Pordenone diary – day seven

October 23, 2008 § 1 Comment

More music in silent film stuff.

Count me in as one of those that wasn’t overtly impressed by Michael Nyman’s playing for either Jean Vigo’s A propos de Nice or Dziga Vertov’s Kino Pravda. A propos de Nice, a naughty, irreverent and poetic piece, I had seen last year already, with, per force, a different accompaniment. I can’t say the four or five musical themes that Nyman brought to the film and kept on repeating time after time after time did much for me. On some dreamy plane they did fit the film, but I suspect it’s because of the inherent nostalgic feeling most black and white silent films create in viewers. The repetition of lush musical themes will nicely contribute to the same feeling. But there was something utterly mechanistic about Nyman’s accompaniment, where one musical theme was tightly identified with one theme in the film (music for workers; music for people strolling; etc.). And to read, the next day, in the local newspaper, an interview where the maestro explained how what he wanted to do, with his music, was to surprise the listener…that’s too much for me to bear.

But then, I don’t have much feeling for celebrities. I like the old Hollywood adage: 

you’re as good as your last film.

which Stroheim used as a sign of Hollywood’s utter philistinism (Stroheim enjoyed being lionized for his past achievements in Europe). I only wish it would apply to more professions…

Now day 7 for me: nothing about Shiryaev here. Couldn’t get past the social context, of a rich Russian enjoying life filming himself and his family in little summer playlets while Cossacks and poverty went raging through the land, and therefore I still fail to see the significance of all this

(but, as Urbanora said, “we’ll all be wiser” by the end of the festival…)

So I went to see the 1916 British newsreel/documentary film The Battle of the Somme. There was an introduction to this by the restoration team from the Victoria and Albert War Museum, with the keynote address being, for me, from pianist (and composer) Stephen Horne (the only pianist playing at Pordenone to have a groupies’ website on Facebook ?). How to restore the original score for the film ? 

Indeed the film had premiered with the 1916 score at Pordenone in 2006, and the restoration DVD will feature both that score and a new score by Laura Rossi (her goal: to find music that fits the mood of the soldiers shown on film). But the film, while very moving, was also essentially a propaganda piece at the time, and the music was supposed to reflect the upbeat, optimistic mind frame that military authorities were trying to project on what was a very bloody battle. To me the interesting point was how to gauge audience reaction by the music: did musicians in 1916 all play the upbeat music provided by the British Bioscope ? New Yorkers seem to have reacted to the devastation portrayed in the film with horror…would they have accepted a gay march to accompany the film ? Definitely more research in the reception of this film (or more reading!) is required.

Next: our last Pordenone day: Fields, Marion Davies, and Griffith, ever the visionary, starts the last film he ever made with a strong Obama endorsement.

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