Cinema Ritrovato in retrospect

Richard Lund in Herr Arnes pengar0001

My collection

It was embarras de choix again at Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna, and this year even more so than before. Of course, for the silent cinema lovers, there were the programs with films from 100 and 120 years ago, so 1899 and 1919 this year, including the 1899 Biograph films in the Dutch and British collections and home movies of the French aristocracy, and well-known and hardly known titles for 1919, such as Anders als die Anderen, Back to God’s Country, and Sir Arne’s Treasure (Herr Arne’s Pengar).

I missed the Musidora’s and Buster Keaton’s – you have to make choices. Also, I missed the immediate post-war German films (1945-1948), which was a pity as I will co-curate a program on Dutch and German cinema next year myself, at the 2020 Cinefest in Hamburg. Instead, I was glad to have a seen a few of the lesser known films with French tough guy Jean Gabin, such as Litvak’s underworld and prostitution film Coeur de lilas (with songs by Gabin, Fréhel and Fernandel), René Clément’s Au-delà des grilles/Le mura di Malapaga (with the postwar ruins of Genoa as setting, and with Italian actress Isa Miranda as the independent, single mother), and En cas de malheur (with a young Brigitte Bardot, who doesn’t want to choose between wealthy, adulterous lawyer Gabin and poor, hot-headed Franco Interlenghi). I planned to see a few of the Eduardo de Filippo films, but in the end, I only saw Napoli milionaria, with Totò in an important supporting part. From the film noir films by Felix Feist, a director unknown to me, I only saw one, but it was an interesting one: The Man Who Cheated Himself, with a slightly overacting John Dall discovering his elder brother Lee J. Cobb isn’t such a role model at all.

Within the Technicolor program, the scheming and sharp-tongued social climber Miriam Hopkins in Becky Sharp was one of my favorites, though I enjoyed Under Capricorn as well because of its actors and mise-en-scene (such as the eerie manor and the impressive and expressive costumes), and despite the political incorrectness of the film. Margaret Leighton’s evil housekeeper gave the plot the thriller element, but basically, this was a love triangle and class conflict, which critics despised at the time but was no problem to me. The Hitchcock film was a challenge though,  as the Arlecchino cinema was packed to the rim, imitating the Australian heath on the screen. At times, the often packed cinema had hampering airconditioning, so later in the week, little fans were even distributed. With outside temperatures going to 41 Celsius on Thursday and Friday, we were happy to stay inside in the ‘cool’ cinemas.

While I loved Henry King’s silent film The Winning of Barbara Worth, with the excellent actors Ronald Colman, Vilma Banky and a dashing and jealous young Gary Cooper, good sidekicks, and astounding special effects creating a flood in the desert, I later saw a 1950s Henry King movie because we couldn’t get in at the Piazza’s screening of Keaton’s The Cameraman (not even 30 minutes in advance was  enough). But Wait Till The Sun Shines, Nellie, evolving in smalltown life in a village near Chicago, was a provincial, conservative drama with quite an unimpressive actor in the lead. Moreover, the main character, supposedly sympathetic, was such a jerk and cheat you could well understand why his wife left him. Within the Fox program, a masterpiece was John Ford’s Three Bad Men, in which not only the leads were interesting (tough and witty George O’Brien looking very dandy in his chaps and bad guy Lou Tellegen presented as the only man who shaves in the West), but also the three horse thieves and persistent alcoholists (Tom Santschi, J. Farrell McDonald, Frank Campeau) who help the damsel in distress and select possible husbands for Olive Borden were great fun to watch. Of course, as usual, the scenery was tops with Ford.

George O'Brien, Iris, Fox

We had learned our lesson, so we were one hour in advance with Chaplin’s The Circus on the Piazza, and boy, was it a treat: both the incredibly witty film in a splendid restoration by l’Immagine Ritrovata), and the orchestra led by Timothy Brock. Other highlights for me were the two Mauritz Stiller films. Song of the Scarlet FlowerSängen um den eldröda blomman, starred Lars Hanson (aka Large Handsome, thank you Pam), performing breathtaking stunts on logs floating in the river and having a splendidly filmed confrontation with his conscience through a mirror. Also, Stiller’s classic Sir Arne’s Treasure was a feast for the eye, with the setting of snowy Scandinavia of centuries ago and a ship stuck in the ice, Mary Johnson discovers she has fallen in love with the murderers of her family and adopted sister (the ghost of the sister leading her to wisdom). But then, leading bad guy Richard Lund is such a lovable man. Sure, but wait until he uses you as a human shield. While I saw a few lesser films in the 1919 program too (one was a curious Protazanov that looked like a lesser Bauer from 1915), the Stiller was absolutely a highlight.

I saw some more modern stuff too, ranging from the first Bond film Dr. No – a guilty pleasure but a print with some problems, alas – to revisiting A Bigger Splash on David Hockney and his circle – I had just visited the Hockney-Van Gogh-exhibition a few months ago – and to Varda par Agnès, the swan song of the recently died French filmmaker, who proved to be ego-centered but also warm and endearing.  On my last day, I was less impressed than others with La maschera e il volto, an Italia Almirante vehicle about a woman declared dead who returns (rather Feydeau than Pirandello). Instead, I was heavily struck by Jean Epstein fishermen’s drama Finis terrae, with amateur actors – very well – playing themselves on the coast and islands of Brittany, with all the roughness of the climate, the scenery, and the morals, and with images reminding at times of Visconti’s La terra trema, both in subjects (e.g. the women on the rocks) and in – excellent and innovative – cinematography.

Main title designed by Maurice Binder, animation by Trevor Bond.

~ by Ivo Blom on July 7, 2019.

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