Sunday, 1 October 2017

Bellissimo! The Crowd (1928), Carl Davis, Pordenone Prima Parte

My first time at Le Giornate del Cinema Muto after years of promising myself… and finally I’m home or at least hotel. I started the day admiring the sunrise over Piazza San Marco in Venice and finished it watching one of silent film’s greatest natural wonders. King Vidor’s The Crowd was projected in a packed Teatro Verdi with Carl Davis conducting his own music as played by the Orchestra San Marco di Pordenone. Saturdays get that much better than these.

The Crowd never disappoints and to see it on the Verdi’s huge screen brought out the best from this film of so many flavours. James Murray’s John Sim has never appeared so desperate: childlike, lazy, living in the moment with a promise for tomorrow, he is an everyman to whom life happens whilst he’s busy doing – or not doing – other things. This is perhaps one of Christian Scientist King Vidor’s most overtly didactic pictures.

Tragedy strikes and there was a collective groan of shock at the moment that changes the picture’s mood. John falls apart just as he was in bits when his wife gives birth, or when asked to just buckle down at his day job. Some may find Sim annoying but he’s in all of us.

He is right to – finally – recognise his reliance on his wife Mary and, as I’ve said before in a previous raves, Eleanor Boardman gives the performance of her career as the woman who understands Jimmy Sim enough to give him the benefit of the doubt. Boardman dresses down, wears little make-up and otherwise goes the full-Gish in a performance of subtle power. A natural sophisticate, Boardman’s repeated self-conscious clutching of hands to her teeth, is a marker of her character’s gauche innocence, an element of her fine sense of detail in a technically intricate performance which, for me, anchors the film. She’s the believable one.

Believable Boardman
Mary is also the audience representative in John’s fantasy world, just like her we see his potential and his natural goodness but there are moments when we feel like Jane on the beach; cooking and looking after the children whilst James larks about on his ukulele. It’s funny but we’re not the ones wiping the sand off the cake and chasing him to do his bit but we are waiting for him to turn the corner.

But that moment is not inevitable and just as John hits the jackpot with his catchy phrase the family descent begins.

For its immaculate portrait of married and other life, The Crowd is one of the high points of cinema as art and Carl Davis’ score pays respect to its source. It is all too easy for orchestra to overwhelm images and for composition to foreshadow narrative but we are in safe hands with Mr Davis. This score is a soulful and richly toned as the film and the booming strings rose up through the core of the auditorium as our spirits lifted and our hearts sank. Hard to believe it was only his second silent score.  

Completamente simpatici, I believe the locals say!

I know it's 1924 but really...
We also watched: Three Days to Live (1924) in which a racially stereotyped baddie used badly-drawn tigers to drive American business men to suicide whilst also manipulating the stock market like a proper Wall Street wolf. Mauro Colombis accompanied on piano.

Various Euro westerns followed, mostly French and with one British entry, Edwin J. Collins’ The Scapegrace (1913) actually being filmed at the Cricks studio the near Wild West Croydon – which makes sense as Way Out East Croydon looks nothing like the Yukon.

Then we were in the air with a series of real and pretend aviatrices culminating in the stylish, interesting but confusing L’Autre Aile (1924), directed by Henri Andréani. John Sweeney played a blinder on this one with some soaring and swooping of his own, fingers fleet and feather light.

We were brought down to earth by Roscoe Arbuckle’s flying bags of flour as all manner of comedy exploded in The Butcher Boy (1917) including a fresh-faced, stone-face performing a perfect headstand pratfall. At one point the agile Roscoe upends a bad guy in one deft move planting him dazed on a bed… reader that was me. Donald Sosin and Romano Todesco made musical sense of this madness: a riot was going on!

The long day closed and there is so much more to come. Day Two is even better!

Here's how my day began...

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