This is a film classic from Weimar cinema and it is screening in its original 35mm format as part of the Centenary Celebrations of the Hebden Bridge Picture House. The film has become memorable for a number of reasons. One is the star, Louise Brooks, who worked in the burgeoning Hollywood studio system but also in Europe; and here film-makers bought out a luminous quality to her screen presence. Brooks was an attractive and vivacious and smart actress; her ‘Lulu in Hollywood’ (1974), recording her experiences in the film capital, is a great and informative read. Here she plays a ‘free spirit’ whose charisma has a fatal effect on the men that she meets.
In this film she was working with one of the fine directors of Weimar Cinema. G. W Pabst. Pabst was born in Austria but his major career was in Germany. He was good with actors, especially women; his Joyless Street (Die freudlose Gasse, 1925) features three divas, Asta Neilsen, Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich. Pabst worked particularly in the ‘street’ film genre and in complex psychological dramas. He was noted for the fluid flow of the editing in his films. Following Pandora’s Box Pabst also directed Brooks in the very fine Diary of a Lost Girl (Tagebuch einer Verlorenen, 1929).
One reason for the quality of Pabst’s silent films is the skill and expertise of the craft people working in Weimar Cinema. They led Europe in the quality of their production design and construction; and the development of ‘an unchained camera’ was extremely influential, leading to German directors and craft people being recruited to the major Hollywood studios.
The film is an adaptation of an important German play Earth Spirit (Erdgeist, 1895) and Pandora’s Box (Die Büchse der Pandora, 1904) by Franz Wedekind. There had already been an earlier film adaptation with Asta Neilsen in the role of Lulu (1923); and there is a famous operatic adaptation, Lulu, by Alban Berg. In the play the character of Lulu is described as “the true animal, the wild, beautiful animal” and the “primal form of woman”.
In the play she is an ambiguous character; Pabst and Brooks bring a sense of natural innocence to the character who is much less of a femme fatale than in other versions. Wedekind’s play was controversial in its time as was this film adaptation. The film was censored in many countries including Britain where there was an altered and ludicrous ending.
The film opens in Berlin with Lulu’s many male admirers: we have major German film actors, Fritz Kortner as Dr. Ludwig Schön: Francis Lederer as Alwa Schön: Carl Goetz as Schigolch: Krafft-Raschig as Rodrigo Quast: and also Countess Augusta Geschwitz (Alice Roberts). Here one gets a sense of the social whirl of the capital; often seen as decadent from outside. As the narrative develops Lulu has to leave Berlin and we see her and her entourage on a ship based gambling venue and finally in the noirish East End of London.
Originally running for 133 minutes; this print has most of the cuts restored and runs for 131 minutes at 20 fps and in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1. It has German title cards with English sub-titles. It also has a live musical accompaniment sponsored by Cinema for All – Yorkshire. An earlier and successful screening that they supported had a fine accompaniment of the classic Battleship Potemkin (Bronenosets Potyomkin, 1925) by Darius Battiwalla. Darius is a fine and experienced accompanist and here he will have a very different classic to work with. It should be a rewarding two hours of screen time: Saturday December 4th at 4.30 p.m.
June 2nd at 7.30 p.m. and available until June 30th on Kennington Bioscope You Tube Channel.
‘Women and the Silent Screen’ is a conference held bi-annually in New York City. Number 11 this year is on line between June 4th and June 6th. A series programmes will have papers and discussion on the work and art of women film-makers in early cinema; the central theme this year is ‘Women, Cinema and World Migration’.
Before the Conference there will be a tribute screening to the important pioneer of early cinema, Alice Guy Blaché and this is being made available on the Kennington Bioscope. Alice worked as a secretary at the firm of Gaumont, soon to become the first major production company in the new cinema industry. She was a pioneer in making short narrative films as the Head of Production at Gaumont between 1896 and 1906.
In 1907 she married Herbert Blaché and the pair moved to the USA to work for Gaumont in that territory. In 1910 she, with partners, formed the Solax Film Company, a production company based first in an ex-Gaumont Studio in New York and then in a new production facility in the film town Fort Lee, near New York. She continued directing and producing films up until 1920.
The programme streaming on the Bioscope offers nine titles from her period at Solax.
The titles included present Alice Guy as producer, writer and director. A number of archives have contributed including producing newly digitised versions. As can been seen the surviving information available varies and some of the transfers still show the ravages on the original prints. The Bioscope also offers musical accompaniments streamed alongside the titles. The programme is in two parts and runs for 120 minutes
Frozen on Love’s Trail. Directed and produced by Alice Guy Blaché (Solax, USA, 1912), running time: 13:30 minutes. Source Archive: Eye Filmmuseum. Music: Costas Fotopolous.
An early western.
Two Little Rangers. Directed and produced by Alice Guy Blaché (Solax, USA, 1912). running time: 14 minutes. Source Archive: Eye Filmmuseum. Music: Andrew E. Simpson.
Another western adventure; possibly a tinted version
The Strike. Directed and produced by Alice Guy Blaché (Solax, USA, 1912). running time: 11:10 minutes. Source Archive: BFI. Music: Lillian Henley.
A ‘labour problem’ drama.
A Man’s a Man. Directed and produced by Alice Guy Blaché (Solax, USA, 1912). running time: 9.5 minutes. Source Archive: GEM. Music: Andrew E. Simpson.
A drama of social justice.
Starting Something. Directed and produced by Alice Guy Blaché (Solax, USA, 1911). running time: 10:30 minutes. Source Archive: LOC/Lobster Films Collection. Music: John Sweeney.
A suffragette comedy.
The Sewer. Directed by Edward Warren (Solax, USA, 1912). Produced with scenario by Alice Guy Blaché. Set design by Henri Ménessier. Running time: 18:40 minutes. Source Archive: LOC. Music: John Sweeney.
A crime drama.
Cousins of Sherlocko. Directed and produced by Alice Guy Blaché (Solax, USA, 1913). running time: 12 minutes. Source Archive: LOC. Music: Colin Sell.
Mistaken identity leads to a criminal investigation.
The Detective’s Dog. Produced by Alice Guy Blaché (Solax, USA, 1912). running time: 11:30 minutes. Source Archive: LOC. Music: Meg Morley.
One for Canine fans; unfortunately the final scene is missing.
Greater Love Hath No Man. Directed and produced by Alice Guy Blaché (Solax, USA, 1911). running time: 15:20 minutes. Source Archive: LOC. Music: John Sweeney.
A western romance.
The programme offers an interesting insight into the developing genres of early cinema and the films directed by Alice Guy stand up in their own right. There are interesting plays with developing narrative: some fine exteriors: and excellent cinematography. And KB silents are always enhanced by the musical accompaniments.
This is a streaming programme available on several platforms including You Tube. It is provided by Filmoteca UNAM which is an annexe based in London offering ‘A Centre for Méxican Studies’ on behalf of the National Autonomous University of Mexico. Their home web page gives information on their variety of services and studies. This programme is titled The Golden Age of Méxican Cinema. A Prelude.
This ‘golden age’ is generally considered to have run from 1930 into the 1950s. This was a period on increased production, high production values, and films made by distinguished directors and craft people. This prelude is offering six titles from both the preceding decade and the 1930s and includes from both silent and sound cinema. The titles were streamed on Tuesdays weekly in February and March; at the moment all the titles remain available on YouTube – search UNAM UK and scroll the horizontal listing. I assume that they are available beyond the bound of Britain. Titles have the UNAM page in the frame and have English sub-titles for the Spanish title cards or the dialogue. Note there are an earlier versions on this platform which do not have sub-titles. And there are panels and similar in the early frames which seem to be cross-feeds from the initial stream using zoom.
Silent Film Titles
Tepeyac. México, (1917)
Directors: Carlos E. Gonzáles, José Manuel Ramos y Fernando Sáyago.
This is a drama set round the myth of an apparition by the Virgin Mary to an indigenous Indian in the 16th century. Tepeyac [Tepeyacac] is close to Mexico City. In the Aztec culture it was the site of a temple to an Aztec Goddess Tomantzin. By the 1520s the Spanish had succeeded in overthrowing the dominant Aztec society and introducing colonial control and exploitation of the lands and peoples. Conveniently in 1531 an Indian, Juan Diego, who had converted to the Spanish catholic religion claimed to encounter an apparition of the virgin Mary on Tepeyac hill. She asked that a shrine be erected at this spot to her. The Spanish authorities were sceptical when Juan Diego reported this to the bishop. However, when he produced a miraculous image of the Virgin they were convinced. So a Basilica was erected at Tepeyac with the shrine known as Our Lady Of Guadalupe. Guadalupe is the name of the local villa, now a suburb of the city. I wondered if the use of Guadalupe rather than Tepeyac was because the latter had associations with a Aztec goddess. The conversion of the Indians and such a myth were instrumental in increasing the hegemony of the Spanish in Mexico.
The title opens with information about the digital restoration of the film in 2016. Title cards briefly refer to the ‘tradition’ of this apparition and its importance in Mexican culture. Then, in a common trope of the period, we are introduced to the cast and their characters. The film has two story lines. One involves a young woman Lupita and her boyfriend Carlos. When she fears for his safety she prays to the Virgin. Inset in this drama is a re-telling of the myth of the apparition.
The title is in black and white; I wondered if the original had some tinting, possibly for night scenes. The cinematography is in long shots; at several points the camera moves closer to the protagonists but still effectively long shots. The film valorises the myth but also does give attention to the Indian culture. The restoration work has been well done and the images and title cards are pretty good. Note, the English sub-titles are laid across the title cards reducing the clarity of both.
The title has an accompaniment by José María Serralde Ruiz at the piano with Valeria Palomina and Martin Diaz Velez on woodwind.
El Tren Fantasma. (México, 1926)
Dir. Gabriel García Moreno.
This is the second silent in the Mexican title season. It is an action drama set on the Ferrocaril-Mexicano line in Orizaba Province, close to Vera Cruz. A railway engineer is sent to Orizaba to investigate ‘irregularities’. He arrives and is met by the rail dispatcher Don Tomas and his daughter Elena. She is accompanied by Paco. Adolfo and Paco become rivals for Elena’s affections. Adolfo’s investigations soon involve him in tracking down the bandit gang behind recent robberies.
The cinematography by mainly uses long shots and mid-shots, though there are several close-up for dramatic detail. The camera is mobile; there are frequent high angle shots, presumably from buildings and possibly platforms or cranes. This is especially so in a fine sequence of a chase in a disused rail works with the actors climbing over an array of buildings, walls and machinery. At least one of the bandit members is played by an actor with acrobatic skills.
The film also uses moving cameras, frequently placed on an engine or tender or following along rail tracks. This is well done and the actors have some fairly dramatic stunts and actions. And the film uses superimpositions; one very effective one shows Paco watching his rival with Elena, sitting by a pool, and the image in his mind of her superimposed. The film effectively combines actuality footage with staged scenes and sequences. The editing of this is sharp and precise. I could not find a credit or listing for an editor on the film; it may have been the director or cinematographer.
The restoration in 2002 had to work on a print with many problems and none of the original title cards. There was also missing footage. In this digital version a sequence before the climax is reconstructed using still and titles. I think there are probably other short lengths of missing footage but the overall narrative works and the new title cards provide the necessary information.
There is a very sprightly accompaniment with José María Serralde on piano: Omar Álvarez on violin: and Roberto Zerquere on percussion.
El Puño de Hierro. (México, 1927)
Dir. Gabriel García Moreno.
This is a later film by the same director and cinematographer as El tren fantasma. The plot shares the melodramatic aspects of the earlier film but the central theme appears to be moral and educational. This is a expose and riposte to the drug taking habit and the criminal underworld in which it operates. The basic plot of the film is illustrated in a effective title frame which shows a trio in the grip of a hand as a hypodermic enters the forearm. The film includes what appear to be actuality footage of the care and rehabilitation of victims of drug taking.
Like ‘El tren . . .’ the film mixes actuality footage with staged drama. But the footage supporting the moral theme slows the pace of the film and the fights and chase are not as dynamic as in the earlier film. This title was restored in 2001 and digitised in 2016. Many of the title cards were missing and explanatory titles based on the surviving script have been inserted; even so there are some points where not all is clear.
The style of the film is similar to its predecessor. The cinematography mainly uses long shots and mid-shots with a few close ups for dramatic detail; like the injection of morphine which is actually shown. There are hardly any of the tracking shots which added to the dynamism of ‘El tren ..’ The settings though mirror the earlier film; much of the action is set on what seems to be an old ruin, similar in some ways to the earlier rail workings.
The film runs over half-and-half longer than ‘El tren…’ but the actual action lot occupies a similar amount of time to the train plot. I wondered what motivated this title. Perhaps there were some monies for such a moral property or perhaps they reflect The personal experience of the production members. This version looks reasonable and has involved much restoration. The end titles provide a cast list; however the musical credits are missing but it is the same trio led by Jose Maria Serralde Ruiz, again in fine form.
Sound Film Titles
The three sound films form a trilogy set during the Mexican revolution; all three films were directed by Fernando Fuentes. The revolution lasted a decade, from 1910 to 1920. Initially there was a rebellion against the dictatorship of President Díaz. In 1911 there was a military coup by a General Huerta; The resistance to his government included the forces led by Emiliano Zapata and a Constitutionalist Army controlled by Venustiano Carranza. When Huerta was overthrown in 1914 a civil war broke out between the forces of Zapata and Carranza. Pancho Villa, initially part of the Constitutionalist armies, sided with Zapata but Carranza’s forces were finally victorious.
El Prisionero 13, (México 1933)
Dir. Fernando de Fuentes.
The film is an early ‘talkie’ or sound film, in black and white and running 73 minutes.
The story is set during the early days of resistance to General Huerta. The plot follows the family of one of Huerta’s officers, Colonel Carrasco. The Colonel’s wife and infant son left him and years later, when a rebellion breaks out, their re-encounter leads to a melodramatic finale.
The film predominately uses long shots and mid-shots with infrequent close-ups. However, the cinematographer Ross Fisher offers a more dynamic style for the climax. Set in the military barracks there are powerful tracking shots along line of prisoners and squads of soldiers. The editing by Aniceto Ortega is also effective with number of lap-dissolves which relate characters and settings.
The soundtrack uses plot-related sound behind the dialogue and there are occasional bugle and military band music. The film has been restored but the streaming quality was not great with some minor buffering.
El Compadre Mendoza, (México, 1933)
Dir. Fernando de Fuentes.
The film’s title translates as ‘My Buddy Mendoza’ but there is also an English title, ‘Godfather Mendoza’.
The protagonist Rosalio Mendoza is a rich landowner who is also involved in other businesses with his two brothers. Rosalio manages to be on good terms both with the Zapatistas and the Government military and we see units of both armies entertained on his hacienda. A frequent trope shows servants changing the portraits that hang in the study; from Huerta to Zapata: from Zapata to Huerta and finally the hanging of that of Carranza.
A Zapatista General is godfather to Mendoza’s son and the film displays more sympathy for the Zapatistas than the Government forces. But the arrival of the civil war forces Mendoza into a choice between the opposing armies.
There are familiar names and faces from El Prisionero trece, both in front of and behind the camera. However this is a far more dynamic production. The film opens with a excellent touch; the camera tracks along the ground, then on a rifle butt trailing in the dust as the camera tilts up to show a weary Zapatista at the rear of a military column as it arrives at the hacienda. Entrances and exits to the hacienda regularly show the gate in the walls that surround the property. In the course of the film there are fluid tracking shots and ambitious pans, one describing a complete circle. Interiors make frequent use of dollies which show the sets are often full of lead characters and numbers of extras. The film also uses both high and low angle shots and superimposition to emphasize the drama and forward the action. The flow is assisted by numerous lap dissolves as sequences develop. And the is the judicious use of low key lighting in the frequent night time scenes. The sound track techniques are basic with limiting mixing functions; we hear dialogue, diegetic noises and several songs [again sung by the Zapatista] which also comment on the plot. There are only a few snatches of non-diegetic music, which accompany the different military forces and add to their characterisation.
The cinematography is by Ross Fisher who shot El Prisionero trece and the earlier film had a couple of sequences that shared the dynamic camera work. However, this title was edited by the director [no editor is shown in the credits] and the dynamic approach is apparent right through the 85 minutes running time. Like the earlier film there is a powerful final sequence to the story; a body is shown hanging in the gateway at the exit from the hacienda.
¡Vámonos con Pancho Villa!, (Let’s Go With Pancho Villa!., México, 1936)
Dir. Fernando de Fuentes.
This was the third and last title in the trilogy of films; it was not successful at the box office and the production company was bankrupted, though Fuentes continued writing and directing films into the 1950s.
The title character, Pancho Villa [originally Francisco] is one of the best known of the figures of the revolutionary decade. A wealthy landowner he entered the wars in the early stages when the rebellion began against the Presidency of Porfirio Díaz. Over the course of the revolution Villas changed sides more than once. He was prominent in the fight against the dictatorship of General Huerta, as part of the Constitutionalist forces. In the film the final stages are set as Villa’s army set off to what became the battle of Zacatecas in 1914. This was the decisive battle which led to the defeat of General Huerta. However, it was followed by a civil war between Villa, allied with Emiliano Zapata, and the Constitutionalist forces led by Venustiano Carranza. Carranza was finally victorious and for some years Villa was not included in the pantheon of the revolution.
The film opens in the small town of San Pablo where an army captain in Huerta’s forces is investigating the deaths of 14 of his soldiers. He suspect a young man, Miguel/Angel. Miguel goes on the run. He calls at the house of a fellow radical Tiburcio. Joined by four other friends they set off to join Villa’s army. We meet Villa as he distributes grain to the peasants from his military train, whilst his soldiers eat, sing, drink and attempt amours. Villa is portrayed as very effective in his rhetoric to the troops and to the peasants. He welcomes the new recruits and nicknames then ‘The Lions’; they are Tiburcio, Miguel, Martin, Maximo, Meliton and Rodrigo.
The rest of the film presents a series of battles between Villa’s forces and those of General Huerta. Villa’s army is generally victorious but there are frequent set-backs and large number of fatalities. There are intervening scenes, mostly of ‘the lions’, of the personal lives of the soldiers; and alongside those showing Villa’s planning and leadership. The Lions’ are brave and very supportive of their fellow members. However, battle by battle, individual members die. Some in battle but some from the ravages that accompany the war.
The film has a fairly varied use of camera and editing though it is less dynamic than El compadre Mendoza. In particular there are far fewer tracking shots, though a couple of the forces of Villa, like at the initial sequence on the military train, are impressive. But there are frequent pans and dollies, high and low angle shots and frequent cuts to close-ups of protagonists. Much of the film presents large scale battle sequences: these include trench warfare: charges by Villa’s volunteers: and hand-to-hand fighting during assaults of redoubts and fortresses. The editing, this time by J. B. Noriega; maintains a high tempo that drive forward the action. The opening of the film sets the tone with a short montage of images that will follow in the main narrative. The soundtrack includes much martial music, in particular to accompany Villa’s forces. There are several songs, sang by ‘the Lions’ and other Villa volunteers; one that is repeated is ‘If they kill me tomorrow …’.
Villa is portrayed as a ruthless character ready to sacrifice his men in the pursuit of victory. The representations in the film are pointed clearly in a long opening on-screen title which includes:
blame for the cruelty [in the war] cannot be put on any group of people . . .,
thus inferring that such actions were common to all sides in the conflict. This film, like the two earlier, has a muted support of the revolutionary forces but does not really valorise them. It is individual characters who receive the positive representations in this trilogy.
The online editions of the Kennington Bioscope continue into 2021, commencing with a programme courtesy of the archives of the Library of Congress. Episode 14 on January 27th, 2021 at 19.30 GMT, free and open access worldwide on YouTube.
Fly high with the main presentation of comedy-drama, Daring Deeds (US 1927), directed by Duke Worne, in which William Gordon, Jr. (Billy Sullivan) is the rebellious heir to a million-dollar airplane business. He leaves home in search of adventure and falls in love with Helen (Molly Malone), the daughter of an eccentric, destitute inventor. William enters an air race using a souped-up plane, which rewards with some thrilling aerial shots. The title is five reels in black and white running about 60 minutes. You can get more details on the director and the cast on the American Film Institute’s pages [AFI].
Supporting the feature are have two short films, the mesmerising H20 (US 1929), a watery documentary by cinematographer Ralph Steiner and The Day After (US 1909), an American Biograph comedy detailing the dangers of alcoholic refreshment imbibed by the hosts of a New Year’s party. Directed by D.W. Griffith and written by Mary Pickford, it features several familiar faces from the studio’s stable, among them Mack Sennett and Blanche Sweet. This short film is in black and white, is 460 feet in length and runs for about eight minutes. The AFI catalogue page includes a synopsis.
As usual the programme includes introduction and a musical accompaniment.
Featuring a whole array of shorts of Winter and Christmas by the enormous generosity of EYE Filmmuseum and the British Film Institute (BFI). The longest programme to date with twelve titles and, impressively, twelve accompanists. There are the usual introductions by Michelle Facey, accompanied by some guests. And there are English subtitles where required.
Holland in Ijs (Netherlands 1917) – Scenes from the Netherlands in what was an extremely cold winter for them. It included footage of the ‘Eleven City Tour’, a race held on the canals in years when they were frozen; not that often. A tinted title accompanied by Daan van den Hurk
Expedition to the North Pole (USA 1916) – Animated adventure by airship to the frozen North. The treatment included some satirical jokes about recent expeditions. Accompanied by Cyrus Gabrysch.
Il Natale di Cretinetti (Foolshead Christmas, Italy 1909) – Early film comedian André Deed wreaks havoc with an outsize Christmas tree. Typically that commences with his Christmas mail and then follows with the iconic tree. A title made in Turin and now accompanied by José María Serralde Ruiz.
Ida’s Christmas (USA 1912) – Dolores Costello and John Bunny star in this heart-warming tale from the Vitagraph studios. Ida desires an expensive doll, way beyond the purse of her poor parents. The tale relies on the over optimistic view of the Christmas spirit; especially when involving rich and poor. Accompanied by Colin Sell.
Snowstorm in New York (Netherlands 1926?) – A blizzard paralyses Manhattan. Accompanied by Ben Model.
Scrooge; or Marley’s Ghost (Britain 1901) – R.W. Paul’s early and ingenious depiction of Dickens’ seasonal story. This was star screening in the programme. Paul, an important pioneer in early British cinema, produced an adaptation in twelve tableaux. Originally the print was 620 feet but only a version of 327 feet survives in the National Film Archive. The technician expert at the Bioscope, Todd Higginson, used a published synopsis in ‘The Era’ in 1901 to add titles that filled out the missing sequences. So we enjoy a combination of titles and filmed sequences which presented the complete version. Paul’s version did not use the ‘spirit’s of Christmas’ but used Jacob Marley’s Ghost to show Ebenezer Scrooge the past, present and future season. The film was sophisticated for the period with superimpositions and wipes. Accompanied by Meg Morley.
Snowballs (Britain 1901) – Schoolboy scamps besiege passers-by with handfuls of the cold white stuff. This was one of the short titles from the Mitchell and Kenyon collection; which lay hidden until 1994 when by a fortunate discovery they were recovered. Accompanied by Lillian Henley.
Santa Claus (Britain 1898) – The wonder of Christmas. British film-maker G.A. Smith’s film features his children and wife Laura Bayley. Smith was another pioneer on British film and part of what became known as ‘The Brighton School’. He was also inventive and there is a happy use of an iris in this title. Accompanied by Stephen Horne.
The Little Match Girl (Britain 1914) – Percy Nash directs this, the second British adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s heart rending story. This famous story turned up in a number of adaptations; this was an Eye print, thus with Dutch titles and English subtitles. Heart-rending is right. The ‘little girl’ has a brutal father and must try to sell the matches in the freezing cold and snow., There is a nice use of colour to offer a dream world alternative to the grim reality. Accompanied by Donald Sosin and Joanna Seaton, who added ‘Silent Night’ to the emotion.
The Mistletoe Bough (Britain 1904) – An unlucky bride is locked in a trunk in this early film. A sardonic plot and period settings which felt slightly anachronistic. But the grim outcome is effective. Accompanied by Costas Fotopoulos.
Broncho Billy’s Christmas Dinner (USA 1911) – Villainous Broncho Billy finds himself accidentally invited to the Sheriff’s home for the festive repast. In the title it is the Sheriff daughter rather an ‘accident’ that sets up the Christmas repast. There is also a happy coincidence as the present of a medallion is edited together with the arrival of the parson. Accompanied by Philip Carli.
There was a slight technical hitch, rare for the Bioscope, then:
Santa Claus and the Fairy (Britain 1898) – Have you been naughty or nice? Stockings at the ready! A moral just before the festivity. Accompanied by John Sweeney.
Once again an international mix of committed cineastes gathered in Pordenone in north-west Italy. There were about a thousand here for a week of film from the first thirty five years of cinema, [WebPages]. Within this crowd were a select group of ‘Donors’, who support the Festival by attending and financially. Some have been returning year after year since its earliest days in the 1980s.
All guests receive a pass and a Catalogue; the donors also receive a large and impressive set of publications; the Catalogue offers details of the titles, their provenance and some indication of the content. Donors also receive a selection of new writings on the ‘silent era’. This year there were two books from Paulo Cherchi Usai, one of the founders of the Festival. He has also recently finished his work as Senior Curator of the Moving Image Department at the George Eastman Museum. His work and research there has fed into the two books.
‘Silent Cinema A Guide to Study, Research and Curatorship’, BFI 2019.
This is a revised and much expanded version of his book and which has one of the most thorough accounts of the cinematic process in the founding and development of cinema and which also addresses the issues around the transition from photo-chemical film to digital.
‘The Art of Film Projection A Beginner’s Guide’. George Eastman Museum, 2019.
This promises to be a detailed study of projection of ‘reel’ film in all its aspects. In which case the British Film Institute should buy a stack of copies and send them to the several cinemas that still have 35mm projectors but no projectionists.
‘Silver Screen to Digital A Brief History of Film Technology’ by Carlo Montanaro, Translated by Liam Mac Gabhann. John Libbey Publishing, 2019.
The book covers from the silent era up until the new computer based systems.
The volumes are pertinent. Peter Rist, who every year does his calculations, noted that there were 27 features on DCP at this year’s Festivals but only 17 on 35mm. The short film programmes were better, about 50/50. The latter were interesting as digital versions and film versions were side by side and the characteristics of each could be both compared and contrasted. So far this has confirmed my preference for the traditional technology. The opening and closing events of the Festival were digital projections. The opening night offered Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid with an accompaniment by the Orchestra San Marco conducted by Timothy Brock; an expert in music for Chaplin’s films. The digital version was fine but this was the version re-edited by Chaplin and some of us would have preferred the original version from 1921.
The closing night offered Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lodger, A Story of London Fog (1927). On this occasion the Orchestra San Marco was conducted by Ben Palmer with a score by Neil Brand. This was a digital rendering of a tinted copy and [as is frequently the case with the format] the tinting was over-saturated, reducing the definition within the image.
The audience included the citizens of Pordenone, who also enjoy the Festival. One of their favoured events is ‘Striking a new Note’, titles accompanied by the Orchestra dell’Instituto Comprensivo Rorai Cappuccini e della Scuola Secondaria di Primo Grado di P. P. Pasolini. [a school celebrating the great film maker; I somehow doubt we have a school in Britain cerebrating Derek Jarman]. The students play recorders with a piano alongside. This year they accompanied ‘Our Gang’ in Dogs of War (1923) and ‘Baby Peggy’ in Carmen, Jr. (1923).
There were also screenings specifically dedicated to the citizens. On the final Sunday the Verdi screened Chaplin’s The Kid this time with the orchestra under the baton of Maestro Gunter Buchwald. There was also an event for the citizens of Sacile where the Festival spent many years whilst the new Verdi was constructed. The Zancanaro Theatre hosted one of the films from the Reginald Denny programme of the Festival; What Happened to Jones (1926). This is an excellent combination of slapstick and farce and enjoyed a score written and composed by Juri Dai Dan with the Zerorchestra Partitura.
Both sets of audiences are fairly well behaved, but even here at a specifically cinema event we have some ne’er-do-wells. The occasional mobile phone goes off: people actually text in the auditorium: actually light up tablets: and, whilst, one can understand using a phone as a torch in the darkness, some wave it about like a searchlight. The Festival would benefit from more frequent and more emphatic warnings; this year seen only occasionally before events.
But the staff and volunteers of the Festival are very good. One worker in the reception admitted to being worn out after registering all the guests and handling their queries. And, unfortunately, this year the staff at the Verdi had to assist when one unfortunate guest who collapsed and had to be wheeled by out by medics: he has recovered. Most of the guests are in a good condition despite the demands of a fairly heavy programme of screenings. The staff received a special thank you on the last night. Jay Weissberg [the Festival Director] admits it is not possible to list all the staff and volunteers who care for the festival-goers. So I suggested perhaps we could have a ‘photo-montage’ of staff. There is already one for the recipients of the Jean Mitry Award, a prestigious honour given annually. This photo-montage of the previous award-winners also means that every year we hear Aaron Copland’s magnificent ‘Fanfare for the Common Man’. So perhaps readers could consider an equally appropriate piece of music for a ‘Fanfare’ for the hard-working staff.
The Jean Mitry Award is one of the special events in the Festival. Past years have seen the honour awarded to some of the major luminaries of Silent Film study, preservation and presentation. This year the two recipients were Margaret parsons who has for a long period has organised the film programmes at the National Gallery in Washington DC; and Donald Crafton who wrote and taught key works on early animation.
Also this year one of the students from the David Selznick Film School presented her work for the Haghefilm Selznick Fellowship. This was a 1912 Russian Pathé film, the second part of 1812 (The Retreat From Moscow). This was a fine 18 minute 35mm print with excellent tinting. We watched Napoleon as he suffered the travails of the Russian winter and Russian resistance. Though the real suffering was reserved for the French soldiers, cut down by Cossacks, hacked down by serfs and savaged by wolves.
In between and alongside these events were a series of programmes which I shall return to discuss in greater detail. They included the early films of William S. Hart; the finest exponent of the western in early Hollywood. There was Hollywood star Reginald Denny, little seen until this year. We had early stars of French cinema and a range of short films from Weimar Cinema. And we had a series of ‘flip-books’ painstakingly transferred to photographs and animated for projections. All of these enjoyed musical accompaniments both from the orchestras and from a talented team of musicians, mainly on the piano, but supplemented by the violin, accordion and percussion and the human voice.
We also met and chatted to old friends and colleagues: wrapped up well for the start and enjoyed warmer sunshine for the end of the week; and, as space and time allowed, indulged in the excellent Italian cuisine.
The Festival remains one of the high spots in the cinematic year. I still regret that I missed the first twelve years.