Finally! We come to the end of my Pordenone round-up odyssey. It’s become a bit of an albatross – so much blog worthy stuff has happened since: the announcement of Napoleon at the Royal Festival Hall in 2013,Tacita Dean in the Turbine Hall, the sad death of Barbara Kent, The First Born and A Trip to the Moon gain public exposure at the London Film Festival… I’m also excited by the BFI Southbank’s upcoming MGM season, as it’s a chance for me to see some of the films that have been on my to-watch list for years.
It seems since my return from Italy that silent films are more popular than ever, and they’ve pretty much dominated Kine Artefacts (for good reason: they’re awesome). However, to redress the balance I must focus on sound film and television for a bit. Tomorrow I’ll post the first ‘Watch This’ column of archival Youtube clips, and I’m thinking about spectacular musical sequences… For now, though, here’s a round-up from the final couple of days of Le Giornate del Cinema Muto 2011.
Rediscoveries are always the most thrilling part of silent film fandom (at least for die hard preservationists), and the queue outside the cinema for The White Shadow attests to the fact that more and more people are intrigued by silent cinema. Moreover, the cinephiles of Pordenone are sticklers for authenticity: a few in the audience made a point of applauding director Graham Cutts, in a thinly veiled rebuke to the common belief that The White Shadow is a rediscovered Alfred Hitchcock film (for Hitch was assistant director, among other things). On the one hand, the film such as it is was unlikely to have been screened without the Hitchcock credit; I struggle to name other Cutts titles, and only the first three reels survive. On the other, when I tell people I’m a film archivist many instantly reply ‘Oh! I read that they found Hitchcock’s first film!’, which irritates the hell out of my inner pedant. For what it’s worth, I doubt there are any concrete Hitchcockian motifs in The White Shadow – there certainly weren’t in the first half – but the film is a joy nonetheless and I hope one day to see the rest.
Aside from the rediscoveries, I particularly enjoyed the ‘Treasures of the West’ strand of screenings. Not usually a fan of Westerns (like most horror and sci-fi, with a few exceptions, they are generally not my cup of tea), I was pleased to find that most of the silent Westerns on offer were more akin to melodramas, screwballs and travelogues than their epic, widescreen, mid-20th-century counterparts. Salomy Jane (Lucius Henderson, 1914) was a rollicking tale of love amongst wronged outlaws, with a nicely ambiguous ending. Also, it gives me a neat opportunity to big up Yale University’s silent Western lobby card collection – though these cards are from the 1923 version of Bret Harte’s story (I assume missing??).
The final days of Pordenone involved yet more sound. I’m sometimes a bit disparaging of early sound films, because I feel that acting and cinematography became dull and one-dimensional in order to accommodate primitive microphones. However, films such as Alone (Kozintsev and Trauberg, 1931) prove that some filmmakers embraced the medium and used it in an innovative manner. In this example Shostakovich’s music, foley noise and occasional dialogue are montaged in typical Soviet style. A newly trained teacher (Yelena Kuzmina) is reluctantly despatched to the Altai mountains. The lighthearted Moscow scenes are juxtapose effectively with the mountainous wilderness, and the cast is largely made up of untrained Mongolian locals. Will Yelena return to her cosmopolitan, consumerist lifestyle, or accept her duty to the people? Well, what do you expect…
The finale to the 30th Giornate was a triumphant performance by the FVG Mitteleuropa Orchestra, conducted by Carl Davis in his score of The Wind (1928). The film is a stone cold classic, and Lillian Gish was never better, playing the part of cabin feverish Letty – as determined and resolute as she is vulnerable and fragile.
Before I sign off, there’s just enough time for highlights that I didn’t shoehorn in elsewhere:
- Meeting other bloggers! Silent Toronto, Screen Addict and Burnt Retina are all lovely fellas. We even managed to post Silent London a vintage postcard.
- Disney’s Laugh-o-Grams! The pre-Mickey animated cartoons were dotted across the week, including Walt’s earliest surviving animation, created for Newman’s theater chain in Kansas City, in which Disney himself features as a lightning sketcher. The clipping above comes from Jerry Beck at Cartoon Brew, where he discusses the two rediscovered Laugh-o-Grams, also screened at Pordenone.
- The Collegium! Representatives from Lobster Films, the BFI, the EYE Film Institute, the Library of Congress and Filmarchiv Austria, among many others, gave fascinating presentations on their restoration, preservation and curatorial work, and patiently answered all our questions. I cannot recommend the experience enough.