Pordenone diary part three

5th–6th October

By the middle of the week at Le Giornate del Cinema Muto I was a little starved of Vitamin D and spent more time outside the cinema than usual. I did, however, see the second screening of shorts from the Corrick Collection, as well as the triumphant evening event of Chaplin’s The Circus. Furthermore, I was lucky enough to catch a rediscovered fragment from Victor Sjostrom’s The Divine Woman (1928), featuring a tantalising kiss from none other than Greta Garbo.

Some other things I enjoyed about Pordenone (aside from the films):

  • Spritz Aperol – the amazing drink that looks (and tastes – sorta…) like alcoholic Irn Bru.
  • Little doggies – Pordenone is full of tiny dogs, particularly poodles, pugs and chihuahuas. Felt just like Hollywood.
  • Getting up in time to have a cappuccino with my book (and trusty film nerd bookmark!) before the first screening.
  • Festival tote bags – this year’s bags were a festive shade of metallic red, with Merna Kennedy and Charlie Chaplin. A touch camp, perhaps, but attractive nonetheless.

On Thursday I was back on cinephillic form, and was in the cinema at 9am in time for Sjostrom’s The Secret of the Monastery (1922). As Eric from Silent Toronto says, there is ‘nothing like a cuckold revenge story to get the day going.’ Historical dramas from any era tend to leave me cold, and this was no exception. Not that it’s a bad film, just a little heavy for that time of morning.

The afternoon was a bizarre and educational programme largely consisting of sound films (surprisingly). First came the experiments of Sven A:son Berglund – a pioneering sound engineer who presented a strip of film synched to a separate film bearing an optical sound track to King Gustav V in 1921. The following year, he was paid to go to Germany and carry out more experiments for Ernemann AG. The presentation in Pordenone came from those Dresden tests, including music, everyday noise and a recitation of the Lord’s Prayer. The sounds have been rediscovered and preserved by the Deutsches Filminstitut in Frankfurt, and were presented alongside images of the optical sound repeated across the screen (i.e. lots of wobbly vertical lines). The effect reminded me of some of the more experimental sound animators, such as Len Lye or Oskar Fischinger.

Speaking of animation, Thursday brought a welcome second dose of Japanese cartoons, courtesy of the National Film Center of Japan. The second selection pulled away from the cut-outs, silhouettes and tints of the silent period and instead displayed some bold and abstract examples of sound and colour. There were too many films to discuss individually, but I think the one that made the greatest impression was the eerily prophetic A Day after a Thousand Years (1933) by Shigeji Ogino – a Kafkaesque, monochrome vision of the future where Tokyo is renamed Central City. The protagonist is (according to the programme notes) an animated version of the animator, who wakes up in the futuristic afterlife having been killed in the ‘Great War of 1942′. Remember, kids, this film was made before the onset of WWII – spooky!

The evening brought a welcome return to silent features with The Canadian (William Beaudine, 1926). The urban/rural divide is a repeating motif in American silent cinema; in this film, recently impoverished London resident Nora (Mona Palma) arrives at her brother’s farm in the Canadian wheatfields and spontaneously  decides to marry local farmhand Frank (Thomas Meigham). Initially a marriage of convenience, Nora is forced to be uncomfortably close to Frank in their two-roomed cabin, and the tension boils over one fateful night…If this story  sounds awfully close to The Wind (the festival’s closing gala screening), that’s because it is – so much so that Kevin Brownlow notes ‘one could almost regard MGM’s The Wind (1928) as a remake.’

More on The Wind tomorrow, as well as reflections and personal favourites from the festival.

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