Archive for Pordenone Festival of Silent Film

Falling Don

Posted in FILM, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 8, 2014 by dcairns

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“That’s a lot of money for a dame without a head” — statue outside the Church of St Nicholas in Venice, where DON’T LOOK NOW was filmed. Forty years on and they STILL haven’t got a head on that thing.

A story from Philip Kaufman’s commentary on INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS — he was filming the climax, with Donald Sutherland gamely staggering around a catwalk high in the air in a big greenhouse, and a mutual acquaintance approached. “Is that Donald Sutherland up there?” Kaufman affirmed that it was, and his friend, with a note of panic, cried “Don’t you know he’s The Clumsiest Man Alive?”

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This makes Sutherland’s cameo as “The Accident-Prone Waiter” in KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE much funnier, but adds a frisson of terror to DON’T LOOK NOW and several other Sutherland films. As Sutherland described it to Mark Cousins in a TV interview, the scene in DLN where he dangles from a rope at ceiling level in a cavernous Venetian church was originally going to be performed by a stunt man. But, he says, rather apathetically, the stunt man “wasn’t happy about something” and in the end Sutherland volunteered and did the dangling himself. He had a kirby wire running down his sleeve to a harness, securing him so he couldn’t actually fall.

Years later Sutherland is talking to another stuntman, who congratulates him on the awe-inspiringly dangerous sequence. Sutherland demurs: “I was quite safe, I was fastened to a kirby wire…” “But you were going like this,” says the stunt man, making a twirling motion with his index finger to indicate the way Sutherland spun helplessly on his rope. “Yes, I was.” “Well, when you go like that on a kirby wire, the kirby wire breaks.”*

Sutherland actually had premonitions of doom on the movie, feeling that it was such a tragic and death-haunted tale, somebody might actually have to die while making it. Fortunately for him, that was silly.

But one of the strange pleasures of re-watching the film with students — and it unlocks fresh pleasures each time — is the number of times poor Donald falls on his ass, or nearly so, during the show. Nic Roeg has him staggering along beside canals, blundering over barges, and straddling ledges fifty feet up… It’s all a touch ungainly. Julie Christie, meanwhile, negotiates rowing boats and the like with the grace and dexterity that only the Rank Charm School can instill.

What else — ?

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Odd framings, like this shot which picks up a sinister sign-post as a plank glides across the lower edge of frame like a shark’s fin.

Constant communication trouble: Sutherland speaks fluent Italian to his work crew, but whenever faced with an emotional question or a conversation with a woman, his language deserts him. “English… English…” he pleads abjectly.

Julie Christie sees a police sketch of one of the two sisters (vacationing from Scotland, though their accents are VERY English) — “It doesn’t really look like her.” “It doesn’t matter,” says Inspector Longi (how I’d love a whole series of films about his unsuccessful cases! Maybe he could team up with Harvey Keitel’s Inspector Netusil from BAD TIMING to fight crime ineffectually across Europe). He means, “It doesn’t matter since no crime has been committed and we’re no longer seeking her,” but what Christie understands, from her nonplussed expression, is obviously “It doesn’t matter if our sketches don’t resemble the people we’re looking for because that’s not their purpose.” Whole worlds of mystery open up at that thought.

The first view of Julie —

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This prefigures the film’s climax, which hinges on that uncanny lurch you feel when you approach somebody you know and they turn around and it’s not them. I first got this with a woman who wasn’t my mum in the supermarket when I was small. (“His little world swung half around; the points of the compass were reversed.” ~ Chickamauga, by Ambrose Bierce.)

I was in Venice recently, making a side-trip from Pordenone on a free day after the Silent Film festival had ended, and I visited Donald’s church. It’s still there, looks the same, but doesn’t have any mosaics that I could see. They don’t let you take pictures inside as they fear the camera will steal away the Holy Spirit, I guess, but I snapped away outside. And no, I didn’t see any little figures in red macs. Fiona suggests the Venice town council should hire little people to dart about and peak from round corners wearing the appropriate plastic attire. She’s right — I think you’d only need about seven at a time to cover the city. You wouldn’t want them to become commonplace or anything.

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Donald sees a glove on a window ledge. I saw a segment of orange.

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*Sutherland has another great story about shooting Bertolucci’s 1900 which left him with concussion and a half-severed ear. I can tell it in the comments section if there’s interest.

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The Earlies

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on November 20, 2013 by dcairns

Strange and beautiful: LA FEE AU PIGEONS (THE PIGEON FAIRY) 1906, Gaston Velle with Segundo de Chomon. From the Corrick Collection.

Pordenone, Italy, early October.

Professor Vanessa Toulmin, director of the National Fairground Archive, was looking forward to one event in particular at Pordenone — the screening of early cinema made using the Joly-Normandin system, which involved five sprocket holes per frame and did not catch on (my favourite early camera is the one Griffith used, which punched sprocket holes in the film as it went, and sounded like a machine gun in consequence). A whole programme of these films, drawn from several collections, was to be shown. As an expert on fairground attractions, freak shows, circuses, music hall and seaside entertainments, the movies she likes best are one shot and forty-five seconds long. Some of her colleagues would go even further, she said: for them, cinema lost everything the moment showmen started projecting it on a screen. “Mutoscope or nothing!” is the cry.

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YouTube is the modern Mutoscope, in a way, and a lot of early cinema is available on it. The short duration of a Lumiere Bros film would seem nicely fitted to the medium… I’d also seen plenty of early cinema on VHS and DVD.

But seeing the Joly-Normandin films, and then a selection from the Corrick Collection, projected big, albeit mostly on digital, was revelatory. Of course, the films triumphed over the penny arcade stuff by virtue of scale, so it’s totally perverse to look at them on a little window on a little monitor — they need to be seen BIG. They are big short films, mostly framed in wide shot so as to cram in as much detail as possible. While I don’t usually enjoy processions and parades as a subject (pageantry is just shit, to me), but one simply view of crowds on a London street decorated for Victoria’s Jubilee revealed something curious and touching, bottom left of frame. As the throng on the pavement shuffled through the camera’s field of vision, each pedestrian glanced up, into its round glass eye, and the same expression flashed across each face. It was partly wariness and partly hope. What did they fear, and what did they hope for, these long-vanished anony-mites? To be shown as they are? To be immortalized, in a way that doesn’t benefit them, but only us?

Then they drift out of frame, to keep their appointments with Death.

Me and My Galatea (Male Chauvinist Pygmalion)

Posted in FILM with tags , , on November 15, 2013 by dcairns

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THE DOLL MAKER — from Pordenone Festival of Silent Film — spectacularly creepy melodrama about a maker of dolls (picture Gepetto crossed with Jimmy Stewart’s character in VERTIGO) who constructs a life-sized replica of his deceased daughter and dresses her in the slain sprog’s last outfit. He also cruelly rejects his young son, so upset is he by the loss of his little eye-candy-apple.

The story reaches a preposterous “touching” conclusion when the son’s she-urchin playmate, secretly invited by him to spend the night indoors, accidentally breaks the doll and is forced to take its place to conceal the destruction. Dad gets quite a surprise when he notices his babykins mannequin (babyquin?) is breathing, then resolves to adopt the child. Is she going to be a substitute for the original daughter or a substitute for the substitute? Is this meant to be a happy ending? I felt anxious rather than satisfied, since the film never made clear what Dad was getting up to with his baby doll in that back room…

The ending does suggest an alternate happy ending for DON’T LOOK NOW, in which Donald Sutherland welcomes the knife-wielding dwarf lady into his family as replacement for his departed daughter. Good sequel opportunities.

No images available for this film, and no credits either — practically nothing is known about it.