Saturday, July 17, 2010

Jason goes to Silentfest--Day 2

First off, I have to applaud a major innovation over last year. The festival is so jam-packed, I often have no time to leave the beautiful Castro Theatre and grab a bite to eat. Last year I spent Saturday from 10 am to 1 am living off nothing but popcorn. But this year, our friendly neighbors from Poesia Italian Restaurant are providing (for $6), delicious panini sandwiches. At least, the prosciutto was delicious. I'll keep you updated as more information is available.

Anyway, I caught two movies last night, so let's go:

First we started with a Georges Méliès film PANORAMA FROM A MOVING TRAIN (1898). Melies shorts will be a staple of the fest this year (like Griffith Biograph shorts were last year). But this was an odd one--no magic, no trick photography, just a camera bolted to the roof of a train and driving around.

And that train motif led into the feature, the Italian film ROTAIE (1929). Big props to Anita Monga for finding this little gem at the Pordenone Silent Film Festival. Two poor young lovers are at the end of their rope--literally. They check into a hotel intending to commit suicide, but a passing train interrupts them, knocking their glassful of poison to the ground. Dreams of the train distract them, and then become reality when they recover a lost wallet at the station. They join the vacationing rich to wherever they're going, which turns out to be weeks of partying and gambling. However, it's clear from the looks of the other passengers that they don't fit in, which is confirmed when he loses all their money gambling and a wealthy playboy makes a move on her. In the end, it's a political pre-fascist (director Mario Carmenini's reputation was eventually destroyed by working for Mussolini) tale of the nobility of the working class. And the style is both steeped in German impressionism and presages Italian Neo-Realism. Quite a discovery. And a great job bringing it to life by Stephen Horne on the piano and flute.

And then it was time for the clear highlight of the festival--the as-fully-restored-as-ever-since 1928 version of METROPOLIS. For those who don't know the back story (and the news headlines didn't tell the whole story), here's the quick version. Almost immediately after release in January 1928, Fritz Lang's original 153 minute version was cut. Eventually it was cut to barely an hour and a half, and while still recognized as a classic for the special effects, art design, style, and theme, the story was badly mangled. Over the years, extra bits and pieces were found and restored, until there was about a 2 hour version. Then in 2008 in the Museo del Cine in Buenos Aires, Argentina, a 16 mm print with 25 extra minutes was "discovered." Or, to be more precise, 20 years ago Fernando Peña's colleague told him a story of a private collector who showed his 16 mm print of METROPOLIS to a private film club sometime in about 1959. He remembered the film "flickered" so he put a little extra pressure on the film against the gate--with his finger. He held his finger against that gate for two and a half hours. Pena asked him many times, "are you sure it was 2.5 hours, not 2?" He assured him you don't forget how long you have to do something like that. So Peña knew this print existed and had tried to get access to it for 20 years. It was hardly a "surprise" discovery. All it took was for his ex-lover Paula Félix-Didier to be named head of the Museo del Cine and for them to patch things up. Once they had access, they had the print in about 5 minutes.

Okay, as for the film itself--of course it's awesome. If you haven't seen it...shame on you, but here's the quick and dirty summary. In a dystopian world, the working masses power machines to let the wealthy intellectual elites live in comfort in an eternal garden of play. This is lorded over by Joh Frederson, but his son Freder, by following beautiful evangelist Maria (Brigitte Helm) discovers the truth, and discovers his destiny--to be the heart that mediates between the head (the planners) and the hands (the workers). But Joh has other ideas, and enlists a mad scientist Rotwang to create a mechanical man in the image of Maria to lead the workers astray. But Rotwang has his own ideas. As for the 25 new minutes: much of it was quick inserts that didn't add much but improved the flow of editing. It seemed like the largest added scene was when Freder returns from the worker city (impersonating worker 11811) and what happens to both of them when he tries to find him and switch identities back. It's a significant loose end that just wasn't tied up before. But I suspect the most significant changes aren't necessarily the new scenes, but having a (near) complete original cut of the film to guide the editing of the restoration. It's been a long time since I've seen METROPOLIS (and actually, this is the first time on the big screen), and I was impressed by how well the story flowed, not really a slow scene in it. Of course, big thanks to the Alloy Orchestra whose score has been so well received it will be included as an alternate track on the Kino DVD. Oh, and for anyone who thinks the search for the "definitive" version of METROPOLIS is over, there's still 5 minutes missing, and these new 25 minutes were from a badly scratched 16 mm print, so there could still be better/more complete versions out there. So keep looking (oh and a great new resource to search forgotten films and post any finds you make is right here)

Total Running Time: 222 minutes
My Total Minutes: 189,340

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