Reactivating Silent Cinema: Short Sounds

9 September, 2021

Last Friday, September 3, the five-part series highlighting Romanian Silent Cinema kicked off in the garden of BRD Scena9. There, Film in Frame’s own Călin Boto curated a selection of short, silent cinema artefacts, setting them to a live musical accompaniment with some of the country’s best representatives of its thriving experimental music scene. The entire concept of Short Sounds: Silent Romanian Documentary is to reactivate the country’s robust silent film archives, doing so across five specially curated thematic connections. The films presented represent the period between 1897 and 1942.

Day by Day

The first of the curated selections fell under the theme: Day By Day. Born from the 1916 domestic film With the Ressels (aka Family Scenes), the Day by Day selection looks to reconcile public and private, vice and virtue, and all set to a soundtrack from the duo of Felix Petrescu and Valentin Toma: Makunouchi Bento. Across a runtime of just over one hour, the routines and attitudes of the early 20th Century are on full display. In 1912’s A High Life Wedding at Domnița Bălașa Church, attendants of a lavish (and never seen) wedding leave the church for their cars, subconsciously depicting imagery of the traditional worker-leaves-the-factory-motif. Then, in 1936’s Students from Nicolae Filipescu Highschool Dine at Coșna Restaurant, young people who just walked the May 10 parade are bid welcome by the restaurant owner in an early example of achieving promotional goals through videography.

Of course, there are some solemn moments, as daily life tends to have them. Represented via Tudor Posmantir’s June 8 1936 and Paul Călinescu’s The Quake were both never aired in their day. The former, a depiction of the Cotroceni Catastrophe, where the better part of Cotroceni’s galleries collapsed under the collective weight of a folk-dancing Restoration Day audience. The latter film depicts the mite of the 1940 Earthquake. In each of these films, two seminal Romanian tragedies of the early 20th Century breathed new life into new audiences and new awareness.

The Age of Industry

On September 9, Short Sounds: Silent Romanian Documentary fast forward to the years between 1928 and 1935 and takes a focused look at the Romanian age of industry through four films. The electric and tram companies of the day are covered in 1928’s The First Exhibition of Electricity in Romania and 1932’s Bucharest Society of Trams, respectively, and both by anonymous directors.

The subsequent two films on this day are 1935’s Brăila Wire Industry and 1930’s The Mediaș Enamel. In the former, director Jenő Janovics dives into the factory industry of the day, complete with iron, steam, and sparks. Again by an anonymous filmmaker, the latter film acts as something of prognostication on the technology of our day.

Sound artist and multi-platform musician Sillyconductor will soundtrack the entire Fast Forward selection.

Urbanization, Death, and Syphilis

The final three curated programmes for Short Sounds: Silent Romanian Documentary takes place on 16, 23, and 30 September. For the 16th, after fast-forwarding through the age of industry, we now look at the Patients of Eternity with a unique selection of silent, medically themed films from 1898 and 1931. This includes a journey into a newly opened Cluj hospital, as well as the Bucharest Institute of Mental, Neurological and Endocrinological Disorders, where we get up close and personal with syphilis, one of the day’s most prevalent ailments. Soundtracking duties come via experimental interdisciplinary artist Micleușanu M.

The 23 then sees Bucharest Hours, the 60-minute urban documentary from Witold Klimowicz. Though incomplete, Bucharest Hours is a rough cut-esque view of city life set against the backdrop of a world war – an early attempt at documenting the place as a brand: subtle and chic. With that, Klimowicz unfinished film includes multiple takes, trembling frames, doubles, and many more cinematic techniques akin to narrative and advertising, over documentary and travelogue. Mixed-media artist Simina Oprescu will soundtrack the entire evening.

Finally, wrapping up the month, September 30 sees the program Why Are the Bells Ringing, focusing its themes on Funeral Documentary from 1914 to 1934. Through several films, the documentation of death and its rituals close down Short Sounds: Silent Romanian Documentary with the death spectacles of King Carol I, King Ferdinand, and other regal figures. Sound artist Gili Mocanu will provide the soundtrack for this evening.

"New to Bucharest by way of Amsterdam, Brooklyn, and a few others, Steve is the communications manager/industry editor for Modern Times Review documentary magazine. He was also senior editor for New York-based IndieWood/Hollywoodn’t. At Films in Frame, his documentary column features on the last Wednesday of the month.