Le Giornate del Cinema Muto 2014


This year’s Giornate was again a a full plate for foodies – and I am not just talking the exquisite Friulian kitchen, filling our dinner slots. I arrived too late for the opening film When a Man Loves (1927), one of the Barrymore (John, Lionel Ethel) programme – pity you cannot book tickets in advance. I started on time on Sunday morning with Hans Steinhoff’s Das Frauenhaus von Rio (1927), a well made late silent on the white slave trade film with Albert Steinrück as a bourgeois father who leads a double life in the city and together with a luxurious lady (Vivian Gibson) sends girls to Rio, supposedly as dancers but ending up in a bordello. The man’s errand boy (Ernst Deutsch), kept dangling by his boss, avenges himself, by luring the boss’s daughter to sail for Rio. In the afternoon it was time for havoc, with all the car crashes from films in the Desmet Collection, a nice entree to the upcoming exhibition and book at EYE. The main evening film was Fred Niblo’s overwhelming epic Ben Hur (1925), part of the Technicolor programme at the Giornate. Not only the famous chariot chase is stunning and memorable, but also the focus on the male body is quite hilarious, with a naked slave in chains seen on his back in the galley, just like the tilt from legs to face of Ramon Novarro’s Ben-Hur, supposedly a POV by Bebe Daniels’ character Iris. Monday was my start of the Protanazov comedies with The Tailor from Torzhok (1925), about a naive, chubby tailor, whose rotound female boss wants to marry him, while he is in love with a simple, slnder servant girl, whose tutor uses her as a slave. More comedy that day came with Colleen Moore and Antonio Moreno in the really funny Synthetic Sin (1929), in which young Moore, after a failed stage career and wanting to become ‘sinful’, joins New York thugs for fun, not realizing her life is in danger. The rest of the day was soso, with a quite tedious and overrestored Lady Hamilton (1921) by Richard Oswald (with only Werner Krauss giving it some spice as art lover and limping Lord Hamilton), and with a rather disappointing series of badly printed and dull comedies and dramas, celebrating the 50 years of the Italian Association of Film Historians AIRSC. The last film, though, turned the scales: The Power of Love (1911), a touching, tinted melodrama by August Blom starring Clara and Carlo Wieth, reminding of Blom’s Ekspeditricen, also with the same actors.

Toll of the Sea

Tuesday was early colour niceties in hand- and stencil colouring and early colour systems, including fires as mere display or part of a plot, fashion, abstract film and an early sound film. Quite a shocker was the fragment of George Fitzamaurice’s The Eternal City (1923), with Lionel Barrymore defending the fascists and Mussolini, and partly shot on location in Rome, with fascists and communists fighting each other. Luckily the Americans changed their ideas in ’40-’45, but it was clear that the reds were conceived as more dangerous than the blacks. Already half an hour of this weird ideology was much, let alone the full film. After lunch, though, the reds avenged with the delicious comedy The Trail Concerning Three Million/ Three Thieves (1926), about an experienced burglar and a schlemiel in the same branche, meeting in the same villa to rob a crooked banker. When the poor guy is caught, the rich one saves his butt in the courtroom by scattering fake banknotes, which everyone starts grabbing, thus discrediting justice and public opinion. Wednesday morning it was again time for colour, this time the Prizmacolor film The Glorious Adventure (1922), a British period piece about the Great Fire in London, in which the bulging bicepses of Victor MacLaglen and the boiling lead menacing the protagonists were more impressive than the plot. Also memorable was the shot in which the hero just chops off the hands of one of the villains, duelling with him in an inn. In the afternoon it was time for some fine Italian melodrama: La statua di carne (1921), with the not too beautiful but still very expressive Italian Almirante Manzini in a double role as a chaste lower class girl who befitting dies of exhaustion, after which her lover, the rich Paul (Lido Manetti) is definitely through with women …until he meets her lookalike, but now a mundane actress. It is the plot from Georges Rodenbach’s Bruges-la-Morte, but also that of Hitchcock’s Vertigo, as Paul moulds the actress into the simple girl. Unlike Rodenbach and Hictchcock, the second woman survives. While skipping the two-part special night of Fritz Lang’s Die Nibelungen (we had an important birthday dinner, which still kept us in German moods), I was back in the saddle on Thursday morning for a huge series of Edwardian views from the Mitchell & Kenyon collection (which might have benefiited from some more context), followed by the rather heavy Italian melodrama L’angelo che redime (The Redeeming Angel, 1913) with Pina Fabbri, and a new series of colour niceties, including a sequence from the 1923 Ten Commandments (the Exodus), as antipasti to The Toll of the Sea (1922), which was not only a wonderful film with Anna May Wong, but was also splendidly restored in its early Technicolor system. While too late in the nighttime for John Barrymore’s metamorphoses from Dr. Jekyll into Mr. Hyde and viceversa, I did see the endearing Protanazov tragicomedy about burocracy: Don Diego and Pelageya (1928), about two youngsters defending an old woman unjustly imprisoned because of an overzealous and pompous station master. It was the first Protazanov comedy, though, with a very clear communist ideology, I saw this week. The old woman playing the victim, Maria Blumenthal-Tamarina, is outstanding and became a Marie Dressler-like star after this, the Giornate catalogue mentions.

Italia Almirante La statua di carne 4

Friday was my last day. I started with the John Barrymore vehicle The Beloved Rogue (1927), on thief, poet and freefighter François Villon, but Conrad Veidt as the paranoic, cruel and half mad king Louis XI steals the show in the scenes in which he performs. The sets are impressive, as well as the stunts. Because of business talks, the AIRSC meeting and a lovely early dinner I had to skip several films, but I was in time to see some Technicolor antipasti again plus Douglas Fairbanks in the two-colour Technicolor film The Black Pirate (1926). Unfortunately the musical accompaniment was a bit less impressive than the full orchestra lead by Gillian Anderson, playing with it in Utrecht in 2004. Still, the dynamic, almost final shot in which the pirate is pulled up through several floors remains a classic, and in Pordenone the audience appreciated this by applauding the scene, before the final ovation to the full film followed. Looking forward to next year’s Giornate!

The Case of the Three Million_Three Thieves, directed by Yakov Protazanov, 1926

~ by Ivo Blom on October 21, 2014.

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