Owing to a long day of movies yesterday plus a 2 AM blog post, followed by a 4 AM wake up call by my yowling cat and my actual alarm at 7, suffice it to say that I went into today’s movies feeling massively sleep-deprived. Fueled only by my enthusiasm (and several cups of coffee from the press lounge), I managed to watch all the movies on tap for today and am here, as promised, to report back on them for you.
Today was heavy on the dramatic titles, and indeed the festival this year is tending toward drama on the whole. The first film we watched is one I had seen before–Cinecon screened it this past year and I was sure to attend, as I adore Douglas Fairbanks in any role. This movie was The Good Bad Man, starring Fairbanks and the underappreciated Bessie Love who, in addition to her acting talent and good looks, has some of the most unusual and beautiful hair on the silent screen.
The Good Bad Man focuses on the experience of a Robin Hood-esque thief known only as “Passin’ Through,” who steals items and gives them to orphaned children. We soon learn that Passin’ Through grew up without a father, and over the course of the movie we learn who his father was, how he died, and how Passin’ Through ultimately avenges his father’s death and is able to marry the woman he loves. It is an interesting take on the Old West, and one that balances the film’s narrative and action beautifully. Fairbanks had a penchant for stories about ancestry and bloodlines, and Fairbanks himself supervised the script for this movie. It is a new restoration, and a lovely one. I hope it will be out on DVD soon so that the public can enjoy it as much as I have.
Next up was a program called Serge Bromberg’s Treasure Trove, in which the legendary film preservationist Serge Bromberg from Lobster Films chats with the audience about new discoveries from the archive. Today we had a special treat because not only did Bromberg show the piece de resistance of his presentation, the newly discovered footage from Buster Keaton’s The Blacksmith (originally found in Argentina by Fernando Pena and consisting of some uproariously funny new moments), but we also got a practical demonstration of the differences between modern film technology and nitrate…when Bromberg lit them both on fire, right there on the stage in front of the audience. The modern film stock remained intact, while the nitrate went up in large flames, soon becoming completely useless. Bromberg used this demonstration to relate the importance of film preservation and proper storage of films, if you have them at home. Very important information.
By this time my first cup of coffee was starting to wear off, and I was beginning to get exhausted again. My exhaustion was so great that I missed several minutes of the next two films. The Epic of Everest, which was a breathtakingly beautiful documentary look at the first attempt to climb Mount Everest, is quite a monumental film. The photography was stunning, the title cards were well written, and the film as a whole was very informative. I greatly enjoyed it and I look forward to being able to see it again. This print and that of Underground, the next film on the program, came from the British Film Institute and specifically Bryony Dixon, the archive curator. Underground, the story of a shop girl with two suitors, is also an extremely advanced film for its day in terms of its storyline and effects. Its camerawork reminded me greatly of Hitchcock, complete with trick photography and psychological manipulation of the audience. It might also be classified as a bit of a proto-noir, having many of the dark thematic elements that became synonymous with the genre of film noir several years later. There were several moments in this film that made me gasp in suspense, which I think is the sign of a great film.
Under the Lantern, with a plot centering on a young girl whose life keeps handing her one degradation after another, is a classic example of how German cinema looked when it came out of Weimar Berlin between 1921 and 1933. Intensely serious, often existential or philosophical plots emerge in this period, and it is some of the most influential filmmaking to come out of world cinema. Under the Lantern is long, consisting of 8 acts each focusing on a chapter of the girl’s difficult life, and it is tough on the soul. Though the film itself is very good and is standard German filmmaking for the time, it is dark and depressing, making it one for sensitive souls to try to avoid.
Lastly, another goofy Russian movie, this time about a young American who forms an “incorrect” opinion about the Bolsheviks and ultimately ends up advocating for them. It is a quirky, oddball movie, and perfect for a 10:00 showing. Unlike the movie from last night, this one had no one reading the subtitles aloud, so I was left to read the subtitles in Russian for myself, which was wonderful for me to be able to do. This was the only relatively light fare for the day, and I think if they had shown it earlier in the day, it wouldn’t have been very popular. There is something to be said for watching a strange movie when you are exhausted and too tired to think, and this was definitely a strange movie. One line, referencing the American putting a picture of Lenin up on his wall in the United States, made me laugh out loud. See this movie if you have previous knowledge of the Bolsheviks. You will get the joke.
That’s all for today, folks! Thanks for reading, and see you tomorrow for the final day!