“Reporting on the magnificent Cinema Ritrovato festival at Bologna has become a tradition with us,” writes David Bordwell, “but it’s become harder to find time during the event to write an entry. The program has swollen to 600 titles over eight days, and attendance has shot up as well; the figure we heard was over 2000 souls…. Ritrovato is becoming the Cannes of classic cinema: diverse, turbulent, and overwhelming.” So what he and Kristin Thompson have decided to do—for now—is “write up just one day,” yesterday, June 29.
And the day began with Holger-Madsen‘s Ned Med Vaabnene! (Lay Down Your Arms!, 1914), “a big Danish production, based on a popular anti-war novel by the German Bertha von Suttner,” followed by Werner Hochbaum’s Morgen beginnt das Leben (Life Begins Tomorrow, 1933), “a sort of anthology of 1920s International Style devices”; a panel with three American studio archivists; William Wellman‘s You Never Know Women (1926), “an exercise in good old classical storytelling” and The Man I Love (1929); and Raj Kapoor’s Awara (The Vagabond, 1951), which “takes us across 24 years and as many ups and downs as a mini-series might offer. Not to mention Kapoor’s vigorous visual style, with huge sets, vivacious fantasy sequences, and traces of 1940s Hollywood hysteria.”
In Mother India (1957), Nargis plays Radha, whose face “is a screen on which [director Mehboob] Khan projects a film inside a film,” writes Lukas Foerster. “I have to admit that I prefered the much weirder, sometimes almost german-sex-comedy-like second half to the socialist-realism-infused tiered-people-staring-in-profile-into-the-future first half. Of course, this kind of partitioning isn’t really useful in a film that switches gear completely every few minutes and that never shies away of undercutting all kinds of poetics in the spur of the moment (the urge of the moment always takes precedent over the Big Picture).”
The Hitler Gang (1944): super-villain origin story, physical transformation included – great fun to kick off the festival #CinemaRitrovato
— photogénie (@photogenie_be) June 29, 2014
Writing for the International Cinephile Society, David Acacia notes that, for the second year, Il Cinema Ritrovato “has included a section Il Giappone parla! where 35mm prints of early Japanese talkies are projected.” On Saturday, Yasujirô Ozu’s The Only Son (1936) opened the series. “In a troubled global economy, where brilliant students finish school only to find employment in menial jobs that require less than their intelligence can accommodate, Ozu’s film—made nearly 80 years ago—is just as relevant now as it was in 1936. This is a sign of why Ozu is truly such a master: whether bemoaning a system that deprives its people, or describing a parental-filial relationship, his was an eye always sensitive to subjects with the potential to endure throughout posterity.”
The festival’s on through July 5 and, as more dispatches appear, we’ll be making note of them here.
Updates, 7/1: Alfred Machin’s La fille de Delft (1914) “is a simple tale of childhood love and the cruel twists of fate,” writes Anke Brouwers for photogénie. “This type of melodramatic love story was of course well-worn even by 1914 standards, but Machin manages to make it worthwhile and even quite touching through his controlled compositions of rural Dutch (actually Belgian) landscapes and relaxed staging practices…. Maudite soit la guerre (1914) was restored by Cinematek and Eye Institute. The collaboration resulted in a stunning recreation of the original color scheme of the film.”
Clarence Tsui for the Hollywood Reporter: “A film historian traveling around Europe to look for a long-disappeared film, veteran filmmakers and actors reflecting on their work in the tail-end of the second world war—on paper, Sperduti nel buio appears to be quite a prosaic and specialist-driven premise. Against the odds, cinematographer-director Lorenzo Pezzano has conjured a documentary which is engaging for cinephiles and interesting for the casual movie-goer: it’s a piece which would satisfy the interest in film buffs about the search for lost movies, and a clarion call for more support to be dedicated to film research and conservation.”
Updates, 7/2: “One of the supreme cinematic experiences of my life,” declares David Cairns, so you know that’s saying something. He’s talking about seeing The Merry Widow (1925), “‘personally directed’—personally!—by Erich von Stroheim, in the Piazza Maggiore, under the stars, with an audience of thousands, and music by the Orchestra del Teatro Communale di Bologna, conducted by Stefanos Tsialis, the Franz Lehar themes recomposed by Maud Nelissen.”
Tom Paulus at photogénie on Wellman’s The Man I Love: “For auteurists looking for the Wellman touch, it’s mainly visible in brief grace notes, like the decision to pause for longer than a beat on the clueless expression of a horse while the romantic leads cavort between the haystacks of a New York bound freighter. It’s moments like this that show the movies could still be eloquent without words.”
Wellman’s good at finding rough poetry in stale dialogue but most of all in environment, a talent that’s also on display in the elaborate opening scene of You Never Know Women (1926), in which Florence Vidor’s Russian vaudevillian is almost hit by a falling beam in the kind of late-night New York setting surrounded by the rumble of the El straight out of Ashcan painting and Fritz Lang’s Scarlet Street.
But there’s something else that stirred our interest here, other than Victor Milner’s pre-Sunrise lab work with superimposition and a flashlight chase in an abandoned theatre that looks ahead to both Metropolis and Lady from Shanghai. It’s a penetrating Russian flavor in late twenties Hollywood, “Canned Borscht” if you will. You Never Know Women is part of a trend involving the depiction of the vaudeville stock company milieu that peaked, arguably, with John Ford’s recently rediscovered Upstream (1927) and Russian émigré Rouben Mamoulian’s Applause (1929). The hold of the vaudeville aesthetic over the late silents and, especially, the early sound era, also accounts for the presence of El Brendel as a Russian clown with a goose act straight out of Ford.
Update, 7/3: “If some anti-cinema super-villain ever wanted to wipe out most of the world’s die-hard cinephiles, this would be the perfect place to start,” writes photogénie editor Bart Versteirt, who offers quick takes on John Farrow’s The Hitler Gang (1944) something of an origin story, craftily executed but marked by a levity that—in light of the subject matter—might leave a bitter taste”; Pabst’s Der Letzte Akt (1955), “an inspired account of Hitler’s last days, strikingly similar in storyline to the recent Der Untergang (Oliver Hirschbiegel, 2004), but less sensationalist”; Wellman’s The Star Witness (1931); and Renoir’s Une partie de campagne (1936).
Update, 7/4: The DVD Awards jury, chaired by Peter von Bagh—other members: Lorenzo Codelli, Alexander Horwath, Mark McElhatten, Paolo Mereghetti and Jonathan Rosenbaum—has announced this year’s winners. Here‘s the fully annotated list.
Update, 7/7: “Il Cinema Ritrovato may be the world’s best film festival!” exclaims David Cairns in the Notebook. “Telluride and Marrakech are stunning in their own ways, but for a concentrated immersion in film history, I’ve never experienced anything like Bologna.” This is one terrific and terrifically entertaining overview.
Update, 7/8: “The world of William Wellman shows great overlap with that of the other great ‘masculine’ directors Raoul Walsh and Howard Hawks, just as there are considerable parallels in their biographies and personalities.” So begins a terrific piece by Tom Paulus at photogénie.
Updates, 7/10: “‘Every self-respecting bandit longs to be romantic and mysterious,’ says Vladimir Dubrovskij, the hero of Riccardo Freda’s early masterpiece Aquila Nera.” Lukas Foerster: “This is not only a great line in itself, it might also serve as a key to all characters in Freda’s films: In a way, all of them are self-respecting, no matter their particular occupation. Especially bad guys, and even very weak characters, like the beyond stupid emperor in Teodora, imperatrice di Bisanzio: He is weak in a decidedly self-respecting way, if only because he constantly feels the need to articulate his stupidity, his gullibility. Freda’s characters aren’t just victims to, or objects of a narrative drive external to themselves: never just bandits, always self-respecting bandits. The ‘outer agenda’ of the intricate plotting is always matched (complemented? complicated?) by the respective inner agendas of the heroes, antagonists, love interests, sidekicks etc.”
David Cairns caught a few of the Italian shorts “culled from the compendium films that were so popular in the 50s and 60s.”
Update, 7/11: With his latest film, Socialism, Peter von Bagh looks “closely in the documentarian and re-enacted representations of working-class struggles and utopias, and manages to draw inspiration, invention and even flickers of hope in the ‘beautiful dreams’ as evoked by revolutionary and progressive filmmakers down the years about how society can change for the better.” Clarence Tsui in the Hollywood Reporter: “Divided into 18 chapters—all of them begun with quotes from pioneering left-wing thinkers and writers—von Bagh’s 68-minute piece is an intelligent, introspective but admittedly Euro-centric collage of images of films which, in a grand statement in the fine-print of the final credits, are said to have ‘testified to a century of socialism.’ While Jean-Luc Godard (who named his previous film Film Socialism) has now mischievously reduced his cinema to just a society of images, von Bagh still presses on in looking for glimpses of just societies in those images—a honorable gesture in such trying times.”
Updates, 7/12: Why Be Good? “was one of the hottest tickets you could come by,” notes Variety‘s Scott Foundas in his overview of Il Cinema Ritrovato 2014, which “screened the 1929 Vitaphone feature in a sterling new restoration. One of the more than 100 feature films directed by the extremely industrious William A. Seiter (grandfather of screenwriters Ted and Nick Griffin), Why Be Good? is, as its title implies, one of the many vivacious, morally loose romantic comedies Hollywood made in droves before the imposition of the Breen Office Production Code in 1934.” Foundas also catches up with Richard Lester, and writes about one of this year’s “most exciting finds,” Lenin in Poland, “Russian director Sergei Yutkevich’s audacious 1966 biopic of the Soviet revolutionary leader.”
“To me the biggest revelation of the festival was the program of Polish anamorphic widescreen films,” writes Kristin Thompson. “Representing most of the major Polish directors working in widescreen in the 1960s, these were shown in 35mm, mostly in original release prints from the period.” She also writes about “the great classics of the early post-colonial period in India, following World War II and independence from Great Britain, [which] are seldom seen, even by film historians.”
Updates, 7/14: David Cairns starts over with an entry on his first day, writing up “plenty of enjoyable screenings that wouldn’t quite make a full blog post on their own.”
Lukas Foerster on Pabst’s Der Letzte Akt: “A strange, deeply conflicted film that now, more than a week after seeing it, reminds me of a piece by Frederic Jameson on Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon, in which he suggests that (from his still rather orthodox Marxist pov) ‘what is good about the film is what is bad about it.'”
At the International Cinephile Society, Marc van de Klashorst writes about Wellman and David Acacia reviews Two Acres of Land (1953): “Dualistic in genre, Bimal Roy expertly reconciles the melodramatic thematic developments with its realist tone. There’s an enormous amount of scope in this project, and it culminates in boldness.”
Update, 7/16: David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson post one last sweeping round of notes.
Updates, 7/19: David Filipi reports on the festival for Film Comment, calling it “perhaps the most enjoyable and egalitarian week of archival and repertory cinema to be found anywhere in the world.”
“In a festival dedicated to unearthing forgotten fragments of film history, the identity politics of whose work gets preserved, restored, and re-circulated is always a major point of consideration,” writes Maggie Hennefeld at the House Next Door. “Specific threads on early Japanese talkies, post-1948 Indian social-protest films, and the geopolitical diversity of the fallen Ottoman Empire tempered the Ritrovato’s otherwise Western-centric tendencies. One program title, ‘India’s Endangered Classics,’ made explicit the links between South Asian histories of political instability and the contingency of which film histories get made visible in the archival festival circuit…. Meanwhile, ‘Views of the Ottoman Empire, 1896-1914’ provoked controversy for precisely the reasons that the Indian program circumvented further criticism and scrutiny. The Ottoman Empire, which once encompassed the Balkans, the Middle East, North Africa, and much of Central Asia, incited meta-archival concerns due to its linguistic heterogeneity (problems involving intertitle circulation) and the cultural challenges of archiving a multi-national Empire now 100 years fallen.”
David Cairns has just recapped his second day.
Update, 8/7: The Toronto Review‘s posted a sweeping report from Moen Mohamed.