Martedi, in my Il Cinema Ritrovato program, seems to correspond to “Tuesday” in English time. But time at a film festival moves in mysterious ways.
I met somebody who had a chronological day — starting with FANTOMAS in the morning, following that up with a Wellman pre-code, moving on to Italy in the fifties, and so on — stopping around 1964, because there’s no sense in getting too contemporary, is there? There’ll be time enough for that later. We spend most of our lives in the moment, it’ a relief to escape.
I didn’t manage a day like, that, preferring to jump around crazily like I do on Shadowplay, but I did frequently start the day in 1914 or 15.
Three Chaplins, ably accompanied by Antonio Coppola. I’d never sen Chaplin on the big screen, incredibly. This was part of a retrospective of CC’s Essanay productions, which allowed him more time, money and control than Keystone had, but do not reach the dizzy heights of the later Mutual films. HIS NEW JOB, which is set in a film studio called Lockstone, co-stars Ben Turpin, and showcased some interesting directorial touches — Chaplin moves the camera precisely three times. In each case, it’s while the camera is rolling on a scene within a scene — in the first instance, he slides in to exclude the hand-cranking and focus on the actors, as if we were entering the world of the movie. The second time, he simply glides sideways, animating the action with an Altmanesque drift. It’s as if he’s saying, “Movies have tracking shots — the movies you’re used to seeing. But my movies only use those kind of things in inverted commas.”
A NIGHT OUT was plotless knockabout in the Keystone tradition (with Turpin again) but THE CHAMPION was something fairly special — the boxing match at the end is a real tour-de-force, anticipating the one in CITY LIGHTS and actually almost as good — also, for maybe the first time Chaplin is working on our sympathies — not for sentiment, exactly, but just to get us on his side. In A NIGHT OUT and HIS NEW JOB he’s a nasty little thug, but he opens THE CHAMPION by sharing his last sausage with a bulldog.
RAZZIA IN ST PAULI (1932) was my first Werner Hochbaum, though I’d had DVDs of some of his films in my possession for ages. Great Weimar grime, with ladies of the night, fugitive crooks, and late-night jazz musicians as protags. Hochbaum downgrades dialogue in favour of ecstatic details and establishers, weaving a city symphony into his tale of Hamburg low-life. Very atmospheric, and the heroine has sexy sharp shoulders, something I’d never thought of particularly as a turn-on before.
Crossing the hall from the Sala Scorsese to the Sala Mastroianni, I caught some more musical shorts. This program opened with a Dulac short illustrating a song, and also featured FOUR INDIAN LOVE LYRICS, starring Wheeler Dryden, half-brother to Charlie and Sydney Chaplin. Wheeler is the idiot brother par excellence, having failed to capture any of the talent genes before his quasi-siblings snapped them up. But maybe he was a nice guy, who knows? Charles wasn’t always the most affable of men, and Sydney was a rapist and a cannibal.
The after lunch slot typically offered the most mouth-watering choices, driving festival-goers crazy as they tried to balance entertainment value — THE STAR WITNESS, Wellman — with novelty value — Italian compendium segments — with the latest restoration — LE OLYMPIADI DI AMSTERDAM — with an exciting program — early Japanese talkies… I plumped for the short feature on this screening, a documentary on Japanese movie studios, full of moronic narration (at one point, during the shooting of a samurai action scene, the VO guy flatly intones, “Look at them.”) — I enjoyed it, and it was certainly rich in historical interest, but I do feel bad about missing most of the Japanese season.
I ducked out of this one and headed for DRAGON INN, a King Hu swordfighting flick which proved highly entertaining. And, shamefully, I’d never seen a KH joint, let alone on the big screen, so it was educational too. A heroine in drag who wouldn’t fool anyone but fools everyone — endless berserk action — impossible leaping — and an asthmatic villain. As a fellow wheezer, I liked seeing one of my own kind given enough respect to serve as an action baddie.
I could have stayed in my seat and seen the restored A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, but I was feeling virtuous and wanted to avoid movies I already knew well — I marched back to the Cinema Lumiere and took in a bunch of Germaine Dulac newsreels with one of her rarer features. The shorts were nice but the main movie, ANTONETTE SABRIER, was a snooze — romance and high finance, with only traces of impressionist technique and subverting of sexual mores.
I was feeling kind of tired and nearly missed the greatest event of the fest — THE MERRY WIDOW. A valuable lesson — when your body tells you it’s had enough movies, DON’T LISTEN!