The Sunday Intertitle: Who’s Storing the Mind?

On the ruins, The Future was being built.

To Bo’ness Hippodrome, and enough intertitles to last a month of Sundays!

By the time I rocked up in that sleepy townlet, I’d already missed a lot of high-quality stuff, including Lois Weber’s THE BLOT and Harold Lloyd’s THE FRESHMAN, and lunch at the beloved Ivy, but my first film on Saturday was a beaut — Julien Duvivier’s updated Zola adaptation AU BONHEUR DES DAMES (later done by The Beeb as The Paradise, relocated from Paris to the more glamorous locale of Durham).

Pamela Hutchinson of Silent London remarked, “If you wanted to show someone what silent cinema could be like, you could just show them that, because it’s got everything!” A late silent — 1930 — maybe France’s last? (Bernard Natan produced the first French talkie the same year) — you can see the studio it was shot in being demolished in the film — it heaps up radical techniques around you, from German expressionistic angles to Russian montage to French impressionist delirium — slow motion, split screen, multiple exposures… plus powerful use of more traditional bits of film language like close-ups:

Dita Parlo (a name surely made for the talkies) is our guileless ingenue, and Nadia Sibirskaïa (MENILMONTANT) provides haunting support, with the Galleries Lafayette in a major starring role also. The film contrasts the plight of the small shop with the booming, all-consuming department store — nominally, we’re meant to sympathise with the small business, but the film values photogenics, and can’t help being seduced by the glamour of large-scale retail.

The ending is a bit of a problem — though sort of faithful to the novel’s outcome, it plays like “How many of our themes can we betray in four minutes?” One can’t imagine it ever having felt satisfying to anyone, even the makers — did Duvivier have more than the usual amount of trouble with endings? (See also LA BELLE EQUIPE… but my beloved LA FIN DU JOUR is perfection.)

Particularly fine accompaniment by Stephen Horne & Frank Bockius, on a day that also included John Sweeney & Bockius scoring Chinese martial arts romp THE RED HEROINE, Sweeney again on Dreyer’s THE PARSON’S WIDOW (magnificent, more on that later) and Günter Buchwald & Bockius adding creepshow atmospherics to THE CAT AND THE CANARY, to which I provided sleeve notes.

HippFest has been going since last Saturday but this was my first day, and a damned good one. Back today (Sunday) with Fiona for Laurel & Hardy, MOULIN ROUGE, Lawrence Napper lecturing on working women in silent film, and the grand gala finale of HINDLE WAKES.

 

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2 Responses to “The Sunday Intertitle: Who’s Storing the Mind?”

  1. Improbably, there’s another excellent Parlo/Sibirskaïa film, RAPT (same director as MENILMONTANT – Dmitri Kirsanoff, one-time husband of Sibirskaïa).

  2. Been meaning to check that one out, as it’s one of the few Kirsanoff talkies I’ve found with subtitles.

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