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Posts Tagged ‘Le Giornate del Cinema Muto’

Within Our Gates, USA 1920

Posted by keith1942 on June 10, 2018

Within Our Gates is a riposte to the racism and white supremacy of D. W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation (1915). It is likely that Oscar Micheaux deliberately derived the title from a 1919 Griffith film, A Romance of Happy Valley, which contains the epigraph:

‘Harm not the stranger

Within your gates

Lest you yourself be hurt’.

This point is made in an article by J. Ronald Green in ‘Griffithiana 60/61’, a publication that accompanied the Giornate Festival of 1997, which saw the screenings of both the Griffith classic and the less well-known Micheaux film. Seeing the two films in succession demonstrated Micheaux’s success in confronting the pernicious arguments of the earlier film.

An important aspect of the rediscovery of Micheaux was a sense of the context for his film. Within Our Gates was produced for the US ‘race’ film market, and was therefore denied the resources and production values lavished on the Hollywood product, including Griffith’s epics. The dominance of these values, even today, makes Micheaux’s films appear inferior alongside those of Griffith. It is worth noting that at the 1997 Giornate, The Birth of a Nation received a full orchestral accompaniment, while Micheaux had to make do with a solo piano. But to appreciate Micheaux’s work it needs to be approached in the way one responds to an independent film. The emphasis is not on grandiose spectacle but intelligent and meaningful narrative.

The surviving print is incomplete and the film was frequently cut, sometimes by Micheaux himself, because the violence depicted in the lynching scenes sparked serious controversy. In Chicago the censors enforced cuts of 1200 feet, i.e. over an entire reel of the film. Moreover the source for the surviving print is a Spanish language version, so that the titles, translated into Spanish, have now been retranslated back to English. This apparently affects both the plotting and also the use of colloquial speech. One character’s name, Girdlestone, has changed to Gridlestone. It is also possible that some shots are in the wrong position, either through poor copying or carelessness in post production. This makes the plot somewhat difficult to follow at first viewing.

(Note: the contemporary terms for Afro-Americans citizens was Negro, or coloured, with more pejorative variations quite common. Negro was supposed to commence with a capital N, not to do so was considered demeaning by black people.)

The protagonist of the film is Sylvia Landry, a southerner. At the film’s opening Sylvia is in the north visiting her cousin, Alma. Alma, with the help of her other cousin, Larry, engineers the break-up of Sylvia’s engagement. Larry himself is involved in gambling and criminal activities. Sylvia now goes to work in a school for Negroes in the south, in the hamlet of Piney Wood. The school is clearly offering a path to betterment for poor Negro children, but it is almost bankrupt. Sylvia goes north again, to Boston, to raise money from wealthy benefactors. In Boston she meets a professional, modern minded Negro, Dr Vivian. Her rescue of a child from the path of an automobile brings her to the attention of wealthy Bostonian. Though a southern acquaintance schemes to prevent her funding a Negro school, the wealthy white woman provides the much-needed funds for Piney Wood and Sylvia returns to the school. There she turns down a proposal from its head teacher. Now Larry reappears and tries to blackmail Sylvia. To avoid more trouble Sylvia again travels to the north.

Larry is shot in a robbery. Dr. Vivian searching for Sylvia treats the dying Larry and then meets Alma. She tells him Sylvia’s story in a long flashback. We find Sylvia, not knowing her parentage, was raised by a black share-cropping family. The film illustrates the exploitation of black share-croppers. It also shows them victims of false accusations which lead to a lynching. This is intercut with an attempted rape. This is a powerful sequence of cross-cutting which provides the dramatic and critical heart of the film.

Some of the factors in engaging with the film are the conventions of the ‘race’ cinema. Whilst they follow the dominant Hollywood model in the main, the cultural opposition implicit in the films has an effect. Sylvia is introduced with a title card identifying ‘the renowned Negro Artist Evelyn Preer’. The predominantly segregated black audiences would have enjoyed a familiarity with her career and performances, probably completely unknown to equivalent white audiences.

A following title card then informs us that Sylvia is ‘typical of the intelligent Negro of our time’. Micheaux immediately offers a contrasting characterisation to those of Griffith and his Hollywood contemporaries. Micheaux also taps into the debates within the Afro-American communities of the time about their social values. Like many other successful Negroes (relatively speaking) Micheaux embraced the bourgeois values of the dominant society. His male protagonists tend to be self-made men. In several films they are either a homesteader or prospector, seemingly utilising Micheaux’s own earlier experiences. His arguments are for equality within the system. Dr Vivian clearly embraces the emerging imperial ideology of the USA. He proudly tells Sylvia of the Negroes’ role in the US adventures in Cuba and Mexico.

But Micheaux is not just a dissident black voice. A remarkable aspect of the film is the centrality and action of the heroine. In Griffith’s films women are idealised by men, saved by men and then married and protected by men. Sylvia travels, fundraises and fends off attacks on her own. She is an independent woman. Dr Vivian, a student of social affairs, persuades Sylvia to his point of view, but he does this through study and debate. Sylvia may be the victim of patriarchal violence, but she clearly confronts it.

It will be seen from the geographic plotting of the film that Micheaux also tackles the question of the South. Sylvia’s travels between North and South expose the particularly vicious nature of white supremacy in the southern states. However, Micheaux is also clear about the limits of northern liberalism. A wry intertitle reads:

‘At the opening of our drama, we find our characters in the North, where the prejudices and hatreds of the South do not exist – though this does not prevent the occasional lynching of a Negro.’

The performances and Micheaux’s mise en scène are predominantly within the conventions of the mainstream. The film offers an equivalent melodrama to Griffith. His contemporary Negro society has a fairly clear split between reputable and disreputable. Larry and his criminal associates are defined in anti-social terms, and receive the appropriate melodramatic punishment. Another aspect of Negro society is the religious trend. The Bostonian matriarch who opposes funding a black school proposes instead that money be given to a local minister and preacher. He preaches that Negroes should stay in their place and is clearly antithetical to the modern aspiring Negroes like Dr Vivian. He and his congregation are also characterised in the melodramatic performance similar to the Negroes in Griffith’s epic.

The plotting relies on melodramatic coincidences familiar from earlier film melodrama. Dr Vivian meets Sylvia when he sees her robbed in the street. And Dr Vivian rediscovers Sylvia through treating the fatally wounded Larry. At the climax of the film Sylvia learns about her parentage – “mixed race”. These characters are really melodramatic types rather than psychologically rounded individuals.

Visually the films share the style of earlier film melodrama. The staging is straightforward, with characters placed within simple changing settings. The standard shot is the mid-shot, with the action played straight to camera. The lighting is mainly naturalistic, but clearly limited. Because of this, many scenes have a low-key look. Micheaux’s choice of shots utilises a simple range and selection. He does use close-ups rather than the iris technique found in Griffith (iris shots tend to introduce or close sequences). He also follows the newly developed system of continuity, using shot, reverse shot and on- and off-screen actions matching.

His editing is the most distinctive use of technique. He parallels Griffith in his intercutting between characters and actions, both in order to generate drama and also to make comment. The manhunt and lynching is an incredibly powerful presentation. And the cross-cutting with an attempted rape in a different setting increases the critical power. This arrangement of cuts also presents the reality of lynching and murders for southern Negroes, and the rape and incest that accompanied this. Griffith’s inversion of the exploitation of black people after the Civil War is here re inverted by Micheaux, and he uses Griffith’s most notable technique to present his rebuttal.

Within Our Gates had a far more chequered career than The Birth of a Nation. Whereas the Griffith epic survives relatively unscathed, Micheaux’s riposte is heavily mutilated. This would seem to be a direct outcome of the dominance of Hollywood, and the oppressed cinema of the ‘race cinema’. Even so, it suggests a more complex audience experience in this period than might seem from the iconic status in which The Birth of a Nation is held.

Written, directed and produced by Oscar Micheaux. Micheaux Book and Film Company

Existing print 5935 feet (six reels, originally seven or eight reels). Running time of 100 minutes at 16 fps.

Cast: Evelyn Preer (Sylvia Landry), Charles D. Lucas (Dr Vivian), Jack Chenault (Larry Pritchard), Flo Clements (Alma Pritchard).

Note, this is a shorter version of the discussion of the film in ‘Studying Early and Silent Cinema’, Auteur 2014.

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Posted in US pioneers | Tagged: , , | 3 Comments »

Anna-Liisa, Finland 1922

Posted by keith1942 on April 27, 2018

 

This title was screened in the Scandinavian Cinema programme at Le Giornate del Cinema Muto 2017. It was the only Finnish film and these are relatively rare anyway. It was, for me, the best early Finnish film that I have seen. It was adapted from a popular play by Minna Canth first produced in 1895. The production was from Suomi-Filmi OY, and the comments in the Festival Catalogue notes that,

“Canth was a pioneer of realism on the Finnish stage and a committed participant in the debates on women and the institution of marriage that raged across the Nordic countries in the 1889s and 1890s. Her strong stance against the oppression of women and the poor made her work controversial, but when the film was made, Canth was recognised as the most popular and prolific Finnish-language dramatist. Adapting one of her plays was therefore a logical choice for a film company wanting to make Swedish-style national film based on a distinguished literary work.”

The titular character Anna-Liisa (Helmi Lindelof) belongs to a well-to-do farming family. She is engaged to a wealthy neighbour Johannes (Emil Autere), But a dark secret from her past disrupts her life and the planned nuptials. Some years earlier she had a brief affair with a labourer on the Kortesuo farm. This resulted in an illegitimate child which she killed. The father, Mikko (Einari Rinne) has moved away but now, affluent after working in a logging firm, is returning and himself wishes to marry Anna-Liisa. He is supported by his mother Husso (Mimmi Lähteenoja) who still lives and works on the farm. Anna-Liisa, not wishing to marry Mikko and attempting to keep her secret is caught in a traumatic series of events.

The drama and the cast are portrayed very effectively. As the conflicts increase the film generates both violence – between Johannes and Mikko – and trauma, between Anna-Liisa and her family. The plot is filled out with flashbacks which present quite lyrical scenes of young romance but also darker events that have an almost noir quality.

The original play was set in interiors at the Kortesuo farm but

“The film effectively opens up the play, moving quite a bit of the action outside and adding little vignettes of Finnish rural life, including a shot of Johannes merging from a sauna and a scene of Mikko among his fellow log-rollers, visualizing an important type in Finnish films, the virile but loutish lumberjack.”

The latter emphasizes the contrast between the two suitors. And the filming emphasises the contrast between interior and exterior. The former were photographed by Kurt Jäger and the latter by S. J. Tenhovaara. This may explain the shooting schedule which was divided between summer and winter. The interiors make effective use of the placing of characters and, at the dark moments, of shadows. The exteriors include a number of lyrical scenes which recall those that grace Swedish films.

Several of these occur in flashbacks which fill out past events in the story. In one such sequence Mikko is sitting on the bank near the logging camp , smoking and remembering. The flashback opens at an open-air dance. Mikko sits on a swing as the sun sets over the nearby lake. Then he and Anna walk down to the a boat on the lake. The scene has a blue tint for evening. They cross the lake and walk into the woods. Cutaway shots how us reeds and trees, a bird in an iris shot and the boat drifting on the water. Mikko and Anna sit beneath a tree and then lay back and embrace. An ellipsis presumably covers coitus. The flashback ends as Mikko rises, returns to the camp and then sets out to make his claim for Anna-Liisa.

Later in the film there is a much darker flashback. This is motivated by Husso reminding Anna,

‘The night you came to me..’

To which Anna replies,

‘I was a child at the time’.

Then the flashback opens in dark night as Anna-Liisa staggers out into the farm. She runs to Husso’s house and knocks on the casement widow. By the time Husso opens the door Anna-Liisa is prone on the ground, she whispers,

‘Help me’.

Then two women go into the woods where the child [we realise it is dead] is buried beneath a tree. The sequence is all chiaroscuro. The flashback ends and Husso comments,

‘No one has a clue’.

There follows an exterior scene where Anna-Liisa attempts suicide but is saved by her father. And then the violent confrontations, with an intense and closely focused interior and the physical conflict between Johannes and Mikko in an exterior.

The working out of the plot in this way develops a powerful drama. The central focus on infanticide is interesting. This occurs in several Swedish films. Several of Victor Sjöström’s films deal with both illegitimacy and cross-class romance: Ingmarssönerna (1919) includes infanticide with the consequent scandal and punishment.

 So I wonder whether there was an influence. As well as the issue of women’s’ oppression the question of sex and illegitimacy appears to have been a potent issue in this period in Scandinavia. Whilst Anna-Liise’s plight is treated sympathetically the story emphasises the moral dimension at that time, Anna-Liisa repents and at the conclusion accepts that she will face punishment for her crime. It is redolent of the morals that when the birth and death of the child becomes public knowledge not one character asks,

“who was the father?”

The film was screened from a DCP, and like the other Scandinavian titles in the programme, this was a transfer of high standard preserving many of the cinematic qualities of the original.

The Catalogue notes included information regarding the restoration and transfer which provide interesting detail.

”A new digital restoration based on a duplicate positive was carried out by KAVI (The National Audiovisual Institute, Helsinki) in 2013. The material was scanned at 2K but because of the frame-line issue sin the first-generation material the image had to be scanned twice; the best alternative was selected scene-by-scene. The restoration was conducted using DaVinci Revival and PFClean software programmes. Almost all the scenes have been stabilised, and flicker, dirt, scratches, tears, splices, and all manner of patina have been removed when possible. Contrast has been corrected, and colour has been added according to original model using DaVinci resolve software, the DCP has a colour solution similar to tin ting.”

DaVinci and PF Clean are standard software packages used in the film industry. They offer functions for repair, grain manipulation and colour manipulation, The tinting equivalent in this screening was pretty good and avoided the over-saturation that is often a problem. And whilst the frames were fairly clean they avoided the patina that sometimes arises from repair work. As with other presentations at the Giornate the film was recorded as transferring at 20fps, but I am not sure is this was a definite transfer rate or an equivalent with some step-printing.

The screening also benefited from Gabriel Thibaudeau’s piano accompaniment. He has a lyrical style that was especially pleasing with the visually lyrical sequences in the film.

 

NB The Catalogue notes were the work of Magnus Rosborn, Casper Tybjerg and Antii Alanen.

Posted in Literary adaptation, Scadinavian film | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

The World and it’s Woman, USA 1919

Posted by keith1942 on April 22, 2018

Geraldine Farrar with Frank Lloyd

This was a title screened in the ‘Red Peril’ programme at the 2017 Le Giornate3 del Cinema Muto. It was an example of ‘anti-communism’ even more virulent than the companion The Right to Happiness [also USA 1919]. Wikipedia quotes Murray B Levin on the ‘red scare ‘ in the USA between 1917 and 1920;

“a nationwide anti-radical hysteria provoked by a mounting fear and anxiety that a Bolshevik revolution in America was imminent—a revolution that would change Church, home, marriage, civility, and the American way of life.”

The film was directed by Frank Lloyd for the Goldwyn Pictures Corporation. It starred Geraldine Farrar. She was an established opera diva who made her screen debut in Cecil B. De Mille’s Carmen (1915). The Festival Catalogue notes that

“By the time of The World and its Women, her fifth picture for the Goldwyn Pictures Corporation, Farrar’s salary was among the highest in the industry: according to Goldwyn papers at the Margaret Herrick Library, she received $150,000 for four months of shooting, while her co-star husband Lou Tellegen earned a modest $600 per week (reportedly the borzoi hound made $50 a day). “ (Antonia Guerrero and Jay Weisberg).

In fact the borzoi hound was likely the most over-paid merely lying gracefully on the floor and interjecting a yawn at one point and offering a dainty paw. The hound was accompanied among the supporting cast by a number of exiled Russian aristocrats presumably still seething from the loss of their ill-gotten wealth.

The film opens before World War I in Tsarist Russia where US engineer Robert Warren (Edward J. Connelly) is managing the oil fields of for Prince Michael Orbeliana (Alec B. Francis). Warren’s daughter Marcia (May Giraci) is friends with the prince’s son, Michael ((Francis Marion). Marcia reads to the young prince from Cinderella and he replies that one day

“I will marry you.”

We also see Mary playing and singing for her father. But he dies when his investments are lost.

As an adult Michael (Lou Tellegen) marries Baroness Olga Amilahvari (Naomi Childers) , an advantageous match. Olga is actually the object of love by another aristocrat Count Alix Vronassof (Arthur Carewe), but he is poor and not a suitable suitor. Marcia (Geraldine Farrar) herself is the object of passion by Peter Poroschine (W. Lawson Butt), not an aristocrat. Marcia debuts at the Imperial Opera to great acclaim. The Tsar is there, as is the Tsarina and a monk, not [I think] identified. Now a romance develops between Michael and Marcia.

The war arrives and Michael, among others, marches of to war to the tumult of cheering crowds. But among the troops are ‘sneaking elements’, including Peter. He is assisted by a erstwhile friend of Marcia, Erina..

We move onto 1917 and the increasing agitation and rebellion among working people and peasants. The developing revolution is represented negatively Among the titles we get are,

“reign of terror in Petrograd’

‘even the whip of the Cossacks was better’

And Red Guards are shown shooting civilians in the street: Eisenstein’s depiction in October (1928) of Czarist troops shooting civilians in the street is historically more accurate.

Prince Michael and Princess Olga

Alix and Olga perish in an attack on their estate by peasants. Michael leaves Petrograd is trying to protect his his estates in Galicia. Mary works in a centre for orphaned children. But Peter is is active at the ‘Red HQ,

‘a den of terrorists’.

Here we also see a poster advocating ‘the nationalisation of women’, one of the more scurrilous slanders in the US media at this time.

So Peter and Erina come to see Mary and he offers to spare Michael, now returned, for her ‘favours’. This leads into the most exciting sequences of the film. There is a violent ‘catfight’ between Marcia and Erina. Marcia escapes, first through a window and then across a roof. Michael and Serge fights, another brutal contest. Michael succeeds and as Red Guards batter down the door he and Marcia escape.

The film now cuts to Archangel where allied warships, [British, French and US] lie off-shore; part of the invasion of the Young Soviet Republic. One of the few historically accurate depictions in the film using inserted ‘actuality’ footage. Michael and Maria cross sand-dunes to a US soldier and safety. Aboard a ship they flee and Mary will

“become his wife”.

We saw the film in a Belgium print which was tinted and toned: the French and Dutch titles were translated. The character’s names were different in this print. Mary was Marcia, Michael was Boris and Peter was Serge. This print apparently also added to the titles. So Erina was Irina and

“[The Belgium print’s intertitles call her “the Théroigne of Bolshevism” in reference to the French Revolution’s Anne-Théroigne de Méricourt, a rabble rouser born on what is now Belgium territory.]” (Festival Catalogue: Anne-Théroigne more accurately was a victim of male violence in her working life and a powerful fighter for woman’s rights during the French Revolution].

This film’s original title was The Golden Voice. The changed title seems odd but the Catalogue suggests

The Woman has survived her World.”

A narrative that crosses over with Ayn Rand’s ‘We the Living’ (1936).

John Sweeney provided the piano accompaniment. The digital version was, according to the Catalogue, transferred at 18 fps. However, apparently the ‘New Verdi’ projectors only run at 24fps or above?

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Prospecting for Gold / Sulla Via Dell’Oro [aka The Human Bridge], Italy 1913.

Posted by keith1942 on March 28, 2018

This was a two-reel film screened as part of the programme ‘Beginnings of the Western’ at Le Giornate del Cinema Muto and focussing on European productions. It was made at Cines and the director was [probably] Baldassarre Negroni.

“This story of a disrupted romance and a gold claim that provokes a bitter family feud is set in a landscape that is perfect for lots of horseback riding – often dry and flat, sometimes hilly and rocky, and at one crucial point marked by high cliffs.” Richard Abel in the Giornate Catalogue.

|The two families are the Sampson and the Woods. Sat the start of the film John Wood (Amleto Novelli) is sweet on Kate Sampson (Hesperia). In a reverse gold-digging role he spurns her when he realises that her family is poor. The tables are turned when Kate’s brother Sam (uncredited actor) finds a gold seam and stakes a claim. Instead of renewing his wooing John and his family attempt to take the find by force. They fire the Sampson buildings and then size Kate and her father (Ignazio Lupi). However, Sam first shoots John’s sister Lea and then nurses her. In gratitude she allows Kate and her father to escape.

The pursuit by the Woods leads us to the high cliffs and a spectacular sequence where one of the Sampson’s forms a human bridge over a chasm so they can escape. The climax of the film is a duel between John and Sam. A remore3wsful John has the opportunity to shoot Sam but desists. In an unexpected ending John and Kate again form a couple as do Lea and Sam.

This is clearly full-blooded melodrama. The extreme sequence is when the Woods attempt to discover the whereabouts of the claim by burying Kate and her father up to their necks in sand. But father and daughter refuse to divulge the secret. The ambush of the couple has the film under-cranked to heighten the speed of the sequence.

The cinematography makes fine use of the settings. The ‘human bridge’ sequence is filmed in long shot and presented as silhouette: with Sam and one other forming the bridge over which father an, mother and daughter crawl to safety. The film also make excellent use of tinting. The fire of the Sampson’s house is tinted red, adding to the drama. Only the final reconciliation and the newly formed new couples seems somewhat far-fetched.

We enjoyed a 35mm print from the Desmet Collection at the EYE Filmmuseum. The Dutch titles were provided with a translation and Donald Sosin accompanied the drama at the piano.

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The Bride of Glomdal / Glomdalsbruden, Norway 1926

Posted by keith1942 on February 14, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘No beggar should ask for daughter of Glomdal’.

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

‘I have no daughter’.

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

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

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

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

Morten Egholm explained the source of the film,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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An Inn in Tokyo / Tokyo no yado, Japan 1935.

Posted by keith1942 on January 18, 2018

This film was screened at Le Giornate del Cinema Muto in a programme ‘The Japanese Silent Cinema Goes Electric’. Alexander Jacoby and Johan Nordström, now regular curators at the Festival, explained in the Catalogue:

This programme explores particular mode of Japanese silent cinema, the so-called saundo-ban – films that were shot as silent films, but released with a post-synchronised soundtrack, usually consisting of a music score, sound effects, and the occasional popular song.”

This film was directed by the key director Ozu Yasujiro for the Shochiku studio.

Alex and Johan added on this tittle,

Ozu held out against making talkies longer than any other major Japanese director: his first full sound film, The Only Son (Hitori musuko), was released in 1936. Rather touchingly. Ozu’s intransigence was not out of aesthetic fidelity to silent cinema, but was the result of a promise made to his cameraman, Mohara Hideo, who was developing his own sound-on-film system.”

The film opens in an industrial waste land where Kiahachi (Sakamoto Takeshi) is looking for work accompanied by his two sons, Zenko (Kozo Tokkan) and Masako (Suematsu Takayuki). The setting, a flat terrain coved with weeds and detritus, overlooked by a gasometer or industrial blocks, reflects their situation. Their money is short, they are often hungry and on one occasion they have to make a hard choice between eating or bedding in a cheap lodging house. We follow them for several days, usually seeing them in the open as father and sons seek and debate some economic relief and later, in evenings, as they eat and/or bed down.

At one point the boys chase a stray dog as they can make money by catching the animal and handing it in to a rabies prevention programme. Kiahachi makes several fruitless enquiries at factory gates. At one point they meet a depressed mother and daughter, Otaka (Okada Yoshiko) and Kimiko (Ojima Kazuko). They meet them both wandering in the day as the adults seek work and in the evenings as they make do with the cheap lodging houses, all they can afford.

Matters look up for Kihachi and his sons when they meet an old acquaintance running a bar, Otsune ( Lida Choko). She lets them stay at the bar. Kihachi finds work and their prospects improve. Through the chats between Kihachi and Otsune we learn more about his background. It appears his wife has left him and the sons, probably due to economic reverses. But it also become apparent that Kihachi is prone to drinking sake and borrowing money.

This slightly more buoyant period encounters a crisis when Kihachi learns that Kimiko has fallen ill and Otaka is working as a waitress in a sake house [a disreputable job] in order to get money to pay for treatment At this point Kihachi makes a sacrificial gesture and the films ends with the futures of all the main characters uncertain .

The style of the film is very naturalistic and for most of the story lacking in strong drama. Critics have remarked the film as an early example of the form which was to become known as neo-realism. The camera is observational as we follow the characters in very everyday actions. However, the film is very carefully structured and the plotting present she narrative in a noticeable symmetrical arrangement. The style is recognisably that associated with Ozu though there is wider range of shots and angles than in his later films: there are several tacking shots as we follow the characters in their daytime rambles. Also recognisable are the settings and objects in which we find the characters. The gasometer, which appears a number of times, usually dominates the skyline. There is one shot of a clothes-line,a trope that turns up in innumerable films by Ozu. And interiors like the bars offer careful compositions of furnishings and objects like sake bottles.

The characters are presented very sympathetically. The adults, both single parents, are for much of the time long-suffering in their downbeat situations. It is the man, Kihachi, who towards the end acts more dramaturgically. The children offer a counterpoint and moments of humour and action as the boys play together or with Kimiko. The film reminds one of the early I was born but …. (1932) and the subsequent first sound feature The Only Son .

The film is interesting in the Ozu oeuvre {at least of the ones that I have seen] in its focus on ordinary and poor working people. Ozu’s films, especially the post-war titles, are usually set in middle-class or even upper-class households. Though this class dimension is also central in the subsequent The Only Son. Late in the film one character opines,

It’s awful to be poor’.

And this is the central experience of all the major characters. In its focus on the working classes, poverty and [to a degree] illicit activities, the film feels closer to those of Naruse Mikio than is usual with Ozu.

However, the film ends with a title card,

‘Thus has a soul been saved’.

A rather religious, even sentimental stance that Naruse would have avoided.

The film offers all the interests and pleasures one associate with Ozu. He is well served by the cinematography of Mohara Hideo who also edited the film. The screenplay was worked out by Ozu with Arata Masao and Ikedo Tadao. The music rack uses strings, some brass and at one point woodblocks. Yet some of the most depressed sequences, for example one where the father and boys cope with heavy rain, have no music at all.

Posted in Early sound film, Japanese film | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

The Right to Happiness, USA 1919

Posted by keith1942 on January 10, 2018

Red heroine, Sonia.

This film was part of the ‘Rediscoveries and Restorations’ programme at the 2017 Le Giornate del Cinema Muto. In the Brochure it was one of two films titled ‘The Red Peril’, an apparent witticism that seem inappropriate just before the Centenary of The Great October Revolution. This film at least had the merit of being less virulent than the second title, The World and its Woman (also 1919).

Kevin Brownlow, in the Festival Catalogue, recorded that

“1919 was the year of the Red Scare, when Holubar [the director and co-writer] exchanged the Hun as villain with the Bolshevik, in one of the many political films that appeared just before the movies rejected “message pictures” and embraced the Jazz Age. …. the film was not an anti-Bolshevik hate picture. It was unique in presenting not only good and bad Capitalists but good and bad Communists.”

Whilst Kevin Brownlow is correct that the film avoided the virulent caricatures of The World and its Woman he does not really address the negativity of the film’s representations. These are embodied in the films’ title. The outcome of the film narrative is that this ‘right’ is only to be found in the USA. In a trope that runs through mainstream cinema the positive characters leave Soviet Russia. However, the ‘happiness’ of the resolution is partial.

The print we saw was 4,819 feet in length, about five reels. But the original was eight reels so there were extensive gaps in the narrative. Thus some of the film’s plot and treatment has to be surmised.

The film opens in the Jewish quarter of ‘Petersburg in 1898: [an error or mistranslation as it would have been St. Petersburg then]. A US businessman, Hardcastle (Henry Barrows), is staying there with his twin daughters, Vivian and Dorothy. The quarter is swept by a pogrom perpetrated by Cossacks. In Hardcastle’s absence the two girls are caught up in the violence. Vivian survives thanks to a faithful nanny, Leah, and is found next day by Hardcastle. Dorothy is lost but rescued by a Russian peasant woman and her son. Whilst Hardcastle return to the USA with Vivian, believing Dorothy lost or dead, Dorothy is bought up by the Russian family as Sonia.

The film moves forward to 1917. Sonia is now a radical and supporter of the Revolution. We see her as a firebrand speaking at a public assembly. She is followed by her step-brother Paul (Robert Anderson) and by a Bolshevik character, Sergius (Hector Sarno). Neither Sonia’s nor Sergius’ politics are clearly defined; typical; in this type films. But a title card notes that Paul is a follower of Tolstoy whose values were inimical to the revolution, tending to religious pacifism.

Sonia leaves Soviet Russia, with Paul and Sergius, possibly to garner support for the Revolution. The plot moves to New York. Here we cut between the Hardcastle home and factory and a cheap boarding house where the visiting trio now live. Paul opines that the

“sun of freedom”

is found in the USA whilst Sonia reckons

“conditions must change.”

At the factory we see disagreements between Hardcastle and his partner Forrester (Winter Hall). Hardcastle is a typical profit-driven capitalist, Forrester a more liberal example. The key disagreements are about re-employing workers who return from serving in the armed forces and wage rises because of rising costs of living. Forrester leaves the business and sets up a co-operative, employing workers who have returned from overseas.

Vivian is now a wealthy and fashionable young woman. She has two lapdogs, one canine and one human, George. Vivian does ask her father for money to support the Red Cross whilst George pointedly declines to join up and support the war effort. Vivian is also friendly with Tom (William Stowell), a foreman at the factory. Tom provides a link across the two contrasting settings as he lodges at the same boarding house as Sonia and her two friends.

The film does address the poverty of the period. Another resident at the boarding house is Lily (Alma Bennett) is a poor, unemployed ,

“victim of darkness.”

Lily’s plight is mirrored by a declining plant on the window ledge of her room, declining through lack of sunshine. We also see Vivian visiting and assisting families in the slum area. But in a familiar trope the mother seems feckless and is sermonised by Vivian. Through Tom Vivian also becomes aware of the exploitative nature of the work at Hardcastle’s factory. This is also the focus of the political activity of Sonia and Sergius. At one point we see them agitating outside Forester’s co-operative factory, but the worker merely jeer at them. However, at Hardcastle’s factory they have a more positive response and Sergius is active in organising a strike.

The strike leads to violence at a demonstration outside the Hardcastle mansion. Sonia leads the mass of strikers. She is confronted by Vivian with Tom and there is a moment of unrealised recognition. The violence escalates and Sonia is shot. As she is carried into the mansion by Paul her history is revealed and Hardcastle realises that Sonia/Dorothy is the missing twin. Dying Dorothy begs her father for his workers,

“help them, love them’.

Following her death Hardcastle speaks to the mass of workers promising a co-operative, an announcement greeted with cheers. The film ends with Hardcastle, Vivian and Tom in the family garden.

The film’s treatment of the central characters is important in presenting the values inscribed in the drama. Dorothy/Sonia is a ‘good communist’, however she is also a US-born citizen. So the film avoids having an indigenous Bolshevik presented in a positive light. Moreover, Sonia/Dorothy dies at the end, rather in parallel to the death in genre films of women tainted by illicit sexuality. Because she is tainted by Bolshevism she cannot survive.

Sonia and Sergius

The other communist character, Sergius, is played in a relatively villainous manner. He is instrumental both in the strike and the violence. At one point in the boarding-house Tom sees his gun and tells him,

“we’re not in Russia, pal.”

Moreover, Sergius is a negative character in personal terms. In New York he makes advances to Sonia which she rebuffs. He then turns his attentions to Lilly. He give both women, at different points, a medallion; a sign of his duplicity. And Paul is a pacifist and supporter of Tolstoy. In her final moments Sonia’s plea to her father is more in line with Tolstoy’s values than those of the Communist movement, or indeed of the radical US labour movement.

Vivian is changed from a rather light-headed socialite into a socially caring character, mainly through the influence of Tom. Tom is a typical petty-bourgeois who subscribes to the basic tenets of capitalism, though with a socially acceptable façade. And Hardcastle, originally an explicitly exploitative capitalist is changed by the death of Dorothy into a more acceptable boss, though his company will still depend on the extraction of surplus value from the workforce. A point that is clear from their continued occupation of the affluent mansion.

The attributes of the Hardcastle characters are emphasised by the use of familiar tropes. So when we meet the young Vivian and Dorothy in Petersburg, each has a pet; Vivian a cat and Dorothy a dog. Dorothy’s Borzoi is instrumental in her rescue when the Cossack sack and burn the quarter. Later, Vivian’s frivolous nature is epitomised by the lapdog she carries. However at the finale, in the garden of the family mansion, the accompanying dog is a rough collie, the prestigious breed in Hollywood films.

It is difficult to judge the film overall from what survives. The style is conventional for the period. The set pieces are well done, especially the Cossack attack on the Jewish quarter: dynamic and dramatic. The ‘riot’ at the mansion seems rather truncated. The print we saw had both tinting and toning, and this was especially effective in the Cossack raid. I was preoccupied for much of the running time with keeping tabs on the characters and their actions. We had a dramatic accompaniment at the piano by Phil Carli, which I think also used some melodies and airs of the period.

Camera operator, star and director.

Overall the film’s message was summed up by a comment in ‘Photoplay’,

[Holubar] asks the working man a question: which will you have in this country to better your condition – destruction under the red flag, or construction and cooperation under the American flag?”

This at a time when the US state was suppressing the IWW and busy deporting left-wingers, especially anarchist, to Soviet Russia. More to the point of the film’s message was that the USA, along with Britain, France, japan and other countries, was involved in the invasion of the young Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic.

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

Posted by keith1942 on December 21, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

Episode Two – Gion Giovedi.

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

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

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

Carlo Montanaro describes this as

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

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

Episode Four – Giustizia! / Justice.

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

Montanaro comments on the overall plot:

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Naming of parts

Posted by keith1942 on October 31, 2017

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

‘Which in our case we have not got’.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perhaps in 2018?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Crowd, USA 1928

Posted by keith1942 on October 18, 2017

On set.

The film was screened from a Photoplay Productions 35mm print as the opening Gala at this year’s Le Giornate del Cinema Muto. The film looked pretty good though the print was more worn than when I first saw it as a Thames Silent. As then we had a score composed and conducted by Carl Davis and played in this occasion by  the Orchestra San Marco.

I have written about the film in ‘Early and Silent Cinema’ and reviewing it my thoughts were more or less unchanged. It is a fine piece of direction by King Vidor. The script is excellent, the combined work of John Weaver, Harry Behn and Vidor himself. Behn had worked on the M-G-M’s earlier success, The Big Parade (1925). The title cards were composed by Joseph Farnham.

Vidor and the writer of his big success, Harry Behn, penned the original story. Jon Waver produced a full screenplay which was considerably adapted by Vidor and Behn.

‘Vidor pitched Irving Thalberg a film about an average man walking through life, and the drama taking place around him.” (Jordan R. Young in the Festival Catalogue).

Both the producers at the time and some reviewers treated the film as presenting the ‘working man’ However, true to Hollywood values, the hero John Sims (James Murray) is not strictly a member of the working class. He works in an office and is imbued with petit-bourgeois values. The film does not depict his father’s occupation but he clearly buys into the ‘American dream’ and is at pains to distinguish himself from the proletarian masses. At key points in the film John consciously distances himself: the notable example when he laughs at a man earning his living as a juggler/advert in a New York street.

The irony is that, as predicted by Marx and Engels, John is hurtled down in the reserve army of labour. But even here, reduced himself to working as a juggler/advert, he remains committed to the same values. The key representation of these is a recurring plot trope, John’s successful; entry in a competition to provide an advertisement slogan for a popular commodity, ‘Sleight-o-Hand’ ‘The Magic Cleaner’.. The final shot of him and his family is as the advert of the product [with his jingle] provides added pleasure to a celebration, displayed in the programme of a theatre entertainment. At this point the camera tracks back and they gradually are lost in the large audience. This emphatically places John in ‘the crowd ‘of the title. But this is not a conscious working class grouping, but an anonymised mass dominated by the ideology of the free market and ‘a fair day’s pay’.

The Catalogue noted that the Coney island sequence in the film was actually shot at Abbot Kinney Pier in California. But the film does include actual footage shot in New York, the major setting for the film.

One scene that I noticed this time round was interesting. At a dramatic climax John Sims contemplates suicide. He actually stands ready to jump un der an approaching train but draws back. Following this his young son (Johnny Downs) helps to restore his self-esteem by stating his love and admiration for his father. They now wend their way home. Here they pass a cemetery with ranks of gravestones set out in neat rows: this looked like a back projection. It suggests a visual comment on the situation. Oddly John leaves his son on a bench in front of the cemetery and runs to where a job vacancy is publicised. This is the work as a Juggler/advert and we see him dressed in clown uniform, juggling balls, in the street. Following this he returns, collects his son and both go home. It must be an oversight because strictly speaking the son must have been left alone on the bench for hours.

The film remains a powerful and effective movie. it went down great at the festival as did Carl Davis and the orchestra. I think his scores at certain points do rather overpower the films. But the musical sweep in this case works very successfully with the emotional melodrama.

 

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