Cineconline 2020 in Review
September 16, 2020
Following suit with all other major festivals the past six months, Cinecon 2020 was all virtual this year. While I certainly missed watching classic movies for hours on end from the balcony of the Egyptian Theater with an enthusiastic audience, I am thankful the Cinecon team was still able to bring fans together in the spirit of rare and underappreciated cinema.
The organization counted almost 20,000 views from around the globe across three days of programming, which is impressive! I’m glad that people who haven’t been able to make the in-person event in Hollywood had the chance to experience it in virtual form this year. Clips from past interviews with festival honorees, intros for shorts/clip programs, and fun retro intermission spots all made for a festival-like experience from the comfort of my own couch – and in true Cinecon fashion, the timing was down to the minute. (And I didn’t notice any technical difficulties either!) I didn’t catch every single thing I planned on, because I needed breaks for notes and gif-making, but below is a brief overview of everything I saw!
Well, I hoped to make it all the way over to the Cinecon tab in my internet browser for the 3pm welcome and lost silent trailers, but… I was actually at my office at that time, so I missed it. I wrapped work up by 5pm to catch the always engaging Edward Everett Horton in the 1928 short Vacation Waves. He’s just a man who wants to take a vacation – is that too much to ask?! If you’re Horton, yes, obviously. I’d never seen him in a silent before, and I realized his mannerisms and facial expressions perfectly suited the silent era and, in this case, his character’s frustrated physical antics without going too overboard (metaphorically not literally, cause he does do that in this short).
When I spotted First Things Last on the schedule, the entry caught my eye. No IMDb link, a question mark by the date, “Vitaphoney” production company. That last item should have really tipped me off, because within seconds of this starting, I realized it was a Biffle and Shooster short made in 2016! So, the jokes on me. Bravo to the production team for a fantastic job making it period authentic – costumes, production design, camera work, flicker, scratches and all. The duo captured that type of comedy right down to the mannerisms and energy. Truly amazing work.
John Kitzmiller and Carla Del Poggio in Without Pity.
The first of three features this year was the Italian film Without Pity (1948). The only names I recognized were the husband and wife team of Federico Fellini (contributing the screenplay) and co-star Guilietta Masina. But the bigger husband and wife team was actually director Alberto Lattuada and star Carla Del Poggio. This film’s logline about an African American solider in Italy who gets involved with gangsters and tries to save the girl he loves from prostitution caught my eye. And I must say, the movie turned out to be as bleak and dark as it sounds.
Both main characters, GI Jerry (John Kitzmiller) and Angela (Del Poggio), are good people who get caught up in bad circumstances – repeatedly – and make bad decisions to get out of them. Though it wasn't the most pleasant film, I was struck by some profound imagery, specifically two shots of Jerry and Angela's hands together near the beginning and the end. I must say, their relationship stood as the only (fleetingly) positive thing about the picture, injecting much needed warmth to a dreary story. As the only American in the production (I think!), Kitzmiller intrigued me, and upon looking him up, I found that he was an engineer who actually helped liberate Italy during WWII. Turns out that he loved the country so much he decided to stay and then fell into acting. For someone who just started acting a few years before (and, I assume, was a relatively new Italian speaker), his half English-half Italian performance was impressive. Fun fact: He was the first Black man to win a Best Actor award at the Cannes Film Festival for 1956's Valley of Peace.
After catching some frames here and there of Kinecon at Cinecon (including a few Dick Van Dyke skits), my first full program of the day was the formerly lost feature Sherlock Holmes’ Fatal Hour (1931). Though I found this film a little slow going, I certainly appreciated its super weird moments, like the talking portrait, the terrifying villain, voices from weird places, secret passageways, and some vividly dramatic lighting. The strange atmosphere reminded me of movies like The Last Warning (1929) and made me realize how truly I adore creepy mysteries from the late silent/early talkie period.
Next up: The Tin Ghost (1926). The lobby card with a robot's arms around a couple instantly pulled me in, and let me tell you, this short did not disappoint. Nonstop action, some crazy stunts, a tin man running around after everyone. I mean… (Seriously, who came up with some of these antics?!) Speaking of that… The Best Man (1928) reminded me of Vacation Waves, with Billy Bevan milking a lot of comedy out of a few small gags, but hey, it worked! How one gets a wedding ring stuck in the sole of a shoe – or even dreams up that gag – is beyond me.
I am pleased to report that Lorraine of the Lions (1925) indeed lived up to the WTF expectations I had. We’re talking a ghost child, a mystic, a jealous gorilla who goes King Kong at the end, cannibals chased off an island by circus animals, a gorilla-crocodile fight, a murder wrongfully blamed on a lion, the typhoon that started it all, and much, much more. Truly, something for everyone. (I’m not making this up, folks!) It was just as unreal as I expected, and that was greatly appreciated. What else are movies for if not to take you to completely outrageous places?
Lorraine of the Lions was a tough act to follow, and I skipped The Bond of Blood (1920) because I needed to record all the bonkers material from the preceding 78 minutes. I returned for the brilliant Leon Errol-starrer Autobuyography (1934), which kicked off the Saturday Nitrate Fever program. As someone who just bought a used car, I fully feel the soul/cash-sucking numbers game at the heart of this short. Errol’s perplexed suburban business man perfectly captured the confusion, red tape, futility, frustration and – I see now – comedy conveyed in the experience. A truly timeless story, one that exemplifies just how long the car industry has been eluding customers. (Forever.) Lesson of the day: Don’t buy new cars.
Continuing the car theme, Speed in the Gay Nineties (1932) finds an inventor in the 1890s testing out his flying contraption and attempting to prove his sanity to the mayor and others by… winning a horseless carriage race? Well, that he did by beating a vehicle chugging along at 8mph by going 20! Boy, how far we have come (in some ways).
Cinecon 2020 wrapped up with a variety of rare Hollywood-themed shorts in the Covid Comfort Theater, which was preceded by a clip of Debbie Reynolds from the fest several years ago. (She basically turned a tribute into a standup comedy show, and I was reminded how blessed we were to have her on this planet.) As promised, the program featured a number of behind the scenes Hollywood clips that I could basically watch all day. There were instructional projection videos for exhibitors (that made it seem like a super hard job), studio/star tours, a 1970s interview with diva Gloria Swanson, and a clip of Cecil B. DeMille arguing for Sunday screenings and defending the uplifting spirituality of his movies like Sign of the Cross. (LOL is appropriate here.) It was a true grab bag delight that made it feel like we were all watching together in the Egyptian Theater. What an enjoyable way to end the fest.
The Cinecon crew did an amazing job making the transition to a virtual fest, and I appreciate all their hard work in bringing these rarities to us! Though it was a successful experience, here’s hoping Cinecon will be back in its Hollywood home next year.