Il Cinema Ritrovato: Alexander Payne Talks Influential Films, Cinephilia, Screenwriting and More

Festivals
by Meredith Brody
July 1, 2013 12:35 PM
1 Comment
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Alexander Payne at Il Cinema Ritrovato 2013
I blush to admit that, last night, I skimmed the portable printed program for the festival and felt disenchanted. After looking forward to returning to Bologna all year long, I decided that this year's program was not as well-suited to me as last year's had been, that I would be hard-pressed to put together a full day's worth of screenings for each of the next eight days, and that I had flown over 6000 miles on a fool's errand.

What a difference a day makes.  

The good news is that, miracle dictu, I eventually went to bed after seeing the excellent "Vera Cruz" in the cool Pizza Maggiore on the huge screen and slept for a solid unbroken 8 1/2 hours.  The bad news is that I missed breakfast. 

But I had the rest of the morning to relax and peruse the program at my leisure.  I wasn't completely seduced, but it began to open up to me.  There were at least 16 different programs, including retrospectives devoted to Allan Dwan, Vittorio de Sica, and Chris Marker; the nine newly-restored Hitchcock silents (five of which I'd just seen in San Francisco, the rest to be caught up with at the Pacific Film Archive in August); newly-restored Chaplin shorts; and a film a day from 1938-9 under the rubric "War is Near". 

Early Japanese talkies from the 30s, including films by the relatively unknown-to-me Kimura, Tomioko, and  Yamamoto, as well as a few more familiar Naruse and Ozu titles. Czech films from the 60s. An hommage to Burt Lancaster, introduced by his daughter Joanna. A series devoted to European films in Cinemascope. A tribute to Humphrey Jennings, the English documentarian. Daily programs of wildly-assorted short films from the year 1913.  Movies from a heretofore unheard-of Russian pair, Ol'ga [sic] Preobrazenskaja and Ivan Pravov (deeper into movies).

And, of course, the cherry on a sundae, a free open-air screening of a choice restored film for several thousand people to cap every night at 10 p.m.

I started getting punch-drunk.  Far from having trouble putting together a schedule for a day, I was seriously torn about what movie or event to begin the first full day of screenings at 2:30 p.m.: my heart wanted very much to see "Il Signor Max," a 1937 film by Mario Camerini starring Vittorio de Sica.  The curious cinephile was attracted to both a program of the 1913 shorts that included 30 newly-discovered minutes of a 1915 Italian diva film, "Tragico Convegno."  

And, even though I'd already seen Vera Chytilova's "Daisies," that was decades ago -- and even though the film hasn't changed, I have. I decide to begin with a conversation rather than a movie, between Peter von Bagh, the extraordinary artistic director of both Il Cinema Ritrovato and the round-the-clock Midnight Sun Festival in Finland, and Alexander Payne, who I admire both for his work as a director and his own rampant cinephilia.

I immediately run into Philippe Garnier, the author of excellent books on David Goodis and Andre de Toth, among others.  He immediately winces when I tell him I'm going to hear Payne and then see a 1936 German comedy called "Lucky Kids," followed by, I think, Dave Kehr's introduction to some Allen Dwan shorts. He makes me feel like a wimp. He's headed to the de Sica, and then Francesco Rosi's "Lucky Luciano," which of course both sound enormously tempting. 

Dave Kehr and Pierre Rissient join me at the von Bragh/Payne conversation, which goes something like this (all conversation paraphrased):

Von Bragh:  What was the first movie you remember seeing?

Payne: I don't remember that, but I do remember the first film I asked to see: "A Boy Ten Feet Tall," by Alexander Mackendrick, aka "Sammy Going South." I was three years old, and I literally wanted to see a boy that was ten feet tall!  My mother took me to the big theater across from the restaurant my family owned, and I was disappointed.  My mother was a great filmgoer, and her mother was a great filmgoer.  We would go in at any time -- that's where the phrase "this is where we came in" came from.  Three of my four grandparents immigrated from Greece.  My parents met in D.C. during WWII, and he brought her to Nebraska.  I became a regular 8mm film collector -- my father got an 8mm film projector as a bonus from Kraft -- he used a lot of their products in his restaurant.  I still have it!  I would order somewhat obsessively from Blackhawk Films in Davenport, Iowa -- they sold 8mm, super 8, and 16mm prints of old films.  David Shepard has written about them.

I studied history and literature in college -- not math or science -- I'm firmly rooted in the humanities!  As a child, I read all of Roald Dahl, and then, later, Steinbeck.  I was crazy about film silent comedies -- at age 12, "Big Business," Laurel and Hardy, was one of my favorites.  And then to discover at UCLA that one of my favorite films, "Make Way for Tomorrow," was by the same director, Leo McCarey, was great. (N.B.: Payne showed "Make Way for Tomorrow" with great success as part of his Guest Director program at the 2009 Telluride Film Festival.)  I watched many movies under the covers on a little TV I'd bring up from the kitchen when I was supposed to be asleep -- Warner Brothers movies were shown at 10:30 at night, I was crazy about Warner Brothers gangster films.  I was also influenced by my older brothers' tastes -- "King Kong," Sergio Leone movies.

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1 Comment

  • Lawrence Chadbourne | July 5, 2013 1:03 PMReply

    Hi Meredith: Charlie Cockey has also sent a glowing report on this year's fest. I hope to join you guys next year, and revisit Bologna, which has a special meaning for my family history.
    The Czech director should be Jiri Weiss

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