Cinema Ritrovato (in retrospect)

pierrot fuller

The annual film festival in Bologna had some nice discoveries for me.  The color restorations of The Red Shoes and Pierrot le fou were marvellous, as well as those of Sergio Leone’s Giù la testa/ Fistful of dynamite and the Egyptian film Al Momia by Shadi Abdel Galam, restored by the World Cinema Foundation. While all were highly interesting from a stylistic perspective and had excellent performances, Godard’s film was also an excellent example of metareflection on filmmaking. Al Momia had an interesting clear social comment on theft.  While a tribe sells ancient treasures to survive and kills whoever wants to betray the secret pact, an archeologist takes the ancient Egyptian sarcophagi away, thus robbing the tribe of its income. Who is the bad guy then? The whole film was shot at dawn or at dusk, creating a magic light throughout the film, while the tribe lives within the dark shades of the ruins of Thebes.

testa-1

Other treats were the very funny but also bittersweet Frank Capra comedy The Matinee Idol, with Bessie Love and Johnny Walker [!], joking on histrionic acting in the countryside; and Marcel L’Herbier’s Feu Mathias Pascal, with Ivan Mozzhukin in the title role. What a great actor he is! But others were good too, such as Lois Moran who plays Adrienne Paleari, the girl at the pension in Rome Pascal falls in love with. The cinematography of the film was  remarkable, as were the the locations (San Gimignano, Montecarlo, Rome) and the sets, and the tinting & toning combinations. A live orchestration by Timothy Brock brought us in the right mood, and the setting of the old Teatro Comunale added surplus value as well.

Instead, the projection at the piazza of the new digital restoration of Visconti’s Senso was quite a delusion for me. Twice the projection was stopped because the image fell away; some of the colors looked to ‘fat’ for me (I recollect them being more subtle in the 1994 analogue restored print); and the second half of the film had a nasty quality of sound, thus turning Bruckner’s 8th Symphony – so fitting to the melodrama of the film – into disturbing background noise.  Sound is often an undervalued property in Italian cinema, and apparently even in modern film restoration.

Al_Momiathe-matinee-idol

Other minuses were the constation that Frank Capra, whom we know for his screwball comedies such as It Happened One Night or his moralistic drama’s such American Madness (very up-to-date: how a bank survives a crash),  also made minor films such as Rain or Shine. The Russian films on Jews (Kinojudaïca) also were uneven in quality, as were the 1909 films. I did like the 1909 version of Mireille, based on Mistral’s story and shot on location, instead of against the usual painted backdrops. Another small jewel was a 3-minute Chronochrome film on Chioggia, near Venice; the wonderful full-color images from the early 1910s showed sailboats slowly moving along the Venetian quais and thus were a perfect entree to the projection of Senso on the Piazza Maggiore. 

Finally, I was very touched by Giovanni Lasi’s filmed interview with film historian Vittorio Martinelli, who died two years ago. Lasi interviewed Martinelli in 2006 during the Bologna festival. The highly entertaining Martinelli reminisced his own childhood in Naples, the accident that ruined his leg, his passion for cinema and his collecting of film dates, his career as film critic, his visits to the festivals and his thorough research of the Italian silent cinema. He could easily have talked a few hours more, and Lasi admitted afterwards he had had great difficulty editing the documentary, because Vittorio did not give him pauses. Presently, the festivals of Bologna and Pordenone are considering a research award, dedicated to Vittorio Martinelli.

~ by Ivo Blom on July 6, 2009.

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