Pordenone despatch: Le Giornate del Cinema Muto 2014

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Ahhh … it’s good to be back!  I arrived in Pordenone on Friday night, well in time for things to kick off on Saturday – and the weather is beautiful, the people are fantastic, the Spritz-Aperol is plentiful, and silent film is in abundance. I’ll take the opportunity to note a few of the highlights so far. Screenings started on Saturday afternoon – including a range of Sidney Drew shorts, the most salient of which (Boobley’s Baby, US 1915) had Mr. Drew carting around a fake baby in order to gain concessions on public transport – just the right kind of off-the-wall humour. I also enjoyed the Protazanov picture Горничная Дженни | Chambermaid Jenny (RU 1918) – perhaps a slight picture, but I’ve been wishing for some time to see Olga Gvorskaya on screen. Things really kicked off, however, with the Saturday night gala screening of John Barrymore vehicle When a Man Loves (US 1927).

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Pinched this photo from Silent London :)

This film was total schlock. Shallow characterisation, silly dialogue, excessive use of the John Barrymore Profile Shot (TM), great sets and costumes – it was a lot of fun. Would be an excellent film to watch with some friends and a glass or two of wine. It is a Manon Lescaut adaptation, except that instead of dying at the end, a boatload of people perish so that John and Dolores Costello can escape on a boat to Tennessee.

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My pick of Sunday was Das Frauenhaus von Rio (DE 1927), a sensational drama concerning a gang of white slavers and the innocents who get caught up in their schemes. A very slick production – well-plotted and paced, great performances, and lots of delicious melodrama. My kind of film!  Later in the day, Pan (NO 1922) was another extremely striking picture (for wholly different reasons) that in some ways was uneven, but has really stuck in my mind.

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The big events yesterday were the opportunity to watch two previously lost (or at least unavailable) films – Colleen Moore’s Synthetic Sin (US 1929) and Conrad Veidt’s Lady Hamilton (De 1921). I’m a big Colleen Moore fan, and Synthetic Sin was a hoot! The plot concerned a small-town wannabe actress, who determines to go to New York and experience the seedier side of life in order to broaden her dramatic range, with hijinks ensuing. Colleen Moore was playing the naive ingénue to the hilt, and indeed, her character’s antics did become hard to take (and the film is also marred by a totally extraneous and cringeworthy blackface scene). Colleen herself was great, though, even if her character’s schtick wore thin by the end. Her screen persona is interesting – the prototypical flapper in many ways, but squeaky-clean – none of the sensuality of Louise Brooks or Clara Bow. Moore herself described her screen presence as “sexy, sexless” – certainly she is always girlish rather than womanly, as she is in Synthetic Sin. Her preppy clothing is deliberately contrasted with the more sexy, grown-up attire of other women in the film.  Her early scenes in particular are a delight – my favourite part was early in the film, when she donned a wig and moustache in order to impersonate Padarewsky playing Rachmaninoff.

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A notebook full of incisive criticism, as you see

The ending was pretty groan-worthy, though, as Colleen Moore’s character Betty decides to turn away from acting: “The only part I want to play is Mrs. Anthony!” In fact, there was an audible sigh in the theatre at that intertitle.

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I have to report that Lady Hamilton was rather a let-down. Perhaps the missing footage (represented in the film by production stills and explanatory titles) would have improved the picture, but my overriding impression was that it was quite pedestrian. All the ingredients were there, but it just doesn’t come together. Of course, it’s always fun to see watch Conny look intense and haunted, as he does in this role as Admiral Horatio Nelson. I liked Liane Haid as Lady Hamilton quite a lot – I can’t say whether or not it was a great performance, I simply enjoyed her screen presence. Admittedly, this may be partly because she at times reminded me faintly of a young Pola Negri, and also of someone I once dated.

The early colour and Technicolour programmes are one of the main draws for me. I greatly enjoyed the Collegium lecture given yesterday by James Layton and David Pierce of Eastman House, outlining the first twenty years of the company’s history. (James talks about this a little in this post on the Eastman House blog). This lecture comes ahead of the publication, early next year, of a beautiful-looking book on the history of Technicolour in this period. At the end of the presentation, my question was about the survival of original camera negatives (rare – The Toll of the Sea is an exception, most films survive as only prints) and the preservation workflow. I was interested to hear that in preserving and restoring these films, they create and work with b&w separations as much as possible, as using Eastmancolour interneg did not produce good results. Logical, but costly. A nice anecdote from the presentation: for The Black Pirate, Doug Fairbanks’ facial hair had to be coloured reddish, as otherwise it was photographing too green!

technicolour

And that brings us to now! Earlier this morning I watched the Technicolour Prog. 1 – somewhat of a misnomer, as it features a range of colour processes. Absolutely one of my favourite screenings this year so far, and I hope to devote a full post to this at a later date.

In other news, my friend from Finland made me a present of the DVD of Pohjalaisia (FI 1925), which will be interesting to watch!

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And even some Tom of Finland stamps!

Notable quotes

“Don’t panic, you have fallen into white slave traders’ hands!”

Das Frauenhaus von Rio (DE 1927 – listed at the Filmportal under the much less cool title of Plüsch und Plümowski).

“I’m sorry, Fabien – but I’m just a woman. I shall always love jewels and pretty clothes!”

When a Man Loves (US 1927).

“I’m a slave of desire – a puppet of passion.”

“Let’s you and I make hey hey while there’s moonshine!”

– Colleen Moore in Synthetic Sin (US 1929).

Obligatory Pordenone banner photo:

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Me and Charlie C. (Thanks to Stefanie Tieste for the photo!)

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One Response to Pordenone despatch: Le Giornate del Cinema Muto 2014

  1. Pingback: Le Giornate del Cinema Muto 2014: Pordenone post No 5 | Silent London

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