Sunday 25 June 2017

A Bologna Diary (1) - Lubitsch, Machaty, Med Hondo, Eddie Cantor get us into gear

Kay Francis, Herbert Mardshall, Miriam Hopkins
Trouble in Paradise (Ernst Lubitsch, 1932)
The crowd hummed with pleasure as a newly restored copy of one of Ernst Lubitsch’s many masterpieces, Trouble in Paradise (USA, 1932) purred its pleasurable way across the screen. Most of those attending the previous session in the big Arlecchino Cinema of Douglas Sirk’s Magnifcent Obsession (USA, 1954) simply remained in their seats for the Lubitsch and the crowd outside entered only to find just a few scattered single seats on offer. It was the first great crush of the week and eventually spectators simply stood against the very rough brick walls for the 81 minutes in which Herbert Marshall, Miriam Hopkins and Kay Francis, assisted by Edward Everett Horton especially, dance around each other in games of love and deception. Ernst and Samson Raphelson’s jokes worked their magic on yet another generation of filmgoers. Timeless and so super-sophisticated both in front of and behind the camera.

Niedzielne Igraszki (Robert Glinski, Poland, 1983/88)
Make believe Europe was surrounded by representations of the real thing on both sides. Robert Glinski’s medium length black and white narrative Sunday Pranks  took us to a bunch of kids playing games on a Warsaw housing lot. The program dates the film as 1983-1988, thus acknowledging the four years ‘the authorities’ kept the film on the shelf while they worked out how to handle a movie about kids caught up in the moment of the day of Stalin’s funeral. An acquaintance told me that this film was banal and way below the standard of others of its day, notably the films of Kryzstof Kieslowski, but I differed. Glinski’s film seemed to me a remarkable piece of closely confined observation of the early post-war period and the narrative which slowly broadened out to involve a brutal visit by the secret police and a family’s shattered life was spot on. The playing of the pre-teen kids was superb as well.

Karel Benda, Magda Maderova
Ze Soboty Na Nedeli (Gustav Machaty, 1931)
Fifty years plus earlier Gustav Machaty, fatefully known to most only for his lascivious pictures of the gorgeous Hedy Lamarr in Ecstasy (Czechoslovakia, 1933) made From Saturdy to Sunday (Czechoslovakia, 1931), claimed according to one cinephile reported in the festival program notes as “the first great sound film”. You can definitely make the case. The story of two girls out on the town and the fate that befalls one of them which brings her to near death is made with an assurance rarely equalled at the time. Played by Magda Maderova to make  a character who moves from dowdy sad sack to a rather gorgeous put upon woman, the night in question is full of script surprises and Machaty piles on the atmosphere with the great skill. The office, the home, the night club where the rich man attempts to both romance and buy her, the seedy café and the down at heel flat to which she is taken by a stranger, all are done with an exactitude that tells you that Machaty was a very smart film-maker. Regrettably he went stateside for a while and probably made far fewer films than his talent warranted.

Med Hondo
Elsewhere who knew that Gregory La Cava’s early career involved directing animated cartoons of the Katzenjammer Kids. Not me but Sharks is Sharks (USA, 1917) is claimed to have such authorship. …. Eddie Cantor must have wondered surely what he had struck when he came to Hollywood to make a movie of his mighty Broadway musical success Kid Boots  (Frank Tuttle, USA, 1925). To substitute for the 25 songs Cantor sang there was much physical comedy (“too mechanical”) said one observer and a near finale action sequence involving hero, girl and villain, plus a stray mountain lion, replicating stunts similar to those that might have been devised for Harold Lloyd in his prime….Med Hondo was initially moved to tears when facing a packed house assembled to see his Soleil O, (Mauritania, 1970) but he recovered to make the most impassioned intro I’ve heard at Bologna. He did not make “entertainment”, his was a cinema designed to engage with major matters, in this case the plight of African immigrants in Paris. The ovation was deserved…

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