4th of July

On the 4th of July I was in Bologna — this is what I saw.

For once I managed to struggle out of bed early enough to see the 9 am show, something I always INTENDED to do, and which I convinced myself I was achieving more often than not. It’s only looking back from this angle that I realise what a fantastic slugabed I really was. But on this occasion it meant I got in to see the gloriously restored FANTOMAS CONTRE FANTOMAS, featuring my fave of all the master-crim’s disguises —

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Wonderful. It makes you realise that, for all their national pride and aloofness, the French not-so-secretly still regard American is the mainspring of all modernity and the source of all coolness. The doubly-casual Tom Bob easily trumps our intrepid plodder Juve of the Sûreté, just by virtue of that insouciant prefix Americain. Juve is honest, fearless and dogged, but he is inescapably, gallic and therefor mundane. A fantastic inversion of the way we look towards France as a source of glamour and genius.

Neil Brand, who provided the piano accompaniment, confessed afterwards that he had initially regarded FANTOMAS and its serial kin as “meaningless running about,” which is indeed the trap a lot of serials fall into. Surrealism, elegance, and a blatant admiration for his evil characters helps Fieulliade escape this.

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I should have crossed to the next auditorium and seen the ten-minute fragment of Sternberg’s THE CASE OF LENA SMITH but I think I craved sunshine and coffee and conversation, so my next show was at 11.30, a discussion of Pathe’s restoration of WOODEN CROSSES, which I felt duty-bound to attend since I’d collaborated on a film about the movie’s producer, after all. It was interesting stuff, including as it did the revelation that the new version Pathe are releasing is mostly derived from a whole other negative, shot by a camera standing next to the one that filmed the previous release. It’s the same action and mostly the same takes, but technically speaking it’s a different film… Fans of the previous release need not worry, though, it carries the same authority and charge, as I confirmed later the same day.

After lunch, I enjoyed an episode of Riccardo Fellini’s STORIE SULLA SABBIA, already covered here. The real hot ticket was WHY BE GOOD?, a newly-restored Vitaphone soundie which I’m fairly sure I’ll get a chance to see again when Warners release it on DVD, but it would certainly have been fun to experience it on the big screen with such an audience as Bologna gathers…

Staying in my seat, I was blown away by WOODEN CROSSES all over again, which packs a severe wallop. The final barrages, and the protracted bleeding away of life at the end, left the audience drained, which is the only explanation I can think of for the fact that rather than staggering outside to inhale the evening air, I stayed where I was and saw MARRIAGE: ITALIAN STYLE, which was the perfect tonic. No falling asleep possible in this one (shouty Italians; genius choreography of actors and camera). Having revelled in De Sica’s acting the day before, I was favourably inclined to see more of his directing. That title had always put me off seeing the film before, which is silly — it’s perfect, and rather ironic. Maybe it’s the various movies that riffed on it that cheapened it. After all, GHOSTS, ITALIAN STYLE is a stupid name for a film.

Marriage Italian Style

You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll wonder at the opening out of the source play with extensive flashbacks, and you’ll marvel at how Marcello Mastroianni manages to make a character who does such loathsome things seem somehow attractive enough to spend time with and laugh at and even feel sorry for. Loren, of course, is magnificent, even in a series of sometimes unfortunate wigs. De Sica’s daughter introduced the movie, and she has her father’s smile.

“Marcello Mastroianni was a very handsome man, but he liked very much the vodka and the grappa, so that some mornings he would come in with his face looking like an unmade bed. My father’s main direction to him on such days was, ‘Marcello, tomorrow, try to be younger.'”

I think I must have had a really good dinner after than, because I don’t seem to have seen anything else that day. It would have been hard to top De Sica at the height of his international entertainer period anyhow. I do wince a little at what I missed, but realistically I wouldn’t have made it through CABIRIA, in the opera house with live score, which didn’t finish until nearly midnight. That was one of the extra shows you have to pay for outwith the price of a pass, but get this, it was five euros. Proving my contention that Bologna offers the best value film festival on the planet.

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8 Responses to “4th of July”

  1. Robert Keser Says:

    Very interesting about the alternate camera shooting WOODEN CROSSES. I know the film very well and have shown a good chunk of it a number of times in film courses, but it always puzzled me that the camera consistently seemed just slightly off its optimal placement: now I know why!

    Seems a pity, though, to miss the extant ten minutes of the unutterably rare CASE OF LENA SMITH (do you know the book that prints the script along with many stills from the film? The BFI bookstore used to carry it).

  2. I have a passable copy of that ten-minute fragment, so I felt able to pass it up, even though a 35mm screening was indeed a very attractive proposition.

    I wrote a little bit about it here somewheres.

    Upgrade time: everyone who owns the Criterion DVD of Les Miserables and Wooden Crosses will have to buy the Blu-ray, with both films newly restored and Les Mis even longer than before!

  3. Barbara Steele said the same thing about Marcello. He’d be up all night drinking and gambling and would “collapse” into his chair in the dressing room. They would “pour coffee down him” and gradually he’d awaken. But the sleepy-looking man we see on screen in 8 1/2 is indeed half-asleep.

  4. That’s what makes MM so cool, the apparent lack of effort masks a GENUINE lack of effort, and in his hands that’s immensely appealing.

  5. David Boxwell Says:

    Howard Hawks’ THE ROAD TO GLORY (36): Zanuck bought the rights to Bernard’s film, and some of RB’s shots are simply inserted wholesale into the American film’s battle sequences. That means a further proliferation of versions. . .

  6. David Boxwell Says:

    You can still sense MM’s living presence just by looking at Chiara’s face. Out of which Deneuve’s voice seems uncannily to emerge…

    (most recently seen and heard in Claire Denis’ LES BATARDS).

  7. Ford’s The World Turns also recycles Raymond Bernard’s footage, but to be fair, Pathe-Natan did so as well, using it in their final production, L’Equipage, which also steals footage from the Maurice Tourneur original (pretty seamlessly).

    The US deal also resulted in a print surviving at UCLA, which helped make this restoration possible.

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