Sunday 28 June 2015

Bologna Diary Day two - Lino Brocka, Renato Castellani, E A Dupont...

Lino Brocka
It seems that philosophical issues emerge from the strangest places. “I remember watching that film when it came out in the late 70s on a scratched 16mm print. It seemed like that was the way a movie from the Third World should be seen.” Thus spoke one wise old cinephile whose memory goes back a long way. Now, thanks to Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Foundation (WCF) and Bologna’s Immagine Ritrovato laboratory, Insiang (Lino Brocka, The Phillipines, 1976) has been restored to pretty much what it looked like when it came out of the lab near forty years ago. Not that the look of the movie and whether it needed scratches and sound track his and 16mm to be a Third World artefact was the only tendentious part of the screening. The introduction by the WCF’s Cecilia Cenciarelli made a  number of statements of alleged historical truth which were not shared by some in the crowd. Chief among them was the mention of Brocka being gay and thus apparently exposed to greater danger from the Marcos Government. “The fact is that 50% of the film industry in The Phillipines was gay so Lino’s sexuality was no big deal.”  He did have other problems with Government harassment but he did make sixty films and among those that made the biggest international impact he apparently had rather more terrible moments with international producers and others from festivals and so on who had their own ideas.
Whatever, the film remains a superb and very tricky piece of character building. Insiang, the ‘heroine’ goes all the way from sweet and soft-centred third world archetype put upon young woman – pursued by exploitative and uncaring men, overworked and underpaid- to a rather remarkable creation whose manipulation and desire for revenge throw the whole narrative for a loop. Probably a masterpiece and the WCF certainly did a superb job of assembling some dodgy material into what’s up on the screen......

Renato Castellani
When it was announced that Bologna would be doing a focus on Renato Castellani, I thought that would be something to get excited about. I had seen exactly two of his films – his version of Romeo and Juliet (1954)  when the Moreland High School forth formers were taken off to see it at a screening at the glorious old art house the Savoy in Russell Street,  and his best known Due soldi di speranza/Two penny worth of hope (1952). But as things progressed, it’s fair to say that the cognoscenti have not got themselves excited at exploring Castellani’s career. His first feature, Le colpo di pistol/A Pistol Shot was made in 1942. It is an adaptation of Pushkin and has no discernible message about the war raging through Italy and Europe at the time. In that respect it seems to be an artefact to distract the masses. I found it wooden and contrived and it made you ache to see Thorold Dickinson’s Queen of Spades....

The US version of Variety, Parts of this were used for the reconstruction
I first saw E A Dupont’s Variety (Germany, 1926) at a MUFS Classic Night in the Old Commerce Theatre in 1963 or 1964. That’s what I think. Michael Campi tells me that the film screened at a Melbourne Film Festival about that time, maybe 1963, which I didn’t attend. The copy was 16mm and had been imported by the National Library as one of the earliest elements of its Film Study Lending Collection. My memory tells me that I saw it in “English”, i.e. the intertitles were in English. That being over fifty years ago, forgive me if memory has faded or is playing tricks. I think I saw the film twice way back then and I haven’t seen it since. I recall thinking it was one of the greatest films I’d ever seen.

Now it has been restored by the Austrian Film Archive in a splendid new version which contains some tinted bits and has had a score added which caused great controversy when the new version of the film premiered at Berlin earlier this year. Whether that new version was or indeed is available to any of the Australian festivals I wouldn’t know but if they pass on the opportunity then that’s a sad moment for our national cinephilia.

Having listened to the explanation of the sources of the material that was used for the restoration I would not be able to say what version it is that the National Library, or presumably now the National Film & Sound Achive, still holds. But whatever, it is a late silent masterpiece and yet another of those reminders of just what Emil Jannings, and to a lesser extent, the rose-lipped Lya de Putti, achieved as silent stars. As for Dupont’s direction and Karl Freund’s cinematography, they too are reminders of a golden era. 

Looking around for a photo of Dupont I came across this essay by Kristin Thompson on Youtube

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