Monday, June 30, 2014

Pyaasa / The Thirsty One

Mala Sinha as Meena, Waheeda Rehman as Gulabo, Guru Dutt as the poète maudit Vijay
प्यासा / Sete eterna / The Thirsty One. IN 1957. D: Guru Dutt. Dial.: Abrar Alvi. DP: V. K. Murthy. ED: Y. G. Chawhan. AD: Biren Naag. M: S. D. Burman. Songs: Sahir Ludhianvi. C: Mala Sinha (Meena), Guru Dutt (Vijay), Waheeda Rehman (Gulabo), Rehman (Ghosh), Johnny Walker (Abdul Sattar), Kumkum (Juhi), Leela Misra (madre di Vijay), Mehmood (fratello di Vijay), Tun Tun (Pushplata). P: Guru Dutt per Guru Dutt Films. [DCP was announced]. 143’. B&w. Hindi version. From: National Archive of India
    Introduced by Shinvendra Singh Dungarpur.
    Shown on Bluray.
    Viewed with e-subtitles in Italian and English at Cinema Jolly, Bologna, Il Cinema Ritrovato, 30 June 2014

Arun Khopkar (Il Cinema Ritrovato, 2014, catalogue and website): "Producer and director Guru Dutt’s intensely original film is widely considered one of Indian cinema’s unquestionable classics, striking a chord with its vision of the romantic artist in conflict with an unfeeling, materialistic world. Dutt plays the central role of Vijay, the brooding, alienated poet who encounters greed and philistinism among the gatekeepers of society, and compassion among its outcasts. Rejected by the establishment, Vijay’s work becomes popular only after his supposed death. In the film’s rousing climax, the poet returns from the dead to denounce the hypocrisy of those who have gathered to praise him."

Melody and Drama

"Pyaasa was a great commercial and critical success in the short life of its maker. Guru Dutt worked in the genre of melodrama and was equally sensitive to its two components, melody and drama. Like Orson Welles, he had a vision of his protagonists which he interpreted masterfully, as the finely nuanced performances in Pyaasa prove. His drama was based on understatement. Where other Indian filmmakers would use a scream, he used a whisper. His camera, quite often mounted on a crane with a 100 mm lens, would move silently into a close-up to capture minute changes of expression. The crane movements varied from swooping dramatic manoeuvres to subtle, almost imperceptible changes of level."

"As for melody, no one used songs with more telling effect. In Pyaasa, Guru Dutt disregarded the conventions of Indian cinema regarding songs. He could use them in fragmentary form or as an
extension of dialogue, while at other times, they went beyond the standard length. He could use them dramatically, as in his powerful interpretation of the climactic scene, where a song plays over
a hysterical, stampeding mob. No matter how he used a song, his complete mastery over its mise-en-scène and its rhythmic cutting expressed a wide range of emotions, from extreme gentleness, sensuousness and tenderness to dramatic conflict and brutal violence."

"Working in close collaboration with his cameraman V. K. Murthy, Guru Dutt created a world of original and unique images. Though their style draws from a realistic idiom, it is not limited by realism. Often, fleeting shadows thrown by unidentified sources cross the face of a character; elongated shadows underline the loneliness of the protagonist. Lighting charges the spaces
of everyday life with emotion."

"The world created by Guru Dutt’s imagination in Pyaasa is deeply humanistic and sympathetic to the people who live on the fringes of respectable society, from the commercial sex worker to the itinerant masseur. These characters retain their humanism in spite of the difficult conditions of their lives. Their depiction has none of the maudlin sentimentality so common in Indian cinema. Guru Dutt’s characterisation of the affluent and the powerful too is done with a fine eye for detail – he shows us the signs of their pomp, the arrogance of their gestures and words, and finally the brutality of their actions."

"Perhaps it is the humanism of Pyaasa that still intrigues us and draws us in, after all these years. Guru Dutt’s works invite us to understand others and understand ourselves."
Arun Khopkar (Il Cinema Ritrovato, 2014, catalogue and website)

AA: The story of a poet - an artist for whom his art is a rare talent, a blessing, a curse, a damnation, an obsession, an all-overwhelming possession. Poetry makes him mad.
    He is marginalized and cursed, an outcast in his own society, not understood by anyone, rejected by the woman he loves. He drinks. He sleeps outdoors. He is locked up in a madhouse.
    I was thinking about biopics of poets: Sayat Nova (Nran guin also being screened in Bologna), John Keats (The Bright Star), Eino Leino (Runoilija ja muusa). Pyaasa is in the same class as Sayat Nova. I was also thinking about Jean Cocteau, the poet as a film-maker, and the electrifying poets' evening in Zastava Ilyicha. I also thought about great poems filmed such as Terje Vigen.
    Many great Indian films are also musicals, and so is Pyaasa, but this time it's about poetry being sung - Vijay (Guru Dutt) is a poet and a song-writer, the poems are meant to be sung. His brothers have sold his poems to the lump collector for a penny, but a lady has discovered them, and one night at the beach Vijay hears a woman singing them. That is how she learns to know Gulabo (Waheeda Rehman), the prostitute. Gulabo and a goofy masseur Abdul Sattar (Johnny Walker), the two outcasts, become his only true friends.
    The poems and the songs are of the essence, and they are the heart and the soul of Pyaasa. Poetry transports Vijay and us to another world, a higher level of perception and existence. 
    Meena (Mala Sinha), the great love of Vijay's days of youth at the university, is now married to the rich and callous publisher Ghosh (Rehman).
    Vijay gets work as an errand boy for Ghosh and as a waiter in the poets' evening Ghosh has arranged. There Vijay, however, gets to sing one of his poems, one that is more shattering and heart-wrenching than anything else heard there that night. Especially Meena is deeply shaken.
    Vijay is succumbing to alcohol and self-loathing. Gulabi is dragging him to dignity. "The world needs your poetry". "I have never been able to make anyone happy". A shaking beggar gets Vijay's coat with his last poem in its pocket. In his pain Vijay seems to be contemplating suicide by the railway station. But the beggar gets stuck between the switching rails, and as Vijay tries to help him it's too late, Vijay jumps aside at the last second, and the beggar is mangled to death so badly that he cannot be identified, but it is believed the corpse is Vijay's.
    After his "death" Vijay becomes a legend. Printing presses are thundering, spitting out copies of Vijay's poems. They are read everywhere.
    Meanwhile, Vijay is at the madhouse, shaken, not speaking a word until he hears a nurse reading aloud his poetry. Ghosh and Vijay's evil brothers agree on a pact that they refuse to identify Vijay in order to collect his huge royalties. But Abdul Sattar one day notices Vijay behind the bars of the madhouse yard and sets him free.
    There is a huge anniversary memorial gala in the honour of Vijay's death. Vijay himself appears and starts to sing a new poem. Panic ensues, and Vijay and Gulabo are almost trampled to death. "I am not that Vijay", Vijay announces. "He's been dead for a long time." "These are not my friends". "I'm going where there is no further to go". At the producers' insistence Guru Dutt added a more positive ending where Vijay invites Gulabo to accompany him: "Will you come with me?"

Visual quality: bluray, but not from a bad source.

Night Nurse

Ben Lyon, Barbara Stanwyck
L'angelo bianco. US 1931. D: William Wellman. Based on the novel by Grace Perkins. SC: Oliver H. P. Garrett. DP: Barney McGill. ED: Edward M. McDermott. AD: Max Parker. M: Leo F. Forbstein. C: Barbara Stanwyck (Lora Hart), Joan Blondell (Maloney), Ben Lyon (Mortie), Clark Gable (Nick), Blanche Frederici (Mrs. Maxwell), Charlotte Merriam (Mrs. Ritchey), Charles Winninger (Dr. Bell), Marcia Mae Jones (Nanny). P: Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc. 35 mm. 69'. From: Filmoteca Española per concessione di Park Circus
    Viewed with e-subtitles in Italian by Sub-Ti at Cinema Jolly, Bologna, Il Cinema Ritrovato, 30 June 2014

Gina Telaroli (Il Cinema Ritrovato, 2014, catalogue and website): "Female solidarity comes up against the challenges of labor and sinister drunken privilege in a pre-Code buddy cop movie where the cops are actually lowly night nurses just trying to earn a buck or two without too much trouble. Barbara Stanwyck and Joan Blondell become fast pals while going through their nursing training, and despite a rather intricate and serious plot line that develops, the picture never betrays the simplicity of that paldom and its power, with Wellman often stopping the action at hand to relish the various ways they look out for each other in a patriarchal world. He focuses attention on their hands and how, when necessary, they hold each other's, as they do during an overwhelming surgery. Those bonds and the strength Stanwyck fosters from it come in handy when the ladies find themselves working shifts caring for two sick sisters caught in a devious chauffeur's (a very young Clark Gable) scheme to subtlety knock them off and steal their trust funds. It is fitting that a movie about friendship would spur a lifelong friendship between its star and director. Night Nurse was the first of Barbara Stanwyck's five collaborations with Wellman, and both of them would cite their immense enjoyment of working with each other. In the foreword to Frank Thompson's William A. Wellman, she writes: "One of the nicest things that has ever happened to me is this: A writer, Ella Smith, was doing a book on my work and she asked him [Wellman] for a quote for said book. Because of my pride, please bear with me if I tell you what it says. It is framed and in my home. When Bill died, Miss Smith gave it to me because Bill had written it in longhand - so here it is: 'On one of Miss Stanwyck's interviews she mentioned me as one of her favorite directors and ended with 'I love that man.' Needless to say I was very proud and had a lump in my throat which does not happen to me very often - Barbara Stanwyck - 'I love that girl.' Signed - Bill Wellman.' And so again - I miss you, Bill Wellman. I love you"." Gina Telaroli (Il Cinema Ritrovato, 2014, catalogue and website)

AA: Revisited Night Nurse which I last saw in William K. Everson's Pre-Code programme during his visit to Helsinki in 1994. We screened his personal 16 mm print then.

It is a Warner Bros. exploitation programmer whose entertainment values include extended scenes of nurses changing their clothes, exposing beautiful lingerie and some innocent skin.
    The lurid plot has Lora Hart (Barbara Stanwyck) being accepted as a nurse trainee after she has smiled to the senior physician, Dr. Bell (Charles Winninger).
    Lora's first private assignment takes her to the world of crime: she is brought to an uncanny house where children are being starved to death. They have a trust fund, and the gangsters are out to access it by drugging the mother and starving the childen. "The successful nurse keeps her mouth shut" is the advice of the evil Dr. Ranger who is masterminding the conspiracy.
    But there is the good Dr. Bell who swiftly arranges a blood transfusion to save a dying child. Lora and the child share the same blood type. This has been a day of blood transfusions: in the morning I saw The Exploits of Elaine episodes with the same plot idea.
    The sad smile of the little girl who has almost starved to death lingers in mind.
    At the emergency room Lora has saved a handsome bootlegger, Mortie (Ben Lyon), and now Mortie helps Lora get rid of the thuggish chauffeur (Clark Gable) who has been carrying out the vicious plan.
    There is a cavalier approach to the Lora-Mortie "romance" between a nurse and a gangster. It is impossible to take it seriously.

There are documentary and realistic aspects in this movie. Details in the life of the hospital: the emergency room, ambulances rushing to bring in victims of car accidents, a chorus of crying babies at the maternity ward, the stern head nurse (whose "hmmm!" Lola and Maloney keep parodying), the strict rules, the Florence Nightingale pledge, and the entry into the nurses' registry. In a memorable sequence there is a dangerous operation being conducted at the lecture hall full of students of medicine. Lora is not feeling well. The patient dies during the operation. Lora faints.
    My mother is a nurse, so I watched these scenes with extra sympathy.

The print looks at times good, at other times it is soft like a blow-up from a 16 mm print. I was even thinking whether the source of a part of the print might be that William K. Everson print we screened 20 years ago.

Other Men's Women

Mary Astor, Regis Toomey
US 1931. D: William Wellman. Story+SC: Maude Fulton. DP: Barney McGill. ED: Edward M. McDermott. C: Grant Withers (Bill), Mary Astor (Lily), Regis Toomey (Jack), James Cagney (Ed), Joan Blondell (Marie), Fred Kohler (Haley), J. Farrell MacDonald (Peg Leg), Lillian Worth (cameriera), Walter Long (Bixby). P: Warner Bros Pictures, Inc., The Vitaphone Corp. 35 mm. 70'. From: Filmoteca Eşpañola
    Viewed with e-subtitles in Italian by Sub-Ti at Cinema Jolly, Bologna, Il Cinema Ritrovato, 30 June 2014

Gina Telaroli (Il Cinema Ritrovato, 2014, catalogue and website): "Daniel Kasman (for William A. Wellman: A Dossier) writes: "The films of William A. Wellman may be suffused with, live, and breath aviation - the director being an aviator himself - but the transport they most resemble isn't the airplane but the boxcar. Those railway cars, like the city apartments named after their spatial arrangement, are constructed like Wellman makes movies: a chain of discrete segments. In Wellman's cinema, each single scene is a car in each train-length feature, and it's even quite possible that each car could be rearranged and rigged to connect to whatever follows it". The opening scene of Other Men's Women perfectly encapsulates this metaphor for watching an entire Wellman feature: a train approaches a diner and a lively train operator named Bill (Grant Withers) jumps off and counts the cars as they pass. In the diner, Bill eats his lunch and flirts with a waitress (who knowingly and enthusiastically lobbies his lazy serves back at him) - when he goes to hop back on board he tosses her a piece of gum and a catchphrase: "Have a little chew on me". It's a deceptively breezy scene for a film that eventually pivots to focus on, like so many Wellman pictures, the hopelessness and bitterness of life. But despite this, or perhaps precisely because of it, Other Men's Women is full of the immediacy of experience, as Wellman frequently shifts the tone of the picture at will and highlights the physical. Labor bonds the characters together - as they dig holes to plant pea pods, fix buttons, and give each other haircuts - and tears them apart, as Regis Toomey's Jack sadly discovers after a fight with Bill, his coworker and best friend, aboard a moving train. At other points, Wellman simply observes the aftereffects of life lived hard, showcasing a neighbor's peg-leg or a landlady's stutter. The cast is pleasure personified, with incredible (and under-appreciated) turns by Withers, Toomey, and a radiant (and young) Mary Astor, plus early and striking appearances from James Cagney and Joan Blondell. The constantly evolving expression on Blondell's face, from pure joy to pure despair, in a scene where she and Withers drunkenly discuss their future, is reason enough to watch Other Men's Women over and over again." Gina Telaroli (Il Cinema Ritrovato, 2014, catalogue and website)

AA: Although William Wellman's signature vehicle was inevitably the airplane, trains are also prominent in his films (Beggars of Life, Other Men's Women, Wild Boys of the Road).
    In Other Men's Women Wellman enters La Bête humaine territory.
    It starts in comedy mode. There is a bravura introduction to Bill who has breakfast and a moment of flirt with a café waitress while his freight train is moving along by the station; he catches the last car and runs on the roof of the cars back to his engine.
    The relaxed, wisecracking approach goes on as he brings his drunken colleague Jack to his home. Jack has his hair cut (clumsily) by Bill's wife Lily (Mary Astor in a non-glamorous role).
    Jack and Lily kiss each other playfully (they do so because there is no conscious attraction between them), and suddenly they know it's no longer a play anymore. Lily bursts into tears. Something has been broken forever. Jack distances himself from the couple. Nothing is said, but from the awkward silences Bill senses that there is something wrong. Wellman and his actors show psychological insight in the handling of this development.
    The La Bête humaine territory starts when Bill is blinded by steam. There is a rainstorm, and the railway bridge is being battered by a flood. The blind Bill takes an engine with an urgent delivery. He hits Jack and throws him out of the engine. The bridge crashes, and Bill and his train fall into the river.
    Much later Jack and Lily meet briefly in a café scene similar to the opening. Catching the last car, Jack hops happily on the roofs to his engine.

A swiftly moving low budget Warner Bros. programmer. There is a gritty feeling of reality, there are several long takes, the camera is sometimes fumbling, there are rough edges which are part of this film's charm.

A brilliant print. The audience was startled by frames of melting film just before the train catastrophe; perhaps marks of print damage in a previous screening.

Vorstadtvarieté / Suburban Cabaret


[Varietà di provincia] / Die Amsel von Lichtental. AT 1933. D: Werner Hochbaum. Story: dalla pièce Der Gemeine di Felix Salten. SC: Werner Hochbaum, Ernst Neubach. DP: Eduard Hoesch. ED: Ludolf Grisebach. AD: Alfred Kunz. M: Anton Profes. C: Mathias Wieman (Josef Kernthaler, Bauzeichner), Frida Richard (madre di Josef), Hans Moser (padre di Josef), Luise Ullrich (Mizzi), Oskar Sima (Franz), Olly Gebauer (Sophie), Anton Pointner (tenente Höfelmeyer), Otto Hartmann (luogotenente von Daffinger). P: Styria-Film, GmbH Wien. 35 mm. 2616 m. 96'. From: Deutsche Kinemathek
    Screened with earphone commentary in Italian and English at Cinema Lumière - Sala Scorsese, Bologna, Il Cinema Ritrovato, 30 June 2014

Elisabeth Büttner (Il Cinema Ritrovato, 2014, catalogue and website): "The first of four films which Hochbaum made in Austria: the subject matter is genuinely Viennese, Felix Salten's stage play Der Gemeine, a scenario about the transition to the 20th century and, at the same time, a scathing critique of the militarism of the epoch. Hochbaum takes up the atmospheric and thematic grounding, but with a leap in time, which can also be read as a comment on the then-contemporary authoritaria regime in Austria. He transfers the plot to the year 1913, the lead-in to the First World War."

"Vienna, which likes to appear charming, slightly frivolous, and cosmopolitan in the cinema of the early 1930s, presents itself in Vorstadtvarieté as a place of self-delusion, of brazenly taking advantage, and of broken dreams. The story begins in the pleasure-seeking environment of the Prater amusement district. Mizzi Ebeseder, the daughter of popular cabaret singers, toys with the idea of a stage career at the family-owned variety theater. Singing is bliss for her. Her fiancé, though, architectural draftsman Josef Kernthaler, sets a clear ultimatum: for her to go to the stage would mean their immediate breakup. The conflict sharpens when Josef is drafted into the army. His comrades' moral laxness, the economies of desires, the buzz and tinsel of the theater make him freeze completely. His world, which knows no nuances, is cracking at the seams. The phantasm of purging is on the rise. Josef 's demands pull the rug out under Mizzi: she staggers, wavering between singing her number and the promise of marriage, between city and country, between a stage costume and a soldier's uniform. Her space in life is caving in, and not only hers."

"To this, Hochbaum responds with a highly mobile and subtle camera. It creates its own spaces, sometimes lyrical, holding on faces, oriented toward the play of visual details, "because things are easier to photograph than emotions". This was a credo that he had learned from the cinematic polymath he appreciated most, Béla Balázs."

"The censors did not let Hochbaum get away lightly with his filmic statement about Vienna. The tragic ending had to be reinterpreted into a happy one, and the movie was stripped of its subtitle. It had been A song of Austrian humanity."
Elisabeth Büttner (Il Cinema Ritrovato, 2014, catalogue and website)

AA: Vorstadtvarieté is a film about the eve of World War One, which meant the end of the Dual Monarchy. It is a musical film about a popular music theatre touring in the suburbs and the little towns of Austria. It is a story of the Austrian joy of life. It is also a love story across class boundaries.

At times I jotted down in my notes: why does not Mizzi just leave Josef who is so clearly unsympathetic? He does not understand that music, performing, and entertainment are Mizzi's life, her calling, her way of giving love. But on the other hand Josef is a man of dignity. He would not persuade Mizzi to remain his lover (as his father openly suggests): he wants to marry her. He is in real agony when he has to leave Mizzi for the military. The love sequence in the nature is also an expression of their strong feelings. And finally Josef comes (in this release version) to Mizzi's rescue at the last moment.

The film is full of music of many kinds, including the Radetzky March and sitra tunes; I would like to see the playlist.

The dialogue is often in heavy accents which makes it fascinating but at times difficult to follow for a not-native speaker.

There are the two worlds of the military and the music hall. Also the town life and the country life with its different customs and traditions. There is the generation clash between the stern future mother-in-law and Mizzi, who is proud of her Volkssinger's costumes.

There are many fine scenes full of life and a fine sense of composition, but there is little of the avantgardistic and experimental left here. There is a sense of growing mediocrity.

The true drive of the movie is Ophulsian, tragic: the severity of the military vs. the life force of the musical world. Mizzi has already written her suicide note, but Josef draws her back to life from the bridge from where she wanted to jump in front of the train.

The source of this print is in good basic health. There are signs of use in it, some scratches and rain, but most importantly, large helpings of great visual beauty such as in Mizzi's beautiful song sequence after the show when Josef has banned her to perform anymore and he is not sleeping well at the barracks.

The Exploits of Elaine, Episode 6: The Vampyre and Episode 10: The Life Current


Les Mystères de New-York / De Geheimen von New York (serial title in the bilingual print)

 THE EXPLOITS OF ELAINE (EPISODE 6): THE VAMPYRE
Les Mystères de New-York (Ep. Sang pour Sang). US 1914. D: Louis Gasnier, George B. Seitz. SC: Charles L. Goddard, Bertram Milhauser. C: Pearl White (Elaine Dodge), Arnold Daly, William Riley. P: Wharton Studios, Eclectic Film Co. - Pathé. 35 mm. 617 m. 30' at 18 fps. B&w. French and Dutch intertitles. From: Cinémathèque Royale de Belgique
    Actual duration of this reel: 27 min

THE EXPLOITS OF ELAINE (EPISODE 10): THE LIFE CURRENT
Les Mystères de New-York (Ep. Le Baiser mortel). US 1914. D: Louis Gasnier, George B. Seitz. SC: Charles L. Goddard, Bertram Milhauser. C: Pearl White, Arnold Daly, William Riley. P: Wharton Studios, Eclectic Film Co. - Pathé. 35 mm. 617 m. 30' at 18 fps. B&w. French and Dutch intertitles. From: Cinémathèque Royale de Belgique
    Actual duration of this reel: 19 min
    Grand piano and accordeon: Stephen Horne
    Viewed with e-subtitles in Italian by Sub-Ti at Cinema Lumière, Sala Mastroianni, Bologna (Il Cinema Ritrovato), 30 June 2014

Richard Abel (Il Cinema Ritrovato, 2014, catalogue and website): "So popular was The Perils of Pauline, released in a record number of prints in mid-March 1914 and serialized in scores of Hearst and other newspapers, that Pathé's American subsidiary had Louis Gasnier produce a second serial starring Pearl White, The Exploits of Elaine. Beginning in early January 1915, Pathé-Exchange released the fourteen episodes of Elaine every two weeks, after Arthur Reeves's serial installments had appeared in major newspapers: "Read it now, then see it all in motion pictures.""

"Elaine had White's character repeatedly threatened by the 'Clutching Hand' and rescued from thinly disguised sexual assault either by her quick thinking or by Craig Kennedy (Arnold Daly), a 'scientific detective'. Like other serial films, Elaine was promoted especially to young women: in the US exhibitors could use song slides and sheet music for audience sing-alongs of Elaine, My Moving Picture Queen; in England and Scotland, some theaters lured women workers with giveaways of thousands of "Elaine" hats. In France, Pathé combined The Exploits of Elaine, The New Exploits of Elaine, and The Romance of Elaine into a single serial titled Les Mystères de NewYork and coordinated its weekly release of twenty-two episodes (two reels each) with Pierre Decourcelle's daily serialization in "Le Matin", then collected into weekly booklets. Intriguingly, Les Mystères de New-York reworked the originals to fit the situation of France in the Great War, giving a strongly anti-German and pro-American slant to both the film and its novelization."
Richard Abel (Il Cinema Ritrovato, 2014, catalogue and website)

Mariann Lewinsky in her introduction explained that the truth about Les Mystères de New York is even more complicated than we have known. The material from Brussels contains six cans, three of which were labelled "The Exploits of Elaine", and further three "The New Exploits of Elaine". Yet it turns out that they all belong to the first serial, filmed from late 1914 till early 1915. They represent a condensed version. We are shown reel 4 which contains Episode 6: The Vampyre, and reel 6, which is basically Episode 10: The Life Current.

AA: Although The Perils of Pauline, The Exploits of Elaine, and Les Mystères de New York are legendary serials, they have been hard to get to see for generations. We the audience were grateful to receive these samples from Brussels.

Episode 6: Elaine receives a firearms license and a pistol. The able dog Rusty stops an intruder to Elaine's room at night, and Elaine fires three bullets, all hitting him. There is a serious loss of blood, and the bandits kidnap a doctor who states that a blood transfusion is needed. The bandits again intrude Elaine's house, stun Rusty and Elaine via chloroform, hide Elaine in a suit of armour and later, posing as delivery men, bring her inside the suit of armor to their lair, where the blood transfusion from Elaine to the bandit is immediately launched. "La mort de cette femme est certaine". There is a "Rescued by Rover" sequence where the ingenious Rusty helps the police track down Elaine at the very last moment. The bandits elope, but the doctor assures that Elaine can still be revived.

Episode 10: There are no main title frames in this reel. The detectives enter the house that used to be the criminal's lair. There is devastation there. They find the trapdoor via which the bandits had eloped. They hear steps approaching. There is a person in a diving suit (scaphandre). The police arrest him - c'est Sam Langdon, l'homme au mouchoir rouge. The stench is stunning, they almost faint. "Ces cheveux blonds de femme... " Clarel dons the diving suit now and descends into the dark abyss of the sewers. There he discovers Elaine, almost asphyxiated. They start immediately to revive her. (Stephen Horne accompanied this with the accordeon). The heart is hardly beating. La suprême tentative: electric shocks. "Elle est presque un cadavre". There are close-ups of the control panel of the electric device. The doctor is visibly upset. After a half an hour he is about to give up... but then Elaine's eyes open. "Mon cher Perry". Clarel now loses all hope of happiness, but he will forget by drowning himself into police work.

These serials belong to the early stages of the thriller genre, launched a few years ago forcefully by the great serials of the Éclair company, copied then by everybody, starting with Gaumont and Pathé.

Louis Gasnier and George B. Seitz may not be as famous as Victorin Jasset and Louis Feuillade, but they know what they are doing. The approach is vigorous, the action is well timed, the parallel action montage is assured, and here, too, there are many scenes that are intriguing from the surrealist angle: - the suit of armour - the macabre mask - the blood transfusion - the secret passage - the uncanny devastation of the deserted house - the scuba gear - the electric shocks.

In this silent serial Gasnier and Seitz know how to convey sound - and even smell.

One can appreciate the original quality of the cinematography in this print with some minor issues (framelines, a superimposition of a detached perforation for a moment). The print is in black and white. The night is shot at daytime and should be toned blue, but I suffer from Desmet fatigue and enjoyed this screening in glorious black and white.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Awara / The Vagabond (1951)


Raj Kapoor, Nargis
आवारा / Katkera rakkaus (Finnish 1955 release title). IN 1951. D: Raj Kapoor. Story: K. A. Abbas, V. P. Sathe. SC: K. A. Abbas. DP: Radhu Karmakar. ED: G. G. Mayekar. AD: M. R. Achrekar. M: Shankar Jaikishen. Songs: Hasrat Jaipuri, Shailendra. C: Prithviraj Kapoor (Raghunath padre), Nargis (Rita), Raj Kapoor (Raj Raghunath), K. N. Singh (Jagga), Shashi Kapoor (Raj da giovane), Cuckoo, B. M. Vyas (Dubey, il padre di Rita), Leela Misra (la cognata di Raghunath), Baby Zubeida (Rita da giovane), Leela Chitnis (Leela Raghunath). P: Raj Kapoor per R. K. Films. 35 mm. 168’. B&w. Hindi version with English subtitles. From:  Toronto International Film Festival Bell Lightbox. Courtesy of TIFF Bell Lightbox, as part of “Raj Kapoor and the Golden Age of Indian Cinema” curated by Noah Cowan and organized by TIFF, IIFA, and RK Films, with the support of the Government of Ontario
    Dream sequence choreography: Madame Simkir.
    Introduced by Shivendra Singh Dungarpur.
    Viewed with e-subtitles in Italian by Sub-Ti at Cinema Jolly (Bologna, Il Cinema Ritrovato, 29 June 2014)
    Precede
INDIAN NEWS REVIEW NO. 550. IN 1959. 35 mm. 9’. B&w. Versione hindi / Hindi version. From: Films Division of India. - Dalai Lama in India. Sound missing, e-subtitles in Italian and English. Low contrast.

Kumar Shahani (Il Cinema Ritrovato, 2014, catalogue and website: "Indian cinema stepped out into the world with Awara, which captivated audiences not only in India but in Soviet Russia, China, and the Arab countries as well. The hugely popular title song "Awara hoon" (I’m a vagabond) represents a first outing for the character, loosely modelled on Charlie Chaplin’s Tramp that Raj Kapoor played in subsequent films. The film’s plot, which has been described as an ‘Oedipal melodrama’, deals with a respectable judge who turns his pregnant wife out of his house, suspecting her of infidelity. Their son Raju grows up in the slums to become a rootless vagabond who lives by his wits. Falling in love with the judge’s ward, he comes into conflict with his father, played in the film by Raj Kapoor’s own father, the veteran Prithviraj Kapoor."

Turning Modern Mythology on Its Head

"The apprehension of beauty brings both danger and desire. The danger becomes the Chorus and desire becomes Oracular. Of epic history is born peasant tragedy. The redemption, of course, is in love. It rises above the medieval arches of oppressive regimes, hewn in stone, alien to the nation. The heavy black tones weigh down upon all who see freedom. Outside is the real abode of the savage jungle."

"The fragrant lotus that embeds the feminine, also brings forth the spirit of the wild Awara."

"Thus the personal poetry of Raj Kapoor, vagabond-flâneur, surrounded by kitschy signals of heaven and hell, the mythical imperatives of mass communication, iconised both as rebel and dictator."

"The phenomenal success of both Chaplin and Raj Kapoor lies perhaps in the fact that both of them identified themselves with the disenfranchised, finding in them the truth and beauty of simplicity
and innocence. They inverted the processes of identification that mainstream cinema manufactured to formula. Raj Kapoor was harassed by his distributors to fracture his own telos later on in life when he carried his autobiographical concerns into the wide sweep of history, just as Chaplin, in a manner, was exiled from the State that proclaimed the law of the Father."

"The destiny of the patriarch seems to be the destruction of his beloved and their progeny, as it is of the state to annihilate its own people, equal in moral terms, unequal in every other. Raj Kapoor made his own father Prithviraj play this figure, an act of daring that no other Oedipus of our times may have undertaken. He made the father apologize to all citizens of the world for the blind rule of Law, albeit to the wounded, shrouded mother in death’s throes."

"The scenes of adolescent love in Raj Kapoor’s films have all the innocence and freshness of first love, the first kiss, the first consummation, like an illumination, the discovery of the other that is
the fountainhead of knowledge without guilt or remorse."

"Perhaps therein lies the felicity of his address to every human heart, across the ideological divides, cultural differences and learned prejudices that hide our sacred nudity from ourselves and those
whom we love."
Kumar Shahani (Il Cinema Ritrovato, 2014, catalogue and website)

AA: A melodrama, a musical, a dream play.
    A film of delirium, naivism, and atavism.
    The melodrama element resembles early 1900s British bestsellers by Hall Caine (filmed by Maurice Tourneur, Victor Sjöström, and Alfred Hitchcock) and the first film by Carl Th. Dreyer, The President. They are about a judge who has committed the supreme crime.
    The story is about a twin injustice: the judge Raghunath (Prithviraj Kapoor) throws out his wife who he suspects of having gotten pregnant by the bandit Jagga.
    The son Raj (Raj Kapoor) then grows up in the slums of Bombay, and although his mother sacrifices everything to give him a good education, he is thrown out of the school because he is fatherless, lives in the slum, and polishes boots to finance his education. Even Rita, his best childhood friend, is moved elsewhere. Behind both deprivations - school and Rita - is probably Raghunath. Society gives Raj no chance. He is bullied and harassed and lands in the criminal gang of nobody else than Jagga.
    12 years later he rediscovers (in extremely embarrassing circumstances) Rita (Nargis) who is now Raghunath's stepdaughter and also studying law to become "a lawyer, a magistrate, a judge".
    A story of twin parricide: Raj finally kills Jagga who has been his father-educator, and tries to kill Raghunath, the biological father who disowned him and did his utmost to sabotage him.

The camera is mobile, the approach is oneiric, the crane is roaming in the vast spaces.
    Hunger can make one mad. In her hunger, also mother gets delusional. When the son tries to steal bread (Les Misérables), the police catches him, and that's the start of the spiral of crime.
    The dance at the underword café is an Indian counterpart to the Parisian Apache dance.
    The palace of Raghunath and Rita is full of gorgeous nude statues of full-figured women.
    "He never spares criminals". - "Let God spare him."
    Prithviraj Kapoor looks like Tauno Palo, the greatest Finnish star.
    The song to the moon is the memorable dual love anthem.
    The climax of the film is Raj's long nightmare sequence, an astounding musical production number.
    There are obvious Charles Chaplin hommages, for instance to A Dog's Life, but Chaplin should never be imitated... The English title of this film could more fittingly be The Tramp.
    At Rita's birthday party Raj's life as a thief is brutally exposed. "A necklace without a box." "A box without a necklace".
    The last straw: Raghunath drives accidentally over his ex-wife's head. She dies at the hospital bandaged like a mummy.
    "The law does not follow the heart." "The heart does not follow the law".

A tinted print, mostly sepia, for a while blue. It looks like it has been struck from challenging, sometimes worn sources. Not brilliant, with joins, yet giving an engrossing experience of a passionate film.

The Man I Love (William A. Wellman, 1929)

Mies jota rakastan. US 1929. D: William A. Wellman. Story and dialogue: Herman J. Mankiewicz. SC: Percy Heath. DP: Henry W. Gerrard. ED: Alyson Shaffer. C: Richard Arlen (Dum-Dum Brooks), Mary Brian (Celia Fields), Baclanova (Sonia Barondoff), Harry Green (Curly Bloom), Jack Oakie (Lew Layton) P: David O. Selznick per Paramount Famous Lasky Corp. 35 mm. 74'. From: Universal Pictures
    Theme song: "Celia" (Richard A. Whiting, Leo Robin).
    Viewed with e-subtitles in Italian by Sub-Ti at Cinema Jolly (Bologna, Il Cinema Ritrovato), 29 June 2014 

Gina Telaroli (Il Cinema Ritrovato, 2014, catalogue and website): "When the appropriately named Dum Dum Brooks (Richard Arlen, in his fourth of five collaborations with Wellman) is able to convince his girl, Celia, to marry him (on their first date) and go to New York where he hopes to make it big as a boxer, the two find themselves riding in the same boxcar as the horses, which Dum Dum thoughtfully arranged in order to cut costs. When they finally embrace, down in the hay while a record plays, Wellman pans away from them and up to a horse, who simply stares into the frame. A good minute passes by as the camera stays front and center on the white nag. Suddenly the music stops, the horse glances away, and Wellman returns to the record player and its silently spinning needle, which for obvious reasons has been neglected. It's classic Wellman, focusing not on the plot but on what is happening right around it, as well as never losing focus on what his characters are up against, which in this case is their small town origins and the total doofiness of Dum Dum. The supporting cast provides pitch perfect color to the somewhat basic story of a country boy gone bad in the city, with Jack Oakie poking around in the background and audiences hearing Baclanova's thick Russian accent for the first time. The Man I Love was Wellman's second foray into sound, after the split sound/silent Chinatown Nights, and instead of letting the need to record dialogue limit him, he effortlessly strips down the picture and its action with moments like the one described above. He moves his camera away from what is forced, the placement of the actors, or conversely focuses on nothing but what is happening, as when Celia sits with Dum Dum after his fight in the empty boxing arena. Their bodies glisten in the darkness as they discuss what would happen if Dum Dum were to make it big. They stare into each others eyes as Celia sets her course (and the movies) and lovingly says, "I'll still be sorry you're a fighter, but you're the man I love". Gina Telaroli (Il Cinema Ritrovato, 2014, catalogue and website)

AA: An early entry in the film career of David O. Selznick and Herman J. Mankiewicz as well as in William A. Wellman's. A happy but lightweight contribution of theirs into early sound cinema. Witty and fluent, just slightly lethargic at times. Visually, there are dull passages, perhaps due to the clumsiness of early sound cinematography. The approach is humoristic:
    Richard Arlen as the timid boxer Dum-Dum.
    Mary Brian as the good-humoured record-store seller Celia.
    Leslie Fenton as "the new impressionistic poet" Carlo Vesper, Sonia's former lover.
    Olga Baclanova as the vamp Sonia Barondoff, "the hottest dish of the New York society" of whom Dum-Dum has never heard of. Sonia compares simultaneously the biceps of Dum-Dum and Carlo. At her party, she sings a Russian romance.
    The manager is obviously jealous when Celia enters Dum-Dum's life. In the couple, Celia is the brains, taking over Dum-Dum's deals and affairs. Enters Sonia and almost destroys everything.

As described above by Gina Tenaroli, the honeymoon in the horse car of the train to New York is a highlight of the picture.
    The Man I Love is a romantic comedy, but the boxing scenes are all business, well made, without any sound effects at all in this early sound film.

The print has perhaps been produced from challenging sources which are worn, duped, and soft at times, perhaps even blown up, but there are also enough passages of good visual quality to make it possible to appreciate Henry W. Gerrard's cinematography.

You Never Know Women

Venäläistä verta / Maschere russe. US 1926. D: William Wellman. Story: Ernest Vajda. SC: Benjamin Glazer.  DP: Victor Milner. C: Florence Vidor (Vera), Lowell Sherman (Eugene Foster), Clive Brook (Norodin), El Brendel (Toberchik), Roy Stewart (Dimitri), Joe Bonomo (il forzuto), Irma Kornelia (Olga), Sidney Bracey (manager). P: Adolph Zukor, Jesse L. Lasky per Famous Players Lasky Corp. 35 mm. 71'. B&w. From: Library of Congress per concessione di Paramount Pictures
    Electric piano: Antonio Coppola
    The name above the title: Florence Vidor in You Never Know Women. With Eugene Pallette (party guest, n. c.).
    Viewed with e-subtitles in Italian by Sub-Ti at Cinema Jolly (Bologna, Il Cinema Ritrovato), 29 June 2014

Gina Telaroli (Il Cinema Ritrovato, 2014, catalogue and website): "This 1926 Wellman silent was, according to the director himself, "My last chance", after he and B.P. Schulberg made a self proclaimed "incredibly atrocious" picture called The Cat's Pajamas. Always one for an over elaborate false start, Wellman opens with a construction worker raising a beam just as it's about to fall on a passing woman (Florence Vidor). The construction worker miraculously saves her but a rich gentleman (Eugene Foster) in a nearby car, upon noticing the woman's good looks, swoops in and takes the credit. She's part of a famed Russian vaudeville troupe, and Wellman redirects our attention to their exploits, crafting a nuanced exploration of performance, on stage and in life. This focus on theater gives Wellman one of his first chances to explore his obsession with the politics of identity and the physicality of labor. He combines the two in an impressive tracking shot of the entire cast (of both the movie and the troupe) taking off their masks on a brightly lit stage in a very dark theater, only to reveal clown make up underneath. The film marks the screen debut of vaudevillian El Brendel, who would appear the next year in Wings as Herman Schwimpf and provide a much needed (and very Wellmanesque) comedic antidote to the prestigious aviation melodrama. Here he also plays the funny man, offsetting a plot centered on a love triangle with the support of a performative duck. When the curtain came down, this last chance turned out to be Well man's breakout success as he said: "The gods smiled: it won artistic award of the year, and the bum got a twenty five dollar a week raise and Wings for his effort"." Gina Telaroli (Il Cinema Ritrovato, 2014, catalogue and website)

Antonio Coppola apologized for the electric piano, perfectly tuned but failing in the emotion of the interpretation.

AA: The circus world (including vaudeville) was an obsession during the silent era, at the latest since The Four Devils / De fire Djævle / Die vier Luftakrobaten (DK 1911, based on the novel by Herman Bang, D: Alfred Lind, Alex Christians, Robert Dinesen, Christian Rosenbaum, better than the 1920 remake by A. W. Sandberg, remade again as late as 1928 by Murnau). The world of magicians, clowns, dancers, acrobats, wild animals, varieties and fairgrounds inspired great artists, including Lubitsch, Curtiz, Sjöström, Chaplin, Browning, Dupont, Robison, Hitchcock, Lang, Murnau, and Sternberg. The approach to the circus world was at its most profound in Weimar Germany. E. A. Dupont built an international career on variations of Varieté. The most popular plot line was already introduced in The Four Devils: the triangle drama combined with perilous feats of acrobats with their salto mortales, risking their lives on the trust of the split second reactions of other team players. A favourite character besides the acrobat was the clown (at the latest since Sandberg's Klovnen, DK 1917, with Psilander) and its most heartbreaking interpretation was in the first major German sound film Der Blaue Engel by Emil Jannings (who also excelled as the acrobat in Varieté). "The world as a circus" was a tempting concept for the cinema during the silent age ever since Edison (who started with Buffalo Bill's Wild West circus acts) and Méliès, and of course, ever since.

William A. Wellman's breakthrough into the big league of Hollywood was also a drama of magicians, dancers, acrobats, clowns, and animals.
    The triangle tragedy plot stems from the Four Devils tradition.
    The acts of the Russian vaudeville troupe are brilliant. The action on stage and backstage is displayed in affectionate detail. The non-circus action sequence in the beginning (the falling beam almost crushing Vera at the construction site) is also thrillingly directed.
    This is a Florence Vidor vehicle. She is elegant, glamorous, and charming, her Vera character one of dignity. "These are my people. I love them".
    Norodin (Clive Brook), the brooding lover, is a Houdini style escape artist, a master of chains, locks, coffins, and underwater rescues. He invents new magic acts, such as an ingenious disappearence act. He is also a brilliant knife-thrower.
    El Brendel is perfect as the clown Toberchick with his bespectacled duck.
    Lowell Sherman plays yet another variation of his blasé and callous millionaire cad character, famous at least since Way Down East.
    There are original scenes of comedy, such as the troupe setting the millionaire's dinner table with flying saucers.
    There are also moments of melancholy reflection, both for Vera and Norodin.

A well-made entertainment, a display of many of Wellman's strengths, yet not quite one of the actual masterpieces of the circus genre. My favourite scene is towards the end: everyone believes Norodin has drowned into the ocean in his most dangerous stunt, but the show must go on. We observe the expressions of Vera, Toberchik, and the duck. "Sometimes you don't know your love until it's too late".

The print is fundamentally good, giving a true sense of the original concept of Victor Milner's cinematography. There are slight occasional nitrate or water damage marks from the source material, and for a moment there is a duped quality, but on the whole this is a great print.

Peter von Bagh: William Wellman, between Silent and Sound (ll Cinema Ritrovato 2014 introduction)

A Star Is Born (1937). Fredric March, Janet Gaynor
"Our American Masters’ retrospective adds William Wellman (1896-1975) to the company of von Sternberg, Capra, Ford, Hawks, Walsh and Dwan, once again presenting all the silents, the early sound films and some of the later masterpieces."

"The scarcity of silent Wellman prints is a sad fact: You Never Know Women, in 1926 already his 12th film, shows an insid­er’s view, like Wings (1927) about fliers and war; Beggars of Life (1928) is a touching prelude to the Depression-era roads, leading to great Wellman territory in the period ‘before the Code’, when he created many of the era’s lasting, most hard-hit­ting films. His was a personal moral, outside the fake morality that society was preaching. He could handle any genre beyond categories. His sense of scenery and weather was as beautiful as Ford’s (who voted for wind, when Wellman’s specialty seemed to be rain), and his sense of adventure, physical action and men in war could have the same depth as the best films of Hawks or Walsh."
 

"Wellman’s most blessed characteristic was his irreverence, the fullness of which shines in the totally absurd Nothing Sacred (1937, rare among the greatest screwball comedies to have an aggressively rural-moronic content). Wellman’s comedies were as tough as his action films: a certain tendency to mingle charac­teristics from quite unrelated genres is typical for him."
 

"Wellman’s output is large enough to be almost beyond reach; any selection is bound to leave out remarkable films. A nice surprise is in store because the classics and the relatively unknown films are equally and deeply satisfying. Thus, among Wellman’s westerns The Ox-Bow Incident (1943) is one of the most famous and greatest studio films ever, with its shadow play of justice and claustrophobic sets reflecting the horror story of violence pouring out of the depths of decent citizens; Yel­low Sky (1948) belongs to the fraternity of Greed (1924) and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), a violent film with almost no action (the shoot-out is ghostly, with horse’s shad­ows conveying what happened during the final power game); Westward the Women (1951), a film about a hard journey, is kill-or-be-killed in a way that makes most other westerns look tamely romantic."
 

"Every step into another genre creates a different tone. Wellman’s original A Star Is Born (1937) matches Cukor’s later master­piece as an inspired insider’s view of tinsel town pain. The very wonderful Good-bye, My Lady (1956), a juvenile film about a boy and a dog – and nature, a swamp, a family – shows how every stage of life requires loss for the individual to become transformed truly and fully into a meaningful new phase."
 

"For many, this series will be a revelation considering that even now almost no general film history book even mentions such dazzling films as Other Men’s Women (1931) or Midnight Mary (1933). Even good writers tend to experience Wellman’s career without enough appreciation when all his films are taken as a series. Let me predict that our selection will produce just the opposite sensation – plain, growing enthusiasm..." (Peter von Bagh, Il Cinema Ritrovato, 2014, catalogue and website)

Programme curated by Peter von Bagh

Morgen beginnt das Leben / Life Begins Tomorrow

La vita comincia domani / [Domani comincia la vita]. DE 1933. D: Werner Hochbaum. SC: Carl Behr. DP: Herbert Körner. ED: Marianne Behr. AD: Gustav A. Knauer, Alexander Mügge. M: Hansom Milde-Meißner. C: Erich Haußmann (Robert), Hilde von Stolz (Marie), Harry Frank (il violinista), Walter von Lennep (cantante), Etta Klingenberg (la ragazza del caffé), Edith Schollwer (la cameriera), Gustav Püttjer (l'uomo della giostra). P: Ethos-Film GmbH. 35 mm. 76'. From: Österreichisches Filmmuseum
    Presented by Peter von Bagh, introduced by Alexander Horwath.
    Viewed at Sala Scorsese - Cinema Lumière, Bologna, Il Cinema Ritrovato, 29 June 2014

Joachim Schätz (Il Cinema Ritrovato 2014, catalogue and website): "The chronicle of a fearful day. After five years in prison, Robert is set free. His wife Marie means to pick him up, but coincidence intervenes. They search for each other, they repeatedly miss each other, and along the way, Robert comes to doubt Marie's fidelity and the promise of a better tomorrow."

"One everyman, one everywoman, and the joys and accidents of modern city life: director Hochbaum and scenarist Carl Behr tap into the vein of contemporaneous city films like Paul Fejos' Lonesome (1928) or Gustav Machatý's From Saturday to Sunday (1931), but their outlook is much darker. Arriving in German cinemas the summer after the Nazi takeover, their film has been fruitfully read as "a symptom of transition, an expression of the general anxiety neurosis of 1933" (Karsten Witte). From Robert and Marie's experiences, Hochbaum weaves sophisticated montages of image and sound, inner and outer world, impressions and recollections. Rather than being content with showcasing late-1920s avant-garde film techniques, Morgen Beginnt das Leben's tour de force of sequence shots, rhythmic editing and wordless storytelling achieves a purposeful, fierce portrait of disturbance and disorientation. Instead of the working masses, an escalating montage collects the ex-convict's vicious, gossiping neighbors. When the camera is attached to a merry-go-round, the result is not exhilaration à la Jean Epstein, but an eerie gliding movement prying Robert. The door at home won't open, the streets are full of noise and sinister whispers, and in the cafe where he used to work, Robert is overcome by memories of the manslaughter he committed on impulse."

"As witnessed by Hochbaum's "chained camera" (Bert Rebhandl) breathlessly trailing its protagonist, select moments of blissful oblivion stand out all the more: a waitress warbling a hit song, a bellhop bobbing to background music. Such reprieves provide the film with its pockets of light, rather than the fortunate lastminute resolution that follows desperation - the first in a string of untrustworthy happy endings in Hochbaum's œuvre."
Joachim Schätz (Il Cinema Ritrovato 2014, catalogue and website)

In his introduction Alexander Horwath singled out Morgen beginnt das Leben as the last great example of German interwar cinema.

AA: A fine lyrical film about the difficulty of returning to normal life after five years in prison. The violinist Robert Sand has attacked the restaurant owner who tried to take advantage of his wife Marie, killing him accidentally in the struggle. Marie's alarm clock is out of service and she misses the crucial appointment when Robert is released. Due to misunderstandings, Robert starts to fear the worst.

Morgen beginnt das Leben is largely a stream of consciousness film. The main narrative takes place within one day, but flashbacks cover the entire chain of events.

Hochbaum is still in possession of the great secret of the German silent cinema, and as a rule he tells the story purely visually.

Herbert Körner the cinematographer knows how to use the moving camera. Forward tracking shots are eloquent. In the dance sequence the camera dances along like in a Max Ophuls film. There are fluent long takes, there are extreme close-ups. There is no sign of early-sound-film clumsiness. A long shot from a high angle covers the release from prison. Superimpositions abound in the mist of the memory.

There are bravura sequences such as the whip pans covering the trains taking Robert and Marie to their opposite directions. Marie is following the reverse trajectory towards the prison. Fine moments of the subjective camera include the memorable one from which we follow the going-ons at the dancing restaurant from behind the violinist's hands, and in the mirror at the opposite wall we see "us" as the violinist. Witty shots include the prisoner's round at the prison yard, with a clock superimposed in the middle. Hochbaum and Körner belong to the poets of rain.

Morgen beginnt das Leben starts also to feel like an hommage to Weimar cinema, paying respect to many favourite visual motifs, affectionately catalogued by Siegfried Kracauer in From Caligari to Hitler: - the canary in its cage (Der Blaue Engel) - the fairground - the carousel - the lonely little girl and the friendly man immediately under suspicion (M) - the formidable Berlin policeman stopping the traffic chaos with an imperious gesture - "the circle as a symbol of chaos" - the high angle shot of the staircase (M among others) - the lonely man's cognac (M) - "the feet that walk" - "Im Namen des Gesetzes" / "Im Namen des Volkes" (M) - the elliptical court sequence (M) - the prisoners' round (Varieté). The only annoying device is the montage of the gossips, favoured by Fritz Lang and tiresome also in his films. The entire concept, of course, also brings to mind Franz Biberkopf's release from prison in Berlin Alexanderplatz. I'm not saying that Hochbaum is a copycat, but the amount of such reference points brings further weight to Alexander Horwath's claim of Morgen beginnt das Leben as the last great achievement of Weimar-style German cinema.

Hochbaum knows how to create psychological tension, and the suspense keeps growing until the final release.

The print has been struck from difficult source materials. There are passages of fine visual quality. Elsewhere there are soft passages and missing black levels.

Joachim Schätz: Werner Hochbaum. A Man Between (Il Cinema Ritrovato 2014 introduction)

Razzia in St. Pauli
"After years in prison, a man stands on the doorstep of his former apartment. He rings the bell, but nobody’s home to open the door, just a canary singing inside. The ex-convict’s heart sinks, yet a moment later he starts ringing again: not so much hoping to be let in, but rather to strike up a musical conversation with the bird. This short scene from Werner Hochbaum’s Morgen beginnt das Leben gives as succinct an impression as any of its director’s distinctive style and mood: Hochbaum’s is a cinema of melancholy, even despair, mingled with spirited moment to moment playfulness."

"In his life (1899-1946) as well as in his filmmaking, the German director was very much a man on the threshold – between avant-garde ambitions and popular opportunities, between political involvements and poetic idiosyncrasies, between recognition and oblivion. Lauded by national and international critics of his time and passionately rediscovered in the 1970s – film historian Ulrich Kurowski singled him out as “the most important German filmmaker after Murnau, Lang, Lubitsch and Ophuls” – Hochbaum still remains in the margins of film history. He’s not exactly a well-kept secret, but a persistent one."

"That elusiveness is partly due to a life full of ruptures and reversals that inform his work and complicate neat attributions: at age thirty, when Hochbaum finished his feature debut, the strike drama Bruder, he had already experienced World War I as a volunteer and become embroiled in a ludicrous treason lawsuit. Bruder was commissioned and financially supported by Hamburg’s Social Democratic party organization, which also had given Hochbaum his start as a film critic. In the local party newspaper, Hochbaum drew extensively on the writings of Bela Balasz and the films of Walter Ruttmann. Their joined influence can be witnessed best in his baffling first two sound features Razzia in St. Pauli and Morgen beginnt das Leben: working from minuscule budgets and minimal stories, both films explore textures and rhythms of the everyday with a fluency reminiscent of French impressionist filmmaking. They championed an ideal of ecstatic cine-formalism just as it was about to disappear from German screens for good."

"Hochbaum himself kept working in Germany after the Nazi takeover, but his career breakthrough came with two Austrian co-productions: the award-winning Die ewige Maske and Vorstadtvariete, the moving adaptation of a darkly Viennese, antimilitarist Felix Salten play. This double succes d’estime facilitated a career crafting elegant genre fare that suddenly came to a halt in 1939. Soon after realizing the propaganda assignment Drei Unteroffiziere, Hochbaum was banned from his profession by Joseph Goebbels. The swastika flag flying at the end of Drei Unteroffiziere remains the final image from a Hochbaum film. He died of tuberculosis in 1946 while preparing the resistance drama Der Weg im Dunkeln. A fitting epitaph to a working life of both doggedness and political compromise, the title roughly translates: “The Way through the Darkness”.
"

Joachim Schätz (Il Cinema Ritrovato 2014 introduction in the programme catalogue and on the website)

Ned med Vaabnene! / Lay Down Your Arms!

CENTO ANNI FA / A HUNDRED YEARS AGO
CAPITOLO 1: GIÙ LE ARMI! IL PACIFISMO E LA GUERRA 1914-1918
CHAPTER 1: LAY DOWN YOUR ARMS! PACIFISM AND WAR 1914-1918

Mariann Lewinsky (Il Cinema Ritrovato, 2014, catalogue and website): "This chapter, dedicated to the War of 1914-1918, consists of four anti-war films, plus Addio Giovinezza!, remade in 1918 in commemoration of the author and film director Nino Oxilia, killed in the war at the age of 28."

"“Religion is no justification for the stake, nor patriotism for mass murder, nor science for the torture of animals.” This quote by Bertha von Suttner (1843-1914; Nobel Peace Prize 1905) is a message from the progressive 19th century. Her novel Die Waffen nieder! (Lay Down Your Arms!, 1889) was translated into twenty-seven languages, and Suttner became a leading figure of the international peace movement, fighting for disarmament and the establishment of International Courts of Arbitration."

"The pacifists’ aim was – then, as now – that conflicts be resolved through negotiations, so wars would no longer occur. The occupation of Libya by Italy in 1911-1912 was the first war to be covered systematically by the cinema, with Cines producing blueprints for propaganda documentaries and dramas that have since been remade countless times."

"(If I were granted three wishes, one of them would be the total ban of the colonialist rescue plot from cultural production, starting with Cabiria.) For films and newsreels from the the so-called
“Great War”, consult the hundreds of hours now accessible on the European Film Gateway website. If you want to learn what really happened, try autobiographies." Mariann Lewinsky (Il Cinema Ritrovato, 2014, catalogue and website)

[Giù le armi!]. DK 1914. D: Holger-Madsen. Based on the novel by Bertha von Suttner (1889). SC: C. Th. Dreyer. DP: Marius Clausen. C: Philip Bech (Grev von Althaus), Augusta Blad (Martha), Johanne Fritz-Petersen (Rosa), Alf Blütecher (Arno von Dotzky), Olaf Fønss (Fr. von Tilling). P: Nordisk Films Kompagni. [2K?] DCP. 65’. B&w. From: Det Danske Filminstitutt.
    The novel was translated into Finnish as Aseet pois by Alli Nissinen (Helsinki: Otava, 1895).
    Presented by Mariann Lewinsky. Grand piano: Maud Nelissen.
    Viewed at Cinema Lumière - Sala Mastroianni, with e-subtitles in Italian and English (Bologna, Il Cinema Ritrovato), 29 June 2014

Madeleine Bernstorff: "The Danish anti-war film Ned med Vaabnene! was to be premiered at the Third International Peace Conference in Vienna in September 1914. Nordisk had acquired the rights to Suttner’s bestseller, and Carl Th. Dreyer wrote the script for director Holger-Madsen."

"The film’s prologue, showing Suttner at her desk in Vienna, was shot in April 1914, shortly before her death that June. Ned med Vaabnene! depicts an officer’s family and the growing consciousness of the protagonist, Martha von Althaus, for the pacifist cause; it presents impressive war scenes and tableaux of wounded soldiers. As predicted by Suttner, the film was banned in several countries by
the censors. In Germany it was only released during the November Revolution of 1918-19, when for two short months some distributors sympathized with the strong anti-war sentiments of the Revolution and handled such topics, with the slogan “new films for new times”." (Madeleine Bernstorff, Il Cinema Ritrovato, 2014, catalogue and website).

AA: We cinephiles are proud of the many anti-war films made by high profile artists, and there is a special status of pride for the major anti-war features made even before WWI started. Alfred Machin's Maudite soit la guerre (1914) is one of them, and Ned med Vaabnene! is another.

The priceless Bertha Suttner vignette is seen first: the formidable lady working in her study, a few months before her death, and before the start of the world war. The "dramatis personae" credit sequence is charming, with further vignettes of the leading players in character, at their little routines, and with children at play.

Soon the borderline between play and reality starts to blur. The little son is celebrating his birthday party dressed as a drummer boy, equipped with toy guns. Later on there is a more alarming scene where the little boy "plays war" with the family dog, harassing it cruelly. The family is military, the father Arno von Dotzky is a soldier, there is a war, and soon the father is no more. The country is unnamed, but it might be Austria. The action is undated, but there are contemporary cars. The shooting locations might include Copenhagen and Denmark more generally.

Martha, who has become a pacifist (she pointedly refuses to toast yet another war), remarries after four years, yet again with an officer, Friedrich von Tilling. In the new war Friedrich is severely wounded, but after thrilling experiences he returns safely home.

The tragedy does not end there. A cholera epidemic, another consequence of the war, breaks out and enters the family house. First, the maid, then the sister Rosa perish. Rosa's fiancé is despaired. The final declaration of the military family, now turned pacifist: down with weapons!

The story is told mainly in the early cinema mode with long takes, long shots, and deep focus. There are fluent pans and tracking shots (including forward and backward tracking shots), three-shots and medium shots.

The sense of composition is strong and memorable: the Red Cross barn being blown up by the enemy, the long takes of the dozens of wounded soldiers, the shot from the top of the moving train the roof of which is full of wounded ones, and the final tableau of the pacifist handshake.

This is an epic film in which the scenes of war and its aftermath convey its horror convincingly. We see the infantry, the cavalry, and the artillery in action.

The performances are largely restrained, but towards the end I paid attention to moments of overacting. Holger-Madsen was a talented director, but there are also clumsy aspects in this film.

One can appreciate the fine definition of light of the cinematographer Marius Clausen in this screening. The source material has often been good, with occasional instances of damage in the source. The speed feels natural, and the DCP has been produced well.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Bharat mata / Mother India

The beginning of the story: Radha (Nargis) as the happy young bride at the joyous communal wedding ceremony. The cost of the wedding is exorbitant. The entire tragic family saga revolves around paying back the sum to the evil landlord Sukhilala.
मदर इण्डिया / Madre India. IN 1957. D: Mehboob Khan. Dial.: Wajahat Mirza, S. Ali Raza. DP: Faredoon Irani. ED: Shamsuddin Kadri. AD: V. H. Palnitkar. M: Naushad. Songs: Shakeel Badayuni. C: Nargis (Radha), Sunil Dutt (Birju), Raaj Kumar (Shamu), Rajendra Kumar (Ramu), Kanhaiyalal, Mukri (Sukhilala), Jilloo, Kumkum (Champa), Chanchal, Sheela Naik (Kamla). P: Mehboob Khan per Mehboob Productions. 35 mm. 172’. Col. Hindi version with English subtitles. From: BFI – National Archive
    Opened by Gian Luca Farinelli, introduced by Shivendra Singh Dungarpur.
    Viewed with English subtitles on print and e-subtitles in Italian by Sub-Ti at Cinema Jolly, Bologna (Il Cinema Ritrovato), 28 June 2014

Saaed Mirza (Il Cinema Ritrovato, 2024, catalogue and website): “All Hindi films come from Mother India”, an Indian screenwriter once remarked. Exuberantly rich in incident and spectacle, director Mehboob Khan’s film has acquired the status of a national epic over the years. The film unfolds the saga of a peasant woman, whose courage and determination symbolizes the endurance of the nation itself. The rural landscapes of India, the rhythms of village life and the changing seasons are brought alive by evocative colour cinematography in rich earth tones."

The Epic Journey of a Nation

"Mother India was made in 1957, exactly ten years after India gained Independence. Though the film begins a generation before that momentous occasion, strangely enough, it never actually reveals
the face of the colonizing power. Rather, it delves into the rhythm of an agricultural civilization that has existed since time immemorial. And representing this timelessness is Radha, played by Nargis, who combines the characteristics of both Mother Courage and Mother Earth."

"Through her, we traverse the epic journey of a country from darkness to light. Radha’s story begins with her as a young bride who, along with her farmer husband, struggles to make ends meet. Theirs
is a journey of a little happiness and much struggle and sorrow, since most of what their land produces is taken by the village landlord. When Radha and her husband try to fend for themselves
by cultivating a piece of barren land, catastrophe strikes. The husband loses both his arms in an accident, and Radha has to pawn her jewellery to the landlord in order to fend for their three children."

"Later, she will also lose her land to him. Though at this point the film revolves around the theme of an unjust agrarian system, of land and the struggle to make it yield, other factors come into play. The disappearance of Radha’s husband one day, because he cannot bear the humiliation of his incapacity; the death of Radha’s youngest child in a flood. Through all this, we see the saga of Radha, and her indomitable spirit, as the years pass and her two young boys become men."

"The only reference to India becoming a nation comes when Radha appeals to fellow villagers who are attempting to flee the ravages of a great flood, not to abandon their lands and to have faith that
things will change. The villagers return, and in a symbolic shot, regroup into the contours of the map of India. The year is 1947 and India is free."

"The saga now shifts to Radha’s struggle on two fronts: one, to till the land with the help of her sons, and the other, more personal, to tame the rebellious spirit of her younger son who harbours deep anger against the scheming landlord who brought such grief upon his family. In all of this, Radha maintains a stoic dignity that arises from the values ingrained within her. These are the values of a traditional India that has seen a series of destabilizing onslaughts, and yet has held fast and remained unchanged."

"The film ends in independent India, where Radha is invited to inaugurate a small dam that will finally bring water to the parched fields. Hopefully, this is a new beginning that will change the lives of people who have been oppressed for so long."
(Saeed Mirza, Il Cinema Ritrovato, 2014, catalogue and website)

Shivendra Singh Dungarpur's introduction (my notes): "This is the first time a retrospective from the Golden Fifties of Indian cinema has been mounted. The films are vanishing - the original negatives do not survive, and the prints are not in good condition. 
    The 1950s were a time of hope and aspiration, of social idealism.
    A new breed of film-makers emerged. 
    In 1952 the first Indian film festival was arranged. In it, Ladri di biciclette was screened, shot on location, showing true human struggle. That was an important revelation.
    The new film-makers had come from small villages to cities, directors such as Raj Kapoor and Guru Dutt. They all migrated with a new sense of hope. 
    It was not easy to choose from a heritage of 70.000 Indian films (at the count of 2013) made in 32 languages, and in the 1950s in three major centers: Bombay, Calcutta, and Madras, in Hindi, Bengali, and other languages.
    The selection of 8 films represents all those three major centers.
    Mehboob Khan was a silent film actor who founded a film company of his own; its emblems were the hammer and the sickle.
    Mehboob Khan shared the vision of Nehru. Mehboob died in 1964 at 57, in the same year as Nehru.
    They shared the new vision, the new myth of India. In the newsreel before the feature there is also evidence of that Nehruvian vision. Also an important topic in the newsreel is the visit of Danny Kaye to encourage children to get vaccinated.
    We have lost so many Indian films. Most of them are gone. Now there is a new awakening." Shivendra Singh Dungarpur's introduction (my notes)

AA: The mother of Indian cinema.

There is a magnificent flow in this epic of Indian struggle and reconstruction. There is an affinity in the approach to Soviet kolkhoz musicals of Pyriev and Alexandrov.

This is a musical melodrama with both celebration songs of life and laments of life's hardship. It mixes realism and fairy-tale with equal conviction.
    There is the splendour of the wedding, and the Festival of Colours, the excess and abundance of the musicals.
    The characters are based on stock figures, almost caricatures, elevated to myth.
    The terrible mother-in-law figure.
    The exploiter-landlord-moneylender Sukhilala whose evil knows no bounds.
    The long-suffering mother. A great performance by Nargis.
    The prodigal son who turns into a tramp, a village lunatic, and a bandit. Birju is very well acted both as the child actor and the actor of Birju as a young man.
    Radha the mother has protected Birju to the end, also when there is a mob out to torch Birju. From the sea of fire mother rescues Birju one final time. There is an atavistic force in these scenes. Birju becomes a bandit leader. There is a bloodbath as Birju comes to wreck the wedding of Rupa. That is the last straw. Radha shoots her own son. Birju gives his mother the bracelets, the symbol of what it was all about.
    But in the conclusion there is new hope. A dam is opened, and the water fertilizes the fields.

The realistic element is strong. It is the tragedy of the little farmer financially chained to the landlord-exploiter in a system we in Europe call feudal. The scenes of ploughing, pioneering, removing large stones, and the work montages (starting already during the opening credit sequence) are powerful. This is also a story of illiteracy and loss of education: the farmers are not able to check Sukhilala's cooked account books. Despite the melodramatic-musical mode the performances of the characters and the family tensions are realistic and believable. This is also the story of Radha's lost love, the husband becoming crippled, having lost his both arms. Radha never ceases to miss him.

A few days ago I saw a Swedish film about the conditions in the Swedish countryside in the 1930s, Den enfaldige mördaren, and watching this was struck by the affinities.

The reconstruction of Bharat mata has been conducted from difficult source materials. The opening credits state that it has originally been a print by Technicolor based on Gevacolor negatives, but the colours in the sources available have faded.

Anyway this is an engrossing and unforgettable experience. One of the rare films that achieve the level of myth. The myth of the rebirth of India. And also a psychoanalytical myth of mother and son.

Shivendra Singh Dungarpur: The Golden '50s. India's Endangered Classics (Il Cinema Ritrovato 2014 introduction)

Bharat mata / Mother India. Nargis as Radha with her precious wedding bracelets and her young husband in the early days of happiness.
Shivendra Singh Dungarpur (Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna, 2014, catalogue and website)

"I was a child of the 70s, but I lived and breathed the cinema of the 1950s. On summer evenings, my grandfather would bring those wonderful prints and screen them for us with his projector: the magical dream sequence of Raj Kapoor’s Awara, the poetic intensity of Guru Dutt’s films and the universal truth captured in the stillness of Bimal Roy’s narratives. To me cinema was vibrant and breathing, and Kaagaz ke Phool made me want to become a filmmaker."

"India in the 1950s was a country newly born, freed from the shackles of colonialism, full of hopes and aspirations. Industrialization and Partition made migration a way of life. The cities beckoned with dreams of opportunity and prosperity, but also with the reality of exploitation, crime and slums. This age saw the birth of a new breed of filmmakers who turned their backs on mythology and historical dramas. Their narratives leaned heavily towards social commentary, as leftist artists were drawn to cinema, viewing it as a powerful evangelical medium. Italian neo-realism found its way to Indian shores, and Vittorio De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves struck a chord with Indian filmmakers who discovered that the reality of the human struggle was a universal truth. Bimal Roy (1909-1966), Raj Kapoor (1924-1988), Guru Dutt (1925-1964), Mehboob Khan (1907-1964), S. S. Vasan (1903-1969) and Ritwik Ghatak (1925-1976) were among these ‘rebel’ filmmakers who made the 1950s the most glorious chapter in the history of Indian cinema – truly the Golden Age."

"It was difficult for me to choose just eight films from the three major film industries of the time – Bombay, Madras and Calcutta. Chandralekha (1948), Awara (1951), Do Bigha Zamin (1953), Ajantrik (1957), Mother India (1957), Pyaasa (1957) Madhumati (1958) and Kaagaz ke Phool (1959): each of these eight films represents an innovation in thought, form or style. In keeping with the tradition at the time, I have also picked eight newsreels to precede each of the feature films. These are an important record of the time, presenting a historical context for the films in the retrospective."

"These films represent a rich and varied cinematic heritage that is in danger of becoming extinct. 1700 silent films were made in India of which only 5 or 6 complete films remain. Tragically, we have lost our first sound film Alam Ara (1931). By 1950, India had lost seventy to eighty per cent of its films and this has been the result of a widespread and complacent belief that film will last forever. We now realize that these eight classics too are in imminent danger of being lost to the world if urgent steps are not taken for their preservation and restoration. Screening these films is not just a reminder of a singular cinematic legacy, but one that is endangered and must be saved."
Shivendra Singh Dungarpur (Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna,2014, catalogue and website)

Programme curated by Shivendra Singh Dungarpur, Film Heritage Foundation
In collaboration with National Film Archive of India e Films Division, Government of India

Il cavaliere misterioso / The Mysterious Knight

Casanova (Vittorio Gassman) helps Catherine the Great (Yvonne Sanson) with her riding boots
IT 1948. D: Riccardo Freda. SC: Riccardo Freda, Mario Monicelli, Steno. DP:  Rodolfo Lombardi. ED:  Otello Colangeli. AD: Piero Filippone, Nino Novarese. M: Alessandro Cicognini. C: Vittorio Gassman (Giacomo Casanova), Maria Mercader (Elisabetta), Yvonne Sanson (Caterina II), Gianna Maria Canale (la contessa Lehmann), Elli Parvo (la moglie del doge), Antonio Centa (fratello di Casanova), Giovanni Hinrich (il grande inquisitore), Tino Buazzelli (un congiurato). P: Dino De Laurentiis per Lux Film. 35 mm. 96’. B&w. From:  CSC – Cineteca Nazionale
    1999 restoration by Cineteca Nazionale.
    Viewed with e-subtitles in English by Sub-Ti, Cinema Jolly, Bologna (Il Cinema Ritrovato), 28 June 2014

Jacques Lourcelles (Il Cinema Ritrovato, 2014, English translation for the catalogue and the website): "After Don Cesare di Bazan and the first Aquila nera, which took Italian adventure films back to their tough, picaresque and dynamic roots, unlike the soft embellished style of the fascist period, Freda completed Il cavaliere misterioso, a story with a much more personal tone and one of his masterpieces. His virtuosity led him to include an original portrait of Casanova (his seventh film, Gassman is the most distinct and credible Casanova ever seen) in a wide-ranging adventure story whose sequences are at times inhabited by an obscure and enigmatic progression of a detective story, an unusual and distressing atmosphere of an almost imaginary story (the scenes in Vienna), not to mention that climax of intrigue and frosty marivaudage which Freda uses to show us his vision of the 18th century. He brightly creates his own personal universe: a world of treachery, plotting and cruelty in which honesty is always lacking, illuminated with elegance. As always in his films, the formal aspect (sets, costumes, photography) is treated with extreme care but never as an end in itself. It is always wonderfully connected to a dynamic conception of the cinematographic story. In this sense the final sequences of the sleigh chase are emblematic as they exploit all of the variations of white. They are extremely charming and communicate, along with their visual splendour, the director’s characteristic bitter and detached style." (Jacques Lourcelles, Dictionnaire du cinéma. Les films, Robert Laffont, Paris 1992) (Il Cinema Ritrovato, 2024, catalogue and website)

AA: Jacques Lourcelles states above that Vittorio Gassman is the most distinct and credible Casanova ever seen on screen, and his mercurial character is, indeed, the most remarkable feature of this film: story and character are inseparable in this adventure which brings us from Venice to Vienna, Poland and Saint Petersbourg. The leading ladies are delightful: Elli Parvo as the wife of the doge, Gianna Maria Canale as the Countess Lehmann trying to disguise herself as a man (does not fool Casanova for a second), and Yvonne Sanson as Catherine the Great. In this story, Casanova is not pursuing love but putting his charms to maximal use with each woman, usually even playing hard to get. This is about the art of the flirt.

More fundamentally, this is about serious commitments. For Casanova, it is all about saving his brother, who is being tortured in the prisons of Venice. Yet amongst all that flirt, there is one serious affair, that with Elisabetta (Maria Mercader), deeply hurt by what she thinks is going on between Casanova and Countess Lehmann. Having sacrificed her position as the chambermaid of the contessa by helping Casanova (the count suspecting her of having helped a secret lover into the house), there is for Elisabetta still the ultimate sacrifice as they are chased by the Cossacks near the border of Poland. This is a Mozartian interpretation of Casanova: the Rococo art of surface elegance hiding something more profound and tragic. Mission accomplished, Casanova's reply to the intrigued wife of the doge about the fate of Elisabetta is: "The supreme rival was Death".

Riccardo Freda excels in the adventure story; it is a difficult genre to pull off this well. The action scenes are brisk, the final chase sequence is thrilling. Freda has a strong sense of horror and fantasy (the Venetian lead chambers, the abandoned house, the secret society). His touch of the erotic element is light, natural, sensitive, and humoristic. The funniest scenes are the ones where Casanova teases Countess Lehmann in her male disguise, and Casanova's private audience with Catherine the Great.

The print looks like it has been carefully restored from difficult sources. While the visual quality is often good, at times there is a soft and duped look.

Emiliano Morreale: Riccardo Freda. A Master of Popular Cinema (Il Cinema Ritrovato 2014 introduction)


Emiliano Morreale (Il Cinema Ritrovato, 2014, catalogue and website): 
"Riccardo Freda’s great period began immediately after the war with the adventure films he made for Riccardo Gualino’s Lux and ended in the 1960s with Lo spettro. During that time the director worked on high-end productions and second-rate ones but always according to his creed of energy and speed. Film is an art to be done in a hurry, as the director often said: “When the production of a film takes too long, enthusiasm drags, and the film’s rhythm is affected by it. Ideally, you put a reel in the camera, call action and never stop”."

"Averse to the quintessential Italian film genre, comedy, and a sworn enemy of Neorealism, Freda always presented himself as an ‘American-style’ director, a master of action movies, a creator of grand melodramas and even a pioneer of Italian horror film. Literature played a leading part in his idea of popular cinema, a veritable storehouse of celebrated and unknown references melding high and low (Dante, Pushkin, Hugo, d’Ennery). Opera librettos and silent films were also great sources of inspi­ration for the director. Aside from literary adaptations, many of his films were remakes of silent films he had been fond of ever since his pied-noir childhood in Egypt: Valentino, Maciste, Griffith… Certainly not a cinephile, Freda nourished himself on film: thinking he was heir to a tradition, he became a master of style. It is not surprising that he is admired by extremely di­verse directors, from Bertrand Tavernier to Giuseppe Tornatore. The classic camera movement in his films, it has been said, was a lateral or diagonal dolly that leads a character into a crowded venue, a place to explore, possibly full of peril, where that char­acter is always at the center of the action and the scene. There is undoubtedly a ‘Freda style’ – wide, curving camera movements, with a dolly and crane – just as there are Fredian heroes – at least during the first phase of his career – who are noble, brave and typical of popular storytelling. But at a certain point (with horror films, for example) it is not a question of good or bad. Freda became more cynical and disappointed with mankind and certainly with filmmaking."

"A total filmmaker and totally popular, Freda was ignored by Italian critics, but he was rediscovered in France through the auteur policy. A banner macmahonien director, he was also admired by the “Positif” crowd. In Italy he has also had tributes and been reinterpreted, especially by the genera­tion that strove to free itself from the ideological hegemony of Neorealism. Thereafter, cinephiles would especially esteem his horror films, but his distinctly classic cinema never did enjoy that perverse, pop or trash type of fascination of the later genres. Freda was perfect for cultural battles and provocation but also for engaging and thrilling generations of audiences and critics alike. His work appears to us today as an example of a lost cin­ema to be read alongside the history of culture, of the modes of production, and of the audience in Italy and beyond." Emiliano Morreale (Il Cinema Ritrovato, 2014, catalogue and website)

Il Cinema Ritrovato's 2014 Riccardo Freda programme curated by Emiliano Morreale.