34 Days in September (pt3): Pordenone

Nature: The Mystery of Eels
TSF-EMA, Fri:7 Oct, 4.40pm (Italy) / 5.40pm (UK)
Insert obligatory whinge about the deficiencies and stupidities of Ryanair (their slogan should be “Never Again!!”) today compounded by the deficiencies and stupidities of the authorities at the glorified bus-station that is Treviso airport, and further compounded by the delights of international European travel on a Friday. Whinge over. Landing at East Midlands in 90 minutes or so: my first time on British soil since before the Ignite gig at Leipzig in the first week of September — which now feels like months, rather than just weeks ago.

During which time the British government headed by Theresa May seems to have lost their collective marbles post-Brexit, and I have been a proud “Citizen of Nowhere” at the film festivals of Venice, Oldenburg, San Sebastian and Pordenone, as well as a pretty cinema-heavy week in Vienna. Pordenone doesn’t actually wraps up until tomorrow night with a gala screening of The Thief of Bagdad starring the immortal Doug Fairbanks, but I’m heading home today to give myself a little breathing-space run-up to the rest of October’s festivals: Warsaw from Tuesday, followed by the Viennale mid-month.

Yesterday wrapped up with another Pordenone “biggie”: a brand-new restoration of Alexandre Volkoff’s Kean from 1924 sarring the great Ivan Mousjoukine (see below) — on surprisingly restrained form as the famed pre-Victorian thesp in a somewhat fanciful picture based on Alexandre Dumas’ play (written only a couple of years after Kean’s 1833 demise). Peak is an extended, hyper-kinetic sequence of epic drinking and frenzied dancing at Kean’s preferred boozing-establishment, The Coaly Hole — here a somewhat barn-like structure barely recognisable from the Coal Hole on London’s Strand which it presumably apes.

Mousjoukine gets a proper workout during this truly bacchanalian sccene, but his real skill is the projection of a smouldering, subtle intensity, very much at odds with the theatrical excess that was still the norm at that particular early-ish epoch of film-making. Such barnstorming was much in evidence in 1919’s Behind the Door — a very dark and even gruelling affair which felt a wee bit out of place in its teatime slot. Based on a very short story story and produced by the enigmatically ill-fated Thomas F Ince, it’s a full-blooded tale of xenophobia, rape and grisly revenge mostly set on various seagoing vessels in the North Atlantic during World War I.

Looking like a more haggard Ray Milland, top-billed Hobart Bosworth chews a lot of scenery as the long-suffering lead, and is upstaged by the defter playing by a young-ish Wallace Beery as the bestial u-boat captain who kidnaps and brutalises Bosworth’s virginal bride. The picture, still pretty strong meat nearly a century on, amply lived up to its reputation for adults-only “super-drama” (as it was dubbed in the opening titles), holding most of the audience rapt throughout.

An exception: the sixtyish female patron a couple of rows in front of me (up in the gods of the Teatro Verdi) who took out her hand-held computer (aka ‘Smartphone’ LOL) during one of several tense sequences and started using it without any consideration for those around her, sending light bouncing up off her idiotic face. When her neighbours complained, she waved them off contemptuously — at which point I lost my rag, stood up and in clear but rusty Italian told her to turn it off. No further problems of this type were noted, but it still staggers me how bone-headedly selfish certain cinemagoers can be — even at such a reverently cinephile event as Pordenone’s Giornate. Rant over.

After Behind the Door I elected to skip the next screening and instead headed back to my digs to change into attire more suitable for the slightly chilly autumnal evening. I had a quick, light “tea” at the very localsy Osteria Colonna on the corner (canny little crostini, bearing various combinations of meat and/or cheese, for a euro); then nipped up to Esquimau for one last ice-cream special, before one last Dolomiti Rossa at Bar Bacco a couple of hundred yards from the Teatro. Esquimau had (mortifyingly) run out of the vanilla choc-ices I’d had the other night, but I made do with a different-flavoured alternative. I ate this as slowly as possible, standing in front of a large, glass-fronted fishmonger’s on a busy junction, watching a tank of somnolent eels as the near-immobile inhabitants stared out, perhaps already asleep, into the brightly-lit Pordenone dark.

Pordenone, Thu:6 Oct, 3.45pm
The eyes of Mosjoukine! The blazing orbs of the “Russian Valentino” (1889-1939) were deployed to stunning effect in this morning’s Giornate feature, the tonally diverse romantic melodrama The Adjutant of the Czar. One of several pictures here to deal with the last days of Imperial Russia, this one was an enjoyably (and unpredictably) twisty German production from 1929 directed by Vladimir Strizhevsky.

Today might well be the first time I’ve seen a film with the great Mosjoukine, but by midnight I’ll have doubled my tally as he’s also the star of the 8.30 picture, Kean — in which he stars as the famously volcanic early-1800s interpreter of Shakespeare. Mosjoukine (i.e. Ivan Ilyich Mozzhukhin, or Иван Ильич Мозжухин) thus slots suavely alongside Polish cheeky-chappie Adolf Dymsza (from Janko the Musician) and Gallic sex-bomb Catherine Hessling (from Nana) as my thespian “discoveries” of this festival… though it would be rather more accurate to describe them as belated correctives to my cinephilic ignorance.

Mosjoukine is a particularly big deal, especially among devotees of silent cinema (such as the ones who flock to Pordenone each autumn for this festival). And as well as a reminder of my shameful lacunae, the fact that I’ve been unaware of his special charisma is also an indictment of rep-cinema and festival programmers, who have evidently conspired to keep him from my attention.

As a general rule, female stars of silent cinema seem much more “ahead of their time” than their male counterparts — the likes of Louise Brooks, Garbo, Theda Bara, Asta Nielsen, Clara Bow and (a personal favourite) Mabel Poulton have a vivacity and sensuality which transcends the barriers of time and silence. The blokes tend to fare less well, as their characters are often stuck in more rigidly inexpressive masculine postures.

like pere, like fils? Romain Gary, glowering.

There are exceptions, of course (John Barrymore, Lon Chaney) and Mosjoukine falls emphatically into that category. Not exactly textbook-handsome, in a R.Fiennes-ish way, Mosjoukine (who may well have been the father of Romain Gary, and thus father-in-law of Jean Seberg) sometimes comes across like a drastically more talented and subtle cousin of Bela Lugosi, conveying volumes with looks and reflective pauses.

Mosjoukine, Hessling and Dymsza (all of whom turn out to have fascinating life-stories) together have made my first Giornate visit worthwhile. In terms of the films themselves, however, the only knockout so far has been an 11-minute documentary from 1934, Halsted Street — credited on-screen (via hand-written opening titles) to “Conrad”, actually Conrad Friberg, a noted radical and labour-organiser. His film was shot, over a period of months, on the eponymous Chicago thoroughfare, which stretches from the city limits (ploughed fields!) to the shores of Lake Michigan.

A very early example of socially-committed, semi-structuralist, psycho-geographic “experimental” cinema — its radical edge a little softened by Stephen Horne’s piano/harmonica accompaniment today — it’s one of the great cinematic representations of the Depression, its panopticon survey taking in every strata of society as Friberg examines a cross-section of the windy, chilly metropolis.

The cross-sectional approach is one I’ve often adopted when exploring new cities (obviates the need for compass or other “devices”). And I executed a variation of same yesterday here when walking the nine miles from the centre of Pordenone to the small town of Aviano to the north — my main-road route taking me along the perimeter of the US Air Force base.


A cloudy day with spells of light rain (I took an umbrella), the light shifting across the green vastnesses of the Dolomite mountains ahead — the very same range visible one morning (but only one morning) from my balcony in Venice a few weeks ago. Roadside “path” very variable, with trucks thundering past only a couple of feet away at certain junctures, but an easy flat walk that I executed in three hours — could have done it in two and a half if I’d really tried.

Aviano (pop.9,270) itself proved pretty sleepy at 5pm on a Wednesday afternoon, not many eateries or drinkeries open for business (I’d imagined raucous bars full of furloughing servicemen), so after a wander round the “sights”, a ginseng-coffee in ‘Sport Bar’ and a beer (with two crostinis) in ‘Petit Pub’, I got the bus back to Pordenone along the same route I’d previously essayed on foot. Could in theory have then gone along to the big evening performance of H.Fescourt’s Monte-Cristo (1929), but the prospect of four hours of Victor Hugo shenanigans – no Mosjoukine in sight – exerted insufficient appeal given my footsore fatigue. Bed by midnight, for a change, after easing through the opening 50 pages of I.Turgenev’s slim 1860 novella First Love. Russians!

Hessling strikes a pose
Pordenone, Wed:5 Oct, 11am
Jean Renoir’s Nana (1926) hits the ground running and then some, introducing its eponymous showgirl heroine seconds before she is lowered via rope onto the stage of a boulevard theatre, gesticulating and emoting as though her life depends on it (and it does). Incarnating the heroine of Emile Zola’s scandalous-in-its-day 1880 novel, Catherine Hessling — at the time Madame Renoir — initially stirs memories of a Babooshka-era Kate Bush, but later is more like a cross between Gloria Swanson during her more lively Norma Desmond moments and Cyndi Lauper in a mid-80s pop-video. It’s quite the tempestuous turn, electrifyingly enlivening the film even through its more sluggish sequences as Nana entraps chap after hapless chap into her toils of amour fou.

Picture was shown mid-afternoon yesterday here in Pordenone, from a sepia-tinted 35mm print, with piano accompaniment by John Sweeney — invisible down in the orchestra “pit” of the Teatro Verdi slap-bang in the city centre. The day’s other highlight was much briefer and more obscure, a five-minute French travelogue from (approximately) 1908, with no director known, shown here unter the title Pottery in Dahomey — very simple scenes of village women making large pots from clay, hand-tinted in beautiful, delicate shades of green, brown, blue and yellow. Elegant in its simplicity, a bit like the €3 “choc ice” I impulsively bought on Monday night at Esquimau on Via Montereale. Just dark chocolate around vanilla ice-cream, but the standard against which all future confectionery will be weighed. And found wanting.

Turns out Via Montereale is the road that leads towards my destination this afternoon, Aviano, a small town chiefly notable for its nearby US Air Force base, just under nine miles away. On foot (of course), if the rain holds off…

Pordenone, Mon:3 Oct, 1.30pm
Still above is from Ryszard Ordyński’s Polish classic Janko the Musician (1930), clear highlight of the second day at Pordenone’s Giornate del Cinema Muto, (“Days of Silent Cinema”). It showed last night in a mid-evening slot and mysteriously over-ran by at least 20 minutes, having been inadvertently projected at a slightly slow speed — the rough magic of film-festivals showcasing archive fare! I had thought that Ordyński was perhaps deploying graceful slow-motion effects to tell the story of a peasant boy who turns out to be a violin prodigy, and who becomes a society sensation as an adult after escaping from borstal. But apparently not!

Anyway, the performance by the phenomenal Adolf Dymsza as the small-time crook who becomes our (slightly colourless) hero’s loyal pal and business-manager would bedazzle at any speed: looking like Colin Farrell’s great-granddad, this stocky bantam of a bloke is like a Warsaw cousin of Jimmy Cagney, all physical business and easygoing comic charm. The picture, which lays on the lyrical charm rather thick, only really comes alive when Dymsza is around — although there is also mounting excitement at each appearance of Janko’s pet blackbird, whom one is led to expect will meet a grim fate at more than one juncture…


I later learned Dymsza was a legendary figure of the national culture, and was apparently once described by Andrzej Wajda (already four when Janko came out) as “a symbol of pre-war Polish cinema in general”. Affecting a proto-Steed look above, he’s more conventionally attired — and of course effortlessly dominating proceedings — in the middle of the top photo, sporting a truly spectacular waistcoat that looks like it was made from the hide of a multi-hued horse. Exactly the kind of discovery — or rather, belated rectification of ignorance — you hope to find at a festival such as this.

The Giornate is crowded to the point of excess, with screenings (all in the same cinema-hall) often grindhoused together with only a few minutes in between — not ideal, especially as many of the “patrons” are of advanced years and so are more in need of toilet-breaks. Partly as a result of this policy (and heavy rain through most of yesterday) I have yet to see that much of the city — birthplace of Zanussi (as previously noted here) and of current NBA notable Reggie Jackson, and reportedly an epicentre of Italy’s “punk scene” (sic) in the 70s and 80s. Not much evidence of the latter these days, though the tunes blaring out at Bar Bacco just round the corner from the Giornate theatre were rousingly raucous as I sneaked in a small birra rossa pre-Janko last night.


Vienna-Venice train, between Leoben and Knittelfeld, Sat:1 Oct, 8.45am
The EC31 departed Meidling station, Vienna not long before daybreak two hours and thirteen minutes ago (6.32am), destination Venice Santa Lucia — though I’m getting off at the pre-pre-penultimate station, Pordenone, ETA 12.46pm. Spectacular scenery of mountains, valleys and ruined hilltop forts the norm along this particular route.

My XX film-festival of 2016 kicks off today: the XXXV Giornate del Cinema Muto, (“Days of Silent Cinema”), long established as the world’s pre-eminent event devoted to what back in Vienna they call stummfilm. This is the first year under the directorship of top Variety critic Jay Weissberg, whom I’ve known since we shared a queue for food during some do at the Turin film-festival in 2004 (a rather illustrious chow-line, with Kelly Reichardt directly in front of us and Jia Zhang-ke right behind.)

I’ve never been to the Giornate before, nor Pordenone — which just this morning I learned is the home town of Zanussi: a gift to attending journalists who can quip that such-and-such digital restoration was achieved via the Appliance Of Science. Said business was founded in a blacksmith’s shop in 1916 (!) by a certain Antonio Zanussi, and if the festival has never invited eminent Polish director Krzysztof Zanussi (presumably some distant relation?) they’ve surely missed a trick*.

The Giornate is unusual in that only one screen of one cinema is used, and everything is shown only once, reducing the options available to attendees but also boosting the sense of collective endeavour, communal discovery. The first films begin at 9am with episodes of a 100-year-old serial, Who’s Guilty?, and continue till after midnight. But I will be selective rather than comprehensive in my viewing over the next six days (I depart Friday afternoon) — prioritising 35mm over DCP — so I can also see a bit of the town (pop. 50,000) and environs.

I also intend to continue the routine of near-daily runs that I resumed in San Sebastian — after prohibitively crowded watching/writing schedules down in Venice and those laid-low-by-back-woes days up in Oldenburg. Yesterday morning managed twenty 70-second laps of the grandly imposing Altlerchenfelder church (Catholic, though at first I took it for Ukrainian Orthodox) pre-breakfast around 9am — total a touch over 23 minutes. Further inadvertent exercise was taken a couple hours later, around noon, when I trawled the streets of the 5th district seeking a certain barber-shop near Matzleinsdorfer Platz in unseasonal sunny heat.

Haircut €10 plus €2 tip: afterwards sat in the sun, dissipating my pallor, outside Turkish restaurant Iskenderci just down the street. Vegetarian (the menu said “Veggie”, grrrrrrr) dürüm (lots of sheep-cheese in there) washed down with the irresistibly salty, milky, yoghurty stuff called ayran — frustratingly hard to track down in Britain, but readily available in Turkish shops and restaurants in all large Austrian and German cities.

Later threaded my way through the city to the greatest of all the Vienna cinemas, the Gartenbaukino, which kicked off its month-long complete Stanley Kubrick retrospective with his 67-minute debut featurette Killer’s Kiss (1955) at 5.30, followed by The Killing (1956) at 7 and Paths of Glory (1957) at 9 — all on 35mm. Display in the lobby noted that the Gartenbau opened in December 1960 with a screening of Spartacus — Kirk Douglas in beaming attendance. My early Saturday start meant I had to skip Kirk and co in Paths and depart after a double-bill of monochrome fifties crime pictures, shot mainly on location (always a major plus) in New York and California respectively.

I’d seen both before more than once but not more than a decade: as I’d remembered, Killer’s Kiss an interesting curio, more of a showcase for Kubrick’s precocious skills as chiaroscuro cinematographer rather than director (female lead Irene Kane is irredeemably wooden, to the point that one may suspect lobotomisation). But The Killing was a real knockout, much better — and considerably funnier — than I’d remembered. It is, with apologies to Frederick Wiseman (Racetrack), the finest of all horse-racing films — my twin careers straddling both spheres mean I’ve been asked about this pretty often. Purist turfistes may cavil at the fact that it’s set at a fictional ‘Lansdowne Park’ — when an early glimpse of the starting-stalls loudly proclaims the actual location, Bay Meadows.

But while this may not be a film about horse-racing per se, it’s surely the only cinematic masterpiece that spends so much screen-time on the Sport of Kings. Amazing how much more accomplished Kubrick has become at handling actors in such a short space of time, though the casting helps — Sterling Hayden, Ted DeCorsia, the unique, aptly dolichocephalic wild-card that is Timothy Carey.

But with respect to Kubrick and his DoP Lucien Ballard, this is first and foremost a Jim Thompson film. Kubrick and Thompson’s bewilderingly timehopping screenplay adapts Lionel White’s little-known novel Clean Break (which I shall now seek out); the legendary pulp-novelist is credited with the dialogue — the choicest, most acidic pearls of which end up in the lushly-lipsticked mouth of movie-stealing Marie Windsor as the scheming, sensual wife of milquetoast Elisha Cook. Big screen, black-and-white 35mm, great vintage print, a fantastic old-school cinema, responsive audience, outstanding film: 9/16 thus gans out with a royal bang.

* stop press: KZ is indeed a Giornate guest this year!

Alser Strasse!
Vienna, Fri:30, 2.45pm
When asked about Edward Snowden last September, Donald Trump answered: “This guy’s a bad guy. There is still a thing called execution.” The line is included in Oliver Stone’s ho-hum hagio-biopic Snowden, ditto Hillary Clinton’s more measured (but still unambigously critical) comment about Snowden “facing the music… He broke the laws of the United States.”

One year later, and the presidential election is as we know finely balanced between the two — a sorry state of affairs. Indeed, the fact that the nightmarish prospect of an obvious monster like Trump (as neat an incarnation of the banality of evil as one could wish to encounter) entering the White House is still a viable one this close to polling-day is a severe indictment not just of of the American political system but also of the American public.

Clinton is herself the embodiment of that system, and a win in November would essentially be Business As Usual. Things might have to get much worse before they get any better, and a Trump presidency would be so convulsively horrible — and disastrous — that the political landscape would be irrevocably altered.

Not that many folk seem to mind that the USA is the world´s sole superpower and global policeman while that nice B.Obama is in the Oval Office. With D.Trump at the helm, obviously hazardous crazinesses like the USA spending more on the armed-forces than the next ten countries combined would surely achieve the increased prominence they deserve.

Currently the US is like a busful of passengers tootling steadily and blithely towards an abyss; Obama handing over to Clinton would raise nobody’s blood-pressure, but Trump assuming the wheel, and jamming his foot hard on the accelerator, would force even the soundest and most complacent sleepers to awaken.  Would I personally vote for Trump over Clinton? Never. Nor would I have voted for Ford over Carter in 1976. But if Ford had won (and it was mighty close) the Republican Party would likely have developed along much more moderate lines, and we would have been saved the current carnival of grotesqueries.

Much of this passed through my mind during the longueurs of Stone’s thuddingly MOR picture — probably the last by him I shall bother myself to watch (I had an inkling of what to expect after the pedestrian 5/10 duo of W. and World Trade Center). My Boy T.Olyphant was wasted in a small role as a devious, immoral CIA dude (his eyes reduced to upturned demilunes of chicanery), and instead the scenestealing was left to Rhys Ifans as Snowden´s agency mentor – at one juncture his face looming to fill an entire wall during a phone-chat with our hero that may be the most nightmarish Skype call ever committed to “celluloid”.

highly strung at Harry's

After, in need of a decent leg-stretch, I walked five miles in the warm Vienna night: from the BurgKino around the Ringstrasse, past the Habsburgian glories of the Parliament and the Town Hall (magnificently illuminated) — the latter enlivened by Roncalli’s circus-tent out front. Turned left at Schottentor, passing the Votive Church and then up along Währinger Strasse to Arne-Carlsson Park for Leberkäse with a Semmel bun, mustard, two salty gherkins and a small Murauer beer at Lenek’s sausage stand.

On and on along Währinger until Aumannplatz park in the 18th district where I finally turned back, stumbled across Harry’s Guitar Bar (Harry’s Gitarrenkist’l, Dittesgasse 3) and read a couple of chapters of Scoop over a small Ottakringer. Back along Gentzgasse to the beltway Gürtel ringroad, which I followed round until I got back to my neighbourhood near the Stadthalle. Highlight of the return leg: the Art Nouveau U-Bahn station at Alser Strasse, illuminated brilliant-white in the darkness, its name picked out in delicate dark-green script above the entrance. Most beautiful public-transport station in Europe? Gets my vote.

Vienna, Thu:29, 4.30pm
My week in Vienna (before I get the train to the Silent Film Festival in Pordenone, Italy on Saturday morning) has mainly been about films and nosh. Yesterday it was Fede Alvarez´s home-invasion horror Don’t Breathe at the original-language Artis miniplex, followed by krenfleisch (a simple dish of pork with horseradish) at the Reinthaler, everybody’s favourite traditional-Viennese-cuisine spot in the central 1st district. Cheapish for what you get and full of unreconstructed charm — including the delightful detail that you have to walk past a busily operational washing-machine at the kitchen entrance when penetrating into the farthest back rooms of this underground joint.

I, however, sat outside on the pavement in the mild September evening — washing down the stimulatingly tingly krenfleisch with Krügel beer in company of two friends who work at the nearby Austrian Film Museum, and who had just watched some ropey 1970s German giallo there. Seems I made the better choice, cinematically speaking. Don’t Breathe is no classic, but works as a reasonably efficient, claustrophobic b-picture — running just 88 minutes. And that includes the extensive credits, full of Gabors and Tibors and Ferencs — while set in a dilapidated, near-deserted Detroit suburb (echoes of It Follows), its interiors were evidently shot some 4,621 miles away in Hungary where the “rebates are so damned attractive,” as a filmmaker pal wrote to me just yesterday.


A canny late-September afternoon here in Vienna, warm and sunny enough for me to do a spot of urban sunbathing after this morning´s industry sessions at the /slashfilmfestival, soaking up some rays on a seat feet away from the colossal, Nazi-era flak-tower that is now host to some kind of aquarium attraction. Been stuck in this internet cafe further along  Gumpendorferstrasse for a couple of hours, however, finishing my the last of my six San Sebastian reviews for Hollywood Reporter, Estonian feature-debutant Vallo Toomla’s pretty-but-vacant Pretenders, a rather more austere and mannered variant on the modish home invasion sub-genre.  Got an hour and a half before Oliver Stone’s Snowden at Burgkino — not expecting much, but my interest is piqued by the presence of Nicolas Cage in a reportedly flashy cameo, plus the reliably top-value Timothy Olyphant as “CIA Agent Geneva” [sic].

sausage party
Vienna, Wed:28, 4.30pm
Above: Hermann’s Sausage Saloon, tucked away in the fabric of a faceless multi-storey carpark on Stiftgasse, about 50 yards from its junction with the main Vienna shopping street, Mariahilferstrasse. Selling reasonably-priced beer (draught and bottles) as well as sausages and associated edibles (gherkins, bread, mustard), it caught my eye in passing the other day. I am often attracted to such establishments that manage to stay in business despite being in unlikely, unpromising locations, and went there for the first time yesterday — beer, sausage, bread, 2 gherkins and mustard for €7 — in between two films.

First up: a belated date with Pete’s Dragon at the English-language Artis not far from St Stephen’s cathedral slap-bang in the middle of the city. I usually swerve kiddie pictures but had been intrigued about this one on the basis of its unlikely pedigree (Disney family fare from David Lowery, whose previous outing was Ain´t Them Bodies Saints), the fact that I went to see the original in Sunderland circa 1978, and the rave reviews from sane American critics.

First reel had me shaking my head at the indulgence of my stateside colleagues, but by the end I was won over and then some: my second tear-jerker at the cinema in less than a week, following Liu Yu’s bluntly unsentimental Chinese wonder One Hundred And Fifty Years Of Life at San Sebastian the other day. Or maybe I am getting soft in my middle age.

After the sausage dinner, made my way (via a circuitous route) to the Habsburg cosiness of the Metro cinema, a regular Viennale venue, for John Cameron Mitchell’s Shortbus from 2006, showing on 35mm as part of a Porn-cinema season. Was in my top ten of that year, but I hadn´t seen it since and could remember little about it — indeed, when mentioning it to a pal, I said that it ended with a New York subway-carriage dancealong to Love Train (which is of course in fact Last Days of Disco). Big-hearted little picture with LOL moments throughout, but I now would revise downward a notch the enthusiasm of my 35-year-old self: “probably the most fun you’ll have this year with your clothes on,” I burbled, 29.10.06.

Filmcasino interior
Vienna, Tue:27, 2.10pm
Finally made it to /slash film festival  last night, Vienna’s leading showcase of horror, fantasy and sci-fi — nearly all screenings held at the gloriously bijou, 105-year-old Filmcasino cinema, remodelled in 1954 by architect Albrecht F. Hrzan into a wonder of curling wood, subdued lighting and “fractured” mirrors. Just a pity the film which provided my /slash debut — a mere six years after the festival first began — was a disappointing dud, namely Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Creepy.

Kurosawa was on a roll in the late 90s, and his eerie cop-vs-supernatural-serial-killer Cure (1997) is one of the best horrors of the last 20 years (the last scene and cut-to-black is one for the ages). He pretty much abandoned horror after the much artier Bright Future (2003) broke him through with highbrow critics, and this belated return to the genre — in which a cop-turned-academic suspects he’s moved in next door to a psycopath — shows he’s lost nearly all of his touch. 130 minutes to boot.

Drinks (Wieselburger Gold) and discussion afterwards in the Filmcasino lounge — the bar must be one of the smallest of any cinema anywhere in the world — was a much more productive way to spend two hours. Walked back to my accommodations afterwards through the city centre, including a short-cut up the interconnected courtyards which form the long, steadily inclined Raimundhof-passage — this latter just the latest oddball remnant of Habsburg urban planning I’d previously never realised even existed.


Part two
Part one