Saturday, June 4, 2016

Jason goes to Silentfest--Day 2

Friday started bright and early at 10:00 am with a SFSFF tradition, Amazing Tales From the Archives. It is...exactly what it sounds. A short series of presentations about what's going on in archives around the world.

First, from BFI, footage from Stoll studios in Cricklewood England. We get treated to some "behind the scenes" footage, everything from workers entering the studio, to auditions from women all over England, to lab footage showing how the film is made, from perforation to developing to positive prints and drying. And we end with a gala visit by Jackie Coogan. And the whole thing was accompanied by Stephen Horne on the piano.

Then Universal Studios did a presentation on their overall restoration/archival program, focusing on a sneak previews of scenes from THE LAST WARNING, playing Saturday night (by the time this is written, probably "tonight.") I was actually considering skipping that, just because I had seen it just last Halloween at Niles. But having seen a taste of the restoration, I'm going to have to see the whole thing.

And finally, Georges Mourier, who is currently overseeing a new restoration gave us the epic story of the epic reconstruction of the epic film, Abel Gance's NAPOLEON (have I mentioned it's pretty epic?) Most amazing is how many versions of this film exist/have existed. 4 versions by Gance himself: 2 silents--the Opera and Apollo versions (named after the theaters where they premiered) and 2 talkies, made decades later and with different actors in framing scenes as Napoleon. 5 different reconstructions (3 by Kevin Brownlow.) And finally the amazing discovery--the key to the film. That the ~4.5 hour Opera version and ~9 hour Apollo versions were from completely different negatives. They really were completely different films. Gance himself described seeing restorations mixing versions as like listening to a few bars of Debussy then a few bars of Brahms. Truly an amazing tale from archives all over the world. Now I can't wait to see the Mourier reconstruction.

Then after a brief break, A WOMAN OF THE WORLD (1925) starring Pola Negri as the beautiful and sophisticated Countess Elnora Natatorini. After being betrayed by the man she loved so much that she got his crest tattooed on her arm (scandalous!) she travels halfway around the world to visit her Midwest American cousin Sam Poore (Chester Conklin, in a wonderfully funny role.) The local D.A. Granger (Holmes Herbert) has it in for vice--dancing, women who smoke, etc. But it'll be hard to keep his resolve when the countess comes to town. After all, Pola Negri just doing what she does with her eyes while fondling a cigarette is damn near the sexiest thing I've ever seen...and I watch a lot of porn. But I digress. It's just a funny, funny movie. 

And Donald Sosin did a great job accompanying, as usual.

Then we traveled to Japan for a little Ozu with THAT NIGHT'S WIFE (1930.) A rarity for Ozu--a gangster picture. We start with a robbery, and only later we learn the reason--a father trying to save his sick daughter. But a cop tracks him down at home, and a tense standoff begins, with the wife holding the cop at gunpoint and trying not to fall asleep (it's either unfortunate or appropriate that I was having a similar struggle with exhaustion at this point.) The crime thriller turns into a tense family drama, as the father feels remorse for his crime and the cop doesn't want the daughter to die. So at least wait until the doctor can treat her before anything regrettable happens. A simple little drama, that showcases (especially with background posters) Ozu's inspiration from American cinema, and his ability to  make it his own.

Silentfest newcomer Maud Nelissen accompanied on the piano, with a score that was beautifully understated.

Next up was MOTHERS OF MEN (1917) or EVERY WOMAN'S PROBLEM (1921 re-release title) Shot in Santa Cruz, it's a suffragette picture, but rather than an earnest plea for women's suffrage, it takes place in the "near future" when women already have the vote and are entering the world of politics. In particular, Clara Madison (Dorothy Davenport) who has just been elected superior court judge in an unspecified western state despite having the local muck-raking newspaper totally against her (strangely, California, where it was shot, still hasn't had a female governor nearly 100 years later.) It makes it awkward when her husband actually argues a case before her (um...were there not recusal rules back then?) Anyway, even when she rules against her husband's client and the way the newspaper wanted her to, they still write biased editorials that she only did it to misdirect the public about all the corruption and graft she's gonna pull. Now...while this film might be friendly to gender equality, it's not so friendly to race...particularly Italians. Who hatch a ludicrous plot to blow up the newspaper and frame her husband...right when she's running for governor. And even when she wins, and they have a baby on the way, she can't pardon him because...reasons? Really, because it would show women are ruled by emotions rather than a stern sense of justice that's needed in a political leader, so if she did it no woman would ever be elected again. I really, really wanted to like this movie more, and it's heart is in the right place...but by now it's pretty corny and dated. Not that some issues of sexism in the media aren't still totally valid.

And the Mont Alto Orchestra did a typically excellent job accompanying.

Then there was VARIETÉ (1925) by E.A. Dupont and starring Emil Jannings and Lya de Putti. Damn, with Lousie Brooks, Pola Negri, and now Lya de Putti (who is pure sin poured into the shape of a woman) in two days, women of the silent screen have never been more alluring. Anyway, Jannings plays Boss, a retired trapeze artist. And de Putti plays a girl who seduces him out of retirement. He leaves his wife and young child to run away with her to Berlin, where they play in the carnival by the Wintergarten. There they are spotted by master of the trapeze Artinelli, whose brother has just broken his leg so he needs a new partner--or partners--for his act. And they are just the thing, until the little seductress might like him more than Jannings...

I won't say how it ends...but it starts with Jannings in prison, confessing to how he got there. And along the way there are all sorts of bawdy, silly, acrobatic, astounding acts.

Berklee Silent Film Orchestra, in their second year at the festival, again makes me run out of superlatives and marvel that they're still only students. The longest standing ovation I've seen at the festival since...I don't remember when.

And finally, we ended the long day and night with BEHIND THE DOOR (1919,) and oddity I had never heard of, and now doubt I'll ever forget. Hobart Bosworth (who I'll always remember in Captain January opposite Baby Peggy) stars as Captain Oscar Klug, a kindly taxidermist with an admittedly German name but American through-and-through. But he has to prove it with his fists when WWI is declared. And he does a fine job at that, beating the crap out of MacTavish until he's convinced and they're immediately best friends. Soon enough he enlists and is captaining an American ship, along with his new first mate MacTavish. Unfortunately, his girlfriend's father still doesn't like him. And especially doesn't like when they married just before he shipped out. So faced with the prospect of being kicked out of home, she stows away on her husband's ship. Which is only nice for a brief moment, until they're attacked by a U-boat with a dastardly crew of rapists. Yeah, this movie pulls no punches. And neither does Klug, when he survives, blows up the U-boat, and gets his revenge-bent hands on the captain.

Stephen Horne accompanied, bringing us full circle from the morning, and sending us off with...well, that's not a movie that ends with a smile. But sends us off impressed. I'm still not sure I really saw what I know I saw.

Total Running Time: 397 minutes
My Total Minutes: 429,907

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