Friday, 14 July 2017

The return of KB’s Shorts… Kennington Bioscope with John Sweeney and Cyrus Gabrytsch

"It's easier to go straight with you..." says Billy. Don't count on it Leila honey...
My week of abbreviated wonders... It’s interesting that, after seeing a 132 minute cut of an approximately 600 minute film (Greed – see previous post), I find myself watching three Pathe 9.5 mm films that contain proportionately more of their source material. All came from the collection of Kevin Brownlow and from an age when this was almost all there was... no streaming in HD, Blu-ray of Betamaz.

Pathé invented this smaller stock for home consumption and as the Bioscope’s master of the magic lantern, Chief Projectionist Dave Locke, pointed out, the projection area is almost the same as 16mm and, with the right illumination it was perfectly possible to project them unaided onto the Cinema Museum’s screen. Mr Locke can make almost anything appear on that screen and these three examples included sumptuous close-ups, massed battle scenes and Billy Haines and his cheeky grin!

Billy and Leila in a publicity shot for Jimmy Valentine
The films were not always authorised hence Pathé’s issuing of a number of MGM titles, re-edited and cut to look like different films. Here was Jimmy le Mysteries (1928) that just happened to look a lot like Alias Jimmy Valentine directed by Jack Conway and staring the puck-ish Haines. Haines was one of the true silent greats, a natural on screen who could fool around whilst all the time being a flick-switch away from the drama.

He plays the eponymous Jimmy, an audacious safe cracker who, accompanied by his cartoonish side-kicks Karl Dane and Tully Marshall, sets about reducing the current accounts of banks across New York. He’s a dandy cracksman and it’s all a bit of fun until he meets Leila Hyams trying to stop her younger brother getting into a scrap.

Lional Berrymore tests Billy's alibi...
Jimmy likes this one so much that it doesn’t even matter that her dad runs the biggest bank in town, for this girl he’s willing to go straight, heck, for this gal, he’s willing to actually get a job and in her old man’s bank! Has Jimmy really turned over a new leaf and, even if he has, will the dogged Inspector (Lionel Barrymore) let him get away with it.

As with all three of tonight’s Pathé precis, this demi-Jimmy made perfect sense and was edited well enough to retain a sense of its original narrative and drama. John Sweeney accompanied in dynamic fashion, vamping along in cine-character as each of the four reels were replaced.

Next up, a tale the French company called, Money Does Not Bring Happiness (another link to Greed!) known better as The Younger Generation (1929) and directed by none other than Frank Capra. As with the first film this was intended to include sound but as Variety noted, this was not entirely successful: “… as bad as it can be!”

Luckily Pathé produced a silent and we had Cyrus Gabrysch’s excellent accompaniment instead adding effortless classical lines and under-pinning the emotions of this light-touch drama about a family rift.

Family miss-fortunes
The Goldfish family – a possible reference to big Sam Goldwyn’s original name – live in a tight-knit Jewish neighbourhood in a tenement block. Their eldest son Morris is a bit full of himself and beats up little sister Suzanne for giving his cake to her pal Eddie. A fight breaks out and Morris knocks an oil lamp over and, whilst his sis escapes across to Eddie's, he collects all of the valuables first. His mother (Rosa Rosanova) is impressed, he will be a big businessman one day, whilst his father (Jean Hersholt… yet another Greed connection…) is less sure, knowing that, basically, money can’t buy you love…

The years pass and Morris has become rich (and Ricardo Cortez), sis has turned into lovely Lina Basquette and she’s still seeing Eddie (Rex Lease) a piano player who big brother still considers far from suitable. The whole family live together on Morris’ immense pad with Capra frequently having his butler pulling down blinds that create the shadowy impressions of prison bars…

Ricardo Cortez faces off against Lina Basquette (TCM colorized...)
Talking of which, Eddie makes a mistake by agreeing a gig distracting the crowds singing on a float whilst some mobsters rob a jewellers. It doesn’t go well but Suzanne persuades her lover to do the time even though he was scarcely aware of the scheme. He gets sent down but the harshest punishment comes from Morris who exiles Suzanne as well saying that even her parents disown her.

Tragically this is not true… Time passes, more money is made and Father never smiles… is there any chance of love finding a way?

Simone Genevois takes to horse in la Merveilleuse vie de Jeanne d'Arc (1929)
Lastly an epic two reeler and believe me when I say you would scarce credit how many thousands of men and horses can be transposed onto 9.5mm! This was La merveilleuse vie de Jeanne d’Arc (1929) directed by Marco de Gastyne more in the style of Gance than his Joan competitor Carl Dreyer (whose film he declared extraordinary).

Kevin Brownlow said that the studio had wanted the Dreyer film to have been an epic and it was... just not in the way they expected. The French film on the other hand was huge in scope taking seven months to film all across France with its director in search of authentic locations from Rouen to Orleans, Rheims Cathedral to the cellars of Mont St Michel. There was also a cast of thousands including at one point military extras who, having achieved their director’s objective, pushed on for greater glory only to be met with the fists of their opposition!

Simone Genevois
Simone Genevois makes for an heroic Jeanne and was exactly the right age to play the Saint being 16-17 during the shoot (she played Ivan Muzzhukhin’s young daughter in House of Mystery (1924) too!). We see her naming of the Dauphin in the cathedral and pivotal role in the defeats of the English.

Once caught, the comparisons with Dreyers trial are interesting, especially the faces of her accused. She found the filming exhausting, not just because she had to wear actual 22 kilo armour but also the emotional impact of the ending which she found hard to watch after completion.

Mr Brownlow said this 9.5 copy had helped spark the restoration of this film, and it would be one I’l like to see all the way through. Cyrus again accompanied and followed every sword thrust and parry, every heroic charge and the sadness of this remarkable young person’s final days.

Another evening of the unexpected for a packed, end of season, Bioscope. The next begins in September and it may well begin with The Goose Woman featuring one of the very best performances of the era from Louise Dresser.

And yet another good season for the Kennington Bioscope! Thanks to all those who organise, project and otherwise enable this precious cinematic resource. The Cinema Museum is also to be congratulated and deserves whatever support every genuine cinephile can give it. One of the best venues in London and surely one of the very best silent film clubs anywhere!

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