Tuesday, June 30, 2015

La Fin du jour / The End of the Day (2015 digital restoration by Pathé)

La Fin du jour. Michel Simon, Louis Jouvet. Click to enlarge the images.
I prigionieri del sogno / Varjojen vangit / Skuggornas fångar. FR 1939. D: Julien Duvivier. SC: Julien Duvivier, Charles Spaak. Dial.: Charles Spaak. DP: Armand Thirard, Robert Juillard, Christian Matras, Ernest Bourreaud. ED: Marthe Poncin. AD: Jacques Krauss. M: Maurice Jaubert. C: Louis Jouvet (Saint-Clair), Michel Simon (Cabrissade), Madeleine Ozeray (Jeannette), Victor Francen (Gilles Marny), Gabrielle Dorziat (Madame Chabert), Sylvie (Madame Tusini), Arthur Devère (il direttore di scena), Gaston Modot (il padrone del bistrot), Raymone (la padrona del bistrot), François Périer (il giornalista). P: Regina Films. DCP. 105’. B&w. English subtitles by Lenny Borger. From: Pathé International.
    Arquillières / Alexandre Arquillière  (Monsieur Lucien).
    Song: "Le Temps de cerises".
    Viewed at Cinema Arlecchino (Bologna, Il Cinema Ritrovato, Ritrovati e Restaurati) with English subtitles on the DCP and e-subtitles in Italian by Sub-Ti Londra, 30 June 2015.
    Introduced by Sophie Seydoux.

Roberto Chiesi (Il Cinema Ritrovato, catalogue and website): "Julien Duvivier knew the secret to creating explosive opening scenes where in just a few minutes he could condense the atmosphere of a world and the features and story of a character with masterly visual fluidity. La Fin du jour opens with a performance of Alexandre Dumas’ Antony in front of a half-empty audience, and the troupe is in a hurry to finish the show so they don’t miss the last train. All but Saint-Clair (Louis Jouvet), an old actor performing his swan song. He brags about an upcoming vacation but instead is about to go into a retirement home for actors at the Saint-Jean-la-Rivière abbey. It is another confined space (as is often the case in Charles Spaak’s screenplays – Grande illusion is another example) in which the story of Saint-Clair is intertwined with that of Cabrissade (Michel Simon), a failed actor used as a stand-in, Marny (Victor Francen), a showman who is laid up because of depression caused by the loss of his wife, and a lively array of carefully characterized old actors and actresses (including Gabrielle Dorziat and Sylvie). Duvivier describes old age without sugarcoating, dominated by feelings of regret, bitterness and frustration. He entrusts to the genius of Michel Simon the guise of a loser who stubbornly refuses to accept old age, taking refuge in unyielding childishness. There is also an autobiographical echo in the scene where Cabrissade is about to finally play the role of Flambeau but forgets his lines as he goes on stage. It was something that actually happened to the young Duvivier in 1916 when treading the boards at the Odéon."

"The frailty of old age is reflected in the vulnerability of being actors, living in a make-believe world, often also off stage, a fiction which Duvivier (sometimes alluding to the real identities of the performers) also shows in its aspects of deception, a game of masks that can drift into madness: the Saint-Clair of the great Jouvet, cynical seducer, confirmed narcissist (he sends himself old letters from lovers to make others believe he is still adored) and cruel manipulator, tries to provoke a young waitress to commit suicide.Made by Duvivier following his first Hollywood experience (The Great Waltz), the film was awarded the Coppa della Biennale at the 1939 Venice Film Festival, troubled by the outbreak of war. The Italian version was cut by around twenty minutes."
(Roberto Chiesi)

AA: The 1930s were Julien Duvivier's anni mirabili, and La Fin de jour was his penultimate film during a decade in which he also directed David Golder, La Tête d'un homme, La Bandera, La belle équipe, Pépé le Moko, and Un carnet de bal.

Carried by the brilliant dialogue by Charles Spaak La Fin du jour is a study in illusions in the last stage of life of professonal creators of illusions, set in a retirement home for actors. Gilles Marny (Victor Francen) is known as the actor who had talent but no success. Cabrissade (Michel Simon) has been the talented understudy of a master actor - Lucien Guitry - who was never sick. Saint-Clair (Louis Jouvet) is the brilliant man of the surface, a master seducer and a dazzling performer. There are those who act the parts and those who live the parts. As a contrast to Saint-Clair's illusionary love affairs there is the happy couple who has lived together for 35 years and who now decide to marry in an official wedding. A final climactic sequence is a benefit performance of Edmond Rostand's L'Aiglon.

A memorable scene takes place during the singing of "Le Temps de cerises" where we hear a quick version of Letter from an Unknown Woman with Saint-Clair in the role of the seducer who never remembers.

As a story about ageing people there are affinities in La Fin du jour with Make Way for Tomorrow and Tokyo Story.

It is fascinating to observe such a cast, ranging from the actor of the cinema's first super-villain, Arquillères (he created Zigomar) to a young François Périer in one of his first screen roles.

The digital restoration is bright and clear.

Visita ou Memórias e Confissões / Visit or Memories and Confessions

Conversazione privata. PT 1981 [catalogue: 1982]. Posthumously released: 2015. D: Manoel de Oliveira. SC+Dial.: Manoel de Oliveira, Agustina Bessa-Luís. DP: Elso Roque. ED: Manoel de Oliveira, Ana Luísa Guimarães. C: Manoel de Oliveira, Maria Isabel de Oliveira, Urbano Tavares Rodrigues (se stessi), Teresa Madruga, Diogo Dória (voci). P: Cineastas Associados. 35 mm. 68’. Col. From: Cinemateca Portuguesa.
    [A 2015 print. Two years are given on the print: 1981 as the year of production and subsidy and 2015 for the laboratory work.]
    M: Ludwig van Beethoven: Klavierkonzert Nr. 4 op. 58 (1806).
    Viewed at Cinema Arlecchino (Bologna, Il Cinema Ritrovato, Ritrovati e Restaurati), introduced by Gian Luca Farinelli and José Manuel Costa, with e-subtitles in English and Italian [tbc: English subtitles on the print?], 30 June 2015

Lorenzo Codelli (Il Cinema Ritrovato, catalogue and website): "Filmed in the early 1980s to be released posthumously, Visita ou Memórias e Confissões led Manoel de Oliveira to film the house in Rua Vilarinha, Oporto, designed by architect José Porto, that he had built and then used as his family home for four decades after his marriage in 1940, until he was forced to sell it."

"Visita ou Memórias e Confissões is an autobiographical film of ‘memories and confessions’, hence the filmmaker’s wish to keep it unreleased during his lifetime. “A house is an intimate, personal relationship, where one finds his roots”, “upon my request, Agustina wrote a very beautiful script, that she called Visita. And I added some reflections on the house and on my life” (Manoel de Oliveira)."

"Thank you, dear Manoel, for leaving us one of your most beautiful films as a posthumous gift! Forced to sell your house-labyrinth surrounded by an enchanted garden, where you had lived and created for forty years, you decided in 1982 to film a Visita, like Marienbad, through its twists and turns, its hidden secrets, supported by a lyrical text written by your faithful Agustina Bessa-Luís and recited by two voices. Furthermore, you wanted to tell us standing up, facing the camera, like in one of Escher’s mirrors, your ‘memories and confessions’. Back then, you had made just six films, a fifth of your work. You told us about your father, a powerful industrialist, your wife, a devoted muse, and women in general, your children, your nefarious stay in Salazar’s prisons, your turbulent century, and above all your vocation. “Cinema is my passion. For him, I have sacrificed everything”. Already in Porto da minha infância, from 2001, you told us about your youth as an athlete and a cinephile."

"Your parable, from well-heeled bourgeois to great artist, including fatal falls and audacious flights, how you sketched it with such studied nonchalance! Freed, for eternity, from Time. Thank you so
very much."

"P.S. Note to distributors: do not dare call it a ‘documentary’!"
(Lorenzo Codelli)

AA: A highlight of the Festival. Manoel de Oliveira (1908-2015) who died in April spoke directly to us from the screen in a projection of a posthumous film made over thirty years ago. The audience at Cinema Arlecchino was ideal. The message was gratefully received.

It is a confession of love to the director's wife Maria Isabel and their family. Woman for Oliveira is a symbol of the equilibrium of the world. "I love life, but death does not scare me". "Only love can give life its ultimate meaning".

Two invisible guests wander in Oliveira's family house, and we keep meeting Oliveira himself at his typewriter and 16 mm film projector. We see home movies and hear the Oliveira family story, including the story of the family industry until the Carnation Revolution. During the Salazar dictatorship Oliveira was caught by the secret police PIDE and taken to prison after he had made Acto da Primavera.

We also hear about valued friends such as André Bazin, Paulo Rocha, and Erika and Ulrich Gregor.

The family home is a site of love and culture, and we are invited into a last tour to the house that has already been sold, to witness the 1930s architecture, the garden, the furniture, the paintings, the photographs, and the objects.

Co-written with Oliveira's favourite author Agustina Bessa-Luís the dialogue and commentary is of high literary value. I hope it will be published.

Shot by Elso Roque, the film is a refined visual journey into the garden and the interior of the house.

The new photochemical print is beautiful.

The Dumb Girl of Portici (2015 digital restoration from Library of Congress)

The Dumb Girl of Portici. Douglas Gerrard (Alphonse), Anna Pavlova (Fenella), Edna Maison (Elvire). Click to enlarge.
[Porticin mykkä] / [Den stumma från Portici]. US © 1915 Universal Film Mfg. Co. D: Lois Weber, Phillips Smalley. Story: Eugène Scribe, Germaine Delavigne. SC: Lois Weber. DP: Dal Clawson, Al Siegler, R.W. Walter. C: Anna Pavlova (Fenella), Rupert Julian (Masaniello), Wadsworth Harris (duca d’Arcos), Douglas Gerrard (Alphonso), John Holt (Conde), Betty Schade (Isabella), Edna Maison (Elvira), Hart Hoxie (Perrone), William Wolbert (Pietro), Laura Oakley (Rilla). P: Universal Film Mfg. Co. · DCP. B&w. From: Library of Congress.
    Viewed at Sala Mastroianni (Bologna, Il Cinema Ritrovato,  Recovered & Restored, Beloved Bluebirds, About a Hundred Years Ago. 1915), introduced by Mariann Lewinsky and John Sweeney, grand piano: John Sweeney, percussions: Frank Bockius, earphone translation in Italian, 30 June 2015
    Based on the opera La Muette de Portici (FR 1828) composed by Daniel Auber with a libretto by Germain Delavigne revised by Eugène Scribe.

Geo Willeman and Valerie Cervantes (Il Cinema Ritrovato, catalogue and website): "The Dumb Girl of Portici (1916) was a project by two powerful artists: director Lois Weber and dancer / choreographer Anna Pavlova. The production was huge, one of Universal’s most expensive up to that time."

"The only version known to have survived was a 35 mm nitrate reissue print dating from the 1920’s preserved at the BFI until we located a second print at the New York Public Library. Even though this was 16 mm and probably duped from a Kodascope reduction, it could be used to complete the existing 35 mm print and bring the film back closer to the original version."

"The 35 mm print had remade 1920’s intertitles but fortunately the 16 mm print had the original plain-looking titles standard to Universal productions. The decision to replace all the titles in the 35 mm print with the originals considerably smoothed the narrative flow."

"As examined the 16 mm print in detail, we found extra shots that were absent from the 35 mm print. (Invariably, these turned out to be scenes of extreme violence and bloodshed – pretty graphic stuff for 1915.) It was fairly easy to reinstate them into the continuity of our digital workprint from a narrative point of view and although the image quality is decidedly lower than the bulk of the film, we feel that the restored version is now probably as close as we can get to the original continuity until (wishful thinking) a more complete print is unearthed."

"A final story: the ending of the film bothered us – it bore one of those awkward reissue titles and was exceedingly abrupt. The film ends with a Pavlova dance number, but in the 35mm print, had been cut to about 35 seconds. We looked back over the 16 mm print and discovered something that had been there all the time, spliced near to the beginning of the film, where the star does a short exhibition dance. It was well over two-and-a-half-minutes long and a complete routine – Pavlova’s parting gift to her audience. Feverishly, we placed the sequence at the tail and removed the intertitle and – there was our ending: delicate, beautiful, sad, and joyful." (Geo Willeman and Valerie Cervantes).

AA: According to Wikipedia the opera La Muette de Portici is "loosely based on the historical uprising of Masaniello against Spanish rule in Naples in 1647." The opera is famous as the first French grand opera and as a revolutionary opera which actually launched revolutions: in Belgium (1830), as well as in France (the 1830 revolution). "Richard Wagner remarked, in his 1871 Reminiscences of Auber, that the opera "whose very representation had brought [revolutions] about, was recognised as an obvious precursor of the July Revolution, and seldom has an artistic product stood in closer connection with a world-event."" Thanks to the central part of the dumb woman "it marked the introduction into opera of mime and gesture as an integral part of an opera plot." Famous dancers were cast in the central role of Fenella, the dumb woman. "La Muette de Portici played a major role in establishing the genre of grand opera. Many of its elements – the five-act structure, the obligatory ballet sequence, the use of spectacular stage effects, the focus on romantic passions against a background of historical troubles – would become the standard features of the form for the rest of the 19th century". "Auber's pioneering work caught the attention of the young Richard Wagner, who was eager to create a new form of music drama. He noted that in La Muette, "arias and duets in the wonted sense were scarcely to be detected any more, and certainly, with the exception of a single prima-donna aria in the first act, did not strike one at all as such; in each instance it was the ensemble of the whole act that riveted attention and carried one away..."". "It also played a large role in the founding of the Kingdom of Belgium. The riots that led to the independence started after hearing the opera."

Mariann Lewinsky introduced Anna Pavlova's only feature film. A 60 piece orchestra would be needed to play Daniel Auber's music.

The Dumb Girl of Portici has been adapted to film by Lois Weber and Phillips Smalley in Film d'Art style in the year when The Birth of the Nation among others revolutionized film narrative. The film is mostly constructed as tableaux conveyed in long takes and long shots with an immobile camera. Intertitles predict action. But there are also camera movements (pans and tracking shots) and superimpositions.

The performances are mostly based on grand histrionics. Feelings are telegraphed in grand gestures. The playing is mostly anti-realistic.

Anna Pavlova's stylized and exaggerated pantomime fits into the general performance mode. It is a wild and consistent performance, a grand tragic interpretation which leads to a transcendent final dance number - the ascent into heaven.

The inflammatory revolutionary spirit of Daniel Auber's opera is still alive in Lois Weber and Phillip Smalley's silent film adaptation. There is a true epic sense of history and tragic grandeur. The Dumb Girl of Portici still partly belongs to the "before Hollywood" period - before a general streamlining into slick and polished studio production. It is one of the big early film epics with a constant sense of danger and surprise. The violence is startling in the massive sequences of tyranny, oppression and revolt.

John Sweeney did a splendid job in arranging and performing a piano adaptation of Daniel Auber's music, together with Frank Bockius in the percussions. It was an amazing experience.

The restoration has been conducted with loving care from often battered and difficult sources, sometimes in 16 mm. There was an irresistible drive in this memorable performance of a film which has not been shown in a decent way for generations.

Sotto il sole di Roma / Under the Sun of Rome

Sotto il sole di Roma with Liliana Mancini and Oscar Blando. Click to enlarge the images.
Rooman auringon alla [Finnish telecast 23 May 1981 Yle TV1]. IT 1948. D: Renato Castellani. Story: Renato Castellani, Fausto Tozzi. SC: Renato Castellani, Sergio Amidei, Emilio Cecchi, Ettore Margadonna, Fausto Tozzi. DP: Domenico Scala. AD: Dario Cecchi. M: Nino Rota. C: Oscar Blando (Ciro), Francesco Golisano (Geppo), Liliana Mancini (Iris), Alberto Sordi (Fernando), Gisella Monaldi (Tosca), Alfredo Locatelli (Nerone), Ennio Fabeni (Bruno), Luigi Valentini (Romoletto), Omero Paoloni (Coccolone). P: Universalcine. 35 mm. 100’. B&w. From: CSC – Cineteca Nazionale.
    Theme song "Sotto il sole di Roma" (Nino Rota) sung by Claudio Villa.
    Wikipedia: Prodotto da Sandro Ghenzi per Universal Cine S.A., il film fu girato tutto in esterni mentre per gli interni furono usate ambientazioni reali, quasi tutte intorno al quartiere romano della Basilica di S.Giovanni, piazzale Appio, via Magna Grecia, Via Corfinio, via Sannio, via Appia Nuova, via Emanuele Filiberto, via dello Stradone di San Giovanni, via Taranto e via Assisi ovvero nei pressi della Stazione di Roma Tuscolana e della storica fabbrica Pirelli.
    Viewed at Cinema Jolly (Bologna, Il Cinema Ritrovato, La bella gioventù, Renato Castellani), with e-subtitles in English by Sub-Ti Londra, introduced by Emiliano Morreale, 30 June 2015.

Sergio Tresatti: "The scenario of Sotto il sole di Roma is fifty pages in which the common thread is the friendship between two boys. One represents youth that does not want to die, Peter Pan who does not want to grow up; the other is the friend who leads a normal life. There is a girl in the neighborhood, and a woman past her prime directly taken from reality... Castellani showed the scenario to De Laurentiis, but his answer was disappointing: “Oh Castellà, what do you want to do with these stories about filthy kids? Look at how successful Freda was with Aquila nera. Make a nice adventure film”."

"Castellani did not give up. The screenplay was written quickly with the help of Sergio Amidei. The story was presented from the point of view of Ciro so that everything, even the dangers of war, are a source of amusement and mockery; voiceover is used here for the first time not as a narrative device that overlaps from outside but as integral element of the story. The actors were ‘taken from the street’, except for Alberto Sordi who worked in variety entertainment. The film was then dubbed by the same kids with some difficulty. It went to Venice. No one hoped for a grand result: instead the screening was vastly attended, and the same success was had in theaters.
"

Sergio Trasatti, Renato Castellani, La Nuova Italia, Firenze 1984

Miguel Marías: "Still too heavily melodramatic in its elaborate, fatalistic arrangement of quite contrived tragic coincidences – most damagingly in the ending sequences –, which increasingly entrap a group of teenagers during the summer of 1943 and after the liberation of Rome (as they age and become forcibly responsible after the death of their parents), Sotto il sole di Roma, a first decisive step from stylization towards realism, strikes most today for Castellani seems to have foreshadowed, more than a decade before, a lot of things which were at the core of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s first features as a director, Accattone (1961) and Mamma Roma (1962). The emotionally lighter scenes, which are never half as heavily handled as the more dramatic ones, still shine today with a freshness that must have looked quite new in 1948, perhaps as a new chapter in the adventures of the boys in Roma città aperta, just a bit older now (1945)."

Miguel Marías (introductions from Il Cinema Ritrovato catalogue and website).

AA: Agonizing during an entire week before the start of the Festival over my viewing choices I first thought I had seen Sotto il sole di Roma before, but checking the introductions (see above) I did not recognize the film of which I had fond and different memories. I thus did go to see it, and soon realized I had seen the previous Il Cinema Ritrovato screening five years ago.

I have always admired Renato Castellani although I mainly know from him only Due soldi di speranza which we screen regularly and the splendid television series La vita di Leonardo di Vinci 1-5 (1971) which I saw at an impressionable age.

Emilio Morreale in his rewarding introduction mentioned that Sotto il sole di Roma was one of the few neorealist films with popular success, the opening of his beloved "la bella gioventù" trilogy (Sotto il sole di Roma, 1948; È primavera…, 1950; Due soldi di speranza, 1952). There are already leads here to Accattone, and premonitions of commedia all'italiana, complete with a memorable appearance by Alberto Sordi, still young and unknown. This was a new start for Castellani which had so far belonged to the calligraphic school, a master of beautiful scenes. He shot on location impressive scenes of swimming at the marrana, an urban swamp, not very healthy. The film takes place in two periods of time, in 1943 during the German occupation, and in 1944 after the liberation, and the account seems to confirm Pasolini's claim that "Fascism had no impact on Italian life".

In the beginning we are told that the movie is based on real events and was filmed entirely on location with non-actors.

It is a tragi-comic Bildungsroman, a growing-up story of an anti-heroic young boy during the transition period from Fascism till Liberation. The boys are running on the streets of Rome on their way to an illegal swimming pond and meet the homeless Geppa who lives in the cellar of the ruins of Colosseum. Ciro loses his new white shoes, and new ones are stolen for him from the shoe store. Their adventures include boxing, evading Nazis and bombings, black market adventures on the countryside, visiting Liberty Club after the liberation, and stealing tyres from Pirelli.

Two female types are introduced at once: the charming Iris, the girl next door, and the formidable harridan mamma, always barking at the incorrigible boys. "Are all women like that?" asks Ciro from his father. "Tutte". (There was laughter in the audience). The mother dies, and gradually we realize that Iris will soon become like her.

But a lot will happen in Ciro's éducation sentimentale before that. Ciro becomes the lover of the insatiable Tosca, the wife of Fernando (the shoe store clerk who becomes the owner of Liberty Club), but Ciro must discontinue the relationship because he is losing too much weight.

Ciro has trouble in finding his place in society, and to make a short cut he decides to participate in a robbery at the Pirelli tyre depot. He is interrupted by Iris, but Ciro's father, a night watchman, is killed during the robbery. Having lost both parents Ciro must face his responsibilities of making a living not only for himself but for the entire family, with a disillusioned Iris by his side.

Nino Rota has composed an engrossing score. We see poverty but we hear splendid, operatic music full of passion, celebrating an irrepressible life force. The theme song is sung by the great Roman singer Claudio Villa, here at the start of a long and successful career. There seems to be no other recording of this song, and thus the soundtrack is especially valuable as a document of Claudio Villa at his best.

The cinematography of Domenico Scala (Ossessione, Acciaio, Fanny, Domenica d'agosto) is a masterful display of realistic location work.

The print is awful, perhaps the same one that was screened here five years ago. This film would deserve a fine restoration project.

Bunny Lake Is Missing (2014 digital 4K restoration by Sony Pictures)

Bunny Lake Is Missing. Keir Dullea, Carol Lynley. Click to enlarge.
Bunny Lake è scomparsa / Bunny on kadonnut / Bunny Lake är försvunnen. GB © 1965 Wheel Productions Ltd. D: Otto Preminger. Based on the novel [1957] by Evelyn Piper [= Merriam Modell]. SC: John Mortimer, Penelope Mortimer. DP: Denys Coop. ED: Peter Thornton. AD: Don Ashton. M: Paul Glass. C: Carol Lynley (Ann Lake), Laurence Olivier (ispettore Newhouse), Keir Dullea (Steven Lake), Martita Hunt (Ada Ford), Noël Coward (Orazio Wilson), Anna Massey (Elvira Smollett), Jill Melford (l’insegnante), Finlay Currie (il costruttore di bambole), Clive Revill (sergente Andrews), Lucie Mannheim (la cuoca), Adrienne Corri (Dorothy). P: Otto Preminger per Wheel Productions Ltd. DCP. 107’. B&w. From: Sony Columbia per concessione di Park Circus
    Restored in 4K by Sony Pictures from the original camera negative and fine grain master. 4K wetgate scanning at Cineric. Image restoration by Prasad and MTI Film. Audio restoration at Chace Audio.
    Panavision, 2,35:1.
    The Zombies: "Remember You", "Just Out of Reach" and "Nothing's Changed".
    Viewed at Cinema Arlecchino (Bologna, Il Cinema Ritrovato, Ritrovati e Restaurati), 30 June 2015

Jean-Louis Comolli: "Here, the desire to lose the viewer among false leads and false characters is so obvious as to create a doubt not about the truth of the characters and the secret of their nature, but about the reality of their existence itself: as if the absence of Bunny Lake, presented in the film as a creation of the mind, undermines the real existence of her parents, confining them too to the role of ghosts. So much so that we wonder if we are passing through a world of phantoms moving vacuously looking for shade... The psychological motives, the police investigation, the psychoanalytic explanations encountered along the way appear superfluous, irritating in this game of ghosts, and contradictory, as a result of the realist devices dragging behind them, compared to the evocation of dramas and figures so poorly personified."

"In one sense, Bunny Lake is the final destination of Preminger’s ‘fantasy’ streak: never were mysteries, doubts, dreamlike visions, double or triple personalities more flaunted; but it is also his admission of failure: never, in fact, were cruder patterns and more pompous means used for such a subtle and common cause. We can visibly trace – paralyzed within the failure – the dialectic between suggestion and excess, between allusion and redundancy, between the effective and the superfluous, between the two-faced and the monolithic, the struggle between mystery and the system, between shadow and the spotlight (a prophetic scene of Advise and Consent) which, perpetuating itself from film to film and leaving its mark more or less evident in each, ended up with the loss of value of the central figure of the piece, at the same time its symbol and secret.
"

Jean-Louis Comolli, L’œil du maître, “Cahiers du Cinéma”, n. 178, May 1966 (Il Cinema Ritrovato, catalogue and website)

AA: "A woman reports that her young daughter is missing, but there seems to be no evidence that she ever existed." (IMDb synopsis). Critics have recognized the affinity of Bunny Lake Is Missing with key films of modern horror such as Psycho, Peeping Tom, and Repulsion, and perhaps even Les Diaboliques belongs to the relevant points of comparison. The special affinity with Psycho is underlined by the effective Saul Bass credit sequence with a recurrent "tearing" motif.

Otto Preminger's mise-en-scène is firm in Bunny Lake Is Missing, as is his brilliant camera choreography based on long, elaborate takes with exciting pans and tracking shots. Preminger belonged to the masters of the wide screen, and the Cinema Arlecchino screen does justice to his dynamic Panavision 2,35:1 framing. This bewildering detective story takes us to a journey of exploration in many fascinating London locations.

The film is well cast. The American leads seem intentionally bland, but Laurence Olivier is fine in his laid back performance as the police officer, and Martita Hunt, Noël Coward, Anna Massey, and Finlay Currie bring a lot of vitality and touches of eccentricism in their memorable roles.

Jean-Louis Comolli in his remarks above reveals the problems of such a tricky story. Madness in entertainment fiction is difficult but not impossible to handle. There are serious obstacles if the narrative is based on identification. In Preminger's objective approach identification is not even strived at, yet there is a sense of futility after we have been tricked so many times. At first we are led to believe that Ann and Steven Lake are a couple (they are a sister and a brother with a presumably incestuous relationship), then we start to doubt that Bunny Lake exists only in the imagination of Ann who is mad, and finally we realize that it is Steven who is a psychotic trying to frame his sister as a dangerous madwoman. By then I had stopped to care too much about such a clever story.

The digital restoration has been brilliantly conducted. The movie looks splendid, indeed.

Monday, June 29, 2015

The Arab

Filming The Arab. Click to enlarge.
Beduiini / Beduinen. US 1924. D+SC: Rex Ingram. DP: John F. Seitz. C: Ramón Novarro (Jamil Abdullah Azam), Alice Terry (Mary Hilbert), Maxudian (il governatore), Jean de Limur (Hossein, il suo assistente), Paul Vermoyal (Iphraim), Adelqui Millar (Abdullah), Alexandresco (Oulad Nile), Justa Uribe (Myrza), Gerald Robertshaw (Dr. Hilbert), Paul Francesci (Marmount), Giuseppe De Compo (Selim). P: Metro-Goldwyn Pictures Corp. 35 mm. 1182 m (l. orig.: 2045 m). 50’ a 21 f/s. B&w. Russian intertitles. From: Gosfilmofond.
    Viewed at Sala Mastroianni (Bologna, Il Cinema Ritrovato, Albert Samama Chikly, principe dei pionieri), earphone translation in Italian and English, Stephen Horne at the grand piano and Frank Bockius at percussions, introduced by Kevin Brownlow, 29 June 2015.

Mariann Lewinsky (Il Cinema Ritrovato, catalogue and website): "The photographic evidence was there, in the book of Guillemette Mansour: a film still featuring Ramón Novarro, in his sheikh costume and beside him Haydée Chikly, costumed as a desert girl. So she had a role in The Arab, a film by Rex Ingram? Her name doesn’t appear in the credits, it could have been a small role as an extra, or more likely, as an extra guest. Of course – her father must have been involved in what was a major foreign film production on location in Tunisia, and it is easy to imagine how things went: Rex invited to dinner by his new best friend Albert... beautiful daughter with acting experience... “Oh, but you must be in my picture!”... and Albert insisting that Rex study at length all the photographs documenting the making of Zohra...."

"To our good fortune a print of The Arab was known to exist, preserved by Gosfilmofond. With Russian intertitles. Very incomplete. We have yet to discover during the festival screening if Haydée Chikly actually appears in the remaining 1200 meters or if she appeared, that is, disappeared, in the missing 800. "

"Whether with her or without her, there are many reasons why The Arab, hailed by “Variety” as “the finest sheik film of them all”, fits perfectly into this year’s Cinema Ritrovato. Rex Ingram was one of greatest visual talents of his generation, and three of his films, The Arab (1924, partly shot in Tunisia), The Garden of Allah (1927, partly shot in Algeria) and Baroud (1933, shot in Morocco) testify to his deep fascination for North African landscapes and towns, resulting in location footage of outstanding beauty. Ingram spent much time in the Maghreb and converted to Islam in 1933."

"In The Arab, conversions to or from Islam briefly seem real options for the American girl and the Arab boy. The plot revolves around an orphanage in Syria run by American missionaries, with the children in danger to be handed over, deported and killed by the attacking Turks (see section Armenia. Genocide and After). The actor playing Hossein is Jean de Limur, who would in 1930 direct Mon gosse de père, scripted by Mary Murillo (see section The Velle Connection)."

"Ingram himself spent his formative first years as a young film director working for Bluebird Photoplays in 1916-1917 (see section Beloved Bluebirds). It all connects, inexplicably."
(Mariann Lewinsky)

AA: Kevin Brownlow in his introduction lamented the status of the surviving print which he compared to the look of a copy from a first generation Xerox machine whereas Rex Ingram was known as the master of the visual. He told us about his visit to Alice Terry when he was given access to Rex Ingram's memoirs and a treasure trove of correspondence including letters from Lawrence of Arabia. The Arab was produced between two masterpieces. Ingram insisted on shooting on location in Tunisia. Ingram discovered a strange affinity with the Arab culture, its passive attitude to life. He made a formula picture with a weak and turgid story. During the filming the MGM merger took place. Louis B. Mayer Ingram could not stand. It was written on the contract that the picture would be an Ingram - Metro Goldwyn production. Critics admired the documentary sequences. Ingram was a Flaherty devotee. In the Czech film archive there survive four reels of The Arab for future possible reconstruction. One critic claimed that Ingram made authentic backgrounds look like movie sets. With Mare Nostrum Ingram was back on form again.

From the fragmentary print it seems that this is the story of Jamil Abdullah Azam (Ramon Novarro) caught between two worlds: his own Bedouin world with its military and religious commitments, and the Christian world to which he starts immediately to convert having fallen in love with Mary Hilbert (Alice Terry). The epic background is the intelligence and strategy plotting for a war against the infidels. The protagonist falls between the camps, trusted by neither. There are epic shots of the charging Bedouins of the desert. This print ends abruptly to a scene where it is planned to hide in an ancient Roman fortress.

The scenes on location are beautiful and impressive and they do not look like movie sets: the camels in the desert, the muezzin in the tower, the morning prayer juxtaposing Muslims and missionaries, the wonderful dresses of the women, the dances, the games, the pipe smoking, the thieves, cooking coffee in little kettles, sheep led down flights of stairs, children's play during the recess. There are touches of comedy as Azam learns to read English and keeps the book upside down yet realizes that his place is elsewhere ("gave me a Bible, asked for a rifle").

Visual quality: not good, much duped and incomplete, it fails to do justice to the cinematography of John F. Seitz, yet watchable, better than what we were expecting.

Alyam alyam / Oh the Days! (2015 digital restoration by The Film Foundation's World Cinema Project, 4K scan) introduced by Ahmed El Maanouni

Alyam alyam. Click to enlarge.
آليام آليام / Oh i giorni! / Alyam alyam - oi niitä aikoja (Yle TV2, 10.8.1982). MA 1978. D+SC+DP: Ahmed El Maanouni - 16 mm - sepmag. ED: Martine Chicot. M: Nass el Ghiwane. C: gli abitanti di Toualàa (Oulad Ziane) nella regione di Casablanca, in particolare: Abdelwahad e la sua famiglia, Tobi, Afandi Redouane e Ben Brahim. P: Rabii Films. DCP. 90 min. [not b&w] but Colour. Arab and French [French in the school sequence] version with English subtitles. From: The Film Foundation.
    Restored by The Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project in collaboration with Ahmed El-Maanouni. Restoration carried out by Fondazione Cineteca di Bologna at L’Immagine Ritrovata Laboratory; 4K scan performed at Eclair laboratories.
    World Cinema Project website notes on the restoration: The restoration of Alyam, Alyam used the 16 mm A/B rolls original camera and sound negatives preserved at Eclair Laboratories, where the 4K scan was performed. Restoration - carried out at Cineteca di Bologna/L’Immagine Ritrovata - succeeded in stabilizing the image and bringing the original chromatic qualities to light. Director Ahmed El Maanouni supervised the color grading process and approved the final restoration.
    Viewed at Sala Scorsese (Bologna, Il Cinema Ritrovato) (The Film Foundation's World Cinema Project) with e-subtitles in Italian, 29 June 2015. 88 min
    Introduced by Ahmed El Maanouni.

Ahmed El Maanouni (Il Cinema Ritrovato, catalogue and website): "Alyam Alyam is a film about shattered dreams and the circumstances leading up to that point; about the shaking of the traditional social structure; about the strength born of desperation and the unrelenting dissipation of lost generations. This is stressed from the first notes of the opening music, by the strangely empty building frame that is slowly filled with people, by the village space, by the silence of the wandering woman who smokes, until the last shot of the film, when a crowd appears from behind a deserted hill. The dreams of a society growing smaller, unable to hold on to the resources that could help it survive, are mirrored by the mother’s helpless prayer, “I need your shadow, I need your light, I need your face”."

"I simply wanted to show the farmers’ faces, to honor their sounds and their images, their silences and their words, and that’s why I chose not to interfere and to opt for deliberately restrained composition, movement and mise-en-scène. I tried to minimize the camera’s ability to distort, make a point, or discriminate."

"I wanted each aspect to be presented equally. I did not look for spectacular beauty, but made an effort to let the imagery of the rural world speak through abstraction and silence."

"Almost 40 years later, when I watch Alyam Alyam again, I am still comfortable with my aesthetic choices and my intuitions, but I cannot avoid noticing how, from beginning to end – from the opening shots with the blood shed by the camels, to the crowd of peasants appearing from behind the hills – it all seemed to presage the current tragedy experienced by the thousands whose broken dreams lie at the bottom of the Mediterranean, on which the voice of Nass El Ghiwane’s Larbi Batma seems to strangely resonate:"

"“Alyam Alyam, oh, those were the days! Why are you crossed? Who changed your course? You were once sweet like milk, now you’re bitter. I love all men as if they were my brothers. My brothers have crushed me. I will silence my pain and let my love be loud”."
(Ahmed El Maanouni)

AA: It was a privilege to see this exquisite movie presented by Ahmed El Maanouni, the director-cinematographer himself, a man of fine personality, a carrier of culture. He told how Alyam alyam got a good start in the Un certain regard section at Cannes but that it has not been too much seen in Morocco as it is "too real, too rooted in reality". He told about the attention he paid to the handcraft, architecture, and clothes in his film. Shot on 16 mm, with the sound on a separate tape, the 2015 digital restoration was performed at 4K, supervised by Ahmed El Maanouni.

Music is important in Alyam alyam, starting from the drums during the credits sequence displaying old Moroccan paintings. There is also an "Alyam alyam" song, the lyrics of which are important. We hear muezzins ("God is great"), communal sing-alongs, a dirge sung at a grave, and a woman's tragic song about the agony of love ("see dear what has become of me / my love has suffocated me") (also intentionally comic).

The semi-documentary Alyam alyam belongs to the noble tradition of Flaherty in recording an entire traditional way of life on the brink of modernity, just before it is about to disappear. The approach is realistic and subtly lyrical. There is still a spirit of life in harmony, a feeling of popular community. We visit a slaughterhouse, we see women carrying jugs on the tops of their heads, boys spying on women in the grass, cooking in the kitchen, children visiting a French-speaking school, little children playing agriculture games, fetching water from the well, cows grazing in the grass, spinning a yarn, baking bread, harvesting, washing carrots and beetroot and packing them for transport, harvesters, irrigating fields, taking a bus to the doctor. An entire cycle of hard work in traditional agriculture is covered.

At the same time we witness young boys getting restless and impatient in living in poverty. Their main goal is to secure a contract of employment in France. They see no future in their own country and look forward to starting a new life in Europe.

The approach to life in Alyam alyam is sober and reverent. The tempo is relaxed and unhurried. There are fine sequences that are effective without tensions but there may be issues with dynamics, structure, and duration.

Alyam alyam is an image-driven movie. Without being self-consciously aesthetic it has a refined sense of composition and a beautiful colour palette. We see air vibrating in the heat, we see a rich register of warm nuances in harmony with the colour world of the old paintings on display in the credit sequence.

The digital copy: I have been a critical observer of warm colour and nature footage in digital. In Alyam alyam these difficult issues have been solved beautifully.

Rio Conchos (2015 digital restoration, Twentieth Century Fox)

Rio Conchos. Jim Brown, Wende Wagner, Tony Franciosa, Richard Boone, Stuart Whitman. Click to enlarge.
Rio Conchos / Rio Conchos. US © 1964 Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp. D: Gordon Douglas. Based on the novel Guns of Rio Conchos by Clair Huffaker. SC: Joseph Landon, Clair Huffaker. DP: Joseph MacDonald. ED: Joseph Silver. AD: Jack Martin Smith, William Creber. M: Jerry Goldsmith. C: Richard Boone (Lassiter), Stuart Whitman (capitano Haven), Tony Franciosa (Rodriguez), Wende Wagner (Sally), Warner Anderson (colonnello Wagner), Jim Brown (sergente Ben Franklyn), Edmond O’Brien (colonnello Pardee), Rodolfo Acosta (Bloodshirt), Vito Scotti (bandito messicano), Kevin Hagen (Blondebeard). P: David Weisbart per Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp. DCP. 107’. Col. From: Twentieth Century Fox.
    Restored in 2015 from the 35 mm original color negative (CinemaScope) at the Sony DADC, Modern VideoFilm and Audio Mechanics laboratories.
    Viewed at Cinema Arlecchino (Bologna, Il Cinema Ritrovato, Ritrovati e restaurati) with e-subtitles in Italian by Sub-Ti Londra, 29 June 2015.

Jean-Pierre Coursodon: "Rio Conchos, adapted from a novel by Clair Huffaker, co-author of the screenplay, is Douglas’ most complex and ambitious Western. A plot layered with surprises, ironies and paradoxes; the complexity and variety of the characters; a trail leading them through a thousand obstacles from Texas to New Mexico and on to the Mexican border (with exteriors wonderfully photographed in CinemaScope by Joseph MacDonald), all contribute to give life to this clever tale. A disparate group of four men – Lassiter, an ex-Confederate officer-come-adventurer (strongly interpreted by Richard Boone), a cavalry captain, a black sergeant and a womanising, unscrupulous Mexican bandit – sets out in search of a load of 2,000 rifles stolen from a military convoy by Apache. With a wagonload of gunpowder as bait, the four protagonists hope to find the mysterious ‘Pardee’, who, according to Lassiter, possesses or knows where to find the rifles. As we will later discover, Pardee is a Confederate colonel who, two years after the end of the civil war, still wants to fight the ‘enemy’ and dreams of leading an army of Apache against the Yankees. In addition to the antagonism between the four main characters, all of whom are rightfully wary of each other, there is a series of violent clashes with Mexican bandits and especially the warmongering “Red Skins” that allows Douglas to further indulge his taste for spectacular violence (particularly the scene in which the Indians drag three prisoners with horses). The violence culminates in the apocalyptic finale, in which the explosion of the gunpowder barrels sets fire to the Indian camp and the extravagant Southern mansion that Pardee is building in the middle of the desert." (Jean-Pierre Coursodon: Douglas redux: sur quelques films de Gordon Douglas, “Positif ”, n. 587, January 2010) (Il Cinema Ritrovato, catalogue and website).

AA: There is little to add to Jean-Pierre Coursodon's excellent review above. Rio Conchos belongs to the contemporary cycle of the anti-heroic Western, a milestone of which had been Vera Cruz ten years earlier. The anti-heroic trend was almost as old as the Western genre itself in the cinema (Harry Carey, William S. Hart), but there was a new blend of desillusion after WWII, with affinities with film noir, existentialism, and the theatre of the absurd. Yet Rio Conchos does not belong to the cynical current of the meta-Western with the contemporary Italians.

Most Westerns take place during three decades after the American Civil War. Rio Conchos is a post-Civil War epic with points of contact to The Great Escape and even James Bond adventures (the trajectory towards the supervillain's lair which needs to be spectacularly exploded in the finale). The Civil War trauma is dramatized in an extreme way. There is a super-entertainment aspect in the thrilling story, but the execution is grim and gritty. There is a current of desperation in the mission of the four men: Captain Haven and Sgt. Ben Franklin reluctantly in the company of the totally unpredictable Lassiter and Rodriguez. Among the themes of the movie is brutalization, both of "them" and "us". Ultimately the film is about the morass of humanity after war.

Jerry Goldsmith has composed an exciting score with sometimes experimental ideas.

The cinematography of Joseph MacDonald is superb as Coursodon states above.

The digital presentation: a fine visual quality in a movie that must have been difficult to restore.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Shvedskaya spichka / [The Swedish Match]

Shvedskaya spichka / [The Swedish Match]. Click to enlarge.
ŠVEDSKAJA SPIČKA / Шведская спичка / [Il fiammifero svedese ] / The Safety Match / Se alkoi tulitikusta / Den svenska tändstickan / [the film has a subtitle]. SU 1954. D: Konstantin Yudin / Konstantin Judin. Based on the short story by Anton Čechov. SC: Nikolaj Erdman. DP: Igor’ Gelejn, Valentin Zacharov. AD: Georgij Turylëv. M: Vasilij Širinskij. C: Aleksej Gribov (Nikolaj Ermolaevič Čubikov, investigatore), Andrej Popov (Djukovskij, aiuto investigatore), Michail Janšin (Evgraf Kuz’mič, sovrintendente di polizia), Marina Kuznecova (Ol’ga Petrovna, sua moglie), Michail Nazvanov (Mark Ivanovič Kljauzov), Ksenija Tarasova (Mar’ja Ivanovna, sua sorella), Nikolaj Gricenko (Psekov, amministratore di Kljauzov), Nikolaj Kuročkin (Efrem, il giardiniere). P: Mosfilm. 35 mm. 55’. Col.  From: Gosfilmofond per concessione di Mosfilm.
    Based on the short story [133.] Шведская спичка. (Уголовный рассказ) / Ruotsalainen tulitikku, 1883 [A Swedish Match (A Criminal Story)] by Anton Chekhov.
    Viewed at Sala Scorsese (Bologna, Il Cinema Ritrovato), introduced by Olaf Möller, with e-subtitles in English and Italian, 28 June 2015

Peter Bagrov (Il Cinema Ritrovato, catalogue and website): "In his native Russia Čechov is loved first and foremost for his short stories – and only secondarily for his plays. There have been dozens of screen adaptations from the 1930s through the early 1950s – mostly of the anecdotes signed by Antoša Čechonte (Čechov’s pen name in his early days)."

"Švedskaja spička was to become yet another one: 1954 was particularly fruitful for this ‘humorous’ Čechov, a peculiar way to commemorate the writer’s memory 50 years after his death. Yet, it became a turning point for Čechov’s adaptations – which will almost become a genre in the following decades. For in this film Čechonte was read through the eyes of Čechov. Konstantin Judin never reached high ranks, but was known as a master of genre, making some of the best comedies and action films of the 1930s-1950s. Among his admirers and supporters were Sergej Ėjzenštejn and Boris Barnet (no wonder after Judin’s death Barnet completed his last film, The Wrestler and the Clown, which was highly praised by Godard and Rivette)."

"Čechov’s The Safety Match was an elegant spoof on detective stories, nothing more. It suggested a two-reeler with a very stylized grotesque setting. It was a custom to turn short stories into features by making a ‘Čechov stew’, adding funny phrases and anecdotes from any of his stories on hand. But it seems that Judin did not add a single word. Instead he put much effort into recreating a most convincing atmosphere of provincial Russia at the turn of the XIX century. For example one of the interrogations takes place during breakfast, at the victim’s house – and what a breakfast it is! It seems that the joy of a good meal can overshadow a murder case, deadly accusations and bloodstains right outside the window."

"The murder itself is a source of excitement, the big time for almost everyone in this God forsaken little town. The investigation is ridiculous in a way – for everyone here knows each other, even the local ‘Nana’ at some point has lived with every male involved in the case. But the young inspector’s logic and pathos are irreproachable. And when the whole case turns out to be nothing but a silly anecdote it’s almost a tragedy for this man who lost his only chance for a ‘real thing’."

"Cozy wooden houses with old-fashioned furniture, grim autumn landscapes with all the suspects squelching through the mud one after another (that’s one of the leitmotifs of the film – a daring one for 1954, two years before the ‘De-Stalinization’), and a sentimental waltz interwoven with grotesque polkas... All that will soon become standard for a Čechov film. And a Čechov film will become standard for an existential tragicomedy, Russian style." (Peter Bagrov)

AA: After a long day I stayed awake only until the half of this film but I managed to observe that this is a pleasant humoristic interpretation of one of Anton Chekhov's entertainment stories typical of him before the great turning-point of The Steppe in 1888. This movie version of The Swedish Match seems to belong to the same agreeable Chekhov tradition as Isidor Annensky's film adaptation of The Bear. There is a constant sense of vitality, of truth in the approach to the milieu, a vigorous satiric attack on the small town mentality of the bureaucracy, and a good interplay within the actor ensemble. With a police force like this the solving of a crime (if there is any) seems to be a random occurrence. The print seems very good with a pleasant reproduction of the Sovcolor of the era.

Zvanyy uzhin / [Dinner Party]

Zvanyi uzhin / [Dinner Party] with Nina Mamaeva and Igor Ilyinsky. Click to enlarge.
ZVANYI UŽIN / Званый ужин / Zvanyi uzhin / [Una cena festosa]. SU 1953. Released in 1962. D: Friedrich Ermler / Fridrich Ermler. Story: dallo sketch Čelovek ostaëtsja odin [Un uomo lasciato solo] di Vladimir Mass e Michail Červinskij. SC: N. A. Stroev (Vladimir Mass, Michail Červinskij, Fridrich Ermler). DP: Apollinarij Dudko. AD: Isaak Machlis. M: Gavriil Popov. C: Igor Ilinskij / Igor Ilyinsky / Igor Iljinski (Pëtr Petrovič), Nina Mamaeva (sua moglie), Boris Žukovskij (Ivan Kuzmič), Anna Lisjanskaja (Nadežda Sergeevna). P: Lenfilm. 35 mm. 30’. Col. From: Gosfilmofond.
    Viewed at Sala Scorsese (Bologna, Il Cinema Ritrovato) (Late Spring), introduced by Olaf Möller,  e-subtitles in English and Italian, 28 June 2015

Peter Bagrov (Il Cinema Ritrovato catalogue and website): "Fridrikh Ermler, a true and devoted communist, a member of the Party since 1919, considered himself a man of politics, “an artist of the Party”. He believed in the reasonableness of the ongoing political life, and did not try to varnish it. Thus, paradoxically, he made some of the most controversial and complex works of socialist realism in cinema, such as Oblomok imperii [The Fragment of an Empire, 1929], Krest’jane [The Peasants, 1934] and Velikij graždanin [The Great Citizen, 1937-38]."

"Razbitye mečty (‘Broken Dreams’, the film’s initial title) was supposed to be one of the three stories in a screen vehicle for Arkadij Rajkin, a legend of Soviet vaudeville. Leningrad’s leading film-makers, Grigorij Kozincev, Iosif Cheific and Ermler, were each to direct one of the stories. The project was never realized for multiple reasons, the most significant being Rajkin’s ethnicity (the early 50s were the years of state anti-Semitism known as the ‘anti-cosmopolitan campaign’)."

"None of the three directors enjoyed making comedies, but Ermler, rather unexpectedly, decided to complete his portion of the work. The main role was now played by Igor’ Il’inskij, a famous theatrical actor and – some time before – the number one comedian of the Soviet silent screen."

"Rajkin could never forgive Ermler, for the sketch was written exclusively for him."

"The story is an anecdote about a careerist who invites his boss to an imaginary birthday party but accidentally locks himself in and spoils the whole plan. Rajkin was awfully funny, miserable yet
sympathetic at the same time. Il’inskij was disgusting and horrifying – in his dream of a new career, he turned into a heartless maniac."

"Ermler was forced to shoot the film in colour – a standard for 1953 comedies. But he wanted a grim black and white atmosphere, almost expressionist in style. Il’inskij practically threatens the camera in his aggressive ecstasy. One must remember that Zvanyi užin was created still under Stalin – which makes this little comedy a unique link between the risky satires of the 1920s and the equally daring formal experiments of the 60s. It scared Lenfilm’s artistic council to such an extent that the scriptwriters thought it wise to hide under a pen name N. A. Stroev (which means ‘There are three of us’). But the trick did not save them: the film got ‘shelved’ for nine years, until 1962." (Peter Bagrov)

AA: A satire on bureaucracy in the great tradition of Gogol, Chekhov, and others. Igor Ilyinsky is the careerist official Pyotr Petrovich about to treat his boss to a lavish dinner in high hopes of advancement. When the door gets locked Pyotr sees fantastic dreams of power and launches a magnificent tirade exposing everything without knowing that his boss and his wife hear everything in the corridor. Print: good with the unreal colour adequate to the film.

Son bolelshchika / [A Football Fan's Dream]

SON BOLEL’ŠČIKA / Сон болельщика / Son bolelshtshika. SU 1953. D: Herbert Rappaport / Gerbert Rappaport. [Il sogno di un tifoso / A Football Fan’s Dream]. DP: Sergej Ivanov. C: Igor Moiseev, State Folk Dance Ensemble. P: Lenfilm. 35 mm. 4’. Col. From: Gosfilmofond.
    Viewed at Sala Scorsese (Bologna, Il Cinema Ritrovato) (Late Spring), introduced by Olaf Möller, 28 June 2015

Olaf Möller (Il Cinema Ritrovato catalogue and website: "Filmed stage performances – of theatre, opera as well as ballet productions – were a staple of Soviet cinema in the first half of the 50s – making it a particular sub-genre that connects the last of the Stalin years with the Thaw. In the USSR, this sub-genre might have been more important than anywhere else. For one thing, it became, similar to children’s films, a training ground for young talents; for another, it was also a sphere of production where formal(ist) experiments could be attempted, and sometimes were. The Soviet genius of this sub-genre is Gerbert Rappaport who here adapted the widely celebrated choreography by Igor’ Moiseev: football like never before, with cheery players jumping around as if possessed and a loony fan in a one-man-pitch-invasion mode."

AA: A zealous football fan rushes into the playground, is knocked out and sees a colourful football ballet dream. Herbert Rappaport made the most prominent Stalinist films in Soviet Estonia (Elu tsitadellis and Valgus Koordis). The Thaw must have been a very personal period of relief for him. A good print in dream colour.

Albert Samama Chikly, Prince of the Pioneers. Programme 1: Introducing Albert Samama Chikly

Albert Samama Chikly filming Terremoto di Messina (1908-1909). Click to enlarge.
ALBERT SAMAMA CHIKLY. PRINCIPE DEI PIONIERI
Albert Samama Chikly, Prince of the Pioneers

Programma a cura di / Programme curated by Aboubakar Sanogo, Cecilia Cenciarelli, Mariann Lewinsky e Ouissal Mejri

Note di / Notes by Aboubakar Sanogo, Cecilia Cenciarelli, Mariann Lewinsky, Ouissal Mejri, Veronique Goloubinoff e Mahmoud Ben Mahmoud

PROGRAMMA 1: CONOSCERE ALBERT SAMAMA CHIKLY
PROGRAMME 1: INTRODUCING ALBERT SAMAMA CHIKLY

Viewed at Sala Mastroianni (Bologna, Il Cinema Ritrovato) with earphone translation in English and Italian and Gabriel Thibaudeau at the grand piano, 28 June 2015
    Introduced by Mariann Lewinsky, Cecilia Cenciarelli, and Aboubakar Sanogo.
    The documentary introduced  by Djaouida Tamzali Vaughan and Paul Adrian Vaughan (guardians of the Albert Samama Chikly legacy).
    The programme notes in italics are from the Il Cinema Ritrovato 2015 catalogue and website.

I film non-fiction di Albert Samama Chikly
The Non-Fiction Films of Albert Samama Chikly

Aboubakar Sanogo: "Albert Samama Chikly worked primarily in the non-fictional mode of film-making. Within it, he performed the roles of experimenter, chronicler, witness, observer and indeed participant. As experimenter, he sought to push the boundaries of the medium in multiple ways: by plunging 40 meters deep in the ocean in a wooden submarine to take underwater shots, by shooting the cities of Paris, Brussels and Tunis from hot-air balloons and by filming a lunar eclipse among other feats. Chikly’s talent was promptly spotted by the two most important pre-WWI film studios, Pathé and Gaumont, which commissioned a lot of his work for their newsreels. His proximity with the Tunisian ruling family (The Beys) gave him unique access to major events around the palace (receptions, spectacles, diplomatic meetings, weddings, funerals...), which he photographed and filmed. He also documented the cities and regions of Tunisia, ways of life, arts and crafts, agriculture, Tuna fishing, the making of traditional costumes. Chikly’s non-fiction work also includes filming the aftermath of the infamous Messina earthquake of 1908, witnessing the indescribable consequences of the natural disaster." (Aboubakar Sanogo)

Albert Samama Chikly – Film sopravvissuti e filmografia
Albert Samama Chikly – Surviving Films and Filmography

Mariann Lewinsky: "In 1996, Albert Samama Chikly’s daughter Haydée Chikly, his granddaughter Djaouida Tamzali Vaughan and her husband Paul Adrian Vaughan, deposited four nitrate prints at the French film archive CNC for preservation: the two non fiction films Tunis (1907) and Concours de motoculture de Tunis (1914) and fragments of his two feature films Zohra (1922) and Aïn El-Ghazel (1924)."

"And for many years, only this small part of his production was known to be preserved, apart from the rushes Albert Samama Chikly shot as opérateur of the Section Cinématographique de l’Armée between February 1917 and October 1918. For this group of works by Samama Chikly, the ECPAD lists indicate between fifty-two and sixty-eight titles with an estimate of ten hours running time."

"But since this is Il Cinema Ritrovato, nitrate positive prints of two more non-fiction films by Albert Samama Chikly were rediscovered during the preparation of this section; we will be able to present the new digital copies of La Prise du ‘Carthage’ (1912, Fonds Djaouida Tamzali Vaughan), and La Mi-carême de 1912 à Paris (1912, Lobster Films)."

"Moreover, Tunny Fishing in Tunis, distributed by Urban in 1906 and initially programmed in this section as a substitute for the missing-believed-lost film Pêche au thon en Tunisie (dated 1910) by Samama Chikly, turned out to be the very film it was supposed to replace!"

"There are insurmountable difficulties inestablishing a reliable filmography for a director of non-fiction films between 1907-1914, when such films were never credited and aesthetics were a matter of genre, not of authorship (a concept totally foreign to early film making). Working from early film journals, researcher Eric Loné established that Albert Samama Chikly made nine non-fiction films for Jules de Froberville’s film company Le Lion in 1908-1909, showing places in France, Tunisia, Belgium and Austria. None of them seems to have survived."

"The best source for an outline of a filmography at present is the wonderful book commissioned by Djaouida and Paul Vaughan (Guillemette Mansour, Samama Chikly, un tunisien à la rencontre du XXème siècle, Simpact 2000) with photographs as primary sources and a wealth of information."

"Clearly, the ongoing work of researchers like Aboubakar Sanogo, Ouissal Mejri and Morgan Corriou and the newest finds in the rich collection of documents held by the family will be crucial for a detailed filmography and for a better understanding of Samama Chikly’s collaboration with Eclipse, Urban, Le Lion, Pathé Frères and Gaumont. He worked as an independent filmmaker-producer who would offer his films to such companies for distribution. From the titles we understand that his non-fiction films fall into three well-established genres: travelogues, actualités and scènes d’industrie (like the lost Recolte du jasmin en Tunisie and Distillation de la fleur d’oranger en Tunisie, both Pathé Frères 1912)."

"The section includes a substitute for a lost film by Samama Chikly (Terremoto di Messina, 1908-1909) and a selection from Gaumont and Pathé newreels shot in Tunis from 1912 to 1922. At the moment there is no proof that these were directed by Samama Chikly. Still, they allow us to see the city and the élite Franco-Tunisian sphere he knew so well and moved in at the time." (Mariann Lewinsky)

TUNNY FISHING IN TUNIS. TN 1905. D: Albert Samama Chikly. La Pêche au thon en Tunisie. DP+P: Albert Samama Chikly. Distr.: Charles Urban, Eclipse. 35 mm. 78 m. 4’ a 16 f/s. B&w. From: Lobster Films. - AA: A fine early example in the noble tradition of the fishing documentary (distinguished points of comparison: R. W. Paul's Whaling Afloat and Ashore, 1908, and much later, Grierson's Drifters). A straight record in long takes and long shots, with dozens of fishermen, very dynamic, full of action and excitement. The tuna fish are rounded up by the fishermen in their long boats. The fish are caught, killed, cleaned and cut. The print: low definition, screened in a slowed down speed. *

[TUNIS. TN 1907]. D+DP: Albert Samama Chikly. P: Photo-Ciné-Documentaires A. Samama-Chikli Tunis. 35 mm. 45 m. 3’ a 16 f/s. Col. From: CNC – Archives françaises du film. - AA: During the screening experts in the audience observed that this film is not from Tunis but from Cairo, complete with Egyptian pyramids, and probably not from 1907. Interesting to watch anyway. Print: from a damaged source, very scratched, colour bleak, screened in a slowed down speed.

TERREMOTO DI MESSINA. FR 1908-1909. P: Pathé [Pathé-Journal]. 35 mm. 68 m. 4’ a 16 f/s. B&w. From: Fondazione Cineteca di Bologna. - AA: A reverent view from the terrible ruins after the earthquake of Messina. An atmosphere of grief, a sense of loss. The intentional camera looks of the mourners are memorable. They know that we want to see them, and they look back. Tractors and caterpillars clear the ruins while a crowd is watching. Presumably by Albert Samama Chikly who also photographed these views (see above). Print: passable (soft or out of focus or duped). *

CONCOURS DE MOTOCULTURE DE TUNIS. TN 1914. D+DP: Albert Samama Chikly. P: Film Samama-Chikli-Tunis. Distr.: Pathé Frères. 35 mm. 50 m. 3’ a 16 f/s. B&w. From: CNC – Archives françaises du film.

[Added film, not in the catalogue nor on the schedule:] TIRAGE AU SORT DES ARABES. FR 1915. From: ECPAD. - AA: Recruiting Maghreb soldiers. African recruits. Parades, marches, military bands. Print: visual quality ok.

[Added film, not in the catalogue nor on the schedule:] AÏSSAWA. Sufi dancers. Trance dance. A crowd is watching. Remarkable. Visual quality: low definition. *

LES MEMBRES DE LA MISSION MUSULMANE EN FRANCE. FR 1916. Kaddour ben Gabrit et suite, 9-12 Nov 1916. P: Section Cinématographique de l’Armée. 35 mm. 15’ a 18 f/s. B&w. Intertitres français. From: ECPAD – Établissement de communication et de production audiovisuelle de la Défense. - AA: Tunisians in Paris. Albert in uniform. A travelogue. Fine composition. Greeting the patients. Place de l'Étoile. Visual quality: soft or duped or out of focus. Low contrast.

TUNIS. L’AVIATEUR DUVAL DONT L’APPAREIL AVAIT ÉTÉ SAISI À SON ARRIVÉE. FR 1912. P: Gaumont [Journal]. DCP. 1’. B&w. From: Gaumont Pathé Archives. AA: A glimpse only. Visual quality: ok.

TUNIS. LE BEY SE REND À LA MOSQUÉE. FR 1912. P: Gaumont [Journal]. DCP. 1’. B&w. From: Gaumont Pathé Archives. - AA: A glimpse only. The crowd. Visual quality: low definition.

[NOT SCREENED: MILLERAND EN VOYAGE AU MAGHREB. FR 1922. P: Pathé Frères. DCP. 11’. B&w. Intertitres français. From: Gaumont Pathé Archives]

ALBERT SAMAMA CHIKLY. FR/TN 1996. D: Mahmoud Ben Mahmoud. C: Albert Samama Chikly, Haydée Samama Chikly. P: Alif Productions, Canal + Horizons, Cinétéléfilms, La Sept ARTE. Distr.: Alif Productions. Digibeta. 29’. Col. Version française. From: Alif Productions
    "This movie sheds light on the life and work of Albert Samama Chikly, a film pioneer today almost forgotten despite being one of the first directors, an excellent photographer and an adventurous reporter. His enthusiasm and passion for modernity make him a fascinating figure. The story is provided by the testimony of his daughter Haydée, who was the heroine of his fictional films, his screenwriter and probably the first Arab actress ever. The real subject of this film, however, is the work of this “marvelous maniac”: his pictures and reportage (he filmed his Tunisia with extreme sensitivity, worked as a reporter for the French army during WWI and came back from Chine with footage and photos) as well as excerpts from the feature films Zohra and Aïn El-Ghazel." (Mahmoud Ben Mahmoud)
    AA: An engrossing documentary on a founding father of African and Arab cinema. A survey on the entire career of Albert Samama Chikly with footage both on the film-maker himself and the films he made, including ones that are hard to come by now, covering both non-fiction and fiction. He covered Tunisia and Northern Africa with affection. His daughter Haydée is interviewed in extenso. A good introduction into the life and work of an important pioneer of the cinema. Visual quality: video. *

This show was a highlight of the entire festival.
Tunny Fishing in Tunis (1905). Click to enlarge.

[catalogued as: Tunis] [probably from Cairo] Click to enlarge.

Varieté / Variety (2015 restoration in 2K by FWMS and Filmarchiv Austria)


Photo: Filmportal. Quelle: DIF, SDK. Bei den Dreharbeiten: An der Mitchell-Kamera Günter Anders, Karl Freund und Robert Baberske; vorne links Emil Jannings und Warwick Ward; rechts E. A. Dupont und der hemdsärmelige Dolmetscher Joe Rive. Click to enlarge.
Varietee / Varieté. DE 1925. D: E. A. Dupont. Based on the novel Der Eid des Stephan Huller by Felix Holländer. SC: E. A. Dupont. DP: Karl Freund, Carl Hoffmann. AD: Oscar Friedrich Werndorff. M: Ernö Rapée. C: Emil Jannings (‘Boss’ Huller), Lya de Putti (Berta-Marie), Warwick Ward (Artinelli), Maly Delschaft (la moglie di Boss Huller), Kurt Gerron (lo scaricatore di porto), Georg John (il marinaio), Georg Baselt (impresario del varietà), Charles Lincoln (l’artista spagnolo), Alice Hechy (l’attrice). P: Universum-Film AG (Ufa). DCP. 95’. B&w. German intertitles with Italian subtitles. From: Murnau Stiftung
    Restored in 2014-2015 by Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau Foundation, in cooperation with Filmarchiv Austria in Vienna, from an abridged nitrate copy for the US market, provided by Library of Congress. The German title cards and missing scenes stem from a nitrate copy of Filmarchiv Austria. Some shots were added from a duplicate copy of the Filmmuseum Munich and a duplicate negative of the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Missing title cards were reconstructed on the basis of the censorship card and the typography of the Viennese copy’s titles. The digital restoration in 2K was realized by Filmarchiv Austria.
    Original length: 2837 m /20 fps/ 123 min
    Gerhard Bienert as the card player and the tell-all caricaturist. The original music for the American version was by Ernö Rapée.
    Introduced by Ernst Szebedits (FWMS) and Fumiko Tsuneishi (Filmarchiv Austria).
    Viewed at Sala Mastroianni (Bologna, Il Cinema Ritrovato) with Italian subtitles and e-subtitles in English by Sub-Ti and with Antonio Coppola at the grand piano, 28 June 2015

Michael Wedel (Il Cinema Ritrovato 2015 catalogue and website): "The source material on which Variety is based – Der Eid des Stephan Huller (The Oath of Stephan Huller) – was published in 1912. The material was pure pulp fiction and a prime example of the widespread trend of emotional and sensationalist literary kitsch so predominant at the turn of the century. Two movie versions were made of it in the years after publication, but by the 1920s this kind of literature had fallen into gracious oblivion. The 1925 movie, by Ewald André Dupont, which borrows its motifs from this novel ranks among the most prominent cinematic works produced during the Weimar Republic era. "

"Variety’s international box office success was Dupont’s ticket to Hollywood. It was also due to the then still sensational appeal of a melodramatic love triangle between acrobats around which the plot revolves. "

"Yet its film-historical significance, and timeless appeal to today’s audiences, have different reasons: its directorial finesse, systematically translating the plot into the silent movie language of expressions and gestures, and virtuose camera work which conveys the emotional turmoil in the form of sensual sensations and visual vertigo. Set as the personal account of a convicted murderer, the plot is one long flashback of a jealousy-ridden conflict between trapeze artists, which reaches its thrilling climax at dizzying heights. However, the inevitable tragic turn does not occur in front of the audience beneath the starry ceiling of Berlin’s Wintergarten Theater, but in an uneven duel between the cuckolded Boss (Emil Jannings) and Artinelli (Warwick Ward) over the beautiful Berta-Marie (Lya de Putti)."

"In a movie, overflowing with intriguing visibility, which kindles the audience’s curiosity like nothing else; by a cascade of innovative camera effects, suggestive props, artistic performances and erotic eye and body contacts, the homicidal act eludes the vaudeville audience’s view and curiosity as the fighting men descend to the floor while the camera, unchained throughout the rest of the movie, rests in position undeterred. The movie audience sees but an arm suddenly going limp and dropping a knife, before the hulky figure of the victorious Boss rises above his slain opponent, rendering it a distinctive ellipse. It signalizes less an act of subjective suppression in the murderer’s memory, but rather a moment of moral reflection of the drama which has been captivating the viewer’s minds up to that point."
(Michael Wedel)

AA: A masterpiece brought back to life again thanks to a brilliant restoration.

I had never seen a good print of Varieté before; I had only seen highly duped 16 mm prints. Even so, Varieté has so deeply impressed me that it has been on the top of the list of classics I have been looking forward to see in a good restored version one day. That day arrived today.

Inspired by "the unchained camera" of The Last Laugh, Varieté belongs to the greatest achievements of pure visuality in cinema. There is an aching intensity in the shots: in the powerful compositions, in the exalted camera movement.

The film was such a success for E. A. Dupont that he tried to repeat it several times in different countries, but Varieté is on a completely different level of achievement because of its inner sense of conviction. The surface is brilliant but more profoundly, Dupont immediately taps into an irresistible current of emotion. The actors live their parts with conviction, and their interplay is fine from the start. There is an assured touch in Dupont's direction as he follows the deep current of emotion (not an external visual pattern) via the action and the looks, by fluid camera movement and well judged cuts. There is an engrossing blend of vitality, humour, passion, and derring-do in Varieté.

There are several memorable scenes and touches, such as - the blasé reactions of the Wintergarten audience to the unheard-of feat of the triple somersault - the wild party of the artists after the performance - Artinelli observing the clumsiness of Boss Huller with the key and the lock - and the montage of the myriad eyes in the final performance.

Varieté is told as a long flashback within a concise framing story at the prison.

Emil Jannings overacts again, especially in the conclusion of the flashback story, but he displays also a subtle register of fine reactions, including tenderness, sadness, disappointment, and comedy. He is at his best in the beginning with a sensitive and rich touch. His legendary "acting with his back" is a welcome corrective to his hamming of the climactic scenes of violence.

There was an obsession with triangle tragedy in circus world during the silent era, for example in the various film adaptations of The Four Devils in different countries. Varieté is a particularly distinguished achievement in that cycle. The plot twist is that during the final triple somersault sequence Boss Huller acts totally professionally although he is so frantic with jealousy that he is on the verge of fainting. The tragedy climaxes first after the show as the inexorable Huller confronts Artinelli in cold blood.

Watching Varieté I am thinking about possible influences to many films, including Der Blaue Engel (even casting Jannings, Gerron, and Bienert together again), Alfred Hitchcock (The Lodger; the triangle and the ring motif in The Ring, but most importantly the mastery of the looks, telling a story purely visually), and perhaps even La strada (the triangle in circus world: the strongman kills the weaker man, the orphan woman).

Gerhard Bienert is not credited for his role in Varieté, not even in Filmportal. This is one of the first masterpieces in which he plays a small but memorable role (he had also already appeared in Die Nibelungen). His unique career lasted during the many Germanies until the late 1980s. He was like a good guardian spirit of the German cinema in a similar way as was Gaston Modot in France (film career 1909-1964). Maybe there is an essay on those two, and if there isn't, someone should write one.

The legendary cinematography of the flashback story was conducted by Karl Freund, and it still looks sensational and rich in visual wit and invention.

But my favourite has always been the haunting framework footage shot by Carl Hoffmann with a totally different visual approach: ascetic, reduced, intense. When I think of Varieté I first remember the circle of inmates at the prison yard, Huller's back with the number 28, and the final image of the opening of the prison gate and the desolate trees swinging in the wind.

Antonio Coppola played the piano with a good sense of the complex psychology at work.

Visual quality: a fine sepia toning and a rich touch unlike in the 16 mm circulating prints that have been the best available viewing materials until now. This seems to be a short version, but I do not know how much the short duration has to do with decisions about speed.

Insiang (2015 restoration, DCP from The Film Foundation / World Cinema Project)

Click to enlarge.
PH 1976. D: Lino Brocka. Story: Mario O’Hara. SC: Mario O’Hara, Lamberto Antonio. DP: Conrado Baltazar. ED: Augusto Salvado. M: Max Jocson. C: Hilda Koronel, Mona Lisa, Ruel Vernal, Rez Cortez, Marlon Ramirez. P: Ruby Tiong Tan. DCP. 95’. Col. Tagalog version with English and French subtitles. From: The Film Foundation.
    Restored in 2015 by Fondazione Cineteca di Bologna at L’Immagine Ritrovata Laboratory. Restoration funding provided by The Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project and the Film Development Council of the Philippines.
    4K scan. Colour grading supervised by Pierre Rissient.
    Introduced by Cecilia Cenciarelli.
    Viewed at Sala Scorsese (Bologna, Il Cinema Ritrovato) with English subtitles and e-subtitles in Italian, 28 June 2015

Il Cinema Ritrovato catalogue and website: Lino Brocka: "Insiang is, first and foremost, a character analysis: a young woman raised in a miserable neighborhood. I need this character to recreate the ‘violence’ stemming from urban overpopulation, to show the annihilation of a human being, the loss of human dignity caused by the physical and social environment and to stress the need of changes these life conditions [...]. My characters always react through fighting. I have conceived Insiang like an immoral story: two women share the same man, the daughter avenges herself and, in the end, she reveals herself: she had conspired to kill her mother’s lover without having never loved him, so that the murder was, in fact, unnecessary. Censorship refused this ending." (Lino Brocka)

Pierre Rissient: "In 1977 I was in Sydney for the film festival. Before going home, I zigzagged my way back through Jakarta, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Hong-Kong, Manila and Seoul, to discover a new filmmaker and an unknown film: Insiang by Lino Brocka. When Insiang was released on December 17, 1976, it did not do well, and led to the collapse of CineManila, the company founded by Brocka in 1974 after the extraordinary success of Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang. The shooting of Insiang began on December 1st and lasted 11 days. Knowing these dates is important as they reveal the extreme urgency he felt, and his unique, authentic desire to make this film."

"Insiang also presents an unusual, brilliant mise-en-scène which shows the characters being torn apart by passion, by a sort of ardent energy."

"I am very pleased that, two years after Manila in the Claws of Light, we are able to see another estoration of a Brocka film. I still remember the excitement, along rue Antibes, surrounding the
screening of Insiang at the Quinzaine de Réalisateurs, in 1978. That was a very fulfilling and emotional experience, and I’m sure the same will be true today." (Pierre Rissient) Il Cinema Ritrovato catalogue and website

AA: A powerful naturalistic view about life in the slums of Manila, full of life and violence. In this world men have become demoralized, and women remain carriers of responsibility in Mutter Courage fashion.

A tragic story about a broken family. The father has left the family to its own devices, mother Tonya and daughter Insiang toiling all day long to make ends meet. Insiang wants to marry Bebot and is reserved about his advances, sensing that the guy will only take advantage of her and then abandon her, which is exactly what happens. Meanwhile, the red-blooded mother Tonya takes a young lover, Dado, boss of a gang of hoods, who decides to take Insiang, as well, "under his care". The story turns into a revenge tragedy as Insiang, abused by all three, wreaks horrible vengeance on them.

The performances are compelling but the most powerful asset of the movie is its atmosphere, its milieux: the traffic, the slaughterhouse, the fish market, the overcrowded apartment, the garage, the cinema (where everybody is focused on making out), the love hotel, the prison.

Insiang wants to transcend her circumstances ("I don't want to end up like my mother"), and there is even a decent guy, Nanding, who proposes to her and wants to take her out of her misery, but at that point Insiang has been brutalized to revenge mentality. What happens to her soul is the deepest tragedy.

There is a compelling drive in Lino Brocka's movie. He knows to use a moving camera. Recurrent motifs include a mosquito net and "letting water from the faucet fill the drum" for a bath (a sign for mother's love session with her boy toy).

The colour grading has been beautifully conducted to convey the sense of tropical heat and humidity. Warm colours look good in this digital restoration.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Leo McCarey: His Wooden Wedding, What Price Goofy?, Dog Shy, Wrong Again

HIS WOODEN WEDDING
US 1925. D: Leo McCarey. Story: Hal Roach. DP: Glen R. Carrier. C: Charley Chase (lo sposo), Katherine Grant (la sposa), Gale Henry (la donna sulla barca), Fred De Silva, John Cossar. P: Hal Roach per Hal Roach Studios. DCP. 19’. B&w. English intertitles. From: Lobster Films.
    Restored in 2015 from 35 mm blow up print from 16 mm reduction negative Blackhawk.

WHAT PRICE GOOFY?
US 1925. D: Leo McCarey. Story: Hal Roach. C: Charley Chase (Jamison), Katherine Grant (sua moglie), Noah Young (lo svaligiatore Omaha Oscar), Lucien Littlefield (il maggiordomo Speck), Jane Sherman (l’amica della moglie), Marjorie Whiteis (professor Brown), Fay Wray, il cane Buddy. P: Hal Roach per Hal Roach Studios. DCP. 25’. B&w. English intertitles. From: Lobster Films.
    Restored in 2015 by Lobster Films from a 35 mm camera negative

DOG SHY
US 1926. D: Leo McCarey. Story: Hal Roach. C: Charley Chase (Charley), Mildred June (la ragazza), Stuart Holmes (il duca), Josephine Crowell (la madre della ragazza), William Orlamond (il padre della ragazza), Fred Kelsey (poliziotto), Jerry Mandy (il complice), il cane Buddy (Duke). P: Hal Roach per Hal Roach Studios. 35 mm. L.: 552 m. 20’ at 24 fps. B&w. English intertitles. From: Library of Congress.

WRONG AGAIN
Di nuovo sbagliato. US 1929. D: Leo McCarey. Story: Leo McCarey, Lewis R. Foster. DP: George Stevens, Jack Roach. M.: Richard Currier. C: Stan Laurel (Stanlio), Oliver Hardy (Ollio), Del Henderson (il proprietario del quadro), Josephine Crowell (sua madre), Harry Bernard (il poliziotto), Charlie Hall (il vicino), William Gillespie (il proprietario del cavallo). P: Hal Roach per Hal Roach Studios.  DCP. 20’ B&w. English intertitles. From: Lobster Films.

Viewed at Cinema Jolly (Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna) with Donald Sosin at the digital piano, 27 June 2015

AA: Revisited four short comedies directed by Leo McCarey for Hal Roach. There are those among us who find that McCarey was already at his best in these late silent comedies, and certainly they are perfect in many ways: in their sense of character, rhythm, and timing. They are carefully designed yet there is a feeling of spontaneity and improvisation. Liberty is a contender for the funniest film ever made.

McCarey's mastery as a comedy director was based on his understanding of the character, the comedian. The stories, the situations, and the gags are funny, but even more prominently, McCarey's films are character-driven. He is never in a hurry to forward the plot when there are more juicy nuances to be discovered in the character's reactions.

A favourite plot of McCarey's is the fundamental misunderstanding: Charley Chase is led to believe that his fiancée has a wooden leg (His Wooden Wedding); Charley rescues a perfumed dog who refuses to leave him which leads his wife to believe that he is having an affair (What Price Goofy?), the request to "give the Duke a bath", concerning yet another dog, is taken too literally by the "butler" Charley (Dog Shy): the reward for returning a stolen painting, Gainsborough's The Blue Boy, is mistaken by Laurel and Hardy to mean an eponymous horse (Wrong Again).

The plots can be plain silly but they provide a solid springboard for a wealth of comical innovations. McCarey approaches his comedies via the comedians and helps them create a world where they can flourish. He always confessed that he had learned everything from Charley Chase, but soon he mastered comedy sovereignly with many comedians. No director has directed so many great comedians so successfully.

Charley Chase belongs to a remarkable tradition of film comedy which was started by Max Linder: the comedy about the utter embarrassment of the distinguished gentleman. Even Charles Chaplin was inspired by Linder, but he created an original tramp character. Charley Chase is in a more direct line of influence from Linder, and together with McCarey he perfected that tradition.

Prints: His Wooden Wedding is a blow-up from 16 mm. What Price Goofy? looks mighty good. Dog Shy looks very good, as well. Wrong Again looks like it has been made from a difficult source (16 mm? low contrast?).