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 laugh.
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 uncle.
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.