Sunday 25 June 2023

A Diary (4) - The Road to Bologna and IL CINEMA RITROVATO - Plus ca change

A welcoming face in the Tre Vecchi Breakfast Room. Thomas the always smiling, always helpful waiter. The Covid years saw the hotel closed for close to three years but its back and bustling.

But it was down to business, kicking off with a an early Sunday morning screening of Spellbound (Alfred Hitchcock, USA, 1945) that followed it being screened the night before to thousands in the Piazza Maggiore. Beautiful black and white restoration by Disney and the Academy Film Archive. Just before it started an announcement was made from the stage for us not to be alarmed when we commenced with four minutes of music played on a black screen. Who knew. What had I forgotten. Well the fact that Norman Lloyd, only recently departed at the age of 102, was one of the villains and the sultry Rhonda Fleming had a part as what Hollywood used to call a "nymphomaniac."

On to one of the real treasures  Amori di Mezzo Secolo. Made in 1954 it's one of those portmanteau films and its not quite complete because one of the starting six episodes by Domenico Paollela was instantly removed and all trace of it destroyed. The other five stories than had a chequered existence with initial censorship cuts on matters deemed too sensitive for the Italian people follwed by TV releases that were forced to screen the version with the cuts. Inevitably the standards vary but old master Roberto Rossellini bowled everyone over with his contribution - a WW2 love story between a film starlet, played by an absolutely gorgeous Pier Angeli, and a soldier set amongst the bomb shelters in Rome. It ends badly, another cause for concern by the authorities at the time. The intro explaining all of this by Marta Donzelli and Alberto Anile of the Cinteca Nazionale was a model of its kind.

Lunch  was another treat. A return to the terrific pasticceria Gamberini, another fond memory, just a short walk away and a black rice risotto on a bed of mashed avocado, topped with smoke salmon and accompanied on the side with sun-dried tomatoes. 

Then things got a bit dire at least for me if not for the crowd packed into the Jolly Cinema for Ousmane Sembene's Ceddo. The intro by Sembene's son Alain, Cecilia Cenciarelli doing double translation duties, and Lee Kline of Criterion/Janus, who did the superb restoration, started seven minutes late and was still going 20+ minutes later. I'm afraid lunch caught up with me and I have to reserve any report though it did seem like everyone in the film shouted a lot.

 Les mystères du château de dé (Man Ray, 1929)

Much more interesting because i was back awake was the program of films by Man Ray made between 1923 and 1929. Full on surrealist experimentation, abstraction, abstract narratives and every trick known to a camera at the time. These films may have been more famous if they had had some shocking element like an eyeball being slashed but they remain obscure and more preservation work needs to be done. What made it a standout was the muiscal accompaniment by Sten Horne and Frank Boeckius with Horne alternating between flute and piano and Boeckius coming up with some amazing drumming.

Michel Simon, Tire-au-flanc

Finally an unseen Renoir, his 1928 silent Tire-Au-Flanc, a farce about military service and love finding its own sweet way. After setting up class division in the first sequence where Michel Simon as a clumsy butler and George de Pomies as his dreamy would be poet master have to cope with being drafted. The butler fits right in to the barracks but the poet is the subject of practical jokes and endless bullying. The officers who attempt to control this are variously incompetent or aloof. Easy to see why this was smash on the stage and why Renoir would have been attracted to its mix of knockabout comedy and some very tender romance between the soldiers and their various women. The knockabout does go on a bit in a film that runs for 115 minutes. 

Decades later Tire-au-flanc  was remade by Claude de Givray (produced by Francois Truffaut). Never seen that either but now quite curious. Maybe David Stratton has a copy.

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