Archive for John Stahl

From Matrimony to Divorce

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on July 1, 2018 by dcairns

The day — our last in Bologna — began with the sweet and hilarious HOLY MATRIMONY, directed by John Stahl, from Nunnally Johnson’s script (his favourite of his own works, adapted from Arnold Bennett) — and ended with DIVORCE: ITALIAN STYLE, Pietro Germi’s black comedy starring Mastroianni, which managed to make comedy out of Sicilian so-called “honour killings” without appearing misogynistic or crass — something the central performance contributes to enormously.

In between, we did a bit of walking about in the 35° heat, perhaps having picked not the best day for sight-seeing, but also took in Henry King’s depression-era whimsy ONE MORE SPRING (written by NOW I’LL TELL’s Edwin J. Burke — a subject for further investigation) — and the staggering CAROSELLO NAPOLETANO, a full-on attempt to transpose the epic audio-visual splendour of THE RED SHOES to Italy (complete with Massine as choreographer). In fact, lacking as it does a real central narrative, it may be closer to TALES OF HOFFMANN, which makes it even more radical. More on this one soon also.

So I only saw four shows — my fewest of the fest, I think. Fiona saw three. But everything was damned good.

Now we have a plane to catch, a stopover to endure, and an eventual late-night arrival in our refurbished flat — and, tomorrow, a very heavy cat to collect.

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Heaven at Either End

Posted in Fashion, FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 30, 2018 by dcairns

Fiona declares these to be cinema’s best sunglasses.

Thursday’s other screenings:

The one film in the John Stahl series we didn’t see was WHEN TOMORROW COMES, which has a cast of our favourite people… we’ll see it post-Bologna and report back.

The Marcello Pagliero season passed me by, except that I wasn’t about to miss LES AMANTS DE BRASMORTS since it was billed as a misty, melancholic drama about the lives of barge workers. It’s my view that you can’t make a bad film on a barge. You may not do it. This one was very fine, apart from a slightly confused happy ending. Barge movies, like films noir, are generally stronger when they turn out bleakly, though even when they don’t, they sort of do, because your lovers’ reconciliation is, after all, being staged on a fucking barge.

Friday started at the more civilized hour of 9.30 am with the stone-cold masterpiece that is LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN, screened in a vintage (sixties) Technicolor print. In sert the words lustrous, lambent and amber into the following paragraph at random. Leon Shamroy’s cinematography didn’t look as intensely-coloured here as it has on home viewings, but the size, the audience response and the atmosphere added to the movie’s power.

That movie filled our whole morning, meaning, for example, that we couldn’t see Boorman’s LEO THE LAST, which also a very beautiful show, with the richest assortment of browns I’ve ever seen. I bet the big-screen experience would have been wonderful, even if the movie itself has problems. It shows why Marcello Mastroianni was never a big star in English-language films.

Then we bumped into Angela Allen, John Huston’s favourite continuity girl, and had lunch with her, where she was fabulously indiscreet. I’d first inveigled my way into her confidence last year, and was thrilled to meet her again. But I won’t dish the dirt. Angela was planning on seeing LIGHTS OUT OF EUROPE, newly restored by MOMA, a 1940 documentary by Herbert Klein, partially shot by a young photographer named Douglas Slocombe. Alas, Slocombe passed away at 104 before he could see this magnificent restoration of his first movie.

We’d been thinking of seeing Rene Clair’s LES DEUX TIMIDES, which has been very well received, but we switched to the Klein film to hang out with Angela, and couldn’t regret it. Extraordinary footage, gather by Slocombe in hazardous conditions — he’d gone to Danzig in 1939 to film conditions, and was there when the Nazis invaded, getting out by the skin of his teeth. Had he not done so, somebody else would have had to shoot IT ALWAYS RAINS ON SUNDAY, KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS, THE SERVANT, THE MUSIC LOVERS and RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK.

The movie screened with Joris Ivens’ LA SEINE A RECONTRE PARIS, scripted by Prevert. I now have to see everything Ivens ever made. I was impressed, let’s say.

Then we saw Bette Davis’ assistant giving an interview and plugging her new book, which we’re told Bette commanded her to write. Well, better write it then. What took you so long? One wouldn’t want Bette’s shade performing a vengeful haunting, would one? Well, maybe just a little.

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Fiona ran out of juice at this point and hit the hay, or what passes for hay at our modest pensione. I went on to Buster Keaton’s THE SCARECROW and GO WEST, with music from Neil Brand (piano) and Frank Bockius (percussion, slide whistle et al). While the day’s final show was highly emotional and had a magnificent score, it was this screening that brought a tear to my eye. There’s a lot of discussion about whether GO WEST is chaplinesque sentiment or a parody thereof. I think it’s something different from either — Keaton invites you to laugh sympathetically at his character’s misfortunes, and the whole first act is misfortunes. It’s closer to what Harold Lloyd does with THE FRESHMAN. He doesn’t stop the comedy in order to aim for tears, as Chaplin will (with lightning-fast transitions of tone). When Keaton, bilked of everything he owns, sits down next to a dog, and tentatively pats its head, and the dog turns tail and walks off, we’re meant to laugh, not cry.

The emotional whammy, which had never happened to me on previous screenings, came when Keaton finally makes a friend, Brown Eyes the cow. By playing this moment TRIUMPHANTLY, Brand and Bockius unleashed all the sorrow of the previous scenes which Keaton had suppressed. It took me by surprise, which is always a good way to disarm. I blinked away a manly tear, stinging with sun-block.

Then I was off to the Teatro Communale — pictured — Bologna’s epic opera house — for SEVENTH HEAVEN, likely to remain the highlight of this fest. A great silent movie in a new, Foxphorescent restoration and an orchestra playing Timothy Brock’s new score and a spectacular setting and the company of Meredith Brody and Gary Meyer are a hard combination to beat. I hope to say more about this experience, but right now words fail me, as they must always do when the subject is a Frank Borzage masterpiece.

 

Hitting the Wall

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on June 26, 2018 by dcairns

One usually hits a wall halfway through any intensive film festival, and Tuesday may have been ours. We saw lots of good stuff but didn’t make it to things we definitely had wanted to see, and I started a Luciano Emmer film and found I didn’t have enough concentration left to see it through.

We had planned a lie in, but couldn’t sleep so we headed to the Jolly for Raoul Walsh’s rowdy service romp WOMEN OF ALL NATIONS. Some thought it a weak entry, but I’m still impressed that they managed to get laughs out of El Brendel, world’s unfunniest dialect comedian. When jealous boyfriend Olaf, the strongest man in Sweden, appears, El B’s delivery of the line “It’s Olaf. And it’s all off,” lacks his usual smugness and really hit the funnybone on the head.

Plus Bela Lugosi as a cuckolded Arab prince.

This was followed by John Stahl’s SEED, introduced by Imogen Smith, who provided lots of interesting analysis of a slow but fascinating early entry in Stahl’s series of low-key melodramas on marriage and infidelity. “I hope you enjoy SEED.” We came to see Bette Davis playing a juvenile role, and stayed for the weird, ambivalent sexual politics. The film also finally made sense of the otherwise elusive appeal of John Boles. “You’re my measuring stick,” says one of the women in his life. And I can see how he’d be good for that, His head alone must be a good foot long.

Boles was back in SIX HOURS TO LIVE, supporting the equally rigid Warner Baxter, another man whose origin and purpose are still a total mystery. Raised from the dead by mad science, he might as well have not bothered. I call this one GRAVE-DIGGERS OF 1932. William Dieterle spent his time at Warners kicking against the regime of fast-paced delivery and short runtimes. Fox let him spread out a bit more, and the results in this one are a bit lugubrious at times, but with some genuinely exciting cinematic effects. A livelier cast would have pushed it over into greatness, but as it is, it’s enjoyably weird, and SIX HOURS TO LIVE did afford me half an hour of napping.

But you can’t see everything — maybe we should have gone to the 1918 TARZAN OF THE APES, or Zurlini’s CRONICA FAMILIARE with Mastroianni, and I’m sad we missed Pabst’s GEHEIMNISVOLLE TIEFE. We did listen to a lovely talk by Sir Christopher Professor Frayling about ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, but were too shattered to actually go see the film in the Piazza, which would have taken us up to around 1am, I reckon. By eating a leisurely dinner and hitting the sack, we hope to blast through some Maurice Tourneur, Segundo de Chomon, Henri Diamant-Berger, Sydney Chaplin, Mario Monicelli and Frank Borzage tomorrow. Wish us luck!