One of the supreme cinematic experiences of my life

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THE MERRY WIDOW, “personally directed” — personally! — by Erich Von Stroheim, in the Piazza Maggiore, under the stars, with an audience of thousands, and music by the Orchestra del Teatro Communale di Bologna, conducted by Stefanos Tsialis, the Franz Lehar themes recomposed by Maud Nelissen.

I don’t really have to explain the title of this piece, do I? But look — I’ve never really seen Stroheim’s work. I tried to watch the “restored” GREED years back, and found it heavy going — all those still photographs — but I never doubted his importance. My picture of him was formed by the TV series Hollywood, whose co-creator I met yesterday, and by that groovy doc THE MAN YOU LOVED TO HATE, and by his acting performances. So I knew the legend. Seeing the work, and in such staggering circumstances, is something else again. I will try to write more when I’ve processed it.

At the end of the evening, Michel Ciment breezed past, and Ehsan Khoshbakht only realized it when Jonathan Rosenbaum told him. And Ehsan declared that Ciment’s book on Francesco Rosi, translated into Farsi, was one of the first important film books in his┬álife. “Go after him,” I suggested. I’d seen Ciment at Edinburgh years ago and formed the impression that he’s a decent gent. So Ehsan said hello to The Great Man. And I’m not the most thoughtful man in the world — ask my wife — I did, after all, steal David Robinson’s seat at the closing gala of his own film festival — but I proposed taking a quick photo of the two generations of cinephile. And Ciment is indeed a gent.

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And look at Ehsan — that’s a happy man! And after THE MERRY WIDOW, in which John Gilbert stares soulfully, Roy D’Arcy grins evilly, Mae Murray makes googly eyes and Tully Marshall ogles girls’ feet, so was I. Along with REAR WINDOW at the Dominion and PLAYTIME at the Lumiere (both Edinburgh) and CRY FOR BOBO in Milan, this was one of the landmarks. I may be coming down with a cold — so I very nearly didn’t go. I would have missed something really unique.

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4 Responses to “One of the supreme cinematic experiences of my life”

  1. I had a similar mind-blowing experience in Chicago years ago. Ttrudging through a blizzard to Medinah Temple, I was one of the few lucky souls to see Dreyer’s THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC with Richard Einhorn’s Voices of Light performed by Anonymous 4, Los Angeles Mozart Orchestra and I Cantori.

  2. I only recently saw von Stroheim’s MERRY WIDOW on DVD myself, having been inspired to pull it out of the Pile by finally seeing Lubitsch’s version. Loved them both. Have also really loved FOOLISH WIVES and QUEEN KELLY by Stroheim. Saw GREED many years ago and felt much as you did. THE WEDDING MARCH is the one I’m very curious about now, although I should get to BLIND HUSBANDS at some point too. His visible style is incredible, but I’m a sucker for his perverse attitude toward romance as well.

  3. I suspect the studio cut of Greed will be slightly easier to watch, though obviously frustrating.

    My favourite moment in Merry Widow is when the decadent Mirko realizs that Sally is a nice girl, and he’s actually touched — but it sparks not a redemption but a further decline into evil. How cynical is that?

  4. […] was feeling kind of tired and nearly missed the greatest event of the fest — THE MERRY WIDOW. A valuable lesson — when your body tells you it’s had enough movies, DON’T […]

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