Pordenone diary – day six

October 21, 2008 § 1 Comment

A few strange things happened at Pordenone this year in the programming: films about the first World War from Italy and Austria, shown at the same time in two different venues, Bardelys the Magnificent shown early morning, Laïla, just as magnificent, a 2 hours epic shown at 4 p.m. siesta time, and a Digibeta “documentary”, hardly better than your average DVD extra, shown in prime time at 8 pm with much fanfare. All in all, a strange day. 

Check out The Bioscope before you read this here post, because I too loved Bardelys, tongue-in-cheek, ironical, Bardelys, with Gilbert’s nose longer than you’ve ever seen it, and fight scenes where wit is more important than brute physicality (the soldiers’ lances turned into sliding ramps for Gilbert, the parachute…), as a visibly happy Serge Bromberg said in introduction to the film

Bardelys is magnificent again

Laïla, the 1929 Norwegian surprise, was also very, very good, as only silent films can be.

And Lady of the Pavements…Here my notes are a bit more organized, maybe reflecting how engrossed I must have been during the screening itself (Sosin ! Seaton !):

  • the last scene: she sings the Song of Songs (“where is the song of songs for me?”), thinks about Karl: one by one the customers in the low-life cabaret where she works are changed, in lap-dissolves, into Karl. All the men that is ! And as she sings, and as she sees only Karls everywhere, the real Karl appears – is he the real one, or a reflection of Joanna Seaton, the vocalist, as she sang the song ? Hard to tell.

(This is Lupe Vélez – not Joanna Seaton – but you’ll get the point)

  • The social issue is from another time, another planet. The melodramatic plot (will aristocratic Karl agree to marry a poor, lower class girl ?) is so ancient it is largely irrelevant.
  • The girl’s training to become a lady (how to talk, walk, eat, and dress), on the other hand, is used in the film as an occasion to unmask melodramatic stereotypes, as she is taught to conform to the image of a lady, but falls back, when training’s over, into her natural, easy-going self. Thus do silent films wink at their audience. She has that coarse gesture to put her dress back in place, she takes her shoes off because they are too tight, she scratches her back against the door post when her back’s itchy (!), she head-buts, Pickford-like, her seducing etiquette teacher. One second she’s a lady, the next she’s a pest. And for all we know, it all looks like we’re witnessing the very making of the scene and the camera’s just stopped.
  • But that’s all part of the Griffith head-fake: after her introduction to Karl, the melodramatic takes over and all symptoms of her former self and its pains at acting out the lady, all vanish entirely. She neither hits nor tickles, not anymore – she becomes, for all plot intents and purposes, the operetta character she was playing before.

In other words: another sign that Griffith is indeed irresolute (see my take on Drums of Love)

Next up: war on films (or was this tourism?), and more enchantment.

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