COLLEGIUM PAPERS - AN INTRODUCTION David Robinson
In the early years of the Collegium, the annual papers were published in hard-copy book form, which gave them a sense of permanence which some (if not all of them, perhaps) certainly deserved. Sadly, the changing situation of cultural economies no longer permits us this traditional style of record, and we now reluctantly acknowledge that the only mode or publication for the immediate future is on-line. We look for the positive side in every necessity. The formality of book production required that the papers underwent a formal process of editing, to transform them into conventional, correct English. It made for easier reading, but we were also conscious that often we lost a certain freshness and vitality in the very errors of people battling to express themselves in a language not native to them (and moreover we had occasional complaints that our editing was too opinionated!). The internet heartens informality and is a welcoming host to orthographic eccentricity. Now, then, we feel justified in publishing the papers in their original form – errors and enthusiasm unchecked. We are proud – even amazed by the best of them; disappointed in those that have not turned out so well. But they are all new voices, worth hearing. � ������� ������ ��������� ������ �������������� 1
� � � �THE COLLEGIUM “RULE”
The Collegium - whose sessions will be open to all guests of the festival and the general public - is an unconventional experiment in the technique of study. It is designed to utilise the unique conditions of the Giornate - a very concentrated one-week event; the possibility to see an extensive collection of rare archival films; the presence in one place and at one time of many (perhaps most) of the world's best qualified experts in film history - scholars, historians,
The aim of the Collegium is to excite a new generation in the idea of cinema history and heritage, and to infiltrate these newcomers into the very special community that has evolved around the Giornate during its thirty years. We want the participants in the Collegium to feel themselves members of that community, not to be awed and intimidated by the age, experience,
From past years' experience we recognise that we derive the maximum advantage from the special conditions of this short week of concentrated activity by returning to a fundamental, classical concept of study, in which the impetus is the students' curiosity and inquiry rather than the imposition of a formal teaching programme. Hence instead of formal lectures and panels, the daily sessions of the Collegium take the form of a series of "Dialogues", in the Platonic sense, in which the collegians sit down with groups of experts in different aspects of the Giornate programme or in various fields of the study and techniques of film history and conservation. The object of these Dialogues is not only to elicit information and instruction, but to establish personal, social connection between collegians and Pordenone habitues, so that the former will have no inhibitions about approaching the latter, in the course of the week, for supplementary discussion. Naturally collegians are required to see as much of the festival programme as possible. 2
To focus their inquiry, the members of the Collegium are each required to write, retrospectively, a paper or essay on some theme emerging from or inspired by the experiences of the Giornate. This may be done in collaboration with one of the "mentors" veterans of the previous year's Collegium who return to support and assist the newcomers. The principal sources of information for the publication are likely to be interrogation of the appropriate experts present at the Giornate or study of particular aspects of the programme. THE OVERALL CRITERION FOR PAPERS IS THAT THEY COULD ONLY HAVE BEEN WRITTEN AS A RESULT OF THE GIORNATE EXPERIENCE. There are no limits - beyond readable literacy - on the style and form of the essays. The aim is that these papers will not just be a student exercise, but will provide generally useful reading even for the experts from whose experience and advice they derive, who may discover insights which may not have struck them before. We do not look for formal academic or age qualifications in collegians. The qualities we look for in the twelve young people invited each year are enthusiasm, energy and above all curiosity. Prospective applicants should in the first instance simply write a letter explaining (1) who they are, (2) what is their special interest in film history, (3) what is their experience of silent films and (4) why they feel they are suited to be members of the Collegium, which involves integrating socially with the other collegians and mentors, and making positive contacts with the Pordenone population of film history experts.
� � � � �THE COLLEGIUM PAPERS 2010
An Experience That Speaks in Many Ways: A Giornate Review, by Jennifer Alpert................6 Brazilian identity in the films of Major Reis and Silvino Santos, by Rodrigo Campos Castello Branco ...................................................................................................... 11 Silent film in action, by Viktorija Eksta................................................................. 26 Preserving (E)Motion(s), by Valeria Festinese..........................................................35 Born by accident: Film medici di Vincenzo Neri, 1908-1928, by Raphael Luce...................46 "How would you like to throw plates at me for life?" or The Poetry of Inter-titles, by Zsuzsanna Kiràly..........................................................................................................60 Freefalling into the world of the silent film – a week in Le Giornate Del Cinema Muto, by Otto Kylmälä.......................................................................................................72 Black Holes in the Film History – Movies Outside the Genre Box, Ideas of a Nation Filmography and Obscure Movies from Great Directors, by Mateus Nagime......................................81 The Silent Films of Mikhail Kalatozov: Romanticism and the Sublime, by Amos Stailey-Young.93 A Fragmentary Appreciation of the Silent Cinema, by Kristofer Woods...........................106
An Experience That Speaks in Many Ways: A Giornate Review Jennifer Alpert
There are many ways to experience Le Giornate del Cinema Muto in Pordenone, some more elitist than others. On the one hand, there is the regular festival-goer category, comprised mostly of film academics and enthusiasts, some of which are also donors by virtue of making monetary contributions. Secondly, there is also the festival guest or award recipient, as was the case with film historians Kevin Brownlow and Andre Gaudreault this year. And thirdly, there is the experience of being a collegian, which brings together 12 film students from all over the world to experience the Giornate in a very different way: not only as young silent film enthusiasts but also as debutantes in a tight knight community that has been gathering once a year for almost three decades to watch films the way the were meant to be watched. Introducing young and aspiring scholars into this community is important according to the collegium directors. This festival is special: all films played are silent (or most, with the exception of some newer documentaries), usually rare and an overwhelming majority of the titles are played either on 35 or 16mm film. The 12 collegians (joined by 12 mentors and past year collegians as well as associate/voluntary collegians) are special in Pordenone: they watch films just like regular festival-goers, but also shape the mid-day dialogues that comprise the collegium experience. In these stimulating sessions, experts from selected areas of the festival come to give short talks and answer questions in an interactive format. At times, these open collegium sessions become crowded with festival-goers, who are just as curious and open to learning as the students themselves. This year, the “Grains and Pixels” and “Films Were Never Silent” sessions (the Film Preservation and Musical Accompaniment 5
dialogues respectively) attracted such numerous participants that some attendees listened through the open windows of the convent in which the talks take place. In addition to attending these hour and a half long noon sessions, there are also other items collegians learn right away upon embarking on their Pordenone experience. First, that at any moment in time, one may sit next to (in a restaurant or the theatre) an academic celebrity, an accomplished archivist, a person who has been attending Le Giornate loyally since its first edition or even one of the festival’s organizers! It is so easy to strike up casual conversation about the films everybody has been watching while going into the theatre (there are usually no lines to go in, except for the opening and closing night events). In the teatro Verdi, the festival’s venue this year, all educational levels mix and there is a cordiality that is unusual in industry festivals. Secondly, being a collegian is a well-loved role in the festival. It commands the respect and attention of people “in the know”, and while there is no handholding from the organizers, there is a vast former collegian network that does not hesitate to give a warm welcome. Thirdly, people are just as easy to find and talk to at the theatre than at the cafes along stunning backdrop of the city’s main streets. It is a collegian’s responsibility to talk to as many people as possible to aid in the research of a uniquely generated Pordenone experience based essay that will later be published as Collegium Proceedings. The paper and the dialogues are crucial to the collegium experience, but so is the programming (if not more than anything else!). This year, in its 29 th edition, the Pordenone Silent Film Festival’s centerpiece were the Shochiku films: among the most compelling pieces in this Japanese retrospective were Japanese Girls at the Harbor (Hiroshi Shimizu, 1933), Shingun (Kiyohiko Ushihara, 1930) and May Tomorrow Be Fine (Yasojiro Shimazu, 1929). Owners of a very different pace than the films in the other series, the Shochiku masterpieces are often contemplative, allowing an observation and appreciation of life that can span, as is the case of Love, Be With Humanity (Yasojiro Shimazu, 1931), almost 4 hours. A striking 6
preoccupation of the Japanese films in this series is that of unwanted, pre-marital pregnancy and the shattered honor of a well-respected family, as is the case in Reijin (Yasojiro Shimazu, 1930), and Ginga (Hiroshi Shimizu, 1931) among others. Another noteworthy part of the program was the Soviet retrospective, showcasing the films of Abram Room, Mikhail Kalatozov and Lev Push. Among those in this retrospective were beautiful prints of Room’s celebrated Bed and Sofa (1927) and Kalatozov’s not often shown Nail in the Boot (1931). To add to the poignant ideological underpinnings of the Soviet films was the strange but highly comedic Chess Fever (Vsevolod Pudovkin and Nikolai Shpikovsky, 1925), which was the most pleasurable of the lot as it recounts the story of a nation obsessed with chess. Another Soviet great, shown as a part of the 75 Years of Archives series, was Battleship Potempkin (Sergei Eisenstein, 1925). Though it did not command a massive audience, the film was a great festival moment as the Eisensteinian montage experiment took on a new life in the hands (and pianoforte keys) of the great Günter Buchwald. Preceded by John Grierson’s Drifters (1929), as part of The Canon Revisited program (which proposes to look at canonical works under a new context and with fresh eyes), the pairing of the two films created a synthesis that managed the latter series’ objective of looking at a classic just like a new film. The most pleasant rediscovery under The Canon Revisited was Il Fuoco (Giovanni Pastrone, 1915), a diva film that tells a not-so lovely love story of burning passion and heartbreak. Shown late at night and with a wealth of highly stylized costumes and over-the-top acting and romance, the crowds cheered and laughed as the screen revealed an Italian classic that still exerts a strong hold on those who lay eyes upon it. Another pleasurable moment came at the hands of Blind Justice (Benjamin Christensen, 1916), which allowed all the pathos an audience could ever want as it told the story of a man imprisoned after breaking into a house to steal milk for his baby. Rounding out the selected canon for this year was Mother Krausen Goes To Heaven (Piel Jutzi, 1929), a melodrama that not only delivered tears, but also the 7
sudden intervention of a numerous uniformed orchestra that elicited cries of delight from the audience. The real treat of the festival, and the best way for understanding what Le Giornate is all about, emerged towards the end of the week with the Magic Lantern Show. Though without the shocks and thrills of a narrative film, the projected images took on a life of their own, and accompanied with live piano and violin and a deep-voiced reciter, they brought audiences to the time of pre-cinematic forms, making apparent how and when cinema started. With a theatre filled to the brim, lanternist Laura Minicci Zotti delivered her last show after decades of projecting images that made audiences gasp in astonishment. The bittersweet moment was punctuated by the last image, a colorful portrait that had been the first that Laura had projected many years ago in her Venice home. The opening and closing events were carefully planned and successfully fitting. To officially open the week-long festivities was The Navigator (Buster Keaton and Donald Crisp, 1924), a sight for sore, weary and traveled eyes, some of whom had just arrived from the furthermost locations to enjoy the festival. Keatonâ€™s comedic timing and physical effectiveness is at its peak in this recently restored 60 minute jewel, and it elicited laughs and opened the conversation for collegians, first time festival goers and veterans alike. Moreover and loaded with the nostalgia of the end, Wings (William Wellman, 1927) dazzled both adults and children in attendance, foregrounding the long trip ahead that most would have to embark on to return home. In a beautiful 35 mm copy and accompanied by the numerous Mitteleuropea orchestra, at 139â€™ minutes the film seemed to be simply too short. In addition to the non-stop flow of screenings, there were other Pordenone-endemic pleasures to attend, such as the Jonathan Dennis Memorial lecture, delivered this year by Sir. Jeremy Isaacs. An anecdotal account of the making of the series Hollywood (Kevin Brownlow and 8
David Gill, 1980), and a loving ode to filmmaker, film scholar, documentarian and honorary Oscar recipient Kevin Brownlow filled up the Auditorium della Regione, another lovely venue just a block away from the main theater. Preceded by the Women and Film History International Meeting the day before, the pairing of these events contributes to the aura of the Giornate, which has a wealth of screenings, a vibrant intellectual life and plenty of unique moments to offer. For this first time goer and collegian, the great revelation was the Pordenone Masterclasses. In these instructional segments, three selected improvisational pianists learn from the best accompanists in the world how to successfully improvise to previously unwatched films. In one of the most revealing exercises, the musicians had to play to the opening sequence of Upstream (John Ford, 1927), a recently found John Ford film that would be unveiled to Pordenone audiences just two days after. While listening to the pianists explain strategies to predict story twists and make musical choices to accompany the images is usually the reason why people attend these classes, the most poignant learning experience is witnessing 3 different musicians give life to the same movie in their own personal (and different) musical style. I am not one of those people who have been going to Le Giornate del Cinema Muto for decades, but after this year and my initiation through the collegium experience, I hope to become one. Instead, today I am a silent film enthusiast who has been dreaming about going to a small, slumbery and picturesque northern Italian town to watch what many call “old silent movies”. The magic of Le Giornate does not reside in its exotic location, or even its virtue of being “the thing to do” in the world of film academia. Its allure is watching beautiful archival prints of rare, or canonical or newly found films with live musical accompaniment amidst large numbers of famous film scholars and enthusiasts who are passionate enough to travel to Italy once a year from all over the world. This year, I was 9
blessed to be a part of what Andre Gaudreault referred to when accepting his award: “New generations have this festival to feed them with new viewings. This is when a festival like this truly comes alive”. In its Brigadoon-like fashion, Le Giornate’s transcendental achievement is to remind its goers, year after year, that silent film can (and does) still speak to us.
Brazilian identity in the films of Major Reis and Silvino Santos Rodrigo Campos Castello Branco
It is hard to start this paper by any other way than talking about the experience of being present at Pordenone Film Festival - Le Giornate del Cinema Muto. The goal is not one of a purely metalinguistic approach, as it would be a clear restriction on what to write about; and most of all, I will not try to compare the (almost) unstoppable experience of watching dozens of silent films in a row during a whole week, as it was done before. The desire of talking about “being in Pordenone” comes from a more primitive instinct: that of being a foreign one in a foreign country, with a majority of viewers from different cultures and films from all over the world. For me, as a Brazilian, it’s a key shift of perspective and a constant clash of values. However, in the midst of external discoveries and inner understanding, I’m faced with a program including Brazilian films, under the “Rediscoveries and restorations” sessions – The silence of the Amazons (Il silenzio delle Amazzoni), where were exhibited four Brazilian silent films. This meeting aroused in me important issues in my condition of being a foreign student at Pordenone, making me think about what is to have Brazilian films exhibited outside their home country and what – for me – to watch them in a foreign land. Alongside, it is important to notice how the four Brazilian films shown relate to Brazil itself at the time and how they can be seen today in a programme of an international film festival. I don’t know if these issues would be the same if I was not from Brazil. I think it is important to underline this information otherwise there’s a chance that the whole paper is underestimated and consider to be pointless. The fact that I’m writing this as a Brazilian is relevant and I think that I would not be alone if followed by other South American, African or some Asian colleagues; it is a clear distinction between developed and underdeveloped 11
countries. I know that when comes to the history of cinema, economic and social conditions sometimes must not be taken into account, especially talking about Brazil, that have had an important role during the 1960’s with its New Wave - “Cinema Novo”. However, despite our past highlight in cinema history, I cannot reduce life only to films or believe that this will change completely the image of our country. Brazil is still Brazil, despite of past, present or future successes in the cinematographic world. We’re still outside the main international program in many other areas – Brazil is still most of the time seen as “exotic” and “mystical”, a “paradisiacal” and distant land – probably still an inheritance of the Great Navigation era and the image formed of a romantic place due to its tropical climate and “relaxed” way of life. Enough said on how Brazil is seen outside its borders, because it is not that important to determine how I felt while seeing Brazilian films in Pordenone. To have our national films screened outside Brazil is moving and exciting. I guess that other spectators from developed countries won’t have this thrill in seeing their national films in European festivals, for example. An American of French Collegium member (as I was in 2010) probably won’t take so much in consideration the screening of French or American films – they will deem it as natural. For me, it was really touching and I will try to discover some reasons along this paper. Within the last twenty years, cinema has spread its range, with upcoming new films and movements from neighboring countries with no tradition whatsoever: Philippines, Thailand, South Korea, among others. Although contemporary productions are coming from these unusual countries, until today it’s an important issue for us when there are Brazilian feature films in international festivals – it is a big deal for us to have a film screened at Cannes, for example; and just to have a concrete illustration, until today the movie O pagador de promessas (Keeper of Promises) is well-known for receiving the Palme d’Or in 1962. So, if this foreign appearance is projected for a silent film festival, it’s an obvious leap of importance, due to the fact that there are few vestiges of Brazilian silent production – only about 10% of 12
an already lean cinematography has survived. Our number of remaining silent feature films today revolve around 15, having more short films and newsreels. The Pordenone exhibition states it clearly: one feature film and three short films of thirty minutes. Looking back at the Pordenone programs from the last ten years, it has a clear majority of American and European films. In some years there were some Asian films, especially from Japan – for example, in 2010 we had a special programme on the Shochiku directors – but it’s rare to have films from countries with less “tradition” (using this word because of the lack of any other to summarize this idea of a country that is not so usual on the agenda of film festivals and overall screenings worldwide). It is not a critical appointment, as it is obvious that the main films and most prolific productions come from Europe and America. I would not expect to find such a diverse programming, as I imagine there is a difficulty in accessing satellite cinematographic productions combined with the scarce materials available for viewing and curatorship work within festivals; especially considering, as said before, silent films. I don’t think I could find any film from South America – if there really was, it probably was an unusual screening, with few matches along all the years of Pordenone Film Festival. Once again, it is not to blame, but to think about and to highlight the important issue in relation to this, already repeated to exhaustion in these few lines: have a Brazilian silent film screened at a foreign festival – more than that, screened in a foreign country. More than only an “intellectual” presence, it is a physical one. We all know how it works: the film is programmed and the production must go after the prints wherever they are. In this case, it was a partnership with Cinemateca Brasileira, located in São Paulo. So, the 35mm copies had to actually travel: cross the Atlantic Ocean on a 10 hour plane trip to reach Pordenone. They were taken out of their packages so they could be ready for exhibition on the scheduled dates, where they were placed into the projector so could be viewed by the spectators during their given running time. There is a concrete presence of a Brazilian item within any others; a 35mm copy made in Brazil, in “our” laboratory, with our technicians; and, of course, before 13
that, a film made within our borders, with a negative used to film our country; all these concrete acts sum up to the final one in Pordenone (actually, there are several final ones, i.e., public or private exhibition). Cinema, after all, is linked to these physical acts (that involves other steps other than these described here), that can be outspread into abstraction, into the fantasies of each mind while watching a film. Cinema is, in general, a collective art; and theaters were made to be attended by a big audience (that could reach until two thousand places); however, the film experience is individual. Sitting in a dark room, what passes through each mind can be unique, personal and happens to each one privately before being shared with the rest of the world. The “intellectual” or “fantastic” world that forms within us is the one that triggered this paper. The movement is to expand these individual thoughts into public ones. Although there were other Brazilians at Pordenone 2010, maybe they did not feel the same way I did; maybe they had already seen other Brazilian films outside the country; or maybe any other reason. Brazil at Pordenone The fact is that there is a double presence of the four Brazilian films at Pordenone: the concrete existence of the 35mm copies and the effect they produce. There is a space occupation, a territorial invasion in a good way and what this invasion can cause. Since its beginnings, films were a way of showing to people a new kind of culture, new places that they only heard about or saw in pictures. The new art reorganized the world into moving images, for the first time people could see the world and other people moving, as it were 14
real, as they were really there. In an interview given to the short Brazilian documentary called “Cinema é maresia”, the critic José Carlos Avellar tells a story of a little boy, in the midst 1920s, that goes to the movies and when he is back home, excitedly tells his mother: “Mother, mother!, I just saw the sea, that was not the sea but was the sea”. This little anecdote illustrates the power cinema had and still has. The boy saw the ocean in a film; however, it was not a real ocean, but it looked like an ocean and in fact, it was the ocean: the waves, the sand, the water. People from the countryside could see the ocean as it was, and people from United States could go to Venice without leaving their neighborhood – for example, one of the first Lumière Brother’s shorts filmed there, the one with the first “travelling”. Cinema can show and teach people about other cultures. You can experience visions and feelings never imagined possible, in a way literature and other arts cannot reach. The way people talk, move, how the sun reaches the trees, the “strange” phenomenon of snow to tropical countries or rain forests to frozen lands; feelings of anger, and specially, of love; places people could never go. And this was stronger during silent cinema, of course. It’s unfair to compare with present day possibilities of accessing images. Besides television (already present in the 1950s), with internet and the digital world anyone can reach anywhere, at anytime. During the first years of cinema, it was a different story. The ritual of going to movie theaters made each film special and important. Once or twice a week, people could leave their homes and be transported elsewhere. The physical print was there being projected and the images were exposed on the grains of silver salt; however, combined with light and a blank screen, the concrete presence evaporates into dreams – cinema, after all, is the stuff that dreams are made of. Cinema, in a way, teaches you to deal with different ways of living, and makes you love these different and new ways of life. It’s another experience to see today the same silent films that yore showed unknown places. 15
We can have this access by other ways; however, it holds some special characteristics to see them in Pordenone, for example. One of them is personal interest. In a busy day, not always we can find time to search on how Venice was in the end of the 19th century. But when watching a selection of Lumière films, you can be caught by these images. More than this, as said before, the experience of watching on film, with all the special conditions taken care, with the right speed and good projection makes the whole experience unique. Just to end, when seeing a Lumière film in 1896, what was actually being screened was present time Venice. Seeing a Lumière 1896 film today, what you see is Venice in 1896, that is, one hundred and fifteen years ago. So Venice exists twice: today and in the past – it is eternal. In our case here, just substitute Venice for the Amazon, which is where the four Brazilian films take place – the region, the river, the forest, the Indians. The Amazon exists twice and to reach the images of the 1920s is to discover it at that time, when it was actually filmed; however, there is a feeling that it always existed and will always exist. And the Amazon is Brazil. And it is Brazil being shown, being seen, being known. It is Brazil occupying a territory. Occupying it physically in two ways: with its 35mm copies and with the images projected at the screen; also, occupying it mentally, making people think about the country, its issues, the beauty and the problems, the cinema and the people. It is a new Brazil. Not the Brazil we are used to see in the news, but a silent one, inscribed within the context of silent film production and a silent film festival. It is a new dimension to the country. For me, it is a major breakthrough. Having the four films shown in Pordenone is a signal – even though a shy one – that Brazil exists to the world. Reis and Santos: pioneers Until today, these images are fresh and new. Silvino Santos and Major Thomaz Reis were 16
pioneers in filming the Amazon and their films show this consciousness of being the first ones to register a still unknown land for the majority of the population. Amazon was, obviously, known but never seen in movement. Oral tradition and photography passed on information on what was the Amazon region, its history and importance, its forest and the Indians, main inhabitants. However, to see them moving, their sacred rituals, costumes, habitats, houses and whatever more was a new thing. Of course, studying silent cinema makes you conscious of these little details that today we take for granted, but excuse me for getting sometimes too excited. Maybe because it is involving my own country, which takes me back to my initial subject. I can really imagine people going to the movie theaters in Rio de Janeiro – for example, the only reminiscent from the 1920s, Odeon Cinema, located at the city Center – and being baffled by the images from the Amazon, as there are some registered testimonials. Many images are the first ones made by the “white” civilization with the Indian tribes. Important critics at the time, Adhemar Gonzaga and Pedro Lima, were somehow against the filming of documentaries, which they called “the naturals”, that as the expression suggested, would film our nature and its components. For them, this was a retrograde and conservative point of view, because it only showed a primitive and old Brazil, whereas for them our country should be seen as modern, with habits similar to the roaring twenties expressed in American movies, for example. Not only habits, but perfectly built settings and well dressed and beautiful actors – in contrast with rugged Indians and beat-up houses from the countryside. It was not a prejudicial point of view, as it may seem, but a desire to state Brazilian society as a progressed one, to match with other countries they considered to be “top notch”. This was during the 1920s; in fact, in 1930 there was a small revolution that enabled some traditional values to be overcome, as Gonzaga and Lima wanted. All of this is to say that if at that time these “natural” images were repelled by some, this only proved some impact on society, good or bad. Today, it is an important historical record to know two sides of the same story – both the ones in favor and the ones against – but what is most relevant, is 17
to interpret the data and to interpret the films today. Reis’ aesthetic and political choices Major Reis’ films were really made for exhibition, as they had an educational and political connotation. However, before going directly to the films, it is important to understand in which context Rituaes e festas Bororo, Parimã, fronteiras do Brasil and Viagem ao Roraimã were made. Luiz Thomaz Reis was a military, and for that received the post of “major”, being best-known today as “Major Reis”. He joined an expedition to the Amazon region called Comissão Rondon (“Rondon Commission”), named after Marshal Rondon, its leader. The expeditions had the objective of mapping the territory and identifying the indigenous tribes. Major Reis was the cameraman, setting up the Rondon Commission’s Photography and Cinematography Section and was in charge of registering in film what was being discovered. He was really conscious of the impact those images could have, becoming really careful in what and how to film the forest, the river and the Indians. In a brief talk at Pordenone with Carlos Roberto de Souza, from Cinemateca Brasileira, he told me about a series of reports written by Major Reis during the Amazon expeditions. In one of his notes, he wrote once that he spent almost a week on a boat and could not film, because there was nothing worth seeing by the spectators. This shows both an artist and a visionary behind the military – in his journey along the Amazon River, he needed to portray Brazil in the best way possible. The films were born in the middle of political expeditions, deemed to be exhibited for two 18
reasons: the first, as educational and governmental tools; second, to have a paying public attending the sessions so as to finance other expeditions and especially, more equipment and unexposed film. However, behind the camera we had a thoughtful director doing skilful camerawork. So, as they were aiming public exhibition, Reis really wanted to cause an impact. He was aware of the subject originality, the pioneering work that was done and had the conviction that those images would be seen by a public so “virgin” on those matters as the “virginity” of the land and the people portrayed. Filming becomes a political act – in Thomaz Reis films, portraying a yet unseen part of Brazil. Also, becomes an artistic act – how to portray this yet unseen part of Brazil. The group of films holds this positive (and universal) tension. The three films come from two different periods: Rituaes e festas Bororo is from 1916 and the other two (Parimã, fronteiras do Brasil and Viagem ao Roraimã) are from 1927. On the aesthetic issue, there is a major difference. In 1917, he used orthochromatic negative, which was substituted by panchromatic one. The precarious conditions Major Reis faced did not include only the film stock he used (a short contrast-range and low sensitivity) – while going on expeditions inside the Amazon forest, the whole situation was aggravated by the environmental conditions and the reduced group that helped him with camera and equipment. Nevertheless, there was a precise way of dealing with camera and negative, always in favor of the object filmed. There was a desire to obtain the most real and virginal image, to go into the wild and savage world and make it visible. It is, in a way, an ethnographic cinema, similar to what Robert Flaherty would do – excluding the fictional quota introduced by the American director. To record the Indians in their brutal and primitive stage, as they really were. Festas e rituaes Bororo had access to a never seen funeral ritual, for example. The work of Major Reis is close to anthropology and sociology, uniting them with cinema – as a matter of fact, having cinema as the only carrier possible to register, study and 19
exhibit the images. Major Reis’ images show fascination before the Indian tribes and the Amazon forest, a clear passion while filming. Each shot is carefully exposed and the editing is done as to explore the potentialities of each image. Reis adds titles to the film and they seem like transcriptions of his notes. The intimacy with the Indians, the freshness and new-found rituals and celebrations, combined with the agil narrative and beautiful contrast and framing make Festas e rituaes Bororo a very pleasant experience. Along the years, there is a shift in his point of view. If in 1917 there is a more romantic approach towards the Amazon and the Indians. However, there is never a pure contemplation, but a tour de force in trying to create a film itself: a complete body of work, which could be used on educational, political or only on an aesthetic level. Afterwards, the same passion is united with a more conscious feeling over his political importance. Ten years had passed, society had grown and the expeditions were becoming more constant and more serious. If in the 1917 film it was a rediscovery of a space, as there were never been films done in the Amazon region, the 1927 films show a clear desire of space occupation through his images. The scope of his film made him more aware how far he could go, independently of the political background of the expeditions. For the two other films are done in a different kind of expedition. In 1917, Major Reis considered Brazil as a Brazil that existed since forever – because it really did, despite of any “white men” intervention or artistic operation –, however was not known and that should become part of our History. It was the act of transposing it into art, making it visible, accessible, and existing to mankind. Then, around 1927-27, he goes back to the same Brazil – which still isn’t part of the whole, because although in ten years many changes can happen, you can’t insert overnight a giant portion of land and a completely different kind of people into an already “organized” society – and wants to perform a new act of discovery and 20
occupation. Both are rediscovering a land, just the interests and goals differ: the 1917 is the first men discovery, with all the passion it could take; the 1927 is a discovery aiming an occupation. Occupation not in a negative sense, of taking it away from the Indians, but integrating the Amazon with the rest of Brazil. Leaving the safe place of “civilization” into an unknown so-called savage world, to take things from it so as to make a film and bring them back to his port haven. So as to illustrate this positive appropriation of the “wild Brazil”, the film Viagem ao Roraimã ends with a shot of the whole expedition crew, side by side, on the top of a mountain chain, with a Brazilian flag, under an inscription carved on rock that reads Viva o Brasil! (Long live Brazil!). Major Reis and me In a way, the route taken by Major Reis more than eighty years ago is similar to mine when present at Pordenone Film Festival. I myself did a space occupation as well, facing equivalent steps (even though in different contexts). As Reis, I left the comfort of my city, my country, with all the pre-established paradigms, to face a “new world” for me. Another language, way of life and wardrobe (well, in Rio de Janeiro 20oC is a considered to be a cold weather, so in Europe people do have to warm up). Fortunately, there is a common language, English. Once there, as Reis, I had to assemble knowledge so as to create something for me and bring it back to Brazil. He recorded images so as to make a film; I gathered information, in a minor level to write this paper and in a major level, to add life experience as this whole and abstract concept. However, when reaching this “new world” I’m utterly faced with my own country, which makes me think about myself, nationalist feelings and, of course, Brazil. What is to be a foreigner? Are we forever attached to our homeland? Can we travel and forget about our roots? Or it will always be a political, social and/or cultural act to be a Brazilian all the way across the Atlantic? When I was certain that getting away would make me lost I was faced with all the tools to try to understand me better: my relation with my country and 21
Brazilian cinema. I think I have a similar convergence points with Reis: both of us were strange to the Amazon and the Indians but were really moved by them. Amazon is really physically and emotionally distant from me; although I grew always hearing and seeing it, we’re almost 4.500km apart (more or less the distance of Lisbon to Moscow). I access the Amazon as an unknown land but discover Brazil and myself a Brazilian when seeing it – maybe just because I saw it on another context, outside national borders; or maybe because I was never confronted with this kind of thought and it made me think. Anyhow, the presence of our culture in a foreign land intensifies our nationalist feeling. I like to think I am connected to Reis at some point. Besides convergence, there is dependence. If I felt as occupying a space, a “personal occupation”, it was only possible because I met Reis doing his own occupation – more than that, Reis was representing the whole “Brazilian cinema” (or just say: “Brazil”?) in this occupation. In a way, they complete itself. Better than that, I need Reis occupation so as to do mine. In a way, my occupation needs Reis’, but I think Reis occupation would only close a circle if confronted with a Brazilian spectator – in other words, he needs me. The objective, in a way, is of course to place Brazil in front of foreign people, show our silent film production, a small slice that can open up to other works; however, it sometimes feels that it is only a perfect occupation because of the presence of a Brazilian to respond to it, to understand and interpret the exhibition, that otherwise could go unnoticed. Reis occupation is in fact a double one: the per se filmic occupation in the 1920s; and the physical occupation of the 35mm copies – which have nothing to do with his persona, only with his films, being it the representative of all Brazilian cinema. Past and present together, looking at a future: eternal, as every work of art.
Building a country through cinema Can we reach a national identity through Brazilian cinema – or through Cinema at all? There is something close to us that draw us near, an urgency in responding to images that are made in our home country – being it Brazil, Italy or Japan, depending on which nationality you are from. Something that one can be completed by, explained by. It is too personal, sometimes, to define, to hammer a concrete answer. However, for me, there is a warmth in the heart. An unexplainable certain familiarity, the one we have when meeting an old friend or a distant relative, one of those you do not see very often but brings good feelings and memories every time you see. It is Brazil; our land; our people. In reality, that could happen in any form of expression: a book, an article in a magazine, a TV show. So, I think this is the time to think where cinema comes in and what does cinema has to do with all these abstract reflections. There is some specificity in moving images. Theorists since the beginning of critical film thinking tried to determine what this unique characteristic could be: camera, movement, editing, many others. But there is something more and we have to go back to the story of that little boy and the ocean. The naivety to look at the images and think that we are actually elsewhere and that those reproductions are real – or it feels like real. To watch our national films is a similar experience of watching silent films: we have to take a step back, get rid of many prejudices we have of watching a cinematographic work of art. Some prerogatives are imposed to our look and interpretation that form a rigid way of fitting any film within a critical view. The step must be taken and other prerogatives drawn: in case of silent film, for example, the perspective of History; with “our” films, the perspective of closeness. It is not condescendence, but to understand that there is an extra strength, that will not be found in the grains of silver salt or in the object chosen to appear – the whole conjunction, the sum of all factors. In the case of Major Reis and Silvino Santos films, there is no need to underestimate them – they are good enough to be seen in any social and cultural context, to be sided by any other film. What make them so universal and present nowadays is a pressing 23
issue on defining a nationality – or trying to. Let’s take the three films of Major Reis; they are a perfect example of building an idea of a country. There is a “project of Brazil”. Within formal or content choices, Reis is proposing significant shifts of perceptions on what our country can be. The perfect framing, the portrayal of a primitive and mystical land, the Amazonic sunlight beautifully captured by the camera; Reis was worried on how to show it. He made tests of virgin negatives, for example; and Silvino Santos, on the other hand, asked Kodak for a special film stock propitious to the tropical light – as Kodak was settled in the North Hemisphere, Santos deemed that the color balance favored a different kind of light than the one he would face in Brazil. We actually have a different color temperature. Both Reis and Santos had to face technical difficulties – Reis processed his films in the forest, put them to dry held in pieces of wood, always taking care not to have flies sucking on the film strip cellulose. These are examples of all the attention given to the images they were recording, because they are intimately connected to the way they wanted to Brazil to be perceived. Reis wanted to create, in fact, a new country. Since the 1600s until the 1800s we had what we called the “bandeirantes”, Brazilian scouts that went on expeditions within the territory, pushing inwards, who discovered and settled on new lands, drawing up our territorial borders and making Brazil be how it is today. However, still in the beginning of the 20th century the regions settled by the “bandeirantes” were not considered to be real part of the country, and Reis’ work was a follow up on what had begun 400 years before – now, with a new media, using his camera and making films. There was an idea of change – change the mentality, transform the way people thought, establishing new foundations on how to deal and relate to our country. That was the way Cinema contributed to a change and we should be proud of it. And we Brazilians should be proud of having these films exhibited in an international silent film festival; to have these important gems of our History to be seen and studied; to make 24
these images part of an universal body of images and works of art. It is Brazil occupying its space, extending its reach, showing to the rest of the world a piece of our land, our people, our art, our mentality, our films, our Cinema.
Silent film in action Viktorija Eksta
The action of a silent film starts when a human being establishes a personal contact with it. The magic of this contact moment is a challenging topic to handle because it seems to be an ungrounded immaterial process. In this paper I will try to take a closer look at the relations in the dramatic triangle formed by a silent film, a musician and a spectator seated in the chair of Teatro Verdi di Pordenone. I will examine how they are linked together and how the choices they make shape the contact moment. Tracing this process may contribute to understanding how the Pordenone silent film experience is formed and suggest what could be done to invigorate it and keep the silent film culture alive and attractive for the contemporary audience. In the collegium session Films were never silent: The changing musical challenge experienced silent film accompanist Neil Brand expressed a wonderful thought about the difficulties in composing a score for films with an alternative narration. This thought could be a helpful motto: â€œDonâ€™t try to play the universe, grab something you can handle! Even for movies about cosmos, try to find something universal that people can sympathize with.â€? Space Once in Pordenone, there is a very slight chance that a silent film lover would become captivated by the marvel of a suddenly discovered painting in an art gallery or a rinascimento Madonna statue in the park. Located in the region of Venice, the lovely town of Pordenone lacks the typical overabundance of tourist attractions where the main focus could lay on several small churches, restaurants, a Saturday market and a green spot by a Pordenone river. 26
All the roads, after all, lead to Teatro Verdi di Pordenone. It is a smoothly curved four-floor building of a futuristic shape. The hall interior is characterized by a cold chromatic interaction of silvery shining zincified surfaces, white marble and semitransparent glass. Screenings take place in a wide auditorium. The fact that Verdi has an orchestra pit under the stage and nice acoustics is inviting for the silent film cinema screenings accompanied by the live music. The spectator can choose a seat covered with soft red velvet. The seats are quite comfortable and there is suitable leg space. Each seat is separated so that physical contact with the neighbors is restricted. It is more likely to enjoy a volunteer choice of seats during the morning sessions – the size of the evening crowd leaves one with little choice. The location of the seat determines the spectator’s point of view and there should be a bunch of festival regulars desperate to occupy the same seat every year. It is possible to choose a place in front or in the back of the auditorium or to climb to the first, second or third balcony. Front rows offer a stimulating atmosphere for those willing to take notes. The first balcony is best suited for active immersion in the show since the spectator’s body becomes positioned on the same level with the screen. Its central seats are, however, covered to avoid spectators sitting in the way of the projection beam thus reminding that Verdi was not originally designed for the cinema screenings. The third balcony offers a head twisting point of view that can be associated with a camera angle frequently used in Soviet montage films – the spectator could imagine himself as a dominating bourgeois exploiter leering at a proletariat victim. Attitude Le Giornate has a special place in the world of film festivals. It gives a possibility to travel time via artifacts coming directly from a certain epoch. There is no red carpet and there are no celebrities in evening gowns. The stars seen at Le Giornate are known only by its particular audience – this statement refers to many of the silent film actors and directors, as 27
well as to star film historians, restorers and archivists. Films premiered at Le Giornate have a good chance to become a long-term attraction for cinema researchers although those will never experience great financial success. Paolo Cherchi Usai wrote that viewing a silent film on a large screen with an orchestra is bound to become a wholly different kind of cultural phenomenon, more or less the equivalent of an opera house event. 1 Both activities share a shade of celebration and mystery. For many spectators, both occasions are special events (especially in small countries like Latvia where silent film screenings with live music do not happen often) whereas going to cinema is a commonplace activity. Before Le Giornate, my core experience in this field came during the Odessa film festival where the local navy orchestra accompanied the screening of Battleship Potemkin on the legendary Odessa stairs. The common characteristics of the festival audience are affection towards and/or deep professional interest in silent cinema. The atmosphere is vivid although it is far from motley crowd that comes to mind when thinking of the early silent film theaters. The majority of festivalâ€™s spectators are educated and well-situated people over forty who immerse themselves in the festival world on a regular basis, but young and curious faces can also be found. Many regular spectators have an eye trained to notice the most unexpected elements of the film structure. Yet a decrease in the emotional perception could be the main drawback for an experienced festivalgoer. Pordenoneâ€™s spectators are emotional in a special way - for many of them, the films are seen as something living. It would be good to find a way to attract more students because it could contribute to the exchange of knowledge and energy between the generations, add some open-mindedness to the event and ensure silent cinema with educated spectators who would care about maintaining it as a living cultural form in the future. There are many ways how it could be achieved. The most common solutions could be spreading information through the universities and internet resources loved by young cinephiles and inviting young people to get more involved in the festival activities and organization on a voluntary basis. More creative solutions could also be invented. For 1
Cherchi Usai, Paolo: Silent Cinema. London: BFI publishing, p. 90
example, inviting art students to submit artworks inspired by silent films and organizing an exhibition in the festival space or inviting young mime performers to take over the streets during the time of the festival. People who want to see as many films as possible follow a tough regime because each film is screened only once. Screenings start at 9 am and end around midnight. Shaping the whole week around such a schedule is a difficult task. Should one try to see everything or take a break after each piece to renew the concentration? Should one try to take notes, connect with the picture as much as possible or just observe it in a relaxed way? Should one choose sleeping and restoring energy for the next dayâ€™s screenings over socializing? For me, it was quite difficult to find the right balance. The Pordenone experience took away the healthy shade of my skin that was gained during two weeks of physical work in fresh air. Instead, however, I got some valuable knowledge and shared beautiful moments with films and people. To keep the rolling feeling The quality of the musical accompaniment is one of the beauties offered by Le Giornate. Although a week filled with live music is able to disturb the perceptive capability of a person used to the compilation of everyday noises called silence. A non music listener, who gets exposed to the sound of piano for a longer period of time, is in danger to get a musical infection that keeps on playing music inside his or her head long after this person leaves the auditorium hoping for a moment of a peaceful rest. In many cases it ends with the temporary difficulties to concentrate on the moving images combined with slight headaches. Whereas a musician enjoys a very special kind of contact with the film. He or she watches it in an active mode. A musician transforms information carried by the moving image into sound and thus opens a film up for reinterpretation. Participants of the Pordenone master classes have put a lot of effort into practicing the piano 29
accompaniment for the short films of the French comics. The accompaniment of a short requires a very fast reaction. The musician has to get an immediate insight into the film and has to understand who the main character is, what is happening to him or her and what emotional mood drives the scene. If there is a block of shorts, the tempo of the accompaniment should be varied to keep away the monotony that can lull spectators into a gentle sleep. It was not the main characters, but the green mountainous setting of Germaine’s Dullac’s La Folie des Vaillants that inspired composer and accompanist Maud Nellissen to create a marvelous trio score (violin/cello/piano) for this film. It was partly based upon a theme by the Spanish composer Federico Mompou. Nellisen went to the countryside to create the right music. She said that the nature seen in the shots carried a sense of beauty, passion and freedom stronger than the exaggerated performances of the actors who played the young Roma couple. Nellisen admitted that an original trio score (violin/cello/piano) composed by Yves de Casinière for Alberto Cavalcanti’s short Rien que les heure (for which she performed a piano part during the Pordenone projection) is an example of the effectiveness of music for a film with an alternative narrative. She described this film as a very human and warmhearted city symphony. The musical score, with its eclectic composition - where different styles refer to the different hours of the day - completes an impression of the details of casual Parisian life and long vanished places. She said that for films that lack main characters, a musician should create one. It is important to understand what the director’s intention was and what binds the filmic elements together, to catch the comprehensible and communicate it to the audience in the best possible way. If a film is based on a concept, a musician has an opportunity for a more flexible relationship with images and an individual choice. Usually it is the first intuition that helps this kind of research best because it appears from long practice whereas tendency for the overall rational analysis can wipe away the traces of life and end in the production of a dead composition. 30
Talking about general rules for silent film accompaniment, Maud Nellisen admitted that it is important to get rid of the egoistic desire to bring out a nice melody. The film comes first! Neil Brand noted that a musician should not try to make an unfunny film funny or feel guilty about the filmic flaws. “The best thing to do in this case is to keep a feeling that we all are having a good time.” However, an experienced accompanist is capable of defusing the misdeeds of the projectionist. I believe that it was composer and accompanist Philip C. Carli who told a story of how he tried to save the show and slow down the film that was projected at the wrong speed (24 frames per second) by playing along as if it was run at 19 frames per second. He therefore warned some people in the audience that the speed would not be perfect and got appreciative responses about the projection speed and quality of the show. Neil Brand noted that the perfect scores are the ones you hear when you need to, the worst ones don’t give you a chance. A high-class accompanist knows how to play along the film “ a music that sounds like music, not just a bare rhythm. One that gives a rolling feeling.” This thought can be applied to characterize a good film director. To tell a story he or she uses various kinds of constructions, but never ends up producing a bare skeleton. There should be bits of flesh made out of characters, things, textures, shapes, light patterns and a touch of soul to breathe life in the frame. Several Pordenone musicians have admitted that “the best directors make their intentions absolutely clear and their films go like music” (this statement refers to the pace of editing on a bigger scale). Neil Brand said that while playing a piano for Abram Room’s “ The ghost that never returns” he could perfectly feel how long each shot is going to last. Commenting on his score for John Grierson’s The Drifters composer and accompanist Philip C. Carli admitted that perfectly polished graphical editing allures musicians to follow its rhythmical construction. The composer kept in mind the director’s suggestions to observe editing closely (or would it be more appropriate to say listen to it closely?) and has then chosen to 31
concentrate on the overall emotional drive of the film that bridged over the editing. The tendency to reinforce a universally human emotional message of a film is one of the reasons why Pordenone musicians are not eager to play other cultures and rarely use folk music and national motifs. Well known melodies, however, can cause unexpected responses from the audience given that it happened during the screening of Mutter Krausens fahrt ins Gluck, Piel Jutziâ€™s drama influenced by the documentary esthetics and Soviet montage school. Pianist John Sweeney stopped playing when a German proletariat girl Ilse rushed to join her boyfriend in the Socialist manifestation. As she ran towards the protesting crowd, a faint sound of The Internationale started. A marching band entered the orchestra pit and the accompaniment exploded in a full-blown performance of a marching score that made some spectators (probably with the help of singers that were intentionally placed in the crowd) rise up from their seats and sing along. Esthetics vs. Ethics With one accord, musicians agreed that keeping original scores widespread for the blockbuster silent films is not always an esthetic decision, but one under commercial and political control. They were convinced that changing (or adjusting) the score once a decade could help a silent film survive and attract new spectators. Old music often becomes clichĂŠd and not attractive for the audience. Anyhow, it is impossible to obtain historical accuracy of the screening whereas concentrating on the emotional impact is more likely to attract new audiences and contribute to maintaining the culture of silent cinema. A peculiar effect was created by a sensible and gentle piano accompaniment for the twentyfive minutes long selection of the medical films by Professor Vincenzo Neri. He had used a film camera as an analytical tool in his medical research of neural diseases, pathological walks and reflex disorders. Piano accompaniment carried light emotions and while combined with an image it set off an unconscious temptation to perceive these shots as esthetic 32
objects. Another painful topic was emphasized by the collection of the Amazon films that documented various expeditions to the Brazilian jungle. Through these films, the spectators could witness a patronizing attitude towards the native inhabitants. With an exception of the funeral ceremonies held for an elder of the village in the Mato Grosso region in the film Rituaes e festas Borôro (photographed by Luiz Thomas Reis), the camera often exposed natives almost as objects fit for the anatomical examination. The longest film of this program No rastro do Eldorado – a document of the expedition of American geographer Alexander Hamilton Rice through Amazon rain forests photographed by Silvino Santos - was presented without the intertitles. Brazilian musician Angela Nagai narrated live, with the commentary taken from Rice’s writings on the expedition in English while Gustavo Barbosa Lima accompanied the film with various instruments. Rice’s words, as well as several shots revealed the superior attitude of his research group towards the natives. Whereas the narrator’s voice with an intonation of the tourist guide in some parts of the film reinforced its imperialistic mood – not only natives, but also spectators were told where to look. Conclusion While writing this paper I did not intend to make a list of all the issues necessary to ensure a contact between a film and a spectator. That is why I did not talk about essential things like programming or quality of copies and projection, but tried to pick aspects that make the Pordenone film festival special and that analyze the screening space, the audience and most of all the work of the Pordenone musicians. The last was possible because of the opportunity to see Pordenone workshops and participate in the Collegium session that gave a unique chance to see all of the musicians together having a wonderful conversation and ask them questions. Bringing films in contact with an audience helps not only to preserve silent cinema 33
itself (as an artifact), but also to ensure the survival of the silent film spectatorship as a cultural form. I hope that in future this festival will win more love and participation from the young generation. Le Giornate offer qualitative silent film experience that could help young people to grow free from widespread stereotypes associated with the silent film experience for example that silent films are funny because characters are moving too fast. I would like to thank to Renata Kovalchuka for her help in my struggle with the English language and to Vito Adriaensens for his help in commenting on the structure and language use in this paper.
Preserving (E)Motion(s) Valeria Festinese
In the first decade of the cinema, films were sold outright and there are comparatively large number of film around this period, often founded in private collections. After 1908, films were rented, so they were returned to the distributors after use. The prints were looked after better but as soon as there was no longer a demand for a given title, the emulsion was stripped from the base and the silver reclaimed and sold. By 1915, the era of the short film was almost over, and films were destroyed to make way for feature-length films. The same thing happened in 1928-29 with the coming of sound: silent features had no further commercial life. Of all the films produced up to the early 1930s, when sound film was introduced, it is estimated that about 70-80% have been lost 2. There are many reasons for this situation, including practical issues (the problem of storage space), economic considerations (silver of the emulsion was reclaimed) and aesthetic values (old films were considered “primitive”). But even without human intervention or negligence, films also destroy themselves. Films on a nitrate cellulose base, which were used until the early 1950s, are notoriously chemically unstable. For several decades duplication onto acetate cellulose or safety film stock was considered sufficient to preserve the films for the centuries to come. The first duplication materials for black and white were introduced in the late 1920s and only then was it possible to make reasonable duplications. But today we know that safety film is almost as unstable as nitrate. 2
See Raymonde Borde, Storia delle distruzioni, in “Cinema & Cinema” n. 63, pp. 93–103.
Nowadays most of the archives don’t destroy originals after duplication, in the hope that, in saving the original, improvements might occur, such as better duplicating stocks, printing technologies, or even that a new medium will be invented which can retain more of the information on from the original film. Digital restorations are increasing, with both pros and cons. Certain aims of film restoration which are impossible to fulfil with traditional techniques may be realized with digital techniques. How have preservation and restoration changed over the years? How do different archives from all over the world preserve their films? What effect do different methods of preservation have on the spectator’s experience? Which are the best methods of preservation? What is the goal of a restoration? With the help of archivists, curators, restorers and scholars met in Pordenone I will try to find some answers to these questions. Analysing the programme of “Le giornate del cinema muto”, in particular the Japanese and the Brazilian sections, I will show the difference of quality of the copies explaining the reason of that. How these films came to us? How they have been restored? What was the result of the restoration and the impressions of the public? A flash history of restoration From 1920s to 1940s there was a primitive policy of duplication: films were duplicated onto safety bases of different formats from the original (9,5mm or 16mm), in order to save them from destruction. Aside from basic preservation, there was very little interest in aesthetic concerns in this period, for example, in the colours of tinted, toned, stencilled and handpainted films from the silent era. In the 1950s, with the advent of 35mm safety stock, a more organized policy of preservation, not only duplication, started. However, the problem of the colours remained until 1960s, when the colour internegative became available. In the 36
1970s a more scientific approach started: a film restoration involved a process of philological reconstruction of the original film, using non film materials in addition to the film itself, like scripts, studio notes, newspaper articles, censor’s authorizations, promotional materials. In the 1980s and 1990s, there were three reconstructions that attracted the attention of large audiences: Napoleon (1927, Abel Gance), Intolerance (1916, D. W. Griffith) and Metropolis (1926, Fritz Lang). During this time there was an economic dimension of exploitation of the big restoration projects. It was also in the 1990s that the first digital restorations were made, for example The Matinee Idol (1928, Frank Capra)3 and wider restoration projects that involved different European archives, such as “Plan Nitrate” or “Lumiere Project” were begun. Contemporary restoration processes Film history is a long sequence of new inventions, new technologies and every innovation also brings its own aesthetics, new forms of expression, new forms of addressing the audience, and new forms of representation and storytelling. In the last decade, digital technology has proven to be an effective new tool for film restoration. Where photochemical restoration is not effective, for example, in the case of damage to a film that involves the loss of part of the image like deep scratches in the emulsion, digital techniques have proven more successful. In such cases, digital technology enables restorers to do things that were impossible before. Furthermore, digital scanners are able to scan the shrunken and vulnerable nitrate prints. The quality of the reproduction of the original image and sound has changed radically with new technologies. The saturation of certain colours, the grain structure of the emulsion, the 3
See Giovanna Fossati, From Grain to Pixel, Amsterdam University Press, Amsterdam 2009, pp. 212-219.
contrast range of a particular film stock, etc. – all these characteristics were often consciously used by directors and cinematographers to obtain a certain effect. I think that the new possibilities given by digital technology should be used to preserve and maintain the aesthetic characteristics of a film. Restoration projects and film reproduction methods are not entirely perfect - there is always a duplication - but many aspects of it could come close to perfection with new technologies. Digital means can be a valuable instrument in restoration processes even if there are indeed problems still to solve. For example, digital scanning of film images still takes an enormous amount of time and money, and often the image produced is much lower resolution than the original film. As new digital tools offer more choices with respect to the extent of intervention, the restorer is charged with a greater responsibility. In the analog restoration nothing is added to what has survived of the original image. The aim is to make the mechanical duplication of the film possible, repairing tears and broken perforations. With digital restoration, on the contrary, everything is about intervening directly inside the image and replacing missing information. That is why ethical issues have been introduced in the debate on film restoration guideline. Aesthetics and Ethics The FIAF’s Code of Ethics sates that: “When restoring material, archives [...] will not seek to change or distort the nature of the original material or the intentions of its creators”. As Paul Read and Mark-Paul Meyer say in their book Restoration of Motion Picture Film, “film restoration cannot be done merely from a technical point of view. It is also an action of interpretation and options of taste and editorial decisions; it can be also be influenced by 38
prosaic circumstances like practical or financial restrictions” 4. The aim of a restoration will be defined by the film restorer but can be determined by the restoration policy of the commissioner, for instance an archive. It is important to distinguish the particular visual and aesthetic qualities of a film print. In terms of restoration it is important not just to preserve the information of image and sound, but also these characteristic – aesthetic – qualities of image and sound. Giovanna Fossati writes: “I argue that maintaining the original film’s look is more important than remaining true to the original format. For instance, if a digital copy of a film could reproduce (simulate) the original characteristics of an obsolete 35mm color system better than a copy on contemporary 35mm color film stock, I would opt for the digital copy” 5. This approach is a little bit different from the established idea to maintain as much as possible the original format of the film (16mm, 35mm), but useful to preserve the general sensations that an old film gave to the spectators. Film restoration is essentially duplication and it is impossible to make a perfect copy of the original. But a question is central: what is the “original”? Certainly, films exist in different versions and editions, especially silent films. In fact, in the silent era there were often more than one negative because duplicating film material did not exist and because second negative were send to another country for foreign distribution. The second negative was done using a second camera running at the same time. So not only is there not one “original,” but the print’s source, the camera negative, might have been one of many as well! In line with Benjamin, authenticity doesn’t matter when the object is mechanically reproducible. And the cinema is the reproducible art form par excellence. Giovanna Fossati 4 5
Paul Read and Mark-Paul Meyer, Restoration of Motion Picture Film, Butterworth-Heinemann, Oxford 2000, p. 70. Giovanna Fossati, From Grain to Pixel, cit., pp. 71–72.
states: “A film is multiplicity, delocation and deterritorialization, it is lost into the net of topologically uncertain circulation”6. However, when entering the archive, a film acquires authenticity status. Copies of the same film are compared and differences evaluated. Often they have differences such as different intertitles and different image qualities, some are coloured and some are b/w. Each copy is in a way an “original”, each copy is a document of its own history. Usually a film restorer has to work with three parallel sources of data. First, there is the film itself. Sometimes there is only one print, but, as previously stated, in many cases there is a lot of material, from different archives and countries. Then, there is all non-film information which can be compared with the information from the film itself. For example, reviews, photographs and other documentation. Finally, a film restorer will always work with a concept of the film as it appeared on the screen in the past and as the restored version will appear on the screen, since only in the projection will the restoration come to completion. Film restoration always creates a lacuna, a difference between the original and the duplicate. But I think that what is most important is to bring back the emotion of the first screening, or try at least! But every new screening is a first screening with new sensations and emotions for the audience. For example how different were the reactions of the public in 1915 and those in 2010 in front of Il fuoco di Pastrone! In 1915 people were struck and deeply involved into the passionate love story, now some people laugh. Restored film at “Le giornate del Cinema Muto” Now I would present some of the films I watched during “Le giornate del cinema muto” and that impressed me most, in particular the Brasilian documentaries and the Japanese melodrama. These two sections were of interest both amongst the other colleagians with 6
Giovanna Fossati, From Grain to Pixel, cit., p. 119.
whom I spoke, as well as on other audience members. Furthermore, during and after the festival I had the chance to speak with the people that have worked on the restoration of the films showed. Here I will report briefly the different restoration workflows and I will make some notes on the final result. Brazil section In Brazil, the duplication of nitrate film onto safety base began in the mid 1950s. The Cinemateca Brasileira was then a department of the “Museu de Arte Moderna de São Paulo” and had no financial resources to establish a regular duplication programme on commercial labs. Because of that some of the films were duplicated in 16mm because it was less expensive. But only after 1977, when the archive built its own Restoration Lab, was it possible (depending of the money to buy raw stock) to have a regular duplication programme. A common practice at that time, not only in Brazil, was to destroy the nitrate prints after the duplication. The Brazilian silent films that survived are less than 10% - in terms of titles though some of the films have survived only in incomplete prints. The vast majority of these are documentaries. During the Festival I particularly enjoyed the Brazilian section of the programme that was called “The Silence of the Amazon”. The films showed were: Rituaes e festas Borôro, Parimâ, fronteiras do Brasil, Viagem ao Roroimâ, by Luiz Thomaz Reis and No rastro do Eldorado, by Silvino Santos. Concerning these prints and their restoration I have contacted Carlos Roberto de Souza from the Cinemateca Brasileira. He told me that the films of Luiz Thomaz Reis were restored - in the Restoration Lab of the Cinemateca Brasileira - from nitrate positive prints that were in good physical condition. The prints were from the collections of the “Museu do Indio”, in Rio 41
de Janeiro, and the restoration work was done in the late 1970s. At the time, the lab of the Cinemateca didn't have a wet gate and so they could not remove scratches or other photographic imperfections. But the original print’s image was very good and the dupe negative was consequently very good too. The actual prints are taken from the dupe negatives they have done at that time. Unfortunately the nitrate prints were destroyed after the duplication. Rituaes e festas Borôro was particularly moving for me. It is one of the most important surviving Brazilian documentaries that shows indigenous rituals: fishing, preparations of feast of joy, and the funeral rites with dances and symbolic practices. Concerning No rastro do Eldorado, Carlos Roberto de Souza told me that the print showed in Pordenone was made by the National Film Archive/British Film Institute from the original nitrate negative, with no light corrections, in the 1970s or beginning of the 1980s. That is why we saw an English print in Pordenone. The copy was a little bit high contrasted but I enjoyed the film very much: the documentary shows views of the rivers, flights of the plane, panoramas of the waterfalls and Indian tribes. Two Brazilian musicians, Angela Nagai and Gustavo Barbosa, accompanied the projection giving to this experience a particular feel. Japanese section In Japan, less than 10% of the silent films have survived, also due to natural disaster (the big earthquake in 1923) and bombardment (during World War II), but many 9.5mm Pathé Baby prints have been discovered, since that format was widely popular in Japanese homes from 1923 onwards. This is very important because these prints allow to revive a significant part of Japanese film history, even though the image quality is very poor. Often these 9.5mm prints are a condensed version of the feature film. Another problem is how to restore this kind of 42
format. In an article on “Journal of Film Preservation”, Fumiko Tsuneishi talks about the restoration of some Japanese silent films, in particular Zanjin Zanbake (1929) by Daisuke Ito. A 9.5mm positive print was found and it was blown up onto 35mm negative stock. But the result was not so good. “As is often the case with the 9.5mm format, which has perforations in the centre instead of on both sides of the frame, our print was extremely warped, especially at the beginning and at the end of each reel. Even though one puts registration pins at the top and bottom of a frame to fix the vertical line, the horizontal warp still remains, resulting in out-of-focus images”7. Another problem was the instability of the images and once the source material was converted to 35mm film, and projected onto a large screen, the instability of the images was emphasized. In addition to the fact that the perforations were torn and enlarged by wear, the distances between them varied depending on the degree of shrinkage in different part of the print. The only solution would be the digital restoration, that was done at Haghefilm. The lab was equipped to directly scan old materials, negative and positive, and also had special gates for 9.5mm, 22mm, and 28mm, in addition to those for 35mm and 16mm films. Fumiko Tsuneishi explains: “In order to make it possible to scan materials that are heavily shrunken, brittle, and warped, they are immersed in a certain solvent for a few days to soften them. Then the film is set between glass plates and scanned through a wet gate, to make them flat and to make it possible to read the maximum information”8. The semi-automatically restored images, done using software such as Diamant, still showed some distortion of the images and big scratches caused by sprockets, but the images had became much more stable and flicker had been removed and the sharpness of the images was greatly enhanced.
Fumiko Tsuneishi, Some Pioneering Cases of Digital Restoration in Japan, in “Journal of Film Preservation”, n. 69 (05/2005), p. 46. 8 Ibidem. 7
The large retrospective of the Japanese films in Pordenone focuses on three filmmakers active at one of the Japanâ€™s most distinguished studios, Shochiku, during the silent era: Yasujiro Shimazu, Hiroshi Shimizu, and Kiyohiko Ushihara. During the Festival I had the chance to talk with Mr. Tochigi and Mr. Okada. In an interesting (and crowded) lecture for the collegians, they explained that during the 1950s in Japan all the survived nitrate films were copied onto 16mm safety stock and often onto lavender 16mm. This is a fortune and a misfortune at the same time. In fact in this way many films survived but the quality is not so good. For example, Kaihin no joo (Queen on the Shore, 1927) and Wakamono yo naze nazu ka (Why Do You Cry, Youngsters?, 1930), screened at Le giornate del cinema muto, were restored from the only surviving elements, 16mm shortened versions. Kangeki jidai (Age of Emotion, 1928) was restored by The National Film Center, in 1998, from the only existing element, a 9.5mm PathĂŠ-Baby shortened and re-edited version donated by a private collector. Instead a nitrate print 35mm of Shingun (Marching On, 1930) was returned to Japan from the Library of Congress in Washington. The National Film Center restored the film and made the 35mm internegative in 1967. The difference between the quality of this film and the others during the screening was tangible. But emotions flowed the same in me. In fact I think that is better to see a bad quality copy than not to see it at all. Everybody who works on the restoration of a film is aware of the concrete, tangible and material quality of a film print. With this physical reality the film restorer works every day: he knows how important it is to read a film print not only on a narrative or content level, but also on a concrete, material level.
The tangible aspect of a film is always kept hidden from the spectator, who knows only the other side of the life of a film – when it becomes cinema by being projected on the screen. Benjamin said: “there is one thing missing even in the most perfect reproduction: the ‘here’ and ‘now’ of the piece of art – its unique presence in its location”. But in the case of cinema : the ‘here’ and ‘now’ of the piece of art is the moment of the projection for the audience. A film only becomes alive when it is projected and thus preserving a film is preserving motion and emotions.
Born by accident: Film medici di Vincenzo Neri, 1908-1928. Raphael Luce
Introduction Wednesday, noon. The week has been long. Rich. Very rich in images and sounds. My head is filled with pictures, faces, shots, emotions. My eyes are burnt by the light of the screen I watched for about 70 hours. My back now perfectly fits the curb of the seat, and my legs gave up their role as essential support for my body that seems to be condemned to the seated position. My arms restrain themselves to the simple movement from the water bottle to my mouth. Each movement, when hungriness is unbearable or when natureâ€™s needs are irrepressible, is imprecise and painful. Balance and motivity sounds more like recollections than aptitudes. And, while my whole being slowly decrepit into a parasitic macro-cell feeding on artificial light, the screen mostly shows vigorous people, soldiers, workers, fishermen, fighting, struggling for better tomorrows. The counterpoint is so strong that Iâ€™m wondering if, by a Wildean magical phenomenon, those light and shade figures are feeding on me. And, all of a sudden, coming from nowhere, with no explanations but a name on the schedule, the bodies become fragile, painful, and skinny. Pale. Naked. The Vincenzo Neri medical films restored by HagheFilm, dating back from 1908 to 1928, break the lines that the festival seemed to have set until now. Dry, rough, direct, and utilitarian, those 28 reels show a clinical world where people are not actors (people that do things) nor characters, but mechanical phenomenon. Where gesture is not the carrier for a project but the subject in itself.
The images are quite damaged. From time to time the decomposition of the film creates beautiful abstract forms that invade the screen. We can see a man walking, naked, crossing the screen horizontally, his leg and is head shaken with trembling. Then mentally retarded persons, posing naked before a black wall. Children or old people with physical malformations. They walk horizontally or frontally, showing their face or their back to the camera. Sometimes their feet are plunged into white paint in order to leave traces of their path on the floor. The shots are mostly large, but they sometimes get closer to show a tinier movement. The back is sometimes plain black, sometimes a cold and desolate concrete wall, and from time to time a decrepit baroque trompe-l’oeil. We can read resignation on every face and pain on every body. A pianist is accompanying this selection of shots with romantic and melancholic melodies. Sometimes the movements on the screen impose a rhythm to the musician who plays percussive parts while we are looking at a doctor’s hammer desperately trying to get a reaction from his patient’s knee or from many other parts of the body. The absence of any reaction and the paleness of the bodies evoke death. A close shot reminds us Courbet’s L’Origine du monde, or more precisely, Orlan’s L’origine de la guerre. The small hammer begins again his regular movement just above the penis. A few seconds later the trunk of the patient is scratched by a needle. The grouping of all those isolated shots, the repetition of gesture apparently without goal and the systematic nudity create an almost surrealistic atmosphere. Especially when a very long shot only shows three still rabbits facing the camera, with apparently no relation with the previous scenes. The music slowly takes us to an hypnotic state, where condolence and disgust fade away. Those images asked me a lot of questions, about their origin, their aim or the conditions of the shooting. Were they part of a specific protocol shared between many motivity specialists or a few tests made by an isolated and inspired doctor? Was it an analysis tool, an animated 47
notepad or a media to exchange with colleagues or to teach students? The question of the use of animated images in science is very interesting and not well explored. An historical investigation would have been really exciting, but I felt that my enthusiasm for this program was quite disproportioned regarding the documents in themselves. This is not only the films but the show that I want to discuss. The projection of those films at that moment, in that place, opened for me a lot of interrogations surrounding the images. About their status, the expectations of the festival public, the place of non-fiction in the schedule, the power of music to transfigure images… Through this paper I’m trying to draw concentric paths, using an historical, archival or aesthetical approach, in a movement alternately centrifugal and centripetal around an object which core is constantly escaping my tracking. The place of non-fiction movies in collections, theaters and festivals. Even if my experience as a silent movie festival goer is thin as a celluloid film and my knowledge of the field as dense as an unused film stock, I think I can assert, without the risk of being contradicted, that this kind of show is, if not unique, quite rare. This rarity can be questioned. This selection of shorts was presented as “medical movies”, something we can assume is a sub-genre of the “scientific movies”, itself a component of the “non-fiction” category. In fact, looking at the Giornate schedule we can see that non-fiction movies are not so numerous. During the 2010 edition we could see 25 documentaries and 50 fictions (considering large short movie selections as one show). But if we put apart contemporary documentaries and “making of” (as they are as closely linked with fiction as with documentaries), only 12 silent documentaries remains. In terms of time it is even more impressive. Documentaries represented only 12% of the total projection time of the festival. 48
Though, non-fiction production was prolific during the silent movie era. Before the invention of video and television as a technology and a media, all audiovisual stuff was done with the tools and techniques of the cinematograph. The press, the states, every organ of power discovered the specific ability of the cinema to talk to the masses. It was able to entertain but also to inform, to teach, to explain, to manipulate, and because of that, could not stay in the only hands of the stallholders. Showreels, documentaries, propaganda movies were shown in the same stands or in the same theaters, before the same public than fiction. In those times of great structural, technical and cultural changes, it was also the best way to record images of the present day as a testimony for the next generations. For that reason, some governments, but also some magnates, financed large cinematographic report programs. Billions meters of non-fiction films were shot, edited and shown. But were they preserved? It is often said that 75 % of the movies from the silent era is considered to be lost. I don’t know if more precise figures exist about the relative parts of fiction and non-fiction but, in France for example, most of the first projects to preserve movies were built towards nonfiction. The cinematograph had not even celebrated its third anniversary when a polish photographer, Boleslaw Matuszewski, foreseeing the historical and pedagogical value of the moving pictures, and considering that they are a more objective and credible witness of the present time events than writing or photography, published a book in Paris about the necessity to preserve newsreels for the future generations. From 1909 to 1931, the French pacifist banker Albert Khan sent 15 photographers and cameramen around the world and founded the “Archives of the planet” where he preserved their reports. In 1914 the French War Minister created the “Army photographic front” who is still one of the French biggest cinematographic archive. In 1925, after a thirteen years 49
gestation, an institution dedicated to the collection of documentaries about the city of Paris came into being. Eight years later, in 1933, the Minister for education founded the National Cinematheque which is also dedicated exclusively to documentaries. We have to wait until 1936, almost ten years after the arriving of the talkies and the great auto-da-fé that stroke the silent film stocks, for the French Cinematheque, which is concerned by fiction, to be founded by Henri Langlois, George Franju and Jean Mitry. As it took years and years for the cinema to prove that it was something else than vulgar entertainment, we can assume that this pattern, concentrating its attention over non-fiction only, has been shared in many countries, and that, by the way, non-fiction collections are quite rich. I don’t know the proportion for silents, but, all periods taken together, the French Cinematographic Archives (Archives Françaises du Film) collection is composed of 58 % of nonfictions against 42% of fictions. Despite this fact, the films taken from the real are very rare to float in the fictional ocean of festivals and cinematheques. The reason why could perhaps be found in the editorial field. If that ostracization does not come from objective criterions it must lay in subjectivity. The heart versus the brain. An organic change in the way to look at cinema. The Cinephilie, the love of movies turned into a cultural and intellectual movement, was mainly built over fiction. Movie buffs, like the literature lovers, are looking for Art. And Art tends to develop itself better in the total freedom of creation that fiction offers to the author. The romantic figure of the artist, concentrating genius and talent, small god living among humans, was strong for decades and still has influence, even if it is attacked by many sides9 . Any work that tries to show the world, or any of his many elements, as it is, without 9 From time to time, the ideology of the “amateurism”, fed and manipulated by the media, gets attention. It gave birth to reality TV – ordinary people turned into stars – User Generated Content
the evident interpretative translation of a creator, is suspected to be mainly utilitarian and prosaic, and thus does not deserve admiration. In fact, a cinephile doesn’t appear to be someone who loves cinema, but rather someone who loves fiction movies. Sometimes, one documentary filmmaker eventually achieves to be considered as an author. But, if such a title can be given to a fiction movie-maker, when considering his predominant themes, or maybe the recurrence of his reflection topics or the subtlety of his psychological analysis (elements that, in fact, are not essentially cinematographic), it is mostly the formal dimension of a documentary that is being estimated. So, a fiction work is recognized and analysed in its substance and in its form, while a documentary is only considered a work of art when it has formal qualities. Evacuating political, social or historical dimensions. So, if we keep in mind the subject of this paper (it should be a pity to lose it in the very beginning!), a grouping of very crude and specialized medical shots, the question should not be the rarity of those images, but rather their presence in a cinema festival. In my opinion, this presence shows an evolution in the way we look at cinema history. The cinephilie was built over the artistic nature of cinema. Cinema history naturally took the same disposition and concentrated its attention on “masterpieces” and “authors”. In fact, the attraction for greatness was shared between many disciplines. But the historiography shows that things changed. Historians slowly neglect great men and events for cultural studies, for the depiction and analysis of ideas. Today, history of art is thinking mostly in terms of continuity than in terms of successions of secessions, orientation that erected a strong avantgarde cult. The history of cinema is driven by the same forces and is now getting interested mostly in technique, in studios, in production, diffusion and exploitation than in stars. Some aspects that were disregarded by the first generations of cinema historians are now taken – ordinary people turned into movie makers or journalists – etc…
into account. This approach opened new fields of interest and study and found new objects. A passing of the torch has been done between a self made generation of cinema lovers (I would like to use the French word “amateur” that also means the “one who loves”, unfortunately the English acceptation is univocal), for whom emotion and sensibility are essential, to a specialist one, trained in universities, working with method and sometimes even tools (databases, statistics, etc.). The institutionalization of the discipline has blown out the verve, dampened the passions. The cult of objectivity and neutrality of the university tends to gag the individual, who has to refrain himself to express his sensibility and to favor cold analysis. The negation of the self has a perfect representation in the imperious use of the “we” pronoun. The intellectual emasculation of the historians has led to a dispassionate history that traded the gossip for the scientific exploitation of the archive. Lovers watch with their hearts while specialists dissect with their brains. The festival is not the favorite place of the specialist, who needs the calm of the isolated consultation, a protected cocoon for his meticulous observation. The festival is the lover’s work and den, him who is in search of emotions, pleasure, irritation, anger, trances from tiredness and overdose. His gluttony verge on pathology, which is specialist’s greatest enemy. Nevertheless the festival cannot be absolutely impermeable to the specialist influence on cinema history, and from time to time, it is seized by curiosity. The presence of such specialized documents as those medical films in a festival proves, in my opinion, the way how eyes open wider on the diversity of cinema. To refine the qualification of our object. Document vs documentary. The expression “non-fiction” is very generic and we should try to define better the nature of 52
the images we are talking about. In fact it is quite embarrassing to define anything by a privative prefix. That’s why in the previous lines I also used the word “documentary” as a synonym, while, in fact, it is not. Those two expressions, quite common, achieve to roughly qualify our object. Those images do not tell a fictional particular story, but they give an account of a piece of reality. But we should beware of polysemy. Those images could be said “documentary films”, if we consider the first word as an adjective and the second as a noun. But we should not as it could be understood as an autonomous expression depicting a specific cinematographic genre. They seem to relate to the documentary regime but they are out of aesthetics and rules of the documentary film genre. Documentary film is an extremely vast universe. It goes from Dziga Vertov’s The Man with the Camera to John Grierson’s Drifters or from Jean Vigo’s A propos de Nice to John Flaherty’s Nanook of the North. It can be didactic and precisely written, carrying a message, or it can tend to formalism and abstraction. It can aim at showing life objectively, in a precise place and time, or to get to philosophical and universal notions. But, whether it tends to naturalism and objectivity or to assumed subjectivity, a documentary film is always the work of one (or many) author expressing something by the choice of the subject, the commentary, the frame or the montage. The documentary movie is a discourse. These notions seem to lack from the films we are talking about. We could also be tempted to make a comparison with the “report” genre or it’s ancestor, the early cinema “views”, in the Lumière brothers’ trend. But we can doubt whether Vincenzo Neri’s films try to show, explain, or report anything to an audience. Those images are “documentary” in their essence. They are a document because they 53
transform a changing real, subject to time and all physico-chemical forces to a stabilized item10.They give a stable representation of, they record and report a pre-existent reality but they are not a narrative and meaningful construction using the tools and techniques of cinema to represent a real. This is why, in my opinion, they cannot be considered as “documentary films” but rather as “filmed documents”. Is any animated picture a movie ? Can we consider any film as part of cinema ? While working on this paper I discovered that my worst enemy to think about cinema is vocabulary. A few words only depict the technique, the Art, and the place where it is shown, or, the work of art and the physical element which is used to make and show it. Cinema and Film. This discipline suffers from pathological metonymy. If the words cinema or film can sometimes refer to all documents produced by the cinematographic technique, they sometimes only refer to fictions. The writing world has been far more methodic and clear : a novel is not simply a book, which is not simply paper. And printing is not literature. The questions of “presence” and “absence” seem to me to be essential in the study of those images. If they show many people, and if they are sometimes filled with bodies, we feel mostly the absence. Absence of cinematographic or textual discourse: no intertitle and no montage but a simple grouping of images made by the same person. A purely utilitarian frame, using a full shot when the topic is to observe a movement in space, or a close shot when it comes to look at an organic displacement. High-angle shots derive only from the fact that the phenomenon to observe takes place on a lying body. The frame never expresses more than the things it is 10
Or, to be more precise, as we are talking about fragile cinema archive, to a more stabilized form. This films still show phenomenon that have passed away long time ago with the people that embodied them.
showing, it never hides an element to make sense. It has absolutely the same function as the fabric window used by the surgeons while operating : it reveals only what is immediately useful and hides what could disturb the observation. Absence of protocol or didactic: those films are not so systematic like could have been a pedagogic document, showing the repetition of an action with changing parameters, like the same movement with or without a stick, or before and after an electric shock. By the way, they do not respect the concept of the experimental method. Finally, despite their attribution to a specific doctor, whom we do not know if he is the organizer or the operator, we cannot feel any presence behind the camera. The signature has thus more in common with the historical information and the scientific responsibility than with the concept of authorship. The only small traces of presence we can feel are like accidents: the humanity of the patients sometimes achieves to escape from the formal dehumanization they are subjected to. Between two shots where the bodies are turned into pieces by the necessity of the observation, we catch a glint in a glimpse, reminding us that the flesh we are watching is not so cold. Those films are as naked in their form as the bodies they are representing. Here the movie camera seems to be a scientific tool as could be a stethoscope or a X-Ray tube and the film is the equivalent of an electrocardiogram or a fecal analysis report. It is a way to fix a representation of a phenomenon in order to analyze it. Thus, those images are not the result of a (scientific and/or artistic) creation process. They are part of a process, whose result is not of cinematographic form. It seems to me that this kind of images are as closely linked with cinema as closed circuit television. And perhaps that, as everything written is not 55
literature, everything filmed should not be considered as cinema, even pre-cinema. An intimate relation between cinematograph and science. It is part of common knowledge that the last years of the very long gestation of cinema were mostly marked by the scientists’ interest for the analysis of movement. E. Muybridge and E.J. Marey appear as the grand-fathers of the Lumière brothers’ Cinematograph and those two names and their work are perhaps better known in cinema universities than in engineer’s school. The photographic guns and every other chronophotographic systems permitted to record and analyze physical and physiological phenomenon. The movie camera then became an exploration tool for many scientists, with the purpose to reproduce a phenomenon or to reveal something impossible to see with the eyes, by the use of slow-motion (the fly of insects) or speed-up (the growth of plants), for example. Some of them, like Jean Comandon or Pierre Thevenard in France, were also directors of scientific and sometimes even fiction movies. But to consider every animated image produced in a laboratory as cinema could appear excessive. Some of the scientific images that Commandon, Thevenard, or their colleagues obtained during their research were sometimes used into specialized or larger audience movies as knowledge transmission material 11 : and gained by the way, and only because of that specific process, the status of cinema images. Without their integration into an intelligible context, they stay purely scientific data. If the distinction of the objects in the early days of cinema between cinema and scientific images is quite complicated because of the use of more or less the same systems, the contemporary medical animated images (3-D, 4-D, 5-D electronic microscopes, stars spectrum Pierre Thévenard observed the development of fly larvae with the use of X-rays and chronophotography. The animated picture he obtained gave him exclusive information on the hatching process that he used for a scientific publication. Later he used the more beautiful and meaningful images in his pedagogical movie “Les aventures d'une mouche bleue”, “The adventures of a blue fly”, 1954. 11
analyzers, etc.) show that they absolutely differ in their essence. In fact, even if they used discontinuous stream of 35mm film stock, some of those early systems differed radically from what is known as a movie camera. Essentially because they translated invisible phenomenon into visible artifacts by the use of optical (diffraction) and non-optical (invisible radiances) rules, while movie cameras stay mostly in the optical and visible world. Nowadays the moving images equipments used in scientific research center, while deriving directly from those early experiences, don’t have anything in common with any actual movie camera. Vincenzo Neri’s films show real-time visible phenomenon recorded by optical means. But, if the technique is cinematographic, the objective is clearly not. An involuntary sacrilege… The notion of intention, the one which governs the use of a camera, seems essential to identify the nature of such images. For sure, we can only guess about the intentions of Vincezo Neri without reading his notes. But what we see on screen does not look like a film designed to be shown to a non specialist audience. It does not even look like a film ever designed to be shown. And thus it does not seem to be of cinematographic nature. In this regard, the way to displace a document from the scientific domain to the public domain asks question. It could appear as an historical informative program, showing how a camera can also be a scientific tool and thus respecting the nature of the object, if a contextualization, explaining why those films were shot, in which conditions and how they were used had framed the projection. The choice to accompany the screening with music does absolutely the opposite. There is lot of debates, sometimes inflamed, on the way to accompany silent movies. Some 57
extremists prefer absolute silent projections, in the tradition of the first cinematheques. Among the tenants of the musical screenings, some defend the absolute respect of the original score, or by default, the use of trendy themes of the time, when others prefer the contemporary re-interpretation, arguing that when they were released, Intolerance wasn’t accompanied by Babylonian instruments and melodies nor Robin Hood by a hurdy-gurdy. I usually stay away from those never-ending nit-picking, but concerning those medical reels, the question reach another level. In all probability we can assume that they were never accompanied by any music except, perhaps, the conniving grumbling of a colleagues’ audience. The adjunction of music for the presentation before a non-specialist audience is a very strong choice that transvestites the films and put them, by force, in the world of aesthetics. It would have the same humoristic potential than the nomination of a lawnmower manual for the Strega12 Prize if, and only if, the congenital deformation of a child was curable with the help of a simple screwdriver. This program is not only an aesthetic representation, by mimic, of suffering, what cinema does every day, and that is already shocking. Those few notes, that could seem harmless and lovely, involuntary erect into aesthetics a representation of people suffering for real. In that sense it can be considered as a sacrilege and an insult to the human integrity. If that cold and shocking show does not aim at explaining things about the use of the cinematographic technique in science, it falls into pure un-complex voyeurism, the most natural but no less disgracing failing of any cinephile, by the use of the same vulgar dynamics than fun fairs’ monster shows. …giving birth to a provocative contemporary work of art. But, why not ? In my opinion those films (in the material sense) are not movies (in the way 12
The most important Italian literary prize.
that they donâ€™t belong to cinema), but the fact to program them in a movie festival and to accompany them with music becomes an act of artistic nature. As when Marcel Duchamp makes a piece of art from a trivial manufactured object by electing it and signing it, the author of the work created during the screening is not the doctor responsible for the shooting of the material, but a common authorship is shared between the programmer, the restorer and the musician, even if they are not aware of it. The work goes beyond the status of movie, as it is not fixed in a enduring form, to reach the one of ephemeral performance. It eventually quits the domain of cinema to reach the one of contemporary art. An intoxicating work, provocative by the way it turns human bodies into patterns, impertinent in the way it uses the malformations of people as shapes and textures. A politically incorrect show that gave me great pleasure and excitement. An excitement that surely exceeded the real intrinsic power and range of this involuntary artistic affront, because of my schizophrenic status of specialist13 and cinephile, and because of the unique physical and psychological state that the festival rides in us. But, even if the creative part of the proposition was quite thin and shy, if the musical part had most in common with the routine than with an inspirited and unique creation, the show confirmed my intuition of a great underlying and dormant aesthetical potential in scientific filmed documents. A potential that could be revealed far much stronger by dark electronic, metal or post-hardcore musicians, pushing the coldness and violence of those images into climax by repetition and montage.
I devoted my master thesis to scientific films archive, after a 6 months training period in the archives of a biomedical research center, the Institut Pasteur.
"How would you like to throw plates at me for life?" or The Poetry of Inter-titles Zsuzsanna Kiràly
Whenever asked about my first Giornate experience, I compare the festival to a spectacular antiques shop (though nothing is for sale, of course): a place of precious rarities, a once in a lifetime opportunity to see and discover films. One might be lucky enough to see some of the films again, either on the big screen or on DVD. But even so, one treasures every moment in the movie theatre with open eyes and as much concentration as possible. Every screening is a special and festive event, quite simply because it is a unique experience to see this particular film for the very first (and last) time in your life, whether due to programming, difficulties in distribution, the fragility of the material or for reasons of time or geography. It was a cinephileʼs curiosity and the wish to learn more about (early) film history that brought me to the Giornate. In retrospect, I can now see that the films of the programme not only serve as significant points of reference for film history in general (during the festival I was caught up between pure pleasure and total information overload, making it difficult to instantly relate to the seen) but turned into memories of magical cinematic moments. A magical cinematic moment may come with an actorʼs gesture, particularly spectacular photography or an especially well constructed scene – an indefinable moment that distinguishes one film from another, making it irreplaceable. Such memories are, for example, the excited concentration of the audience, the dark theatre of the Verdi – where we spent a possibly record-breaking amount of time – submerged in piano music, and last but not least the poetry and pragmatic effectiveness of inter-titles. 60
This is why this essay is less concerned with film analysis and is mainly a cinephileʼs text that strives to remember the beauty and eloquence of inter-titles. An “essai” to remember, to sceptically countervail the fleeting quality of memories. It is also an attempt to see intertitles from their poetically eloquent and emotionally atmospheric side. Inter-titles are information vehicles, compensation for sound and a quasi-narrator – together with the story, camera work and actorʼs play, they come together as the components of a silent motion picture. Memories are often made of separate frames rather than the moving image itself: a face, a gesture, a spatial arrangement, a sentence or a title card. This is why the examples that I am going to describe here are fragments. At times one seeks a special moment and sometimes one remembers or simply finds something other than what was expected. This is just what I had to think of when reading the following sentence in a review on Screen Daily on Aki Kaurismäkiʼs new feature Le Havre (2011): “The moment when Darroussin walks into a bar holding a pineapple is one of those priceless moments of Tatiesque comedy that defy explanation”1. I am quite sure, from the way the author describes the scene, that he will keep this detail in good memory. I care to hold on to the clues, these special moments that are difficult to capture and to put into words, giving a special tone and atmosphere to a film. Asked about the reason for making films, French director Claire Denis said in a conversation at the Berlinale Talent Campus 2010: “Sometimes making a film is for one scene. Not for the complete story”2. For me personally, watching films is striving to find the preeminent moment that holds the essence of the story one relates to as a viewer. Screen Daily: Jonathan Romney on “Le Havre”, 17th of May 2011: http://www.screendaily.com/reviews/latestreviews/le- havre/5027698.article 2 Berlinale Talent Campus 2011: In the Limelight: Claire Denis: http://www.berlinaletalentcampus.de/story/48/3548.html 1
Memory and film history As I often found at film festivals, my recollections of specific films, as well as my notes, are incomplete, blurred, like a mixed-up slide show of impressions. Some parts, however, are all the more lucid, especially when they relate to notes taken on inter-titles. Knowing silent cinema and understanding the (technical and directorial) development of silent film is also a way of remembering: remembering the roots of the moving image, its (underestimated) silent beauty. Harald Welzer, professor of cultural studies, claims that film is an externalised memory medium. And not only through watching but also through discussing the filmʼs information and images, culturally and socially relevant messages and desires are preserved in public memory. Film is not only cultural but also autobiographical memory. A film contains socio-cultural codes about social hierarchies, gender stereotypes, dress codes and many more, but also makes an individual person remember under which circumstances he or she saw this film and how it was related to his or her own biography. Silent cinema is essential to (film) knowledge. This is an obvious but rather neglected fact outside the academic and film-historic discourse. When evaluating films from a critical, scientific, economical or filmmaking perspective, it is crucial to be aware of existing knowledge and practice and incorporate it into new film work. From 1978 on, Jean-Luc Godard travelled to the Conservatoire dʼArt Cinématographique to continue Henri Langloisʼs lectures he had started a year before. But instead of lecturing, Godard proposed to develop a kind of script as an “introduction to the true history of cinema”. Godard compared his own films to others which were shown before his lectures. 62
Most of the compilations included silent films. The makers of silent films, in his opinion, knew how to express themselves better – even those that were mediocre, he added. To go back to silent film is an important means to see and understand how the characters “talked”, communicated with each other, how the filmmakers used language. Here, language is defined as a practical way of inter-titling or, indirectly, as a function of directing or acting 3. Communication happens during a screening – in the audience, individually and audibly, as well as after a screening in discussion with fellow viewers. The shared opinions and arguments influence what will be remembered, and to what extent. For instance, I remember very well the reactions of the audience during the screenings at the Giornate, especially the laughter about the “owl lady” Pina Menichelli daring her lover in IL FUOCO (1915): ”Burn me, burn my soul.“, which was remembered by many of the students and became a running gag. Such a communicative situation helps to keep a film alive and imprint itself even more into cinematic memory. For a cinephile, every film has the potential to turn oneʼs world upside down, to enchant, to add something unique to oneʼs visual memory. As the German film critic Michael Althen so tellingly said: “Irgendwann geht es nur noch darum, jedwede Erinnerungen für dein Leben zu halten. Nicht auszudenken, was aus dir geworden wäre, wenn du andere Filme gesehen hättest...”4. Silent heroes Unfortunately I canʼt quite remember dialogue from films as others sometimes can so 3 Jean-Luc Godard, Einführung in eine wahre Geschichte des Kinos, p. 106; p. 267
“In the end, the whole point is to keep any memory for life. It doesn't bear thinking about who you would have become, if you had watched different films...“; translation by the author; Michael Alten, Wenn es dunkel wird, p. 246 4
astonishingly well, even though Iʼd love to. With silent films, inter-titles are my lucky crutch. With the aid of written inter-titles, I can recall key scenes and the atmosphere of the film. Inter-titles are like quotes because of their prosaic style. Foremost, inter-titles convey information about the story and overall ambience of a film. Bertolt Brecht wrote very accurately that inter-titles are "Totalaufnahmen der geistigen Schauplätze ganzer Abschnitte. Sie dienen keineswegs nur dazu, Nachfolgendes dem Verständnis näher zu bringen. Unter Umständen können sie Selbstwert beanspruchen: ihre Funktion bestünde dann lediglich darin, gesehen zu werden. Außerdem gewährleisten sie, indem sie den Film in Kapitel einteilen, den epischen Fluß. Sie wegzulassen, wäre idiotisch" 5. Inter-titles (and subtitles) are words on screen, which combine two traditionally separate modes of reception: viewing (images) and reading (text). Is there a specific way to read intertitles, their visual and textual information? It is definitely necessary to get accustomed to inter-titles. The duration of the insert and the length of the text have an influence on the perception of the information, as the viewerʼs fluency of reading and seeing is interrupted. The graphic composition bears additional visual clues for understanding either the factual or atmospheric text. They help one understand and function as a way of checking that one has got the story right. At best they can even be an entertaining way of punctuating a story that couldnʼt have been told without words. Seeing an inter-title not only as a disturbance of the moving picture but in fact a necessary and integral part of its film-historical setting, is a way of beginning to appreciate well written lines. The image and text are a dual pairing, one emphasises the other, creating meaning and Inter-titles are “overall pictures of the intellectual settings of entire chapters. By no means do they only try to give an understanding of the scenes that follow. Under certain conditions they can claim a value in themselves: their function is simply to be seen. Moreover they ensure an epic flow by dividing the film into chapters. To leave them out would be idiotic.“; translation by the author; Bertolt Brecht, Die Beule, GBA 19, p. 310 5
ambience. Both can be seen as isolated contexts; but in combination they evoke associations and convey the narrative thread. In movies, the image and the dialogue or intertitles blend and are thereby memorised – a dialogue, the language per se, intonation and the graphic of the titles all connote the seen and memorised picture. The art of title writing – ”less is more“ and style Through inter-titles, dialogue on the screen can be perceived by the audience facing the screen (speaking primarily of todayʼs audiences, who cannot read the actorʼs lips as silent film audiences were accustomed to). The focus of inter-title writers is therefore considerably different from a scriptwriter of the talkies era. “Titles, like any other creative process, depended on skill and judgment for their success. Sometimes they overweighted a picture and caused squirms of agony rather than the squeals of delight which greeted the bon mots of top title writers like Ralph Spence, Gerald Duffy, Joe Farnham, and George Marion, Jr” 6. Effectiveness is a key word – minimal use, short, catchy, informative, eloquent, funny, straight to the point. Titles cut the story short(er) where needed and support the continuity and flow of storytelling. Inter-titles should add to the picture and be as clear as possible with a message conveyed to the viewer. One great example can be found in Gerald Duffyʼs report on working on the following task: “In Mary Pickfordʼs “Through the Back Door” one particular title had a burden to bear. It had deftly to insinuate that Mary was eloping – but it couldnʼt say it because she wasnʼt. We simply wanted to deceive the audience into thinking she was. Also, it had to suggest that her mother was contemplating divorce. Moreover, the last time we had seen the characters they had been on Long Island. Now we were to show them in a New York hotel – and it was 6
Kevin Brownlow, The Paradeʼs Gone By, p. 295
necessary that we tell the audience that it was a New York hotel. Another vital point was that the title had to be funny. Writing that title was a staggering undertaking. But the furniture in the picture saved me. My title read, “If it were not for New York hotels where would elopers, divorcees, and red-plush furniture go?” Seventeen words told everything” 7. Inter-titles add an additional structure and rhythm to the editing and final film. The editing is textual, informative and poetical. Amongst these numerous tasks, title cards could also serve as a means of censorship or for cultural and educative purposes. With the technical advancement of acting, editing and cinematography the importance of explanatory intertitles also increased. The extent of their use, the high standing of inter-title writers and the audience acceptance changed positively over time, until silent films were more and more replaced by talkies at the end of the 1920s. Inter-titles are mostly a vehicle for communication and story-telling: who says what to whom and how. In other words, they are a tool for defining and understanding characters better, also as a way of achieving insight into the language (written and ”spoken“) in a given moment, conveying more about social rules, habits and customs. Condensing a dialogue into written text is a different way of communicating, a different way of perceiving. It adds an additional layer of textual information to the image, as sometimes narrators or “lecturers” if not musicians contributed another audible information layer, which, as a whole, express quite a complex screening situation. The charm of inter-titles might lie in a smart "dialogue" or maybe even in embarrassing expressions because they are perceived differently in time and culture. The information lies in both skilfully written descriptions and comments that converge with the rhythm of the story and actors. 7
Kevin Brownlow, The Paradeʼs Gone By, p. 299
It was possible to create films with a minimum of inter-titles, THE LAST LAUGH (1924) by F.W. Murnau and SCHERBEN (1921) by Lupu Pick serve as two of the most popular (and beautiful) examples. However, at the time filmmakers and audiences were aware of the fact that they couldnʼt hear peopleʼs voices because of technical preconditions, not because it wasnʼt wished for. Besides, it seems like a paradoxical idea not to include communicative devices such as inter-titles in features about human stories – communication and language being the main feature of understanding and expression. Hence I salute all the witty title-writers of the silent era! Talking inter-titles In John Fordʼs melodramatic love triangle UPSTREAM (1927) the knife-thrower first seductively blows cigarette smoke into the mouth of the target girl who is also his lover (so out of fashion, for now at least), before he proposes with a most charming question in front of a palm tree backdrop of a Vaudeville theatre: "How would you like to throw plates at me for life?" Because there are plenty more of these melodramatic inter-titles dealing with love and conquest from last yearʼs Giornate, I want to mention a few more. The inter-titles referring to subjects of social conventions and matters of love are predominant in the films cited, because they are either tellingly pragmatic or amusing, sometimes they are hilarious because of the time-cultural gap, or simply because the titles made the audience laugh out loud. In Robin Hood (1922) by Allan Dwan we are presented with Douglas Fairbanks in the role of the otherwise athletic and brave knight Earl of Huntingdon who surprisingly shouts out at the 67
sight of women: “Exempt me, Sir. Iʼm afraid of women.“ A little further into the story, he again shouts out loud: “Another woman!“ At this point we have already been introduced to the knightʼs unexpected softness, which is why a very short repeated joke is enough to work not as an original but effective inter-title that makes audiences laugh. King Richard on the other hand appears more pragmatic than Robin Hood and shares with us: “Even kings must wait on love.” Japanese silent films are pragmatic too, when it comes to matters of love, as seen for example in WHY DO YOU CRY, YOUNGSTERS? (1930) by Kiyohiko Ushihara. Presuming that the original titles have been translated into English as accurately as possible, one might get a better idea of social conventions and traditions in Japan in the 1930s from the story as well as from the titles. Shigeru (Denmei Suzuki) and his sister Kozue (Kinuyo Tanaka) rebel against the traditional and older generation of their father, being themselves part of the modern generation. The intertitles convey social and moral conventions regarding relationships and marriage: Shigeru is worried about his sister and therefore asks his uncle: “Uncle, how do I save Kozue from corruption?“. The response: “Treat her harshly.” Tragic circumstances might even have a positive effect when it comes to marriage. Young Yumiko seeks advice from a married woman: “What kind of a man should a woman marry?“ She answers briefly: “With no parents she should decide for herself.” Temptation and desire can be expressed unreservedly. Shigeru, being a journalist, asks his editor-in-chief desperately: “Iʼm running away from temptation. Help me.“ Aphoristically he answers: “The weak are already punished by their weakness.“ Kozue is quite aware what she seeks in a mate: “Iʼd prefer a more sculpturesque man.”
The following inter-title serves as an atmospheric description of Shigeruʼs character, which simulates the further development of his actions: “He had no particular destination, but he couldnʼt stand still; he kept on walking.“ Equally interesting from a socio-historical point of view is the moment when Shigeru loses his job in a wave of lay-offs and is forced to earn his living collecting bottles. A colleague asks him with surprise: “You collect bottles wearing a suit?“ The inter-titles tell about the difficulties Japan faced between the World Wars in adapting to modernity, which the curators of the programme, Alexander Jacoby and Johan Nordström, describe in the festival catalogue: “The characters personify the conflicts between the modern and the traditional, the indigenous and the foreign, making the film fascinating as a record and a critique of Japanese society in 1930.“ One of my very favourites and a crowd-pleaser too, Il fuoco (1915) by Giovanni Pastrone, is an example of seduction and desire par excellence. Pina Menichelli is the gorgeous “owl lady“, with elegant body movements and dresses alike and an eccentric owl-shaped hat. She seduces a penniless, clueless artist (and the audience as well). They meet at the river for the first time – she is writing a poem about the scenery, he is painting it. This is where things take their course, quickly and entirely under the divaʼs control. Her mouth always pouting, with tantalising gazes she proverbially adds fuel to the flames of love: “Burn me, burn my soul.“ A quick end is near even before things have started, when he chooses the short and passionate flames of love over a long-lasting self-consuming love. The rules are set. The dazzled artist is an easy prey for a woman so narcissistic. But, as one can expect, an affair that heats up so quickly also expires early. As soon as the portrait of the diva is finished, her passion dies, and with it his hopes: “There is no dream without awakening.“ Letʼs go to the movies! 69
After the Pordenone experience, neither a movie night nor a local silent film screening will ever be the same for me. The technical craft and performance one finds within the body of work of silent films is much more understandable and enjoyable to me, after my crash-course at the Giornate. Going to the movies and talking about cinema relate to the ambition to capture specific, incomparable moments and their after-effects â€“ herein lies the quest, hope and longing for repetition and the experience of more such moments. I wish to thank Daniel Ebner for his encouragement, criticism and good advice. Thank you to my fellow Collegians, Kris Woods and Sebastian Haller, for their helpful feedback on this essay. And very special thanks to Asal Dardan and Henning Koch for their thoughtful proof.
Reading and suggestions. Freefalling into the world of the silent film – a week in Le Giornate Del Cinema Muto. Otto Kylmälä
Reading through my notes from the previous day seems like an impossible task. Hasty scribbles done in the dark of the theatre when suddenly you were hit by a once in a lifetime interpretation about a film, which would change the course of film criticism completely. Sadly, you notice that you’ve mistaken one word for another and the genius of the idea has gone never to return. Tragedy has fallen not only on you and your (now less brilliant) essay, but also to the whole world! Not to be beaten by this sudden loss for words, I learn from this instead how any written language cannot fully describe my experiences in the cinema. The following paper is therefore a mere attempt to put down into words few of the emotions and ideas, which were raised during my week at the 29th Le Giornate Del Cinema Muto in Pordenone, Italy. The Pordenone Collegium, the student body of the festival brought together people from varied backgrounds, experiences and parts of the world with the shared passion for silent films, which just stands to show about the qualities of film as the unifying and universal language of the world. Besides all of us coming together to communicate through English, we learned to understand each other with the language of cinema. Which turned out to be our guiding language through an extraordinary expedition of different worlds. Attending Le Giornate Del Cinema Muto feels like taking a journey itself. The magic and 71
marvel of travelling without moving and then the miraculous jet lag of sitting in the dark space way too long are just few of the aspects of the film festival week. On the whole, the whole week is a journey into the realms of silent cinema and all the topics and problems that surround it. The festival catalogue took the role of a map for our adventure and the worlds that we were about to encounter, but mostly I found myself drifting aimlessly from one film to another without proper steering abilities like the haphazard young Buster Keaton in the festival’s opening film, The Navigator (1924, Buster Keaton). In the flow of the films the best policy was indeed just to let go, since dazed with the film marathon exhaustion, the Collegians might lack skills to navigate in the open seas, but at least most importantly they managed to navigate to Pordenone where all were equals equipped with the language of Babel. One could say that the 2nd appearance of the tower of Babel was the silent cinema. Man produced a universal mode of communication which travelled cross borders, religions and classes, but which was then ultimately brought down by the advent of sound, the talkies. And then! In an instant the effect of the fall of Babel people got divided into linguistic groups, separated and alienated having to face the suppression of the unifying qualities of human kind. Perhaps this is why I’ve always associated a certain amount of melancholia and nostalgia to the (lost) world of the silent film. Seeking a definition for myself for these lost worlds, I decided upon something that is “a time that we can see and/or imagine, but cannot relive.” As the Russian playwright Leonid Andreyev once remarked, it was indeed the second tower of Babel…
“The miraculous cinema! Having no language, being equally intelligible to the savages of St. Petersburg and the savages of Calcutta, it truly becomes the genius of international contact, brings the ends of the earth and the spheres of souls nearer and gathers the whole of quivering humanity into a single stream.” (Andreyev in Chapman, 2003: 66) And René Clair in 1962: “Its muteness seemed like a virtue to us. Its infirmity made is devotees believe that it was going to create and art out of nothing but moving images, painting in motion, dramaturgy without words, which would become a language common to all countries.” (Clair in Bordwell, 1997:12) Luckily in Pordenone the language of Babel is nurtured and strong. During the week it was building bridges between so many worlds that you’d lose count of them all e.g. social classes were clashing in the French comedies, Americanization and Western culture were finding its way to the Japanese harbour towns, and political ideologies were meeting in the Soviet retrospectives of Room, Push and Kalatozov. But in order to get the spectator cross these bridges, the filmmakers have to use the language and its rich vocabulary. Filmmakers are essentially storytellers to whom drawing the audience inside the film, inside the world is crucial. Masters in pulling the viewer inside the films were the often overlooked Japanese masters, and especially Hiroshi Shimizu, who taking influences from the American school had wonderful subtlety in his framing and staging. His use of depth and style and his delicacy were apparent for example in the films Seven Seas (1931-1932) and Japanese Girls at the Harbour (1933). His methods all enhanced and helped the audience to get inside the world 73
and his deployment of depth and moving camera created the illusion of the viewer eavesdropping on conversations and scenes instead of the characters. The camera, as well as the viewer was constantly observing through the trees, or eaves dropping behind the window. In one of the films, during a wedding night scene the camera was peaking through a window, and when the mother-in-law of the family was seen stealing, the camera kept its distance staying at the porch behind glass doors. Few filmmakers managed to break the barriers in front of the audiences’ eyes even more and throw them deep into the world, not caring about the laws that govern it. John Grierson’s Drifters (1929) took the audience to be eaten alive by the machine, the mechanic montage of the fishermen community and dive deep into the underwater world. Accompanied by the symphonic score of Carl Davis, the viewer was taken up high in the sky to embrace soaring wind and the death of the hero in Wings (1927, Wililam A. Wellman). After the brave skies and the deep abyss, the spectator was thrown into a shaky situation observing the world through the barrel of a war tank in Mikhail Kalatozov’s Nail In the Boot (1931), Also the accompanist Stephen Horne’s contribution wasn’t a mere additional soundtrack but a gateway for the audience to truly hear what the eyes cannot see. Plucking the piano strings to represent the breaking of a soldier’s ankle takes the audience inside the film in a much deeper way. Besides transporting the spectator inside of a high speeding tank, the music helped the viewer getting inside the mental world of the characters. Travelling between inner and outer worlds is one of the gifts of cinema. When the film director John Boorman was living in the Amazon among the Shingu tribe, he attempted to describe cinema to people who had no prior knowledge of it:
“With cinema you can go from one place to another, fast or slowly, be close to the human face or fly above the landscape.” The shaman responded by agreeing this to be his profession as well. In a shamanistic way, there’s always been something mystical and hypnotizing in the white beam of light that cuts the darkness of the theatre. Somehow, it takes and transforms the viewer on a mental and visceral journey, which will ultimately change him/her. In the Tuesday session of the Collegium the discussion was about early audiences, who were scared of cinema in believe that one would get hypnotized by it. Today the danger still remains, but current audiences embrace the danger and the adrenaline of it. The excitement of being a child again, relive the wonder and erase the image pollution that has been crowding your sight, which certainly is easier said than done. To see cinema again for the first time and immersing yourself in these lost worlds fully. Despite the guidance of expert filmmakers and being equipped with the language of Babel, watching the films you sometimes feel like looking at the world through a mist or a haze. On one occasion even for this phenomenon was found a rational explanation in the Collegium sessions. A panel of experts discussing the works of three Japanese masters Shimazu, Shimizu and Ushihara explained that Fujifilm stock, established in 1935, resulted in a film look that had less grain and softer focus creating an almost dreamlike feel. Not taking this account, still I’d argue that the softer focus was nevertheless in my eyes, which could have also been a result of the extended film marathon fatigue I was experiencing. Peering through the keyhole of fantastic worlds that have gone, but are certainly not forgotten. Lost worlds are for the silent film historians and enthusiasts something familiar through and through, but yet unattainable. 75
Some films stand as testimonies of their time and their people, which are now lost (in the French films one can see areas that were destroyed in WW1). Sometimes the case is that the discovery of something forgotten is not just in the realms of forgotten reality, like in the now classic example of rediscovering the lost world of Mitchell and Kenyon, where dust covered barrels from a forgotten basement. Almost being the basement of the nation’s consciousness. “The history of early cinema […] is as much job of film archaeology as it is of film history. It is a history based on incomplete records as the majority of films no longer survive and other sources are fragmentary at the best.” (Chapman, 2003:51) In the Monday Collegium session about grains and pixels, the sessions prompted with the question: what do we see and what do we think we see? Besides being obviously about the current restoration format debate, the question opens up the view to looking into how we as audience members embrace the different worlds and interpret the language of cinema. In Pordenone I feel as if looking through a hazy glass. So much time has passed even for the documentaries that they become historical artefacts. The festival catalogue admirably helped the poor navigators in locating themselves in the historical, geographical and cultural contexts of the films, but usually it failed to mention the longitude and latitude for your emotional experience. One of the screenings proved to be very controversial and provoking diverse reactions. It was the screening of The Vincenzo Neri Medical Collection (1908-1928). The discussion between the Collegians ranged from the use of music and to the whole purpose of screening the films. Many people objected the fact that these films were showing human sufferings and we were 76
possibly (with the addition of music) diminishing the films into mere entertainment. The films made the Collegium as a group almost take sides and the conversations continued in the manner of “whose side are you on?” This was an example of some of the people getting drawn into the world and others holding back. The swift tidal wave that came without a warning was the emotional aspect of the screening, mainly because of the addition of music. As for myself, the music or the screening in a negative sense didn’t bother me. On the contrary the music changed the perception of an obviously historical artefact, as it was recorded as such for medical records, to a beautiful account of human beings in their weakest hour. The beautiful music only restored the patients’ dignity and showed how fragile human beings really are. Their fragility then surpassed the other levels and what was left was the inner beauty of the people, which still remained vital. In this case the music drew others away from the film, but pulled some even further in. On few occasions the altering film speeds had a similar impact on viewing the films. Certainly discovering one of these new worlds was the sound version of Robert Flaherty’s Moana (1926, sound version 1981), which took the audience straight to Samoa! “For me Flaherty is one of the great poets of the cinema, always in search of paradise lost.” (Alanen, 2010) The Finnish film archivist Antti Alanen described Flaherty as I would describe many of the silent film historians – characterized by bravery and unquenched thirst for discovery. The beauty of Flaherty’s work is in the context of his time, the magic of seeing new worlds for the first time, so for the very same reason it should impact even today. The sound version 77
shed completely new light on the film, unveiling an angle that we haven’t seen before. The syncing of the film speed to a 24fps for the sake of the sound, made few of the scenes instantly more poetic and graceful. The rustling of the trees, the quiet sound of the water and the steady pace of harmony are all things that even Terence Malick would be aiming for. The beauty of the time forgotten extended also to few other documentaries. Horses flying and frozen in time and in mid-air as in few of the examples in the Corrick collection. The debate on projection speeds is not unnecessary, since it can have disastrous ramifications, but sometimes it reveals the unexpected beauty of the things we’ve lost. In the section of actually “lost” and discovered films was also beauty to be seen. Sometimes the beauty of the lost world is pinpointed into few crucial minutes. One could definitely feel the electricity charging in the audience members as one familiar fellow dressed as a Keystone cop flickered on screen. Charlie Chaplin, under the direction of Ford Sterling in A Thief Catcher (His Regular Job) (1914) jumped around with his ever-so-familiar manners creating an adrenaline buzz through the seats of Teatro Verdi, which could only be rivalled by the discovery 1897 discovery of the electron. Archaeological discoveries of something that all life is build upon, and in this case the sill of cinema, the origins of Chaplin. Another archaeological festival star was the newly discovered, opening reel of W. F. Murnau’s lost film Marizza, Gennant die Schmuggler-Madonna (1921-1922). Courtesy of Cineteca Nazionale, Centro Sperimentale di Sinematografia, Rome the reel left me wondering what are then the qualities in Murnau’s “language” that separate the reel from countless other contemporaries? The sentences he constructed? The words he favoured? The visual syntax, the rhymes and the visual poetry of his expression? Analyzing old documents and anticipating Murnau’s tricks and stylistic manners, seems to me 78
like decoding hieroglyphs of the once ancient world. Even the only screened reel is tantalizing and exciting enough to leave the audience graving for more. It’s like the archaeologist found a collarbone, which then leaves everyone in the audience to imagine how rest of the body would look like. Murnau managed to captivate the audience with a glimpse of a collarbone, but sometimes also the music spoke louder with just few words or the loudest with complete silence. Maud Nelissen executing beautiful sense of drama in the vein of John Cage at the end of La Folie des vaillants (1926, Germaine Dulac), holding on to the silence was breathtaking. Silence that paradoxically enough spoke to you. These brief examples sum up the idea of the week – communication. Whether it’d be a reel brought back to life or a musical cue, the dialogue between the films, their worlds and the audience usually leaves an impression. When talking about the films in question at the Giornate, it wasn’t only about reading the films, but on many occasions the films speaking to you. In many ways entering the worlds, lost or unseen, of Pordenone, it’s all about having a dialogue. The dialogue emerges throughout the week from the conversations, Collegium panels, master classes and most importantly from the connection one makes with the films. It is marked that cinema was born in 1895, because of the people came together to watch a film. That same ethos is carried still in Pordenone. At the end of the festival there’s something un-doubly melancholic, but anxiousness in the air. The last night seems to be a climax of the festival for realizing that it all might be over way too soon anyway. Unconsciously, I’m realising something about the festival which will 79
probably resonate fully only later when I’ll return to the festival, something about the notion of where you belong. You don’t fully understand the opening words of the festival until you’ve gone through it. The director of the festival, David Robinson puts it in his opening statement for the festival – welcome home! Home, where people all over the world come to connect through one unifying language, not English or not even Italian, but cinema.
anttialanenfilmdiary.blogspot.com http://anttialanenfilmdiary.blogspot.com/2010/10/moana-1981-sound-version.html (Acessed on 15.07.2011) Bordwell, David (1997) On the History of Film Style. USA: Harvard University Press. Chapman, James (2003) Cinemas of the World – Film and Society from 1895 to the Present. UK: Reaktion Books.
Black Holes in the Film History – Movies Outside the Genre Box, Ideas of a Nation Filmography and Obscure Movies from Great Directors Mateus Nagime
Film, as the most contemporary of all arts, has a very peculiar relation with its own history. Even though the first public cinema session took place on December 28 th of 1895, the first history books and theoretical studies emerged during the teen years of the twentieth century. Soon the writers of the new medium realized that they had to categorize the first pictures that appeared in order to direct the viewer’s attention as well as the way they could direct the reviews. First there was a division between fiction and documentary, each with its main director: George Méliès and his trick shots representing the first, and August and Louis Lumière and their visions of distant countries and important events, the main figures of the second. Then different countries appeared to be making “different” films, each talking about its own history, problems, character and way of life: so the division between national cinemas began, as an American movie seemed quite different from a French one, and perhaps even more different than one made in Japan. Still hanging quite strongly in its theater and literary traditions, the fiction films started to adapt its own classic genres into the realm of cinema: Comedy, drama, action, romance, etc, started to distinguish one movie from the other to the audience (with the action bringing more men, romance attracting the women, comedy associated with family film, etc), and as the years went on, actors began to bring spectators into the movie theaters as well, as they became familiar figures to the world. It took a longer time, but eventually directors also became the center of discussion among the critics and especially the public. 81
One of the leading figures of new medium, American filmmaker D. W. Griffith had an enormous notion of the importance of putting himself in the minds of the public and consequently of the future historians. In 1915 he placed an ad in the newspaper covering the release of his first feature film “The Birth of a Nation” calling himself an inventor of various styles of cinema, camera tricks and effects, culminating with the line “creator of film grammar and father of cinema.” It didn’t seem important to him that other filmmakers were doing similar things in Europe, or that he actually got techniques that were already created and put them to better use in the narrative. It did not matter then unless some other director or producer would sue him or create a public debate, which did not happened and therefore his image as the first great director was implemented and later corroborated by historians. More important and interesting to our research is the fact that for the first time a director apparently knew his place as a leading man in film business, not as a Renaissance Man (accumulating the jobs of director, producer, editor, distributor and others), as Méliès did a decade before, but simply as a director. It’s no coincidence that Méliès quickly declined and died as a beggar, and Griffith had an extremely lucky career, only fading with the revisionism in the 1960/1970s. Soon, in contrast with the American leading cinema which would be the prototype to the Classical narrative structure, critics started to group all the Hollywood productions into one group (American cinema), ignoring all other forms of American production because they were extreme marginal then and remain largely unknown today. At the same time other movements started to emerge in different countries of the globe, and they became so connected with national schools that many forget that German cinema was not just expressionism (which probably was only a small percentage of the national production) and the fact that we had directors from all over the world representing the French avant-garde movement, the Hollywood influence in the soviet cinema, etc. So beginning with the first years of the motion picture, the industry and its players learned how to create history in a way that could guide the future moviegoer. It was important that 82
some years later a viewer who wants to go through the history of cinema, could find the important works, and ignore the disposable ones. No more like painting which had to wait until the artist died so he could get his work appreciated centuries later. Directors wanted glory here and now. One could argue that the Academy Awards ceremony, created less than 15 years after the Hollywood foundation still serves as a great filter for the way the Academy, or Hollywood wants the future to look that year, besides the obvious celebration of its producers, technicians and actors, helping establish the industry. Film festivals that came into existence a couple of years later would do the same thing with their important prizes. In the case of the Academy, we see clearly a leaning towards “conservative” movies over “innovative” ones. This is considered the American approach, as was seen at the recent Oscars with the victory of The King’s Speech over the far superior and equally favorite The Social Network. In the case of European film festivals, we see the major prizes going to political movies, especially in Berlin (as was with winners of the past decade, Sunday, Bloody Sunday or Elite Squad). Cannes, especially in recent years prefers to give prizes to works that “define the year”, like the Palm D’or to Fahrenheit 9/11, in the American election year of 2004, or hand them to the directors of the moment, as was the case of Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Terrence Malick, with Uncle Boonmee who can recall his past lives or The Tree of Life. This introduction is to remind us that unlike other arts the cinema canon is something very alive, in constant mutation, being made and remade year after year. This tendency has been developed over the course of many years as the first history of cinema appeared in the thirties and the “best movies ever” compilations started to became frequent in the fifties. This helps distinguish between genres as a comedy is not considered an equal “competitor” to the drama so we create “best comedies”, “Best dramatic comedies”, “best dramas”, etc. – we include every type of film to expand such lists and add more and more movies.
Movies in Pordenone that challenge or support this notion It was with this aspect in mind that I arrived in Pordenone to be absorbed by a storm of dozens of silent films. When I heard that there would be a retrospective of Japanese cinema, my first thought took me back to Ozu’s career as I just had experienced a life-changing complete 35mm and 16mm retrospective of the great master’s work in a cultural center in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, my hometown. I had also checked with the help of previous knowledge and a little research on the internet the great directors that would be screened at Le Giornate as well as movies already deemed to be classics. But this soon was changed by the experience of watching those films. Nothing, or almost nothing, was what it seemed at first. The Japanese movies had little or no relation to the Ozu work of the same period, except for characteristics typical of Japanese characters. As the Japanese movies from the era previously know to me were short and fast paced with a great deal of influence from western cinema, the movies presented at Pordenone were dead-slow and tremendously more oriented to a Japanese way of life, similar to the way that Ozu himself would turn back to in his later films, but with far better results. More importantly, perhaps was the fact that they were simply boring, lacking interesting stories and characters and sometimes losing themselves as they last for over four hours in some cases. This was just one extremely negative experience that I had at the 29 th edition of “Le Giornate del Cinema Muto”. Other experiences regarding breaking the expectation barrier were far greater and brought me immense pleasure. Before arriving at Pordenone, even with a great knowledge of classical cinema, I do not feel ashamed to say that in this genre-oriented world that we live in, to me John Ford was a great director who specialized in westerns and Irishimmigrant characters. In the same way, the German silent movies distinguished themselves to me for their expressionist style. The soviet filmmaking from the twenties, lead by Sergei Eisenstein and Vladimir Pudovkin, on the other hand, were concerned only with politicallyoriented movies, marked by revolutionary editing. These were a few among other clichés that 84
lived freely in my mind. So is with great pleasure that the Pordenone festival showed that we cinema lovers can and should always look for movies outside the genre box. Many of these films were left at margin of the history or do not belong to any pre-existing group. From Germany we watched Mutter Krausens Fahrt ins Glück (1929, GER) by Phil Jutzi, a heartening social drama about a poor and suffering family. John Ford was represented by Upstream (1927, USA), a drama staged in a pension for theater actors, with a love triangle and a plot full of backstabbing, dreams, hopes and (dis)illusions. And we had a large variety of soviet movies, from which (yes) there were the ones focused on political matters, using the fiction – Lursmani Cheqmashi (1931, USS) by Mikhail Kalatozov (know as “Nail in the Boot” in English – or documentary – Giuli (1927, USS) by Lev Push, Nikoloz Shengelaya, but there was also a genre not given as much attention in Russian filmography, that is the comedy represented by Shakhmatnaya Goryachka (1928, USS) by Vsevolod Pudovkin and Nikolai Shipikovsky (known as “Chess Fever” in English) and Tretya Meschchanskaya (1927, USS) by Abram Room (known as “Bed and Sofa” in English). Of course we also saw movies that confirmed pre-existing views: The American movies selected to open – The Navigator (1924, USA) by Donald Crisp, Buster Keaton – and close – Wings (1927, USA) by William Wellman the festival are typical 20s Hollwood productions, with one representing the comedy branch and other the action-oriented movie, each with a touch of romance, as as productions of that time required. The French inclusions were also very representative of the national production of the time, with one major fantasy production – Le Miracle dês Loups (1924, FRA) by Raymond Bernard – and the avant-garde film Rien que les heures (1926, FRA) by the Brazilian expatriate Alberto Cavalcanti. In this paper, however, I intend to talk a little bit more about the four works that in my opinion went against stereotypes of their directors, nationalities and dominating genres of the time. During the individual analyses, l will try to relate these movies to the filmmaker’s body of work, connecting them by a few things in common and to thinking about the possible reasons why these movies in particular have been forgotten by film historians. The question is 85
amplified on the discovery at Pordenone that they are among the best movies made by those directors and in those countries. Could they have been left out from the history books simply because they did not fit any genre? Or was it simply a question of critics underestimating the movies? Analysis of the chosen cases Pudovkin became known for his highly political movies. In 1924 he directed Neobychainye priklyucheniya mistera Vesta v strane bolshevikov (The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr. West in the Land of the Bolsheviks), in which he depicts an American visiting the Soviet Union. The man, properly named Mr. West is a YMCA president, conservative, full of stereotypical ideas about communism, but in fact represents all that embodies the clichĂŠ of an American man as the Russians saw it. In the end the ancient nobles are portrayed as the villains and the Bolshevik regime saves the tourist who goes back home as a great fan of Lenin. From 1926 to 1928 he made a â€œRevolutionary Trilogyâ€?, directing Mat (Mother, 1926), Konets SanktPeterburga (The End of St. Petersburg, 1927) and Potomok Chingis-Khana (Storm Over Asia, 1928), all with high political motives. All these films used typical melodramatic stories to emphasize the drama that moves the character who embodies the ultimate soviet hero: Usually they begin as honest hard-working men who are exploited by the capitalism system. This leads to complete misery and they usually end up fighting in a money-thrived war at the lowest conditions, while the aristocracy only gets richer. After all this troubles, the main character finally gain conscience and promote the revolution. Finally the heroes achieve success (even if spiritual) through the Marxism-Leninism. This was the structure of most Soviet movies, but one film of this group shown in Pordenone stood out from the rest. Shakhmatnaya Goryachka, which is a down-to-earth charactersdriven comedy about two normal folks, a man and a woman who are about to be married but 86
whose relationship is strained by a rival: the man appears to love the chess game more than the woman and it comes at time when everything she sees is related to chess. So she decides it is enough for her and the affair is finished. The film had a nationalist origin. It was made as a way to document a major chess tournament that was happening in Moscow during 1925 and real chess players appear in the movie, including some of the biggest stars of its days. The world-champion JosĂŠ RaĂşl Casablanca, from Cuba, makes a special appearance in the movie teaching chess to the main female character. The subject is treated in a far-fetched manner, but this makes it known that the man behind the camera is Pudovkin. Even while treating the subject very lightly and with some humor regarding all of characters, we have an idealized view of the world, with all muscovites appearing onscreen as chess die-hard lovers and the only one not at all pleased by the game is the main female character, Anna Zemtsova. After further analyzing the movie and its historical context, we learn that the chess world championship was the first major sporting event that happened in Russia after the revolution. So the Soviet authorities were eager to show its power, influence and talent. In order to bring the biggest stars to Moscow, the government paid gold to Casablanca and other great players like the German Emanuel Lasker, former champion, in order to appear at Moscow. The reward came when the Soviet Efim Bogoljubow emerged as the unexpected winner. It is unlikely that the movie would not be finished and released if the final result were different. But the movie, along with the result and other propaganda materials around the tournament, played a major part in helping to popularize the sports. The competition with western countries in the area of sports would became one of the landmarks of the Cold War, culminating in the Summer and Winter Olympics. However, one cannot take the movie lightly in terms of political ideology. It is quite clear that the female character is supposed to exemplify a detractor of the soviet regime. She appears to be the only person who has a unique thought, in opposition to the common sense. This is 87
the way a dictatorship government would like that members of opposition think – that they are alone in their ideas. While the girl feels alone, the entire population loves it, making her feel out of place. In the end, however, as a regime opponent who is “brain-washed”, she learns not to simply accept it, but to love chess whole heartily. Another Soviet movie that defied conventions was Tretya Meschchanskaya in which a couple’s friend cannot find a room and as a result ask to sleep in their couch, creating a love triangle with an ambiguous ending in which the two male friends end up sharing the same bed when the girl they both love leaves them. It is interesting that the concept of the film is quite similar to one of Ernst Lubitsch’s masterpieces, Design for Living (1933, USA), but the American picture even in a pre-code era did not have the guts (or the wit) to suggest the homosexual interplay at the end which undoubtedly gives quite a flavor to the Soviet version, and we can’t help but wonder how it was received by the government. If one reads some basic Film History books, the only entries on Germany probably will be about the German Expressionism Movement during the twenties or the New German Cinema that developed between the late sixties and early eighties. Even while considering the major importance of these styles and their leading directors, it is impossible to think that this summarizes the entire history of German cinema, especially when there were major forces working with/against the German Expressionism. Only taking into account the period of Weimar Republic (1918-1933), we see a rich cinema, exploring all kinds of genres and narratives. A vast production was happening in Germany, not only in cinema, but in other arts, as well. This corroborates a traditional and very disputed view that the best art movements appear when a political turmoil is happening in the region. This thought is taken very seriously in the third world. The expressionism was obviously the most important historically of these German movements, even if it was deeply influenced by Danish movies from the post-WWI, it developed in Germany and later spread all over the world with serious consequences in other genres (like film noir), but there were other major movements happening in the country. One of these movements, the Bergfilm, was born in 88
Germany and showed men and women against mountains or other natural aspects, usually gaining experience and wisdom, but it did not catch on in the same way as Expressionism, lasting only a couple of years even in Germany. However, it gained an important director, Leni Riefenstahl. Another popular genre in Germany was the Kammerspiel, usually about working/middle class characters and focused not on the sets (as was the case with expressionism), but on the psychological aspects, resembling a good theater play. Another kind of movement, less active in films, but famous in other artistic scenes in Germany was New Objectivity who opposed all the principals from Expressionism and who was represented mainly by George W. Pabst. Even with so many genres blooming in Germany it is important to notice that not all films can or should fit under one exact label. They can always be used as a reference in cinematography from one of these mentioned movements. One other possibility, more courageous, is to simply ignore all the fashionable movements and create a unique storytelling, free of all preconceived notions. It is interesting that one of the best movies shown in Pordenone in 2010 was Mutter Krausens Fahrt ins GlĂźck, a work that stays away from all these conventions, creating a film unique to German cinema at the time. In a troubled time for national politics, Phil Jutzi makes a strikingly powerful social drama, reminiscent of the Soviet narrative, which culminates in a march demanding social and political changes with the people chanting the International Socialist. Here I have to stop for a minute to talk only about the artistic aspects of the movies. This is the point that even if I donâ€™t directly mention the subject Iâ€™m covering, it is the only place in this paper that I can express what certainly helped me to shape the views I had: the unique experience of watching dozens of silent classics with an orchestra and special events, produced by Le Giornate. There is an ethical debate on how to musically follow the silent movie. First of all, should it be viewed completely silent or with some music? Then, if the second option is chosen, what music should be played? The original sheets, which accompanied the music during its fists sessions, or new music, composed nowadays? 89
This happens because many of the first movie tunes written are deemed to be bad or poor adaptations of existent classical music. But even with this controversy, impromptu music can often be great and serve as valuable company to the images, and it was indeed how the movies were conceived, to be seen with music, for better or for worse. I personally prefer to watch movies in complete silence, as I get deeper and deeper â€œintoâ€? the screen and usually the excessive music does not help me follow the movie. But I understand that probably most of the audience likes, and even needs the music to stay awake and participate in the action. So is good for the festival that all the sessions are played with pianists, even if would be nice to see some sessions without music to test the reaction of the audience to the movie. Le Giornate brought not only classical music (whether orchestra or simply piano/violin) to serve as accompaniment to the movies. It also created truly original sessions, such as the music/narration presented with the Brazilian forest movies. In this particular session, the music helped the audience to feel the mood of the movie. The reason this subject was brought to the paper was the intervention during the Phil Jutzi movie: As the character marches into the communist demonstration, people started to enter in the Teatro Verdi chanting and playing the socialist hymn. At first, we all thought it was some lunatic man singing inappropriately during the session, but soon dozen of people were participating in the act. This completely broke the fourth wall and helped to create a certainly unforgettable screening to all of those attending. Pordenone Festival is one of the most important film festivals for viewing obscure silent movies, and films that do not fit into a famous or very strict box of genres or established directors. Or even in the latter case, we are given the opportunity to see rare films that usually do not take up a lot of space in a biography. One of these cases is John Fordâ€™s recently discovered film, Upstream. This film was shown at the Festival as one of the first screenings after it was discovered in a New Zealand film archive. In this movie, apparently, typical Ford themes do not appear: This movie is not a 90
western or a movie about Irish immigrants, although there are a few immigrants in the pension, which is used as the major location in the film. In this house where all the important scenes take place stage actors and performers live in search of fame and glory. But even if this film appears to stray from Fordâ€™s usual patterns, his basic trademark is still there and it is impressive that he managed to do so in the early stage of his career: The building of a nation or a notion of a nation is the heart of the narrative, with these characters trying to win big in the USA (and the world), and create the history of their country as they write their own history, both personal and professional. It seems indicative of the trajectory that the director ended up having. At first, he tried to resolve this question of nationality (or simply belonging to a place), with a small but impressive group of characters, in this case actors. Then, during the thirties and forties, he turned his eyes to immigrants. The fact that they were Irish was merely indicative of Fordâ€™s origins, as in the end they could come from anywhere (a style that influenced a lot of directors, like Claire Denis who has been developing this theme for the last 25 years). Finally, during the last decades of his career, he decided to deeply analyze the origins of the creation (and its problems) of the American History through his mythical westerns. The authorship theory defends a director that works on the same theme or variations of a said theme during his entire career. This is disputed and certainly not as crystal clear or well thought as the Cahiers de Cinema intended in the fifties and sixties. But it is impressive to see a director, as Ford, who had such a long career, already deal in his first movies, back at 1927, with some of his basic themes of work. It is not wild to say that probably he still had not figured out the major line of subjects in which he would return to year after year in dozen of films. But in the earlier movies, like Upstream, possibly it was something instinctive that drove him to talk about these kinds of people and themes, even if it was only about supporting characters. Final thoughts on the movies screened in Pordenone and the role of the Festival 91
La Giornate gave me opportunity to review important movies that I already knew, but never before had the opportunity to view in great copies such as the print of Bronenosets Potyomkim (1925, USS) by Sergei Eisenstein. I also saw movies I never quite liked but after seeing them during the Festival, my appreciation grow bigger and bigger (Wings), but these were well established classics, which are expected to be a part of every film buff’s checklist. The great joy for me was to watch for probably the first time in a large theater with platinum copies, if not for the first time ever, tons of unheard movies of discover directors. Also, watching movies from various nations that don’t usually appear in the average theater or find out darker sides of those well know directors and actors. All of this among hundreds of people and the colleagues of the Collegium, most of them were experiencing the same discoveries as myself. These are the memories that will stay with me for long time: Finding the early side of Ford’s genius in Upstream, or a rich character and social study in Mutter Krausens Fahrt ins Glück. Knowing the light comedies from Soviet Union, such as Shakhmatnaya Goryachka or Tretya Meschchanskaya, made a few years before than Design for Living by Ernst Lubitsch in a stricter regime and even so more subversive. It is worth it to spend ten days watching movies from 8a.m. to 2a.m., trying to catch everything that is screened? Surely is, for a movie buff like me, eager to find out what is not written in the film history books, or discover movies not to be found on top100 or even top1000. I hope this year’s class will have as much fun as I had discovering obscure classics and rethinking how we see the cinema from the silent era.
The Silent Films of Mikhail Kalatozov: Romanticism and the Sublime Amos Stailey-Young
I was truly captivated by the films of Mikhail Kalatozov (Georgian name Mikheil Kalatozishvili) shown at Pordenone. They were very beautiful films and had a great sense of energy to them. But my sense when viewing them was that there was something contrary to traditional Marxist thought in them, despite following many conventions of revolutionary cinema, which perhaps contributed to the troubled reception that they were given (The Nail in the Boot being banned and all). Part of this feeling had to do with the way the propaganda seemed tackedon at the end, as if to appease the authorities or the culture. Talking with other people who had watched the films, there was a sense of disconnect between most of the film and the obvious propaganda, to the extent of being somewhat funny. The message at the end of The Nail in the Boot (“how many of you are like the bootmaker?”) seemed trite in comparison to the amount of effort that went into the visual elements of the film and thus seemed funny to much of us watching it. After giving thought to the responses to the film (others and my own), it's not simply that the propaganda elements seemed tacked-on, but that elements of Kalatozov's style were contradictory to the message as well, such as the “romantic” qualities of Salt for Svanetia (1930) or the excessive attention to pictorial or aesthetic qualities in The Nail in the Boot (1931), which evidences a disconnect with traditional Marxist thought. Kalatozov forms a nice comparison to Sergei Eisenstein whose The Battleship Potemkin (1925) was also shown at the Giornate, a film much more rigorous and precisely controlled than those of films of Kalatozov, whose message is also made more clearly and unambiguously. And Kalatozov's style – wild, passionate, bursting with energy – makes for somewhat sloppy propaganda. So despite Kalatozov's adoption of the many elements of revolutionary cinema – 93
documentaries about underdeveloped regions, montage, etc. – some of the “romantic” elements reveals Kalatozov's misalignment with certain elements of traditional Marxist thought. More concretely, Kalatozov's style either contradicts his intended message or renders it completely absurd, especially in comparison to Eisestein's rigorous control. At first glance, Kalatozov's work appears similar in nature to the montage based cinema of Eisenstein, and thus fits snugly into the dominant understanding of Soviet silent cinema. The Nail in the Boot and Salt for Svanetia appear to be rather straightforward propaganda pieces that employ the rapid montage so consistent with Soviet art cinema of the time period. However, very quickly certain divergent tendencies start to appear. I was often struck by the sheer beauty of Kalatozov's images. The Nail in the Boot was the first of his films shown at Pordenone and everything about it was so very aestheticized, a claim made by the Soviet censors1. The way the light reflected off of the gleaming gun barrels, or the angular faces of the soviet men in closeup, faces like I had never seen before. But when I think of the more famous examples of soviet cinema, rarely do I think of beauty – at least aesthetic or pictorial beauty. Potemkin is not what I would call a “beautiful” film. In contrast to Eisenstein, the silent films of Mikhail Kalatozov are very beautiful and highly aestheticized; in the case of The Nail in the Boot, the aestheticized elements lead to it being banned (officially charged with “formalism”2). Kalatozov's Salt for Svanetia is in some ways also a very straightforward Soviet propaganda piece meant to show the necessity of modernizing rural regions of the Soviet Union, bringing enlightenment to the rural people through a replacement of mystic superstition with dialectial materialism. However, what we see in Salt for Svanetia is not primarily a realist, materialist documentary on the struggles of rural life, but a reflection on the relationship between human beings and nature, and also a focus on subjectivity in the face of the sublime. The film often represents nature as something dangerous yet impressive and beautiful, with many of the shots in the film reminiscent of romantic landscapes, like 1 2
29th Pordenone Film Festival Catalogue, 2-9 october 2010 XXIX edizione, Dzandzava, Nino, 62 Dzandzava, 62
David Caspar Friedrich's paintings. But the sublime nature of these shots is sometimes at odds with the intended meanings of the film since the film is specifically framed around the idea of modernizing backwards rural regions of the Soviet union – such as the beginning quote from Lenin: “Even now there are far reaches of the Soviet Union where the patriarchal way of life persists along with remnants of the clan system.” Ostensibly, the film is supposed to address this issue, showing the ways in which Lenin is correct and how this is to be fixed, how the road is being built specifically to bring salt to Svanetia and thus connect it to the Soviet Union as a whole. However, the film begins not with the villagers, but with some shots of the vast mountains landscape, a landscape which dwarfs the village. We are given the sheer immensity of the landscapes, suggesting not the power of transformation, not the power of human beings over nature, but the utter powerlessness of the villagers and the frailty of subjectivity in the face of such size and grandeur. It becomes hard to see exactly how this unforgiving land could be subjugated to human control, and so the supposed message begins to go astray from the beginning. The degree to which Kalatozov “aestheticizes” his images conflicts with the attempt to convey his message. On a more concrete level, some elements of Kalatozov's style belongs to an artistic movement whose elements are often opposed to some of the more materialist messages that Kalatozov's films ostensibly are meant to convey, like the imagery in Salt for Svanetia which recalls Romanticism. Romanticism arises in opposition more specifically to enlightenment thought but is also very hard to reconcile with more Marxist ideology since Romanticism usually centers around an encounter with something specifically outside of the material realm, often in some transcendent encounter with the sublime, and this sublime encounter is always primarily about subjectivity. The individual's subjectivity is not something defined by objective, material factors, like the social structure and class position the way it is in Marxist thought, but rather is shown to exist on a similar level as God and the transcendental. Even though theorists like Edmund Burke and Kant see the element of danger to the individual as necessary for the sublime experience and that the sublime encounter is a 95
threat to dissolve the individual subject, the sublime in the end always reinforces subjectivity instead of questioning it. The subject comes to a greater understanding of herself as subject precisely in the fact that she beholds this grand, dangerous sight from a distance, as separate from that which threatens her, and it always is what is outside of civilization and social structures, in nature, that the sublime encounter happens. So the subject is here formed outside of social institutions and social relationships in a direct encounter with the natural. As we will see later, Kalatozov's Salt for Svanetia draws very extensively on some of these romantic themes in the relationship between the Svan people and their dangerous, awesome landscape. Marxist philosophy is not so concerned with subjectivity so much as the objective social relations between people. “Class consciousness” and the like is something that arises out of a concern for subjectivity but only as a means to concrete action in changing social relationships. In Salt for Svanetia, however, Kalatozov is very concerned with looking at subjectivity in a “romantic” mode, as important in and of itself, and not defined through class relations the way it is in Marxist thought. Kalatozov sets up an antagonistic relationship between the Svans and their land through shots that seem to oscillate between what one might call “subjective” and “objective,” and which ultimately helps to define the subjectivity of the villagers. I think the best example of this is the village towers. Kalatozov presents two very different visual perspectives of the towers. The one is when the film is talking about how the towers served as the villagers' defense against the barons. Here, the towers of the village are shown upward by very low camera angles, giving them an overwhelming presence in the frame, extending across diagonally, sometimes filling the entire image. They serve as the villagers' own sense of power – being that they were also vital for defense of the village – through a harnessing of nature and an imitation of it. The stones that create these towers are shown to be taken from the mountains immediately nearby, and thus represent a sign of the villagers' power over the beautiful yet dangerous landscape. Because they represent the villagers' power over nature, Kalatozov shoots the towers rather “subjectively,” giving them a disproportionately large size 96
in the frame. Even though the shots do not represent the perspective of any individual, they do seem to represent the perspective of the villagers as a whole. However, Kalatozov mixes these closeup, low angle shots where the towers impressively fill the frame, seemingly enormous structures, with long shots where the towers disappear innocuously into the landscape, dwarfed by the treacherous looking mountains. Subjectively through the eyes of the villagers the towers are quite large, according to their importance, but objectively, they are recorded impassively, given no account by the dangerous landscape. Here, it is not simply the individual subject which is threatened by the enormity of nature, but man's creation as well. When Kalatozov sets up this antagonistic relationship between the villagers and the landscape, where in the face of the grandeur and harshness of nature, the villagers seek to gain power over their surroundings, he is trying to express the subjectivity of the village people. The relationship of subjectivity and objectivity is present throughout the film in the way the images are set up, and it becomes clear that subjectivity is opposed to and defined not by objectivity in the form of social relations but objectivity in the form of what is outside of civilization â€“ nature. Kalatozov's subjectivity vs. objectivity relationship is expressed through his choice of shot distances, as he seems to choose either long shots or close-ups without much in between. So, the first shots we see in the film are of the imposing, dangerous looking landscape, followed by the small village town dwarfed by the craggy, jagged mountains topped with snow. The dangerous, harsh landscape is set up early on, but then much of the film is told in close-ups of the villagers going about their daily lives. In the section when the men of Svanetia are trying to bring salt back over the mountains, a clear pattern is established in the editing, which ultimately relates to subjectivity. The shots usually go from close up to far away, alternating from images of the faces of men and women, to shots of the harsh looking mountains. Constantly the people in the film are formed through their separation with the natural landscape. In one particular part of the film, the shot opens on men walking through the mountains, but it is in tight closeup, making the men loom rather 97
large on the screen. However, the next shot is a medium/long shot of the men silhouetted against the landscape, followed by an even longer shot, now making the men look tiny against the immensity of nature. What also results from the relationship between subject and object in the form of nature is the question of subjectivity, specifically in relation to the sublime. This question of the human subject is one explored extensively in Romanticism, specifically the absorption of the subject in the sublime experience, an absorption into nature. These shots, which suggest man's nothingness in the face of nature, is a common motif in romantic art, especially the formation of the transcendental subject in relation to the sublime. The nothingness in the face of nature is also related to a oneness with nature, where the subject threatens to become totally consumed, making fuzzy the boundaries which give rise to subjectivity. Where romantics saw in this a connection to God and access to a higher realm of being, one outside of the senses, others (like Kant) see it as a threat to rationality, and to subjectivity in general. The discourse on the sublime experience is never far from theories on the subject, and these shots in Salt for Svanetia very much evoke rather traditional aspects of the Romantic sublime. There are many ways in which Marxism is at odds with traditional elements of Romanticism, and Eisenstein's films provide some good examples of a cinematic style more in line with traditional elements of Marxist philosophy. Both Kalatozov and Eisenstein (The Battleship Potemkin) had films that played at the Giornate, and despite some similarities between the two – Kalatozov very extensively used montage, for example – their styles differ markedly, especially when it comes to the more “romantic” elements of Kalatozov's cinema. Eisenstein is a director whose specific style of montage is often in opposition to that of Kalatozov's, as Eisenstein sees montage as integral to a revolutionary film form and to Marxism in a way that doesn't seem to be there for Kalatozov. One way in which Eisenstein's cinema comes into agreement with Marxism is the dialectical quality of his montage. The editing in his films specifically bears a relationship with dialectical materialism since the way he explains montage amounts mostly to a thesis-antithesis-synthesis relationship. So in Potemkin, 98
Eisenstein edits the sequence of the revolt on the ship to where it is clear that religion in the form of the priest is used by those in power to pacify the revolutionary impulses of the masses. Eisenstein sees the importance of montage as influencing the audience for revolutionary purposes, particularly influencing them to action. Eisenstein adopts and explores this film form for materialistic purposes, saying that he sees in this revolutionary form a “product of correctly ascertained technical methods for the concretisation of a new attitude and approach to objects and phenomena – of a new class ideology – of the true renewal not just of the social significance but also of the material-technical essence of cinema...” [emphasis in original]3. This material essence is very important to Eisenstein, so in the “gods sequence” of his film October (1928), he starts with the materialist skepticism of the “idol,” of the sacredness of a material object, and by juxtaposing the various idols of deities with images of a statue of the general of the anti-communist forces, Eisenstein connects the ways in which religion has given material objects a significance beyond themselves, allowing them to be disassociated from their policital-economic realities. What makes this sequence so great is that his form perfectly expresses the materiality of objects and their lack of any transcendent essence, so that form and content are in line with each other. He gives a Marxist view of objects through implementing a film form which is dialectical in nature. He makes the concepts concrete because this in fact denies any “truth” beyond the material, where reality lies in objective social relationships. If we look at The Battleship Potemkin, Vakulinchuk is propelled to action by the inequities of the existing social relations, and his subjectivity does not exist outside of the structure of these relations. Eisenstein shows us how the men are mistreated by their superiors, forced to sleep in close proximity to each other in uncomfortable bedding, given rotten meat for food, and the men are driven to action through these conditions, which Eisenstein makes very clear. At a fundamental level, Eisenstein's cinema is in agreement with Marxism by employing a montage based film style that so dialectical in nature. And many of the other sequences in Potemkin 3
Eisenstein, “Problem of Materialist Approach to Film Form,” 55.
can be seen in agreement with the dominant ideology of the time, and can be translated into a “message” in a similar fashion to the October sequence or the priest one from Potemkin, making the film successful as a propaganda piece in a way that Kalatozov's films aren't. Eisenstein's form is in agreement with his content and thus he communicates his message more clearly than does Kalatozov. Kalatozov's editing is very different from the way Eisenstein's operates in Potemkin, and this difference in editing reveals how their respective styles differ more broadly. Eisenstein often edits in a way where the intended message is clear. Early in Potemkin when the men complain about the poor quality of the food, Eisenstein shows the food, cuts to a disgusting closeup of maggots crawling over the food, clearly to bring the viewer in line with the sympathies of the men on the ship, so that when the man inspecting the food declares it to be fine, the audience should be provoked along with the men in the film. The message is rather straightforward and clear, the ingenuity being in the specific way that Eisenstein communicates this message. Everything feels very precise, rigorous, and clear, the style working perfectly in line with the message so that everything feels in agreement. With Kalatozov, however, the feeling is that there is some dissonance between the film's intended message and the style of the film, such a dissonance that at the end of both Salt for Svanetia and The Nail in the Boot there was some laughter in the audience at the festival because the endings seemed so hyperbolic and ridiculous. For all the care and attention that went into creating such beautiful images, the ending to The Nail in the Boot (“how many of you are like the bootmaker!”) comes off as horribly trite, ridiculously so in fact. And I think much of this dissonance relates to Kalatozov's grand romantic style, which contrasts oddly with the extremely mundane, straightforward propagandistic endings to his films. Kalatozov's films seem not only to have a confused message, but some internal conflicts as well. What makes Salt for Svanetia a little complicated is that Kalatozov does foreground the antagonistic aspect of the sublime in the film, in a way which doesn't seem to be in line with traditional Romanticism, primarily the desire expressed in the film to subdue and control nature. Many of 100
the images in the film play-up this antagonistic relationship. One of the most striking is the rickety bridge over the treacherous water, a bridge that looks as if it could give out at any minute. But there is also the villagers struggling through the mountains trying to get to salt, silhouetted against the icy landscape, and then also the avalanche that attacks the men, carrying them back down the mountain under a wave of snow. The whole impetus of the film is the villagers trying to find the salt that nature does not provide, and their existence is characterized as a struggle against nature, not one of nature providing them bounty. But still, the “antagonistic” images of human beings and nature do get brought back into Romanticism because of the constant suggestion of the images of the dissolution of subjectivity and absorption into the transcendent. The rickety bridge is supposed to express the vulnerability of the individual in a very poignant way. The same with the silhouetted figures against the icy landscape. The villagers must work hard with what meager resources their habitat provides, but while nature is harsh and cruel, it is also awe-inspiring, dangerous, and sublime, commanding respect. So, there is at some level a sort of mix between an antagonistic nature that must be subdued, and a romantic absorption into the transcendent, giving the film something of an internal conflict, although one that can still, for the most part, be contained within a romantic ideology. Although Salt for Svanetia is not aligned perfectly with Romanticism, it still falls mostly on the romantic side. What is interesting about this is that it is counter to many of the goals of the Soviet Union in general, and more concretely, the goals laid out in the beginning of the film, as Romanticism is so prominently aligned in opposition to modernity (almost all modernist avant-garde movements such as Futurism railed against this “sentimental” art, which seemed opposed to progress). But the film is also fundamentally opposed to materialism when it so clearly evokes romantic motifs involving the transcendent. However, despite all of this, the end of the film seems to be pure Soviet propaganda, which creates a sort of dissonance while viewing the film. Oddly, on the surface at least, the last few minutes of the film does in fact become a celebration of modernity and progress, of subjecting the earth to man's control. The orgy of 101
destruction at the end is at the expense of nature and borders on a kind of hatred and cruelty. The power of human beings over nature is very clear. When we are shown the landscape being changed to accommodate the road, we are consistently shown a closeup of a man, followed by destruction of the landscape. We see the man press down on a detonator, followed by a shot of rock exploding, and this set of images is used in this pattern a few times. When watching the film, there just seems to be such a contradiction between the end and all that came before, and I think this results from the opposition between a nature that is sublime and leaves us powerless in the face of it and one that is totally subjected to modern man's control. This scene is in line with the Soviet push toward modernizing rural areas but it is such a grotesque display that it problematizes the supposed message. The Nail in the Boot is also a problematic film when viewed from a Marxist perspective – or even from its apparent intended message – and this perhaps helps to explain why it was banned by the Soviet Union. The Nail in the Boot is a very Futurist inspired film, without the more Marxist changes undergone through Constructivism (the Russian intrepretation of Futurism, which Dziga Vertov was influenced by). The story is pretty simple (although I was confused as to what was going on in the first half of the film when I watched it, another charge leveled against the film4): a soldier must notify divisional headquarters that the train is in danger and needs help, but the soldier fails his task because of his defective boot and the train is gassed, and he is then put on trial for his failure. However, there is very little effort given to narrative or exposition, but a lot given to aesthetics. The train coming in is reminiscent of Severini's “Armored Train.” We see the gleaming gun barrels, gas masks, all given a luminescent shine. It seems like every shot in the film is radiantly beautiful, but unlike Salt for Svanetia, all this beauty is limited to human beings and machines. In fact, nature is almost explicitly replaced – at one point, the soldier dips his foot into an absolutely beautiful, cool pool of oil, instead of water, to ease the pain in his injured heel. It's as if there is a narrative constructed through Salt for Svanetia and The Nail in the Boot where 4
nature is replaced with modern technology. The rural landscape where our subjectivity is defined in relation to nature is changed into a modernist world where we are defined less in opposition to the natural and more in opposition to the mechanical, and where these differences between human and machine are at times dissolved, similarly to the dissolution between nature and subject that happens in Salt for Svanetia. Even though The Nail in the Boot does not contain the same romantic motifs that Salt for Svanetia does, Kalatozov seems to replace nature with modern machinery, so that what is now awe-inspiring and sublime is modern industrialization. Futurism was always fascinated by the idea of the subject's absorption into machinery, and Futurism influenced much of Soviet visual art in the 1910s and 1920s (Dziga Vertov was influenced by futurist ideas and was also intrigued by the idea of human absorption into machinery), and Kalatozov for the most part replaces the theme of nature in Salt for Svanetia with that of machinery in The Nail in the Boot. So despite some unsettling quality of the coldness of the machinery, there is an ambiguous attitude toward modernization because of the “spiritual” relationship possible with this new technology, with the ability of modern machines to define our subjectivity outside of social relations. As far as his propagandistic purpose goes – in his focus on men and machinery, and thus modernization – Kalatozov does fall somewhat in line with Soviet industrialization, despite potential ambiguities. However, his focus on the beauty of the objects, completely separated from their use value, risks fetishizing them, and our relationship with modern technology is shown in a spiritual manner, as something of a sublime experience, instead of objectively. The style of the film is somewhat problematic when viewed from a Marxist perspective. He somewhat mystifies the objects, by the way he uses lighting. The objects really glow and shine, reminiscent of a aura or halo effect, where an essence is suggested. Instead of foregrounding human relationships with machinery, Kalatozov focuses purely on the external beauty of the objects, giving an inordinate amount of attention to certain ones like gun barrels. I think charges of “formalism” laid against the film get at this problem of using modern technology (and even human beings to some extent) completely for aesthetic value, 103
totally disregarding functionality or purpose. People are disregarded as such and instead treated almost exactly the same as any other object, mostly for aesthetic purposes, which is one way subjectivity threatens to be dissolved by machinery. But dissolution is also the possibility of absorption, and nature in Salt for Svanetia is shown as similarly cold as modern technology. There is something a little unsettling about this new industrial world, despite its cold beauty, and this unsettling quality from the “cold” or “dehumanizing” qualities slightly calls the theme of modernization into question, complicating the message of the film. Simply from a government standpoint, The Nail in the Boot is not good propaganda even content-wise. The beginning narrative is given such little attention compared to the style – and I wasn't sure what was going on exactly – but then the message in the second half is somewhat ambiguous. Apparently there is supposed to be a message that everyone, all Soviet workers, should do a good job for the state. However, this is undercut somewhat by the unrelenting inquisition given to the soldier regarding his failure to do his duty (which wasn't an easy task to begin with). The authorities come off as capricious and condemnatory, unwilling to hear the case of the soldier, and the crowd of workers come off as unpleasant because of their readiness to condemn a fellow comrade through an apparent mob mentality. The government here is much closer to a totalitarian bureaucracy than anything. The ending message given by the soldier (don't do shoddy work like the bootmaker!) comes across as really tacked-on, even more so than Salt for Svanetia, and it does more to undercut the film than anything, given that it seems unrelated to much of what happened. Because of Kalatozov's contradictory relationship with the messages he ostensibly intends to convey, the question arises as to what Kalatozov's political stance may have been. Kalatozov adopts many conventions from his fellow Soviet filmmakers (montage for instance, which does form much of his style), but seems to adopt them mostly because good Soviet filmmakers made revolutionary or socialist films. Whereas filmmakers like Eisenstein created their own cinematic style heavily inflected with Marxist philosophy, the style in Kalatozov's Salt for Svanetia and The Nail in the Boot are often hard to reconcile with Marxism in some key ways. 104
And both films seem almost subversive. Salt for Svanetia shows a relationship between nature and human beings that, although sometimes antagonistic, through the beautiful sublime of nature suggests some connection with the transcendent, which seems to undercut the hyperbolic display of man's control and subjugation of nature at the end of the film. The end of The Nail in the Boot seems more than anything a critique of the growing bureaucratization and totalitarianism of the Soviet Union, and in fact, still displays some of Kalatozov's “romantic” style from Salt for Svanetia. However, I'm not sure whether Kalatozov is really a subversive director. I think the documentary shown about Kalatozov at the Giornate presents him rather well (L'ouragan Kalatozov (2009)) and seems to suggest a man who adapted to his environment. After the rise of the “Socialist Realism” aesthetic and the charges of “formalism” against him, he became a bureaucrat, in charge of the Georgian film industry, and bid his time until he could be free to make the films he wanted. A film like The Cranes are Flying (1957) I think shows that he could just as easily make an almost apoltical movie (or at least one where politics doesn't play a prominent role), so I don't think “subversive” is the right word for him. He just didn't seem to translate Marxist philosophy or the ideology of the Soviet Union into his style, so sometimes his films don't reflect the views expected or intended. His films hearken back to a romantic mode and seek to express something outside of what can be converted simply into a political message, seeking to understand big questions like our relationship with nature, with our subjectivities, and with modernity.
A Fragmentary Appreciation of the Silent Cinema1 Kristofer Woods
Sleep. It inevitably happens during my festival experience – a mundane counterpoint to the months of excitement preceding my arrival in that small industrial town in the North-East of Italy. It happened this year much more than I could have anticipated. I don’t mean to suggest that my entire time at the festival was spent in a somnambulant state, but rather, within the auditorium of the Verdi I would often find my eyelids closing and my head nodding as that seemingly unstoppable force overcame my body. It happened during one of the films that I had most anticipated when I first discovered the programme: Benjamin Christensen’s Hævens Nat (1916), a screening in which I lasted no more than ten minutes; enough, I think, to discern key characters, but as for their development and the eventual resolution of the narrative, I have had to rely on them being related by friends who are incomparably more successful at staying awake than myself. This trend of interrupted viewing was unfortunately not only confined to the 9 a.m. screening of Hævens Nat, indeed my attendance at the 2010 Pordenone Silent Film Festival could be defined by what I partially slept through rather than witnessed entirely: a fragmentary experience in the most visceral of senses. I cannot believe for an instant that this problem is unique to me; I’m sure that many others have at one point drifted off during a screening at the festival. In fact – if you listen hard enough – the occasional sharp inhalation of individuals deep in the throes of sleep can be heard through 1
The idea of the festival being that of an open forum was raised by Paolo Chechi Usai during a conversation that took place after the 2010 Giornate del Cinema Muto. He stated that programming decisions enabled a plurality of responses to the films on show and that no single approach to silent film appreciation was valued over another. In sympathy with this, the following essay in no way offers an attempt to prescribe an ideal viewer response but instead is a reflection on my own festival experience.
the Verdi, accompanying both film and musician. Greeting a performance with sleep is obviously not a desirable act. It’s something I fight against desperately, fending it off until the point where I can no longer, and usually make the concession that, if I doze for a couple of minutes, I may be able to save and savour the majority of the screening, and experience the narrative in its only slightly interrupted entirety. I would also hesitate to make the point that sleeping in some way reflects my opinion as to the quality of what is on screen. I would consider myself extraordinarily indiscriminate in my ability to sleep through everything from the wonderful Douglas Fairbanks in Robin Hood (1922) to a programme of Boireau comedies; from Le Miracle Des Loups (1924) to the Corrick collection – the Sandman neither recognises nor respects the notion of a canon. So what possible explanations can I offer as to the persistent slumber that befalls me within the auditorium at Pordenone? My flight from London to Treviso, crossing only one time zone, had no great effect on my ability to stay awake, the hour difference not warranting the excuse of jet-lag. As mentioned, the notion that sleep was a reaction to films not entirely of my liking was categorically dismissed. Could it possibly be the programme itself? Could it be a result of, for twelve hours a day for seven days, watching films continuously with only an occasional break for the necessary intake of food and water? Films that, due to the rarity of opportunity to view them on a large screen with live accompaniment, and in most cases to view at all, drive a desire to see as much as possible for fear that I will not have the chance see them again. Did I simply overexert myself in my desire to watch everything and, in my striving to see all on offer resulting in the aforementioned fragmentary experience, did I fully appreciate what I saw? The three main strands of the 2010 Silent Film Festival’s diverse programme introduced me to French clowns, the shifting fortunes of Lev Push, Abraham Room and Mikael Kalatozov, and three Shonchiku masters: Yasujiro Shimazu, Hiroshi Shimizu and Kiyohiko Ushihara. I rediscovered the canon, watched Grierson’s Drifters (1929) followed by Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin (1925) as it would have been originally presented at the Film Society in 107
London, and even watched the final performance by magic lanternist Laura Minici Zotti. I did, without question, watch, or at least attempt to watch, more in the space of a week than I would usually in the space of a month. It is impossible to shake the feeling, however, that, despite the enjoyment I derived from my time spent sitting in the Verdi, I was somehow (by watching so many films in such a short period, to the point where they, due partly to the problem of sleep mentioned above, begin to blend into one) being unappreciative of them. I lose the ability, in retrospect, to disentangle the multiple narratives I encounter during the week of the festival; my ability to recall specific resolutions or characters become impossible; my memory of events that took place on screen increasingly fragmentary. Despite the festival’s contextualisation, through extensive programme notes and informative, structured dialogues, of the films on show, I continue to feel that my act of obsessive watching disassociated the films from their historical and cultural frameworks and I began to watch purely for aesthetics, to respond only to the narrative, to the cinematography or the performance; in essence to reduce history to the level of passive enjoyment. Now perhaps there is nothing ostensibly wrong with this – cinema should be enjoyed and that certainly is a practice performed by many, myself included – but I feel that not just within the context not of Pordenone, but of cinema appreciation in general, the act of watching historical popular entertainment (and I would make the case that the majority of what was screened at the festival was contemporarily popular) in the way that an audience today watches modern popular cinema, being a critically disengaged experience on the most part, is for me a little difficult. I first became aware of how I, as a contemporary viewer, watch silent cinema, not at a screening in Pordenone, but from two viewings that took place in London during 2010. The first was a screening of D.W. Griffith’s Orphans of the Storm (1921) held at the Barbican in celebration of the achievements of Photoplay in the twenty years since its establishment; the second was a screening of Yakov Protazanov’s Aelita: Queen of Mars (1924) as part of the BFI’s season of cinematic speculations on future societies. Both were greeted by some, and 108
again I include myself within this, with laughter at moments seemingly contrary to the original dramatic intention. The sequence in Orphans of the Storm that caused uproar was one of the most emotive in the film. It was the scene in which, after the two sisters have been separated from each other, they are finally, while one is wandering blind through the backstreets of Paris, reunited. The intensity of emotion in this meeting is undeniably heightened, intensified through the wonderful editing, sets, photography and, in the case of this particular Photoplay presentation, John Lanchbery’s surging score. But it was aspects of the performance, Dorothy and Lillian Gish’s wild gesticulations and wilder facial expressions, that resulted in what could have been an overwhelmingly moving moment being greeted with uncontrolled laughter. In the case of Aelita it was not merely the exaggerated performances that prompted amusement, but also the overt exaltation of the Marxist–Leninist ideology contained within the film’s final, allegorical scenes. The overthrowing of the alien monarchy and the liberation of its subjects – viewed in the 21st century through the prism of Stalinism and the collapse of the Soviet Union – is difficult to acknowledge in a way that audiences contemporary to the film’s production would, I imagine, have been expected to. I do not mean to suggest that in either case the laughter was purely derisory, more that in the years since the production of these two films, and of course from the silent period of cinema’s history, audiences’ attitudes towards what is acceptable, normative or enjoyable have shifted to the point where purely detached, immersive, unreflective entertainment becomes problematic. The cinema is indelibly linked to the period in which it was created, not just in the sense of a photographic reproduction of events taking place before a camera, but also, when a film is shown at a later date, at Pordenone for example, I as a viewer am fully aware of its technological and aesthetic attributes, as well as the ideological context from which what I am watching arose. I would make the case that this is more evident than if I were to go to my local multiplex and see something more attuned to contemporary tastes and values. It is the disparity between what I as a contemporary viewer accept as normal and what is presented 109
on screen that leads, as mentioned above, to a response that at times is dissonant to original intentions: rousingly sincere political statements become humorous and moments of drama become farce. The most obvious and immediate aspects of this discordance are the technical qualities apparent in the silent cinema: that of it having no synced soundtrack, differences in aspect ratio and the use of black-and-white photographic film or applied-colour processes that are no longer familiar, such as hand-drawn colouring, stencilling, tinting and toning. But despite the initial sensory impression being one of potential unfamiliarity, the DTS, Scope and Monopack colour being absent, I would say most definitely that this seems to be the least affecting of the incongruities that I as a contemporary viewer face watching the silent cinema; I watch silent cinema in full acceptance, appreciation and enjoyment of its technical characteristics. Not that this seems to have always been the case. Kevin Brownlow relates how audiences struggled with television broadcasts of silent cinema unadjusted for new frame rates that resulted in speeded-up movements and provided an unintentionally comedic effect, and how out-of-focus projections were blamed on poor print quality. The growing appreciation of silent cinema, seemingly developing out of dissatisfaction with the lack of understanding that resulted in incorrectly presented screenings, has now reached a stage where technical standards are of paramount importance: an attitude typified by, but by no means specific to, the festival at Pordenone. The result of this attitude is a presentation of silent cinema that is respectful to and understanding of the original projection, technical viewing experience and to content, or at least as much as it can be. Films are shown in frame rates not disruptive to mood or enjoyment; images are not cropped, stretched or distorted in any avoidable way; and accompaniment is supplied by musicians sensitive to the material on screen. Approaches towards technical accuracy and presentation were highlighted at the 2010 festival by two collegium dialogues entitled ‘Counting Frames: Running Speed for Silents’ and ‘Films Were Never Silent: The Changing Musical Challenge’ – panels that discussed correct frame rates and musical accompaniment to ensure accurate and enjoyable presentation of silent cinema. The 110
laudable level of attention and fidelity to presentation standards at the festival, both in terms of projection and dialogue in the form of chaired debates, allowed the technical aspects of silent cinema to be appreciated through faithfulness to original specifications. This encourages a relationship, unimpeded by potentially jarring technical transgressions, between me as a contemporary viewer and what is on the screen. This philosophy towards screening conditions helps me to embrace the technological aspects of the silent cinema, and to view them not as primitive or antiquated in the face of modern cinema, but with appreciation of their numerous and inherent qualities. Further to this, an accurate presentation no longer distracts from the experience of watching, but rather facilitates an appreciation of the aesthetic and ideological merits of the silent cinema. But the ability to embrace the technology of silent cinema is, for me, very different to embracing it in terms of aesthetics or ideology. I like the description of the cinema as a medium; the word suggests that communication is of primary importance, that the moving image is used to transfer ideas, packaged within narrative or non-narrative forms, from one section of society to another, and functioning, at times simultaneously, as a way of entertaining, informing, educating or persuading its viewers. At the festival in 2010 I witnessed a variety of these communications from the past. In the form of French comedy, Japanese melodrama, works from Soviet Russia, and Brazilian ethnographic films, to name but a few, I was presented with varying aesthetics and ideologies specific not just to the period in which they were produced, the early 20th century, but also to the cultures from which they originated. The films on show at the festival were on the whole, as mentioned, originally intended as entertainment for a popular audience; mainstream productions containing familiar narratives portraying contemporary issues packaged within conventional aesthetics. The popularity of Boireau, with his nervous tics and questionable behaviour, was, Rae Beth Gordon stated in the collegium dialogue â€˜Early French Comedies: Clowns and Charactersâ€™, related to contemporarily held perceptions of mental illness, their content reflecting the widespread attitudes towards psychiatry and itsâ€™ place within early 20 th century France. These 111
cultural and historical influences extend further than silent film comedy; all films screened gave examples of aesthetics, political sympathies and cultural values specific to the context in which they were created. The mass appeal of the majority of the films shown at the festival with original audiences suggests the accessibility of both form and content: material reflective of domineering ideas on politics and aesthetics. The need to appeal to a mass audience can be related to the high expenditure of film production and the necessity to recoup costs and gain profit. From the influence of theatrical traditions on early silent film performance and staging to the perpetuation of popular ideology within its narrative and resolution â€“ through social representations, and, in the case of the Brazilian ethnographic films, cross-cultural relationships reflective of contemporary values â€“ the content of cinema cannot be disassociated from economics or from the cultural context in which it was produced. Along with the reinforcement of prevalent opinions, the films on show at Pordenone also contained progressive aesthetics and political ideas. The silent films of Soviet Russia, serving a purpose of reinforcing the revolution, offered new cultural and political representations through the use of form and content; new images and new narratives for a new society. Many of the films on the festival programme served a definite purpose when created, that of popular entertainment. As popular attitudes and opinions towards aesthetics and politics shift cross culturally and over time, and of course with the inability of the film to alter its content, the incompatibility between historical entertainment and contemporary opinions becomes evident. Representations of racial, gender and economic relationships or political sentiment entirely disparate to contemporary values become stumbling blocks in the way of uncritical enjoyment. This of course may not be true in all cases. A canon exists of films that todayâ€™s spectator considers enjoyable and worthy of revisiting for enjoyment. This is dependent, I speculate, on films that are resonant with our current ideological or aesthetic trends culturally and cinematically. Advances (in editing, cinematography, performances etc.) are heralded and 112
appreciated, as are changing representations of race, gender or class, to highlight a small number of examples. The canon in no way encompasses the entirety of cinema history. It depends on existent material, which is in turn dependent on a number of variables, aside from residual merits. It is also true that films containing technological virtues may be abhorrent by today’s ideological standards – the racism of Griffiths’ Birth of a Nation (1915), or the Communist zeal of Soviet cinema, for example. It is, however, not the canon that the festival at Pordenone primarily concerns itself with. Despite a newly introduced strand revisiting the ‘great works’ of silent cinema it is the material left behind in the desire to order film history in terms of contemporary relevance that take centre stage. It is the films mentioned above, the popular entertainment, that I along with hundreds of other spectators gather in the Verdi to view. Here is where that the greatest divergence with other festivals lies. The films are not recently made, screened with the intention of finding distribution, or as showcases for new restorations, nor as an example of the greatest works of cinema’s history, but rather as a platform for the appreciation of a neglected history. For me this leads to what can only be called a fragmentary appreciation: a viewing experience fully aware of political and aesthetic changes that have occurred crossculturally and throughout history. It is not a pervading sense of loss that defines the fragmentary experience of viewing silent cinema, of an inability to fully re-engage as a spectator with art or with entertainment, but it is rather about the joy of the embrace – to watch with adjusted expectation, without subsuming what is on screen under contemporary ideas of morality, taste or enjoyment. This is the value of the festival’s decision to show everything, regardless of accepted contemporary value; to programme and screen what would otherwise be confined to the archive. This decision elucidates historical periods, trends and traits captured through the moving image rather than making available the most entertaining, the most resonant, the most canonical examples of cinema history. In a conversation with Paolo Chechi Usai, he stated that the silent cinema teaches him tolerance. It is precisely this tolerance to 113
difference, to divergent ideologies, cultural traditions and historical values, to engaging with cinema no longer containing accepted value commercially or even as entertainment, that for me makes the festival so important. The fragmentary relationship to silent cinema extends further than contemporary audiences’ responses; it is also evident in terms of the physical condition of film. During the collegium lecture on the ‘Three Masters of Shochiku’, Johan Nordström spoke about the loss of a vast proportion of Japanese silent-film history, in part due to the earthquake of 1923, and, most pertinently, to the destruction of ideologically questionable films (material deemed to possess imperialistic traits) by allied forces after the Second World War. This has resulted in only a fraction of extant material being made available to contemporary audiences, some of which was screened at the 2010 festival. The impermanence of cinema was apparent within not only the incomplete history of Japanese silent film, but also in other sections of the programme. Marriza, Gennant Die Scmuggler-Madonna (1922), directed F.W. Murnau, was presented at the 2010 festival within the Rediscoveries and Restorations strand. With Nosferatu being among the first silent films I discovered and Sunrise the first I viewed repeatedly, it was with great enthusiasm I began to watch Marriza. It was not, however, for the complete film that the audience gathered within the Verdi, but rather a fragment: the first reel – the only section of the film known to have survived. The decision to screen a single reel, although initially seeming to be inexplicable, now appears to me an acknowledgement of the irreversible loss of a vast proportion of our visual history. This presents itself not just in lost reels and incomplete films, but also in material deterioration. In the same way Pordenone offers a place that films no longer resonant are presented, it is also an environment where damaged and incomplete film can be embraced rather than neglected. Usai said that part of the motivation to show incomplete or damaged film was to highlight what is still to be done in preserving cinematic heritage. Presented within the context of Pordenone, old material may be appreciated as it currently exists, a stance that, for me, necessitates an adjusted expectation about print quality, keeping always in mind that it is more important to show a 114
bad print than to not it show at all. Le Giornate del Cinema Muto represents for me the culmination of my relationship with the silent cinema, from both academic and cinephilic perspectives. No other period of cinema history, prior to my first visit to the festival, had been so compromised as a viewing experience as the silent era. My relationship to William Wellman’s1927 production of Wings illustrates this better than any other. It existed to me for many years like Greed (1924), like The Big Parade (1925), as no more than reputation and still images. It wasn’t until I had stumbled on a VHS, recorded from a television broadcast from the 1980s (complete with advertisements), in my university library that the opportunity finally arose for me to discover Wings in its entirety. Despite the merits of the film the experience of watching was disappointing, due entirely to the context and atmosphere in which the viewing took place. Sat within the confines of my personal viewing space, surrounded by fellow students whose academic requirements stretched further than spending their Thursdays watching silent cinema, with the video playing on an 18-inch screen, sound relayed through damaged headphones, and my laughs and gasps stifled by numerous disapproving glances; the experience was certainly insular, almost hermetic. The isolated consumption of cinema has been for me, as I’m sure it is for many of my generation, the primary mode of discovery and entertainment. This is not to suggest that I don’t attend cinema screenings or any collective forms of film watching, but that the greater proportion of films viewed have been alone on home-video formats or streamed with heavy compression through the internet. My second viewing of Wings, the closing event at the 2010 festival, was in almost all respects a contrast to the first. I was still surrounded by people but, rather than being focused on diverse tasks, it was one stimulus, a single beam of light, which captivated their attentions. The minute television screen was replaced with a projected image, its clarity and detail incomparable to the decades-old VHS; I no longer heard Carl Davis’ score through one ear but was presented with a recital by the Orchestra Mitteleuropea, conducted by Mark Fitz-Gerald; and my laughter and gasps, rather than being met with disapproval, were reinforced and 115
complimented by others around me. It was a complete viewing experience, far removed from the compromised, I could say fragmentary, circumstances of the first. I benefit from this more than anything else at Pordenone: the collective act of watching cinema, the communal embracing of ungraspable historical artefacts and of a shared enjoyment of material that is still contemporarily resonant as entertainment. The festivalâ€™s decision to programme what would otherwise be left unscreened and to present it respectfully for an audience, on a large screen and with accompaniment, goes some way towards removing the disconnected act of watching historical cinema. It is no longer reduced to isolated practices, to individual experience, but becomes communal. The finale of King Vidorâ€™s The Crowd (1928), in which the characters enjoy a variety performance, offers a representation of the importance of shared experience. The scene, in direct contrast to the earlier, harsher, uninhabitable crowd sequence, presents a communal activity that is rewarding, enjoyable and desirable: a collective laugh within an unrelenting, individualistic society. Pordenone offers this within an industry usually so unreceptive towards material no longer commercially viable. Although the experience may be fragmentary, emotional responses may be occasionally absent, and screenings may be greeted with sleep, it does not undermine or diminish the importance of the shared stimulus and the collective embrace.
THE COLLEGIUM PAPERS 2010