To Save and Project: The 10th MoMA International Festival of Film Preservation “gets off to a quick and dirty start” today, as the New York Post‘s Lou Lumenick puts it, but first, Glenn Kenny: “The slate this year is co-programmed by the great critic J. Hoberman and the spectrum of material is gratifyingly wide, ranging from pre-code Hollywood pictures… to Peter Brooks’s seminal quasi-doc London time capsule Tell Me Lies to the latest expansion of Once Upon a Time in America to anarchist films of the Spanish Civil War.”
It’s today’s opening pre-code double that’s nabbed most of the attention so far. Lumenick: “At 4 o’clock they’re showing John Francis Dillon’s jaw-dropping Call Her Savage , starring Clara Bow in her penultimate screen role as a boozing ‘half-breed’ who marries a wealthy drug addict (Monroe Owsley) before being rescued by her childhood sweetheart (Gilbert Roland) from back on the reservation. It’s a virtual catalogue of things that would be banned by mid-1934.” Writing for Artforum, Melissa Anderson calls it “more lurid than anything Lee Daniels could ever dream up—Call Her Savage has whips, booze, dope, v.d., attempted rape and child molestation, intimations of bestiality, girl fights, gay bars, streetwalking, and a dead baby. It was, in short, the perfect comeback vehicle for Bow, who had been dropped by Paramount in 1931 after she suffered a nervous breakdown.” In short, it’s “a standout among the 75 titles on view.”
At 6:30 pm, it’s Raoul Walsh‘s Wild Girl (1932), which Glenn Kenny calls “an odd delight” at the top of his excellent appreciation. Farran Nehme notes that it stars Joan Bennett “in her lissome blonde phase” as Salomy Jane, who “isn’t really wild, she’s just in tune with nature, a girl-woman roaming the forest and playing with the local children. Walsh has the magnificent ability to mash up genres and keep control of the tone and pacing. Here we have a Western, complete with a stagecoach, a corrupt and lascivious businessman with designs on Salomy Jane, and a handsome stranger (Charles Farrell) who rides into town on a mission of revenge. Except, it’s also something of a fairy tale. The movie was filmed in the Sequoia National Forest, and the enormous trees give Walsh ample opportunity to film Bennett among the enormous roots and trunks like a tiny woodland sprite…. It’s a pre-Code, with Bennett bathing naked in a pond… It’s a romance, as of course Salomy and the stranger will find each other and fall in love. It’s a social drama–a lynching scene mid-movie includes a haunting, blurry camera effect and is genuinely harrowing.”
In the New York Times, Dave Kehr talks with Joshua Siegel, “an associate curator in the museum’s department of film and the organizer of this year’s festival,” about why this year’s screenings are still “being presented the old-fashioned way: on film.” He also notes that “the timely topic of the American presidency” surfaces in more than a few programs, and dwells longest on the restoration of one film in particular:
The negative of Lola, the debut film of the French director Jacques Demy (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg), was destroyed in a fire in 1970. A search conducted by Agnès Varda, Demy’s widow, turned up a print made from the original negative in the archives of the BBC. But because it was a print made for television, it had very low contrast (a requirement of the broadcast technology of the time), as well as extensive damage.
A new negative was made from that print using traditional photochemical methods, but not until this year, when the Groupama Gan Foundation for Cinema and the Technicolor Foundation for Cinema Heritage undertook a digital restoration, did Lola’s black-and-white, wide-screen images regain their original depth and luster. The results were “printed out” to 35-millimeter, and the film will be shown that way on Friday in the presence of its star, Anouk Aimée.
Aimée will stay in town for a screening on Monday, October 15, of a new print of Claude Lelouch’s A Man and a Woman (1966), co-presented by MoMA and the Academy Film Archive.
In the Philippine Star, Bibsy M. Carballo recounts the history of Manuel Conde’s Genghis Khan: “The classic Filipino motion picture unearthed after 60 years in a Venetian vault was first panned by the locals at the Times Theater in Manila in 1950, then praised at the Venice Film Festival in 1952 by critics with the head of United Artists stating, ‘Your film echoes the best of Eisenstein.’ We can imagine Conde muttering under his breath ‘Sino si Eisenstein?’ as his masterpiece, the first Filipino film to win international acclaim, was cited for outstanding technical achievement. A screening held in Paris in 1954 was the last heard of it.” MoMA points out that Genghis Khan “was a noted favorite of the novelist and critic James Agee, who wrote a narration for American audiences to help explain the original Tagalog dialogue and historical details,” and Carballo adds: “It is said Agee narrated the film in English for $1.”
Update, 10/12: At Thompson on Hollywood, Beth Hanna notes that the festival “will unveil the restored version of Roberto Rossellini’s Il Generale della Rovere, presented for the first time since the film’s premiere in 1959 at the Venice Film Festival, where it won the Golden Lion in its original uncut glory. Talk about a once-in-a-half-century opportunity.”
Update, 10/22: “Where to begin?” asks Fernando F. Croce at the top of his overview of the festival at Film Comment: “At the beginning of the medium itself, surely, with a pair of features from Giovanni Pastrone, the Italian pioneer whose 1914 epic Cabiria reportedly had D.W. Griffith himself taking notes. Offering a more intimate story without abandoning grandiose emotions, Il Fuoco (1915) chronicles the spiraling relationship between an artist and his muse, a fitting narrative for the launching of the filmmaker’s own dark-eyed Galatea, Pina Menichelli. Swathed in predatory furs and feathers, Menichelli swans and swoons, a force of nature who literalizes the fire of the film’s title by smashing a desk lamp and comparing her wild passion to the ensuing flames. Tigre Reale (1916), about a troubled Russian countess juggling lovers, builds to an even more incendiary climax inside a burning theater, though not before Menichelli shuttles back and forth between Roman drawing rooms and snowy Siberian fields. Brimming with D’Annunzio-like sensuality and often surprisingly modern camerawork (one brief, striking half-circular pan moves from the tenors on stage to audiences rapt in their seats, all viewed from the heroine’s balcony seat), these are silents with an unmistakable operatic timbre.”
Update, 11/1: R. Emmet Sweeney samples the rarities for Film Comment, among them, Robert Florey‘s The Face Behind the Mask (1941): “Peter Lorre, that emblem of Hollywood foreign-ness, gets a rare starring role in this Columbia Pictures cheapie as naïve Hungarian immigrant Janos Szabo, fresh off the boat in NYC. The film begins with the epigram ‘Just a few years ago—when a voyage to America meant adventure and not flight…’ which makes clear that Szabo is not seeking a better life but any life at all. Lorre looks thinned out, which further emphasizes the wide ovals of his eyes, emitting an innocent eagerness to catch a break, but when he descends into criminality, he just as eagerly breaks those who are eager to catch him. His face becomes scarred in a fire, making him unemployable, the U.S. becoming just another land of penury. Szabo arrives with dreams, and ends in nightmares.”