contradictions of life, often with an intensity rarely found d in cinema. Præsidenten is an early film and does not achieve the intensity of later works by Dreyer. I thought at times that the narrative was treated in  rather conventional manner. In an early scene a young woman plays with a puppy and a kitten. This trope appears later in the film. And the mise en scene is often not as sparse as in later films. I did find that the opening and closing sequence at the ruined castle had the power that Dreyer develops  as he grows more experienced.

The screening presented a restoration which had used newly discovered records of the tinting and toning for the film. This was a fine 35mm print and the tinting and ton tinting was very well done; avoiding the over-saturation that sometimes mars modern examples of the technique. And the film benefited from a  fine and lyrical accompaniment by Gabriel Thibaudeau. The opening, as we encounter the ruin for the first time, struck a fine, plaintive tone.

 

 

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Twin Kiddies, USA 1916.

Posted by keith1942 on August 25, 2019

Fay, Grandfather and son

This film was screened in ‘Soul and Craft: A Portrait of Henry King’ at the Il Cinema Ritrovato 2019. King started out as an ac tor in Hollywood in 1913. He progressed to director and worked on over 100 films up until his last in 1962. For most of his career he was based at the Fox Studio. Many of his best films fir into the category of ‘Americana’ and he was adept at portraying typical figures from US culture and storytelling. He generally retained supervision over the editing of the productions so that most of his films are what we would today term ‘director’s cuts’.

This title has a fairly conventional situation: two children who look identical leading to adults mistaking one for the other. The two children are Bessie and Fay, both played by Marie Osborne. We first meet Fay, the young child of the Van Loan household. This is an affluent house hold in a large mansion with a team of servants. The head of the household is William Van Loan (Daniel Gilfether) who is the owner of the Powhatan mine and who lives with his adult son Baxter (R. Henry Grey), father of Fay. She is a spoilt child and neither the family nor her governess (Mignon le Brun) exercise much control over her. We see her playing with her pet dog and irritating both family and servants. Her sympathetic friends are her grandfather and the butler, Spencer (Edward Jobson).

Bessie is the daughter of Jasper Hunt [Henry King himself]. He appears to be a widower and the household and Bessie are cared for by the housekeeper Mrs Flannigan (Ruth Lackaye). Jasper is the manager at the Powhatan mine and we learn that there is a dispute between the workers and the overseers over an insufficiency of roof props in one mine shaft.

Van Loan senior visits the  Mine with his family. Fay is taken by her governess to an open-air site with a lake. It is here that Fay and Bessie meet and in their games change dresses. Mistakenly each child is taken back to the wrong household. Somewhat implausibly neither household notices the mistake, not even Spencer or Mrs Flannigan. Jasper and Mrs Flannigan think that Bessie [Fay[] is ill. The Van Loan household are puzzled by Fay’s [Bessie]

“sweetness and obedience.”

The discovery of the truth coincides with the collapse of the suspect tunnel at the mine. The children and families are re-united. It emerges that the two girls are twins, separated due to an arranged marriage; a frequent plot device in early cinema. So Bessie gets a sister and a new doll: Fay becomes a well-behaved child: and Jasper is promoted to manager: [I think either my notes or a title here or earlier was in error].

Marie Osborne is excellent as the two young girls. She is reckoned to be Hollywood’s first child star and successfully made 29 films up until 1919. She had a later minor career as an adult. The cinematography by William Beckway is fine and there is some good use of exterior locations. The common change in mid-shots to ‘close-ups] is by use of an iris. The film is well edited and the cutting between the two families, the two homes and the mine works well. The plot is fairly conventional and the sub-plot relating to the mine is not really integrated into the story line. Perhaps the producers wanted to pad the story out into a four reeler.

The print was of  fair quality. The production company Balboa Amusement sold out toe Pathé and we had a French Cinémathèque print with Desmet colour for the tinting; [one exterior scene set in the evening had green tinting].  Maud Nelissen provided a suitable, at time chirpy, accompaniment.

 

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The Story of a Boy / Historien om en gut, Norway 1919

Posted by keith1942 on August 20, 2019

An attempt by Esben to escape

This film was part of ‘A Hundred Years Ago: 1919’ at Il Cinema Ritrovato and in a Chapter entitled ‘Independent Cinema’. This rare term in relation to early cinema referred to

“showing film from countries that were not the key players in silent film production in 1919.” (Karl Wratschko in the Festival Catalogue).

So whilst Scandinavia was one of the most impressive sites of film-making at this time Norway was not in the forefront. The introductory talk mentioned only ten productions in the territory in this decade.

The Catalogue notes also note that

“Most of the time independent films were obliged to work with a limited budget, which often meant shooting outdoors. In those movies actors are recorded on location in a frame filled with natural details and snippets from daily life.”

This title is a good example of both of these comments. However, it only survived in an incomplete form. The version screened was 987 meters which gave 54 minutes at 16 fps. It is reckoned that about a third of the original film is missing, something like 500 meters; about 30 minutes.

However, the truncated version made narrative sense with sufficient inter-titles and presented a seemingly complete story.

The film opens with a title card,

“Wrongfully convicted.”

Esben is a thirteen year old boy. We see him first at home at breakfast time in what seems to be a substantial middle-class household which includes servants. Then he  is involved in a fight at school. His opponent, the ‘prankster’, seeks revenge by stealing the watch of the class teacher and secreting it in  Esben coat.

Questioned by the Principal Esben denies the accusation. But when the teacher uses his cane,

“An excellent educational method”

Esben confesses. Fearful of the consequences, instead of going home Esben sells his school books  in a shop, and some of his school clothes in a second-hand store. He takes  a skiff on the river and then sneaks on board a sailing vessel. Meanwhile his parents discover his absence and the accusation of theft. Whilst the mother wants to find her son the father brandishes a whip with which

“he will teach him a lesson.”

Esben hides in the hold but, ill from malnutrition, he is discovered by the crew. The Captain of the brig. Bella Rosa, has already established his character when we see him alone in his cabin drinking. He decides Esben will serve punishment through working and immediately sends Esben up into the rigging. Esben falls and is only saved by a sympathetic sailor.

Back at the school another boy has exposed the lies and theft of the prankster. The principal and the parents learn how Esben sold his possessions. The mother distraught faints.

Esben is able to escape from the brig and lands on shore. He survives on the countryside and then at a farm gets work for ‘bed and breakfast’. His task is minding the goats. The daughter of the farm becomes friendly with Esben but when a goat is lost Esben is summarily sacked.

Meanwhile we see Esben’s school mates reading of his being missing in a newspaper. The father offers  reward; we see him in his office, obviously a professional of some standing. The reward leads to a stranger attempting to obtain money with false information.

Esben’s next adventure is in a logging yard where he narrowly escapes attack by the guard dogs. However, in escaping, he falls in with a criminal gang who propose to train him a s pickpocket. When he escapes from here they pursue him and there is a long chase over gardens, walls, rocks and a river. Esben is then rescued by a group of Boy Scouts who also assist the police in arresting the gang. So Esben returns home in the uniform of the Boy Scouts. He is embraced by his mother and then by the father, who relents from punishment.

The narrative of a boy unjustly accused and running away is familiar and conventional. This does have distinctive features like the selling of the boy’s school books and the positive role played by the Boy Scouts. The latter presumably represent certain values; the movement was only a decade or so old and inculcated fairly traditional values among young men. It also offered a particular feel for nature and the great outdoors.

The film combines studio sets and natural locations. The former, as in the ship’s hold, are rather obvious. The latter provide that sense of natural place and detail noted by the Catalogue. The cinematographer, Carl Alex Söderström, worked on three productions by the director and here makes effective use of the countryside.

The director, Peter Lykke-Seest, was a writer of fiction and poetry. He started writing film scripts in the 1911, for film-makers in both Denmark and Sweden. In all he wrote 21 screenplays, some directed by prestigious names such as August Blom, Victor Sjöström and Maurice Stiller. In 1916 he set up the film company Christiania Film Co. with a studio in Oslo. He produced  nine films up until 1919 both writing and directing most of the titles.  This is the title is the only one to survive. Like two others in the series the protagonist is a child and here played by the director’s son, Esben.

So this was a film worth catching with a reasonably good print, an interesting introduction by Erik Frisvold Hanssen of the Library of Norway and a good accompaniment by Donald Sosin.

 

 

 

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

Posted by keith1942 on August 6, 2019

Savina, Paolo, Marta, Luciano

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Her husband is a terrible Othello.”

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

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

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Early film screenings in 2018

Posted by keith1942 on January 3, 2019

Brüder, Deutschland 1929, Regie: Werner Hochbaum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Maharajah’s Favourite Wife / Maharadjaehens Yndlingshustru, Denmark 1917

Posted by keith1942 on September 6, 2018

This title was included among the 35mm screenings at Il Cinema Ritrovato 2017: in the Chapter headed ‘Dark and Strangers’. In its year of release the film was a ‘crash box-office hit’.

In early 1917 ‘Paimann’s Weekly Film-Lists’ warmly recommended to its subscribers, the cinema owners of Austria, to book Robert Dinesen’s latest film: “The story is gripping and highly dramatic; the acting and photography are excellent, the sets lavish and the harem scenes first-rate.”” (Marianne Lewinsky in the Festival Catalogue).

The film is conventional for the time in many ways. The cinematography tends to offer long shot and medium shots [American shot]. The editing provides straightforward linear development and scenes are relatively short as one follows another. The sequences are constructed around the intertitles which provides much of the plot information. But the film is unconventional in the way it develops a story that is the product of European Orientalism. The film was adapted from a novel. I have not found any references to this so I am unsure how closely the film follows the original source.

The film opens with Elly (Lilly Jacobsson) and her family staying at a seaside resort. She is accompanied by her admirer Kuno von Falkenberg (Carlo Wieth), a naval captain. They meet the Maharajah (Gunnar Tolnaes). He is the embodiment of Orientalist representation,. Dressed in a western variant of Indian costume [similar to some worn by Rudolf Valentino), and resides in an apartment lavish with jewels and decorations. Elly is immediately struck as is the Maharajah. He sends via his servant, ( an oriental stereotype) a present of a book,. ‘One Thousand and One Nights’. Elly meets in him a garden pavilion at night and they plan to elope. This is effected next day by Elly going out alone in a skiff. The currents threaten her but the Maharajah sends his servant to rescue her and the couple elope.

Arriving in the Maharajah’s home state Elly is disconcerted when she becomes a member of the harem, peopled with attractive and scantily clad women. Later the Maharajah orders,

Bring my favourite wife here.’

And following an ellipsis Elly receives jewels and special treatment in the harem, though this excites the jealousy of the other wives. Later, unhappy in her situation, she rejects the gift of more jewels from the Maharajah and pleads,

Set me free.’

Meanwhile Kuno, still carrying Elly’s photograph in his pocket, is ordered aboard the cruiser Neptune and to India. Co-incidentally the ship stops at the port near the Maharajah’s palace and he invites the officers to his palace. Once there, to impress them he orders,

Gentlemen …. My harem where no European has ever set foot’.

And then,

Send for my favourite wife’.

Kuno realises the situation and later, in private, Kuno claims that the Maharajah

stole that woman.’

Surprisingly the Maharajah responds by offering Elly a free choice, opening his safe and showing her all his jewels, the alternative to leaving.

Later Elly leaves at night. The Maharajah has ordered his servants that if she is wearing European clothes she must be allowed to pass. As Elly nears the water and the waiting Kuno, she sees a figure draped in white. It is the Maharajah holding a dagger with which to end his life. Elly, overcomes, chooses to remain and they embrace and return to the Palace,.Kuno leaves.

Since the film included so many conventional tropes from Orientalist dramas I was really surprised when Elly changed her mind. This sequences is intensely dramatic and produces what is [in contemporary terms] a fairly subversive ending. The film plays with stereotypes that are presumed to appeal to a female audience; stereotypes that fuelled Valentino’s stardom. Mariann comments in the Catalogue:

“Miscegenation goes unpunished in this film, contrary to the racist US productions in a similar vein: …. (…. it seems no problem that The Sheik, 1921, is a rapist, after it is revealed that he is white after all).”

We had a 35mm print from the Danske Filminstitut in good condition; and the intertitles had an English translation. And Neil Brand provided a suitable accompaniment on the piano, which included the dance provided as entertainment for the Officers at the palace.

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Pina Menichelli , ‘The apogee of the Diva film’.

Posted by keith1942 on August 10, 2018

Two films starring Pina Menichelli were screened at the 2018 Il Cinema Ritrovato where we enjoyed this programme which included films and extracts also featuring Francesca Bertini and Lyda Borelli.

Pina Menichelli was born in Sicily into a theatrical family and started out in a stage career. She started in films in 1913 at the Roman studio of Società Italiana Cines. She achieved stardom in 1915 with the director Giovanni Pastrone in The Fire (1915, Il fuoco) for Itala. She became a popular actor both at home and abroad and her persona came embody the idea of the femme fatale. In 1919 she moved to Rinascimento Films and remained popular, despite the decline in the diva genre, until her retirement in 1924.

As is the case with other Italian films and other diva films, many are lost. We enjoyed two, an incomplete one-reel film and an incomplete feature, originally of 1800 metres.

The shorter film was from 1915, though there were not complete details. The Uncontrollable / Das Unbezwingliche was possibly a title made for Cines. It presented, alongside Menichelli, Augusto Poggioli (Mirko) and Roggiero Barni (Vilna). Both these actors also appeared in a film with Lyda Borelli in this period. The film might be the same as a title Adrift / Alla deriva from Cines, which could fit the plot and is listed with all three in the cast.

Pina is a gypsy who is an outsider in a hamlet or village. Near the opening we see her involved in a fight with another woman and the village women set upon her. She leaves with her brother, who is only seen briefly. She arrives at the estate of Vilna where she is taken on but it would seem soon ascends from servant to mistress. She comes into conflict with the steward Mirko, who both disapproves of her but he also worries about the effect on his master. Vilna seems to have a heart problem or other serious ailment. Pina’s ‘uncontrollable’ behaviour upsets him and he finally succumbs. We last see Pina once more ‘adrift’ in the countryside. Menichelli’s passionate portrayal occasions the comment ,

“She swallows flower because it is the most natural way to celebrate them. When eating an apple, she rubs it against her cheek like the caress of a lover.” (Andrea Menghelli in the Festival Catalogue).

The film follows the common conventions of the period but there are quite a number of mid-shots and close-ups of Pina. Menichelli is very effective as the truculent outsider but also as a peasant fatale. The film runs for eleven minutes, presumably at 16 fps. There are clearly missing shots but the bulk of the plot survives. The film, copied onto a DCP, had German titles with English translation.

The feature-length film was an Itala production and directed by Gero Zambuto with some input from Giovanni Pastrone. The film was adapted from a prose piece in three acts by the prolific French author Alexandre Dumas.

“At the end of World War 1, Itala Film adapted Dumas’ story, keeping the patriotic theme in the background to create a stage for the actress’s dramatic uninhibited ‘Menichelli’ mannerisms.” (Claudia Gianetto in the Festival Catalogue).

The film seems to follow the original plot but the emphasis has shifted. In the Dumas the central drama concerns an invention by Claude Ripert of

‘a vehicle able to exterminate in a few minutes thousands of men’. [plot summary].

In the film it is the infidelities of Cesarina (Menichelli) the wife of Claudio (Vittorio Rossi-Pianelli). The film opens at a party where Cesarina playfully provokes her circle of admirers. But Claudio is not only an inventor, he is a staid and moral husband. As the film progresses more and more of Cesarina’s infidelity come to light. There is an abandoned child, housed with a working class family, to whom Claudio gives support; though the child dies. There is a possible abortion. And late in the film Cesarina is planning to flee the marriage with a .lover. Menichelli is magnificently immoral. Man are their for her satisfaction. She treats her husband with contempt but when necessary vamps him.

This last occurs when Cesarina’s latest lover is actually in the pay of a circle of foreign agents trying to steal Claudio’s invention. Cesarina is pressurised into attempting to steal the plans of the weapon, which Claudio claims

“aims to destroy war!”

Cesarina now vamps Claudio’s close friend and apprentice Antonino (Alberto Nepoti). Despite Claudio’s warnings Cesarina succeed. But, whilst stealing the plans from the safe,

“Cesarina is betrayed and unmasked by the light of a ‘damned moon’.: then Claudio stops her with a gunshot. Menichelli rewards us with a textbook ending; mortally wounded, she grasps the curtains sensuously before falling to the floor enveloped in their folds, as if wrapped in a funeral shroud.” (Festival Catalogue).

In fact this is not quite the ending. We see Claudio with Antonio return to the workshop, replace the rifle he used to shoot Cesarina, and apparently happily continuing with their research. Even by the standards of the conventional nemesis of an unfaithful wife this seems extreme. It would appear to be fuelled by the power of Menichelli’s portrayal of the amoral but passionate woman,

The film suffers from censorship: something that dogged a number of Menichelli films.

“In 1918 La moglie de Claudio (Claudio’s wife) was banned from cinemas b y the Italian Censorship Board because Menichelli was “troppo … affascinante!” (too fascinating!) in the film.”(from Redi, Riccardo (1999). Cinema Muto Italiano (1896-1930)).

Menichelli’s performance is powerful and is it emphasised by the frequent use of close-ups as she toys with the male characters. Our first look at Cesarina follows a dissolve from a spider; summing up her persona in one shot. At another point, after Claudio confronts her infidelity, Cesarina gloats,

“He didn’t even beat me.”

There is also a sub-plot, retained from the original.

“two characters, a Jew named Daniel, who has fixed idea to reclaim Jerusalem for his people, and the daughter of Daniel, Rebecca, a sort of mystical visionary .” [plot summary].

This seems to be an early example of Zionism working its way into literature: Eliot’s ‘Daniel Deronda’ (1876). In the film it suggests and undeveloped romance between Claudio and Rebecca.

The film was screened from a 35mm print, about 400 metres shorter than the original. This led to ellipsis in the plot where one had to surmise events. The print was tinted and a nitrate print with French intertitles had been used in completing the Italian intertitles: provided with an English translation.

Antonio Coppola provided the musical accompaniment. And the films enjoyed his dramatic but at times also lyrical piano playing.

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The Youth of Maxim / Junost’ Maksima, 1934

Posted by keith1942 on July 16, 2018

This film was part of the programme ‘Second Utopia: 1934 – The Golden Age of Soviet Sound film’ at Il Cinema Ritrovato 32 edition . The Catalogue introduction did not explain the use of ‘Utopia’ but did offer the following;

“1934 was the first year of relative political freedom in the USSR and, consequently, a year of perfect harmony in the Soviet film history. Film-makers seemed to have finally obtained a balance between high artistic standards, the box office and the authorities.”

The quotation is possibly correct about the competing factors in film-makers. And 1934 was a year which saw a large number of films using sound effectively. As in China and Japan the switch to sound films came later than in the advanced capitalist countries in the west; silent films were produced right through the 1930s and silent versions of sound films were made as well. When sound installation arrived it appeared in the cinemas in major urban areas but more slowly in rural areas. Against that is the increasing influence of what was known as ‘Soviet Socialist realism’: a form that Jean-Luc Godard rightly dubbed a part of the ‘Hollywood-Mosfilm axis’. Such ‘realism’ relied predominately on continuity editing, linear narratives and key leading characters with a rounded psychology. However, not all Soviet films suffered from this conventionality. The Great Consoler (Velikii utesshitel, 1933) directed by Lev Kuleshov from a novel by O. Henry used somewhat primitive sound imaginatively and offered an eccentric narrative. Dziga Vertov’s Three Songs of Lenin (Tri psni o Leninye, 1934), [not in the programme], was produced in both silent and sound versions, and utilised the notable montage found in Vertov’s earlier films. Alexander Nevsky (Aleksandr Nevskiy,1938) may have offered some of the traits of ‘socialist realism’ with its linear narrative and key leading characters but at the best moments in the film Sergei Eisenstein [the director] uses many of his varied ‘montage techniques’.

Happily this work, scripted and directed by Grigorij Kozincev and Leonid Trauberg, has as much eccentricity as in their FEKS (Fabrika Ekstsentricheskogo Aktera) films. The film was the first part of a trilogy following the career of a young militant who joins the Russian Social Democratic Workers’ Party [Bolsheviks] , his political development and his involvement in the proletarian struggles against the Tsarist autocracy.

The film opens with a prologue set in 1910 on New Year’s Eve and the film is introduced by the celebrations. At the same time revolutionaries are continuing their struggle whilst pursued by the Tsarist police. Here we meet two key characters, both at this stage unnamed; Polivanov (Michail Tarchanov), a leading revolutionary with several aliases; and Nataša/Natasha (Valentina Kibardina), a younger woman comrade.

With the main plot line we meet three comrades, Andrej (Aleksandr Kulakov), Dëma/Dyomo (Stepan Kajukov), and Maksima/Maxim (Boris Čirkov). The three live in a quarter of Petersburg and work in a nearby metal factory. Despite workers’ complaints the safety standards are lax and Andrej is injured at a machine and subsequently dies. Following another accident there is a large demonstration by the factory workers. Set upon by the police both Maxim and Dyomo are arrested. Later Dyomo is executed along with four other agitators. Maxim is imprisoned with Polivanov who begins his education in revolutionary theory and practice. A title informs the viewers that Maxim ‘went to University’.

Maxim receives a banning order covering major cities and urban centres. We next see him fishing on the bank of a river. In fact he is a lookout for a Bolshevik meeting in the woods. But the meeting is raided by police and soldiers. Polivanov, who leads the meeting and starts by reading a letter from Lenin, is wounded in the chase. But Maxim escapes and is hidden by railway workers. Later her rives at Natasha’s house where she is passing as an innocent young woman. With another comrade they prepare a leaflet. Maxim takes over the dictation of the leaflet, a demonstration that he has developed into a leading Bolshevik comrade. A following title informs the viewers

‘That is how Maxim’s youth finished’.

An epilogue follows and we see Maxim and Natasha hand-in-hand. Then he leaves on party work, striding out across an open landscape. The following two films in the trilogy, The Return of Maxim (Vozvrashcheniye Maksima, 1937) and New Horizons (Vyborgskaya storona, 1939), follow the later career of Maxim.

The film is an impressive tour de force though the style is uneven. The film displays the limitation of dealing with early sound. The sequences with extended dialogue are clearly shot in a studio with a fairly static camera and a pedestrian feel. This contrasts greatly with the other sequences of the film. There are numerous sequences shot on location, mainly in Leningrad. The prologue opens with a dazzling race by citizens celebrating New Year’s Eve and racing through the snow in horse drawn sledges. Several exhilarating tracks are followed by side on pans and the wholes sequence invokes a dynamic sense. The accompanying music, easily recognisable as by Shostakovich, adds to the air of exhilaration.

Other location work also opens up the film. There are sequences set in a factory which have the visual feel found in the classic silent films. There is an impressive open-air sequence for the funeral of Andrej. And following this there is the workers’ demonstration and the attack on this by mounted soldiers. This is an action packed sequence with real élan.

Not all the studio sequences have a static feel. There are a number of evening and night-time exteriors with a strong stylised lighting which offer an expressionist feel. And the location work and the studio sets are intercut for most of the film very effectively. For the majority of the film the muscular accompaniment is played on an accordion. This moves in and out of the diegesis. When diegetic the musician is part of the on-screen action and one could suppose that this might apply to all the accordion music in the film. And the characters break into song at several points in the narrative.

So this is an extremely well made film. Much of the style recalls the great work in Trauberg and Kozincev’s silent films, notably The New Babylon (Novyy Vavilon , 1929). The cinematography by Andrej Moskvin is finely done. And this applies equally to the editing by Anna Ruzanova and the Design by Egenij Enej.

Trauberg and Kozincev’s script strikes a happy balance between the more avant-garde approach found in Soviet montage and the more conventional narratives that follow from ‘socialist realism’. Thus we have a linear narrative, but one which frequently slides away from the main plot line. Apart from the notable style in exteriors and some of the studio work we get sequences such as the when Maxim is photograph and measured by the prison authorities. The partly grotesque style imposed on Maxim recalls the eccentricity of FEKS from the 1920s.

It is also there in the catheterisation; M\maxim is played by Boris Čirkov who is something of a comedian. He brings a youthful jollity to his role which is shared by his two companions early in the film and later by Valentina Kibardina as Natasha. The Catalogue suggests that

The revolutionaries aren’t half as memorable as the policemen, stool-pigeon, prostitutes, jail guards”

Not exactly true but some of the more pedestrian scenes are those that present the political values upheld by the revolutionaries in the film. But overall the young Bolsheviks come across not just as heroes but recognisably sympathetic characters. Whilst the minor reactionary characters are interesting those from the upper echelons of the oppressing classes are rather like the villainous figures of the silent era.

The programme also included other films from 1934 including Čapaev (Chapaiev, 1934) which was a great success. The Catalogue notes

Junost’ Maksima came out just a few months after Čapaev. The film was very popular. But not quite as much as Čapaev. It was argued ,many time that, had it been released earlier, Junost’ Maksima would have gained firs place… Junost’ Maksima ended up being a complex, aesthetically challenging oeuvre. Too complex and challenging to reach the popularity of Čapaev.”

The last point is probably true but the fact that it was popular suggests a more complex interaction between films, audience, form and content that the debate on ‘socialist realism’ often suggests.

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Carbon Arc at the 2018 Il Cinema Ritrovato

Posted by keith1942 on July 5, 2018

One of the real pleasures at this archive festival are the screening sin the Piazzetta Pasolini sourced from 35mm prints and projected from a 1930s Prevost 35mm carbon arc machine. There is always a great moment when the projectionist ‘fires up’ the machine and a shaft of light beams upwards into the night sky. The Piazzetta is full of light and shadows and then the image appears on the screen. This rare pleasure fills the courtyard with people, early ones sitting, later ones standing or using makeshift furniture.

This year we had three evening screening, attesting to the growing popularity of the event. The screening were part of a retrospective to the work of the cinema of Naples and the film-maker Elvira Notari. With her husband Nicola, and their company Dora Films, she was an important producer and director in Neapolitan silent cinema, working from 1910 right into the 1920s. Only three films and fragments survive from her output of about sixty films. The programme was also a tribute to Vittorio Martinelli who died ten years ago, a passionate student and writer on these films. As in earlier festivals the titles were accompanied by Neapolitan musicians. Making the events event a glorious brew of film, colour and music.

The opening event offered three films accompanied by Antonella Monetti (voice and accordion] and Michele Signore [violin and mandolin], a duo who had accompanied the films when they were screened at an earlier retrospective in Frankfurt. Antonella and Michele regularly accompany Neapolitan films and arrange the music, including traditional Neapolitan songs. We enjoyed the main feature Un Amore selvaggio (19120 which had fine tinting beautifully illuminated by the carbon arc light. The film is a rural drama about class conflict, involving a brother and sister who are increasingly at odds with the landowner for whom they work. There were two compilations of sequences from films by Notari which do not survive in a complete form. These were L’Italia s’è desta (1927) and Fantasia ‘e surdato (1927).

The second event offered a single title, a French film made by an a Russian émigré in Naples in 1925, Naples au Baiser de feu. The accompaniment was by Guido Sodo [Mandolin and voice] and François Laurent [], a duo I have heard before with pleasure. The film followed the doomed romance of a popular singer of the city, but whose life style inhibits his commercial success. The object of his desire is a bourgeois young woman who suffers from a frail constitution. The plot-line, which included a poor girl’s equivalent obsession for the singer, was conventional but done with aplomb. And the film intercut many sequences filmed in the city, including a major festivity. This was tangential to the story but presented Neapolitan life with interest.

I missed the third screening but a friend who attended said that he thought the film fine and really enjoyed the musical accompaniment. The films ere both title by Notari, Napoli sirena delle canzoni (1929) and ‘A Santanotte (1922). The musicians were a five-piece group E Zézi Gruppo Operaio. ‘A Santanotte was another melodrama in a print with the original colours reproduced.

In the 1990s there were several years where we had Neapolitan films with live music in one of the Cortile that are in a Palacio around the Pizza Maggiore.. I remember them vividly now and I am sure that will be true of these events in the Piazzetta. The only experience to rival it is the equally rare opportunity of watching surviving nitrate prints.

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Die schwarze Loo / The Black Dancer, Germany 1917.

Posted by keith1942 on April 10, 2018

This film was screened in the programme of ‘A Hundred Years Ago: 50 films of 1917 in 35mm’ at the 2017 Il Cinema Ritrovato. This was a vehicle for a major star of the period, Maria Orska. It was directed by Max Mack for the pioneer producer Jules Greenbaum at his Berlin studio.

The English title would seem to be misleading. Orska was not black in the contemporary sense and the word more likely refers to her social position and he outsider status. A German friend, Bodo Schönfelder, gave me some advice regarding the words and their usage in the period. This throws a light on the film title and its possible denotative and connotative meanings at the time.

“The name Loo could be an abbreviation, shortened or an invention to put the person in line with woman with names like Lou, Lulu, or Lola, to promise erotic adventures.: loo is a ‘dirty’ abbreviation of Louise. The most well-known example in German film history is Marlene Dietrich as Lola Lola. The Hitchcock film Stage Fright (1950) in Germany was titled Die Rote Lola (The Red Lola) for obvious reasons.

The attribute black could refer to several things: ‘deep black hair’, either for the person in the film. (here she is a Gypsy) or the actress/dancer. Maria Orska had real very dark hair and appeared in public or on stage in this way and was known for this.

A second line of possibilities for the meaning of black concerns specially designed or selected dresses for women, with an erotic component too. Both hair and dress, at least in German culture, can have a dangerous erotic aspect. There were a lot of cheaply made paintings of very dark haired gypsy women with burning eyes. Pola Negri is an example: ‘The Black Pola’. Pola is a real German name, but here it is alluding to her Polish origin.

There is also the possibility that the newspapers and magazines referred to Maria Orska as ‘the’ or ‘a black dancer’ for her stage performances. Valeska Gerd, a dancer, was the woman who ran the bordello in The Joyless Street (Die freudlose Gasse, 1925), and was labelled as ‘The Black Dancer’ for her stage performances. Since the name Loo makes no sense outside the German speaking culture, most likely the English version changed the name to the descriptive term.”

This certainly fits with the film as I experienced it. We first meet Loo (Orska) in a street as she enters a bar and offers to dance for money. She is clearly an object of erotic fascination for the predominately male audience here. And the bar itself, below street level, is cheap and tawdry. Later in the film a fight causes a police raid and Loo is is arrested, but later released. She dances with her dark hair flowing loose with suggestions of erotic promise, something reinforced by the style of her dancing.

The notes in the Festival catalogue by Karl Wratschko make this point.

“As anyone studying her work today will realise, Orska possessed a genuine erotic charisma which she used to great effect in her notoriously risqué performances.”

In fact the film offers both erotic and risqué pleasures whilst at the same time presented a moral fable. Loo is seen by a young, unknown composer. He is smitten with Loo and offers her food and shelter. She stays with him whilst he works at composing what should be his Opus Magnus. Her dancing inspires the music including that of a Hungarian theme. He dies just as he has completed this work: Loo is absent at this point whilst briefly arrested..

Loo returns to dancing and finds a new protector. However, the young composer has left Loo his possessions, including a trunk which contains his manuscript and a letter to Loo begging her to see his work and his name are published,. By the end of the film Loo is in a morally acceptable relationship and is following the final request of her dead lover.

The film style is typical for the period with the action and characters presented mainly in long shot. The print retained the tinting from the period,. Including a red tint for a moment of erotic drama. The film uses symbolism, so a superimposed skull foretells the death of the composer. And later in the film more superimposition is used as Loo dreams of her dead lover.

Orska’s character dominates the film. The Catalogue quotes a contemporary review:

“Maria Orska, the brilliant, spirited actress manages her role with such verve and, at times, diligence and power, that everything else around her fades.” (The ‘Neues Kino-Rundschau, May 1918).

The print, of four reels, from Deutsche Kinemathek was reasonably good quality. And the piano accompaniment was played by Daan van den Hurk.

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