Thursday, July 07, 2016

Il Cinema Ritrovato 2016 - John M. Stahl

Back Street, 1932

Although I understand some of the reservations some friends articulated after the screening (especially about the last part set in Paris), for me this was a thoroughly great and devastating film. Stahl translates objective social relations into crystal clear affection-images without the help, protection, and relief of Sirkian irony. The final superimposition of Dunne's face and the bandstand is incredibly affecting - private desire confronted with its own impossibility, frozen into a single image.


Cruelty inscribed not into speech acts, but into the structure of language: "But what will become of me?" - "I love you."

Only Yesterday, 1933

The many similarities in storyline and casting to Back Street accentuate the differences between the films all the more. It plays like an "enlightened" version of the earlier film, but it's also a bit chaotic, and probably not totally thought through (feels like being contaminated by Stefan Zweig and the world financial crisis at the same time). The main difference is Margaret Sullavan instead of Irene Dunne though. Sullavan’s agility transforms a world of classic, almost ancient melodrama into a theatrical space of gaze and countergaze, especially during the wonderful New Year’s party scene.


One especially nice touch: the rather bizarre staircase in the aunt's home, a beautiful, modernist space of social experiments.

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