Friday, 22 May 2015

A Bit of This, A Bit of That

Yet another week where the more recent films available on satellite and terrestrial TV were so dire that I won't even bother with capsule reviews. This leaves me to mull over some recent 'silent' viewing and one re-watched 60s' classic.

I'm sure I've written before that there was a time when there was at least a sprinkling of silent movies available on British television. For a start there was Brownlow and Gills' Thames Silents series which re-introduced golden oldies to a new generation, often with new Carl Davis scores. However those days seem gone forever. Nowadays I rely on the wonderful selection available on YouTube and the occasional seasons on the German/French satellite channel Arte. The latter can go months without showing any new silent films and then schedule a weekly cornucopia of flicks new to television -- for which I for one am most thankful. Their selections are often obscurities and are not always terribly memorable but that doesn't stop my watching them and hoping for the best.

The past three Monday nights have offered the following: "L'Inhumaine" (1923) which I kind of hated when I saw it at the National Film Theatre a while back (, but it was worth another watch for its splendid Art Deco design.  The second (much more) rarity was "Pest in Florenz" (1919); this obviously translates as 'The Plague in Florence' and was a delightful telling of how licentious aristos and clergy received their comeuppance for their loose living by 'The Pest' embodied in a dead-eyed walking female. It reminded me in many ways of Corman's "The Masque of the Red Death" but without its glorious colour and Vincent Price. Most recently there was "Die Stadt der Millonen" (1923), a documentary love-letter to Berlin, with some interesting cinematography, but not a patch on Walter Ruttman's 1927 "Berlin, Symphony of a Great City". Next Monday's offering is "Chronicle of the Grey House" (1925) which I await with bated breath... sort of! 

The 1965 re-watch was Vittorio De Sica's "Marriage Italian Style" of which I seem to have two copies for some reason. This is not the joke-fest of the earlier "Divorce Italian Style" but a semi-serious look at a non-marriage. The movie was Oscar-nominated for best foreign film and for best actress for Sophia Loren in the lead. I have never counted how many movies she made with Marcello Mastroianni but they are numerous and memorable for their effortless chemistry. This one traces their relationship over twenty-two years from their first meeting in a brothel during World War II where she plays a wide-eyed and terrified seventeen-year old through their on-off relationship over the years. Mastroianni plays moneyed Lothario Domenico who always returns to Loren's Filumena for a bit of 'how's your father'. He moves her out of the brothel and into a sumptuous flat where she is expected to tender to his senesccent mother; he also employs her to run several of his bakery businesses. When she learns that he is due to marry the latest of his popsies, she feigns a fatal illness forcing him to compassionately marry her on her would-be deathbed (from which she rises triumphant).

And so it goes over the years with Domenico ever in the background between his many liaisons until lawyers annul their marriage on the grounds of her deceit. No worry she retorts, your money has helped me to raise my three sons -- 'only one of which is yours'! This sends him into a flap to discover which is his son and heir, only for the movie to move forward to the totally expected happy ending. Loren gives a virtuoso performance as she moves between na├»ve innocent, strutting tart, and devoted earth mother, embodying the many sides of womankind. As for Mastroianni, well Marcello is always the cheeky, twinkling Marcello that we know and love. After his early masterpieces, this may be one of De Sica's finest late offerings, along with "The Garden of the Finzi-Continis" (1970). 
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