Monday, March 24, 2014

Live Cinema: Orphans of the Storm (1921)

Orphans of the Storm is an animal shelter in Riverwoods, Illinois; that's what I learnt from a comprehensive search on Google, where the above shelter features as the top result and a far more popular one than the film it got the inspiration for its title in the first place.

I honestly hope, thought, that you guys have heard of this epic film, the last commercial success for D.W. Griffith and a not a less grandiose one; Not quitting the habit of  high production values and bigger-than-life story lines, after The Birth of a Nation (1915), Intolerance (1916) -which I dearly remember watching on my name day in National Gallery's Auditorium in London years ago-, Broken Blossoms (1919) and some others in between, Griffith decided to take on French Revolution from his point of view, always a particular one: this time he wanted to preach against Bolshevism (funny word, ainnit?)

He used as first material the well-known play by D'Ennery The Two Orphans and he managed to stretch it up to three (!) hours with intermission. I had the chance to see the original roadshow copy, just as I had the big, admittedly, chance to enjoy the use of the loo during the intermission. The screening was the glorious ending of a very good season of Live Cinema, a successful joint venture by Cinematheque de la Ville de Luxembourg and Philharmonie over the years. On 2014 I also managed to watch the re-mastered copy of Pandora's Box by G.W. Pabst, with lovely Louise Brooks in her signature hairdo as Lulu with live music from Ensemble Kontraste conducted by Frank Strobel. If that one was an interesting experience - a Lulu of giant proportions leading men to destruction behind the conductors baguette-, The Orphans of the Storm (1921) was an all-in-all thrilling experience.

Human kindness and hatred intertwined with commoners and aristocrats hating and loving each other, the guillotine chopping heads, Robespierre and Danton ruling the people, while two innocent sisters, one of them blind, were trying to find each other in agitated Paris. The John Lanchbery composition was impressive in the way it complemented the moving image and dare I say patriotic, having as leit motiv the very beginning of  the French national hymn, la marseilleuse (Allons enfants de la patrie). The performance of the Luxembourg Philarmonic Orchestra - OPL under the direction of Carl Davis was a vibrant one; the clapping in the end revealed a satisfied audience.

I loved the monochromic filters Griffith used to bring emotion -the film, although black and white, was changing in red, blue, yellow, green and sepia tones from scene to scene, which was quite original for that time. The dramatic, theatrical acting was actually moving, and only occasionaly seemed fake (we do live in times where acting follows different rules, after all). Lilian and Dorothy Gish were absolutely great -and pretty, as well. Good montage (well, half an hour could be easily left out, though), miss-en-scene and a lot of suspense -who would believe they knew how to create suspense already in the twenties! And for those who wonder, yes, the film has a happy ending and yes, you will still need some paper tissues to dry your tears with, if you are a sensitive soul. 

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