Sunday 9 July 2017

A Bologna Diary (13) - Ken Wallin sums up - Laemmle Jr., William K Howard, Mitchum, Mexico, Japan, Sundays

This year was my fourth visit to Bologna and as with previous trips, I found it a combination of great discoveries and satisfactions, good company and good dinners, but a fair share of frustrations. These are largely the result of so many films in conflicting strands and at overlapping times. In some cases disappointing print quality is another issue. However, I'll move on to the strands I pursued this year, and their highlights.

Carl Laemmle Jr
I focussed on the Universal Studios Laemmle Jnr Years Part 2, William K Howard, the 1930s Japanese jidai-geki strand, and the Mexican Cinema in the Golden Age films. I also wanted to see a number of the restorations, some films in the Robert Mitchum tribute and whatever I could fit in of the 100 years ago, films of 1917. This left out strands devoted to Colette, Helmut Kautner, Iranian 1950s so-called 'noir', Jean Vigo Revisited and more.

The biggest discovery were the five Mexican films (out of 8), giving me a better idea of the range of achievement in this Cinema (much the same happened last year with the Argentinian films), and I would single out Two Monks (Juan Bustillo Oro,1934) for its gothic expressionism anticipating the Mexican horror 'wave' to come,  Soledad's Shawl (Roberto Gavaldon, 1952), a powerful rural melodrama with a star cast of Arturo de Cordova, Stella Inda, and Pedro Armendariz, and Maclovia (Emilio Fernandez, 1948) with its lyrically filmed Indian fishing village setting.

Humanity and Paper Balloons
The Japanese films constituted a potentially interesting group using period setting to comment on the rise of militarism in the 1930s, and led by the very notable Humanity and Paper Balloons by Sadao Yamanaka. However, poor print quality made it difficult to sort out character and assess on one viewing such anticipated films as Tamizo Ishida's Fallen Blossoms with its all female cast. Because it was a somewhat better print, the Japanese adaptation of "Les Miserables", The Giant (Mansuku Itami,1938) had more immediate impact, and it may be the only literary classic movie to offer an apology in the credits for simplifying in adaptation, the original text!

Mary Nolan
The Universal and Howard films were great to see in splendid 35 mm prints and the highlights were Transatlantic in a restoration that showed off Wong Howe's stunning camerawork (pity the Howard selection was only 5 titles),  James Whale's film of Remarque's All Quiet.. sequel,The Road Back restored to its original cut, and the performances of the tragic Mary Nolan in Young Desire (Lewis B Collins) and Tod Browning's Outside the Law.

There were plenty of impressive restorations and top of my list would be this year's major Buster Keaton restoration of Steamboat Bill Junior viewed in the Piazza with a brilliant live orchestra whipping up the storm in fine style. Then, there were other beautifully restored silents to behold like Volkoff's Casanova  with Mosjukine in top form, Borzage's 1924 showcase for Norma Talmadge, Secrets, and the all stops out Prologue to Gance's La Roue.

In the very fine selection of Robert Mitchum films I at last caught up with Fleischer's Bandido in widescreen and colour, and found it a visual delight in this restoration, and a great adventure vehicle for Mitchum and Gilbert Roland; far more chemistry here than with leading lady Ursula Thiess.

Sunday in August
In the day of Sunday themed movies shown on  the Sunday that Neil McGlone and Alexander Payne curated, I was delighted by Luciano Emmer's Sunday in August (Italy,1950), a multi-strand tale of  Romans, all classes and ages, heading for the beach at Ostia, the lighter side of neorealism at its best.

Finally, fitting in 1917 was the challenge and though I was disappointed to miss the Stiller, Sjostrom, and Borzage screenings, I did see Pola Negri's only surviving Polish film, Bestia, Protozanov's revolutionary tale Stop Shedding Blood (Russia, 1917), and an early Rober Wiene with Conrad Veidt, Fear (Germany, 1917).

So, enough pleasures to keep me anticipating future trips. 

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