Pordenone promises

Oliver (Jackie Coogan) meets the Artful Dodger (Edouard Trebaol) in Oliver Twist (1922), from http://www.cinetecadelfriuli.org/gcm

It’s nine months away, but for those of you planning your year ahead, it’s well worth noting the programme for the Pordenone silent film festival, for which quite a lot of detail has been advertised already. The festival takes place 6-13 October, and very interesting the lead theme is Charles Dickens, whose bicentenary the world is celebrating. The Giornate del Cinema Muto normally goes in for programmes on performers, filmmakers or national output, but a couple of years ago it broke the mould with its Sherlock Holmes and related detectives strand, and now Dickens is the main attraction for the 31st festival. It’s a welcome widening of the festival’s approach.

Other strands promised are rediscovered Italian films from the Komiya Collection of Tokyo and the Desmet Collection of Amsterdam, the Ukranian/Swedish acress Anna Sten (the rival to Garbo who never quite was, but someone you sense is ripe for rediscovery), German animation (Lotte Reiniger, Hans Richter, Walter Ruttmann etc), more once again from Australia’s excellent Corrick collection of early films, and the Canon Revisited strand of classics more read about than seen by most, such as Storm over Asia, Ménilmontant and Hands Up! Here are descriptions of some of the strands from the Pordenone site:

During the silent era about a hundred films were made from the works of Charles Dickens. These were produced, not only in his native country and in the USA, unsurprisingly, but also by companies from Italy, France, Germany, Hungary, Russia and, especially, in Denmark. What further proof is needed of the international popularity of these stories and characters, the importance of these writings on the development of cinematic story-telling and the influence of this work on the greatest of film-makers: Griffith, Chaplin, Eisenstein? For Dickens has been adapted for cinema and subsequently for television arguably more than any other great writer. Many of these early productions are now, unfortunately, lost; nevertheless, nearly a third of the silent films can still be found in archives throughout the world.

Dickens was born in 1812 and, during his bicentennial year, the continuing significance of the greatest English novelist will be celebrated throughout the world. So it is entirely appropriate that in 2012 Le Giornate del Cinema Muto should present a programme dedicated to silent versions of this great body of work. An extensive retrospective will include both rarely seen films and some that have recently been restored. The earliest extant adaptation is Scrooge, Or Marley’s Ghost, R.W. Paul’s version of ‘A Christmas Carol’ made in 1901, in which cinematic ‘special effects’ had to be mobilised to represent the temporal and psychological complexities of the original story. The last Dickens silent was The Only Way, Herbert Wilcox’s version of ‘A Tale Of Two Cities’ made in 1925, providing today’s spectator with an insight into the acting and staging techniques of late 19th century theatre. In between there are films from companies such as Gaumont, Vitagraph, Edison, Thanhouser, Hepworth and from directors such as Walter Booth, J. Stuart Blackton, Maurice Elvey, Marton Garas, Frank Lloyd. Some might object that these are of varying quality. Taken together, however, they chart a history of developing approaches to cinematic adaptations of literary texts. Perhaps the most exciting revelation in this bicentennial year will be long-awaited restorations of A.W. Sandberg’s Danish films for Nordisk which lovers of both Dickens and the silent screen will finally be able to assess. Eisenstein went so far as to claim that the very prose style of Dickens somehow prefigured the language of cinematic narration. In 2012 we look forward to engaging with this fruitful, contentious assertion.

The 31st Giornate del Cinema Muto will further pursue its mission to retrieve long lost masterworks of Italian cinema. Italian film history is documented better than any other, but a comparatively small proportion of the actual works are known to audiences. We are working both with Italian archives and the great international collections to retrieve works that have lain, often unrecognized, in the vaults. Last year Pordenone audiences saw hitherto unseen Italian films restored by the archives of Amsterdam, Rome and Turin. This year we are privileged to have the first sight of the Italian treasures from the Komiya Collection of Tokyo, opened up to the West for the first time in Pordenone, and a further instalment of the extensive Italian holdings of the Desmet Collection of Amsterdam.

ANNA STEN (1908-1993)
Swedish actress who was known as “the Russian Garbo”. With a startlingly photogenic beauty and a wide dramatic range that easily took in comedy and high drama, she was lucky or shrewd in always choosing fine directors and highly original subjects. This complete retrospective includes her debut in Boris Barnet’s classic comedy The Girl with the Hatbox, and Yakov Protazanov’s The White Eagle, in which Sten appears alongside two of the most legendary figures of Russian theatre, Vasili Kachalov and Vsevolod Meyerhold. Most remarkable is the international premiere of the rediscovered My Son, for 80 years believed lost, and directed by Yevgeni Chervyakov, long forgotten but now recognized as one of the most original and influential masters of the Soviet cinema. Sten’s last silent film, Lohnbuchhalter Kremke was shown, to an enthusiastic critical reception, at the Museum of Modern Art, New York in January 2011. Sten was subsequently taken to Hollywood by Sam Goldwyn, who planned to make her a star to eclipse Garbo and Dietrich. Her accent was against her, and though it lasted until 1964, her Hollywood career was undistinguished.

At the 2012 Giornate del Cinema Muto, the Deutsche Kinemathek, Berlin will present two programs of German silent animation films. In Germany, animation received its initial boost with propaganda films made to support the war effort in World War I. The post-war period saw a proliferation of animation artists, and in the 1920s the variety of animation techniques used was greatly extended: hand-drawn, stop-motion with models, cut silhouette, experiments with molten wax. Avant-garde artists like Walter Ruttmann and Hans Richter used animation techniques for groundbreaking abstract films. Most animation films however were made for a rather baser reason: to sell things. Yet the illustrators involved in making animated commercials succeeded in creating elegant, humorous little masterpieces that often quite transcend their original purpose. The Pordenone programs illustrate a wide selection of animation and colouring techniques, with work by the famous masters like Hans Fischerkoesen and Lotte Reiniger alongside lesser-known but no less gifted graphic artists.

All praise to the Pordenone people for unveiling so much of the programme so early, but such promises do help for those who need to plan ahead – especially those wondering whether to make 2012 the first year that they visit the festival. Already it would seem to be more than worth your while.