Cinema Ritrovato 2011


Gianluca Farinelli, Charlotte Rampling and translator, Cinema Jolly

The Cinema Ritrovato film festival 2011 in Bologna, Italy, was again a feast for the eye and the ear. In addition to the screenings at the two Lumiere venues (Sala Mastroianni and Sala Scorsese) and the Cinema Arlecchino, this year also the Cinema Jolly was used, in particular for a program on color restoration. While the Sala Mastroianni as always featured silent cinema with piano accompaniment, such as the Albert Capellani retrospective, films by Alice Guy and by and with Musidora, but also the Conrad Veidt retrospective (silent and sound), the Sala Scorsese had e.g. a retrospective by Russian filmmaker Boris Barnet, famous for his Okraïna. Arlecchino was the site for the screenings of the Howard Hawks retrospective and of a program on Socialism in film. Of course the yearly screenings on the Piazza Maggiore in the night time were included as well, attended by the hundreds of festival guests and several hundreds more of the population of Bologna.


Conrad Veidt and Sabu in The Thief of Bagdad

We started our program on Sunday. Hilarious was the Alice Guy comedy Femme collante (1906) with a maid (a travesty role) whose tongue functions as glue for the stamps an old spinster sticks on letters in a post office. Interesting was the rapid stylistic change between two versions of La Boheme, both by Capellani, but the first a typical French onereeler from 1912, and the latter an American feature from 1916. Wonderful were the fluent cinematography and lengthy tracking shots, the inventive use of set design and the acting of Lilian Harvey, Conrad Veidt (a perfidious, plotting Metternich) and Willi Forst (whose alter ego of the czar is quite funny) in the early German film musical Der Kongress tanzt (Erik Charrell 1931). By contrast Richard Oswald’s Dida Ibsens Geschichte (1918) was an odd hodgepodge, dealing with a sadomasochistic affair between Anita Berber and Werner Krauss, with the latter terribly overacting, while the film lacked any possibility of identification with any of the characters. Within a program of Italian shorts of 1911 the travelogue Vita d’Olanda (including images of Rotterdam and the old cities along the former Zuyderzee) struck me because of its combined tinted and toned images and its split-screen effects, reminding of two films in the Desmet collection: Santa Lucia (false title, unknown real title, ca. 1912) and Tripoli (Ambrosio 1912). Vita d’Olanda was a rerelease of a Pasquali travelogue: Olanda pittoresca. The day ended splendidly with an excellent color restoration of The Thief of Bagdad (1940), once started by Ludwig Berger, but finished by a young Michael Powell and Tim Wheelan. Because of the war the production was also finished in Hollywood after being started in Britain. Sabu and Conrad Veidt (the evil antagonist) were the two real main actors, while the prince and the princess looked more decorative. The wonderful sets and the special effects also played leading parts.


Charlotte Rampling at the introduction of The Damned

Monday started with two Hawks films, first the early sound film The Criminal Code (1931) with Walter Huston as the tough but righteous prison warden, but the actor playing his young pupil was less convincing. Very funny was the silent Hawks comedy The Craddle Snatchers (1927) about three students who are hired by three ladies whose husbands are too much partying without them. Especially the actor playing the young Swedish student who hates women until he gets drunk was great fun. Unfortunately the film lacked a big part in the middle and ended too abruptly. If ever a better copy will be found, this could be a nice film for the Piazza Maggiore. Actress Charlote Rampling introduced a fantastic color restoration of Luchino Visconti’s magnificent but lengthy historical drama La Caduta degli dei/The Damned (1969), a modern Macbeth, set in Germany 1933-1934 and including the massacre of the Night of the Long Knives. Incredible how well Helmut Berger acted in this film, if you consider this was his first substantial part in film. Very good are also Ingrid Thulin (the Lady Macbeth of the film), Dirk Bogarde, Charlotte Rampling and last but not least the perfidious dark angel Helmut Griem as the SS officer who plots to have the relatives kill each other while taking over the power of the steelworks. Opinions instead were very wide ranging about The Artist (Michael Hazanavicius 2011), a Franco-American, almost completely silent pastiche on the passage from silent to sound in Hollywood, in which an established silent star loses his career sound, while a young starlet breaks through. While the main actor Jean Dujardin was introduced by Cannes festival director Thierry Frémiet as ‘the world famous actor’, the translator wisely turned this in ‘the in France very popular actor’. Dujardin became popular in France through his parts in the James Bond spoofs OS117, but for instance in the Netherlands these films were not distributed. The film at the piazza on Monday was definitely a highlight of the festival: the restored version of Bernardo Bertolucci’s Il Conformista (1970), introduced by the maestro himself. Vittorio Storaro’s cinematography is outstanding, with its mobile framing and artistic lighting. The terrible climax of the films is still breathtaking while the actors’ performances of in particular Trintignant and Sandrelli are just great.


Standing ovation for Bernardo Bertolucci

Tuesday we started with a program on Musidora. Funny was the Marcel Levesque comedy Lagourdette gentleman cambrioleur (1915) in which director Louis Feuillade ridiculed the addiction to the dime novel of Les Vampires which he had so successfully filmed before. Instead dilettantism was Musidora own’s direction of Tierra de los Toros (1924), unfunny and with her then lover, a Spanish torero, lacking any acting skills. More interesting was a program on early coloring in films by Capellani and trick filmer Segundo de Chomon. But the real treat that day was the color restoration of Jean Renoir’s French Cancan (1954), a fast paced swirling tragicomedy on the founder of the Moulin Rouge, played with understatement by Jean Gabin, seconded by the explosive Lola (Maria Felix) and the equally energetic Nini (Françoise Arnoul). The sets by Max Douy and the costumes by Rosine Delamare are real eye-catchers, while the ears are also treated by snappy one-liners and melancholy songs by Georges Van Parys. The film at the Piazza was the one chosen for the festival’s poster: Hawks’ Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), with of course Marilyn Monroe (did anyone say ‘diamonds’?) and Jane Russell (If we can’t empty his pockets between us, then we’re not worthy of the name Woman), but also Piggy (Charles Coburn) and many more.


The finale from French Cancan by Renoir

Wednesday started with a fascinating mix of shorts as part of the European Gateway project. First was the Walter Ruttmann-like impression of the former Stazione Termini in Rome: Impressioni di vita, n.1/ Ritmi di stazione (1933) by Corrado d’Errico. Next followed a nice color print of a Mario Soldati documentary on the picturesque village of his youth, a strange b&w short by Carl Dreyer on what first seems documentary but then becomes a short tale on a daring couple of motor cyclists who face Death (De naede faergen, 1948). Brutalität in Stein (Alexander Kluge/Peter Schamoni 1960-61) was a fascinating analysis of nazi architecture, while L’uomo, il fuoco e il ferro (Kurt Blum 1961) focused on Italian steel works. Finally Zahrada was a surrealist short by Jan Svankmajer (1968) on a man who takes a friend to his home. He appears to have a human wall around his country house. In the afternoon I planned to see two films on Italians in South America, but the program became a mess with wrongly projected reels etc. Fatigue always takes you half way a festival, so I backed out for the rest of the day. That night the audience in the piazza was washed away, halfway the projection of Marcel Carné Les Enfants du Paradis (1945), so it was shown again at the end of the festival at the Jolly cinema – where I saw it then and enjoyed it very much, despite its enormous length and despite a needless introduction (never trust a Frenchman who starts his introduction with ‘seulement deux mots’).

Thursday I started with Diamond Jim (Edward Sutherland 1935) on the legendary tale of Diamond Jim Brady and his rise and fall and rise again, while constantly being duped in love. His speech when crisis hits is situated in the 1880s, but clearly echoes the New Deal policy. The afternoon was so so, with the rather wooden, histrionic acting of British actors in Maurice Elvey’s The Wandering Jew (1933); Conrad Veidt as protagonist is the only redeeming quality of the film. Of course I was intrigued to watch the British version of what later on would be filmed as Jud Süss, the notorious anti-Semitic film by Veit Harlan. Elvey’s film, though even if attacking anti-Semitism, is anti-Semitic at the same time. Next came another Veidt film, this time F.W. Murnau’s Der Gang in die Nacht (1922), which disappointed a bit despite Murnau’s reputation. The packed auditorium might have felt a bit too about this story about a doctor who heals a blind painter. In the end the painter choses to become blind again and once more go into the night. While Veidt convinces as the mysterious painter, using his long thin hands, Fönss seems more wooden. Then again, the melancholic atmosphere of the North Sea seaside and the doctor’s house there was quite well chosen. We planned to go to the restored version of Scorsese’s Taxi Driver that night on the piazza, but didn’t make it in the end.


Gerda Findleisen at The Phantom of the Opera

Friday started with the late silent comedy Trent’s Last Case (1929), a rather unfunny Howard Hawks film, starring Raymond Griffith as sleuth in a murder case, with Donald Crisp as the hysterical victim, hated by everyone. In the afternoon I saw Gregory La Cava’s Gabriel over the White House (1933), again a New Deal-like propagandistic film starring (again!) Walter Huston, who must have been the leftish New Deal actor par excellence in those years (think of Capra’s American Madness). Huston plays a newly elected president who turns from an opportunist in a caring and humanist person, helping the poor, and even pressing European leaders to pay off their debts to the US. Nationalism is just as present in this film as socialism, while the president’s moves to temporarily abolish parliament in order to be realize his plans, moves him dangerously towards fascism. Incredible that this film was made then. The day finished with an exciting night out: the silent version of The Phantom of the Opera (Rupert Julian 1925), starring a horrifying Lon Chaney as the monster, and beautifully accompanied by the orchestra of the Teatro Communale directed by Gabriel Thibaudeau, while Gerda Findeisen aptly sang aria’s from Gounod’s Faust.

Saturday, the last day, I saw the reprise of Land of the Pharaohs (1955), Howard Hawks’ widescreen super-production about the building of the pyramids. There is of course a gold loving pharaoh who commands this and a foreign (Jewish?) architect who designs it. Joan Collins is the bad girl we love, an evil princess who kills everybody in her way to become queen – almost a prequel to Dynasty – but in the end she is buried alive with the gold she so cherished. The afternoon was again for Conrad Veidt in one of his last roles: in Jules Dassin’s Nazi Agent (1941) he plays a double role as a German attaché spying for the nazi’s and his twin brother, who accidentally kills the other and then takes on his identity. It must have been creepy for Americans to realize that nazi spies were everywhere in American society, and moreover that some of them did not look like Conrad Veidt or any other German, but had American looks and American accents. Veidt fascinates as the man who switches identity and very shrewdly finds out how to behave in the nazi agent milieu. The closing film at the piazza was Elia Kazan’s America, America, but we chose to finish with the earlier missed out Les Enfants du Paradis. The cool and worldwise Garance (Arletty), the romantic and theatrical Baptiste (Jean-Louis Barrault), the witty actor Frederique Lemaitre (Pierre Brasseur), the gangster Lacenaire (Marcel Herrand), the faithful Nathalie (Maria Casarès), and the many others impressed, as well as the wonderful pantomime shows with Barrault and the sets by Barsaq and Trauner such as in the incredible street scenes in the beginning and the ending of the film. Carné’s film was a worthy closing of our festival visit.


~ by Ivo Blom on July 10, 2011.

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