From Chaplin To Cherbourg: The Necessity Of Adff’s Restored Classics
There was a time, not so long ago, when film festival audiences divided themselves between the majority following only the new films, and those rarefied souls devoted to older movies. Anyone who kept seats in both worlds was considered a bit odd, like a stamp collector intent on owning every first day issue from Lesotho or Andorra. Admittedly – even proudly – I fall into that category (no, not the collector), and I’m constantly railing against film critics who think cinema began with John Cassavetes. Happily this division among cinephiles seems to be fading somewhat, and several years ago ADFF joined the ranks of festivals eager to promote the latest restorations. After all, why limit your scope? Why deny yourself Scope?
Let’s face it, who wants to see Once Upon a Time in the West reduced to the size of a computer or television screen? Maybe it’s because so much is available now that the intimidating quantity of titles makes it easier to stick with what you know, meaning movies from your own lifetime. For many of us who grew up in the ancient days before satellite or even cable television let alone Blu-ray or videotape, the limited number of TV channels could be relied upon to show the classics in regular rotation. I’d be glued to the screen Saturday and Sunday mornings, immersed in Laurel & Hardy and Our Gang comedies, and then late at night I could indulge in Marlene Dietrich or Burt Lancaster. None of them were made in my lifetime, but childhood familiarity bred cross-generational friendships, so to speak. It saddens me that kids are sticking to Nickelodeon and the Cartoon Network, never venturing into a past that forms part of our common cultural heritage. That’s why I like to celebrate initiatives like ADFF’s Restored Classics section, which features some of the greatest films ever made, in glorious prints that make clear why the big screen is in every way superior to watching a movie on your Ipad.
Shall I start chronologically? Charlie Chaplin may be the only star able to overcome the average person’s knee-jerk avoidance of any film from the teens, and The Cure, from 1917, is pure pleasure. At a trim 24 minutes, the short barrels along with gags that whizz by and keep the laughs flowing -- as always with Chaplin, his graceful clarity captures the essence of the comical, playing off body types to maximum effect. To my mind, the dressing room scene is one of the funniest sequences in his early works, perfectly encapsulating his balletic prowess. The Cure is paired with Buster Keaton’s short masterpiece One Week, from 1920, which is on my list of desert island films. He’s a hapless newlywed building a do-it-yourself house, but the instructions have been tampered with and needless to say nothing goes according to plan: Keaton’s deadpan expression is absolute genius here, and incredibly this was his first solo effort. The two films are joined in a program by three shorts made by Pierre Étaix, a French comic from the 1960s and 1970s whose works had frustratingly faded from view. Now recent reassessments and restorations have brought him back to the spotlight, allowing him to take his place alongside fellow French clown Jacques Tati as one of the great screen funnymen.
If it’s sumptuous color you crave, then get yourself to The Thief of Bagdad. This stunning adventure is a wild orientalist fantasy deluxe (best to leave your Edward Said at the door), the kind of movie that recaptures the special child-like wonder of spectacle, making it a thrill for all ages. You may have occasionally caught glimpses of it on television, but believe me, you want to see it on the big screen. Equally, do not miss The Red Shoes, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s love song to the opulence of color and the beauty of dance. Seeing it aglow, projected in its proper proportions, is a breathtaking experience, astonishing in its artistry and sheer emotional impact.
Moving through the decades we come to Dial M for Murder – how many people remember that it’s in 3-D? Hitchcock was hardly the first to use the system, but his mastery of space meant he knew how to manipulate various visual planes to milk the maximum amount of tension from an object as mundane as a telephone. Rather than the full-on bang of today’s 3-D, Hitchcock used the novelty judiciously, knowing it’s nothing more than a gimmick though one that can be adapted to his own special talents. Plus it’s got Grace Kelly as the female star, and who can ask for anything more?
Well, you say, couldn’t we ask for Audrey Hepburn? Yes indeed and here she is inBreakfast at Tiffany’s. Who’s ready to cry again over the theme song Moon River? It doesn’t matter if you’ve seen it before (probably on TV): would you only listen to your favorite songs once? The movie is arch and differs significantly from Truman Capote’s original creation, but it’s irresistible and strangely moving, channeling the pent-up dreams we all harbor inside yet are too often afraid to nurture. Sure, emotional reunions in the rain are a cliché, even then, but although you tell yourself you won’t tear up, somehow the waterworks have a mind of their own.
Speaking of waterworks, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg has recently been restored and it’s once again a dazzling display of virtuosity. A celebration of music and color, Jacques Demy’s 1964 musical is as beautiful inside as out, delighting in the sheer wonder of falling in love. The New York Times calls it one of the most romantic movies ever made, and few would argue with the assessment. It’s hard to decide what’s more astonishing: the extraordinarily elegant camerawork, the enchanting music, or the breathtaking loveliness of the young Catherine Deneuve. The movie will break your heart and heal it at the same time. That’s the beauty of cinema.