Friday, June 1, 2018

Jason goes to SilentFest--Day 2

We started Thursday bright and early (10:00 am) with Amazing Tales from the Archives, always one of the best programs in the festival, if you can make it.

First up we had Cynthia Walk and Martin Koerber from Deutsche Kinemathek talking about their new restoration of THE ANCIENT LAW, which will be playing Sunday, so I'll hold off writing about the film until then. There interesting part is how it's an update of a 1984 restoration, and how after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Cynthia found the original censor card which contained every intertitle in the film, and realized there were some inconsistencies in the 1984 version. Eventually, when the Kinemathek decided to do a new reconstruction, they worked with her on the most complete and authentic reconstruction known. Can't wait to see it!

Then from Germany we went to Italy, with Davide Pozzi, head of L'Immagine Ritrovata film restoration laboratory. He spoke about the challenges of restoring Kinemacolor films. This was an early color technique, where the film was shot at 32 fps through alternating red and green filters, and projected through the same filters, making for a color film at 16 fps (albeit with fringing of the colors if the action is moving too fast.) Well, beyond the difficulties of physical damage and deterioration of the films, there's also the problem that simply tinting alternating frames red and green doesn't really work for a digital restoration. And Davide talked about how they overcame that, and then showed some examples of their restored films. Fascinating.

And finally, another sneak peek of an upcoming film, Saturday's presentation of THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES. Russell Merritt spoke about the history of this German film, the last silent Sherlock Holmes picture, the first version of The Hound of the Baskervilles that was more or less faithful to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's story, and the first movie that really got the Holmes/Watson friendship. Then Elzbieta Wysocka of Poland's National Film Archive told the story of how a 35 mm print of this thought-lost film was found in a collection of a Polish church, and how before even publicly announcing the restoration a private collector offered up a 9.5 mm print. And finally Robert Byrnes talked about the physical process of restoring it, the challenges of different versions and melding then seamlessly, hiding the 9.5 mm perforations (which are center if the frameline, instead of on the sides out of frame,) etc. And, of course, the most important part of the process...showing it to an audience! Can't wait to see it!

All of the clips (and some of the technical difficulties) were beautifully accompanied by Donald Sosin

Next up was a bit of comedy, starting with a Stan Laurel (before he was teamed with Oliver Hardy) short, DETAINED (1924): Laurel is an ordinary guy, mugged by an escaped criminal who steals his clothes and leaves him in prison stripes. So naturally, the cops pick him up and throw him back into prison without a trial. Wacky hijinx ensue in prison, including an attempted escape and chase that leads him resting for a bit in the electric chair.

SOFT SHOES (1925): And then the feature, starring Harry Carey as a small town sheriff and all around decent guy. But his girl doesn't want to marry him unless he has money. Well, an inheritance solves that, but to collect he has to go to a very dangerous city--San Francisco! A series of wacky hijinx ensue, with a stolen brooch, a failed attempt to return it, being mistaken for a criminal, impersonating a criminal, and getting into a hell of a lot of trouble. Pretty exciting and funny.

Harry Carey in trouble. Still courtesy of SFSFF
Both films were again beautifully accompanied by Donald Sosin.

MASTER OF THE HOUSE (DU SKAL ÆRE DIN HUSTRU) (1925): Carl Theodor Dreyer, most famous for PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC (1928), shows off his comedic directing chops in this film. A domestic comedy, it starts with a father and husband (Johannes Meyer) having one of his lately typical "bad days." He complains about everything--where are his slippers, why was he not served coffee first, why is there no butter on his bread, what of his wife's stupid birds, why is his old nanny coming to help with the household again today, etc.? Well, his wife (Astrid Holm) has always taken it with a sweet nature, but it's getting to be too much. So perhaps the nanny (Mathilde Nielsen) will have to teach him a lesson. Soon his wife is whisked away to her mother's for some well-needed rest, and the nanny takes over her household duties. But she doesn't take any shit from the alleged master of the house. Soon he is like a child again, remembering when she was his nanny and gave him a good thrashing when he misbehaved. Her remedy plays with the balance between fair and cruel, but there's never a doubt that he will come through it in the end a better man, more ready and willing to appreciate and help his wife with the household chores. Very funny, with an incredibly wry wit that maintains the stately manner Dreyer is famous for but allows for a breath of near-slapstick comedy in it.

The master, wife, and Nana fighting over the birds. Still courtesy of Janus Films
Accompanying it all was the marvelous Stephen Horne on piano...and xylophone...and flute...and accordion...and I'm sure I've forgotten or missed some other instruments. Anyway, the festival's own one-man-band was brilliant again.

AN INN IN TOKYO (TÔKYÔ NO YADO) (1935): And then some Yasujirô Ozu beauty. One of the things I love about foreign silent films is the countries that continued with silent films for years after the U.S. switched to talkies. Japan is chief among them, and the silent films from the mid-30s are marvelous. The art form had more places to go, and was cut short with talkies, but the sophistication of mid-30s silents is unrivaled. Here Ozu brings a poetic beauty to working class struggles on the outskirts of Tokyo. Kihachi (Takeshi Sakamoto) and his two sons are struggling to survive. He's looking for work, but not much luck so far. They meet Otaka (Yoshiko Okada) and her young daughter, Kimiko, who are also struggling for work. Kihachi's old friend, Otsune (Choko Iida) helps Kihachi find work and lets him rent a room in his inn. Otaka eventually gets work, as a sake-house waitress (which, I assume, includes more..."unsavory"...tasks.) Kihachi doesn't like this, and fights with her. And resorts to drastic measures to try to help her.

But you know, the plot is kind of secondary to the beauty that Ozu finds in the mundane. Empty wire spools, factories, telephone poles. I don't think anyone could photograph them the same we he did. The story is depressing, but the photography is beautiful, and it's finding that beauty that is the genius of the film.

One of Kahachi's sons, in front of beautifully photographed factory smokestacks. Still courtesy of Janus Films
Adding to the beauty and the genius were accompanists Guenter Buchwald on piano and Frank Bockius on percussion.

I then had to skip out on the evening shows (sorry) because I had an important conflicting appointment.

Total Running Time: 300 minutes
My Total Minutes: 480,523

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