Highlights of Le Giornate del Cinema Muto 2012

Well it’s been over a month now since the 31st Giornate finished and we thought we would ask some of our regular readership their thoughts on this year’s major line-up. We posted our pre-highlights earlier on last month, so it is worth checking out what everyone was expecting and then seeing what the major successes were in the end. But once again, a fantastic year! Our thanks to everyone who contributed and see you next year!

Elizabeth-Jane Baldry (Silent Film Harpist)
PHONO-CINÉMA-THÉÂTRE: These 1900 films of various French theatre performers captivated everyone. I was spellbound by the hand colouring.

MOY SYN: I was hooked from the first glimpse of actress Anna Sten. What a performance. She showed so much in her eyes. The nailing down of the coffin lid on the dead child was another memorable sequence.

THE VIKING: This deliciously daft early technicolour film was perfectly programmed as a late night screening. My life is the richer for having seen it. I’m still laughing.

Ayşe Behçet (Pordenone Collegiate 2012, Charlie’s London)
1) The Patsy (1928)
2) The Spanish Dancer (1923)
3/4) A Couple of Down and Outs (1923) and Hands up! (1926)
As well as of course seeing all you guys and having such an amazing time 🙂 x

Tom Brockley (Pordenone Collegiate 2011 and Winner of the annual Premio Banca Popolare FriulAdria Credit Agricole 2012)
German Animation – 1
Unable to choose a specific film from the programme due to the merging in my mind of the various plots and styles. The Japanese animation was one of my favourite strands from the previous year and this programme continued to mine the wonderfully esoteric. Great Lotte Reiniger-esque advertisements. I would like to see more advertising/commercial material programmed in the future.

Clarence Brown: ‘The Goose Woman’ and ‘A Woman of Affairs’
A canonical revelation. Much heard about and never seen (by me). Achingly beautiful cinematography with shots and angles that Fritz Lang would be jealous of years later. Surprisingly European.

Haghefilm/Selznick School Fellowship 2012-10-20
A wonderful burst of colour pandering to the archivists present. A kind of in-joke, brilliantly highlighting the importance and worth of the fragment. The true potential of niche archive film fully realised.

Honourable mention to the mother-in-laws and Spanish Dancer!

Kieran Byran (Charlie’s London)
The Patsy (1928)
The Only Way (1927)
Hands Up! (1926)
(Sorry I have to say the Jacobs films as well!)

Daniel Carrington (East Anglian Film Archive)
The Patsy (1928)
Marion Davies shines as the leading lady in this memorable King Vidor film. With a perfect blend of touching melodrama and well-crafted comic interludes, The Patsy really set the bar high as the week’s first evening feature film.

The Girl with the Hatbox (1927)
I’m embarrassed to say that I came to the festival almost entirely unaware of Anna Sten’s work, but now that it is over I can safely call myself a fan. For me, the Anna Sten strand of the programme was the strongest of the entire festival, offering a flawless and surprisingly diverse range of films. My personal highlight of the festival, The Girl with the Hatbox, featured Sten at her best and most memorable. Romantic, funny, and extremely playful, I could hardly have cared that it was all just a vehicle to promote the state lottery.

La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc (1928)
What can I say about this film? Spectacular! No surprises there, but what made it extra special for me was its unique presentation and setting. The Duomo San Marco proved to be a fantastic venue for Dreyer’s masterpiece, not least as a poignant backdrop to the film’s obvious spiritual emphasis. The choir sent shivers down my spine, and only served to further intensify the experience for me. Whilst not to everyone’s taste, I found the choral score both bold and unsettling. Delivered from a balcony up above and behind the backs of the audience, their vocal harmonies resonated up and around the cathedral’s structure to produce a deeply haunting and affecting ambience throughout.

Horst Claus (German Film Historian and Regular Bristol Silents Contributor)
In no particular order:
Anna Sten was my main discovery. I’d mention THE YELLOW TICKET as nr. 1 (partly because Fyodor Otsep is one of the truely great directors), but – of those I was able to see – also enjoyed THE GIRL WITH THE HAT BOX and PROVOKATEUR.

The two German Animation Programmes (with a slight preference for the first one), both of which were brilliantly brought to life by John Sweeney (nr. 1) and Günther Buchwald (nr. 2)

As for my 3rd choice I am fluctuating / wavering between JENSEITS DER STRASSE (which was another genuine discovery for me) and the chance to re-live the early cinema experience with the “PHONO-CINÉMA-THÉATRE-programme.

PS: For personal reasons, I was glad to see FAMILIENTAG IM HAUSE PRELLSTEIN on the big screen because, after more than a dozen years, it marked the end of my engagement with German director Hans Steinhoff, the publication of my book on the subject, and, above all, because Phil Carli’s clever accompaniment underlined that this was never an anti-semitic film.

Having mentioned three of the musicians, I should add that my praise goes to all of them. The festival has become as much a treasure trove for musical delights as it is one for the discovery of “lost” gems of the cinema. – See you there next year!

Don Fairservice (BAFTA Award Winning Editor and Regular Bristol Silents Contributor)
Anna Sten – My Son – USSR 1928
Despite the sorry state of the print, for me this movie demonstrates how silent cinema, at its best, is a unique and unequalled artform.

Rediscoveries – Harbor Drift – Germany 1929
Another film made at the peak of the silent era. It’s power lies within its ability to convey its meaning primarily through what, and how, its content is shown rather than through what is said.

Rediscoveries – The Goose Woman – US 1925
American silent cinema at it best. Superbly written, directed and performed. I thought it demonstrated qualities that were wholly absent from the very disappointingA Woman of Affairs.

Mark Fuller (Regular Bristol Silents Contributor & Giornate Veteran)
For me this years Pordenone was along succession of highlights; some anticipated, some not.
The Patsy: I knew would be great; I hoped the WW Jacobs-based films would be a hit and they were; Hands Up!: I was curious about the Raymond Griffiths film as I’d never seen one but knew he was a big name in the 20’s….and Hands Up! revealed why.

The Passion of Joan of Arc: The screening in the Duomo of Passion I had great hopes for, and with the new liturgy-based score from Touve fulfilled them.
But for an absolute highlight; it had to be the astonishing Phono-Cinema -Theatre show, the recreation of one of the attractions of the Paris Exposition of 1900. The bare description – a series of short films, mostly beautifully hand-tinted, of the top stage artists of the day; from opera, ballet, music hall` and theatre performing to both their own cylinder recordings and live music – doesn’t convey the pure magic……or the ingenuity that John Sweeney and his fellow musicians brought to the performance. There are hopes to stage the show in London.

I hoped the WW Jacobs-based films would be a hit and they were! I’ll be going back and I recommend it to anyone.

James Harrison (Bristol Silents, BBC Bristol)
Blimey what a year! Unlike the past few years where I have been rather disappointed with the selection of films (including the incredibly lukewarm films from Japan which have made up some of the main lineups for the past few years) this year’s line-up really made me wake up and reminded me why I love coming to the festival every year. This is going to be hard to cut down to a choice of three… but…

W.W. Jacobs Film:
I had a feeling the selection of Jacob films were going to be interesting, and they turn out to be fantastic. Especially The Skipper’s Wooing (1922) a fantastic film; also good to see that every film had a pub in it; some films in which included the good old British pub as the major hive of activity. A topic for a film paper is most inviting I feel on this particular subject. Fingers crossed for some sort of DVD release at some point…

Anna Sten:
A real surprise for me this year and a major treat for many (including me). Especially when it came to those close ups of Sten, an incredible silent film star; I’m really hoping the Giornate returns to her in the next few years. (More about Sten soon… watch this space!)

Hands Up! (1926): The title I had heard of and the star Raymond Griffith I knew but had never seen in a film. Thanks to the Giornate I was able to at last and I thought it was fantastic. It’s also worth looking at the persona of Griffith and then George Valentin in this year’s powerhouse which was The Artist.

This year’s wild card must go to The Viking (1928) which was totally bonkers and probably one of the best films to have scehduled for a really late screening. A real gem of historical Hollywood inaccuracy! The colour print was fantastic to watch.

Pamela Hutchinson (Silent London)

Jenseits Der Strasse
Gutter poetry: seedy but beautiful in its own impressionistic way. Fantastic multi-instrumental accompaniment by Stephen Horne, too.

Sarah Bernhardt as Hamlet (1900), Phono-Cinéma-Theatre
A snippet of history, minus its wax cylinder soundtrack but with its gorgeous hand-tinted colour intact. A glimpse of a legendary actor in one of her most famous roles.

The Spanish Dancer
High Hollywood ridiculousness, but with a sense of humour and on an impressively massive scale. Perfect Pola Negri vehicle.

Sean Kelly (East Anglian Film Archive)

LES AVENTURES DE ROBINSON CRUSOÉ (FR 1902), Georges Méliès; 35mm, 12′ (16 fps)
Narrator: Paul McGann / Score by Maud Nelissen / Performed by Maud Nelissen (piano), Yamila Bavio (flutes), Daphne Balvers (soprano sax), Frido ter Beek (percussion, effects)

THE PATSY (US 1928), King Vidor 35mm, 83′ (22 fps); did. ENG
Score composed and conducted by Maud Nelissen, performed by FVG Mitteleuropa Orchestra

Haghefilm/Selznick School Fellowship 2012: Two-Colour Technicolor Restorations:
SPORTS OF MANY LANDS (US 1929) 35mm, 5’47” (24 fps); did. ENG
THE BROADWAY MELODY (US 1929) Harry Beaumont; 35mm, 16″ (24 fps)
SONG OF THE ROSES (US 1929) Gus Edwards; 35mm, 1’58” (24 fps)
THE SHOW OF SHOWS (US 1929) John G. Adolfi ; 35mm, 4″ (24 fps)
THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND (US 1929) Lucien Hubbard; 35mm, 17″ (24 fps); did. ENG
AND HOW (US 1930), Max Scheck 35mm, 1’04” (24 fps)
THE JAZZ REHEARSAL (US 1930), Roy Mack 35mm, 44″ (24 fps)
DEVUSHKA S KOROBKOI [The Girl with the Hatbox] (USSR 1927), Boris Barnet; 35mm, 83′ (20 fps) did. RUS Pianoforte: Günter A. Buchwald Percussions: Frank Bockius
JENSEITS DER STRAßE (DE 1929) Leo Mittler; 35mm, 93′ (18 fps); did. GER Pianoforte: Stephen Horne

Stephen Morgan (Pordenone Collegiate 2011, King’s College, London)
There were so many highlights on offer at this year’s Giornate that it seems almost foolish to play favourites, but here goes nothing…

DEVUSHKA S KOROBKOI / THE GIRL WITH THE HATBOX (1927):
I love formalist, doctrinaire Soviet cinema as much as the next guy, but with so much on offer in Pordenone, it’s sometimes easy to question whether those Soviets had any sense of humour at all. Then along comes Anna Sten to knock us all for six with a smart, sassy comedy about war bonds!

JENSEITS DER STRASSE / HARBOR DRIFT (1929):
This one came in the second half of a double-bill of proletarian struggle, but whilst the Soviet half was a dreary pre-revolutionary tussle with authority told in typically broad strokes, Leo Mittler’s German contribution to the bill was a far more nuanced, ambivalent and engrossing tale of interclass strife. Fantastic!

W.W. JACOBS
It may have been a late inclusion, but the entire W.W. Jacobs strand was a revelation. Nothing too weighty or worldly about these British films, just some lovely, jolly tales well told. Pick of the bunch was either THE SKIPPER’S WOOING (1922) or festival closer THE BOATSWAIN’S MATE (1924).

Celia Nicholls (A PhD Student on Henri Langlois and the Cinémathèque française, Warwick University)

For me, it’s hard to pick just two or three standout films from the festival, since Pordenone delights with the sheer volume of amazing discoveries, recovered classics, and unexpected pleasures that it offers. Nevertheless, I’ll try! In screening order:

The Spanish Dancer, in actual fact a fairly silly Pola Negri vehicle featuring gypsies, Spanish royalty, and the course of true love not running smoothly until the end, which really came to life with the addition of an excellent flamenco-inflected score from Günter Buchwald, and reminded me of just how spoiled the audience is by the quality of sound and music at this supposedly ‘silent’ festival.
Das Geheimschloss, the first part of a projected German detective serial that was never completed, introduced the redoubtable Miss Clever, a master (mistress?) of disguise with a certain dementedness of inspiration that one could not help but admire. The programme notes quite rightly point out that it would be a shame to reveal her quick changes to those who have yet to see the film, but suffice it to say that the moment when, posing as the statue of a Greek goddess in the drawing room of a grand house, she suddenly springs into action as fighter of crime, elicited gasps of surprise from the audience since she had up to then been so well concealed from us.

The Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre programme, which featured recordings of performances of significant figures from the French stage and music hall in 1900 was not only significant from an historic point of view, but also brought the performers of 112 years ago back to life before our very eyes. The moments when singers and comedians took virtual curtain calls that happened to sync up perfectly with our rapturous applause were a truly magical fusion of past and present.

Uli Ruedel (BFI)
JENSEITS DER STRASSE and MY SON: two “songs of humans” — with STRASSE – a film I hadn’t even heard before – beautifully elevated by another stellar Stephen Horne score, while SON easily outshined its fragmentary status and technical troubles.

RUPTURE, one of the all-time best silent comedy shorts. Not the first time I had seen it at all, most notably during Slapstick 2012; a special joy with a large audience, it rightfully deserved its spot opening the closing night gala, with “the last of the silent clowns” presented the Jean Mitry Award by one of silent comedy’s most brilliant chroniclers.

Michael Seeber
No doubt the films which first popped into my mind are as follows:
The Vikings – for being an epic canvas woven of candyfloss. (I wouldn’t have wondered if in this picture the Vikings had landed in Miamy Beach.)
Die Weber – an utmost rhythmic call for revolt. Screened back then on the eve of the so called “world economic crisis” – as it is now. (I wonder who is in place of Dreissiger today…)

and as third picture I’d refer to the whole W.W. Jacobs series as one picture – liked them for being a very British, light-hearted amusement, set in authentic locations, and seasoned with inventive title cards. (With the same cast in nearly every picture these films seemed like predecessors to the “Carry On”-series. Cor blimey!)

Of course, there were many other marvellous pictures (Girl with the Hatbox, Tempest, The only way, etc.), but as I said the films above first popped into my mind, and therefore I name them my “favourites”.

Stefanie Tieste (Karlsruher Stummfilmtage)
Where to begin? This year the programme was again very strong and I hardly managed to duck out of a film – I guess I just have to accept the fact that I’m the one “who’s going to see anything, anyway”. I could do worse, reputation wise… So what comes to my mind when thinking of this year’s festival?

“The Spanish Dancer” was certainly my favourite evening event. I have not only been waiting to see this film but also especially this restoration for quite a while (thinking of the fact that I saw Kevin Brownlow’s material being scanned at Haghefilm when I paid a visit in December 2010 and the restoration being completed while I did my internship there). This great film even was made better by the music by Donald Sosin. What a pity that he couldn’t be there for the performance!

Really nice surprises for me were the W.W. Jacobs films that were screened at the end of some of the festival days. They were entertaining, humorous, refreshing, the perfect ending for a long festival day, bringing you into the mood to spend several hours at the café afterwards, discussing film.

And of course, being very much involved in the study of the middle ages in early silent cinema at the moment, I have to list “The coming of Columbus”: A 40 minute feature from 1912 with absolutely beautiful stencil colour, telling the story of the discovery of America in quite an advanced way. For me, this was my personal discovery of the festival which animated me to do more research for my dissertation topic.

All in all, the 2012 Pordenone Silent Film Festival will be an edition to remember and there are a lot of films I want to see again…

David Wyatt (Film Historian and Regular Bristol Silents Contributor)
The three for this year’s Giornate for me were:
The Goose Woman (1925): Even though I’d seen it before. Beautifully directed with every shot contributing to overall plot, characterisation etc. Not a second wasted.

PARIS 1900 Phono Cinema Theatre: Just great to see all those artistes in long lost films restored, often with (stencil) colour and sound. (one question – we’ve seen ‘Little Tich and his Big Boots’ from the NFA in prints with what we all thought was the original disc sound. (orchestra and effects) Here it was shown with piano accompaniment. Was what we always thought was the original sound really a fake then?

The Skippers Wooing: (1922): The W.W. Jacobs features are now my favourite British silent comedies. I saw HEAD OF THE FAMILY at the British Silent festival -my favourite at Cambridge – but missed A WILL AND A WAY both times. (I missed the first night, so missed THE PATSY which might have been one of my favourites otherwise).

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