I thought after my first marvelous and exhilarating day,
flowing like silk after 8 1/2 hours of sleep, that I had the festival wired and
jet lag beaten. Alexander Payne! A 1936 German comedy set in New York! Lino
Brocka’s second film, beautifully restored! Delicious pasta!
Ha. A double espresso
at 9:30 p.m. kept me alert through a witty 10 p.m. outdoor screening of Cecil
B. DeMille’s “Carmen” paired with Charlie Chaplin’s version, and then
kept me alert and tossing and turning, making bargains with the sleep gods
(checking my watch and saying “if I fall asleep NOW, I’ll still get four
hours and twenty minutes of sleep,”), and in the event getting not quite
two full hours of sleep. REM? It is to
But nothing would keep me from seeing (and staying awake
during) Max Ophul’s “Sans Lendemain,” which I’ve wanted to see for
decades, and proved to be more than worth the wait. I probably over-identified
with the incandescent Edwige Feulliere, trying to conceal her life as a
prostitute from the ardent lover she hasn’t seen for a decade.
Catching up with an unseen, longed-for masterpiece at 9
a.m.? What could be better? But it was
all downhill from there. I liked what I saw of the young Vittorio de Sica (and
the young, deadpan Anna Magnani, and a Madeleine-like assortment of orphan
girls) in his 1941 “Teresa Venerdi,” but it amounted to about half
the film, as no amount of caffeine could keep me perky. (History illuminated by lightning.) An attempt at expanding my knowledge of 60s
Czech film backfired: the whimsy of Jasny’s “The Cassandra Cat,” in
which a magical cat reveals people’s inner lives by turning them colors (lovers
are red, thieves grey, faithless yellow) escaped me, and I escaped to catch the
last third of “Kastanka,” a Dickensian 1916 Russian silent by the
to-me-unknown directing duo of Ol’ga Preobrazenskaja and Ivan Pravov, in which
a wide-eyed urchin escapes the Fagin-like thief who’s kidnapped him from his
Luckily en route to the Russian film I’d run into the
irrepressible Serge Bromberg, impresario of Lobster Films, who told me to see
the restored “One A.M.” by Charlie Chaplin, a balletic drunk act
improvised by him when Edna Purviance couldn’t work on another project. Not only is it pure genius, but it’s the most
beautiful crisp restoration I’ve ever seen.
It was paired with “The Floorwalker,” not nearly as brilliant,
but still with a sequence that seems to be the inspiration for the celebrated
“Harpo in the mirror” act in “Duck Soup” (watch below).
A chance remark by the similarly irrepressible Alexander
Horvath of the Austrian Film Museum, in a panel discussion of the 1938-9 WWII
program with critic Olaf Moller and artistic director Peter von Bagh, sent me
across the hall — “Why are you here,” he said to the audience,
“when you could be seeing “Ragbar,” the least interesting film
by Bahram Beyzaei, but it will still be more interesting than us?”
I lasted twenty minutes in “Ragbar,” in a dazzling
new black-and-white print by Scorsese’s World Cinema Foundation, which ensures
that some day I can see it again, when I might better connect with its somewhat
heavy-handed political humor. I was in
that restless state when I was desperately seeking connection, bouncing from
film to film…
By accident I found it at “The Swimmer,” which I
thought I was stopping at en route to a program of Allen Dwan films. I sat down to hear Joanna Lancaster’s introduction, and the movie started and I was caught, even
though I’ve seen it several times. As often happens, the movie stays the same
and we change. I’m much more sympathetic
to Lancaster’s vulnerability than I was years ago. (Although oy! that bombastic Marvin Hamlisch score!)
Afterwards, in the cooling night air, Chaplin’s “The
Pawnshop” and Nicholas Ray’s rodeo triangle, “The Lusty Men,”
which despite its title and the presence of sleepy-eyed Robert Mitchum and
bandy-legged Arthur Kennedy, is stolen by that redheaded babe from Brooklyn
Susan Hayward. I wish she’d ended up
with Mitchum. I wish I could get a
do-over on the day and stay awake through the De Sica and choose Dwan over
Jasny and Dwan over Perry and, well, fall asleep quickly enough tonight that
tomorrow is better.
But hey, isn’t any day that you see a masterpiece at 9 a.m.
a good day?
If I fall asleep RIGHT NOW I can get five full hours of
sleep. Perhaps even including REM.