Watch your step, Pordenauts. Leaving the Verdi after the first afternoon of screenings at this sun-soaked Giornate, I almost walked into the path of the Pordenone Pnthlon relay race. A timely reminder that this festival of silent cinema is a marathon not a sprint, so get set, but don’t tear off too fast, we have eight days ahead of us.
Which is my way of saying welcome home, dear readers, to a mini-blogathon of sorts, and my first impressions of this, the 42nd Pordenone Silent Film Festival. These are the impressions that count, as one is always told when choosing which shoes to wear to a job interview. So the Giornate del Cinema Muto started as it meant to go on, picking up on last year’s Ruritanian programme for a second year of royal rumbles and dastardly diplomacy. The first offering this year was Spain’s La Reina Joven/The Young Queen (Magin Muria, 1916), in which some very 20th-century anti-royalist politics were played out against a picturesque backdrop of state balls and mounted parades. Shades of Emily Davison in one heart-stopping moment.
We were also treated to our first taste of western superstar Harry Carey – more to come from him – and something very diverting from the Rediscoveries strand. The wonderful Pauline Fredericks starred in maternal melodrama The Love that Lives (Robert G. Vignola, 1917). A mother, beset by tragedy and misogyny on all sides, sacrifices her personal morality to give her young son a better start in life… oh dear. Soon he is boarding at a very modern technical college, and she is living in sin.
The coincidences that power this plot may be excessively contrived, but the emotional heft is substantial and the body count unsettlingly high. It’s a great performance from Fredericks, whose distinctive poise adds credibility to any far-fetched scenario. And this worm turned so well. When Fredericks dispatched a molester with a desk spike, I think many of us cheered a little. Some dramas are as old as time. Discount the final moralising intertitle and this was a corker. Many thanks to Philip Carli for sterling accompaniment. And our thoughts to that master of melodrama, the late David Mayer, to whom this screening was dedicated.
It has been a year of losses, and many sadly absent friends were heralded at tonight’s gala. Jay Weissberg announced that the Transatlantic Echoes strand curated by Ulrich Rüdel and Steve Massa is similarly dedicated to David Wyatt, and the entire programme to Russell Merritt.
Thus a moving moment of reflection, and a pleasingly loud tribute, preceded tonight’s sublime gala screening of Julien Duvivier’s Breton maritime drama La Divine Croisière (1929), accompanied by Antonio Coppola’s beautiful new score, played by Octuor de France. Of course this was a stunning film, with Duvivier’s camera artfully pulling back to show the scale of expansive coastal skies, the terrifying waves and leaping flames, and leaning in close to capture the full humanity of some very expressive, lived-in faces. A boat and its crew are sent on a voyage that is doomed to fail, by a callous capitalist. But on shore, his lovestruck daughter, betrothed to the captain, and a softhearted pastor, refuse to believe that all hope is lost and muster a rescue party.
I was fairly besotted with this film, with its grace and raw feeling combined. It’s a film about a community torn apart by class struggle, roused through solidarity. A film that stages a miracle, but leaves you with no illusions as to the fallibility of human nature and the human spirit. Silent films are often characterised as sentimental and there was plenty of that today, which I savoured, but this was a film of rare substance. And Coppola’s score was just right: nuanced, never overstated, even in the storms and riots. A triumphant start to the festival.
Intertitle of the Day
Every single card in the Duvivier film was a work of art, but I’ll take “Assassin!” as my pick for today.
Silent London Intertitle of the Day
We saw an intriguing British print of an American Toto comedy, His Busy Day (1918), with Cockneyfied intertitles. Toto looks lasciviously at a pastry: “A pie in the mush is worth two in the hand!”
- Sartorial trend of the day: Did you pack a little pattern in your suitcase in honour of Sonia Delaunay? Many of us did…
- Mini-theme of the day: fires and firefighters. I was especially taken with the precise display of firefighting techniques offered in Die Berliner Feuerwehr mit Ihren Neuen Automobil-Fahrzeugen (1910/11). Nifty ladderwork!
- You can read more about the festival, and all of the films, on the Giornate website.
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