Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Won in a Cupboard (USA,1914)

This film has a historical importance because, to this date, it is the earliest-surviving film directed by Mabel Normand. She was 21 years old at the time and was at the height of her beauty and vitality. Previously thought to be a lost film, it was discovered in 2010 in New Zealand.

The 1910s comedies by Keystone studios show us that it is possible to be funny with simple resources. They were mainly one or two reelers with very simple plots and the gags were the center of all action. In addition to frantic chases, quick pace, fake facial hair and occasional broad gestures, an important component in those comedies was misunderstanding. And this is exactly what we will see in this film.

A woman is sweeping the floor outside a house and a man with a big sheriff badge approaches her. Then, there’s an intertitle saying: “Dreaming of her ideal” and we see Mabel sitting down outdoors. Two men are shown, one of them approaches Mabel. She does not care very much and leave and walk towards a river and the other man laugh at the man who was rejected. 

It is shown once more the woman who was sweeping the floor and the sheriff. The woman enter the house leaving the man outside speaking a lot. 

The two men are shown again. The other man try her lucky in approaching Mabel while the rejected man look at it from a distance. This other man end up being rejected by Mabel just like the previous one. 

The sheriff return to the police department, the other policemen are idle and the sheriff complain about it. 

Now Mabel is in a sort of forest and both men are still all around her. There is an intertitle: “Her ideal” and we see another man and it is shown to the audiences that they really liked each other, to the disgust of the two men who were interested in Mabel previously in the film. At this point of the film, there is a split screen with both love interests walking towards each other, which create a very beautiful and innocent event. Mabel’s love interest give a fruit to her and she accept it with joy.

On the following scene it is shown the sheriff once more visiting the woman who was out of her house and the audiences can see that there is mutual romantic interest between them.

Both of Mabel’s previous suitors approach the couple, but Mabel refuse to speak to them. The men started to bully Mabel’s love interest and she get angry. A fight take place and everyone start throwing things at each other. The sheriff appear by chance in the middle of the chaos and was hit by accident too. The sheriff beat up Mabel’s suitor and took her away.

It is shown the intertitle: “Mother’s pet”. Mabel’s love interest return home, which is the same house where the woman sweeping the floor live and it become clear that he is her son and a kind of coward person. It is also clear that Mabel is the sheriff’s daughter. Both Mabel and her suitor were admonished by their parents at homed due to the fighting they were involved.

But Mabel’s love interest did not give up and he showed up at her house. Mabel talked to him by the window and meet him outside. Meanwhile, the sheriff was visiting his love interest and at this point it become clear to the audiences that the parents of Mabel and her suitor were having an affair. The boy’s mother enter a cupboard within her house, the sheriff enter the house and does not see her.

Mabel and her suitor meet a tramp while they are walking outdoors. Right afterwards, the couple was passing nearby the boy’s house and he invite Mabel to go inside. The problem is that the sheriff was already within the house and in order to avoid being seen by the couple, the sheriff decided to hide inside a cupboard, the same place where the woman (his sweetheart, the owner of the house and the boy’s mother) was also hiding. Both people realize that their children were outside and got nervous in fear of a scandal if their children found out about their affair. 

Mabel and her sweetheart enter the boy’s home and Mabel see that there is somebody inside the cupboard and she think that the tramp they have met on the street a short time ago was the one who was hiding in the cupboard. The boy go outside and cry for help and meanwhile Mabel barricade the cupboard’s door. Many people in the neighborhood go to the house to help them get rid of the so-called tramp and Mabel also called the police department. 

Chaos ensue as many people go to the boy’s house at the same time, including the policemen and the neighbors carrying rifles. The cupboard is removed from the house and people try to open it in whatever way they can. Of course that after all effort the cupboard’s door was eventually open and everyone knew who was inside. It turned out that the scandal and gossip could not be avoided.

Won in a Cupboard was categorized as a nonsense number by Moving Picture World in 1914 and I have to say this is an average comedy of the era, but it remain worth seeing. It is a nice example of Mabel’s directorial style. She had her own production unit in Keystone studios at the time and it would last for around one year and, during this time, she directed all films of that unit. This film is also a precious witness of a country life that has been gone a long time ago. It’s a joy that the film was recovered after so many years. 

Monday, October 12, 2020

Pordenone Silent Film Festival - 2020 - On line version

In such weird year, when the world has stopped due to a pandemic and the humankind has had to assess how to deal with isolation and to do as many activities as home as possible, we have for the first time the on line version of Pordenone Silent Film Festival, which is considered the most important festival devoted to silent films and that has existed for almost 40 years. It started being held in September 1982 when a small group of friends organized a three-day festival in response to the 1976 Friuli earthquake that had devastated much of Northern Italy.

The festival was a pioneering event in the beginning and it has been pioneering now, with the initiative of holding the counterpart of a large cinema festival on line due to a pandemic that impacted the entire world and, for a while, it was particularly harsh with the Northern of Italy itself. As it is the case with all pioneering initiatives, nobody was certain about the results of an on line festival of silent films with attendees of all parts of the world. 

But it truly worked. With the usual careful selection of films mixing rarities and known films from a plenty of countries, Pordenone did not really fail in providing immersion for the audiences. In addition to the films, there were also lectures about the films themselves and silent film music. Pordenone Masterclasses is when the musicians of the festival talk to the audience about their work, which is a rare opportunity to increase the understanding of the films themselves. 

Another pleasant surprise was that together with the introductions of the films the audiences could see the work of film archives in some countries and it was fascinating to have an introduction on how films were restored, to see their facilities, the employees working, the reels on the shelves. It’s a dream for every fan of history of cinema. It is an interesting bridge between past and present and context is also important to the understanding of silent films, especially for the new generations.

They also have an event called Collegium, which according to the festival’s website is: “to attract new, young generations to the discovery of silent cinema and to infiltrate these newcomers into the very special community that has evolved around the Giornate during its three decades. It is designed to take advantage of the unique conditions of the Giornate – a highly concentrated one-week event; the possibility to see an extensive collection of rare archival films; the presence in one place and at one time of many (perhaps most) of the world’s best qualified experts in film history – scholars, historians, archivists, collectors, critics, academics, and just plain enthusiasts”

On the technical side, the films were shown through an Italian platform that worked really well. The films could have their intertitles translated into both Italian and English and were available for 24 hours to be watched. After this time, the films were no longer available. An interesting detail is that there was an interface in each film that reproduced the chairs of a real-life cinema that showed how many people were watching the films at the same time as you. 

Other interesting details is that the audiences could take a peek on the beauty of Pordenone city in the introduction of the films. Artistic Director Jay Weissberg made all introductions and was straightforward and informative. It was an interesting way to have some contact with the Italian cities and their culture.

Of course that nothing replaces the real-life experience of attending the screening of a film with live accompaniment, the get together with fellow silent film fans, the networking but the production made sure that audiences had an as close to real life experience as possible. 

For example, right in the first day there were nine travelogues produced between 1911 and 1939 shown under the name “The Urge to Travel”, which demonstrated that despite being a festival related to the history of the cinema, Pordenone Silent Film festival is also in touch with the current events. This bridge between past and present is very important to contextualize silent films to new audiences and show them that the understanding of silent films helps to figure out the world as it is nowadays. 

The experience that those travelogues provided was truly awesome. Some of them were filmed in such a way as if we were walking down the street with the people who were being filmed and it gave a very interesting feeling of travelling in a time machine. That was really touching because the audiences witnessed an era that has been gone for a long time. And it was only the first round of films of the first day. Afterwards, there were rare films from countries like China, Greece and even lesser known films of the United States, together with classics.

All in all, Pordenone Silent Film Festival, got to keep up with its high standards and not only provided films, but also experiences to the audiences. They could experience travels in time machines, they could listen to scholars talking, watch the films. Variety was also thought of and the films were really interesting and the music was awesome. The festival is a very worthwhile experience even for those who are not hardcore fans of silent films especially because, after an entire week being in touch with those films, it is likely that you will end up becoming a fan too.