Archive for Il Cinema Ritrovato

Imperfect Crimes

Posted in FILM, Sport with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 1, 2020 by dcairns

A man.

Two showings of shorts at Il Cinema Ritrovato won me over with their wit — Imperfect Crimes, programmed by Andrea Meneghelli, united a series of incomplete crime movies. The idea itself is a funny one, and the first fragment shown, NINA LA POLIZIOTTA, directed in or around 1920 by Giuseppe Guarino, exemplified the concept, cutting off just as an intertitle declares “The killer — is –!”

Of course, we can’t know if the immediately succeeding shots, now lost to time, would have provided the murder mystery’s solution, or if the filmmakers would have deferred the revelation for another reel or so, which only makes the accident happier. It looks like being a decent melodrama, with nice clothes — Italy in the teens and pre-flapper twenties seems to have been the only place in the western world where women were allowed to dress in a non-frumpy manner. In fact, my first encounter with the word “frump”, aged around twelve, was in the Brownlow & Gill Hollywood book. Lillian Gish, on a photo showing her in Griffith’s office: “I certainly look like a frump in that dress.”

ALBERTINI CONTRA DE SCHORPIOEN (aka IL PROTETTO DELLA MORTE I think, 1919, director maybe Filippo Castamagna) was a superhero story — Luciano Albertini, endowed with the strength of three men and a chunky sweater, battles the cat-suited Scorpion in a series of discontinuous fragments and stunts. Amongst the dangling from ropes, ladders and windows, and the massed brawls (Albertini’s chief fighting tactic is to pick up one opponent and hurl him at another, a sound technique if you’re up to it), a unique moment: at the far right of frame, a wooden handle obtrudes… a hand tentatively touches it… gives it a half turn, then thinks better of it… evidently the movie was being shot with two cameras, very closely placed, but for this scene, a strenuous punch-up, the second operator was for some reason (film shortage?) reluctant to do any cranking, whereas operator one, cranking like fury, was unfortunately oblivious to what he was actually capturing on celluloid…

IL RE DELL’ABISSO (THE KING OF THE ABYSS, Riccardo Tolentino, 1919) was equally action-packed, but was preserved as a mixture of jolting blipverts and longer sequences of derring-do shorn of context, and often of their beginnings, middles or endings. The heroes are a family of tumblers, which allows for a huge amount of implausible cliffhanging as well as rampant child-endangerment, which was emerging as a theme.

IDOLO INFRANTO (THE FALLEN IDOL) was directed in 1913 by our old chum Emilio Ghione, but rather than the serial capers I admire him for, this was more of a sedate woman’s picture with hardly any crime to speak of, but starring dolorous diva Francesca Bertini and with smashing title cards and scenery and frocks and gestures. A plot synopsis informed us that there WOULD have been some crime, since the tortured protagonist eventually brained Bertini with a hammer, mistaking her for her own bust, but that footage is lost on a cutting room floor that is itself also lost.

IL PASSATO CHE TORNA (THE PAST COMING BACK, anonymous), the limbless trunk of an obscure 1924 melodrama, was full of enigmas without solutions, as well as arty mirror shots and horrid, chalky makeup on the men. It dripped with atmosphere, moved at a sepulchral pace, and cut off in mid-pause, its origins and purpose still a total mystery, an invitation to strain our negative capability to breaking point.

SANSONE E LA LADRA DI ATLETI (Armando Mustacchi, 1919) was more he-man stuff: it translates as SAMSON AND THE THIEF OF ATHLETES. A sinister organization in boiler suits and goggles is trying to destroy Italian sport (a worthy cause), but they have reckoned without muscleman Samson (the dauntless Albertini again) with his massive frizzy hair and iron thews. In truth, he might be a more effective foe were he not prone to “a sudden uncontrollable fondness” when confronting the villainess, but it’s happened to the best of us. Helping Samson is celebrated cyclist Costante Girardengo as himself, fighting crime by cycling at it.

From the festival programme: “Sotto la maschera / La vendetta del pugnale doesn’t even have a name we can rely on. The two titles were handwritten on a scrap of paper found inside one of the cans that held the two nitrate reels. There is a 1913 film entitled Sotto la maschera, but this isn’t it. We follow a girl plotting revenge for her brother’s murder. The initially irrefutable evidence becomes mired in doubt. A baroness hides a dagger. With a relieved heart, a prince is slaughtered by the enemy among the barbed wire of the front. At least this time we have the ending. But will that be enough to dispel all our doubts?”

No. No it won’t.

Damon Knight

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on August 29, 2020 by dcairns

Mark Damon, now a producer (MONSTER), then a rakishly handsome movie star big in Italy, stars in Vittorio Cottafavi’s last feature, I CENTI CAVALIERI (THE HUNDRED HORSEMEN, 1964), screened in Bologna in Techniscope and Technicolor, looking fantastic.

After an ennervating start (the traditional bickering lovers turned up to eleven, Italian style) this turned out to be really interesting. Cottafavi appears in Richard Roud’s cinema dictionary alongside Bava, suggesting one who presents as an amusing pictorialist, so it was a surprise to find him quoted in the festival programme describing his Brechtian intentions, and almost a bigger surprise to find them carried out in this jaunty peplum-type historical romp.

The Moors ride into a neutral Spanish town and take over, behaving like Nazis (they’re led by Dr. Mabuse, Wolfgang Preiss). Farmmboy Damon becomes a warrior, aided by his militaristic uncle, the mayor’s feisty daughter, a bandit gang led by a comedy dwarf (verfremdungseffekt!), and a wily priest (Gaston Moschin, of whom we needed more).

Well, there’s a lot of dumb comedy and action in this film, but also strange thoughtful moments. As a for-instance: when someone demonstrates a newly invented suit of armour, visor down, a priest speculates that the warrior of the future will be even more unseen, striking at a distance, with civilians, property, whole cities destroyed in this “clean” manner. And before the spirited Robin Hoodery gets going, we pay a visit to a spectacular castle (the scenery in this is Lean-worthy, animated by Cottafavi’s athletic camerawork) populated entirely by amputees, shut away in anticipation of war, lest the sight of their varied mutilations sap the peasants’ martial spirit. This skeptical attitude to war seems forgotten until the climax, another clangorous, Wellesian montage, suddenly plunged into monochrome with chilling effect…

Not as successful overall as DONNE E SOLDATI (the comedy too broad and not often funny — but arguably its true purpose is to disrupt, not amuse) this incredible bargain-bin EL CID is still fascinating and betrays an intellectual ambition utterly lacking in Cinecitta’s usual he-man spectacles.

…and on the second day…

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on August 27, 2020 by dcairns

Started to feel I wasn’t getting the most out of the online Il Cinema Ritrovato. This may in part have been because I wasn’t watching any films. But you see, I have a DVD of THE GRAPES OF WRATH so watching it streaming didn’t make sense to me, even though it’s well overdue a watch. So I’ve been looking at shorts, documentaries, interviews, masterclasses…

By some odd quirk the festival is streaming an interview with Dario Argento and a session on the restoration of FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET, but not the film itself. For that you have to be in Bologna. The Argento interview was unsatisfactory from almost every point of view — a camera in Bologna filmed an auditorium with a screen on which you could see the Maestro and his interviewer, fuzzily projected, neither one of them being present, while a simultaneous translation talked over both of them. So we couldn’t really see Dario or hear him, and we got the gist of his words but he didn’t seem to have anything exciting to say.

His film, however, is very exciting, even in the unrestored version I have access to. I can’t think why I always assumed it was inferior to THE CAT O’ NINE TAILS and BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE, it’s a worthy companion. The plot is completely barmy, full of unexplained lunatic touches, as when a blackmailing housemaid, waiting in a park for her victim, flees into an ever-narrowing cobwebbing passage. I admit I’m not personally familiar with Turin’s parks and recreation areas, but I have a hunch the shaggy DA is stretching verisimilitude here, as on a medieval rack.

We liked the idea of the gay private detective (Jean-Pierre Marielle), but of course he’s played in a wildly stereotypical, swishy way — yet this was still progressive at the time, by the admittedly demented standards of the Italian genre cinema. He’s allowed to make a brief plea for tolerance, to solve the case, and to win pathos. And the killer has a traumatic backstory which imparts a little sympathy, perhaps more than the “hero” gets — the sullen-faced Michael Brandon is quite good, though, managing to maintain a core of credibility in the midst of some of Argento’s more head-scratching dialogue and characterisation.

The main thing, though, is that Argento has an extravagant visual idea to explore in nearly every scene, and they’re mostly cunning rather than just sucky. There’s something wonderfully eerie about the hero’s darkened apartment with the trees outside brightly floodlit and sussurating in a phantasmal fashion. This lad has promise.


An interview of the Taviani Bros under a tree did not elevate me, especially when long swathes of it were just the Bros staring blankly into camera as Gideon Bachman attempted to formulate a protrated thought.

My chum Craig McCall delivered a detailed exposition on dye-transfer Technicolor written by Robert Hoffman, which worked better than Dario’s appearance because Craig was actually in the room.

A session on the restoration of A BOUT DE SOUFFLE and THE ELEPHANT MAN offered little for non-pixel-pushers, but it was good to hear that David Lynch insisted on his HDR restoration being performed with a cinema screen as reference.

And then at last there was a PROPER film doc, Cyril Leuthy’s MELVILLE, LE DERNIER SAMOURAI, which weirdly discounts BOB LE FLAMBEUR and LES ENFANTS TERRIBLE entirely and claims LE DOULOS as Melville’s first thriller, but is otherwise rivetting. It gets by with only sparse clips from the films, but just enough, and with a terrific wealth of archive footage of the man himself, and good new interviews with family members, Volker Schloendorff and Taylor Hackford. The stars are curiously absent, but the whole thing has a nice jazzy, nocturnal feel very suited to JPM’s cinema, and among the memories are striking moments — JPM screaming at Lino Ventura, captured on 1/4inch audio tape, and Delon, interviewed shortly after (a) falling out with Melville and (b) Melville’s death, talking about how they need to have a break before working together again. With extraordinary facial expressions, cognitive dissonance pulling the muscles this way and that — he KNOWS the man is dead, but he’s still considering working with him again after a suitable interval…

“You can’t love cinema without being a child,” says one of the assorted Grumbachs. Dario would agree, I think.

FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET stars Dempsey; Margareta Nikolajevna; renowned curator Jacques Saunier; La regina di Napoli; Mme Quentin; Fanny Hill; and Bambino, the left hand of the Devil!