Thursday, 10 April 2014

Second wind … The Wind (1928) w Lola Perrin, Electric Cinema

In which a mighty wind blows down the Portobello Road carrying Lillian Gish with it...

This is my second post of the year on The Wind as I couldn’t resist the chance to see the film with Lola Perrin’s accompaniment and also in the almost ludicrously plush environment of Notting Hill’s Electric Cinema.

Comfort cinema...
Ms Perrin won Best Live Score in the 2011 Silent London poll in what was a vintage year and I can understand why her mesmerising, driving lines drew such praise. She blows along with the film with squalls of melancholy exactly reflecting Letty Mason’s nightmare journey: sometimes rising with her panic and always pushing forward with the certainty that there’s more to come. At times the playing is almost percussive so fierce is the finger work but Perrin’s control is absolute and she carries forward some richly rewarding themes.

By contrast Letty’s fear of the wind is the fear of being out of control when you are most desperate to stay in control. She heads out to unknown Texas to find comfort with her adopted brother but she’s quickly blown of course by his jealously protective wife Cora – a whirlwind all of her own.

The train that takes her out travels relentlessly into the wind which momentarily forces its way into Letty’s coach: she tries to be brave but she can’t hold back her fear. She seeks solace in the security of powerful men by flirting with the bullying Wirt but can’t see beyond the alien surface of the two dirt cowboys who live near her cousin, laughing off their attempt at proposing at the dance.

Here she takes comfort in the resumption of, for her, normal social routine but even this is disrupted by a passing cyclone and she is driven further into Wirt’s arms. But he’s a hollow promise offering her only extra-marital exploitation and she’s left at the mercy of her sister-in-law who marries her off to Lige.

Their wedding night is another journey into discomfort for Letty as she faces up to his – sincere – love-making as she would brace herself against the elements. She just can’t let herself go and is too uptight to see the man behind the surface he is just too alien.

He vows not to touch her again and kindly agrees to return her to the east but she must endure a storm greater than any she could even expect.

The ranchers rally round in an effort to survive and have only the longshot of bringing in the wild horses as the great “Norther” wind blows in with supernatural ferocity. Lige is their leader and reveals his true character as Letty timidly begins to respect him.

He has no option to leave her alone as the men go out in search of the horses and she is driven to the edge of her reason by the incessant battering of their homestead. The wind smashes free the cattle and breaks through walls and windows and there seems no escape. At the same time Wirt returns for his fateful reunion with Letty – can she withstand this dual assault and at last find peace?

The view from the comfy seats, beds just before the stage...
As Miss Gish suffered on screen, the audience felt inappropriately pampered in the circumstances. The Electric Cinema is an unique venue with plush armchairs, footrests and side tables for your refreshments… there are even beds down at the front of house: yes, really. The friendly staff and antique surrounds create a cinematic experience that makes you feel at home whilst at the same time enjoying the full scale cinematic experience all but trampled away in the multiplex supermarkets.

I appreciated the performances even more in this setting – Lillian Gish is indeed an uncanny and unsettling force of nature: she always takes her characters to the limit and you cannot really sit that comfortably as her disquieting intensity draws you in.

The only quibble is that print was not a great one and it is to be hoped that The Wind gets the digital clean-up it deserves and a DVD release complete with Lola Perrin’s score. There's more about Lola here...

The film was being shown as part of the annual Birds EyeView Film Festival in the Sounds and Silents strand celebrating women in jazz, playing along with film… It continues for me tonight at the BFI: a date with Gloria Swanson. On Friday 11th April there’s Lubitsch’s lovely Sumurun with that astonishing score from Amira Kheir - the same winning combination was featured last year.

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