Monday, 2 October 2017

Lars stars and Pola powers... Pordenone seconda parte

Day two and it was a leap into the unkown or rather the unwatched. Familiar faces in some cases but stories that had been lost or simply not been allowed out very much. I’m relatively new to this cinema muto lark and the joy is still very much there in discovery.
Why do we like silent film? It's the maths... 90% of human communication is non-verbal and perhaps our deepest instinct is to study faces, body language and the thousand tiny betrayals of true feeling. On a human level silent film is primal in more ways than one.

Today we had a number of stand-out emotional performances that spoke genuinely to our media-saturated senses in ways our monkey-minds instantly recognised: Handsome Lars Hanson’s infinite bewilderment, Febo Mari’s earthy spirit conveyed even when half-human (half cow? Not my period...) and, of course, Pola’s energy with anthracite eyes conveying dangerous levels of passion, her dancer’s grace enabling contorted communications that render title cards redundant. The words just get in the way, we only need to look, to see.

No wonder they had to get married after this film and for 45 years!
Lars opened and for almost the whoe day was in poll position with his performance in  John W. Brunius Synnöve Solbakken (A Norway Lass) (1919), one of so many Swedish pictures which attempted to recreate traditional rural life. Here his character Thorbjörn, starts as a boy led astray by an impish farm hand Aslak (manically-mischievous Einar Rød) who prefers the Devil’s work to his day job, spending more time filling the farmer’s son’s head with tales of trolls living up the hill in the Solbakken’s farm.

Up that hill is of course, Synnöve the girl who takes Thorbjörn’s fancy and most of the boys in the neighbourhood. She grows up to become Karin Molander and Thorbjörn must fight the others and, most of all, himself to gain the control and respect required to win her hand. Like so many of the best Swedish films of this time, this one moves a hand-cart pace with so much lingering detail of landscape, labour and love… a cracking film with real energy between the two leads who went on to marry in 1920 and for the rest of Hanson’s life. Was this a Mary and Buddy moment? Felt like it.

I love Italian cinema of this period also and with Lyda, Pina and Francesca otherwise occupied, Febo Mari’s Fauno (1917) gave us the chance to appreciate a diva who was, in soccer parlance, well-placed for the 4th Champions League spot; Elena Makowska! She’s not alone as Nietta Mordeglia actually plays the lead but it’s the look as well as the performance and both excel.

Faun stars: Nietta Mordeglia and Febo Mari
It helps that they play off the great divo Febo Mari who we believe entirely when he says: “Do not run from me. I am love.” Well, I couldn’t carry that off but even as a statue come to life with hooves and really hairy legs, he has a torso to die for and a style that makes this operatically-daft ploy work well. It’s more of a poem than a drama and just a joy to watch with luxuriant tints throughout.

This was good but then the Pola flares started in the evening performance of The Yellow Ticket (Der Gelbe Schein) (1918) a German film that started out as anti-Russian propaganda and which would have been destroyed for its Jewish content had it not been hidden in the war to come. It is not a great story but it is a very neat one and a well-made film with some interesting composition and camerawork.

The film's main achievement is to recognise the value of it’s lead and there is a satisfyingly-huge amount of Negri content with the young actress given the chance to show her complex movements as well as passionate delivery. She is mesmerising in this film and the restoration projected pays glorious tribute to her ability to hold the eye and, in those human terms mentioned at the top... when you’re watching Pola Negri you get the point.

American title... a bit more sensationalist
There was a very interesting new score from Alicia Svigals performed by herself and Marilyn Lerner, I especially appreciated the violin which was played as if the centuries weighing upon its strings was being cast off. My uncle, a professional violinist loved the work of Jascha Heifetz and he would have really have liked this.

We also watched: There’s a cheeky strand of shorts entitled Nasty Women but really they’re just really funny and for me, the funniest today was Louise Fazenda in the Mack Sennett comedy, Are Waitresses Safe? (1917). Victor Heerman directs and the answer has to be, absolutely not! There’s a guy in this film looks just like Ben Turpin, really, check it out! 

Stephen Horne and Frank Bockius took the breaks off for this film’s climactic four-way battle, beating their piano and drums to within an inch of their ebony and indeed ivory.

I’d also never seen L'Emigrante (1915) before and it was brief but powerful; a little sprint classic in an Olympics of silent film. In what remains of Febo Mari’s film we see the great stage actor Ermete Zacconi play a peasant struggling for work as he emigrates from Italy to South America. He finds a job but is betrayed by the company who fool him into signing away his rights.

A reminder of just how low a de-regulated economy can sink - Brexit Bulldogs beware! This week I am totally enjoying being a part of Europe! 


  1. What a great lineup! I'd love to see this early Pola film.
    I really like Febo Mari, and Il fauno in particular. I actually don't think Makowska is particularly strong (though it's been a while - I'm due a rewatch), but the film made me want to see more of Mordeglia, who was Mari's real-life partner too.

    1. Pola has such energy in this film, interesting that she was always impressive right from the start - she didn't grow into her persona.

      Il fauno is a really good-looking film and you're right Mordeglia is interesting too - so many strong actresses in Italian film!