Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Filmspotting… Carmen (1918) with Gabriel Thibadeau and Cristina Nadal, Pordenone Giorno Cinque

Choose life, choose a Russian documentary, choose an Italian serial, travelogues, documentaries… choose The Right to Happiness!? I chose somethin’ else. And the reasons? There are no reasons. Who needs reasons when you’ve got Pola Negri?

In other words, this is the point in the Giornate del Cinema Muto race when you just hang on and hope there’s a sprint finish left in the tank: film-watching here is like long-distance running but this race in Pordenone is far from lonely, the locals are friendly and a lovelier bunch of cineastes you couldn’t wish for!

Today was surely peak Pordenone in terms of content-volume a 14-hour dash filled with variety: chose food, chose sleep, chose espresso, chose to eat, chose to get a life. I chose film. Although it started off in confusion…

Alberto Capozzi, Il fiacre n. 13 (1917)
Il Fiacre N. 13 (1917) directed by Alberto A. Capozzi and Gero Zambuto is a rare example of a surviving Italian adventure serial – like Fillibus – and this one is also heavily indebted to the French and, indeed adapted from a novel by Xavier Henri Aymon Perrin, Count of Montépin. Unlike Fillibus, what we have remaining does not necessarily make sense… the first section having been heavily censored. There’s a huge amount of exposition and it’s highly-likely that this very handsome artefact has all of the right elements, just not necessarily in the right order… Who done it? Possibly all of them, apart from, maybe, the kid!

It does look very fine especially with Elena Makowska – Diva of the week! – and has some lovely composition, locations and cinematography. The first episode is a reconstruction and things gradually made more sense as we eventually resolved all of the twenty-years’ worth of plot lines.

Donald Sosin and Mauro Colombis took two each of the four episodes and coped with every unexpected twist and turn with melodic assurance.

It was now time to travel both in time and space with two documentaries. The first was the most naturalistic - Viaggio in Caucaso e Persia (1910) – a fascinating voyage of discovery captured by 26-year old Mario Piacenza in the most difficult of circumstances and yet which captures natural reactions from people who may never have seen a film let alone a movie camera. That takes an honest film-maker… the camera is always a two-way lens.

Soviet Union 1932...
Next was Aleksei Lebedev’s Daleko Na Sever (Far in the North) (1932) which showed some astonishing landscapes of soviet oil fields which looked more alien than Aelita’s Mars… huge towers crowding the landscape to fuel Stalin’s first five-year plan. This took seven in the end, despite the film’s trumpeting of soviet superiority over other European countries…

Stephen Horne accompanied both films with the eerie elegance they required, it must be strange to have to respond and react to the less defined narrative of travelogues even allowing for the director’s messaging.

A presentation was then made to the recipient of the 2017 Haghefilm Digitaal Fellowship, Samuel B. Lane, from New Mexico. Sam had been involved in restoring a collection of twenty 35mm rolls of Lumière films dated around 1896-1903 that was recently found (in their original containers) and acquired by the George Eastman Museum. A selection of the films was projected and needless to say they are beautiful slices of history. More details and the films can be found on the festival website.

Propaganda wasn’t simply limited to the Russians and we saw The Right to Happiness (1919) an American film as part of a strand celebrating the centenary of the Bolshevik Revolution…  The Red Peril: The Russian Revolution and American Anti-Bolshevism. All I can say is if this was the best USA could come up with during eth “Red Scare” then I’m really surprised they weren’t over-run by 1920. Still it is fascinating history and primary documentation if not necessarily interesting cinema.
Now for that sprint: Pola’s back and she’s got Ernst with her and they’re Carmen to get you!

Carmen (1918) directed by Lubitsch and starring Negri ended my day on a high mostly because of the latter’s incredible swagger! The story may not pay huge respect to the original – it feels like Lubitsch is straining to escape the bounds of the narrative and Pola… well Pola is in force of nature mode. It’s such a contrast to her performance in The Yellow Ticket and reveals her almost unrivalled sense of mischief: she’s so easily distracted, eyes flicking around looking for action, exasperated with the lack of male spirit around her… Harry Liedtke’s hapless Juan refuses her offer of escape from prison and she just rolls her eyes and starts to look for something more hi-energy, a bull-fighter perhaps.

There’s little evidence of the Lubitsch Touch at this stage but there’s invention and a classy pull-away in the crowd of a party that is almost the reverse of the Parisian nightclub scene from Wings shown on the festival site and from a decade later.

The musical accompaniment of Gabriel Thibadeau (piano) and Cristina Nadal (cello) brought out the playfulness and the melodrama. Cristina's playing showed how soulful and flexible the cello can be: mournful one minite and jazz-bouncy the next!

“You are a fierce man and I like it..."
Stefan Droessler’s programme notes quote Pola Negi’s memoires in which she said, “...even though the world around us was falling to pieces, Lubitsch and I shared many antic moments on the set. Perhaps we could only have flowered so successfully in the Berlin of that period…”

How many artistic movements of note come from fleeting opportunity and a relatively small group of key players? The folk at Pordenone may have a better idea than most – you feel connected to the wider silent world here and there are so many youngsters coming through, playing, programming and otherwise promoting silent film.


  1. Aie, my comment got eaten. In this post, I zeroed in on your mention of Il fiacre n. 13. I've seen the fourth part, and I had thought the rest was lost, so I'm glad to hear it survives more fully! Were the second and third parts more or less intact? (And ... if you remember, how was Fernanda Negri-Pouget in the film?)

    Thank you as always for the great festival recaps!

    1. Ah, she played Nidia in The Last Days of Pompeii! I hadn't spotted that - does well in this series and I believe those two episodes are intact- the first was censored the most? I'd like to see it again, I don't know how many hours of cinema I saw last week but there's a bit of a RAM issue in my head!!