All Our Yesterdays

Yesterday I broke my record — sort of.

When I looked back on my first experience of viewing at Bologna, two years ago, I was shocked that I never made it past four screenings in a day. Studying yesterday’s program, I calculated that I could actually take in SIX shows — ultimately I managed five, but bailed on one, not because it was bad but because I was too tired to appreciate it, and it wasn’t to be my last film of the day.

I began with THE CLUTCHING FOOT’s final, mind-boggling episode, in which Jacques Feyder dabbles in comic forms which still look modern today, while spoofing the serials of the 1910s, which decidedly don’t. This episode featured genuine guest appearances by Musidora and Fernand Ledoux, and fake ones by Chaplin, Theda Bara and Max Linder.

On the same program (therefore still only counting as one item) was DE BANKROET JAZZ (THE BANKRUPTCY JAZZ), assembled in 2009 from found footage, illustrating a previously unfilmed Dadaist scenario by Paul Von Ostaijen. It had some very funny bits and some great imagery which made me want to see the sources it was culled from in their entirety. And the plot, depicting Europe in financial crisis, was timely all over. “The new national anthem: I am bankrupt / You are bankrupt / We are bankrupt / They are bankrupt.”)

margaret sullavan 6

Missing works by Genino and Kazan, I was then bowled over by John Stahl’s ONLY YESTERDAY (1933), which riffs of Zweig’s Letter from An Unknown Woman, featuring tracking shots more elaborate than the Ophuls, a central performance by Margaret Sullavan more moving that Fontaine’s, and John Bole’s best work on the screen. And Franklin Pangborn is for once shown with a boyfriend. We always knew, Franklin. Startlingly, Jane Darwell plays a southern bourgeois — I didn’t recognize her until she sat in a rocking chair. Was the rocking chair written into her contract on every film, or was it an actual part of her body she could detach for short periods?

FLESH AND THE DEVIL showed off Clarence Brown’s skill, Garbo’s beauty, Gilbert’s talent and MGM’s frankly insane sexual politics. The bromance between John Gilbert and Lars Hansen is interrupted by the divine GG, apparently a professional seductress. “These bloody women, they will not leave you alone,” as Pete & Dud once reflected. She drives them to a duel, then has a last-minute religious conversion — so God kills her. He’s funny that way. Nice to see Marc McDermott comprehensively cuckolded, since he steals Lon Chaney’s wife in my favourite movie. The print was newly struck from a rediscovered but incomplete original negative, and showed both great beauty and scary decay.

My big failure was FISTS IN THE POCKET, which looked fascinating but couldn’t keep me awake — I told myself that after I’d gotten over being tired, I would kick myself for missing it, but the pain in my head was more intense than any kick. Was amused to see Marlon Brando sneak into the movie, appearing as pin-up on the leading lady’s bedroom wall (plus a framed shot of him in Nazi uniform from THE YOUNG LIONS. He’s all over this festival.

“I’m not Marlon Brando,” protests Fred Astaire in THE BANDWAGON, screened in the big Piazza from Martin Scorsese’s 35mm print. A show that is really a show sends you out in a kind of a glow. Especially after a nice lasagna.

6 Responses to “All Our Yesterdays”

  1. revelator60 Says:

    Garbo’s hyper-sensuality is what I remember most from Flesh and the Devil (the way she slurped Gilbert’s leftover communion wine!). I’ve never seen a performance that more skillfully married aloof nonchalance to consuming sex-hunger. Speaking of Pete and Dud, they did a terrific take-off on Garbo:

  2. You’ve simply GOT to give Fists in the Pocket another chance. Lou Castel is amazing in it (and everything else for that matter)

  3. “Bros before Garbos.”

    Another fun Garbo is “The Temptress”, where her man-ruining decadence drives the hero to trade the Art Deco parties of Paris for the redemptive purity of manly work in Argentina (where the rancher’s daughter is a sensible girl). Garbo marries a fop and follows. Melodrama ensues.

    The DVD had two endings: a grim, just-desserts one of Garbo nearing the end of a life in the gutter (“So many men…”), and a happy-happy one where she’s made herself respectable and worthy of the dam-building hero. If I understand correctly, MGM sent both endings out to theater owners, letting them decide what their regulars would tolerate.

  4. Wow, the Mr. Sardonicus of its day!

    The Temptress played here two years ago — one screening only — and was the thing most people regretted missing. So I made sure to get in early for Flesh and the Devil.

    And yes, the wine-slurping was an eye-popper.

    It was clear that with Fists in the Pocket I was seeing, and failing to absorb, a major work. The most respectful thing I could do was leave and let the awake people appreciate it. Next time!

  5. Vito Russo mentions Franklin Pangborn and his boyfriend in Only Yesterday in “The Celluloid Closet.” The “Pansy Craze” was all the rage back then.

  6. Yes, but they always traveled singly. This is gobsmacking. Pangborn is an interior designer visiting a party at an apartment he decorated, eager to show off his work to his admiring younger lover. No physical affection is allowable, but they’re clearly a very happy couple. And Pangborn is not made ridiculous.

    In Her Man, seen two days ago, Pangborn plays BUTCH and gets in fist-fights!

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