In a month’s time I will be in Pordenone, north-eastern Italy, taking in Le Giornate del Cinema Muto. I’m really looking forward to catching up with friends, drinking wine on the piazza, and watching a tonne of films! Given that it’s coming up so soon, permit me a self-indulgent post where I have a look at what’s on the menu this year, as well as muse on past experiences.
The 2014 programme
The full programme is not yet available, but the main themes have been announced and some of the films.
On of the main strands is devoted to the Barrymore family, which, while not a main draw for me, should certainly have some good stuff. I’ve never seen any of Ethel’s work, but I do enjoy John and Lionel. In fact, the selection suits me quite well as I’ve never gotten around to watching Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920) or When a Man Loves (1927), and I’m intrigued by the sound of earlier titles like A Case of Eugenics (1915). I’ve also long wanted to see The Bells (1926), having loved Bill Morrison’s experimental film work on it.
Things really get going with the section on film colour (which reminds me, I have a half-written post on the topic that I need to finish …) I predict that this is going to be a real treat: beautiful material, and the chance to see some rare colour processes screened. It will be interesting to hear/read about the methods used to restore these materials, as in some the colour will have to have been recreated for modern screening. Currently, only the first two of the six programmes is listed in full, but the first one looks great, and features a film of (or by?) Sonia Delaunay, made in the Keller-Dorian colour process.
I’m also really looking forward to the section on Russian laughter. In popular perception (and sometimes in film history), Russian cinema of the 1920s is usually synonymous with the montage filmmakers, but of course the film output of Russia was more diverse than that. This section, focusing on Protazanov, includes some films I’ve been meaning to watch for ages (e.g., Закройщик из Торжка | The Tailor from Torzhok, 1925). I don’t know if anything can beat my favourites (Дом на Трубной | House on Trubnaja, 1928; and Шахматная горячка | Chess Fever, 1925), but it should be great! And if one does need a dose of montage, there is the 1930 sound version of Броненосец «Потемкин» | Battleship Potyomkin.
Another huge draw is that benshi Kataoka Ichiro will return, this time to accompany several Keystone Chaplins. His performances last year were fantastic. We also get a previously-thought-lost Conrad Veidt film, Richard Oswald’s the Lady Hamilton (1921), which also features Werner Krauss; as a big fan of Veidt, I’m intrigued. However, the most interesting rediscovery to me is the Chinese film 盘丝洞 | Pán sī dòng | The Cave of the Silken Web (1927), which was reported last year as being discovered in Norway. The film is based on a famous episode from Journey to the West aka Monkey, one of the four great classical novels of Chinese literature. I haven’t read Journey to the West in full, but it’s a pretty good yarn. Also in east Asian film, the GCM will screen a programme of Japanese short films of the 1900s.
The Canon Revisited section features heavy-hitters like Pabst’s Die Liebe der Jeanne Ney (DE 1927), Stiller’s Herr Arnes Pengar | Sir Arne’s Treasure (SV 1919), and Raoul Walsh’s Regeneration (US 1915); all classics that I have not seen yet – I suppose it is clear from this blog that I am not a very ‘canonical’ watcher. Also on offer is the recent restoration of Fritz Lang’s Die Nibelungen duology (1924), which showed at my local film society earlier this year. I only managed to catch Kreimhilds Rache, though, so it’s good to have another opportunity to take in Siegfried on the big screen.
Having also attended in 2012 & 2013, I’ll be completing a hat-trick this year. I’ve had brilliant experiences each time. Apart from the chance to watch silent films en masse, with a bunch of other fanatics, one of the best things about the festival is the unexpected pleasures that you find in the rareties on offer, and in watching films that you would not normally seek out. In 2012 I was looking forward to the Anna Sten programme, Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre, and others, but there were also unexpected delights such as Das Geheimschloss, the “Oh! Mother-in Law” short film programme, the films of W. W. Jacobs, and the underrated and sensitive The Goose Woman (US 1925).
2013 was possibly more of a mixed bag; still great, but somehow I managed to miss a bunch of the crowd-pleasers. The benshi performances were a true highlight, and I loved the Soviet animation programmes as well as Космический рейс | Cosmic Voyage (USSR 1936). When you go to outer space, don’t forget your cat!
Flickan i Frack | The Girl in Tails (SV 1926), about a woman who scandalizes her town by wearing a tuxedo, was great fun. As someone who’s spent the last couple of weekends making dress pants and a waistcoat, obviously I approve of such shenanigans. I also have to mention Шкурник | The Self-Seeker (UkrSSR 1929), a comedy of errors about a man and a camel. The Ukrainian films in general were great. I felt that the Anny Ondra programme was a bit of a let-down, if still interesting; I wrote about this in my Collegium essay, which I may eventually post here. There was a great short film programme called Suffering Men (hahaha), and lots more that isn’t coming to mind right now.
A brilliant temptation of Pordenone is the FilmFair, held on the fourth floor of the Teatro Verdi in the years that I’ve attended. I bought a frankly ridiculous amount of DVDs and books there last year and will probably not leave empty-handed this time, either. One of the stalls has a large amount of vintage lobby cards of actors, and I nabbed a few of those in 2012. Just recently I digitized them, so it seems a good chance to share:
Back to Pordenone: one of the greatest things about Le Giornate del Cinema Muto is the conversations you have with people, the sense of community and the social aspect. I’m looking forward to seeing fellow returnees and meeting some others. Who is going this year?