Archive for Der Letzte Akte

03 Giovedi

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 28, 2014 by dcairns

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Yeah, I haven’t finished trawling through Bologna yet, have I?

One thing about Il Cinema Ritrovato — unlike a lot of good experiences, it isn’t over quickly. Once you hit the wall (which happened to me before I was really halfway through), time slurs to a near-halt like Wendell Corey on a steep slope, accelerating or dissolving away during screenings and conversations — the minutes flit, but the days stretch on, impersonators of infinity. It’s nice!

I had now adopted a policy of seeing things loud enough to keep me awake — other anti-sleep qualities were strong narratives, speed, and familiar faces. This made the early Japanese talkies and the Polish widescreens a bad risk, but I still hoped to catch some (I failed with the ‘scopes).

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Chaplin’s WORK was supposed to begin the day at 9, but I was too sleepy. I think the first thing I made it to was THE HORRIBLE DR HICHCOCK at 10.45. In the intro it was explained that despite valiant efforts by restorers, legal wrangles prevented the movie from being repaired, so the print we saw was somewhat pinked, badly spliced, and missing at least one whole scene. I think it may have been missing more, because although I’ve seen it before I didn’t remember it making QUITE so little sense. But it’s an Italian horror movie so anything’s possible. I wished they’d screened THE GHOST instead.

And then it was lunchtime already — after which (I’m sure it was a good one, but I didn’t take notes) I finally saw one of the Italian compendium episodes that had been getting such raves throughout the fest (Alexander Payne declared one to be the best thing he saw, but nobody could tell me WHICH one). I’d been a touch resistant, since in the compendia I’d seen, only the Fellini episodes tended to be any good. Shows what I know. This one was from Alessandro Blasetti’s TEMPI NOSTRI, the follow-up to his ALTRO TEMPI, which inaugurated the who anthology-film craze in Italy.

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It was introduced by Blasetti’s daughter, a voluble nonagenarian, and I realized why these screenings were all overrunning by half an hour. But the background she provided was ESSENTIAL — the episode starred Vittorio De Sica and was SUPPOSED to re-team him with Gina Lollobrigida, with whom he’d formed a popular couple in the previous movie. But Lollobrigida balked at playing a deceived wife, arguing that it was not plausible that a man married to her would ever stray. Blasetti was forced to recast so Elisa Cignani is on jiggling duties instead (literally, she vibrates her body in every scene, sometimes by bouncing one crossed leg, sending tremors through her torso which assume Vesuvian proportions beneath her blouse), but director and co-writer also rewrote the script, I can’t think why. We can see that Cignani was supposed to be De Sica’s wife, but now she’s his parents’ ward, raised as his sister, and the narrative turns not on her jealousy and his infidelity but on her silent love for him and his blindness, until he realizes he shouldn’t think of her as a sister anymore… It doesn’t quite work, but what’s left is the comedy of De Sica as an ebullient Neopolitan bus driver, with a sour-faced supervisor who wants to sack him. It’s just like On the Buses, in other words, if that 70s sitcom were charming and sexy instead of ugly and repulsive.

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My vim somewhat restored, I stayed for TOBY DAMMIT, though the print turned out to have subtitles only for the English bits. I’ve seen it often enough that I could follow it. It was better than the old DVD that dubbed it into French — Fellini’s mulit-lingual melange is essential to the hallucinatory experience.

A spirit of randomness kept me in my seat for OIDHCHE SHEANCHAIS, which looks like I just collapsed on my keyboard but is in fact Irish Gaelic for NIGHT OF THE STORYTELLER. Robert Flaherty’s long-lost movie was the first film in that language, and its apparent loss left a puzzling hole in the tragic record. To everyone’s amazement, a print has turned up in America (it was assumed the film, of only local interest, was never exported) and can now be seen. It’s terrible, but at least it can be seen. A kind of footnote to MAN OF ARAN, it has clear historical interest, but nothing else. My objection is that Flaherty films the whole twenty-minute piece with five locked-off set-ups. Wide shot, storyteller, listener, listener, listener. Utterly inexpressive. Somewhat typical of the approach to early talkers seen elsewhere at the fest (Japan, Wellman) but applied here with a rigorous lack of creativity. Then there’s the storyteller himself: some said they could have closed their eyes and enjoyed the music of his voice without the need for translation (and certainly without the need for pictures) — I found his a snore. Admittedly, I was now permanently sleepy from insomnia and the heat.

Then there were three shorts with Peter Sellers, two of them freshly discovered and the third part of the set. That one ran first. It had a couple of laughs — Sellers attempts to cure his cold by wearing a sock full of mustard round his neck, which ruptures in a disgusting welter — b&w film so it’s like a magma flow of porridge slow-oozing into Sellers’ VERY HAIRY CHEST. Disgusting but sort of funny. But the film wasn’t good, and I only stayed for a few minutes of the first redisocvery, DEARTH OF A SALESMAN (mis-spelled in the program, presumably leading some to expect a proper Arthur Miller piece). When the shorts’ rescue hit the news, I discussed them with Richard Lester, who said “I hope they show more artistic ambition than THE CASE OF THE MUKKINESE BATTLEHORN.” They show less. Though not quite at Flaherty’s level of soporific inertia, what I saw of DEARTH was enjoyable only for the hilariously mismatched angles, with Sellers’ position transmuting instantly between every shot.

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Then there were some Soviet films about Hitler, (“Good evening, Hitler fans”) screened in the Il Cinema in guerra contro Hitler season. Some nice zany shorts — Hitler, for some reason, was always a comedy figure to the Russians — maybe if you’re working for Stalin, you just can’t help laugh at Hitler. The main feature was THE NEW ADVENTURES OF SCHWEIK, a follow-up to the popular WWI comedy, with Schweik (a really irksome clown, kind of a Soviet El Brendel) getting drafted by the Nazis but defecting to aid the partisans in Yugoslavia. Weirdly, the ending, in which Hitler is captured and exhibited in a cage, and somehow mutates into werewolf form (as inexplicable as Cleopatra the Chicken Lady — “Maybe it as the storm?”), directly echoes a passage in the previous evening’s Hitler entertainment, Pabst’s DER LETZTE AKTE, where Adolf has an infernal monologue about how he’ll never surrender because the allies would show him off as a caged freak…

More synchronicity — Olaf Möller and Christoph Huber had just explained to me their theory about the donkey — that ever-golden cinematic axiom which adds lustre to every opus — and SCHWEIK was well supplied with asinine entertainment, including an animatronic donkey hind legs– an ass’s ass — which kicks various characters. This had Olaf swooning with the possibilities. Has the apparatus been preserved in some Russian film museum, fur flaking off to expose the cybernetic fetlocks beneath? If so, Olaf will gladly drop a kopeck in its slot to make it buck again.

Exhaustion was setting in — I had a good dinner, and didn’t feel able to face another movie, but LADY FROM SHANGHAI was showing in the Piazza Maggiore and it was on my way home, so I thought I’d just look in and see how it was looking. It’s not a reconstruction — no missing footage was found — but it is a very attractive digital presentation — and as it turned out, it was just about to start (everything starts late in Bologna) as I appeared. So I sat on the curb, all seats being occupied, and surrendered to the inevitable…

 

Hitting the Wall

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 5, 2014 by dcairns

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Jul 2nd — Mercoledi as they call it in Italy. And I ran out of stamina in Bologna, temporarily.

The day began well with FANTOMAS. I wasn’t completely sure of my ability to take the two-and-a-half hour SARAGOSSA MANUSCRIPT at 9am, so I opted for Feuillade’s serial, tempted by Ehsan Khoshbakht’s praise for the restoration. And indeed, so clean was the picture that it looked like a modern pastiche. When Rene Navarre looked into the camera he seemed to be RIGHT THERE with you.

In Edinburgh I had met Christoph Huber, curator of the Domenik Graf retrospective. Here he was again, in company with fellow donkey enthusiast Olaf Moller. Christoph wore a golden donkey T-shirt. Olaf, more discrete, had on a donkey pendant. And both made the revolutionary claim that Donkeys Make Everything Better. The donkey is an axiom of cinema.

So both were in ecstasy at the screening of scenes from the Ottoman empire — Turkish travelogues from the teens. Many exciting shots of donkeys, including a donkey photobombing a shot of camels at a trough. The ships of the desert are slurping away, and things are looking picturesque, and then the donkey sweeps majestically into frame in closeup profile, like Charles Bronson in ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, and wipes them off the screen.

But for true Donkey Heaven we would have to wait a day…

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After lunch I made, i think, a mistake, dropping in on a Heinosuke double-bill — these early Japanese talkies tend to foreground sound and the voice in quite literal ways — the one I eventually stayed awake for was all about music, and featured a blind character for whom sound was particularly significant. These two, THE BRIDE TALKS IN HER SLEEP and THE GROOM TALKS IN HIS SLEEP were mild screwball comedies in which the voice plays a key role. Anyhow, I lapsed into unconsciousness for the first one and bailed on the second, which was apparently the better of the two. Makes me wish I’d discovered the Italian compendium films sooner, or opted for THE EPIC OF EVEREST, which cause quite a bit of excitement, or MIDNIGHT MARY, which is a SUPERB Wellman. When sleep threatens, you need a certain kind of movie.

I should have gone to see GIANT at this point, but opted for Barbara Steele’s video appearance, which I thought might be live and interactive but proved to be a pre-record. Beautiful Babs was speaking with regard to the Riccardo Freda season and was very entertaining and there is no danger of falling asleep when SHE is on the screen.

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I followed this with DER LETZTE AKTE, (THE LAST ACT, 1955), which deals with Hitler’s last days and is maybe the first big film to do so. It’s directed by GW Pabst and, as Olaf Muller said in his intro, comes from the post-war period when Pabst’s international reputation was and is very low, partly due to some inferior films but mostly because he had failed to get out of Germany during the Nazi era. Not that he ever made anything with pro-Nazi sentiments. The print was pure grindhouse — as Olaf put it (I paraphrase), “After seeing a lot of digital restorations that have all the charm of a hastily-done boob job, we are about to see source material that corresponds more to sagging skin and clumps of grey hair — to my body, in fact.”

The movie was indeed in ratty condition, but that somehow fit the low-ceilinged, oppressive claustrophobia of it. After two hours in the sweaty Sala Scorsese with intermittent, flirtacious air-conditioning, an exhausted simultaneous translator struggling in our earpieces, we all felt like we’d spent ten days in a bunker.

Albin Skoda played Hitler, and Oskar Werner played an obligatory Good German, perhaps not so much a sop to bruised national sensibilities as a sop to commercial cinema, which always feels more comfortable with a sympathetic character around. I was also dubious about whether Hitler really flooded the Berlin Underground to prevent the Russians reaching him by tube, but according to Wikipedia he may have done just that — the movie definitely inflates the resulting tragedy for dramatic purposes, though. I guess the idea of Hitler deliberately massacring the wounded who were sheltering below ground works as a metaphor for what he did to Germany.

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A leisurely dinner and then — carbon lamp projection! Germaine Dulac’s LA PRINCESSE MANDAINE is an elegant slice of exotic comedy, with a very funny camp central performance by either Edmond or Ernest Van Duren (IMDb and the Ritrovato catalogue disagree). It’s got a very slender plot and might not have sustained interest, but the added drama of an ancient projector belching poisonous fumes into the air, illuminated by blasting beams of light, and the resulting smooth, chocolatey picture shimmering on the screen, made up for quite a few deficiencies.

Dulac could be quite cheeky — at the end of his Michael Strogoff-inspired dream, the hero rescues the princess only for her to run off with her maid. “I’ve sold myself down the river for a couple of dykes,” complained Bob Hoskins in MONA LISA, and we were supposed to agree (and not wonder what happened to the girls afterwards). Actually, MONA LISA has one of the worst endings of any otherwise quite-good British film of the eighties. Whereas even my most soporific day in Bologna was a treat.