Magazine article Journal of Film Preservation

Pordenone 1993 Twelfth Edition

Magazine article Journal of Film Preservation

Pordenone 1993 Twelfth Edition

Article excerpt

And so we came to the fateful year of 1993: thus the festival programme, paraphrasing Cecil B. DeMille writing in his autobiography. DeMille was of course talking about 1913.

For those not familiar with Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, here is a brief introduction. It is an eight-day festival devoted to silent films held in October in Pordenone, a small town some 60 kilometres northeast of Venice. Started in 1981 with some 40 attendees, ten years later this seemingly impossible festival attracted 500 enthusiasts - archivists, academics, collectors, scholars - from around the world. It has become the Cannes of silent film, run by a handful of dedicated souls who perform a small miracle each year. But this year was a close call. The Verdi theatre had been closed, subsidies were reduced or cut altogether (rumour had it that all those who control the purse strings in Italy were in jail as the wave of political cleansing swept the country). Another kind of cleansing went on in the former Yugoslavia, just a short drive from Pordenone, and brought a massive NATO military presence to take up already scarce hotel rooms. But this is Italy. Money was found, some guests were received in the homes of private individuals (who surely were unaware that Le Giornate screenings, which start at 9am or earlier, NEVER end before lam and often much later) or bussed to hotels in a neighbouring town. The Verdi reopened just 24 hours before the festival was to begin. The show went on! And what a show. This year the chosen themes were films produced in 1913, a retrospective of the films of Rex Ingram and a tribute to Charley Chase on the centenary of their births, a tribute to the Prague archives on their Golden Jubilee, and a selection of films from Australia and New Zealand.

The limits of human endurance make it impossible to view every film shown, at least for this writer, though it is rumoured that some people do see everything. And space limitations make it impossible to describe every film shown. So, a few of the highlights.

The fateful year of 1913

From Scandinavia came two remarkable entries: Victor Sjostrom's first feature, the already accomplished work of social criticism lngebor Holm, and the somewhat rarer Atlantis, a ten-reel feature from Denmark's August Blom, that provoked sharply divided reactions. Léonce Ferret's four-part, two-hour long serial L'enfant de Paris (Gaumont) with its location shooting and narrative drive proved greatly superior to Pathé's Le roi de l'air (René Leprince). British production was less well represented. In comparison with others, the films were primitive but mercifully short with relatively little to choose between Pimple's Wonderful Gramophone (Joe and Fred Evans), There's Good in the Worst of Us (British and Colonial) and At the Foot of the Scaffold (Hepworth). The trick film The Mystic Mat (J.H.Martin) with its racist overtones, The Anarchist's Doom, directed for Barker by the peripatetic American Alexander Butler, and Blood and Bosh from Hepworth were perhaps more accomplished and consequently more entertaining but one could only wonder at the absence of a British feature. The six-reel Barker production of East Lynne, directed by Bert Haldane, comes to mind, given both its availability and its qualities, if we can go by Rachael Low's mouthwatering description. From Italy, along with the original spectacle film, Enrico Guazzoni's Quo Vadis?, came a newly restored print of the legendary diva Lyda Borelli's first film, Ma l'amor mio non muore! (roughly translated, But My Love Does Not Die), directed by Mario caserini, better known for his spectacular epics. It tells a Mata-Hari style tale of espionage with exceptional slowness despite, or because of, the absence of many of the inter-titles. It proved remarkable for its use of space and movement, using large 15-metre square rooms complemented by mirrors, and was ultimately a mesmerising experience.

If the British selection disappointed, the American selection literally shone in the dark. …

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