Monday, June 12, 2006

Lyric Nitrate/ Lyda Borelli

11 years before Decasia, Dutch film-maker Peter Delpeut released Lyric Nitrate , a poetic, personal tribute to silent film, assembled from movies and clips (spanning 1905-1915) long hidden in the attic of an Amsterdam moviehouse, where the noted collector, promoter, and distributor of old movies, Jean Desmet, had gathered them together for reasons only known to himself.

Like Decasia, Delpeut's film is made up of old nitrate footage in various states of decay - where it differs is that while Morrison's Decasia seems to focus on the interaction of decay with the figures of the film intensified by the mod-minimalist soundtrack, Delpeut takes a subtler route; choosing to linger over "intact" meditative, or dramatic, hand-tinted sequences before the final scenes that dissolve and flare into absolute abstract decay - with colors suggesting a high-speed flight across the surface of Jupiter.

Quoting movie critic Vincent Canby, "'Lyrical Nitrate' is the kind of homage that is best appreciated by people who are at a loss for words to express their appreciation for silent movies."
"By speeding up or slowing down the rate atwhich the clips are projected, he effectively deconstructs the original images, removing their meanings, in order to call attention to the delicate beauty possible, it seems, only with nitrate stock."
Using carefully selected musical pieces, and scratchy recordings of arias sung by Caruso (as does Woody Allen in "Match Point", come to think of it), interspersed with silences, Delpeut deftly underlines the sentiment, longing, and mystery of the scenes.

Among the most mesmerizing sequences assembled by Delpeut are scenes from the long lost Italian film (tinted in twilight blues) Fiore Di Male made in Italy in 1910. This movie features the opera singer/diva turned actress Lyda Borelli (pictured below), who pauses dramatically or moves with a natural physicality, as if she feels the scenes "musically"; sensible for an opera singer, and, in any case, silent movies were often filmed with a string quartet there on the set. There is a long sequence where Borelli falls to her death from a stab wound - Delpeut slows down, hold still the images, and starts again the film to accentuate her movements.
Delpeut was, in particular, moved by these Italian diva/films enough to later "assemble" another film from various films featuring Borelli, Pina Menichelli, and Francesca Bertini called Diva Dolorosa.