Archive for Pordenone Festival of Silent Film

Stage Door Connie

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 6, 2021 by dcairns

Talentless poet and war veteran Arthur Phelps (Conrad Nagel), blinded by an exploding cigar given him by New Mexico bar girl Poll Patchouli (Dorothy Dalton), is obsessed with French ballerina Rosa Duchene (Mildred Harris) — but Poll tricks him into marrying her by putting on an ‘Allo, ‘Allo accent — I suppose, being blind, he’s more easily fooled by her Franglais intertitles — Poll also leads him to believe that a slender volume of recipes is his poetry, accepted by a publisher at last — but when a miracle eye doctor comes to El Paso, Poll realises she must shatter Senor Phelps’ illusions by giving him his sight back — bitterly disappointed by what his restored sight shows him, Phelps divorces Poll, who sets fire to his shack in revenge, but it’s OK, in a way — he’s just struck oil and is now rich, enabling him to zoom off to Siam where Rosa is enchanting a young Prince (John Davidson) — Phelps rescues a lamb that was going to be thrown into an alligator pit as a sacrifice to buddha (bloodiest of the eastern gods) — Rosa challenges her two suitors to rescue her opera glove from the “sacred reptiles” — the Prince has a go but requires rescuing by Phelps — both Phelps and the Prince realise that Rosa is No Good and Phelps returns to the arms of Rosa, who at that moment gets stabbed by her gaucho paramour John Rodriguez (Theodore Kosloff) but the wound is non-fatal and the recuperating Poll kisses Phelps while their dog, Chum, tries to get in on the final clinch. Fade-out. Painting of a jester for no obvious reason.

That’s a condensed version of Cecil B. DeMille’s 1921 crazed romance FOOL’S PARADISE, shown at/streamed from Pordenone Festival of Silent Film. It’s what I call an epic.

I have made nothing up, distorted nothing. I’m reminded of a line in Gilliam’s BARON MUNCHAUSEN: “This is exactly the sort of thing no-one ever believes.”

“Cecil has a habit of biting off more than he can chew,” said brother William, “and then chewing it.”

This farrago of implausibilities is visually sumptuous, with costumes by Mitchell Leisen, Clare West AND Natasha Rambova — my guess is, Rambova did the ornate ballet, Leisen may have done the exotic stuff, but he could do realism too, so that may have been West. Cinematographers Alvin Wyckoff and Karl Struss, both super-talents, shot it.

Pordenone likes to shine a light on lesser-known talents, and fest director Jay Weissberg made special mention of screenwriters Sada Cowan & Beulah Marie Dix. DeMille had this whole staple of female screenwriters who helped him target his films, very successfully, at the female cinemagoer’s heart. It is hard, at this historical distance, to imagine anyone taking this cascade of nonsense seriously, except Cecil himself. But you can imagine them enjoying it. We enjoyed it. I hadn’t seen a lot of Conrad Nagel. I feel I have now.

The Sunday Intertitle: Blackmail and Female

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 3, 2021 by dcairns

Pordenone Festival of Silent Film has started, and we’re attending virtually, which means we don’t get Lubitsch’s LADY WINDERMERE’S FAN, but I guess that’s OK as I’ve seen it. We do get the very interesting JOKEREN/JOKER, from 1928, a Danish production from Nordisk with a German director, Georg Jacoby (known for his Nazi era operetta-films) and multinational stars including Brits Henry Edwards and favourite Shadowplayer Miles Mander, the human knitting needle.

The intertitles are a bit blah, and they’re also modern reconstructions with no attempt at period style. The dialogue is stuff like “I was in love with a young woman, but she left me for the rich Sir Herbert,” while the narrational titles just describe what we’re about to see, which is shockingly primitive for a 1928 film.

A shame, but a minor one, because the film itself is very sophisticated, even louche. Set in Nice at carnival time, apropos of Jean Vigo, it benefits greatly from the colourful, somewhat surreal location, with tragic scenes enacted by men in pantaloons and false noses.

Miles Mander is the whole show in my opinion, an actor you can really HEAR in silent films, whether you’ve heard him in talkies or not. Ideally cast here as a skeezy lawyer who’s bankrupted himself over an unfaithful mistress and now resorts to extortion to square the bills, he’s also quite smellable as he awakens in dirty shirt and braces, sprawled over his desk in a cat-infested office. Anyone who brings such sensory overload to a soundless film is aces in my book.

Of course it’s not really soundless because multi-instrumentalist Stephen Horne provides marvelous accompaniment.

In the title role, Henry Edwards cuts a dashing figure, so unlike Joaquin Phoenix. IMDb has bifurcating him, attributing this sole credit to a separate Mr. Edwards from the rest of his filmography, which is British — he turned up in films from the teens to the fifties — OLIVER TWIST, GREEN FOR DANGER, good things like that. Here, in his youth, he’s what I’d call a proper matinee idol, while at the same time his bony, beaky features do suggest the titular playing card, or perhaps Mr. Punch. If that sounds not quite attractive, he’s a British leading man of the early twentieth century, what do you expect? His performance emerges from under a glistening pomaded carapace. But he can do soulful.

This was my first Jacoby film, I think — he doesn’t move the camera* but his shots are lovely. Without the ability to screen-grab from Pordenone’s streaming platform, I can’t show you any though. I’m keen to see Jacoby’s silent QUO VADIS with Emil Jannings as Nero, and I should check out his Hitlerian musical output sometime.

Pordenone is superb value, whether in-person (impossible for me at the start of the new teaching year) or online — check it out!

  • STOP PRESS – Jacoby does do some simple but elegant walk-and-talk shots.
  • Gabriel Gabrio, a kind of tuxedo breeze-block, is Sir Herbert Powder, his physique suggesting that he must be quite a convincing Jean Valjean in Henri Fescourt’s LES MISERABLES.
  • Elga Brink, another victim of IMDb bifurcation, is an elegant and sympathetic heroine.

Time’s Arrows

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on October 14, 2020 by dcairns

The trouble with online film festivals is similar to that with physical film festivals — finding time to see everything. Pordenone has been putting everything up for around twenty-four hours, though sometimes mysteriously not quite that long, which does alleviate the problem. But I didn’t organize my waking hours correctly so I saw mere minutes of Cecil B. DeMille’s ROMANCE OF THE REDWOODS.

So this isn’t a review, and doesn’t aim to answer the question of whether Howard Hawks was right to say “I learned what to do by looking at John Ford, and what not to do by looking at C.B. DeMille.” However the answer is “yes.”

But the opening minutes of ROTR do showcase what was obviously popular about DeMille: he threw lots of bold images at the screen and made a naked appeal to the audience’s emotions. The tableau above is just gorgeous, and the scene fades up with everyone frozen in place just like a painting, and then presumably Cec blasts “Action!” at them through a megaphone the size of a Christmas tree, and everyone comes alive. Are the ridiculous aspects of this movie down to the merciless passage of time, my own cynicism, or a lack of delicacy on CB’s part? That one I can’t answer.

Lots of wild night/day clashes in the first minutes. Of course there was no satisfactory way of doing consistent night scenes in 1917, but it’s very weird when CBD cuts from the above day exterior to an interior of the stagecoach, in continuous time, and the bandit is seen inhabiting an abstract black void.

But I kind of enjoy this kind of naïve technique.

It’s 1849. Everybody’s naïve! The particularly naïve Mary Pickford, newly orphaned, is, it seems, keen to join her uncle prospecting in the California Gold Rush. She admires a photograph of the geezer. Cecil cuts to a wagon train, where said uncle is rapidly beset by marauding injuns. Cut back to Mary preparing for her journey. Carefully rolling a jar of conserves in cloth, packing plenty of essential frocks. “Jenny, your uncle’ll be so proud when he takes you to a ball!” predicts her friend. They pause to admire unc’s photo again.

CUT TO:

Bold, bloody and bathetic. You can’t fault Cec for timidity. As his brother, the more modest William, put it, “Cecil has a habit of biting off more than he can chew, and then chewing it.”

But then he immediately provides some more clearly deliberate humour: when Mary’s friend shows her the book illustration reproduced up top (a vaguely BUSTER SCRUGGS moment), Mary shows her the sensible precautions she’s taking, by producing, with infinite care, the world’s tiniest pistol:

Quite sorry I couldn’t see all of this one.

Frame-frabs mostly by Mark Fuller. Thanks, Mark!