In the crowded calendar of film festivals Bologna’s Cinema Ritrovato stands out for being one of the very few which persistently investigates cinema’s lesser-known history. Strategically set between the end of June and the beginning of July, Cinema Ritrovato has the double ambition of promoting the rediscovery of cinema through archive research and restoration and to screen films in the best possible conditions. As artistic director Peter von Bagh writes, the aim is “to make film screenings shimmer like live performances – through our efforts to guarantee the original format, the best technical care…” (1) And indeed thanks to that care, which includes live accompaniment by great musicians or the use of a large orchestra for new commissioned scores, or again the availability of new and recently restored prints within the walking space of four close venues, the experience of watching a film becomes something unique, a concert-like event. And in a way going to Bologna hides the desire for an anachronistic extraordinary experience of spectatorship. No queues, performing musicians, close to impeccable projection, pristine copies, non-obtrusive subtitles projected off-screen, a scholarly audience, correct aspect ratios, program breaks for lunch and dinner are all favourable conditions for an ideal viewing experience. Particularly when compared with Venice and Cannes, Bologna is a relaxing experience indeed.

My highlights this year were the two Murnau films in the program. The first, at the beginning of the festival, was Nosferatu (1922), presented with a new commissioned score by Timothy Brock. It was performed by the orchestra of Bologna’s Teatro Comunale in an overcrowded Piazza Maggiore, with people sitting on the ground and on the stairs of the nearby San Petronio’s Basilica. The orchestra played both the “pre-curtain stage-setter, the operatic overture to Der Vampyr (1826) by German opera composer Heinrich Marschner” (2) which was performed at the Nosferatu premiere screening in Berlin, on 5th March, 1922, and the new Timothy Brock score which adapts the same opera (using the Schoenberg model) to Murnau’s demonic film, in substitution of the original score by Erdman, now lost. (3) The size of the screen, the beauty of the print and the physicality of the orchestra sound gave Nosferatu an extra dimension, where every single detail seemed to be sharper and distinct.

The other moment came towards the end of the festival at cinema Mastroianni where Murnau’s Der Gang in die Nacht (Night Road, 1920) screened as part of the 12-film Conrad Veidt retrospective, From Caligari to Casablanca. The film is based on a Carl Meyer screenplay and is the only early work by Murnau today available. Pianist Antonio Coppola’s excellent improvised score, performed at the piano while watching the film for the first time, accorded the narrative a type of suspense, instead of reinforcing the emotional motives on screen, which underlined the film’s visual strengths. In particular, when Conrad Veidt’s blind painter character enters the story the film opens up to a series of natural sequences with sea, clouds and trees, constructed poetically to expand the visual world of the film, hitherto claustrophobically enclosed in more prosaic interiors.

A brief historical note to acknowledge Cinema Ritrovato’s 25th year. The festival has come a long way from 10th December 1986 when it started at Cinema Lumière in Via Pietralata, showing, as “examples of film preservation and restoration”, Frank Borzage’s The River (1928) restored by the Cinémathèque Municipale du Luxembourg and Mario Camerini’s Voglio tradire mio marito (1925) restored by the Cineteca Regionale del Friuli. The main event then was a two day conference on “Experiences and perspectives in the preservation of film memory” gathering public and private Italian archives with film scholars such as the visiting Pierre Sorlin from Saint Denis University. In 1987 Ennio Patalas brought the experience of the Munchen Cinémathèque and in 1989 the festival expanded to a week of programming. Finally in 1995 Cinema Ritrovato shifted to the actual summer schedule, then in 2003 it moved to the present screen spaces in via Azzo Gardino and it added one more venue, the Arlecchino. A fifth screen, Il Jolly came this year to make choosing which film to see at a given time slot even tougher.

The 2011 festival screened 375 films lent by 83 Italian and international institutions to 67,000 spectators. It lasted 8 days (25th June– 2nd July), in four close-by city cinemas daily (sessions starting between 9am and 8pm), with the chance to catch up with the popular free night screening in Piazza Maggiore at 10pm. The content included programs such as 100 years of Cinema: 1911, Cinephiles Prefer Hawks: Silent and Early Sound Films, At the Heart of 20th Century: Socialism Between Fear and Utopia, A Civil Laugh: the Films of Luigi Zampa, Conrad Veidt from Caligari to Casablanca, Tribute to Maurice Tourneur, Boris Barnet, Poetic Visions for Everyday Life, Alice Guy, Tribute to a Movie Pioneer, Albert Capellani, a Cinema of Grandeur, Part 2, Eric Rohmer Documentarist and the many other smaller, but not less interesting, programs like the Chaplin Project, the dossier on Nicholas Ray, the television work of Alessandro Blasetti, and the Cinema Foundation’s latest restorations.

100 Years of Cinema

One of the strengths of Cinema Ritrovato is the ability to generate thematic program sections which are able to function as investigative tools when set in connection with film archives and databases. In this context the section which has been most revelatory is the concept of “100 hundred years ago”, which is not a mere container of a given archive’s pieces but rather is the result of a complex work of research on films produced on each specific year.

This section was brought to Bologna in 2003 by American film scholar Tom Gunning. It was a selection of films produced in 1903, entitled “1903, The First Great Year of Cinema”, comprising sections on Visual Pleasures, Trick Films, Stories Films and multiple shots, Actualities and non fictional views, all introduced by Gunning. As he writes about that first 1902-03 selection:

Most films made and shown in the United States in those years were brief, often no more than a single shot and lasting no more than a minute. Rather than telling stories, these brief films presented a visual attraction: a view of a landscape or city site, a camera trick or a slapstick gag. However a few longer multi-shot films with few extended story lines also appeared and their popularity indicated new pathways for filmmakers. It is the interaction between – and the combination of – cinematic display on the one hand and storytelling on the other that characterises this slice of film history. (4)

In the eight editions since this program has been curated by Marianne Lewinski, who coordinates an international group of “searchers” digging through the main film archives. The result yields a different way to look at film history, both from the selection point of view and the way the material is received. The yearly selection modifies the aesthetic criteria and forces the curator to deal with quantity as much as quality. Each year the different number of films available establishes a distinct object of study with its own relative standards. Already last year, in 2010, Lewinsky was forced to write:

the programmes have became rather longer so that now and in the future we can – in line with historical practice – combine longer films with a supporting program of shorts. We have also limited the focus to European production (even so the number of preserved films was so great that we could not view everything and we had to do a pre-selection beforehand). (5)

Capellani: A Cinema of Grandeur

Thanks to this heuristic practice the figure of Albert Capellani was brought back to the attention of film historians with screenings in the program 100 Years Ago. Last year Lewinsky curated a first anthology of Capellani’s films covering his eight years of activity in France from 1906 to 1914. This year a second retrospective completed that period before the French director moved to the United States. Kristin Thompson, who wrote extensively about last year’s films, (6) also wrote on this year’s films in her Cinema Ritrovato report and is explicit about Capellani’s importance:

Those festival guests who missed the Capellani films missed, in my opinion, the rewriting of early film history. He is not simply another important silent filmmaker to be placed in the pantheon. Film by film, this year and last, I kept comparing what I was watching with what D. W. Griffith had made that same year. In each case, Capellani’s film seemed more sophisticated, more engaging, and more polished. Overall Capellani may not have been a better director than Griffith, but for the period of the French films, I believe it would not be exaggerating to say that he was. (7)

The Bologna Cinémathèque released a DVD of Capellani’s films, which is a nice addition to the 487-minute Albert Capellani boxset published by Pathé this year.

Cinephiles Prefer Hawks: Silent and Early Sound Films

The Ritrovato’s Hawks program is part of continuing selection dedicated to authors and filmmakers who worked between silent and sound film, and in the previous years have featured the films of Clarence Brown (2003), Lewis Milestone (2005), William S. Hart (2006), Michael Curtiz (2007), Joseph Von Sternberg (2008), Frank Capra (2009) and John Ford (2010). Hawks’ silent films already demonstrate the touch of an accomplished director. The attention to scene detail, the sharpness of the dialogues and the work on the characters have a similar quality to his later films. Particularly, the gender dynamic, one of Hawks’ distinguishing traits, is there from the start (as David Boxwell writes, “Hawks played around with gender conventions without ever absolutely undermining them […] Yet gender play enabled Hawks to give his films the same kind of wry tonality” (8)). In one of the best moments of Fig Leaves (1926) George O’Brien and his assistant Heinie Conklin discuss and re-enact couple behaviours with Conklin cross-dressing to better explain himself (cited by Todd McCarthy as “the first of many instances of female impersonation in Hawks’s film” (9)). One also finds the first prototypes of the Hawksian women in these silent films. Naomi Wise singles out some of her traits:

they are mostly saloon singers of one kind or another […] all the heroines have experienced suffering in the past. […] they are independent, self-supporting and competent. While the men in Hawks’ films are professionally skilled […] Hawksian women are professional human beings. (10)

Both the dancer Virginia Valli in Paid to Love (1927) and the acrobat Louise Brooks in A Girl in Every Port (1928) fit this “professionally human” description. They are self-supporting, independent, competent performers and both have to deal with “emotionally constipated” men. I agree with Henri Langlois when he states that Hawks’ criticism about Paid to Love betrays a deeper relationship with a film that didn’t fully satisfied him, but whose characters have been definitively reworked to fit the Hawks touch. Today Paid to Love has an uneven quality but it is a more intriguing film. It has in Valli the first prototype of the Hawksian woman, it is an homage to Hawks’ interest in German cinema as much in the camera work (Murnau) as in the operetta-like plot (“it anticipates Lubitsch” (11)). Finally, it relays on ironic intertitles marking the beginning of his nine-film collaboration with Yale-educated writer Seton Miller.

A Civil Laugh: The Films of Luigi Zampa

One of the most interesting retrospectives this year was the screening of nine films outlining director Luigi Zampa’s investigations into Italian society (1947-73) and his six-film collaboration with Sicilian writer/screenwriter, Vitaliano Brancati (1948-54). Zampa’s civil cinema presents a combination of political and social themes inserted into more popular narrative structures. The program curator Alberto Pezzota laments Zampa’s lack of status in Italian film history and argues for his role as founder of the commedia all’Italiana, a genre that became very popular in the 1950s and 1960s. This claim was already voiced by Gian Piero Brunetta in 2003 when he stated that Zampa

had a varied career. Unfortunately, the remarkably stylistic and thematic cohesiveness of his films have been forgotten. He is remembered today primarily for his comedies, a genre for which critics have little love and respect. But he has every right to be counted amongst the great masters of neorealist filmmaking. In his films Zampa used style as a vehicle for social commentary born of indignation.” (12)

His main strength is his ability, probably like no other Italian director, to create popular cinema by drawing on real social conditions, combined with a great skill for locations, and for working with actors. Most of his films have a very specific sense of place, setting the character in close connection with the built environment. His breakthrough films Vivere in pace (1946) with Aldo Fabrizi and L’onorevole Angelina (1947) with Anna Magnani, both written with Suso Cecchi d’Amico, are based on real life stories and shot on real locations. In each, the actors, who had just finished Roma Città aperta (1945), share a writing credit for their collaboration on the dialogue. His controversial decision to take over director Carlo Ludovico Bragaglia on Anni difficili (1948) (13) launched him into a larger productive context (with musician Nino Rota, and cinematographer Carlo Montuori) and was the inception of his creative collaboration with writer Vitaliano Brancati. Where the former fascist Brancati had a strong ironic grip on Italian consciousness and weaknesses, especially around the connection between desire of power and male melancholia, the communist Zampa was a passionate orchestrator with a great instinct for location sites, actors and narrative rhythm. Anni difficili, Anni facili (1953) and Processo alla città (1952) are his best films but none have been released on DVD in Italy or elsewhere, which is telling, that his films are still making some people uncomfortable.

Anni difficili is set in Modica, a little Sicilian microcosm, in the 1930s under fascist rule. The protagonist is a council clerk trying to balance himself between his wife’s social ambitions and his un-political pacifist attitude. He is forced to join the party to keep his job and has to send his son to war while the son of the fascist major remains safe at home. After the war he sees the powerless ex-fascists join the new power. Anni facili (Easy Years) describes a similar character trying to cope in a post-war Italy governed by Christian Democrats. A Sicilian high school teacher, under pressure from his wife, moves his family from Sicily to Rome to attain a higher social status, a new house and a proper marriage for their daughter. While trying to keep up with the cost of living, he ends up being caught in illegal activities. This was a touchy topic that prompted the then Italian Government to forbid the screening of the film outside Italy, a prohibition still in place. The film is particularly effective in showing how the desire for a higher social status can trigger a chain of actions that produce widespread corrupt behaviour.

Processo alla città was my favourite Zampa film in Bologna. Written by Francesco Rosi, it’s the first film on the Camorra, drawing on the 1911 Cutolo trial that brought to light the widespread involvement in criminal activity by many of the city’s important personalities. It is the only Zampa film shot with direct sound recording and creates a very specific image of Neapolitan urban life. The film introduces the spectator to the district of spaccanapoli showing an underground urban dimension that visually cuts into the body of the city where sunlight rarely shines. The Zampa tribute was part of Cinema Ritrovato’s ongoing investigation of internationally lesser-known and -studied authors of Italian cinema. It comes after the excellent retrospectives (with restored prints) on Alberto Lattuada (2006), Raffaele Matarazzo (2007), Giovanni Guareschi (2008) and Vittorio Cottafavi (2009).

At the Heart of 20th Century, Socialism Between Fear and Utopia

This section is also part of a continuing program on cinema and political history that has already covered the Second World War (2005), the Cold War (2006), ‘How I Learned to Love the Bomb’ (2009), European cinema before the codes: 1945-49 (2010) and French Vichy Cinema (2010). This year the section on 1930s socialist and anti-socialist films showed, beyond, and also through, their ideological overtones a pre-war world that is unstable and politically fragile, more evident here than in many of the fictional films of the same period. The better known examples of this trend were La vie est à nous (Jean Renoir, Jacques Becker, Jacques-Bernard Brunius, Henri Cartier-Bresson et al., 1936) and the Brechtian-penned Kuhle Wampe (Slatan Dudow, 1933), the latter containing an episode of the suicidal boy jumping out of the window which will have a dramatic re-play 15 years later in Rossellini’s Germany Year Zero (1948). From a visual point of view it was remarkable to see a good copy of Um’s Tägliche Brot (Hunger in Waldenburg, Piel Jutzi, 1929), the social-realist silent documentary by the director of Berliner Alexanderplatz (1931) produced by Wet Films in Weimar Germany. It documents the poor life conditions of the workers in the Waldenburg mines and their families. With a dry narrative and little mise en scène the strength of the film lies in its statement images denouncing an unhuman reality. The plain and effective photography is underlined by an impersonal editing, at times alternating domestic actuality with oppressive industrial imagery.

A final mention should be given to the Cinema Ritrovato DVD Awards, where a shortlist of candidates are selected form the best DVDs of a given year, and then submitted to an international jury of scholars and experts. This creates a significative track record connecting film restoration, screenings in Bologna and DVD releases. This year’s selection was as follows:

Best DVD: Segundo de Chomón 1903-1912 (Filmoteca de Catalunya [ICIC]/Cameo Media).

Best Special Features: The Night of the Hunter (Criterion).

Most Original Contribution to Film History: Orphans 7: A Selection of Orphan Films (New York University’s Orphan Film Symposium).

Best Rediscovery of a Forgotten Film: Awarded jointly to Max Davidson and Female Comedy Teams (both Edition Filmmuseum [Germany]).

Best Box Set: Awarded jointly to 3 Silent Classics by Josef von Sternberg (Criterion) and La Naissance de Charlot – The Keystone Comedies 1914 by Charlie Chaplin (Lobster – Arte – BFI – Cineteca di Bologna – Flicker Alley/UCLA).

In conclusion, it was truly a great program for this year Cinema Ritrovato, a festival with many souls and many audiences. Despite the Italian economic crisis the festival was still able to expand and to publish an excellent catalogue and new DVDs, with no decrease in quality.

Il cinema Ritrovato
25 June – 2 July 2011
Festival website: http://www.cinetecadibologna.it/cinemaritrovato2011_eng

Cinema Ritrovato DVD Awards

http://www.cinetecadibologna.it/cinemaritrovato2011_eng/ev/dvdawards2011_en

Endnotes

  1. Peter von Bagh, “Foreword”, Il Cinema Ritrovato catalogue, Cineteca Bologna, Bologna, 2011, p. 10.
  2. Timothy Brock, “The Adaptation of Heinrich Marschner’s Der Vampyr for Nosferatu”, Il Cinema Ritrovato catalogue, Cineteca Bologna, Bologna, 2011, p. 137.
  3. Gillian Anderson, then conductor of the Bologna Orchestra, did a reconstruction of the Erdmann score for the Cinema Ritrovato screening of the Barriatua version of Nosferatu on 25th June 1995. The Brock score was performed on the 25th of June 2011 in the same piazza on the same day 16 years later. There are many more scores composed to play along Murnau’s film and released on DVD. An incomplete list is available online here: http://nosferatumovie.com/nosferatu_music.html
  4. Tom Gunning, “1902-1903 – Movies, stories and attractions” in André Gaudreault, American Cinema 1890-1909: Themes and Variations, Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, 2009.
  5. Mariann Lewinsky, “A Hundred Years Ago; European Films of 1910” in Il Cinema Ritrovato catalogue, Bologna, 2010.
  6. Kristin Thompson, “Capellani Ritrovato”, in Thompson and Bordwell’s Observation on Film Art, http://www.davidbordwell.net/blog/2010/07/11/capellani-ritrovato/
  7. Kristin Thompson, “Capellani Trionfante”, in Thompson and Bordwell’s Observation on Film Art, http://www.davidbordwell.net/blog/2011/07/14/capellani-trionfante/
  8. David Boxwell, “Howard Hawks” in Senses of Cinema, Great Directors, issue 20, May 2002, https://sensesofcinema.com/2002/great-directors/hawks/
  9. Todd McCarthy, The Grey Fox of Hollywood, Grove Press, New York, 1997, p. 70.
  10. Naomi Wise, “The Hawksian Woman” in Hillier-Wollen, Howard Hawks, American Artist, BFI, London, 1996, pp. 111-119, p. 115 (first published in Take One, vol. 3, no. 3, January-February 1971).
  11. Henri Langlois, The Modernity of Howard Hawks in Hillier-Wollen, 1996, Howard Hawks, American Artist, BFI, 1996, 72-76 (first published in Cahiers du Cinema, no. 139, January 1963).
  12. Gian Piero Brunetta, The History of Italian Cinema: A Guide to Italian Film From Its Origins to the Twenty-First Century, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 2003, p. 143.
  13. Sergio Amidei says “Zampa has started Anni difficili taking over where Bragaglia left off, that is the moment they were about to buy the train tickets to start shooting in Catania” in Franca Faldini and Goffredo Fofi, L’avventurosa storia del cinema italiano. Raccontata dai suoi protagonisti (1935-1959), Feltrinelli, Milan, 1979, p. 123.