Monday, June 2, 2014

Jason goes to Silentfest--Day 2

Due to a bit of a screw-up over the weekend, I'm left with 15 shows from the weekend to write up prior to Docfest, so let's get to it.

I slipped out of work early last Friday to catch THE PARSON'S WIDOW (1920), a romantic comedy by Carl Dreyer. Let me pause and then say that again.... Carl Dreyer...of THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC and VAMPYR did a romantic comedy!? And it's great. A young man seeks a position as a parson in a small town, so he can marry his sweetheart. But to get the job...and live in the parsonage...he has to marry the previous parson's widow. A little schnapps and a (not really) enchanted herring convinces him to marry the old crone, and immediately he realizes his dilemma. His fiance moves in under the ruse of being his sister, but the watchful eyes of the widow and her servants keep him from misbehaving, with hilariously wacky results. Then...I won't spoil it but there's a bit of a gut-punch near the end that makes for a drastic shift in tone (and gasps from the audience.) But it is a comedy, and things do work out in the end.

Matti Bye (going solo, without his ensemble) was brilliant as always accompanying on the piano.

RAMONA (1928): Dolores del Rio is gorgeous! And there was a story, but before I get to that let me reiterate--Dolores del Rio is gorgeous (and I say "is" not "was" because once your image is on film, that's you forever.)

Okay, story (based on Helen Hunt Jackson’s popular 1884 novel.) Del Rio plays the titular Ramona, the adopted daughter of Señora Moreno (Vera Lewis) who dominates a small section of California with her sheep ranch. Ramona plays with her brother Felipe (Roland Drew.) When their hijinx get them in trouble with mother, Felipe always gets off lightly while Ramona bears the brunt of the punishment. Felipe knows she's just an adopted sister so has some other thoughts about her. But she just loves him as a brother. She actually has eyes for Allesandro (Warner Baxter,) the head of the band of natives hired to shear the sheep. But Señora Moreno will have none of that, because she's just blatantly racist against Indians. Ramona, however, is defiant (especially when she learns that she, in fact, is of native descent) and runs off to marry Allesandro and live a life of a native woman--complete with the abuses that marauding gangs of white criminals visit on their village. The story--starting with the novel--is intended to highlight the plight of the Native Americans (director Edwin Carewe was part Chickasaw.) And that's certainly there, so I feel a little guilty just focusing on on the beauty of the female lead. But have I mentioned that Dolores del Rio is gorgeous?

The Mont Alto Orchestra's accompaniment was as beautiful as the picture, and even started us off with a sing-a- long

And then it was time for some late night weirdness, courtesy of the traditional filmmaker's pick, this year going to local nutball Craig Baldwin, whose introduction alone was worth the price of admission (note: as a member of the press my admission was free)

But before the feature there was an "orphaned" short, NIEMEYER PIJPTABAK (1923): A weird Dutch Tobacco commercial featuring rip-offs of Felix the Cat and Koko the Clown.

And then the feature, COSMIC VOYAGE (1936): The Soviets made some outstanding silent films, and they also made some incredibly weird ones. This one is in the latter category. Partially animated, and only partially adhering to the laws of logic and reality, this was pulled from circulation by censors shortly after it was released. Ostensibly a child's film, it's the adventures of Professor Sedikh (Sergey Komarov) as he leads the first mission to the moon, over the objections of his colleagues (who present a dead rabbit as evidence that you cannot survive space travel.) But with his assistant Marina (yes, a female astronaut, played by Kseniya Moskalenko,) a boy scout Andryusha Orlov (Vassili Gaponenko) and a kitty they go on a bizarre, funny, and fast paced adventure to the moon and back (and even the kitty survived!) All with ingenuity, animated acrobatics, and the help of the "frozen remnants of the moon's atmosphere" to fuel the trip back (I did say it only partially adhered to the laws of logic and reality.) Soviet rocket scientist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky actually served as a technical adviser to the film, and...well, if he had a sense of humor I like to think he would have been proud of it.

The Silent Movie Music Company (aka, Guenter Buchwald and Frank Bockius) kept the musical accompaniment brisk like the film, and Frank Buxton translated the Russian intertitles in real-time.

Total Running Time: 258 minutes
My Total Minutes: 363,754

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