This month I’m borrowing a subtitle from James Agee’s great book Let Us Now Praise Famous Men in order to signal the fact that I’m postponing my newsletter on Limelight until I’ve gotten my stuff unpacked in my new house and can find all the notes I made. I thought you all might not mind if I used this newsletter to describe my recent experience at Il Cinema Ritrovato Festival in Bologna, Italy, where my Progetto Chaplin book was launched. Needless to say, it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
I arrived as I usually do—without fanfare—but when I checked in with Cecilia Cenciarelli and the Progetto Chaplin folks, I soon discovered just how well-received the book already was. “The Book” is a new edition of Charlie’s 1931-2 travel memoir, A Comedian Sees the World, which Progetto Chaplin very kindly chose to be their 5th book in the series. In addition to Charlie’s engaging travel memoir, it features approximately 160 images of one kind or another—photos, of course, but also images of Chaplin artifacts and postcards of Chaplin venues contemporary to the time. It also includes eight pages of manuscript and typescript documents, showing us that Charlie’s writing process was very similar to his way of making films. Revise, revise, revise! Anyway, besides the fact that the Cineteca director actually spoke to me in English about how pleased he was with the book—a rare thing–I also got the word that Bernardo Bertolucci wanted to meet me because an associate of his had so enjoyed it. This never happened, but the comment did its work anyway. I was ready to enjoy a memorable week. That first evening, we all enjoyed a very special showing of Ernst Lubitsch’s silent film Lady Windemere’s Fan with a new Timothy Brock composition as accompaniment. It was shown in Bologna’s very old and very lovely Teatro Comunale. What a film! This is a not-very-well-received Oscar Wilde play adapted to the screen (and much improved!), featuring a very young Ronald Coleman, among others. It was by far, my favorite film of the week, outside of the Charlie films, of course, and beautifully accompanied.
Ah, the film festival. An odd bird it is, too. I’ve never been to one in Europe before, but kind of knew what to expect from ones I’ve attended here, but I had forgotten. It’s basically a lot of manic film viewing—jostling about for the best seats or the best companions to sit by—standing up, sitting down, standing up, as the seats fill up on either side of you. I never really understood why people needed companions at a film festival. Why do you need to sit next to someone to enjoy a film? You shouldn’t be talking about it while it’s going on anyway. So, I just took my seat—whatever seat—and enjoyed myself watching everyone else fuss around.
Besides my book launching, other Chaplin aspects of the festival this year included a showing of 8 new Keystone restorations (I only got to see five) and a showing out on the Piazza Maggiore of A King in New York introduced by Michael Chaplin. Michael was also supposed to be a significant part of the Dossier Chaplin, which would take part on Saturday late afternoon (the last day). I was to give an introductory lecture on my book at that time as well. So, most of the week was spent watching rare films and working in the Progetto Chaplin office on my next book, the first study of the life and art of Syd Chaplin, Charlie’s inimitable half brother—until Friday. Friday, July 7th, was earmarked as the day of the big press conference, featuring Cecilia Cenciarelli, Kate Guyonvarch of Association Chaplin, the Cineteca director, Gian Luca Farinelli, Chiara Mazzotti from Fondazione Carisbo, the bank foundation that financed all of this, Michael Chaplin and myself. Michael didn’t quite make it into town in time, but the rest of us performed our duties very well.Truly, this was right out of the movies. Lovely old restored building with all sorts of hand-painted wall decorations and such and then the state-of-the-art pressroom, with boxy burnt-orange leather chairs behind a completely transparent Lucite dais. The room actually filled up with press folks, including a couple of photographers and one cameraman. Thank god I packed a skirt or two for such occasions! This was serious business. And I had somehow gotten the bright idea of speaking off-the-cuff, but thankfully, I didn’t do too badly. That was to come!