Walking back from “La Grande Illusion” last night, I run into Haden Guest (of the Harvard Film Archive) and Rani Singh of the Getty Institute, on the way back to their hotel. Days ago I told Haden I wanted to introduce him to Steve Ujlaki, Dean of the Loyola Marymount University School of Film and Television; it turns out they met accidentally on their own, in a fascinating-sounding wine bar, although they didn’t get around to actual introductions. I realized it must be Haden Steve and Jackie were talking about when they said that he was elegantly dressed, “in a pork pie hat and linen jacket.” I confirm this by showing him pictures of them from the amazing dinner we’ve just shared.
I frustrate both Haden and Rani by describing the meal and not being able to tell them the name of the restaurant. That’s something that annoyed the hell out of me when I was regularly writing about restaurants and people would tell me they’d just been to a place I would love and then be unable to tell me its name or address. I can show them a picture of the façade of the place, but it’s hard to read the sign.
Now it can be told: it is La Bottega di Franco, via Agucchi 112, and if I’m lucky enough to return to Bologna, whether for Il Cinema Ritrovato or just for the hell of it, I’m eating there again. You’re invited!
I note that neither Haden or Steve was able to tell me the name or the address of the wine bar they met at, despite all our smart phones and GPS locators and such. During the Festival I am given vague descriptions, sans anything useful like names and addresses, of excellent bookstores and cute shops. Haden, who has an excellent eye for design, has walked me to a shop that’s having a tempting Alessi sale, to show me an espresso pot he covets. Tonight he shows me a tricky object indeed: what looks like an old-fashioned straight razor, that actually uses a regular contemporary Wilkinson Sword blade. I can’t quite figure out how it works, but it looks good! And is, of course, an appropriate souvenir from a festival that honors the past.
My inevitable last question of the night – what are you seeing tomorrow? – elicits a surprising response. I’d thought we’d meet up at the early screening of “Pettersson & Bendel,” part of the continually-enjoyable Cinema and the 1929 Crisis series. But Haden says “Oh, the anti-Semitic film? No, I’m going to the Italian movie, it sounded intriguing.”
On my return to the hotel I read about “La Nave delle Donne Maledette” (1954), by Raffaele Matarazzo, none of whose 40-odd movies I think I’ve ever seen. It’s part of the 60 Years of Positif tribute – I realize somehow I’ve managed to miss seeing Michel Ciment, who was listed as being part of a panel discussion the day I was cooling my heels in the Frankfurt airport. Ado Kyrou manages to make it sound like hot stuff indeed in an excerpt from his “Amour – Erotisme et Cinema.”
So I set off in the morning to at least catch the beginning of it. In my haste I do something that I usually do once a festival: I go to the wrong cinema, in this case sailing right past the actual room to the Cinemateca, furthest away from my starting point and with all its theaters locked up tighter than a drum. In my confusion I manage to hasten away into a cul-de-sac. Entering the right theater, I’m still confused: it turns out this Italian movie is showing in a dubbed French version, with Italian and English subtitles. Oy!
The color print is faded, and so is the impact of what Kyrou found so disturbing and alluring some sixty years ago. If I didn’t have a choice, I’d stick around, but the allure of Swedish 30s ant-Semitisme is too strong, and I go around the corner and thoroughly enjoy the snappily-told, reprehensible comedy with a sting.
It’s my last day, and a jam-packed, fun-filled one at that, although from the vantage point of 24 hours later, 600 miles away, and an uncertain time until I’ll be offered such a smorgasbord of cinephilia, I find myself wishing I could do it all over again, with different choices.
Not that I’m complaining, exactly. I saw “Die Weber” (1927), by the unknown-to-me and amazingly prolific Friedrich Zelnik, because I’m currently reading the diaries of the man-of-the-world Harry Kessler (who knew everybody of note in Europe from the turn of the century through the 30s; he was a friend and colleague of, among others, Diaghilev, Rodin, and Nietzsche), and he writes more than once about the impact of this early realist play, “The Weavers” (1892). It’s kind of an early “Waiting for Lefty,” done in Expressionist style. I most like the credits, with animalistic drawings by George Grosz interpreting the characters. (He also did the makeup and the costumes.)
A last lunch at Bertino: prosciutto e melone, straw and hay with sausage sauce, tagliatelle with ragu. Only a glance at sparkling wine (dare not) and a heavily-laden dessert cart (better not).
Unable to choose between Raoul Walsh’s “Sailor’s Luck,” an improvisatory-feeling 30s comedy that I adore, and Mervyn LeRoy’s “Hard to Handle” (1933), part of the 1929 crash series, I throw up my hands and finally attend one of the numerous 1912 tribute programs, devoted to Pathe and Paris. I find it’s too much Pathe and not enough Paris; best bits, an Apache danse featuring Mistinguett, and tinted views of the Jardin du Luxembourg.
I also feel guilty that I haven’t seen any of the numerous Lois Weber films. So I stick around in the same room for a double bill featuring Mary McLaren, not having noticed that the first film (“Shoes”) I saw last year at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. Oh well. It is a good one, anyway, rather more well-told than the second half of the double bill, “Saving the Family Name,” in which McLaren is less convincing as a chorus girl than she was as a shopgirl. I could have been seeing (not for the first time, it’s true) Gremillon’s luminous “Lumiere d’Ete.”
Afterwards I go (again, I’ve seen it before) to Duvivier’s rather astonishing “La Tete d’un Homme,” based on a Simenon-Maigret novel, starring the incomparable Harry Baur.
A great finish to both the day and (alas) my experience of Il Cinema Ritrovato, which still has two densely-packed days to go, is “The First Born” (1928), by the prolific, perverse, fascinating Miles Mander, written by Alma Reville. It’s been moved from the huge outdoor screen indoors to the Arlecchino, because Italy is playing Germany in the soccer semifinals, and the Festival wants to avoid any competition for Stephen Horne’s specially-commissioned score. Walking the deserted streets to the screening, I’m accompanied by the sporadic sounds of wild cheering. In the bar across the street where I down a quick espresso, the TV is on and ranks of serried seats are all turned it its directions, crowded with neighborhood regulars. It’s festive!
The soapy “First Born” is thoroughly enjoyable, as is Horne, playing the flute and the accordion as well as the piano.
Afterwards I linger on the Piazza Maggiore, having a drink with Ehsan Khoshbakt, as around us bonfires are lit (Italy won!) and policemen stroll in pairs, keeping an eye on the celebrants. Larry Gross wanders by and joins us. He’s here with his wife Rose Kuo, the Executive Director of the New York Film Society, and their son Julian, who I’ve been seeing at festivals since he was probably four years old. Larry as usual has an intriguing book under his arm, by a woman philosopher I’ve never heard of, and somehow our conversation turns to Hume (it’s a long story), and then Nietszche, who I like less since I’ve been reading about his life through the eyes of Harry Kessler. (Not that I was ever exactly a fan.) Larry heads off into the warm night.
Just as the café is shutting up shop, international man of film Gabe Klinger shows up with three pals, and Ehsan leads us to another bar, which of course, in Bologna in the year of our lord 2012, turns out to be an Irish pub. The legend of the Café de la Paix (sit there long enough and everybody in the world that you know will pass by) apparently has nothing on the Piazza Maggiore during Il Cinema Ritrovato.
It’s heading towards 2 a.m.. My taxi is arriving at 4:15 a.m., to take me towards the next whisky bar, in Karlovy Vary, where another film festival awaits. Going to sleep seems pointless. But I do, after all, have to pack. I DON’T WANT TO LEAVE! I want to live in this state of exalted, passionate cinephilia, with pasta on the side, forever. Il Cinema Ritrovato, where have you been all my life?