I have stopped posting on this website for quite some time. As with so many of my colleagues, the problem is really one of time. I am finishing a book that I hope to get out for the 2016 election. It is entitled Politicking and Emergent Media: US Presidential Elections of the 1890s. (I’ll try to fill in –but no promises.)
Pordenone 2015 was another fabulous festival. I felt somewhat torn between seeing all the films, catching up with friends and colleagues, and writing the coda to the above mentioned book. So very briefly…
There were the customary surprises that make this festival essential, notably some early silent Mexican films (from 1919 onward).
The Library of Congress screened a partially restored version of Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1914), which is much better than the one I show in my Film Historiography class.
It makes even clearer the radical nature of this production –a complete counter to The Birth of a Nation, which followed within the year. (Note: get a copy for the course.)
Some westerns, programmed by Richard Abel, enabled me to understand what Broncho Billy Anderson was all about. He stood out as a star, but even more impressive were the stories–Broncho Billy moves West and becomes the sheriff. His old friend and rival for his wife’s affections shows up. While BB is off chasing a criminal, the man tries to seduce her. Although the man’s attentions are rejected, they are depicted quite extensively, ending in a confrontation. In another one-reeler, BB steals some money to save the life of his best friend. When they both romance the same girl and it seems she prefers BB, the friend reveals the crime and sends BB to prison. When our hero finally gets out he vows revenge but then discovers the woman happy with husband and child. BB relents.
Another unexpected pleasure was seeing the talented stage actor William Gillette in Sherlock Holmes (1916).
I could go on: The Mollycoddle with Douglas Fairbanks has that kind of transformation from naive and incapable to naive and brilliant that Buster Keaton would establish as his trade mark. Hmm.
And Ramona (1928) with Ramona Diaz was an unexpected surprise in which the brutality to Native Americans and Mexican Americans is depicted with surprising (and disturbing) explicitness.
Or the various World War I documentaries, including several Italian documentaries shot in the Alps as the Italians fought the Austrian-Hungarian Empire and On the Firing Line with the Germans (1915) by Wilbur H. Durborough. The latter was particularly interesting for the ways it showed Americans in German during the first two years of the war, including Jane Addams––as a well to emphasize US-German ties.
Such documentaries were shown in the US as pro-German propaganda that became increasingly controversial. Been reading about such documentaries for years–and final saw one!
In terms of immersive experience, the high point of the week was a screening of Paolo Cherchi Usai’s new film Picture (2015) with the Alloy Orchestra. It was an intense, immersive experience inspired by Dziga Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera and (one suspects) Enthusiasm.
Silent Cinema is one of my two portfolios at Yale, and it is no secret that I manage to stay up to date with what is happening in this world by spending a week each year at the Pordenone festival. Yet this year had a particular emotional kick. Perhaps it was because the fabulous David Robinson was stepping down as President after 19 years and the younger, equally wonderful Jay Weissberg was taking his place–an elegant transition that is all too rare (bravo Giornate!).
Or that Linda Williams, having retired from UC-Berkeley, was there with her husband.
Or that Jean Darling, the child star of the silent era who was a Pordenone regular, had died.
(The festival was dedicated to her memory.) Or perhaps it was just relaxing with so many good friends (and good wine)–an escape from the ongoing craziness of my university.
So this year I offer a few photos taken with the awareness that we were all so lucky to be there.