by James Harrison
Now in it’s 30th year, Le Giornate Del Cinema Muto (aka the Pordenone International Silent Film Festival) has been the place to be whether your a novice or a hardcore silent film fan. For many of us it was the 7th or even 9th year going, and what an interesting 10 days of pasta eating, wine drinking and cinema going it was.
From the outset there was some interesting highlights lined up for the week. There was of course the impressive final night screening of Victor Sjostrom’s (credited as Seastrom) classic The Wind (starring Lillian Gish) with a live score by Carl Davis, then the screening of the reconstruction of George Meilies classic Le Voyage Dans La Lune (The Voyage to the Moon) in colour and of course (the one in which many had been waiting for), the European Première of the recently found 43 minute fragments of The White Shadow (1924), a film directed by Graham Cutts, with the storyline credit going to a certain Mr Alfred Hitchcock. Hitchcock was also Cutts’ assistant on the film (both men were credited for the screenplay as well); and while many people believed the film to be a film by Hitchcock (the international press are more at fault for stating this more than anyone else) I must say, The White Shadow, is, most certainly a film by Graham Cutts. But more about that later on in part 2 of our Highlights of Le Giornate Del Cinema Muto.
Highlights: Part 1:
One of the key reasons why many of us from Bristols Silents (and of course many other people around the globe) go to the Giornate is to find new surprises, and dare I say it, watch the rediscovered classics of the early part of cinema history. And to be honest, I can’t find any other place better than this particular festival. With that in mind, this year, there were some surprises, but also, some disappointments.
Saturday first saw a flavour of what was to come later on in the week, with a selection of early works by film director Michael Curtiz (then named Mihaly Kertesz). The selection started with Jon Az Ocsem (1919; My Brother is Coming) and A Tolonc (1915; The Undesirable), in which in my opinion, were highly disappointing. The disappointment continued I’m afraid when the festival beginning its run of Georgian films with a screening of Gansirulni (The Doomed) a silent film made in 1930, in which, the title sounds far more exciting than the film really was.
However, there was a shining jewel between these two screenings which kept my trust in the festival, and that came from a rediscovered film from the US called The Little Minister (1921). Directed by Scottish born film director Penrhyn Stanlaws (born Stanley Adamson from Dundee), The Little Minister tells of a young pastor who is caught up in a number of battles between the military and the weavers of the town. With the use of wit and the odd section of romance, you could well be mistaken that the film could have been directed by Michael Curtiz. Sadly not. And I’m afraid to say, for this young trepid silent film hound, I was howling through the rest of the early work of Michael Curtiz for the rest of the festival.
The rest of Saturday saw a miss mash of avant garde films from Netherlands, a Disney Short and the visually impressive Novy Vavilon (1929; New Babylon) which opened the festival (officially) that night.
Sunday started very early, with a selection of factual footage of the many expeditions to the South Pole; the films included footage of Roald Amundsen’s 1910 – 1912 successful attempt to reach the South Pole first (beating Scott by a number of days) and rather surprisingly, footage of the Scottish Antarctic Expedition back in 1902 – 1904 and an even bigger surprise came with the footage of the Japanese Expedition to Antarctica from 1912, which included footage of the training of the men and also their voyage to the great white silent land. More about Scott later by the way…
After a very successful screening of Victor Fleming’s Mantrap (1926) starring the irreplaceable Clara Bow (and actually Percy Marmont and Ernest Torrence) and The Better Man, a Western short from 1912, many decided to stay behind and watch an epic by Michael Curtiz called Die Sklavenkonign (1924; Moon of Israel). Once again, another disappointment, although, while we had a rather dull romantic story with the story of The Ten Commandments as a backdrop, it was most certainly worth comparing Moon of Israel with DeMille’s Ten Commandments which had been released the year before. However, I must say, I would just watch DeMille’s version (far shorter and far more effective).
Monday saw the festival in full swing with a selection of rather interesting Japanese Animations, a number of shorts from all over the world which had come from the infamous Corrick Correction (now in it’s 5th and possibly last but one year at the Giornate) and the screening of the recently discovered RW Paul film, which made quite a stir within some of the Giornate regulars and RW Paul and British silent film fans.
However, the main highlights for Monday was the Georgian film Amerikanka (1930; The Jobbing Press) and the Russian film Chyortovo Koleso (1926; The Devil’s Wheel). The Jobbing Press (classed as a revolutionary – historical film by many) tells the story of of an underground printing shop in the heart of Moscow when the Soviet revolution began to spread throughout the city and the whole of the country. Visually stunning through out; the use of light and shadow in the underground printing room was fantastic, as well as, an impressive use of depth of field in the opening sequence which found the main character in a lifeless snowy landscape. At last a Georgian film worth talking about I thought at the end. Watch out for this one.
The Devil’s Wheel on the other hand couldn’t be anything more than the opposite to The Jobbing Press. Shot in and around Petrograd (the film notes stated); the film told the story of a young Russian sailor from the battleship Aurora (the ship that launched the salvoes that marked the start of the October Revolution) who falls for a local girl. They disappear into the night, and are seen riding certain rides at a local fairground (including of course a Devil’s Wheel). They later become involved with the local crime underworld, in which at the end of the film there is an impressive gun battle between a bunch of Russian criminals and soldiers and police outside, in which, the building that the criminals are in begins to catch on fire and burns to the ground. Sounds familiar? Well, it did remind me very much of Josef von Sternberg‘s Underworld (1927) anyway. Throughout the film we saw some wonderful broad wide shots of the city at night, as well as some wonderful use of lightening when it came to the films fairground sequences. A true classic from the number of Russian films which had been screened this year…
Stay tuned for the next major highlights from Le Giornate Del Cinema Muto in the next few coming days..