The final day of the Giornate, for indeed this was the final day of the Giornate, was a lot like the Ryder Cup. Confused? Well bear with me as I unpack this extremely rare sporting analogy. It was a case of Europe vs the United States, with the home continent playing the first half of the day and Hollywood taking over just as the sun was about to set.
Perhaps conscious of the home advantage, Hollywood played a strong round. Tonight’s gala screening was a double-bill of Chaplin’s The Pilgrim (1923) and the unparalleled cinematic elasticity of Buster Keaton’s Sherlock, Jr (1924) with a brand new orchestral score by the wonderful Daan van den Hurk. And before that, a deep cut from silent Hollywood, William De Mille’s Conrad in Quest of his Youth (1920), starring Thomas Meighan.
But first, Europe. So this morning, a pleasant stroll through the market, savouring the last of this precious sunshine and pausing to chitchat with pals, took me to the festival’s second venue, Cinemazero and a screening of an Italian movie, a diva film no less. Ma L’Amor Mio Non Muore! (Mario Caserini, 1913) was Lyda Borelli’s debut and is simply a jewel box of beauty. Each impeccable composition drew the curtain back on an elaborate interior or bucolic view (Lake Maggiore!), with our handsome stars elegantly arranged in sumptuous costumes. It’s a tempestuous ale of espionage, romance, betrayal and opera – but it’s near impossible to look past the sheer pulchritudinous perfection of each frame. Borelli was of course capitvating and it’s no spoiler to say that she died in the end, but she did it so gorgeously I almost wanted her to get up and do it again.
Thence to France and another dive into the cold and perilous Icelandic waters, setting off once again from Paimpol and the Breton coast, with Vent Debout (René LePrince, 1923), a complex story of an idle man whose father dies a bankrupt and a suicide, leaving his son to pick up the pieces and make his own way in the world. So he takes to the sea on a fishing trawler, but after the traumatic death of a young colleague washes up in Paris to drink away his troubles. But you can’t do that, you see… and sooner or later those Icelandic investments must be sorted out.
This had some beautiful moments, though the central romantic was a little pallid, even if she died propose with a winning smile in the end. Much better on sea than on land, as a rule, with dramatic shots of the men at sea, the waves, the coast, with tints and tones visible on this new restoration. Really lovely accompaniment from Meg Morley, also.
Harry Piel, I am reminded, is supremely comfortable on land, sea or in the air. A man you can take anywhere. And what is better than a film with Harry Piel in it? A film with two Harry Piels in it. And what could possibly top that, but the mischievous presence of one Marlene Dietrich? Here she disproves yet again her claim that she never made silent films by appearing as Yvette, a minxy jewel thief or rather “a ‘lady’ who puts her intellectual – and other – qualities exclusively into the service of worthwhile enterprises”, in a rollicking, glamorous German caper.
In Sein Grösster Bluff (1927), Piel plays twins who work together to get some previous jewels, destined for a Rajah in Nice (Kurt Gerron), back from Yvette, by hook or by crook. Great gags and stunts (Piel in a clothes trunk, wriggling his way of the back of a vehicle), simply divine Riviera locations and… Yvette has a moment of very ambiguous intimacy with Suzanne (Vicky Werckmeister) in the hotel in Nice. Hmmm…
Not only that but it all culminated in a fantastic, extended car chase sequence with Rolls Royces racing around the Grandes Corniches, most of which was, thrillingly, shot phantom-ride style. Take that, the rollercoasters of Blackpool. I really enjoyed this one and I take my hat off to masterclass student Timothy Rumsey who accompanied this long and action-packed film with real panache.
As Piel sped backwards in his motor down a steep and winding path, he seemed to be setting the scene perfectly for Buster’s hi-jinks later tonight. Perhaps the two continents were never in competition at all, but racing towards the same goal? Yeah I am not sure they saw it that way at the time, either.
Sadly, I couldn’t make a fair comparison. I missed the Hollywood half of the day, as duty called and I must take this show on the road to another location. This intrepid gal reporter is on an early-cinema assignment and you can be sure I will bring you a dispatch on that just as soon as I can!
Until then, arrivederci, and grazie mille for reading these blogs and sharing the phenomenon that is the Giornate with me for another year.
Intertitle of the Day
“It’s the time when honest people get up. Let’s go to bed.” The Pordenone schedule in a nutshell, in Vent Debout.
- You can read more about the festival, and all of the films, on the Giornate website.
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