Small Strangenesses

I’ve been a fairly poor viewer of Pordenone’s offerings this week — I mainly missed THE MAN FROM KANGAROO (1920, above), directed by Wilfred Lucas and starring stuntman-star Snowy Baker. I caught ten minutes, enough to appreciate the charm of the Australian scenery and the “art titles” adorning nearly every title card.

I did see the shorts programme, which was diverting but not exceptional — SOAP BUBBLES (Giovanni Vitrotti, 1911) used delightful special effects to tell a very pat story with an obvious moral, but the trick effects, whereby real bubbles blown by a nasty child froze in mid-air and transformed into crystal balls offering portals to his future, were marvelous.

A MODERN CINDERELLA (Eleuterio Rodolfi, 1913) was valuable chiefly for its behind-the-scenes footage of the Italian silent film industry, but I’ve seen such material before (eg in MACISTE, 1915) so this was a little bit of a snooze. However, I was sleepy so I can’t really say I gave it a fair try.

Far better was THE SPIDER AND THE FLY, an inventive Italian stop-motion animation with brief live-action prologue. The fly, wings plucked off by a wanton boy, flees the spider in a Keystonesque foot chase, erecting cunning traps for his pursuer — a bit of bug’s life role-reversal. The film had two flaws, both of which added to its appeal — the ravages of time had melted parts of the image into those delirious vortices and decalcomaniacal spacewarps familiar from DECASIA, and the animator’s had appeared, for a single frame, caught in the act of repositioning one of his tiny actors. He could presumably have cut this glitch out without to much trouble, but has perhaps left it as a bit of wabi-sabi or a kind of signature — a manual walk-on, Hitchcockian finger-cameo. Poignant, since the filmmaker’s name is unknown to us.

BIGORNO SMOKES OPIUM (Roméo Bosetti), its title a stark accusation, was a broadly overplayed comedy in which the grotesque clown hero is gifted an opium pipe by an explorer relative, and hallucinates a Melesian sex fantasy. The best parts of this were (a) the transition from real to unreal, in which the innumerable clutterings of the bourgeoise home dance and skate around the room at high speed, as in that short story by Maupassant (Who Knows?) or the actual Berlin hallucinations of David Bowie and (b) the return to reality, where Bigorno (real name René Lantini), in a frenzy of panic, manages to smash every single piece impedimenta in the hideously crowded room. That was actually funny. Elsewhere, the aggressive overplaying positively alarms and the thing is about as funny as the MARAT/SADE. Of course I appreciated this.

Bigorno made thirty-seven-odd shorts in three years, then presumably died of overacting.

I was looking forward to THE BLACK LILY GANG (1913), a bit of sub-Feuillade malarkey with a secret criminal society who wear domino masks to meet in their secret lair, then promptly unmask after the complex hidden doorway is closed… but their crimes are rather banal — letting the air out of a count’s tyres and stealing his jewels. There’s an impersonation (wig and false beard) and a deadly chamber that fills with water, so the building blocks of a good Fu Manchu type shocker are in place, with the stalwart Inspector Sereni supplying the copoganda. But despite the attractive locations, this cloak-and-dagger caper, appropriately anonymous, never quite caught my enthusiasm.

Frame grabs for this one stolen from here.

3 Responses to “Small Strangenesses”

  1. David Ehrenstein Says:

    “Marat/Sade” is one of my very favorite musicals. I put it right up there with “Good News”

  2. Thank you for sharing the link to my website <3

  3. You’re welcome! Least I could do!

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