Reporting on last year’s edition of Il Cinema Ritrovato for Film Comment, Dan Sullivan called the festival “a rare beast indeed: a one-week, primarily repertory film festival, mind-bogglingly dense with new restorations, legendary prints, discoveries and rediscoveries, canonical works presented under optimal screening conditions, and an abundance of curios dating from the birth of the medium.”
The thirty-first edition, opening tomorrow, June 24, and running through July 2, promises to explore “three centuries of cinema, from the end of the 1800s to the start of the twenty-first century.” Films from the silent era will be accompanied live by a roster of internationally renowned musicians and music itself is the star of more than a few films scattered throughout the lineup. Programs range from Two Faces of Robert Mitchum (the actor’s featured on this year’s poster; the still above is from Jacques Tourneur’s Out of the Past ) to Jean Vigo Recovered to In Search of Color: Kinemacolor and Technicolor to Colette and Cinema to the Japanese Period Film in the Valley of Darkness and on and on. As the dispatches come in, we’ll be making note of them here.
We can already direct you to Ehsan Khoshbakht’s preview for Sight & Sound of a retrospective he’s co-programmed, Tehran Noir: The Thrillers of Samuel Khachikian. “One of the father figures of Iranian cinema, Khachikian was for 40 years synonymous with popular genre films inspired by Hollywood and enjoyed by big audiences. But his formal innovations and fluid handling of genres not only expanded the possibilities of cinema, but reflect the specific social and political tensions of a country building to a revolution.”
Have a look, too, at the finalists for the 2017 DVD Awards. The jury, chaired by Paolo Mereghetti and including Lorenzo Codelli, Alexander Horwath, Lucien Logette, Mark McElhatten, and Jonathan Rosenbaum, will soon be naming their selections for Best DVD/Blu-ray (the Peter von Bagh Award) released between March 2016 and February 2017, Best Single Release, Best Special Features, Best Rediscovery of a Forgotten Film, and Best Series/Best Box.
Writing about their submissions to the awards and, in some cases, about the state of home viewing in general, are the BFI’s Ben Stoddart, James White (Arrow Films), Diana Vidrascu (Re:Voir Video), Marion Boulestreau (Ciné-Archives), Jedrzej Sablinski (DI Factory), David Marriott (Cinelicious Pics), Josh Morrison (Flicker Alley) and Eddie Muller (Film Noir Foundation), Dennis Doros (Milestone Film & Video), Anne Siegmayer (Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung) and Susanne Rocca (Filmarchiv Austria), Stanislaw Bardadin (Cyfrowe Repozytorium Filmowe) and Tomas Zurek (Národní Filmový Archiv), and Frédéric Maire (Cinémathèque Suisse), Nicola Mazzanti (Cinematek – Cinémathèque royale de Belgique), and Martine Derain (Editions Commune).
Updates, 6/26: Augusto Genina’s Lo squadrone bianco (1936) “is Duce approved (winner of Coppa Mussolini 1936), and ideologically dubious in more ways than one (although the depiction of Arabs is paternalistic rather than racist, in obvious contrast to German films of the same period set in Africa) but also powerful filmmaking,” writes Lukas Foerster. “The long desert campaign in the center of the film reduces the whole world to sand, camels, sweating bodies, and fluorescent shadowplay. The night scenes are especially beautiful: the film abandons the narrative completely, succumbs to a trance-like despair.”
Updates, 6/27: David Cairns has caught Frank Tuttle’s Kid Boots (1926) with “an extra two reels, courtesy of the researches of David Stenn in the Paramount archives. He introduced the film with Kevin Brownlow and stated his view that the next generation of miraculous film rediscoveries will be those that have been lurking unrecognized in studio vaults all along.”
Cairns also writes about William K. Howard’s “zippy” The Trial of Vivienne Ware (1932) and Transatlantic (1931), which “swank melodrama and crime with spectacular sets and camera moves.” Plus, Tod Browning’s Outside the Law (1930): “ I’m a John George completist so this made me happy. This is likely also the first film in which Edward G. Robinson says ‘See?’ a lot, as a threat.” His days have also been filled with fragments and samples: Technicolor reels, Russian snippets, and Mexican melodramas.
Lukas Foerster writes about Helmut Käutner’s Große Freiheit Nr. 7 (1944), noting that “for all its musical and cinematographical brillancy (lightning and make-up turning [Hans] Albers’s face into a mask, transforming him into the most uncanny of the film's many automatons) it's first and foremost driven by gestures.”
And more on the DVD Awards from Barbara Alves Rangel (Instituto Moreira Salles).
Updates, 6/28: David Bordwell’s first dispatch from Bologna focuses on the strand A Hundred Years Ago: 50 Films of 1917 in 35 mm. Among the titles he writes about are Augusto Genina’s “strong, tight” Lucciola, Carmine Gallone’s Malombra, “starring the diva Lyda Borelli,” Luigi Serventi’s “agreeably silly” Wives and Oranges, Segundo di Chomon’s “meticulous puppet animation” The War and Momi’s Dream, and Kid Boots.
David Cairns writes about a rediscovered director’s cut of James Whale’s The Road Back (1937), William K. Howard’s “tongue-in-cheek travesty” Sherlock Holmes (1931), Tay Garnett’s Destination Unknown (1933), which “fascinates by its oddness,” and Nathan Juran’s The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958).
Tara Judah, writing for desistfilm, is not wild about westerns, but hasn’t passed up the opportunity to see Nicholas Ray’s Johnny Guitar (1954), “restored and remastered, with an estimated couple of thousand viewers, under the stars, on a still summer’s night, on a magnificently big screen, with some of my closest film friends from around the world . . . The power of Crawford as a screen star (star studies also absent from my personal cinema interests) was undeniable and wonderful to watch.” As for Mel Brooks’s Young Frankenstein (1974), it “brought moments of unbridled joy as the cinema virtually quaked with full bellied laughter.”
Matt Micucci has been conducting interviews with programmers and filmmakers for FRED (Film Radio Entertainment & Dialogue): Frédéric Maire, director of the Cinémathèque Suisse (15’26”), Lisa Stein Haven on Chaplin and the Beat Generation (9’18”), D. A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus on the restoration of Monterey Pop (1968) (26’16”), Dave Kehr on William K. Howard and Universal Pictures films of the Laemmle Junior years (11’17”), Bernard Eisenschitz on Jean Vigo and Robert Mitchum (15’26”), and Neil McGlone on the program A Sunday in Bologna (11’17”).
The winners of the DVD Awards have been announced, and the winner of the Peter von Bagh Award is the Edition Filmmuseum release of Josef von Sternberg’s first feature, The Salvation Hunters (1925). Here, as a PDF, is the full list, along with notes from each jury member on a personal favorite.
Updates, 6/30: Jonathan Rosenbaum’s posted his catalogue entry on The Asphalt Jungle (1950), “regarded as such a master text by [Jean-Pierre] Melville that one isn’t surprised to find over a dozen references to it in Ginette Vincendeau’s book about him. According to Geoffrey O’Brien, Melville once ‘declared that . . . there were precisely nineteen possible dramatic variants on the relations between cops and crooks, and that all nineteen were to be found in [John Huston’s masterpiece].’”
David Cairns has had a “mismanaged day,” but also “a big chat with David Bordwell and Dave Kehr and Jonathan Rosenbaum though, so that was fine.”
Update, 7/1: “Featured in the festival’s Universal Pictures: the Laemmle Junior Years strand, Tay Garnett’s Destination Unknown (1933) is this year’s knock-out rediscovery,” declares Tara Judah at desistfilm. “Another strange but rich (re)discovery is John Huston’s adaptation of Flannery O’Connor’s 1952 novel of the same name, Wise Blood (1979). . . . Helmet Kaütner’s Unter den Brücken (Under the Bridges, 1944-49) is a charming story that takes the traditional love triangle and turns it into a rewarding rumination over three complex lives adrift. Superior in my mind to Jean Vigo’s L’Atalante (1934), which also screened at Il Cinema Ritrovato this year, the film is a local social realist gem and a document of Berlin, moments before it was bombed.”
Update, 7/2: “A major thread running through the festival is the year 1897, which, although only the second year of the established film industry, already saw the making of many beautiful and intriguing films,” writes Kristin Thompson. “Among the ones shown here were films made by the American Mutoscope Company (later known under the more familiar name, American Mutoscope and Biograph) and British Mutoscope and Biograph. These films, made to be shown in both peepshow machines and projected onto screens, utilized a 68 mm format.” She also writes about films from 1917, early sound films, and restorations of films a mere thirty or forty years old.
Update, 7/4: Tom Paulus’s outstanding overview of this year’s edition at photogénie covers a lot of ground, but ultimately the focus here is on narrative strategies. At one point, he suggests that “it must be that the frame-flashback construction was seen as possessing cinematic or literary value in itself (an obvious move for an industry looking to attract bourgeois audiences).” And “it’s interesting to see that filmmakers keen to experiment with narration and narrative construction regularly turned to the trial format: the year before The Power and the Glory, Howard directed The Trial of Vivienne Ware (1932), based on a novel by Kenneth M. Ellis, a movie distinctive not just for its breakneck pace and whip pans, but also for the way Vivienne’s side of the story of the murder of her two-timing fiancé is revealed through a complex series of flashbacks.”
Update, 7/5: For Mostly Film, Philip Concannon writes about the Cineteca Bologna’s carbon projector, Alexandre Volkoff’s Casanova (1927), Vincente Minnelli’s Home from the Hill (1960), Helmut Käutner’s Portrait of an Unknown Woman (1954), and “perhaps the best film I saw in Bologna, Med Hondo’s West Indies . Set entirely on the deck of a wooden ship that’s housed within a giant warehouse, this audacious film unfolds centuries of slavery and colonialism in a shade over two hours. . . . Three of Hondo’s films screened at the festival—including his provocative feature debut Soleil O (1967) and his outstanding Sarraounia (1986)—but the deepest impression was made on me by Hondo himself. He provided long and impassioned introductions for each of his films, and during every introduction he couldn’t hold back the tears, so overcome was he by the simple fact that his long-unseen films were finally being presented to an appreciative audience.”
Updates, 7/7: “Kristin has already mentioned one of the most startling items we saw, Le Coupable (1917) by André Antoine,” writes David Bordwell. “I’m still processing the audacity of this film.” He also writes about Robert Wiene’s Fear (1917), Frank Borzage’s Secrets (1924), Hagiwara Ryo’s The Night Before (1939), Makino Masashiro’s The Man Who Disappeared Yesterday (1941), Max Ophüls’s Divine (1935), and Agnès Varda and JR’s Visages Villages (Faces Places).
“James Whale always liked to say By Candlelight  was his favorite of his own films, bypassing the more celebrated Frankenstein films,” writes David Cairns in the Notebook. “It's a romantic comedy of confused identities and it's no surprise that P.G. Wodehouse had a hand in the stage source.” Further in, he notes that The Road Back (1937) “weaves comedy deftly into a far more serious subject. A quasi-sequel to All Quiet on the Western Front, it shows a group of soldiers returning from the war and finding disillusionment and betrayal in the town they left behind.”
Cairns at his own site, Shadowplay: “One of the treats at Bologna was Dave Kehr’s retrospective of a sampling of the works of William K. Howard, a seriously neglected figure. On this evidence, perhaps a minor figure, but one who deserves to be remembered.” And he writes about Don’t Bet on Women (1931), Transatlantic (1931), The Trial of Vivienne Ware, Sherlock Holmes (1932), and The Power and the Glory (1933).
And on another page, The Bacchanal of Death (1917): “I kept wondering if it was some kind of narrative experiment . . . The carbon arc screenings are always memorable—it’s the light of another day—but this was special.”
Writing about Augusto Genina and Marc Allegret’s Les amours de minuit (1931), Lukas Foerster notes that it has a “sense of anarchic, but also modernist freedom which for me is strongly associated with early sound cinema, right now my favorite period in film history—by far.” Also, Allegret’s Lac aux dames (1934) “is a film of unpretentious, un-self-conscious, but at the same time completely unhinged extravagance.”
Updates, 7/8: “Introducing Decasia (2002) at Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bill Morrison talked about his requests for access for use of decaying nitrate film,” writes Tara Judah at desistfilm. “Not all archives were forthcoming with the material. Perhaps it is the persistence of imperfection that breeds protective behavior in archivists. But, what Morrison affected, once access was granted, is a glorious symphony of the persistence of history. . . . he inescapable nature of history and our endless fascination with our own sordid stories further led Morrison to making the feature-length documentary, Dawson City: Frozen Time (2016), which also screened at the festival this year.”
“The so-called ‘Italian diva’ school of silent cinema presents challenges for those in love with narrative and closure, and not just because many of the films are incomplete or untranslated,” writes David Cairns at Silent London. “Movies such as Malombra (1917) and Rapsodica Satanica (1915) do still require a central narrative premise and a semblance of progression, but this always feels more like an excuse for the star (Lyda Borelli in these two films) to mess about with their flowing locks, put on and take off veils, thrash around in the throes of (possibly supernatural) passion, go mad, or somnambulate around elaborate upper-crust sets.”
Lukas Foerster on By Candlelight: “The key to the film (and to Whale's authorship) might be the only scene not set in enclosed space.”
Updates, 7/10: David Cairns on Segundo de Chomón’s La guerra e il sogno di Momi (1917): “I take this film a bit more seriously than some. Made during WWI, on the surface, the movie is fairly Boy’s Own Adventure, with clean-limbed massacres and an uncomplicated portrayal of the Italian forces as good and their Austro-Hungarian opponents as bad (minor-key war atrocities: kicking a woman when she’s down). The stop-motion animation set-piece in the middle has dolls coming to life as in Toy Story and restaging the War as slapstick. The dolls are indestructible and can even disassemble themselves without suffering. But I think it’s kind of an anti-war film.”
At Silent London, Pamela Hutchinson, Pete Baran, and Philip Concannon, look back on this year’s Cinema Ritrovato, “a banquet of archive, vintage and restored cinema, spanning silent and sound films” (70’35”).
Update, 7/11: “The Colette program at the Cinema Ritrovato offered not only the opportunity to get to know the different cinematic endeavors of one of France’s most eminent and loved literary monuments (the first woman to be president of l’Académie Goncourt, the first woman to receive a state funeral),” writes Anke Brouwers for photogénie, “but also tried to recreate the world of yesterday via those images, genres, controversies and the work of best friends or kindred spirits (Musidora, Mae West) that surrounded, inspired, and sometimes were created by Colette.”
Brouwers picks out some highlights and then turns to Robert Mitchum: “According to Jacques Tourneur, who directed Mitchum in Out of The Past (1947), the actor was exceptionally good at listening on screen. Most actors are too busy waiting for their lines or try their best to steal scenes from their co-stars, but Mitchum never deliberately vies for our attention and patiently listens (instead of waits) until it is his turn to talk. In The Yakuza (Sidney Pollack, 1974) there are moments when Mitchum’s reaction shots show him almost saying something, but deciding against it.”
Updates, 7/20: “Kinemacolor was the world’s first successful natural color motion picture system,” writes Luke McKernan. “From 1908 and for around seven or eight years, it was triumphant, presenting what was for many the best that the motion picture medium could achieve, and changing public perceptions of that medium along the way. It features in most histories of the medium, as an important milestone in cinema’s development. Yet for the past one hundred years hardly anyone has seen it.” But at Il Cinema Ritrovato 2017, “Kinemacolor was reborn.”
“Divas and Charity Girls: Actresses of the Early Sound Era” is the title of Irina Trocan’s new piece for photogénie:
Film history is often written down as a gossip column: Louise Brooks stole the lead role in Pandora’s Box (Georg Wilhelm Pabst, 1929) from under the nose of Marlene Dietrich, and earned her place in the actresses’ hall of fame. Dietrich herself only became truly prominent thanks to the lighting & magic of director Josef von Sternberg, after she was lauded during her early films merely for walking into the footsteps of the already sensational Greta Garbo. Mae West was a vaudeville performer stranded on a Hollywood set who had her chance to shine in the pre-Code sound era when they needed someone who could sing, and when raucous jokes were still tolerated; she was exceptionally lustful for a woman, providing, of course, that she wasn’t in fact a gay man. Joan Bennett was a talented actress, a pretty natural blonde who would get lost in the crowd due to Hollywood’s embarras du choix where blondes were concerned, until she changed her fate by becoming a brunette. Il Cinema Ritrovato does the past justice by displaying the actual work of all these women, from well-known films to very obscure ones, to highlight the acting talent behind their gossip-infused reputation.
For David Cairns, writing in the Notebook, a highlight was the “retrospective of the works of Helmut Käutner, who has been known and admired for a few select works but whose larger oeuvre is rarely screened. Curators Olaf Möller and Christoph Huber explained that this was partly because the German director's comedies often deal with German current affairs of the day in a way which makes them seem obscure even to modern German audiences. But one humorous movie proved timeless.” The Glass of Water (1960) is “about politicking, schemes and double-crosses by smiling hypocrites, with the dopey romantic leads moved around like chesspieces at the whim of their superiors.”
Update, 7/28: “Right out of the gate, word spread fast about the legendary Mauritanian filmmaker Med Hondo’s rousing introductions at the screenings in his mini-retrospective,” writes Dan Sullivan, looking back on this year’s edition for Film Comment. Sullivan counts himself among “those of us who fell hard for Käutner,” too.
For news and items of interest throughout the day, every day, follow @CriterionDaily.