Pordenone Diary - Days 6, 7 and 8

 

Abwege

Pordenone Diary – Day 6

Filled with good intentions of posting every day, you can see how well I did. Day 6 in Pordenone was days ago (same for days 7 and 8 below). Ah, I am nothing if not consistent in having fallen further behind as the week in virtual Pordenone progressed. So, let’s just move the hell along and get going on things, shall we?

Jay Weissberg at the Adam & Eve Bridge

 

Day 6 began with a Pordenone Masterclass with a familiar musician from Le Giornate del Cinema Muto. Today’s was with Gabriel Thibaudeau. Most enjoyable and informative this is something I look forward to experiencing in person live one day.

I missed the Filmfair Book Presentation which featured Richard Abel Moto City Movie Culture; Sarah Street and Joshua Yumibe Chromatic Modernity: Color, Cinema and Media of the 1920’s. Happily, you can catch up on both the Musician Masterclasses and the Filmfair Book Presentations at the Le GiornateYouTube Channel. I encourage you to subscribe, I have and will be doing lots of catch up this next week.

The main film began, as ever, with the lovely introduction from Artistic Director Jay Weissberg showing off more of lovely host city Pordenone and a thoughtful introduction to the film. This was the highly anticipated restoration of G.W. Pabst’s Abwege/The Crisis of 1928. This film featured the electrifying presence of Brigitte Helm as a bored and largely ignored wife who is tempted by all manner of delights in Weimar Germany.

The millinery was much praised

Firstly, I have to comment on the restoration of this film by the Filmmuseum Munchen, it was eye-popping and absolutely stunning. The print quality was so sublimely gorgeous and looked so sharp as if they’d filmed it yesterday. It was further highlighted with beautiful tints throughout. 

 

Combined with the beautiful, elegant musical score by Mauro Colombis the film drew you in. I have to confess the plot was a hair thin or predictable, nonetheless, it was a compelling film to watch. Bored wife Irene (Brigitte Helm) fights with AITA husband (Gustav Diessl) who pays more attention to his work than to his wife. She is attracted by a friend, an artist Walter Frank (Jack Trevor) who is obsessed with her beauty. They plan to leave together for a life of passion. Husband has followed her and persuades the artist to leave her standing at the train station. Husband retrieves he reluctant spouse, tragically saddened by this betrayal and humiliated.  

 

Furious, Irene goes off dressed to the nines to a Berlin night club where her more liberated friend Liane (Herta von Walther) lives the exciting and decadent life she envies. It would seem in a nightclub you get a floor show, dancing, drinking, prostitution and drugs, anything you might desire. There is so much dancing, flirting, easy morals and drug taking. Tempted by the sloe-eyed wanton haunting the club, Irene has her first taste of drugs (looks like it is cocaine) and she finds herself freer and in danger such as she had not planned on. Dazzled and determined to exert her identity Irene takes up with a boxer and she narrowly avoids rape at his hands. She returns home to find her husband sleeping, though she initially thinks he has killed himself. 

Under the influence

She thwarts her husband and invites all her new friends to their home for endless partying. Thomas fully believing Irene’s many dalliances and infidelities opens divorce proceedings. Almost as soon as they’ve been divorced, in a surprise twist, all is revealed that Irene has not consummated any affair and we get an upbeat romantic ending. It seemed to stretch the plot contrivances to far and only teased with the tastes of true decadence. It was a well-crafted film. Brigitte Helm could do so much with her eyes in the space of a few seconds, my heart broke for her. I could well understand her anger and her frustration as the neglected wife. Even Gustav Diessl who played the cold and jealous husband was sensitive and moving. Helm’s gowns and hats were to die for. This film not of Pandora’s Box or Diary of the Lost Girl kind of production, still held my interest all the way through.


 

Pordenone Diary - Day 7

The Masterclass for today was the fine trio of musicians (together and separate all masters IMO) Guenter Buchwald, Stephen Horne and Frank Bockius. I loved their discussion and it was great to see them all as I am familiar with them from their visits and collaborations in San Francisco.


 I also enjoyed the Filmfair Book Presentation with Barbara Tepa Lupack, SILENT SERIAL SENSATIONS: THE WHARTON BROTHERS AND THE MAGIC OF EARLY CINEMA (Cornell U. Press, 2020) + Ned Thanhouser of the Thanhouser Film Company. I bought my first book of the festival after this presentation.

Jay Weissberg introduced us to the film of the evening A Romance of the Redwoods from 1917. The film directed by Cecil B. DeMille and starring DeMille regular Eliot Dexter and megastar Mary Pickford. I do not think I will be alone in recognizing that among other bits of the plot for this film stole pretty brazenly from the David Belasco Broadway hit (and inspiration for my favorite Puccini opera) The Girl of the Golden West. 

 

Lovely art title card

Jenny
 

Jenny Lawrence (Mary Pickford) has just been orphaned and is set to travel west to live with her Uncle John Lawrence (Winter Hall) who is a prospector. Lawrence, is ambushed by a large tribe of Indians and is mercilessly butchered. Stupid plot hole: I did ask myself why he stopped and tried to fight this massive crowd and just not ride hell for leather out of there, it was suicide. 


 

Local outlaw “Brown” Black (Eliot Dexter) looking to escape a posse comes up the poor man’s corpse and swaps clothes and assumes his identity. Jenny arrives and hires a man to take her to her Uncle’s cabin in Strawberry Flats. Much to the chagrin of Black, she arrives and puts a crimp in his plans to steal gold from the miners. 

Alvin Wycoff lighting

She also threatens his cover as she believes that he is the murderer of her true Uncle. Her softness, of course, attracts Black and she starts to fall in love with him, too. (What is it with women and abusive men in this festival this year? An inadvertent theme?) Jenny convinces Black to forego any further thievery and try to go straight as a miner. 


He fails and she takes in washing to keep them fiscally sound; his ego suffers at the hands of the townspeople and his former dance hall girlfriend. He is tempted to rob the incoming stage filled with gold and is caught red-handed by Jenny though she does not expose him. He is hunted down by the vigilantes to their cabin and is about to be hung for his crimes when Jenny feigns that she is pregnant with his child. The vigilantes decide to give them a second chance, marries the pair (he still with a noose around his neck) and they walk off into the redwoods to their future.


Many familiar faces dot the scenes, Tully Marshall, Walter Long and Charles Ogle. The star of this film, besides Mary Pickford is the camerawork of Alvin Wycoff. A master of light and shadow some scenes are breathtaking. 



 

The Artcraft title cards with the three-dimensional woodcut was lovely. The film was partially shot on location here in Northern California in the Santa Cruz Mountains near Boulder Creek and the Big Basin State Park which was established in 1902. On a personal note, I grew up near this area and Big Basin is one of my most favorite spots in the California parks system. As an aside, Big Basin suffered damage in the CZU Lightening Complex Fires and is currently closed. If you care to help with the recovery of this beautiful park, you can donate here

According to Pickford biographer Eileen Whitefield this was not a happy experience for Mary Pickford. DeMille’s direction is pretty pedestrian here, not much movement or action in my opinion. Plenty of people filling a scene, just not much to do with it. There is a certain tension from the plot. It is Pickford who brings the quality up, as she always can and does. She could do so much with so little, a masterful actress that the camera communicated with and transferred every emotion to the viewer. Eliot Dexter, a DeMille regular, was fine as the outlaw. He showed a masterful touch as he cooked a hearty breakfast and looked soulfully at Jenny. I did wish that we had been treated to many more majestic shots of the redwoods in the area. There were a few long shots that take your breath away and one of the lovely waterfalls in the area. Wycoff’s chiaroscuro light and shadow were fantastic, as always.


 

Donald Sosin’s piano score was idiomatic and certainly had the western flair. Added to the scoring were the vocals of Joanna Seaton, mostly for the opening titles and in the scenes in the Saloon. He underscored the action and emotions beautifully.

Pordenone Diary – Day 8

How can it be that we are at the last day, the final films? The week has flown by and I am heartsick that it will be over. 

 

Jay Weissberg introduced the film from the Victor Emauelle II main drag. lifeline of Pordenone. How lovely this city is!

The feature was preceded by a short film highlighting the work going on by the Det Danske Filminstitut. That was a fascinating bit showing what the archive is doing and how they are doing it. I encourage you to watch this short film from their website which explains what they are doing and how they are making all surviving Danish silent films available to stream for free!  I have got some real homework to do now!

 


Our last feature firm is BALLETTENS DATTER/Unjustly Accused/Daughter of the Ballet (1913). It was utterly fantastic for me and I was introduced to and charmed by the star German dancer Rita Sacchetto. My goodness, let’s talk personality! She had IT as Elinor Glyn later coined, winking joie de vivre that was simply enchanting. I want to see more with her, if there is any.


The films plot, so simple, Danseur Diva Odette Blant (Rita Sacchetto) dances her famed Pierrot and a Butterfly and the Count de Croisset (Svend Aggerholm) is smitten completely. She is shown to be an independent lady of the world, instantly coming off stage and lighting up a cigarette. He visits her after the performance and charms her. Walking her to her car, he presents her with a flower gallantly from his boutonniere and you can see she’s smitten, too. They meet for a date and during a boat trip he proposes marriage to her and she accepts. The only caveat is that she must concede to his wishes to retire from dancing. Amazingly, she agrees.

 

A whole lotta smoking going on

He can't get her out of his mind

We now see the couple a year on in the marriage and Odette is now bored. (sound familiar?) She is frustrated by not having a creative outlet, i.e., dancing career. She is caught by her husband as she spends some time dancing about the house in front of a mirror in one of her old costumes. She is soon visited by an old colleague and they pay a visit to the local dancing academy to watch the young ballet students’ practice. She is charmed by them and rewards a pair of young children with coins and compliments the rest before taking her leave.

Born for the stage!

Meanwhile, the theater director Delage (Torben Meyer) has a problem in that his leading dancer begs off a performance after she has injured herself. He has a brainwave and calls Odette to make an appointment and pleads with her to dance for just one night. She says she will do so on the condition it be kept secret that it is she dancing. 

 

Glorious split screen

How could he deny her this joy?
Yes, HITA

She tells her husband that she is going to visit a sick Aunt. Since he has the evening free, he decides to go to the theater, with results as you might imagine. He returns home first and hides so he can await her return. Which she does in the company of Delage and which inspires a fit of jealousy in the Count.

He's not all that far from the stage!
Confirmation she has broken her promise
  

The Count visits Delage and strikes him so they can settle the score with a duel. Delage, has the choice of weapons. He tells Odette of the upcoming duel and he hatches a plan. His Uncle who is an apothecary is engaged to create a pill that will knock the person out as well as an antidote pill. Both arrive at the allotted place for the duel and Delage presents his option, we both take one of these two pills, one will kill the other will not. 

One will knock you colder the other will revive you
 

The Count accepts the challenge and collapses unconscious, but, not dead. Delage takes the antidote so he remains awake. They load the Count into the waiting car, Odette takes him home where he is laid out on a couch to sleep it off.

 

He awakens and finds a letter from Delage ensuring that there has been no infidelity and his wife is wholly innocent, except for keeping her promise to dance for an ill colleague. The Count contrite, Odette flings herself into his arms and they look to a future framed beautifully out to the future. Sadly, one can only assume Odette does not get to return to her successful career. So much were the mores of the time.


 

This film was beautifully restored, lacking any tinting. It was very sophisticated for a 1913 film. Much more of a society comedy, reminded me a bit of the level of fun of a Mr. and Mrs. Smith comedy. It may not have been innovative plot wise, but, all in good fun. Again, Rita Sacchetto was just a scene stealer and I thoroughly enjoyed it. John Sweeney’s jaunty accompaniment kept the film moving at a fast pace and was just delightful. One of thing I kept watching for was, (1) how much smoking went on in this film, it was a running gag and (2) I kept looking at the art hanging on the walls. I am 99% one of the pieces in Delage’s office was the famous Riccordi art for Puccini’s opera. The photograph is confirmed to be Elenora Duse on the right. As for the nude sketch seen in the apartment of Count de Croisset's friend and second, is unknown.

See the art upper left

 


Jay Weissberg introduces the final films from the interior of the Teatro Verdi. Oh, such longing to be in a movie theater sharing this with friends! Alas, we are unlikely to be able to do so for a good long while yet.


 

The Final Program was a collection of short films Laurel or Hardy. Films starring Oliver Hardy or Stan Laurel, just not together. The films shown were THE SERENADE (1916) with Oliver Hardy; THE RENT COLLECTOR (1921), cast: Larry Semon and Oliver Hardy; DETAINED (1924), with Stan Laurel; MOONLIGHT AND NOSES (1925), with Clyde Cooke and directed by Stan Laurel; and finally, the surviving reel of WHEN KNIGHTS WERE COLD (1923) with Stan Laurel.

Intertitle of the day

No kittens were harmed making this picture

Oldest joke on film!

Stan's act of kindness does not pay off

Literally in the hot seat!


 

The films were fun, I had seen Detained before here in San Francisco and this was still my favorite of the bunch. I love comedies, I love Laurel and Hardy and generally am not a fan of some of the earlier rough-house comedies. TBH, Buster Keaton is my favorite. Sorry guys, sue me. I have to say, the one thing that delighted me no end with the sprightly (good word?) accompaniment of Neil Brand. Even so, we ended the festival laughing which was a good thing.

I started this festival feeling melancholy as I SO wanted to be in Italy to experience this for the first time. As Le Giornate del Cinema Muto closes, I feel so happy and so melancholy still. I hope I can capture and transmit what a truly special event it was online. The best thing of all was sharing all of it with friends from all over the globe and chat with them during Zoom meetings of the Virtual Posta. Though I’ve met a few Pordenone regulars in person, many in attendance I had not. Via the zoom chats I was made to feel so very much welcome and part of the gang. It is glorious when you get to gather with your tribe. I am so looking forward to being able to do this, for real, in 2021. Nothing can stop me October 2-9, 2021.

I am so grateful for everyone associated with Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, mymovies.it, Cineteca de Friuli, the Comune di Pordenone, Fondazione Friuli, all of the archives who preserved and presented the films, the musicians who played for them, the people behind the scenes who managed the social media, who kept things humming. I have no idea what happened behind the scenes, but from my side of the monitor it went off without a hitch. Bravissimo!

Sadly, Stanley sums up (I believe) how all of us feel right now. 



Until next year! Ti Amo Pordenone!

Comments

Unknown said…
While we can agree to disagree on some of the individual movies and programs, which you liked much more than I did, I greatly enjoyed reading your reviews and reflections on the entire Festival. I'm really glad to hear how much you enjoyed it and I sincerely hope you do get to visit there next year and experience it all in person. I am hoping the same for myself, so if we make it, let's try to meet and toast the moon that we are finally there!
rudyfan1926 said…
This is why film fesitvals are great and important, we can discuss the films and who cares who agrees? We all have valid opinions. Hope to see oyu in Italy next year, I sure plan on being there! Cheers!