A Moving Image Experience: Il Cinema Ritrovato: Bologna, June-July, 2010 – Wendy Haslem

A film festival is always a time machine, and Il Cinema Ritrovato doubly so. Every bit of film contributes to the kaleidoscope of a century, especially when screened now, at the beginning of a new century and during circumstances where almost no moment of film, and few entire films, count in the same way.

Peter von Bagh, Artistic Director, Il Cinema Ritrovato, (2010 9).

In 2010 the 24th edition of Il Cinema Ritrovato screened 313 films over eight days in four locations throughout the city of Bologna, Italy. The coordinator of Il Cinema Ritrovato, Guy Borlée and the artistic director Peter von Bagh were responsible for curating a festival of cinema dedicated to the conservation and exhibition of newly discovered films. Conservation technologies are the invisible and highly visible forces behind this festival. These technologies are revealed in newly cleaned, pristine images, brilliant with the erasure of traces of time and use. Films reveal narratives that are restored with the insertion of intertitles and even in black sequences highlighting those scenes that were beyond restoration. This is a festival that makes a dynamic contribution to the evolution of the history of world cinema. Il Cinema Ritrovato exhibits the results of conservation projects by the Cineteca Bologna, The World Film Foundation and other restoration institutions world wide. As von Bagh implies, this network connects organisations, spaces, people and histories beyond a simple chronology. Von Bagh perceives this festival to be as much about the future as the past. He writes:

Considering that the cinema year 2009-10 has been filled with especially infantile discussions about 3-D and related matters, I’m glad to state the overwhelming – and essential – presence in our program of technologies and the dialogue about them. This doesn’t mean only our dear themes of colour and widescreen, but also a more surprising face: that stepping into the midst of silent films is often also a trip to the future (Peter von Bagh, 2010 9).

This film festival not only connects the past to the present, it creates a culture that understands both as necessary for the future of the moving image. Il Cinema Ritrovato is a festival that cannot be reduced to the binary oppositions of ‘business’ and ‘audience’ festivals outlined by Mark Peranson (2009 23-37). In its diachronic connection of short films, feature films, documentaries and cinema from across film history, exhibited in spaces including theatres, museums and a Piazza, this is a “moving image experience” greater than film according to the definition outlined by Paolo Cherchi Usai. The moving image experience connects the act of seeing with creation, preservation and access (2008 9). In its history, in the establishment of its hierarchies and in the creation of its rituals, Il Cinema Ritrovato could be aligned closely with André Bazin’s effusive description of festivals, “in which people join in holy worship of a common transcendent reality, then the Festival is a religious Order” (1955, 2009 13-19).

This festival has the continuing support of screen luminaries like Martin Scorsese (who provides access to his archive) and prestigious organisations like The World Cinema Foundation which sponsors the restoration of many films. Some of these films are surprisingly new. Recent historical forces affecting the history of film are evident in the exhibition of Mest/Revenge (Ermek Shinarbaev, 1989), a film described by Kent Jones as “one of the greatest films to emerge from the Kazakh New Wave and one of the toughest” (2010 47). Mest, a film that investigates the Korean diaspora displaced into the Russian Far East was prohibited distribution by Soviet authorities and shelved as soon as it was completed. Mest was restored by The World Cinema Foundation and Cineteca di Bologna at L’Immagine Film Laboratory, Bologna with the collaboration of its director Ermek Shinarbaev in 2010.

Programs of auteur films shown at Il Cinema Ritrovato include a retrospective of the films of Jean-Luc Godard, musicals created by Stanley Donen, silent and early sound films of John Ford, the films of Albert Capellani and a project reflecting the collaboration between Charlie Chaplin and Robert Florey. The ‘auteur’ is reconceptualised throughout these programs as embodying multiple identities, evident in nascent careers and in collaborations between filmmakers and studios. The festival consciously references the interrelationship between cinema and history in films that reflect ‘anni difficili’ in collections entitled: Hard Times: Italian Cinema Before the Codes (1945-1949), as well as Hard Times in Europe: European Cinema (1945-1952). A recurring feature of Il Cinema Ritrovato is ‘A Hundred Years Ago: European Films of 1910’, a program commemorating the cinematic technologies available one hundred years prior. Another program of films addressing issues of national identity, early communications and the development of global flows was ‘The Naples/Italy Project and Cinema of Emigration’ curated by Elena Correra and Luigi Virgolin. Many of the short films that comprise this collection were made at the turn of the century when the port city of Naples was a gateway to the rest of the world. Colour was also a focus in a program entitled ‘Searching For Colour in Films’ with many films (like Visconti’s Senso, 1954, Il Gattopardo, 1963 and Nicholas Ray’s Johnny Guitar, 1954) restored to their original vibrancy. Curator Gian Luca Farinelli notes the importance of color when he writes that the “chromatic mood” of a film might be the most secret and intimate aspect of our relationship with films we have loved (2010 99). A program entitled ‘Fearless and Peerless: Adventurous Women of the Silent Screen’ showed films featuring active, mobile feminine protagonists, detective figures who travelled by ship, plane, horse and cart, even car, women armed with guns and chloroform and were not afraid to use them.

The Piazza Maggiore is the largest open air auditorium showing films for free, connecting the local community with film buffs, scholars and archivists. Each evening of the festival viewers gathered in the twilight reserving their seats before the dusk descended providing the ambience for the nightly screening. This public screen sits on an auspicious grounds in terms of history and architecture. On the right is The Basilica Maggiore shrouded by scaffolding supporting its reconstruction. The screen faces Bologna’s Archaeological Museum, a further indication of deference to the rich history of the Comune di Bologna. The screen is surrounded by cafes and restaurants with some of Bologna’s distinctive leaning towers visible in the streets beyond. A small bio box sits at the rear of the piazza, projecting light above the audience and through the celluloid – the medium of choice for Il Cinema Ritrovato. This large public screen provides the focal point for the festival. In 2010 Il Cinema Ritrovato screened restorations of  films like Boudu Saved From Drowning (Jean Renoir, 1932), African Queen (John Huston, 1951) and the classic musical Singin’ In The Rain (Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly, 1952) which was introduced by the ebullient Stanley Donen.

 

Figure 1: Il Cinema Ritrovato, Piazza San Maggiore in the daylight, Bologna. Photograph: Simon McLean

Figure 2: Stanley Donen introducing Singin In The Rain. Photograph: Simon McLean

Two public screenings in The Piazza Maggiore illustrated both the innovation and the significance of this festival. The first was the breathtaking public presentation of Lumière! (2010). This portmanteau of short films curated by the Lumière  Institut, representing innovations in anaglyphic, stereoscopic film and autochromatic coloured film stock in early cinema. In 2010 the screening of Lumière! took place on a hot night when the Piazza teemed with more than six thousand people waiting to become only the second public audience in the world to watch the Lumière brothers’ experiments with stereoscopic illusions, precursors to 3D cinema. The audience demographic was broad, and included young Italian cinephiles, some luminaries from the world of cinema and film historians, many of whom would have experienced significant change in film and screen technologies throughout their lifetimes. On this particular night I noticed a young man with an awkward gait sitting uncomfortably close to a woman who set him back in his seat with a steely glare. In our row sat young mothers cradling babies on their laps. Someone had bought their dog and he slept, curled up by his owner’s feet for the entire screening. Overwhelmingly, the impression is of an incredibly diverse audience who met in the Piazza every night, a tangible sign of the vibrant life of film culture in Italy and of the devotion to the Bologna Cinematheque specifically, the organisation that presents Il Cinema Ritrovato annually.

It is not such a stretch  to imagine that the inventors Auguste and Louis Lumière were creating technologies to film and project cinema in three dimensions as early as the 1930s. However, this new package of short films displays the surprising extent of their experimentation beginning with the earliest impressions of pre-cinema in the single reel, static camera recordings of everyday events or ‘actualities’. Included within the collection of the Lumière  films presented at Il Cinema Ritrovato are the recognisable early scenes: workers leaving the Lumière  factory (La Sortie des Usines Lumière à Lyon, 1895), feeding the baby (Sortie d’usine, Repas de Bébé, 1895), but also early narrative films like The Waterer Watered (L’Arroseur Arose, 1895), sequences comprising more than a single shot, indications of experiments with cause and effect. One of the films in the collection shows a pedestrian being hit by a car, and then magically springing to his feet as the film is reversed, a homage to George Méliès and the potential for editing to provide illusions beyond reality. The magic of early cinema is evident in innovations in film narration, in experiments with space and perception, but also in the exhibition of images shot by travelling cameramen.

The program of Lumière  films includes sequences of panoramas of distant locations shot by Lumière  camera operators travelling throughout the world. One particular stereoscopic film included a panning shot revealing iconic buildings like The Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia in the newly named city of Istanbul at the time that these images were recorded. With the camera mounted on a boat or even a bike, the Lumière Brothers are able to present early impressions of exotic cities as their camera scans locations visible from the Golden Horn and throughout Turkish street markets. A stereoscopic version of The Arrival of the Train at Ciotat Station (L’Arrivée d’un Train En Gare de La Ciotat, 1895), pushes Tom Gunning’s description of ‘the aesthetics of astonishment’ into a new, more contemporary realm. Whilst Gunning questions the mythology associated with early accounts of audience shock and the terror of witnessing the train arrive, audiences resplendent in their cardboard 3D glasses displayed the opposite – attentive wonder and fascination. With the experience of the IMAX and 3D screen common amongst contemporary audiences, shock is replaced by wonder and appreciation of the effects of stereoscopic technologies producing images in spatial relief. Coloured sequences created with the use of the Lumière’s patented autochromatic process displayed ladies in patterned dresses, pastel landscapes and the slightly unnatural glow of cityscapes. This collection of films shows the influence of the Lumière  family photography business in Louis and Auguste’s experiments with the development of cinematic technologies to produce delicately toned, coloured film.

Lumière! was presented and narrated by the director of the Lumière  Institute, Thierry Frémaux. The narration was both respectful and revealing. Frémaux showcased the Lumière  films which included sequences that feature a family of circus performers, with surprising images of children being juggled from the feet of their parents, their small bodies spinning through the air. The patriarch of this family reappears in a later sequence displaying his capacity for origami, folding and then modelling a range of hats. Frémaux drew our attention to detail in some of the staged sequences including the delight of two men dancing together at a formal ball. Films in this collection are designed to display spectacle, performance and magic. When the program of Lumière  films reached the end, it played again – in fast rewind – from the end to the beginning, a reminder of the range and depth of the images that comprise the collection. This digital restoration project emerged as a collaboration between the Institut Lumière  and L’Immagine Ritrovata laboratory of Cineteca Bologna. These experiments in early cinematic technologies, including autochrome and anaglyph films, provided a fascinating, and at times breathtaking, collection of early cinematic experiences.

Another highlight screened in the Piazza was the latest version of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1926), a screening that included an additional 15 minutes of footage. This recent version of Metropolis was discovered in the collection of Manuel Peña Rodriguez in 2008 and verified by the Buenos Aires Film Museum. The latest print is based on an original nitrate copy of the film that was purchased by the distributor, Adolfo Z. Wilson in 1927. The additional scenes stand out due to an alternative aspect ratio, and the surprising beauty of its faded and scratched original state. The combination of the deteriorated found material alongside the otherwise pristine film stock required viewers to look carefully and deeply into the new sequences, making visible the impact of time on celluloid. This version included detail about the rivalry between Fredersen and Rotwang for Maria and it provides the motivation for the invention of the robot. To augment the experience even further, Metropolis was accompanied by music played by the Bologna Symphony Orchestra. Audiences for this unique screening spilled into the streets beyond the Piazza, exceeding the audience numbers for Lumiere!. One of the features of Il Cinema Ritrovato is the combination of ‘live’ performance through introductions, musical soundtracks, or even narration alongside the screenings of the restored films in the Piazza Maggiore.

Whilst Lumière! and Metropolis were spectacular, some of the shorts that were screened prior to the features almost eclipsed the longer films. One of these was Il Ruscello Di Ripasottile (1941), a magical realist film shot by Roberto Rossellini and Rodolfo Lombardi. This is an eight minute experiment with the potential for cinematic illusion in documentary cinema. Rossellini creates a narrative of two conflicting threads – beginning with the story of a perch couple awaiting the imminent hatching of their eggs. A chain of talking animals is established as the fish communicate with frogs and birds in their underwater environment transmitting the good news with delight and some trepidation about the predatory trout in their vicinity. The drama escalates as the trouts overhear the conversation. Exteriors were filmed in the Ladispoli hinterland, whilst close ups of the fish were shot by creating cascading waters in the fish breeding tanks at the Ittiogenico Fish Biology Institute in Rome. Rossellini juxtaposed exterior locations with controlled interior environments and inserted the sounds and speech of animals to produce a magical realist underwater fantasy.

Il Ruscello Di Ripasottile was filmed in Italy just prior to the development of the Neorealist film movement, a time when filmic subjects usually focused on daily struggles, producing films that were sanctioned by the Fascist Regime. Whilst this short film might be interpreted as an analogy of larger power struggles, the aesthetics and lyricism distinguish this tale from the Neorealist formula. Il Ruscello Di Ripasottile was restored at L’Immagine Ritrovata laboratory, Cineteca Bologna from fragments of the film and documents discovered in Cinema Cilea de Palmi (Calabria). Il Ruscello Di Ripasottile was conserved without the necessity for absolute completion of form, some images (particularly towards the conclusion of the film) are rendered with black frames, something that serves to end the film in time and support the soundtrack. This film also exhibits damaged sequences in reverence to its original form and it shows a dedication and attention to detail in the restoration of the images and sounds that remain. Il Ruscello Di Ripasottile is indicative of the ideology that emphasises the primacy of the original in conservation and the desire to preserve as much of the source as possible. Linking film through the blood line, Il Ruscello Di Ripasottile  may also be seen as a precursor to Isabella Rosselini’s fabulous Green Porno project, a book and dvd set, investigating the sex life of various insect species.

Figure 3: Il Ruscello Di Ripasottile, (Roberto Rossellini, 1941)

Another inspiring and moving short film displayed in the Piazza Maggiore was Islands in the Lagoon (Isole Nella Laguna, Luciano Emmer, Enrico Gras, 1948), a poetic sequence that was described in 1948 as a chronicle of “the feelings and emotions of the islands” (Venturi, 2010 30). This black and white travelogue begins with a woman sitting on an island small enough to support herself and a goat that she has tethered to a pole. Whilst the goat chews grass, the woman is occupied by her sewing. As the camera escalates, the resulting panorama offers an indication of the mass of water surrounding this tiny landform, and the first sign of movement is noted in a small sailing ship that glides along the still waters of the lagoon, waters “without rest” according to the narrator. Water and land is linked inextricably by high contrast imagery, shots which blur the horizon line. The voice over narration mentions the “grand silence” of this landscape, one that supports ruins of a previous age. Bones and other traces of past lives remain invisible to two children who are busy pulling blackberries from canes. In a later scene, a gliding camera visits a quiet church, identifying its “abandoned saints”. The movement of the camera highlights the stillness of the church. Reflections of water produces an illusion that the Madonna’s eyes are glistening. Buildings are shot to emphasise the shimmering reflections in the water of the lagoon, adding the illusion of movement to the stillness of exteriors. The closing sequences of Islands in the Lagoon detail the work of the inhabitants of the islands. Sequences of women making lace, beading and sewing are juxtaposed with images of men blowing, spinning and cutting decorative glass for chandeliers, heated to extreme temperatures that render it soft and pliable. Focus falls on the serious faces of children concentrating hard on their crafts, an image that might imply their destinies. But Islands in the Lagoon concludes with the voice over narrator identifying the great treasure that Is hidden at the bottom of the sea, which, if we look closely, could be found one day.

Beyond the screenings at Il Cinema Ritrovato, the multi media exhibition Federico Fellini Dall’Italia Alla Luna (Federico Fellini From Italy to the Moon) offered a fascinating insight into the career, dreams and desires of one of the most important Italian auteurs. The Museum of Modern Art, Bologna (MAMbo) exhibited impressions of the life and work of Federico Fellini in public and in private moments. Visitors are greeted with large, vibrant posters advertising Fellini’s films. These include the powerful imagery of posters for Roma (1972), the cityscape with characters linked in an matrix of eyeline matches in La Dolce Vita (1960) and the collage of stars and filmmaker in the classic poster for 8 1/2 (1963). Beginning an exhibition with the public art provides a reflection on the first visual impressions of a Fellini film. This public imagery also includes newspaper articles and paparazzi snapshots designed to create scandal surrounding Fellini, his films and his stars. ‘Cinestories’, popular in illustrated magazines, provide insight into early storyboarding process in imagining films like The White Sheikh (1952). One of the moving image screens shows the mesmerising opening sequence from La Dolce Vita, featuring a helicopter trailing a statue.  A photostory of Fellini’s images of Mandrake the Magician appeared in Vogue and reimagined Marcello Mastroianni as Mandrake working in advertising in the early 1970s.

Figures 4 & 5: Posters for Federico Fellini’s films Roma and La Dolce Vita.

Federico Fellini Dall’Italia Alla Luna also reveals private images, behind the scenes photos from film productions and drawings that offer a (sometimes alarming) indication of Fellini’s thoughts. Fellini’s dreams are exposed in a reflective journal of watercolour illustrations and text. Drawings reveal his fear of being stuck in doorways, his anxieties of falling from buildings and Fellini’s nightmares about giant crocodiles. Watercolour illustrations magnify the proportion of breasts and penises in lascivious images of Fellini’s sexual fantasies. The exhibition includes Fellini’s thoughts on Roma where he writes: “Everything here belongs to the belly, everything is the belly… such a show is a feast for the eyes, but at the same time threatens all gazes: mouths, faces, outpouring bodies avidly swallowing”. Fellini  associates the procession of prostitutes in Roma  with both Fascist parades and processions of the Catholic Church, all of which he describes as ‘hypnotic representations’ of ritual. Photographs reveal the antics behind the scenes of Fellini’s film productions. This is illustrated by one particular image of a kitten placed gently on Anita Ekberg’s head during a lighter moment on the set of La Dolce Vita. These private images include satirical caricatures: photos written over with dialogue bubbles revealing the thoughts of the young filmmaker. The collection shows a collage of responses to a classified advertisement that Fellini published in an Italian newspaper announcing that he is ready to meet anyone who would like to see him. Displays include personal letters written to Fellini directly – one in orange texta, others containing snapshots of aspiring actors, some in profile, some in various states of undress. MAMbo’s exhibition Federico Fellini Dall’Italia Alla Luna is a revealing and rich collection of still and moving images, both public and private designed to follow the ‘red thread’ of Fellini’s obsessions.

Complementing the film and multi media programs the Cineteca Bologna and L’Immagine Ritrovata film restoration and conservation laboratory present the FIAF (Fédération International des Archives du Film) summer school in film restoration. The Summer School provides distance education on theory and film restoration as well as classes on the practice of restoration on site and an internship primarily for archivists and film industry workers. The DVD Awards ceremony acknowledges the best results in conservation and reproduction in the digital format from the previous year. Exhibitions of photographs, multi media and the commitment to training a new generation of film conservators is evidence of the breadth of Il Cinema Ritrovato and its interest in the future of restoration.

The crowds spilling beyond the limitations of the Piazza Maggiore, the full houses in Scala Scorsese or Lumière, the visitors to MAMBo, the interest in workshops in conservation provides measureable evidence of the breadth of Il Cinema Ritrovato. The devotion to film history and the reverence for film is expressed in the dedication of the organisation, which is mirrored in the vibrancy of the audiences in both large public spaces and in the more intimate theatres. The culture of Il Cinema Ritrovato sits resolutely against the swirling fears about the end of celluloid and the eclipse of film by digital media. But this is not a festival that exists in opposition to change, it is one that is progressively engaged with film and media histories. Peter von Bagh defines Il Cinema Ritrovato as a “web of correspondences in the finest sense of the word” (2010 9). He argues that the “program is always immeasurably more than a succession of films. Behind the scene of the program is not only the Bologna staff, but also so many individual participants, and the enormously knowledgeable audience we now have around us” (2010 9). Bazin notes that when the festival reviewer returns home,  “he feels as though he’s come back from far away, having spent a long spell in a world where order, rigour and necessity reign” with the experience an “amazing albeit hard-working retreat, with cinema as its unifying spiritual focus” (1955, 2009 19). On both sides of the screen, in its organisation and in its audiences, Il Cinema Ritrovato reaffirms the life and vibrancy of cinema of the near and distant past.

References:

André Bazin (2009, 1955) ‘The Festival Viewed As A Religious Order’, Dekalog3: On Film Festivals, Richard Porton (ed.), London: Wallflower, 13-19.

Peter von Bagh (2010) ‘Introduzione/Foreword’, Il Cinema Ritrovato, 24th Edizione, Bologna: Cineteca del Comune di Bologna, 9-12.

Paolo Cherchi Usai [et al] (2008) Film Curatorship: Archives, Museums, and the Digital Marketplace, Wien: Synema.

Guy Borlee, Roberto Chiesi [eds] (2010) Il Cinema Ritrovato, 24th Edizione, Bologna: Cineteca del Comune di Bologna.

Tom Gunning (1995) ‘An Aesthetic of Astonishment’, Viewing Positions: Ways of Seeing Film, Linda Williams (ed.), New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 114-33.

Kent Jones (2010) ‘Mest’, in Il Cinema Ritrovato, Guy Borlee, Roberto Chiesi [eds], 24th Edizione, Bologna: Cineteca del Comune di Bologna, 47.

Mark Peranson (2009) ‘First You Get the Power, Then You Get the Money: Two Models of Film Festivals’, Dekalog3, Richard Porton (ed.) London: Wallflower Press, 23-37.

Lauro Venturi (2010, 1948) ‘Isole Nella Laguna’, in Il Cinema Ritrovato, Guy Borlee, Roberto Chiesi [eds], 24th Edizione, Bologna: Cineteca del Comune di Bologna, 29-30.

 

Bio:

Wendy Haslem is a lecturer in Screen Studies in the School of Culture of Communication at the University of Melbourne where she is also Coordinator of the Moving Image MA, which is part of the Master of Arts and Cultural Management. Wendy teaches, researches and publishes on the intersections of film history and new media.  Her research includes: Gothic film, film noir, cinema of the 1950s, Atomic culture, trauma cinema, censorship, Japanese film, Australian film culture and industry. Wendy is interested in the impact of new forms of exhibition on the archive. She is the author of ‘A Charade of Innocence and Vice’: Hollywood Gothic Films of the 1940s (2009) and she is a co-editor for the anthology Super/Heroes: From Hercules to Superman (2007). She is currently researching the evolution of the Gothic from silent cinema to new media for her book Gothic Projections: From Méliès to New Media. Email: wlhaslem@unimelb.edu.au