Saturday 12 December 2015

Defending Cinephilia (4) - Peter Hourigan examines past, present and future

Five things that defended cinephilia?  An interesting question. There’s sometimes an issue when you’re asked to nominate a list of the “ten best”, “the five richest” and so on.  Either you find yourself limited in number or the focus  doesn’t seem quite right for that topic.  As I’ve reflected on the question, I have found myself slipping into just three things – but perhaps my categories are a way of allowing myself to be unlimited.   Well, here goes!

1. THE PAST.  A major element of cinephilia is surely our involvement with these wonderful moving images from the past.  And this passion for me is probably most indulged - and exemplified – by Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna.   You’re in the company of people from around the world who share your obsession, and together revisit old favourites, new discoveries and have wonderful meals. This year there were two films that I’ll highlight to illustrate the wonderful possibilities here.  One was a Filipino film, Insiang (1976) by Lino Brocka.  In Bologna terms, this was almost a new film – but over the years its condition had deteriorated, colour had gone and watching it was basically a useless task.  But the deep satisfaction of being able to see this film fully restored so its depth, its insight, its understanding of people, its concerns about the poverty of those people – what a rewarding experience.  Back from the dead, you could say.

And the other unforgettable experience was even more a journey back to the past, with a wonderful  atmospheric presentation of Nino Oxilia’s Satanic Rhapsody  from 1915 – yes, one hundred years ago.  The venue – the Bologna Opera House, in the pit the orchestra of that house, and on screen a new, lovingly restored copy of the film, re-creating its original form. This meant not only appropriate tinted scenes, but also the hand colouring or stencilling in of colour for some very specific details in those scenes.  It’s almost impossible to compare this experience with watching the pallid, lifeless copy on YouTube.  But the presentation was accompanied by what is claimed as the first score purpose written for a film, by Pietro Mascagni no less.  A few weeks after the screening a full recording of the score was released on CD in France – and I’ve played it many times since.

Part of the ailment of being a cinephile is that you probably lose a lot of time watching films that you hope will be wonderful, but turn out otherwise.  However, this is more than outweighed by another experience.  One of those films seems to have something and you become aware of that filmmaker – and a few films later suddenly you’re rewarded with a wonderful film that more than repays your early loyalty. Two of the filmmakers who came up trumps for me in this way this year were Eugene Green and Rahmin Bahrani, interestingly both with their fifth feature film.

I first became aware of Green some years back, and had tracked down DVDs of several of his earlier films from France, where they were available with English sub-titles, and I really enjoyed them.  Then this year, I was wiped out with La Sapienza. Certainly, I respond strongly to Green’s Baroque relationship with the world but here it all came together so richly.  However, I’ve already written about this for this site, so I’ll leave it at that.

Then there is Rahmin Bahrani.  I’d followed up some references to one of his early films in a magazine or two and had tracked them down on DVD from USA.  To the best of my knowledge, they hadn’t been available here. They moved me – and I even used Man Push Cart (2005) his first film, in classes with final year Secondary school students.  This year, with 99 Homes Bahrani was finally heard of here.  Actually I don’t think it’s as original or as creative as his earlier, very gritty independent films, but it’s still damn good, and it almost feels like a vindication that others are now interested in his earlier films (including some interesting shorts with Werner Herzog in that you can see on YouTube.)


Tied up with my joy in cinema is the reward that comes from sharing that joy.  And I’m privileged that I’ve had ways of sharing with young people who will hopefully take some cinephilia into their own future.  A year or two back, I met on a tram a young man in the final year of his University studies.  Bizarrely, that tram meeting has led to evenings when he comes round to my place eager to see what films I will share with him.  And he wants old films, which most definitely for him includes silent cinema – and I don’t mean just Chaplin or Keaton.  We started with Sunrise – I almost envy someone seeing that for the first time, especially when I could sense how deep his response was.  Eugene Bauer’s After Death (1913) was a particular hit with him. (How is that for esoteric?) And just today, we started talking about having some more regular screenings, so over several weeks we can explore Feuillade’s Fantômas – and possibly even with some more of his friends.  That’s really taking my cinephilia into the future.

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