This year's trip to Cinefest
Once again I trekked to the near frozen northwest and Syracuse NY to attend Cinefest 29 this past weekend. Cinefest is a delightfully grassroots hardcore assembling of film fans, archivists, historians and collectors who get to see forgotten films, uncut or reconstructed versions of movies and archival curiosities.
It's not a snooty crowd at all. People actually care about film and are as happy to see a German silent art film as they are a George O'Brien B Western. This ain't Sundance where too many of the audience members seem to focus on everything but the films .
Cinefest specializes in American and British film from the silent era to the late 1940s, although a more recent film occasionally sneaks by.
By its eclectic nature the programming can challenge your cinematic prejudices. There have been many times when I steadfastly refused to see a certain movie because of the subject or star only to be convinced I should see it and then found that was indeed the case.
This year's highlights included a "Screen Snapshot" short from the early 1950s that was a tribute to many of the screen cowboys of the previous 20 years. An episode of the early television show "Life with Buster Keaton" was also alto of fun.
"Wheel of Life" (1929) a romance set in colonial India was creaky and laughable, while "The Circle" (1925), a romantic dramady based on the play by Somerset Maugham, was surprisingly good.
The show screened some of Joan Crawford's home movies, which proved to be a revelation to me. I never thought Crawford was any great beauty, but these in scenes, many in color, she is striking wearing little or no make-up and looking relaxed. There was one shock in the reel, though – shots of Crawford bare-assed and sunbathing of the roof of her home.
The biggest treat was the American premiere of the 1958 film "the Secret Man" produced by my friend Richard Gordon. Richard is a Cinefest devotee and he introduced the film, which, for a number of reasons never received distribution here. The taut little spy film was written by Brian Clements ("The Avengers") and was directed by Ronald Kinnoch.
Shot in four weeks in London using many outdoor locations, this film is a perfect example of the most successful approach to low-budget film making: you tailor a script to your budget rather than try to stretch a budget to fulfill a script. Kinnoch directed the film with an eye to gritty realism and star Marshall Thompson delivers a very realistic under-played performance.
It's a typical Cinefest movie in that I wanted to find it on DVD so my wife could see it.
That was also the case with "The Perfect Specimen," a great 1938 romantic comedy directed by Michael Curtiz and starring Errol Flynn and Joan Blondell – two performers who I would watch in almost anything. This film doesn't turn up on television due to story rights and the print came out of Flynn's person collection.
"White Gold" (1927) was the last feature I saw and boy what a fascinating movie. The plot involves a beautiful cabaret performer who falls in love with the son of a sheep rancher and makes a valiant effort to fit in but is thwarted by her father-in-law who is jealous of his son's love for her. The Dutch actress Jetta Goudal gives an excellent performance.
Over the next several days I'll post some of the items I found in the dealers' rooms.
© 2009 by Gordon Michael Dobbs