We’re at the halfway mark, and let me be abundantly clear: I’m not ready to go home yet. But should you be homesick, there was more than a taste of London in the Verdi today, with Walter Forde’s chase comedy Would You Believe It? (1929) for starters, and even Harry Piel or rather Harry Peel transported us to the Big Smoke for his Rivalen (1923). More of which anon.
More authentically, Jacques Haïk’s Se London!, filmed in the summer of 1927, gave us the view from the streets, whisking us from Hyde Park to Whitechapel in dashing style. I was lucky enough to write about this one for the catalogue, so I was cockahoop to see it on the big screen, with London’s own John Sweeney bringing out the spirit and style of this characterful travelogue. Especially, in the really beautifully photographed Tower Bridge sequence – a real highlight of this film.
For me, Harry Piel has redeemed himself with the Mission: Impossible-esque Rivalen, which is to say that I thought it was loopy – in a good way! We beging, more or less, in London at a ball decorated like the mouth of hell (no, I don’t mean the Northern line, lol), where a dastardly kidnapping plot unfolds, orchestrated by one Ravello. A complex plot, indeed. There’s a woman called Julietta who is a Big Mood. And there is a robot, who eventually destroys the place in spectacular style. But no matter as Harry and his beloved Evelyn are well away and on to their next set of adventures soon, including a trick bridge (perhaps intended to be a budget reconstruction of Tower Bridge?), a submarine, a tank submerged in the river, and as forced wedding, which we are promised Piel will deal with in the next instalment. We left our lovers teetering on the brink of happiness, sadly. A very romantic cliffhanger.
The day started in Paris, of course, with Le P’tit Parigot – an episode elevated by some more stunning Delaunay décor and sadly marred by an extended blackface gag exacerbated by the intertitle dialogue.
From thence to Brazil, and the rediscovered documentary tracing one of the most famous rivers in the world. You can read the full story of the rediscovery of Amazonas, Maior Rio do Mundo (Amazon: Longest River in the World, 1918), which was stolen from the director, Silvino Santos, shortly after it was made, here in The Observer. The screening this afternoon felt like a very special ciné-concert, with gorgeous music from José María Serralde Ruiz . This is a beautiful film, and an engrossing one, which shifts from picturesque views of the river to a study of the working river – of the fishing and agriculture that takes place along its length. The preparation of freshly caught dugong was not for the squeamish, but plenty here of interest in the harvesting of rubber, cotton, cassava root, brazil nuts and more. Very beautiful, and full of intrigue, even if, as the catalogue points out, the intimacy of the camerawork and the tlne of the captions are at odds.
And tonight we were back on the Brittany coast, where faithful women wait for their men to return from the sea. Though Pêcheur d’Islande (Jacques de Baroncelli, 1924) had a different tone to La Divine Croisière indeed. Young, sweet Gaud (Sandra Milovanoff) hopes to marry Yann (Charles Vanel), but he has chosen the vocation of fishing in the Icelandic waters. It’s hard, and dangerous, and more than that, he claims he will only marry the sea. Gaud keeps the faith, just about, but there is tragedy lurking in the icy waves, epitomised by terrifying visitation from a ghost ship, and all those memories of men lost to the sea in the past. It’s a very handsome film, beautifully shot to maximise those haunting seascapes and the equally haunted faces of the villagers. And a small note, but the intertitle though unshowy were very elegant – rigorous left-justification throughout and then a filigree “fin” to close.
The pace of the storytelling is sedate, but the editing is notably brisk, which enhanced the chilly tone of this tragic tale. It’s lyrical, but retains a cold edge. Gabriel Thibaudeau and Frank Bockius brought the lyricism to the fore with their music tonight.
Intertitle of the Day
“A load of nuts.” Brevity is the soul of this low form of wit, for which you can blame my mucky mind and not a straight-faced caption for a shipment of brazils in Amazonas, Maior Rio do Mundo.
- Purr-denone: We’re an audience of animal lovers, but there is a special low rumble of approval that emerges from the hall whenever a cat is on screen, be it a kitten or a jaguar.
- Women and Film History International. We met today! You should join, and share your fabulous research and programming with like-minded inquisitors. Details here.
- Tapioca. Love it, or hate it, it’s cropping up regularly at the festival. A new food trend?
- You can read more about the festival, and all of the films, on the Giornate website.
- Silent London will always be free to all readers. If you enjoy checking in with the site, including reports from silent film festivals, features and reviews, please consider shouting me a coffee on my Ko-Fi page.