Sunday, 8 October 2017

That Pordenone Touch… The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg (1927) with Orchestra San Marco, Pordenone Day 8

These people don’t do things by halves, do they? Eight days of almost ceaseless cine-muto reached a crescendo on Saturday evening with Ramón Novarro, Norma Shearer and the Orchestra San Marco, Pordenone, conducted by Mark Fitz-Gerald playing Carl Davis’ score.

The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg is another I’ve saved for the big screen and live accompaniment and Mr Davis’ score is one of his nest for this near-perfect movie from Ernst Lubitsch – romantic, witty and so poignant… Davis works from inside the film outwards and I have a feeling he and Herr Lubitsch would have got on well!

Now then, Mrs Thalberg remains a slightly controversial and divisive figure and there are those who favour Silent Shearer over Talkie Norma but I like them both and here she is simply superb. Ramon is a very pretty boy and he does well, but only Norma moved me close to tears (darn it Pordenone, that’s three times you made me cry!!) with an intelligence pf expression that is rarely equalled.

This is not the gung-ho tennis playing sophisticate of The Divorcee but a woman who finds true love and then, heart-breakingly, has to let it go. Typically, she must decide for her Prince; they will both love again and marry as their station and duty demands but they cannot be happy. All of which reminds me of a conundrum I once had with Princess Anne… but it was all worked out amicably.

Lubitsch too is a man of many phases and it was instructive to compare The Student Prince… with his Pola Carmen from earlier in the week. The latter was energetic and game for a quick laugh but, ten years and a whole continent onwards, his approach is more delicately-defined. This film has plenty of evidence of his famous touch form the over-regimented raising of hats for the prince to the lovely time he chases Norma’s humble hotelier’s daughter, Kathi, along a series of arches; the camera follows them, anticipating their arrival at the next arch until, suddenly, the don’t: the prince has caught his girl and who knows what private passions are being expressed.

The pacing is so well handled – a real musician’s film – and the overall tone is one of good humour even if the end-game involves balancing duty against individual happiness.

Lovely composition. Cheers Getty Images!
The programme notes reveal that The Student Prince… was an attempt to win back the mid-European market by showing a more human side to Germanic characters – a similar problem was faced with Herbert Wilcox’s Dawn (1928) about Edith Cavell. Here Lubitsch is on safer ground but these men have honour as well as humour.

Appropriately enough for a Ramon Navaro film, this film was M-GM’s second most expensive film after Ben-Hur (in which the actor starred). Apparently, Norma fought off competition from May McAvoy, Marceline Day, and Fay Wray for the role but I can’t see any of them playing the role as well. That said… there were moments of tension with her director as he felt he initial performance was too grand: ‘Mein Gott!’ he shouted. ‘I can get a waitress from the commissary who will do better than you.’

That may well be Ernie but she’s got a guy called Mr Thalberg at home and he’s quite important. IN the end, Irving superbly defused the situation with the line: ‘Darling, I’m sure we can all learn a lot from Mr. Lubitsch.’ I’m sure she did.

We also watched:

Karina Bell and Peter Nielsen in Morænen
The Swedish Challenge has been my favourite strand and shown me that there is far more to Scandinavian silent film than Victor and Mauritz… today’s double maintained the quality and in the case of the latter Anders Wilhelm Sandberg’s Morænen (1924), featured some of the best accompaniment of the week from Stephen Horne on piano and various and Elizabeth-Jane Baldry. 

Elizabeth-Jane users her sonic pallet way beyond the confines of traditional playing much as Stephen has pushed the piano; together they sounded like a dozen players and produce music that is delicate and the with all the attack of more avantgarde composition. In the end, the Teatro Verdi wouldn’t let them leave the orchestra pit until they’d take a bow on the main stage: and well deserved too!

The film itself was quite dark with an overbearing father a dying mother and a brain-damaged son. It’s interesting to see how mental disability was treated at the time and – given the huge developments in diagnosis and treatment over the years, very valuable social history.

Everyone seem to care for the boy in questions, even the father for whom he is a daily reminder of his hateful mother (IHAO to be fair… I suspect he was over-compensating for his own failures as 

Teuvo Puro and Jussi Snellman’s Anna-Liisa (1922) was no less challenging and this time involved infanticide a woman unwittingly getting pregnant after an, un-consensual liaison with a local ruffian. She has the child but kills it new born and as she tries to move on and marry the man she does love; this past comes back to haunt her. The answer is to come clean and accept both crime and punishment: another scandi-redemption song and it’s true.

Gabriel Thibaudeau wove some elegant lines throughout his piano improvisations, he seems to have all the time in the world: The Eric “Slowhand” Clapton of accompaniment.

No, please... don't kill Creighton Hale!
After all this Scandinavian seriousness, hearts were sinking at the merest sight of Danish director, Benjamin Christensen in the credits for Seven Footprints to Satan (1929).  But, we needn’t have worried for it was an absolute hoot that prefigures the comedy horror of Cat and the Canary and Universal’s funnier moments. It’s very well done and whilst Creighton Hale rises to the occasion, Thelma Todd just blows him off screen!! Screwball before screwball was invented.

Turns out Christensen was far funnier than we thought… talking of which: don’t miss Haxan, at the Pheonix Cinma on 31st October… Halloween Night, yes, that’s right! Tickets available here!

Rising star Daan van den Hurk was on hand to have fun accompanying this one.

Blanche Sweet
Also funny and disturbing was The Deadlier Sex (1920) and the sight of Boris Karloff in pants that looked liked they had been stolen from a New Romantics party in 1981!? Thank goodness we didn’t see those in colour!

Robert Thornby directs and his two leads sparkle especially Blanche Sweet as the daughter of an industrial magnate aiming to be just as tough when “Wall Street alchemist” Harvey Judson (Huntley Green) tries to bully her Dad’s former business out to the market. Nothing a bit of sedation and kidnapping can’t fix as she has Green transported to the wilds to sink or swim.

Boris is hired to put the frighteners on him but he takes his role a little too seriously. It’s fun and Masterclass graduate, Bryson Kemp, played along with a spirit of adventure!

Georges Méliès: Le Rosier Miraculeux (1904)
Then, just before The Student Prince… we were treated to a recently-discovered Georges Méliès: Le Rosier Miraculeux (1904) or The Wonderful Rose Tree projected in almost immaculate condition on the huge screen. It is truly amazing that his work is still being discovered but it’s thanks to the dedication of the very people who attend, program, perform and otherwise support Pordenone that all is possible.

So keep on being passionate about cinema muto in all its forms. Enjoy it, discuss it, engage and promote it and we will not only have more wonderful weeks like this one but so much more.

Grazie Mille Pordenone!! Vediamo l'anno prossimo per GCM37!

A communication from the Mile-high Blogger Club (no, it’s not what you think…)

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