Sunday 7 July 2019

Bologna Diary (2) - A round-up

In the past I posted near to daily diary notes on what I saw in Bologna’s Il Cinema Ritrovato but maybe I'm getting too old, or maybe it was the energy sapping heat and the aircon failures or simply the good company that kept me from the task this year. There have been some quite comprehensive reports already and you can find them if you go to the web postings by scholars and critics David Bordwell,  David Cairns and  Jose Arroyo

As for an initial reaction maybe it was what I chose to see  but there was no blinding light equivalent brilliant new copy of those masterpieces from previous years The Crime of M. Lange  or  In a Lonely Place or Trouble in Paradise to set the pulses throbbing

Los Olvidados, Luis Bunuel, 1950
But the crowds did come out in droves to most of the Restored and Rediscovered section for new digital copies of films by, inter alia, Mauritz Stiller, Lupu Pick, Rene Clair, Luis Bunuel (2), Raymond Bernard, John Cassavetes,  Jean Epstein, Marco Ferreri (Queen Bee/L’Ape regina from 1963, boy was that a film whose meaning passed a youthful moi by back in the day), Jean Renoir (3), George Marshall, Vittorio De Sica, John Huston, Byron Haskin, Budd Boetticher, Jacques Doniol-Valcroze, Manoel de Oliveira, Terence Young, Frank Beyer, Roger Corman, Aleksander Petrovic, Dennis Hopper, Federico Fellini, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Charles Chaplin, Dario Argento, Abbas Kiarostami, David Lynch, Jane Campion, John Cameron Mitchell and Frances Ford Coppola. 

If you want to check out the full list, you can find it online if you click here.  The splendid printed edition once again stretched to more than 400 pages and had a cover photo (above) featuring Jean Gabin and Marlene Dietrich from the 1948 Martin Roumagnac  (Georges Lacombe) a film which didn’t actually feature in the selection devoted to Gabin’s career which otherwise ran through nine films from 1931’s Coeur de Lilas (Anatole Litvak) to the Le Chat  (Pierre Granier-Deferre, 1970) and included the very hard to see film by GW Pabst Du Haut en Bas.

Flowers of Shanghai, Hou Hsiao-hsien, 1998
There was also a new restoration of Hou Hsiao-hsien’s Flowers of Shanghai (1998) by original producer Shochiku and the Shanghai Film Festival whose chief immediate eye-popping restoration decision was to redo Tony Rayns’ original subtitles. The titles, still credited to Rayns in the copy on display, were first done in close collaboration with the film’s scriptwriter Chen Tien-wen. The upstart new subtitler simply mangled them. Why it was decided to update the formal early twentieth century language by rendering it into phrases like “Cut to the chase” and “Hey guys” as well as inserting the word ‘brothels’ to describe the houses where the action took place is a matter of complete bewilderment. Regrettably this will now be the standard digital version of the film shown around the world and Shochiku will be no doubt be showing off the botch to ever-increasing numbers. You can take a step forward with a restoration and you can take a step back.

The new Il Cinema Ritrovato management structure of four (I’m resisting) – equally older, younger, male, and female had some tricky structural issues to manage, not least giving the more than 3000 passholders (some unverified claims said more than 5000) a decent shot at seeing what they want to see when the indoor daytime theatre capacity is only 2000 or so. There was muttering from the regulars and veterans that the event has got too big, too unwieldy and is under too much pressure. The sight of people lining the walls at large numbers of screenings may be modified next year when a renovated cinema in the basement of the Palace hotel comes on stream and further alleviated the year after when the Modernissimo restoration is complete. 

Street Angel, Frank Borzage, 1928
More problematically the mining of a strand of old Hollywood ‘auteurs’ this year reached Henry King and the annual selection of an Italian for attention gave us Eduardo De Filippo. Still Dave Kehr’s second selection of late silent and early sound films from the Fox Studio, notwithstanding his regular warning not to expect masterpieces, did in fact show two such, Ford’s Three Bad Men (with superb accompaniment from Maud Nelissen) and Borzage’s  Street Angel  on a fine digital copy which incorporated the original music.  There was also a selection of films by B-meister Felix Feist which included the film Tomorrow is Another Day (1951) dubbed his best by the cognoscenti and a genuine hard to see rarity to the point that Bologna screened a scan of a 16mm TV print held by the Harvard Film Archive, possibly the only known copy.

Elsewhere the strands proved once again that beyond Hollywood there is much to excite the interest. Nine films by the Egyptian Youssef Chahine, dubbed “The Last Arab Optimist”, culminating in his sombre epic (with amazing decor and costumes by Shadi Abdel Salam) Al Nasser Salah Ad-din (1968), an antidote to all the nonsense taught in western schools about the Crusades. They were screened in superb copies starting with a sight of the master himself as the lead actor in his own Central Station (1958) playing a crippled, sex-starved newspaper seller/common thief in such a way as to severely embarrass his family, according to Tewfik Hakem’s intro. The sight of the young Omar Sharif in his debut film, Chahine’s  Serâa Fi Al-Wadi (1954), drew gasps with its opening shot showing the actor’s near impossible handsomeness in a beautifully lit profile.

In Jenen Tagen Helmut Kautner, 1947
For the first time there were films from South Korea, a selection dubbed as from that nation’s “Golden Age”, made during the years of repressive military dictatorship and yet again evidence that political adversity brings out the best in film-makers. It was similar with a small selection post-war West Germany. A lot of those featured the last vestiges of Weimar cabaret, most especially the now rarely-used trope of the all-knowing narrator guiding the audience. This included the justly famous In Jenen Tagen (Helmut Kautner) in which the narrator’s voice is that of a car first seen brand spanking new and a witness to Jewish persecution, followed by the fire at the Reichstag and Kristallnacht and then finally a part of the post-war detritus which gave the genre the name of ‘rubble films’. The cabaret element of the films, their senses of sketches poking at German’s post-war underbelly renders them quite unique in their national cinema. A subject for further examination by the German Film Festival perhaps, in the absence of a Sydney Cinematheque.

Le Plaisir, Max Ophuls, 1952
In the square, you could sit with 5000+ people each night and see, during the week we were there, Miracle in Milan,  Easy RiderLos Olvidados,  The Cameraman, Roma (the Fellini version), The Circus, Apocalypse Now, Final Cut  introduced by Coppola,  Le Plaisir, and finally an entry I have always found problematically ‘Australian’. Jane Campion was there to do the intro and bask in the glow of a Piazza Maggiore screening of her 1992 The Piano.  The Piazza Maggiore free screenings in fact go on for nine weeks over the Italian summer. 

Otherwise nothing from Oz on show amongst the selection of 400+ items long and short, not even in the Cento Anni Fa/100 Years Ago section curated by ever-buzzing Marianne Lewinsky. Her annual selection program once again overlooked anything from these parts, including our most famous silent film The Sentimental Bloke.

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