CLIP: Philadelphia Film Festival Catalog Copy

Philadelphia Film Festival Catalog Copy

by Yvonne M. Jones

I’ve written a good deal of catalog copy over the years for the Philadelphia Film Festival (formerly known as the Philadelphia Festival of World Cinema), an international film festival attended by over 60,000 cinemaniacs each year. Here are a few samples:

(Giro di Lune Tra Terra e Mare)
Italy, 1997, 105 mins, Italian w/English subtitles, 35mm, Color
Director/Screenwriter Giuseppe M. Gaudino
Producer Isabella Sandri
Prod. Co Gaundri Film
Dir. Photography Tarek Ben Abdallah
Editor Roberto Perpignani, Giuseppe M. Gaudino
Music Epsilon Indi
Print Source Gaundri Film
Principal Cast Aldo Bufi Landi, Tina Femiano, Salvatore Grasso, Antonio Pennarella

Moonspins Between Land and Sea is a lyrical meditation on the history of Pozzuoli, an ancient town built in the shadow of a volcano overlooking a bay near Naples, Italy. In the 1970s, the son of a poor Pozzuoli fishing family narrates his family’s struggle to stay one step ahead of the earthquakes that could force them to move at a moment’s notice. In his first feature, director Gaudino’s obvious affection for his native city doesn’t prevent him from underlining its physical and moral decline. Combining experimental dissolves and overlays with dramatic narrative, he alternates stylized re-enactments of the Roman Empire’s decline with the neo-realistic tale of the contemporary family, suggesting a temporal co-existence throughout the city’s historical ages. Taking his cue from the film’s highly original screenplay, cinematographer Ben Abdallah’s camera work is eclectic, incorporating grainy swish pans, varying film stocks and camera speeds with a stark set design. Ben Abdallah and producer Isabella Sandri are two of many holdovers from Gaudino’s previous film work, including the performance group Epsilon Indi, whose score evokes a haunting quality that conjures up Pozzuoli’s ghosts.
U.S., 1925, 80 mins, silent w/live accompaniment 35mm, B&W
Director Oscar Micheaux
Print Source The Douris Corporation/ The Rohauer Collection
Principal Cast Paul Robeson, Mercedes Gilbert, Julia Russell

Body and Soul marked Paul Robeson’s first screen appearance after years of success on the stage. In Oscar Micheaux’s silent melodrama, Robeson plays both the preacher who seduces and betrays a young woman in his congregation, and the preacher’s brother. Robeson brings such zeal to his portrayal of the villainous minister that his performance cannot be diluted by the confinement of celluloid or the absence of a soundtrack showcasing his remarkable baritone. Like most of Micheaux’s films, which were made for black audiences and ignored by a still emerging Hollywood, Body and Soul tries in ways both blatant and subtle to “uplift the race.” Still, many in Micheaux’s audience saw Robeson’s hard-drinking, womanizing minister as blasphemous, particularly since Micheaux frequently used black churches to screen his films in lieu of more problematic (i.e., white-owned) theaters. Though both Robeson and Micheaux were perceived as multi-talented “race men,” Body and Soul was their first and last film collaboration, and the only film Robeson made with a black director.


U.S., 1933, 72 mins, 35mm, B&W
Director Dudley Murphy
Producer John Krimsky, Gifford Cochran
Screenwriter DuBose Heyward
Cinematographer Ernest Haller
Editor Grant Whytock
Music Frank Tours
Print Source The Doris Corporation/ The Rohauer Collection
Principal Cast Paul Robeson, Rex Ingram, Ruby Elzy

Based upon Eugene O’Neill’s seminal play of the same name, The Emperor Jones remains Paul Robeson’s most memorable film. Robeson portrays Brutus Jones, a church-going Pullman porter who is seduced by fast money and faster women. His descent into temptation leads him to kill a man in a poolroom brawl. Sentenced to a chain gang, he escapes and makes his way to a Caribbean island. There he preys upon the superstitious inhabitants in order to become the autocratic Emperor Jones. Shot on the painted sets of Paramount’s Astoria Studios in Queens, New York, the film’s stark, surreal quality undoubtedly reflects the material on which it is based, but should also be credited to cinematographer Ernest Haller’s innovative approach to filming in a paper jungle. Though it remains Robeson’s most acclaimed film, it was such a financial failure that its producers were forced to retire from filmmaking. Still, the fact that it was made at all–despite major distribution problems faced by a film made with a black leading man and a script that condemns racial segregation–makes it a bold and unique creation.