Monday, 25 June 2018

Midsummer night’s dream… Rosita (1923) with Mitteleuropa Orchestra, Piazza Maggiore, il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna

First time in Bologna since I was a boy and a heck of a lot more films to watch. The combination of city and Cinema Ritrovato is disorienting and agitating, but not in a New York way… it’s a pull between cultures, eras and styles of films and one of the most beautiful cities in Italy. No disrespect to Pordenone but have you seen the Piazza Maggiore and a cathedral planned to be so grand they had to tone it down so as not to upset St Peter’s and the Vatican?

Tonight was a dream as the film played out next to that cathedral with the ancient walls of the Piazza adding mystic resonance to the reconstructed score as played by the Mitteleuropa Orchestra, conducted by Gillian Anderson. Rosita is not perfect but, huge but, it was Mary Pickford on the biggest of screens, floating through a film directed by Ernst Lubitsch… we forgive our best friends anything and sometimes we love them more when they don’t quite click.

Erik supervises the bombing of Paris...
To be honest, Eric Satie had already loosened my grip on reality with his mesmeric invention for the score of the freshly minted restoration of René Clair’s Entr’acte (1924). The film is a dadaist gag-reel and a hoot for schoolkids of all ages. Daniele Furlati played pianoforte to perfection and proved that Eric’s musical spirit connects more deeply than Rene’s images; still never take a camel to a funeral!

Onto Mary then and a budget younger Ernst could only dream of back in Germany. As has been noted this film has an almost identical plot to The Spanish Dancer made at almost the same time in Hollywood with Lubitsch’s perfect partner Pola. Put the two together and you might have a masterpiece, and, having recently watched that film I couldn't help wondering that you can’t go into battle against Negri’s dance armed with only a guitar. Likewise there are elements of this odd tale that work far better under Lubitsch’s direction and there’s no leery King Beery… which may or may not be a good thing.

Mary picks her chords
But in the moment, under the stars, it was time to simply enjoy the Mary we have and she does her best to convince as the street singer from Seville who captures the heart of both the sleazy King (Holbrook Blinn) and the dashing Don Diego (George Walsh). I always enjoy watching the Queen of Hollywood playing her age and here you can almost feel the creative tension between her indomitable fixed jaw and Lubitsch’s vision; there are some superb moments.

Ernst touch is evident in a flowing narrative that cuts out the side-steps and blind alleys of the Dancer’s version and includes some choice cuts like the hungry Rosita’s tango with the royal fruit bowl – walks left to right, camera on the cherries, walks back again, picks one, picks two… a hand-full - and the ragged feet of the children when climbing on board the royal coach to take Rosita to the royal love nest.

The King and Queen have an up and down relationship.
Irene Rich is very good as the King’s long-suffering Queen, and her relationship with her philandering monarch saves the story from being too brutal: it’s not the way to a girl’s heart to shoot her lover and expect her to then allow you a good time - although we could believe that Mr Beery's King may have thought so.

Mary is sprightly, sassy and quite sensational in Spanish costumery as she punches out energetically throughout. Truly she was first amongst equals and she dominates the screen time so much it does leave you wondering how she and the Don became so attached so quickly. But people weren’t paying to see George they wanted Mary and that’s what they got and they took her love at first sight on trust.

Don and Rosita share an intimate meal
The film did well on release, with good reviews and audience and box office that generated profits and yet Pickford was not happy and didn’t even want it preserved… but there was an original nitrate copy in Russia and the restoration is history... it looks glorious!

The music used a cue sheet based on the now lost score from Louise F. Gottschalk, the 45 separate pieces held traces of Verdi, Bizet (natch) and many more, all matched the moods very well - although I’m not sure I’d agree that they were as well fitted as an original score – the music and the sound were none-the-less very powerful: an 80-piece orchestra blasting out Nineteenth Century themes in a Twelth Century square as the Moon and Venus watched down through a cloudless sky... bellissimo!

Can I have some more?
As always with silent film it’s context, venue, audience, accompaniment as well as the source material itself: you don’t need 100% to get a distinction.

I absolutely loved the night and it’s exactly what I wanted when I decided to come to Bologna… 7th Heaven follows in the Piazza on Wednesday… just enough time to come down from Cloud 9.

The crafty Queen uses her mirror to spy her husband's philandering...
Mary and Ernst discuss her character's motiovation, probably...

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