Pordenone diary 2009 – day two


It’s time for day two of our daily account of this year’s Pordenone silent film festival. We’re back at Sunday 4 October, with an on-the-spot report from our tantalisingly anonymous but highly knowledgeable correspondent, whose dedication to the cause meant a rigorous 9.00am-til-late routine. What, not even just the one day bunking off to go to Venice?

9.00am starts every day from here on; time for a snatched breakfast, a double espresso and to grab a bottle of mineral water for use inside the Verdi – and to help down any paracetemol if you’re still suffering from the red wine the night before …

Today the opening offering is the latest selection from the Corrick Collection, the preserved repertoire of the pre-WW1 Australian travelling show family; highlights included a Pathé comedy, J’ai Perdu Mon Lorgnon (France 1906), about a myopic man blundering around town, having lost his specs; a 1905 documentary, Metallurgie au Creusot (France 1905), on an iron foundry which featured excellent use of tinting and hand colouring, especially the scene where red-hot strips of extruded metal snaked across the foundry floor. Similarly decorated were two Pathé fairy tales, La Belle au Bois Dormant (Sleeping Beauty) (1902) and La Poule aux Oeufs D’Or (France 1905) both of which wore their panto roots on their sleeves. A Walter Booth animation Comedy Cartoons (UK 1907), starts as a ‘lightning sketch’ film but becomes something more ambitious; the caricatures fade out and photographs of the subjects fade in, come to life and interact with the artist. Towards the end it gets increasingly surreal until finally a sick man’s head is split open and the things ailing him removed; bottles of champagne, cigars … and he is reassembled … distinctly Terry Gilliam territory.

Next we were into the thread investigating Sherlock Holmes and his contemporaries; starting with a charming Percy Stow, Bobby the Boy Scout (UK 1909); wherein Bobby solves a jewel robbery from under the nose of the local police, but is captured by the thieves; he escapes by hiding under a greatcoat hanging on the doormounted coatpeg, Harold Lloyd-style; as the door swings open, he has outflanked the kidnappers and locks them in his cell in his place, summoning the police … who as per usual, have been portrayed as buffoons throughout.

This was followed by more conventional fare, a self-contained episode from the Stoll 1923 serial The Mystery of Dr Fu Manchu, The Fiery Hand; all the Sherlockian elements of course; disguises, traps, genius antagonists, plus a sadistic torture/execution to finish; it rollicked along like a serial episode should.

The German Der Hund Von Baskerville (Germany 1914) was less successful, a very strange film; coming in at just over the hour, it dispenses entirely with the plot of the novel, and barely replaces it with another; as a result, it’s a very leisurely hour in an alternate Holmes universe where Watson has all but vanished, and the good peasantry of Devon run around Schloss Baskerville in kilts, in fear of a hound likely to try and lick you to death. I don’t like celebrating a film’s entertainment value for its unwitting humour, but here, no option I’m afraid.

The programme notes were damning with faint praise for the next film, La Vie Merveilleuse De Bernadette (France 1929) and as hagiography – literally in this case – is not my favourite genre, I gave it a miss. The consensus of those that did see it was that the film was an efficiently effective and well made piece of propaganda.

Back in for Ce Cochon De Morin (France 1923), a film made by Tourjansky for Albatros. A strange comedy about a man trying to restore his reputation after a drunken sexual attack on a female train passenger. Hmmmmm. Couldn’t really get too sympathetic, frankly. A waste of the talented Nicolas Rimsky in the lead, who would have better vehicles …

More tasteful was the double-bill presented to engage the skills of a couple of local children’s orchestras; Chaplin’s A Night In The Show and Keaton’s Playhouse. Interestingly Chaplin’s anarchy came over really well – the kids seemed to have more fun with it, and the occasional stray note – if it was – matched the onscreen chaos perhaps better than a professional unit would have done.

Sorry – dodged Rudolph Valentino in The Eagle (USA 1925) on the basis that I had already seen it a couple of times and I was quite likely to get the chance to see it again; by all accounts a lovely print, but there were some technical glitches in its projection – for some reason the Verdi projection team were struggling this week.

Daddy (1923) was shown as a tribute to Cesare Gravina, but it’s an unashamed vehicle for Jackie Coogan; corn, but beautifully presented and well acted prime corn. Musically one of the highlights thus far, as Phil Carli at the piano and Günther Buchwald on violin enriched the experience way beyond the sentimental melodrama onscreen, about three generations of violinists, and elevated it to something far more memorable. If you have seen The Rag Man with Coogan and Max Davidson, it’s very much along those lines.

Harmonies De Paris (France 1928) with music by Touve Radovondrahety, was an extra 30 minutes I didn’t feel like; I’m not a huge fan of late 20’s city symphonies on the whole, but judging by the reports I should have seen it; a good film, and for Touve a bit of a triumph. These things happen …

Stayed tuned for the report on day three, when we shall learn of more Holmesiana, the parting of the Red Sea, and a night at the opera…

Report on day one
Report on day three
Report on day four
Report on day five
Report on day six
Report on day seven
Report on day eight