You don’t have to be superstitious to notice when the date is Friday the 13th, and conduct yourself cautiously as a result. And of course I am not superstitious – unless you count the fact that I am convinced I willed this evening’s gala into existence by the power of my mind. But that’s a story for later on…
If the fates were against us, however, I’d venture that we broke the curse first thing in the morning with the joyful concluding part of Le P’tit Parigot – no final instalment has been so hotly anticipated since Succession. And it turned out that it was all… a movie. Who knew? Really this was the only way that it could end, and made a triumph out of its own curious design. It all made sense too, if you can remember as far back as the rugby match. And as for the joke about the high cost of cinema production… this was effectively René le Somptier’s last film,. He made a sound documentary for the Navy in the 1930s, but basically returned to journalism after this, I think.
Harry Piel knows a thing or two about budgets too I will warrant and this morning saw his biggest, bounciest film yet. A Zorro-esque caper shot in Italy with epic fight scenes, masses of plot, and epic cast and lots of humour, Zigano, Der Brigant von Monte Diavolo (Harry Piel, 1925) was hugely enjoyable, and all the more so for simply terrific accompaniment from Neil Brand and Frank Bockius. No one better than Brand to bring out the best of such a larger-than-life film.
And no better way to chase that than with a dive into the worlds of the avant-garde and haute couture before lunch. The package of Sonia Delaunay films included everything from early colour fashion films to classics such as Ballet Mécanique (Fernand Léger, Dudley Murphy, 1924), Germaine Dulac’s Disque 957 (1928) and Anémic Cinéma (Marcel Duchamp, 1926). Invigorating, and beautiful in equal measure. And masterclass student Andrea Goretti rose to the occasion.
If I were Harry Piel, or a character in a Ruritanian drama, I would simply have a doppelgänger and my life would be a doddle. Basically, I could be in two places at once, as I wished to be this afternoon. I wanted to see all the films, and also attend the book talks. I cut a little corners, here and there, and almost achieved my aim. Two brilliant silent film scholars were presenting today: Victoria Duckett, whose Transnational Trailblazers of Early Cinema: Sarah Bernhardt, Gabrielle Réjane, Mistinguett (University of California Press), is available to download here, and Diana W. Anselmo, author of A Queer Way of Feeling: Girl Fans and Personal Archives of Early Hollywood (University of California Press). I was thrilled to hear them talk about their work.
And yet I also managed to see a lot of slapstick: the “Marriage rows” programme including my personal highlight, a truly epic domestic fight between Sarah Duhamel and her hubby in Le Torchon Brûle ou une Querelle de Ménage (Roméo Bosetti, 1911). And a trip to Ruritania too, with the chic, gamine Mady Christians as an ambitious ambassador in the comedy Eine Frau von Format (Fritz Wendhausen, 1928). So many shenanigans ensue when she arrives in Silistria from Turkisia: some sexy cross-dressing, court flirtations, dropped shawls, gossip, practical jokes, boat stunts and a little sisterly solidarity. It’s all in the name of a landgrab, or rather a man-grab – her opposite number Count Geza (Peter C. Leska). Sparkling comedy, gorgeous sets and location and heaps of charm. I really liked Meg Morley’s accompaniment here too – just the right tone.
A short tragedy before dinner, but an intriguing one: Frank Shaw’s The Oath of the Sword (1914) was made by the Japanese American Film Company, reportedly the “first company in America to be owned, controlled and operated by Japanese”. This was a slight, but elegantly composed, story of young Japanese lovers separated when he goes to UC Berkeley to study and she stays home and meets a shipwrecked American captain… It ends in bloodshed, as these stories in silent cinema so often do, but it was refreshing to see a film of this type without yellowface, exoticism or associated histrionics. Daan van den Hurk’s music helped with the perfect light touch.
Storytime. Ten years ago I read a Mae Murray biography and my mind boggled at the description of one of her lost films, Circe, the Enchantress (Robert Z. Leonard, 1924). So much so that I copied out the paragraph and sent it to all my friends. No, of course I didn’t. I snapped the page with my cameraphone and posted it on Facebook. I assumed I would never see it, but I hoped I would. And now, thanks to a discovery in the Czech archive, and to the Giornate, I have. And boy, am I left scratching my head (which is covered in a cloud of blonde curls and a diamond tiara, naturally).
Effectively, this is a film of two halves: the orgy and the hangover. Mae is Cecilie, a party modelled on legendary Circe who transformed her male admirers into pigs. Cecilie dances, drinks, flirts and gambles like there is no tomorrow. And why not with a young William Haines at your supper table every night? A coterie of chaps ready to play “boar on the floor” and gladly? And a puncbowl nicknamed “the goblet of oblivion”? But she is besotted with the ultra-serious doctor next door (James Kirkwood) who is unimpressed with her debauches.
Let us pause for a second to consider whether we care for the opinions of a man who sees Mae Murray jiggling to hot jazz in a golden frock that moves in 17 directions at once and simply sneers? We do not. But Cecilie does, and she goes in for reform, re-installing herself at the convent where she was educated. Tragedy ensues and Cecilie is truly humbled I guess, and at her lowest and most vulnerable, the doctor begins to rethink his former opinion. Whatever. Can we return to the first half of the film and keep sipping punch from “the goblet of oblivion” again?
This was a real find, so brilliant to see to iconic Mae and her bee-stung lips in action, even if we wanted to keep the party going a little longer, rather than face the consequences. Kudos to Gunter Buchwald, Frank Bockius and newcomer Aaron van Oudenallen (on flute and sax) for a groovy, bluesy jazz score that set this this strange film on fire. Musically, a fitting double-bill with the Harlem Sketches short from 1935 with recorded soundtrack by Georges Antheil.
Meta textual Intertitle of the Day
“This outcome was not foreseen in the programme!” The conclusion to Le P’tit Parigot took us all by surprise, even the “villain”.
Yiddish Intertitle of the Day
“He’s gone meshuga after viewing a sex education film!” De Er Splittergale (1919)
Avant-garde Intertitle of the Day
Every single baffling, revolving line in Anémic Cinéma (Marcel Duchamp, 1926). I loved them.
- Many congratulations to the worthy winners of the Jean Mitry prize: Natassia Noussinova and Heide Schlüpmann.
- You can read more about the festival, and all of the films, on the Giornate website.
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